Writers: Nick Antosca & Michelle Dean, Dan Dietz, Robin Veitch, Lisa Long, Heather Marion
Directors: Laure DeClermont-Tonnerre, Adam Arkin, Christina Choe, Steven Piet, Hannah Fidell, etc.
Cast: Joey King, Patricia Arquette, Chloe Sevigny, AnnaSophia Robb, Calum Worthy, Dean Norris, Denitra Isler, Margo Martindale etc.
Original Network: Hulu (US) – Starz/Amazon (UK)
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
The capacity for human beings to lie and fake and forge simply knows no bounds. Clearly lying is bad, as it disintegrates trust in families, relationships and society in general. We should all strive for truth. But before one judges and jumps to conclusions there can be mitigating circumstances for lies. It could be a good lie. A lie that protects someone from the horrors of reality or a bad situation. It could be a falsehood which is worth denying in order to circumnavigate a tricky moment. This last example is a subjective decision though. But what if you’re not in your right mind? What if you have a mental illness? Does this forgive the darkest lies you tell or present? No, but it does explain why you’ve told such untruths.
Hulu’s exceptional true-life drama, The Act (2019), centres on a character who is both a liar and mentally disturbed. You would not know from the outside but Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette) was a very troubled person. A seemingly loving single mother to a teenage daughter, Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King), Dee Dee unfortunately has to cope with Gypsy’s myriad of medical issues which leave her in a wheelchair and unable to feed herself. But Gypsy is actually incredibly healthy. Her mother has in fact been drugging and faking and benefiting financially from harming her daughter for years. Clingy, controlling and manipulative of her daughter’s every movement, routine and personal interactions, Dee Dee never wants her daughter to grow up. She wants a permanently powerless child and vicariously feeds off all the sympathy this brings. Yet Gypsy is growing up and she wants to do her own thing. Her body is changing and so are her desires. Something had to give.
Over eight brilliantly written and directed episodes, The Act (2019), unfolds as a powerful human tragedy. The story begins in 2015 with a serious crime; someone has been hurt. It then flashes back to when Dee Dee and Gypsy moved from hurricane hit New Orleans to Springfield, Missouri in 2008. Moving consummately back and forth in time the structure builds the drama very well. I genuinely couldn’t believe that someone would do that to their own child. Then, just when you think the story cannot twist any further the events take an even stranger and darker fall. Unsurprisingly, Patricia Arquette won an Emmy for her performance as the tragic faker, Dee Dee. Arquette inhabits the skin of this unhinged mother chillingly. But she’s not a scary monster, more one that subtly gets right under the skin. Joey King as Gypsy is equally brilliant as the co-dependent daughter, ultimately driven to extreme and shocking behaviour by her mother’s lies and twisted vision of love.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #13 – BLADERUNNER (1982) – “TEARS IN THE RAIN.”
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Produced by: Michael Deeley
Screenplay by: Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples – based on the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, James Edward Olmos etc.
Cinematography: Jordan Cronenworth
*** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ***
Philip K. Dick’s dense, dystopic and futuristic novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), is an ugly, beautiful, depressing, obtuse, hypnotic skip-through-treacle read full of incredible concepts relating to: Artificial Intelligence; robot technology; android simulacra; animal husbandry; apocalyptic disease; virtual reality/empathy mood tech; extinguished humanity; and ultimately, of course, mortality and death. The fact that Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples were able to fashion a workable screenplay for Ridley Scott to direct is a creative miracle. Moreover, it is testament to the writing and Scott’s incredible production team that, Bladerunner (1982), is held in such high esteem among cinema fans now.
The original Bladerunner, despite bombing at the box office and subsequently going through a number of cuts, re-cuts, final cuts and re-re-re-releases, has become a bona fide science fiction cinema classic. I watched the original theatrical version recently and despite the deadpan Harrison Ford voiceover and spurious, tacked on “happy” ending, it actually has a lot going for it. Obviously the ‘Unicorn Dream’ re-edits released under the guidance of Ridley Scott are the purer versions but the film holds up notably because of Ford’s gruff, depressive and world-weary performance as Rick Deckard; the imperious psychopathy of Rutger Hauer as android assassin Roy Batty; Scott’s glorious tech noir rendition of our desecrated future; as well as the evocation of Philip K Dick’s thematic existential power.
Such existential power is demonstrated in one of the final scenes where Batty has pushed Deckard to the edge of a building and death. The rain falls and the majestic soundtrack swells. A stripped down Batty, rather than let Deckard die, saves his life. It’s an ambiguous decision, but one of redemption for a replicant that is more used to delivering death. Perhaps, it proves that Batty does indeed have human qualities and Deckard will take up the cause. Delivering one final heartfound speech, Batty regales and laments the beautiful things he has seen. But they are gone – just like tears in the rain. It is a moving epitaph and amazing end to an incredible science-fiction classic. Batty closes down for good, but his demise and Hauer’s incredible performance will live long in the memory.
FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #8 – DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (2018)
Written and directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Produced by: Sefton Fincham, Jack Heller, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval, Dallas Sonnier
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Thomas Kretschmann etc.
Cinematography: Benji Bakshi
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
As a major fan of S. Craig Zahler’s first two film releases, namely Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017), I was really looking forward to another example of pulpy, slow burn and hard-bitten genre filmmaking with Dragged Across Concrete (2018). Thus, I was very upset when I found out the Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn starring cop drama was not released in UK cinemas. I finally caught up with it on Amazon Prime and, while it was probably too long, it was a hypnotically powerful crime thriller.
Set in the city of Bulwark, the film opens with a lengthy preamble which introduces disparate characters whose paths are destined to cross later in the film. These include recent parolee, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), grizzled-long-in-the-tooth-cop, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and his younger, but equally cynical partner, Anthony Lusaretti (Vince Vaughn). Later, Zahler throws professional criminal, Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann), and his dressed-in-black crew into the dark city soup. After a glacial set-up, the plot kicks in when Ridgeman and Lusaretti are suspended for what is perceived as a racially motivated attack on a suspect. Desiring a way out of the neo-noir and industrial decay, Ridgeman sets up a plan to steal from Vogelmann’s gang. Safe to say that given this is a Zahler film, we do not end up with a soft toy and candy apple ending.
Throwing a succession of anti-heroes at the audience and a litany of cursing and politically incorrect language makes Dragged Across Concrete (2018) a morally questionable film to experience. Do not watch if you are easily offended. Nonetheless, my feeling is Zahler, like Tarantino, is reflecting the world as it is rather than how it should be. Humanity is in the gutter and the only way out of it, in his mind, is to swear and fight and steal and kill. That isn’t to say that the characters are not empathetic. As Zahler’s hard-boiled dialogue is very poetic in places it draws you to them in a way Raymond Chandler used to do. Similarly, the performances from Gibson and Vaughn are brilliant. The scenes where they just sit in the car and eat sandwiches while staking out their quarry, are both hilarious and absorbing. Ultimately, it’s the lengthy second half robbery and final act ultra-violence which makes the film a pulsating and brutally rewarding experience.
MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS – SARAH CONNOR – VIDEO ARTICLE
I have already written a text article regarding this subject and that can be read here. However, I am trying to promote my YouTube site too, and thus have been busy creating short online video content which may interest some cineastes. So here is a tribute to one of the most memorable film characters of all time – SARAH CONNOR.
This video article is a fun and educational piece highlighting our one of our favourite film characters – SARAH CONNOR.
Written by: Paul Laight
Narrated by: Melissa Zajk
Music: Sci Fi – Bensound | Royalty Free Music – No Copyright Music | Bensound Music
The copyright of the images and trailers are those of the film studios. I do not own any of the images or films.
Film/Trailer clips credits:
1) The Terminator (1984) – Orion Pictures 2) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) – TriStar Pictures 3) Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) – Paramount Pictures / 20th Century Fox
UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #6 – SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (1964)
Directed by: Bryan Forbes
Produced by: Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes
Written by: Bryan Forbes (based on the novel by Mark McShane)
Cast: Kim Stanley, Richard Attenborough, Nanette Newman, Mark Eden,Judith Donner, Gerald Sim, Patrick Magee
Music by: John Barry
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I started this series a while ago and posted a few times on the subject with multiple entries; however, I have now decided to make it a feature, like ‘Classic Movie Scenes’, concentrating on singular films. My rules are simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
The latest film I have chosen did receive some critical acclaim when released, but it has since slid into mild obscurity. I only caught it on the cable channel Talking Pictures by chance. This channel, if you didn’t know, is like a British equivalent of TCM. However, it does have less well-known films and TV shows when compared to the American cable channel. Occasionally though, Talking Pictures will have a total gem and that is the case with Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964).
Adapted and directed by experienced British writer and director, Bryan Forbes, Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), casts Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough as a married couple called the Savages. Stanley portrays Myra Savage. She is a psychic medium who hosts seances for small groups of people, while her more timid husband, Billy (Richard Attenborough), assists. They seem to have a comfortable life and live in a nice house; however, their history is blighted by the tragedy of losing a child. This leaves Myra’s personality, while dominant over Billy, somewhat neurotic and nervy. Determined to elevate her career as a psychic, she plots the kidnapping of a millionaire businessman’s young daughter. With Billy reluctantly agreeing to carry out the physical part of the crime, Myra intends to then use her psychic “skills” to help the police and family locate the missing girl. This and the ransom money will secure their financial future.
While we are all familiar with hostage plots, Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), is more complex than a basic crime thriller. It explores themes relating to psychic ability, grief and mental illness. Rather creepily, Myra often uses the spirit of her dead son, Arthur, as a guide to her decisions. Moreover, it also contains a series of suspenseful scenes relating to the kidnapping of the girl and the handing over the ransom money. While these are staple tropes of the kidnap genre the film does break with convention. Indeed, while revealing the kidnappers from the very start, the narrative also concentrates many scenes on the gradual breakdown of their fraught marriage. The Savages are not your everyday career criminals and their risky plan is testament to that.
Overall, Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) is a brilliant film which should be held in much higher regard. It contains one of the greatest acting performances I have witnessed in a while. Kim Stanley as the psychic, Myra Savage, is a haunted individual full, not only of hidden grief, but also a controlling sociopathy. One feels equally appalled by her and sympathetic at the same time. Richard Attenborough gives a quieter and unselfish performance as husband Billy, his character attempting to keep his tragic wife from going over the edge. The Savages may be kidnappers, but the skill in the writing, while not condoning their actions, makes you understand their skewed motives. In the end, Kim Stanley would be deservedly nominated for an Oscar, but lose to Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. As we are aware, there is no justice in the world, and it doesn’t take a psychic to know which film and performance is the more memorable.
Cast: Ivan Massague, Antonia San Juan, Zorian Eguileor, Emiliano Buale Coka, Alexandra Masangkay
Cinematography: Jon D. Dominguez
Original Platform: Netflix
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Last night, just under a week into the stricter UK social distancing procedures, I finally got pangs of withdrawal symptoms from NOT going to the cinema. Of course, my feelings or emotions at this time pale into insignificance when compared to the thousands of people affected by or those who have lost their lives to the COVID-19 virus. Moreover, while one could describe our planet as currently resembling a massive open prison, it’s nothing compared to the horrific conditions of the vertical prison in Spanish horror thriller, The Platform (2019). Be warned: do not watch this film while eating your dinner, as it could affect your appetite.
While I recently wrote an article about some films that could make you feel better in this global crisis (link here), paradoxically a horror film such as The Platform (2019) can also work to make you feel better too. Because a film where prisoners are trapped in a multi-level jail and whose food intake is based on how high they are within the prison, is an ingenious, yet terrifying concept. Knowing my life can never be as bad as the main protagonist and the prisoners he encounters made me feel somewhat relieved. Furthermore, the gore levels, plot twists and social satire on display took my mind off the reality of my own situation.
Ivan Massague, with his hangdog-Zlatan-Ibrahimovic features is Goreng, our reasonable everyman at the start. For some bizarre reason he has volunteered to be in this Kafkaesque hell for reasons I won’t spoil. His first cellmate is an older man, Trimagasi (Zorian Eguileor). He is in for committing manslaughter. Trimagasi explains how the system works in the jail. Food comes down on a platform and is meant to be shared with everyone from top to bottom. Of course, it doesn’t work like that as greed prevails. The lower down you are the less food you get. What happens when you don’t eat? You look for alternative food sources. Goreng is naive initially, while Trimagasi knows how to play this vicious game, especially because they never know what level they will be on month to month. This is no Shawshank Redemption (1994), where the mentor coaches the younger man positively. In this environment it is a dog eat dog world; and it’s every dog for him or herself.
The Platform (2019) has a brilliant script, thus is a wicked delight from start to finish. Even the ambiguous ending, which while leaving our gallant lead protagonist’s fate open to interpretation, is fitting for a constantly surprising genre film. It is both a joy as horror film and social commentary. Indeed, the film has its pound of flesh and eats it. I just have to say there is some fantastic gore and memorably crunching deaths throughout of man, woman and beast. The film doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, it is actually quite nihilistic about human behaviour and our inability to share the wealth around. But as high concept and low budget horror movies go, it’s one of the most entertaining I have seen in sometime. Anything to take one’s mind off what is really happening in this world can only be positive.
Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith
Directors (Season5): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales, Steve Pemberton
Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer and Netflix)
No. of Episodes: 6
***CONTAINS PROPER SPOILERS***
Inside No. 9is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors, having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in amazing comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.
If you have never seen Inside No. 9 before, I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six standalone episodes per season. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and actors each time. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely brilliant. It privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moroever the events usually unfold in one location with never more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate.
Inside No. 9 is also a surprising delight because you never know what kind of genre you will get. One week you could get comedy, horror, drama, crime, romance or musical; and sometimes a combination of all of them. They also take chances with their use of form and structure, with many episodes either paying homage or parodying different genre styles. So, here are some short reviews of each episode from Season 5. Usually, I mark my reviews out of eleven (in homage to This is Spinal Tap (1984)), however, for obvious reasons, I will be marking these reviews out of NINE.
EPISODE 1 – THE REFEREE’S A W**NKER
Cast: David Morrissey, Ralph Little, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith
The number 9 of this episode occurs in a football referees’ changing room before, during and after a critical final game of the season. Tensions rise between players, mascots and officials in what is the referee’s last game before retirement. David Morrissey is brilliant as the ultra-professional ref attempting to keep control amidst the chaos. Ralf Little also excels as the vain referee’s assistant, with Shearsmith and Pemberton offering fine comedic support. On the main this plays out as a comedy, but there are also serious moments. Indeed, The Referee’s a Wanker explores themes of corruption, gay footballers, and the obsessive win-at-all-costs nature of football fanatics. Fast-paced, funny and containing a great twist, this episode kicked off the season very positively.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 2 – DEATH BE NOT PROUD
Cast: Jenna Coleman, Kadiff Kirwan, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Sarah Solemani
This episode was a joy on many levels. Firstly, it was a fantastic mixture of dark comedy and bloody horror. Most significantly, it contained a wonderful series of meta-cultural call backs to Shearsmith’s and Pemberton’s prior work called Psychoville. A grotesque and demented sitcom, Psychoville contained a gallery of crazed characters with many portrayed by Pemberton and Shearsmith. In Death Be Not Proud the opening is quite conventional. Young couple (Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) get what they think is a property bargain. However, the flat was host to a grisly murder and something from beyond the grave is tormenting the new tenants. When the previous owner, David Sowerbutts returns things get even weirder. Only then do we learn about the horrific history of this murder home, to sick and hilarious effect.
Mark: 8.5 out of 9
EPISODE 3 – LOVE’S GREAT ADVENTURE
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Debbie Rush, Gaby French, Bobby Schofield, Reece Shearsmith.
Once again displaying fine writing and actorly versatility, Love’s Great Adventure plays out as a straight family drama. It’s of such high quality and hits such emotional and dramatic peaks, TV writers like Paul Abbott, Jimmy McGovern and Jed Mercurio would have been proud to have written it. Cleverly structured around an advent calendar, the Christmas setting adds texture to the financial struggles of one working class family. Trevor (Pemberton) and Julia (Debbie Rush) are devoted to each other, their teenage daughter and grandson who lives with them. They are even prepared to forgive their self-destructive addict son. Set mainly in the kitchen on various days leading up to Christmas day, the events unfold in a subtle, but powerfully realistic manner. These are ordinary, but compelling characters, who prove there is nothing stronger than family love.
Mark: 8.5 out of 9
EPISODE 4 – MISDIRECTION
Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jill Halfpenny, Fionn Whitehead
One of my favourite ever TV shows is Tales Of The Unexpected and Inside No. 9 certainly owes a debt to that series of twisted genre narratives. Misdirection is a case in point. It is up there with the best Pemberton and Shearsmith plots, as a young student journalist, Fionn Whitehead, interviews Reece Shearsmith’s famous magician. Safe to say that as this is about magic there is much in the way of tricksy turns, bluffs and diversionary tactics. Shearsmith is on brilliant form as the arrogant traditionalist with a dark secret. He criticizes the inelegance of street magicians while a battle of wits ensues with Whitehead’s seemingly naive novice. Echoing the structural and stylish dexterity of Peter Schaffer’s brilliant Sleuth (1972), Misdirection holds all the cards when it comes to being a deviously clever and totally unexpected tale.
Mark: 9 out of 9
EPISODE 5 – THINKING OUT LOUD
Cast: Maxine Peake, Phil Davis, Ionna Kimbrook, Sandra Gayer, Sara Kestelman, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton
Before reviewing this season, I watched every episode twice. I’m glad I did because Inside No. 9 can be complex and pack a lot in thirty minutes. So, it proves in Thinking Out Loud, as we get seven seemingly disparate characters all unconnected. Or so we are led to believe. The episode uses the video diary format, which was something of a popular phenomenon in the 1990s, plus it echoes the “talking heads” style of Alan Bennett. Thus, we get a character in therapy, her therapist, a criminal on death row, a singer, a man suffering from cancer, a man looking for love and an Instagram influencer. All directly address the camera and as we cut between them, their connection slowly filters through until the incredible reveal. Owing much to films like Identity (2003) and Split (2017), this psychological thriller is very crafty with many chilling moments that bear up to multiple viewings.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 6 – THE STAKEOUT
Cast: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith
This virtual two-hander concentrates all of the action within the confines of a police car. Steve Pemberton portrays the jaded and experienced police officer obsessed with finding out who killed his partner. Joining him in the vehicle is new partner, played by Shearsmith. The latter’s character is a Special Constable who seeks to follow the book causing tension on a stakeout during a literal graveyard shift. The two clash over diet, riddles, word-games and police procedure, but over three nights they eventually find mutual respect. The bulk of the episode’s enjoyment comes from Pemberton and Shearsmith’s sparring and their performances are exemplary. The writing is also impressive as it plays with the tropes of the police procedural genre. Finally, it also sets up a suspenseful opening only to confound us by the bloody fiendish denouement.