Streaming Options: Blow the Man Down Review

One of the recent films (well, I say, recent – the past month) to be released on streaming services includes Blow the Man Down. This latest black comedy crime thriller film from writer-director, Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, had it’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April last year. It was then bought my Amazon Studios following this, and was released exclusively on Amazon Prime Video last month.

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The plot follows two estranged sisters, Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe), who are struggling with money issues after the death of their mother, and are dealing with her mother’s failing funeral business. They are bonded together after Mary Beth kills a man that she has a dangerous run-in with. It is soon revealed that this man works for a brothel, and this leads the two young girls to face the dangers of the crime world, including having run-ins with the manipulative brothel boss, Enid (Margo Martindale).

From that alone, you can tell that this film has a classic black comedy type of plot, very much in the vein of the Coen brothers or Martin McDonagh. The film fells very inspired by the Coen’s 1996 classic, Fargo, especially in how the film depicts a murder, and the investigation of this by various police officers. In fact, this film feels like a by-the-book retelling of the second season of the television adaptation of Fargo.

The film doesn’t live up to these influences, but saying that, it is still an entertaining romp nonetheless. The real strength of the film is the power of the two young performers, as Saylor and Lowe are both really great in their roles. A lot of the film relies not just on them, but their believable chemistry as sisters, and they pull it off very well. For me, this is really the high part of the film, and works really well.

The film also has a scene-stealing and entertaining supporting role for Margo Martindale. Martindale has been an “Esteemed Character Actress” (sorry, that’s a Bojack Horseman joke), and has appeared in a variety of films and TV shows in supporting roles, including her Emmy Award-winning role in The Americans. Here, she gets that a full-on, scenery chewing type of supporting role, and it is so fun to she her having fun.

Also, another pleasure of the film is how the narrative has a lot of fun twists and turns in it. The twists aren’t exactly the biggest of surprises, and maybe the film could of used more of a subversive, fun edge to it. That being said, however, these twists and turns, in a very black comedy-type way, are still very entertaining and fun.

The film also has a great visual style and panache to it, and some terrific direction by Cole and Krudy. The film expertly uses editing, especially how it uses fades, and this creates an especially haunting, eerie atmosphere. Also, the soundtrack is one of the film’s real highlights – it has a booming, impactful score that is very attention grabbing, and startling.

There is some really good stuff in this film, but I just wished that it was a little more polished. As much as the relationship between the sisters is interesting, the stuff about the seedy crime underbelly is a lot less interesting. It feels like this is a little tacked-on – they don’t get into it until about half an hour into the run-time, and feels almost like it was added last minute to the plot to flesh it out somewhat.

Also, the police officer part of the story, in which we see young police officer, Justin Brennan (played by Will Brittain) investigate Mary Beth and Priscilla’s murder, and fall for Priscilla, feels very under-baked. All of these underdeveloped plot elements fell like they might of worked better in a TV show or mini-series format, as they would have given more time for these elements to breathe.

That being said, Blow the Man Down is a very interesting film that, although, it is not as perfect or polished as it could be, is still very much worth a watch due to it’s performances (especially by Martindale, Saylor and Lowe), visual style and score. It is available on Amazon Prime, and if you have nothing to do (which I’m sure many people do), you should definitely check this out.

Rating: 7/10

Better Call Saul Season 5 Finale – “Something Unforgivable” Recap

Well, that’s it. Better Call Saul has ended it’s perfect fifth season on Monday (or Tuesday here in the UK) with it’s season finale, “Something Unforgivable”. The episode follows Lalo (Tony Dalton) and Nacho (Michael Mando) going to his second home in Chihuahua, and introduces him to Don Eladio (Steven Bauer) – a former character from Breaking Bad. Soon, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) plans for Lalo to be killed, and sends a bunch of assassins to his house.

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Meanwhile, after the very tense visit from Lalo, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) relax at a motel. Kim goes to collect her pro bono cases, and has a tense encounter with Howard (Patrick Fabian). Back at the motel, Jimmy and Kim have fun, and begin to toy with the idea to resolve the Sandpiper case by sabotaging Howard. Jimmy thinks of it as a joke, but Kim might possibly be serious.

This episode isn’t as exciting and eventful as the previous two episodes. It might not be brilliant as the previous two episodes, “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road”, but that would be very difficult as the two episodes were all-time classics, and possibly the best two episodes of series, ever. That being said, it is still a really fine and terrific finale to what is probably the best season of the show as of yet.

The episode is particularly great for the character development of Lalo. Lalo has been an absolutely fantastic addition to the series, and that’s especially impressive for a character that was introduced 4 seasons into a popular TV show. In this episode, we see his household, as well as his relationships with various people here, including his friends and family.

What is also wonderful about Lalo’s role in this episode, is that we start to feel sympathy for him, and align ourselves with him slightly. This has always been a great feature of both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, in which the show makes us feel sympathy for characters who we normally wouldn’t care about. Even the villains of both shows, like Lalo and Breaking Bad’s Gus, are written with some complexity and depth. And here, we understand, that Lalo, although sleazy and amoral, still has plenty people who he loves and cares about . And, as we get to the end of the episode (which of course, I won’t spoil), we really get to feel sorry for him for some of the horrible things that happen to him.

This episode is also significant in that it does not give that much closure. Going into this finale, a lot of people were theorising that either Kim, Lalo or Nacho were going to die, all because none of the characters were not in Breaking Bad. However, none of these characters do die, and that is something I like about this finale. They have saved Lalo as the villain for the final season of the show, which is something I think is a safe choice, as with only 10 episodes left, they don’t want to waste time introducing a new villain. I mean, the antagonists in the final season of Breaking Bad (Lydia, Uncle Jack and Todd) were always unfavourably compared to Gus, the season 4 villain.

Also, as always the case with Better Call Saul, the episode has some brilliant sequences, which are delivered with a real punch through the terrific direction and cinematography. The scene in which Nacho attempts to escape Lalo’s compound is particularly tense, and scary. There is a brilliant panning shot where Lalo is running down in the crawl space of the house that is brilliant shot and edited. Better Call Saul continues to raise the bar for cinematography in television, and that’s wonderful to see, as it always used to be seen as a feature of cinematic films.

Otherwise, this episode is great for developing Kim’s character. As we see her and Jimmy consider toying the idea of framing Howard, it becomes clear that Kim is “breaking bad”, as she becomes more involved in the crime world. There is a really great moment that highlights this change, where Jimmy asks Kim if she is serious about framing Howard, and she does finger guns back to Jimmy. The moment feels very Saul Goodman, and very much mirrors the move that Jimmy did to Kim in the season 4 finale (“Winner”).

It is becoming more and more apparent that this is the reason why she does not appear in Breaking Bad, although, the reason itself is still unknown. Possibly she ends up incarcerated. However, as many fans have stated, this behaviour is slightly out-of-character for her, and some theorise that she is playing a long con game against Jimmy. It would be a harsher blow for him than her just being dead or prison, and would explain his cynical personality in Breaking Bad.

In addition, this episode is great because of how Howard gets a lot more to do. By the end of the episode, it seems like they have set up a big role for him in the next season. This is a wonderful thing, because I have always stated that Howard is a great addition to the show, and he should not just disappear after not being appearing that heavily in the past 2 seasons, ever since Chuck’s death.

This episode is really a showcase for Kim and Lalo, and cast a light on Rhea Seehorn and Tony Dalton’s acting chops, respectively. Although, some major characters (like Jimmy, Nacho and Mike) have interesting moments in this episode (like Jimmy’s PTSD, Nacho escaping Lalo’s house, and Mike telling Jimmy that Lalo will be killed), this is really Kim and Lalo’s episode. It’s sets up a final season, which will probably feature them prominently, which is only a good thing.

Overall, this episode sets up a fantastic final season. There are many brilliant story-lines that have been set up, and I can’t wait to see what the writers do, where Jimmy’s arc will most likely be completed. Also, we’ll finally figure out what will happen to Kim, Nacho and Lalo, and also, Saul/Jimmy in the present, under the alias of Gene Takavic. Nonetheless, this season was absolutely fantastic – it was the best season yet and will definitely be up there as one of my favourite TV shows of 2020.

Streaming Options: Tigertail Review

Tigertail is one of the many films that are now on offer on streaming services, if you are really missing new releases due to all the cinemas being closed. This time, for the first time, I am reviewing a film available on Netflix, which will be useful for you all because I’m sure you all have Netflix. Tigertail is the newest Netflix Original for the platform, which has had a mixed output over the past year – with great hits like The Platform, Miss Americana and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sequel, but also misses like Horse Girl and Love Wedding Repeat.

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Tigertail is set in two different time zones and focuses on a Taiwanese man called Pin-jui, played by Hong Chi-Lee as a young man, and Tzi Mu as a middle-aged man. In the past, Pin-jui is a enthusiastic factory worker, who leaves behind his homeland and his forbidden love, Yuan (Joan Chen in the past; Yo-Hsing Fang in the present) to move to America with his arranged wife, Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li; Fiona Fu), and make a live for himself. In the present, Pin-jui is a melancholic middle-aged man, who has a estranged relationship with his daughter, Angela (Christine Ko), and begins to feel regretful and mournful for his life choices.

Tigertail is, overall, one of the better Netflix Originals to come out recently. It is not as entertaining or exciting as some recent Netflix Originals, especially The Platform, but that’s not an insult about the film at all. The film is instead, quite a sweet and soulful film that will really relax you. It would be a perfect film to watch on an relaxing Sunday afternoon, especially in light of everything that’s going on in the world right now.

One of the real strengths of the film is the film’s glorious visual style. The film is directed by Alan Yang, who has previously been known for his work on comedy television shows, including Parks and Recreation, The Good Place and most famously, Master of None, the latter of which he won an Emmy for. The film is beautifully shot, with really wonderful gorgeous cinematography and vibrant colours.

The film also has a really nice soundtrack, which much like the film, is sweet and soulful that leaves a lingering feeling. Also, the editing and montages in the film are also wonderful. In particular, there is a scene where Pin-jui, in the past, is constantly closes and reopening the shop where he works at, and this scene is really gloriously edited. Everything in how this film is made, from the direction to the cinematography to the editing is really wonderful, especially because this is Yang’s first feature film.

The performances are also wonderful. None of the performances are particularly big, dramatic, or emotional, but instead, they are quite restrained and understated, which really fits in with this kind of film. Mai heads up the cast very well, especially in how small and detailed his performance is. He bridges the gap between the present and past sections very well. Also, the younger performers, Chi-Lee, Li, Fang and Ko are all equally as impressive.

The themes in this film are fairly familiar and we’ve seen them in numerous films before, but that’s not to say they aren’t effective. In the film’s present-day sequences, it deals with themes of getting older, dealing with regrets and mistakes you’ve made, and repairing relationships with estranged family members; while, in it’s past sequences, it addressed themes of moving away from your homeland, losing your one true love, and homesickness. In particular, the arc of Pin-Jui’s wife, Zhenzhen is particularly interesting, especially for a character that could of been one-dimensional. During the film, we see her become homesick and bored at her new life, and through really lovely scenes, we see her form a friendship the only other person nearby who speaks Taiwanese, her neighbour Peijing (Cindera Che).

Although, the film is really great, sweet and soulful, the film could still be a bit more emotional. The film feels very reminiscent to recent films, like Moonlight (2016) and The Farewell (2019), in how quiet and passionate the film is. However, unlike these films, the film fails to hit you with it’s really sentimental and emotional undercurrents. Possibly, with the film’s length only at 90 minutes, it could of benefited from a longer run-time.

Overall, however, this film is definitely worth your time. If you are looking for a lovely and sweet film that is not too heavy or depressing, then you should definitely watch this film. And make sure not to get it confused with Tiger King, which is a very different watch. I really can’t wait to see what Yang does next.

Rating: 8/10

The Mandalorian Episodes 5 and 6 – “The Gunslinger” and “The Prisoner” recap

The Mandalorian has continued it’s impressive run with it’s fifth and sixth episodes – “The Gunslinger” and “The Prisoner”. The Gunslinger is centred around The Mandalorian (or “Mando”) (Pedro Pascal) and Baby Yoda (or “The Child”) arriving on Tatooine. Mando joins aspiring bounty hunter, Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale), who is on the hunt for mercenary and assassin, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). However, while on Mando and Toro’s quest, it is revealed that Toro is not at all what he seems.

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In The Prisoner, Mando contracts his former partner, Ran for work. Ran asks Mando to accompany a five-man job, that they must use his ship for. The job in question is to rescue a prisoner of the New Republic. Soon enough, the members of the crew begin to double-cross Mando, especially when they discover he has Baby Yoda, and then, Mando must take his revenge.

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Although, The Mandalorian is really great, and these two episodes are solid, it does feel like these episodes are slightly filler, particularly The Gunslinger. The Gunslinger is the shortest episode of the series so far, at only 30 minutes, and feels particularly slight and unadventurous.

The episode’s main strength is it’s nostalgic call-backs to the original namesake film, or A New Hope as it will be known to younger fans. These include, among many others, how it takes place on Tatooine, Luke’s home planet; features the same bar, Mos Eisley Catatina, where Han shot Gredo and features the secondary villians, the Tusken Raiders (or Sand People), who meet Mando and Toro on their quest. For a series that, up until this point, has felt very new and original, it was nice to see it addressing it’s past in these cute hall-backs.

Also, much like pretty much all of the previous episodes, this episode also features many interesting secondary characters and guest stars, including Amy Sedaris, Wen and Cannavale. Sedaris is a long-time character actress known for her voice performances, Wen is an actress known for her role in Agents of SHIELD and voice role in Mulan (1998) and Cannavale is a young up-and-coming actor, who is the son of character actor, Bobby Cannavale. All 3 of them are interesting and fun characters, and if they ever show up again (and in Sedaris’s case, I’m sure she will), it would be a very welcome return.

Despite this, however, the whole episode feels a little nothing-y. It felt like the episode was possibly an excuse for it’s cliff-hanger ending, in which we see a rival bounty hunter has arrived, however, we do not see his face. Although this cliff-hanger shows definite promise, the rest of the episode feels like it lacks any real stakes or suspense. As is usually the case, Baby Yoda ends up in peril, and this is starting to become a little tiresome now. That being said, the episode overall is still a fun one that will pass the time finely, even if it pales in comparison to the other episodes.

The sixth episode, The Prisoner is very similar, in how it feels slightly filler, but it feels more adventurous and creative. Firstly, like the previous episode, the guest stars and secondary characters are really interesting. The crew that accompanies Mando includes Ran (Mark Boone Jr.); ex-imperial sharpshooter, Mayfield (Bill Burr); a strongman, Burg (Clancy Brown); knife-wielder, Xi’an (Natalia Tena) and the droid pilot, Zero (voiced by Richard Ayoade).

Although, none of these characters are particularly likeable, they are all fun characters, who are quite interesting. Also, as is always the case with any Star Wars universe project, the effects and make-up are terrific, and the design of all of these secondary characters are great. It’s also really nice to hear Ayoade (of The IT Crowd fame), and I love how the majority of droids in the Star Wars universe are being voiced from funny comedians, from Taika Waititi to Rogue One’s Alan Tudyk.

This episode is very similar to the show’s third episode, “The Sin” in how the action is glorious and really wonderful. The action takes place as Mando is fighting against the crew. Much like The Sin, the action never drags or feels dull, as each person that he fights against has a new, original and creatively choreographed fight sequence. One of the episode’s highlights, is when we see Mando approaching something from behind, and the light flickers until Mando conquers him, which is one of the most vibrant and colourful moments of great visual style for the series.

Pedro Pascal remains as impressive as ever in these two episodes. In particular, his performance in the The Prisoner is great, as he has to show a lot of emotions, with just subtle body movements and vocal performance. Also, his relationship with Baby Yoda is very cute. I do wish that Baby Yoda was getting a little more to do in this series, however, as he has been reduced to just a damsel in distress for both of these episodes. The series keeps teasing that Baby Yoda has some big powers up his sleeve, and I’m hoping that we will see these powers come into play for the two-part finale.

This episode, as a whole, does feels like a filler episode – something to get us by until the big two-part finale. That being said, the episode is a lot more narratively ambitious and creative that it’s previous part. The episode has more thoroughly developed characters, and has everything you want from a Mandalorian episode – it has action, laughs, adventure, thrills and tension to spare, even if it is a little insubstantial.

In conclusion, these two episodes of The Mandalorian are not among the best, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun episodes that are worthy of your time. The Mandalorian is by far one of the best TV programmes of 2020 so far (along with Better Call Saul and Inside No. 9), and I can’t wait for the hopefully epic two-part season finale.

Rating (for The Gunslinger): 7/10

Rating (for The Prisoner): 8/10

Horror Tuesday: Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017) Review

My Horror Tuesdays have gone by the wayside recently, as I have been reviewing a lot of TV Shows (like Better Call Saul & The Mandalorian) and films on streaming services (like Swallow, Bacarau and Vivarium). This film, however, being broadcast on Shudder, a streaming service mainly for horror movies, feels like it can be both a streaming option, and a horror film for you to watch.

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The film is directed and written by Issa Lopez, and is set in Mexico that has been devastated by the Mexican drug war. It centres on a young girl, Estrella (Paola Lara), whose mother has mysterious gone missing. Looking for her, she ends up joining a gang of four children, headed by El Shine (Juan Ramon Lopez). Together, the five of them try to survive against the horrific violence of the cartel, and begin to witness various ghosts created by the horror of the war.

A horror film is probably not the best description for this film, as it is more of a dark fantasy tale that has elements of horror in it. The film feels very Guillermo del Toro inspired in it’s concept, and the best films to compare it to are del Toro’s films, 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth and 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone – both extraordinary films in their own right.

The film really holds up being places next to those films, as it is a really terrific film. Much like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, the film centres on a view of a horrific war from the view of a young child. And, much like it’s influences, it’s child stars are absolutely terrific. The central two stars, Lara and Lopez, are both fantastic, and both really evoke sympathy and emotion for their characters. Lopez probably has the harder job here, as he has to convey the sweetness and niceness that is underneath the tough exterior, and he does a really great job at it.

Other characters include the other 3 members of the gang, consisting of Pop, Tucsi, and Morro, who are played by child actors, Rodrigo Cortes, Hanssel Casillas and Nery Arredondo, respectively. These three are really interesting to the narrative, as they provide a more grounded, sympathetic perspective to the hard life on the streets. All five kid performers give strong and emotional performances, and this is especially important for this type of film.

The film, is very much a fantastical mixture of various genres. The film firstly is a horrific imagining of a war time environment, and that is brilliantly captured here. One of the reasons why is the terrific camerawork. The film uses a lot of shaky-cam, which really evokes a documentary-type feel, and this only makes the environment feel more real and vivid. People who are not fans of shaky-cam, needn’t worry, however, because the technique never feels overused or annoying. In fact, it is used just the right amount.

What really makes the film, however, is how Lopez is able to mix this with the more fantastical elements. These moments are never overplayed, and in fact, they are never particularly explained. Much like del Toro’s films, we are unaware if these are real or in the imaginary of our young leading characters. Along with the various ghosts that Estrella encounters, she sees various things come to life (like a teddy bear and phone case), and witness an odd line of blood that follows her. These images are very haunting and strange, but are also beautiful, and they will be images that stay with you long after you finish watching it.

The fantasy elements are really important to the narrative, as well. They make Estrella’s quest for discovering her mother all the more heartbreaking, as we begin to think that she, maybe, is among the ghosts. The contrast between both of the characters’ central struggles – El Shine wanting to find a home, and Estrella wanting to find her mother are really wonderful and interesting characters arcs, and ones that give the movie some depth.

This is a really great outing for Lopez. The film may not be as scary as some of the films I’ve covered on here, and if you go in expecting a film full of scares, you will be disappointed. However, if you are a fan of sweet and soulful dark fantasy dramas, in the vein of del Toro’s films, you will definitely be a fan of this one.

Rating: 8/10

Breaking Bad & Better Call Saul: Top 6 Moments

Better Call Saul will end it’s pitch perfect fifth season run tonight, with a hopefully great conclusion. This season has even felt like they have upped the quality of last season (which was already fantastic), with the episodes, “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road” already feeling like all-time classics. The show was spin-off from a small show you may have heard called Breaking Bad, one of – if not, the – best TV shows of all time. Both have some incredible moments and episodes, and there, I thought I’d rank my top 6 moments of each show.

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Firstly for Breaking Bad:

Jane’s Death (in “Phoenix” – Season 2 Episode 12)

The moment when Breaking Bad, a pretty good show finally found it’s footing, and turned into one of the best shows of TV. The moment in question happens when Walt (Bryan Cranston) goes to confront Jesse (Aaron Paul) and his girlfriend, Jane (Krysten Ritter), who have been blackmailing him. Jane, drugged out of her head on heroin, begins to choke on her own vomit, and Walt, decides to not to help, and watches his blackmailer die. This is one of the most important moments of the show, especially in terms of Walt’s character development, and this is the moment where Walt changes forever. Sure, prior to this, he has killed someone in self-defence, and has been illegally been producing meth, but this is the first moment where he hurts an innocent person, just for his own gain.

Crawl Space (in “Crawl Space” – Season 4 Episode 11)

The moment where Bryan Cranston gives Joaquin Phoenix and Heath Ledger a run for his money, as he goes full-on Joker. It occurs when Walt is in deep trouble, and it looks like Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) will kill him off. He plans to run away, with the money he has gained, however, disaster strikes when Skyler (Anna Gunn) reveals that she has gave all the money away. Heartbroken, Walt breaks down, starting off crying and then bursts into high-pitched laughter. The moment is often touted as the birth of Heisenberg – the moment when the psychotic and conniving parts of Walt’s personality take over. It’s also a distilled example of the Breaking Bad’s tone – tense, thrilling, at times darkly funny, and always willing for everything to completely change in one scene. Also, Cranston’s performance is insanely good.

Gus’s death (in “Face Off” – Season 4 Episode 13)

One of the show’s most bad-ass moments comes when Walt and Jesse, with help from Gus’s enemy, Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), concoct a plan to get Gus killed. Hector lures Gus to his room, and it is revealed that Hector has a hidden bomb, that goes on to kill him and Gus. Gus, the biggest and best villain of the show up till that point, was always destined for a dramatic death, but how exactly it would happen would be the suspenseful part. And, like it always did, Breaking Bad subverted our expectations to create a shocking and actually quite gruesome death. The image of Gus walking out of the room, with half of his face blown off, straightening his tie, then collapsing dead on the floor, will be an image you remember forever.

The Train robbery (in “Dead Freight” – Season 5 Episode 5)

By far, one of the best episodes of the entire show is the season 5 episode, Dead Freight, in which Walt, Jesse, Todd (Jesse Plemons) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) decide to rob a moving train to get a supply of methylamine. The heist sequence takes place in the last 10 minutes, and could almost be it’s own small short film, especially in how it has a complete beginning, middle and end. The scene is also racketed up with high amounts of tension and suspense, and marks one of the most entertaining and exciting sequences from the entire programme.

Hank figures it out (in “Gliding Over All” – Season 5 Episode 8)

Probably the biggest cliff-hanger in the show’s whole run has to be when Hank (Dean Norris), Walt’s DEA Agent brother-in-law finally discovers that Walt is Heisenberg, all while he is on the toilet, no less. This was the moment where a five-year story-line was finally paid off, in highly dramatic, suspenseful and shocking fashion. It may not seem frustrating for those who watched all of Breaking Bad in a large binge on Netflix, but for those who watched the show as it was released, they would of had to wait over 11 months for it to be resolved, becoming one of the most effective cliff-hangers of all time.

“We’re a family” (in “Ozymandias” – Season 5 Episode 14)

And, finally, we arrive at probably the show’s best episode, “Ozymandias”, one of the best episodes of television of all time. Although, there were a lot of big, important moments in this episode, from Hank’s death to Walt going on the run to Walt confessing to Skyler, his son, Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) and Hank’s wife, Marie (Betsy Brandt) all of his crimes, but this moment remains the highlight. The moment in question occurs when Skyler physically attacks Walt with a knife, and in response, Walt Jr. saves her and calls the police. Heartbroken at how he has lost control of his family, Walt cries out “What’s wrong with you – we’re a family”. Brilliantly directed by Knives Out’s Rian Johnson and written by Moira Walley-Beckett, this moment is an utterly devastating depiction of a family that been torn apart by tragedy, and it will leave you heartbroken.

Now for Better Call Saul:

Mike’s emotional confession (in “Five-O” – Season 1 Episode 6)

Mike was one of the best characters from Breaking Bad, but all he was known for was his crotchety one-liners, his rivalry with Walt and his fatherly relationship with Jesse. However, his role in Better Call Saul is much more expanded, becoming a real fully dimensional character. Five-O explores a real heartbreaking backstory for him, when Mike reveals how his son, Matt was killed to his daughter-in-law, Stacey (Kerry Condon). The heartbreaking monologue is beautifully written and brilliant performed by Banks, whose delivery of “I broke my boy” was devastating.

Jimmy and Chuck have a talk (in “Pimento” – Season 1 Episode 9)

When Better Call Saul first began, we all though that Saul/Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk)’s boss Chuck (Patrick Fabian), would be the show’s big villain. However, much like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul established itself as a very shocking and subversive show from the get-go, as the real villain was actually, Jimmy’s brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), hiding in plain sight. It is is soon revealed that Chuck has purposefully been trying to keep Jimmy out of his law firm, and got Chuck do to it. Suddenly, Chuck’s character completely changes in shocking (yet still, believable) scenes, and includes an acting masterclass from both Odenkirk and McKean.

Chuck’s courtroom breakdown (in “Chicanery” – Season 3 Episode 5)

Most possibly the best episode of Better Call Saul is the season 3 mid-season episode, “Chicanery”. The episode in question takes place when Chuck and Jimmy’s court case comes to a climax, where Jimmy cross-examines Chuck. Chuck has an odd allergy to electricity, which has Jimmy and his partner, Kim (Rhea Seehorn) believe is all a psychological problem. Jimmy exploits this, having a battery planted on him, and in anger, Chuck goes on a rant, berating Jimmy, to a shocked response from the court. Again, the scene features brilliant acting from McKean, it was really shocking how he was never even nominated for an Emmy for his episode. His monologue is scary, heartbreaking and sad all once, the show is able to make us feel sympathy and hatred for him at the same time. An absolutely brilliant moment, not just for the show, but for television in general.

The Pill Swap (in “Expenses” – Season 3 Episode 7)

This moment is a real showcase for Nacho (Michael Mando), one of the most underrated characters from the show. Here, Nacho needs to get his evil boss, Hector out of the picture, so he plans to change his nitroglycerin pills to ibuprofen placebos in hopes of giving him a fatal heart attack. Nacho continuously practises it, and then finally does it, and just pulls it off. This scene is a showcase for something that both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad did so well, in how they make us sympathise and align with morally dubious characters, and here, we really feel for Nacho and hope he pulls it off. It’s also just a really effectively tense scene that was very well directed.

“It’s all good, man” (in “Winner” – Season 4 Episode 10)

This moment has been a long time coming, but just because it was, it doesn’t make the moment any less satisfying. In this moment, Jimmy goes in front of a court, hoping to get his license back, and emotionally talks about the loss of his brother, Chuck. This is all revealed to he a ruse, however, as he reveals to Kim, in hopes of getting his license back. He walks away, saying he will now change his name. As Kim calls him back, he replies only with “It’s all good, man”, leaving Kim, alone in the hallway. Very much in the similar way to the Walt’s Crawl Space moment (in fact they happen around the same time, season and episode-wise), this is where Jimmy McGill died. Although, he had used the name before, the was really the moment where Saul Goodman was born.

Lalo confronts Kim and Jimmy (in “Bad Choice Road” – Season 5 Episode 9)

Better Call Saul has always been a lighter and softer show compared to Breaking Bad, however, this was not the case for this particular moment, which took place in the show’s most recent episode. Here, Lalo (Tony Dalton) confronts Jimmy about where he got his money, and refuses to let his now-wife, Kim leave, leading to an endlessly tense and suspenseful sequence, as we begin to believe that Kim will be killed. This is a time where Better Call Saul abandoned it’s light-heartedness to create a scene that rivalled the tension in any Breaking Bad scene. It was also a moment where Kim really got a chance to shine, and Seehorn got a chance to show her brilliant acting chops. It was a great scene that can only spell fantastic quality for it’s next episode and final season.

Quiz – ITV Miniseries Quickie Review

One of the best ITV dramas to come out in a while, is the new miniseries, Quiz. The series, consisting of 3 episodes, that was broadcast over 3 nights, was written by James Graham, adapted from his play of the same name. The miniseries was also directed by Stephen Fears, who has directed a variety of real-life drama films, including The Queen (2006), Philomena (2013) and Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), as well as the recent drama series, A Very English Scandal (2018), also telling a real-life story in 3 episodes.

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The series is based off the book, Bad Show: the Quiz, the cough, the Millionaire Major, and centres on the real-life scandal from the ITV show, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?. The scandal in question was that contestant, Charles Ingram (played by Matthew Macfadyen), someone who won the highest prize of all, and was accused of cheating after someone in the audience coughed at all the right answers. The scandal, which took place in 2001, is particularly infamous – everyone has heard of it, although, this series sheds light on the little details you probably didn’t know about.

The series’s first episode is particularly interesting for this, as it reveals that Charles’s wife, Diana (Sian Clifford) and brother-in-law, Adrian (Trystan Gravelle) both went on the show, prior to Charles. It shows how Diana and Adrian had a sort of “network” of people who were all fans of the show, and this people created small cheats and “tricks” to help get onto the show. For example, Adrian created a four finger buzzer that helped him practise, and he pretends he is four different people to get on the show illegally multiple times. Soon enough, these tricks succeed, and they are able to get the dim-witted Charles on the show.

The second and third episodes are, by extension, are a little less interesting as we do know more of these details. The second deals with game show episode in question, and the third deals with the court case, where Charles and Diana stand trial. However, these episodes aren’t any less thrilling or entertaining. The direction by Frears is particularly impressive. Much like his equally impressive work in A Very English Scandal, the miniseries is punchy, pacey and very thrilling. In particular, the scenes that could feel boring or dull (like ITV board meetings or discussion about the inner workings of a big huge game show) feel exciting and entertaining, and has remnants of buzziness and liveliness of certain scenes in David Fincher’s 2010 masterpiece, The Social Network.

In addition, the cast’s performances are splendid. Much has been made about Michael Sheen’s performance, playing Who Wants to be a Millionaire host Chris Tarrant, and although, it may appear odd on first viewing, once you get used to it, you will be delighted how great and detailed it is. It also is really great to see Macfayden and Clifford in here, both of which are stars of two of the best and biggest shows to come out recently, Succession and Fleabag, respectively. Although they do feel like an extension of their television counterparts (Macfadyden playing a high-respected and lovable idiot, while Clifford is playing a highly strung and tightly wound young woman), they do give great and sympathetic leading performances, particularly how they often do un-sympathetic and amoral acts. The series also has some wonderful supporting performances from various TV character actors, like Aisling Bea (This Way Up, Living with Yourself), Mark Bonnar (Catastrophe), and Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders).

Quiz is overall one of the best ITV dramas to come out in a long time – it is pacey, thrilling, tense, funny and entertaining in all the right ways. It is pitch perfect for everyone to binge as almost a long film, and you will not be disappointed if you watch it.

Rating: 8/10

Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 9 – “Bad Choice Road” Recap

Every now and then, a long-running TV show hits it’s stride, and has two fantastic episodes in a row. That has just what has happened with Better Call Saul, firstly with it’s eighth episode, “Bagman” and now with it’s ninth episode, “Bad Choice Road”. The title refers to Mike (Jonathan Banks) lecturing Jimmy/ Saul (Bob Odenkirk) about the choices we make in life, and how Mike and Jimmy are on the “Bad Choice Road”.

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In this episode, Jimmy and Mike get saved from the desert, which they were stranded. Jimmy is suffering from almost PTSD after the gun attack, and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) is helping him through it. Kim is slowly discovering that possibly Jimmy is getting more and more involved with criminals. Meanwhile, Lalo (Tony Dalton) discovers that Jimmy’s car was shot at, and becoming suspicious, orders Nacho (Michael Mando) to driver him to confront both Jimmy.

This episode is so brilliant as it paints a taunting portrait of Jimmy and Kim’s struggles. Both characters are going through some hard-hitting things – Jimmy is struggling with PTSD, and adjusting to his new life working outside the law, while Kim is struggling with the realisation that her husband is a criminal. Sometimes, Better Call Saul can feel like a series of small (albeit, really great) set-pieces, but, here, writer-drector, Thomas Schnauz does a great job at staying purely focuses on the characters’ struggles.

One of the best ways he does this is through the brilliant cold-open, in which we see a split-screen of what both Jimmy and Kim are going through, which is all dubbed over by the classic love song, “Something Stupid”. This does a great job at setting the stage for Kim and Jimmy’s tragic love story, and make a ironic (and slightly, blackly comic) way of opening the episode. Also, who doesn’t love it when Better Call Saul does a split-screen montage?

There are many other small details that also really invoke the couple’s struggles. A great scene is when Jimmy is confronted by a rival lawyer, Bill Oakley (Peter Diseth) – a recurrent character through the series – who boasts about winning a court case against him. Jimmy does not reply with his usual witty comeback, and all we see him do is walk away quickly, and this really clearly paints a picture of how badly the ordeal has effected him.

This is continued in a moment when Kim discovers Jimmy’s coffee cup, which has a bullet hole through it. As Kim bought the cup for him, we understand how distraught she is at seeing it ruined. Another great moment of this is when Kim is juicing all the fruit for a shake, and Jimmy is traumatised by it. The sound and the editing are really great at highlighting the sound of blade, and there we understand just how traumatised he it. This has been a highlight of the show since it began, in how it practises a lot of “show, don’t tell” storytelling. I mean, that is the main reason why film and television is such a wonderful medium, as it can focus sorely on visual storytelling.

This whole episode paints a vivid picture of this couple, and how they are struggling to cope in his criminal world. This was a refreshing element of both Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul, in how it focuses on human reaction to the crimes. Often, TV shows can gloss over these, but it is crucial as it makes us feel and sympathise with these characters.

All of this comes to a head in the heart-stopping and pulsating climax, in which Kim and Jimmy get a menacing visit from Lalo. Lalo, being suspicious that Jimmy’s car has a bullet hole in it, continues to interrogate him, asking him to repeat the story of what happened. He refuses to let Kim leave, and this makes all the audience extremely nervous as Kim’s fate is ultimately unknown.

The scene is extremely tense, so much to the point that it feels like a scene from Breaking Bad – it is up there with the train sequence from “Dead Freight” and the crawl space scene from “Crawl Space”. The music and the direction particularly make this scene so tense – it was so tense that when broadcast in the US, they played it without any breaks to increase the impact.

The scene comes to it’s conclusion, when Kim turns around the interrogation, and begins debunking Lalo for letting Jimmy get the money in the first place. She had real echoes of Walter White in his scene, in how bold and fearless she was, and manipulating a bad situation to work in her favour. Despite how brilliant the scene is, especially in how they subvert what we think will happen, it does leave us nervous for Kim’s fate. It seems increasingly like many her ultimate fate will be dangerous – maybe she ends up dead or in prison.

The episode is left of a slight cliff-hanger, in which Lalo leaves with Nacho, with Mike in hot pursuit. Will Mike or Nacho kill Lalo, or will Lalo kill Nacho? What leaves the most lingering feeling, however, is the taunting portrayal of Kim and Jimmy and their personal struggles. It is a really stunning episodes, and much like Bagman, it is one of the best episodes of television to come out in a while.

Rating: 10/10

Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 8 – “Bagman” Recap

Better Call Saul returned this week with one of the show’s very best episodes – “Bagman”. This episode is set after Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) sets Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) the challenge of getting his $7 million dollars to achieve bail. Kim (Rhea Seehorn) passionately asks him not to, pleading that he is not a “bagman” for drug dealers. After getting the money from “the cousins” (Daniel and Luis Moncanda), a group of gunmen arrive, being tipped off about the money exchange by an informant. Mike (Jonathan Banks) saves him from the gunmen, but unfortunately, as the car was wrecked, they must return home on foot. What follows is an survival-type story in which Mike and Jimmy try to survive against the horrors of the desert.

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This episode was written by Gordon Smith and directed by Vince Gilligan. Gilligan was the show-runner for all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad, and although, he co-created Better Call Saul, he has gave over the majority of show-running responsibilities to co-creator, Peter Gould. That being said, he still comes into write or direct episodes now and again, and this time, he has come into the direct one of the most perfect episodes of the show, and one of the best TV episodes to come out in a long time.

It is quite rare for a sole episode of a TV show to feel remarkable in it’s direction. Often, TV directors get less creative control, as they must operate within the look and feel of an existing television show. This could be different if directors are given a whole season, but, just for one singular episode, it is hard for a director to be singled out for their direction. This is not the case for Gilligan, however – this episode feels quintessentially Vince Gilligan from beginning to end.

The film is remarkably similar to the Breaking Bad episode “4 Days Out” (which was also one of the best episodes of that show), in which Walt and Jesse get stuck in the desert, and have to figure out how to get back home. The episode also feels very influenced by the Coen brothers’ 2007 thriller, No Country for Old Men, in it’s desert setting and stunning cinematography. It also constantly referenced the classic Lawrence of Arabia, especially in how Jimmy wraps himself in a Peter O’Toole-like headdress. All these influences feels very reminiscent of Gilligan’s cine-literate mind.

What’s really brilliant about the episode is just how tense and suspenseful it is. Breaking Bad often toyed with suspense, but Better Call Saul has never quite played with this, as it is often more interested in being a lighter and more melancholy show. This episode plays out almost more like an episode of Breaking Bad. One of the earlier scenes, in which Jimmy is also shot by the group of gunmen is brilliantly directed in just how tense it is, especially in how we all know that Saul is going to survive and be fine.

One of the latter scenes of suspense is also utterly brilliant. This is at the end, in which Jimmy distracts an car with a gunman in, so that it will give time for Mike to shoot and kill him. This scene is also tense and suspenseful, and ultimately ends up feeling very cathartic as Mike shoots the car and saves him. This scene is very big-budget, which is also very fun as it gives the episodes a real blockbuster feeling, very uncharacteristic for a show often so quiet and slow.

This episode is also so wonderful for the relationship between Mike and Jimmy. The two characters are two polar opposites – Jimmy is more flamboyant, lively and (at the moment, anyway) naively optimistic, and Mike is more pessimistic and grumpy – and this pairing makes for really entertaining viewing. It was nice seeing the two back together as they have been apart for a while, and that was how we started off the show, to be fair.

Mike also has some wonderful moments in this episode. He has a brilliant speech, in which he talks about the people who “need” him on the outside, and that is why he must escape. This is the real genius of his character as although, he is quiet and rarely speaks, when he does speak, it has real depth and heart. Odenkirk is also really great in this episode (as he always is), and it is especially great to see him being scared and vulnerable, as we rarely see it. Ultimately, it is really great to see the two of them together, as they have real chemistry, and make a good buddy-comedy partnership.

The real genius of the episode, however, is Gilligan. He is a real steady hand with his direction – the episode feels very paced, punchy, exciting and thrilling. The plot of Better Call Saul is very labyrinthe and complex, but the great thing about this episode is that you never, ever feel that. Also, the cinematography and camera work is also on point – it’s always good, but it was on another level here.

Better Call Saul is sometimes in the shadows of it’s iconic predecessor, but with “Bagman”, the show has definitely reached that show’s heights, and many even exceeded it. Along with the season 3 treat, “Chicanery”, this episode will be one of the show’s best, and will probably be known as one of the best episodes of television to come out for a long time.

Rating: 10/10

Streaming Options: Swallow Review

As all the cinemas around the world are closing, a lot of people are seeking films on streaming services now. Swallow, was distributed in cinemas earlier in the year in the US, but is getting a release through streaming services here in the UK. I watched it on Google Play, where you can rent it for as cheap as £1.99.

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The film is the feature film debut of Carlo Mirabella-Davis, who directs and writes the film. The film’s cast involves a lot of character actors, including Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche and Denis O’Hare. The film focuses on Hunter (played by Bennett), a newly pregnant housewife, trapped in a unhappy marriage to Richie (Stowell), and dealing with Hunter’s judgemental and interfering parents, Katherine (Marvel) and Michael (Rasche). In an attempt to deal with this, she begins consuming small but dangerous objects, from a marvel to a battery to a paperclip. As she gets therapy for this, she must have to deal with her unhappy marriage, and a dark secret from her past.

One of the great things about seeking movies on streaming movies, is that some odder, stranger movies are getting a wider popularity, like Vivarium, Bacurau and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Swallow is no exception – it is a provocative, startling, and sometimes, cringe-inducing drama that never stops being interesting.

Mirabella-Davis has shown – in his first film, no less – that he has a lot of talent and creativity that boards well for his future career. In discussing his influences for the film, he lists the classic horror film, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Todd Haynes’s psychological drama, Safe (1995), and you can definitely feel these influences beaming off the screen.

The film actually, though, feels more influenced by the works of say a filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen brothers in how Mirabella-Davis is able to inject real-life situations with a oddness and weirdness. The film is very reminiscent of Anderson’s film, Phantom Thread, as from the outset it looks like a handsome but possibly quite plain drama, but Miranda-Davis is able to make it feel weird, strange and ultimately, creative and original.

There is a terrific dinner scene involving Hunter, her husband and her in-laws, which is exactly like this – at first you think it’s going to be the usual type of dinner conversation, but the director subverts our expectations, and by the end of it, Hunter is chewing on ice. Davis also brilliant does this with the film’s non-diegetic soundtrack. Particularly, a montage in which Hunter swallows a variety of things is juxtaposed with The The’s This is the Day to great affect.

Also, really great here is the performances. Bennett is an actress that has never quite managed to break out into the mainstream – she has had supporting roles in The Girl on the Train and The Magnificent Seven, but they never really went anywhere. Here, with her perfect The Stepford Wives-like appearance and haircut, her soft-spoken voice and sweet nature, is really able to master the character’s robotic nature. However, she is also able to make us feel a lot of sympathy for her, and influences how cathartic it becomes at the end, when, this Stepford Wives Robot type actually sticks up for herself against her doormat husband and annoying in-laws.

Speaking of which, all of which are terrific, especially Marvel. A character actress, who has appeared in various films and TV Shows (a notable credit includes the season 2 of Fargo), she is really great here, injecting a lot of scowling judgement and underplayed disapproval to what could of been a blank character.

Because of all of this, it does start to feel almost believable that Hunter starts doing these unspeakable acts. Although, Mirabella-Davis never loses the cringe inducing squirm-iness that the film obviously has. You still feel completely horrified when she starts swallowing things, and by the end, you’ll probably have a lump in your throat.

The only negative here, really, is that I wish the director had made some more daring narrative choices, particularly for a film as startling and odd as the film is. In particular, an ending confrontation, which is supposed to be the answer to all of Hunter’s worries, feels a little bit too easy and safe.

The film very much feels like a first feature – I’m sure that Mirabella-Davis’s second (or third, or fourth) feature will be more polished, but this one is still damn good on it’s own. If you’re a fan of body horror, Rosemary’s Baby or Phantom Thread, I’m sure you will love this. I know I did.

Rating: 8/10