Screenplay by: Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Produced by: Nira Park, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Edgar Wright
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, etc.
Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Edgar Wright is one of my favourite directors working today. His films possess an endless series of cinematic techniques such: long takes, quick cuts, swooping camera moves, canted frames, Steadicam, camera holds, frame switches, pans, scans, tilts, low-angles, metronomic editing, blurred dissolves, point-of-view and god’s-eye view shots. Moreover, Wright’s use of humour, music, colour, casting choices, and cross-genre collisions are spectacularly imaginative and entertaining. His latest film Last Night in Soho (2021) is no different. I was enthralled and excited throughout this ripping big-budget exploitation film, which juxtaposes influences such as Stephen King, Brian DePalma and Doctor Who, with a suggestion of Dario Argento and giallo cinema.
Last Night in Soho (2021) is both a love and hate letter to the Soho area of central London in the 1960’s and the now. If hate is too strong a word then at the very least the myriad of storylines collide to create a cautionary tale of one young person’s move from Cornwall to London to study fashion at the University of Arts. Major acting talent Thomasin Mackenzie is Ellie Turner, a passionate young woman who loves the sixties music and style, but also mourns the loss of her mother at an early age. Leaving her comfortable home she shares with her Grandmother (Rita Tushingham), Ellie experiences London and student life with initially mixed results. Finding it difficult to connect with her obnoxious room-mate, Jocasta, she moves into an antiquated bedsit, with imperious Diana Rigg as her landlady no less. All of a sudden her incredible journey into the glamorous and seedy past of Soho begins.
As with many of his films Wright establishes several storylines simultaneously. He brilliantly crosses rites-of-passage with period drama, romance, musical, detective and finally the horror genre. Ellie finds her feet at University, gets a job in a bar, receives praise for her initial designs and starts a budding romance with fellow student, John (Michael Ajao). At the same time her life becomes entwined in a surreal twist with that of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an engaging character desiring showbiz stardom who happens to live in Soho, but in the 1960’s. Ellie’s psychic link with Sandie brings her vivid dreams, but a striking empathic connection.
While Ellie is nervous and insecure within her London experiences, Sandie is the opposite. The theme of duality in their polar characters is both emotionally and visually breathtaking as their twin journey brings positive change and developing confidence in Ellie’s character. Yet, when Sandie’s career desires are exploited for nefarious gain by a local face called Jack (Matt Smith), both woman head for darker spaces in the shadows and smoke of the capital. Here the issue of mental health is intriguingly explored too. As Ellie is drawn further into Sandie’s nightmarish existence, she struggles to hold on to reality and the present.
Despite some minor wrinkles in the narrative and geographical London liberties taken, Edgar Wright has delivered one of the most thrilling and spectacularly energetic films of the year. The nostalgic and heavenly soundtrack is to die for, with so many songs I recall growing up listening to. Likewise, the cinematography and lighting design sparkle in hues of black, fluorescence, shadow and neon. Sure, Edgar Wright has his cake and eats it with mild virtue signalling relating to the “Me Too” movement. The male gaze eats up Anya Taylor Joy’s stunning charisma on screen, making us complicit in her downfall. Nonetheless, with issues relating to grief, mental health, sexual exploitation, identity, doppelgängers, urban breakdown and many more all enveloped into a craftily structured plot, you won’t find a more breathless cinematic experience all year.
Halloween is slowly creeping out of the fog and shadows. It’s a time of the year where horror films come to the fore. Personally, I watch horror all the year round, but it’s always fun when the genre pulls focus on the cultural calendar.
Rather than concentrate on current horror film releases, I thought it would be interesting to seek out chillers that are a tad less known. So, I had a scan through Amazon and Shudder screening platforms and unearthed several cult horror gems worth catching.
Some of these films come from the 1980’s period which encompassed the “video-nasty” era in the United Kingdom. With the advent of home video technology, the government suddenly got frightened about bloody and exploitational films and desired control. Censoring seventy-two titles and banning a flurry of films actually made people want to watch them more. This caused the government’s policy to backfire as people clamoured to watch “pirate” video versions of such films. In fact, it was in the living room watching forbidden films and the old Universal black-and-white classics where my true love of horror cinema began.
The following films may not have been banned at the time, but I was intrigued by how many of the titles I missed seeing on first release. Aside from Ben (1972), When A Stranger Calls (1979) and Phantasm (1979), I hadn’t seen the other titles. Therefore, if you’re looking for obscure horror films to watch then delve deep into the Amazon library. They have a fine feast of 1970’s and 1980’s fear inducing fare, many of them which were on the infamous “video-nasty” list. Dare you watch them!?
THE CAT OF NINE TAILS (1971)
An early Dario Argento giallo finds a blind puzzle-maker (Karl Malden) and dogged reporter (James Franciscus) investigating murders at a genetics lab. Aside from a couple of scary set-pieces, notably in a graveyard, it neither works as a detective nor horror story. It is however beautifully filmed with a vibrant restoration. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission track down missing toxic waste the New York homeless population are becoming victims to something monstrous in the sewers. An energetic sci-fi-horror hybrid combining a schlocky plot with socio-environmental themes. It’s not bad and actually quite funny, with early roles for John Heard and Daniel Stern whose acting raises the overall quality. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
CLASS OF 1984 (1982)
I remember school kids raving about this film when I was twelve. I really wanted to see it, but could never find it in the video shop or from the “pirate” video guy. The plot merges The Blackboard Jungle (1955) with Death Wish (1974), as Perry King’s music teacher attempts to soothe the savage beast of a gang of nasty punk students. He fails and the final act revenge-driven rampage is fantastically inventive and gory. Latterly famous director, a young Tim Van Patten, portrays the psychotic, Peter Stegman, with vicious zeal. A true exploitational classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11).
HELL NIGHT (1981)
This is one of those films I had never even heard of. With a sizeable budget of $1.4 million dollars for a slasher film, it concerns four college students, including a grown-up Linda Blair, spending the night in a creepy house as part of an initiation ritual. Unfortunately, there’s a psychotic killer about hellbent on hunting them down. We’ve seen it all before, but it was nicely filmed and had decent humour. Overlong but way better than I thought it would be. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
PHANTASM II (1988)
I reviewed the remastered version of Don Coscarelli’s low-budget masterpiece here, but only just got round to watching the sequel. Phantasm II (1988) had a bigger budget and suffers from some stodgy plotting. The re-casting of Mike with James Le Gros in the role throws you. Yet, once Mike and Reggie fight with the Tall Man (inimitable Angus Scrimm), the razor-sharp spheres and the hooded monsters, the film finds real pace. Coscarelli blows-up a lot of stuff and ramps up the weaponry, but the sequel lacks the twisted magic of the original must-watch horror fantasy, Phantasm (1979). (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
TERROR TRAIN (1980)
Another unknown mini-gem I found on Amazon. This Canadian slasher film is, you guessed it, set on a train and finds, yes you guessed it again, college students getting picked off one-by-one by a vengeful psycho. Notable for a really good plot which gives the killer empathy and understandable motivation, it also stars everyone’s favourite final girl, Jamie Lee Curtis. With disguise and magic prevalent in the themes, David Copperfield also appears in a neat role. Highly entertaining with a killer twist. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)
Inspired by a famous urban legend, Fred Walton’s chilling suspense thriller has one of the most nail-biting opening twenty minutes in horror cinema. Carol Kane is the babysitter terrorized by a series of tense phone calls from a mystery ringer. From that terrifying start the story falters slightly as it focusses on Charles Durning’s obsessive search for the unhinged man. Only when Kane rejoins the film some years later does the horror rise up again in a truly frightening denouement. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
WILLARD (1971) / BEN (1972)
This was an odd one because I knew and seen the sequelBen (1972) when I was a younger. Little did I realise the original Willard (1971) had been released the year before and became a sleeper box-office hit. Bruce Davison is excellent as the introvert, Willard, who is bullied at work by his aggressive boss, Ernest Borgnine. Only when, and take a deep breath here, Willard trains an army of rats does he gain confidence to take on the world. It’s a weird film that actually works because of Willard’s fascinating character arc and Davison’s nuanced performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
The follow-up Ben (1972) focusses on Willard’s alpha rat, Ben, and his friendship with lonely kid, Danny. The sequel really raises the rat count and there appears to be thousands of them in their dirty lair. Danny is a likeable kid who suffers from a serious illness that prevents him from going out. Why he would make friends with a killer rat though is still frankly nuts! A lack of thrills and goofy premise make it difficult to recommend, and is more famous for the classic Michael Jackson hit called, surprisingly enough, Ben.(Mark: 6 out of 11)
Who doesn’t like a great movie death? Well, people who abhor violence and gore on the screen. But I am not one of those people. Thus, if done right in terms of combining emotional context and cinematic imagination, there’s nothing I like more than revelling or lamenting a character’s end in fine bloody fashion. Lastly, I hear you ask why no Zahler, Scorsese, Cronenberg, Miike, Peckinpah, Jackson, Fulci, Roth, Romero, Argento etc. on this list? So much death and only six make it, so please suggest any of the thousands I have missed off in the comments.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
ALIEN (1979) – “Do these eggs taste off?”
I think it may have been something Kane (John Hurt) ate or maybe something that ate him? Anyway, one of the most spectacularly surprising scenes ever still holds amazing power to this very day.
THE FURY (1978) – Separated at death!
This under-rated tele-kinetic thriller is a spiritual sequel to Carrie (1976). Adding a spy conspiracy plot to Amy Irving’s rites of passage character arc, it has a whip-cracking-pace and classic DePalma set-pieces. None more so than the explosive end of the baddie-in-black.
PSYCHO (1960) – Take a bath next time!
What more can be written about one of the most shockingly original scenes in cinema history? Not only did Hitchcock break all narrative rules killing off the main protagonist halfway through, he did it with one of the most ingenious uses of montage, music and murder ever.
PULP FICTION (1994) – The original “face-off!”
Marvin never saw it coming. But let’s face it – none of us did!
ROBOCOP (1987) – Toxic Wasted!
Whoever designed this action scene, no doubt Paul Verhoeven had much to say, delivered one of the most excessive demises in 1980’s cinema. The vehicle crash, the toxic waste, the melting bad guy, the steam coming off his body and the final disintegration are just cinematic perfection.
WILD AT HEART (1990) – Bobby Peru loses his mind!
David Lynch’s vibrant adaptation of Barry Gifford’s romantic thriller contains many colourful characters. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru is a particularly nasty piece of work and he gets his comeuppance in an incredibly visceral and disturbing way!
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #12 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 7 (1993 – 1994)
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 7 writers (selected): Joe Menosky, Jeri Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, René Echevarria, Michael Piller, Naren Shankar, Jean Louise Matthias, James E. Brooks, Michael A. Medlock, Christopher Hatton, Nick Sagan, Spike Steingasser, Dan Koeppel, etc.
Season 7 directors (selected): Les Landau, Cliff Bole, Winrich Kolbe, Alexander Singer, Robert Weimer, Robert Scheerer, Adam Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gabrielle Beaumont, James L. Conway, LeVar Burton,Gates McFadden,etc.
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Michelle Forbes, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao, John De Lancie, Wil Wheaton, Kirsten Dunst, Paul Sorvino, Dwight Schultz, etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
My Star Trek journey started when I was a kid many moons ago. I used to watch the original series on my portable telly in the kitchen while eating dinner. I loved the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhuru and the rest of these bold space heroes. Thus, it was surprising that the whole of the Next Generation era of shows, including DS9 and Voyager, passed me by. Nonetheless, I have, since writing and producing two Star Trek fan films, been on a dedicated mission to watch every episode and film of the franchise that has been released.
This escapade began with the original series and my first blog review can be read here:
Subsequently, and three engrossing years later, I have finally completed watching the last season of The Next Generation. I have to be honest that this marathon viewing project is certainly a big cultural task. Furthermore, I still cannot work out how the hell they managed to produce so many episodes per season for TNG. It truly beggars belief the amount of high quality TV that was produced. I mean, I was exhausted watching it, so how those making it felt I do not know. I guess the fan’s respect and money and joy of being part of the Star Trek legacy was more than compensation.
Season 7 was again a mammoth twenty-six episode tranche. One might think there would be a drop in quality and there was some element of this in certain episodes. However, that was more to do with attempting to crowbar in a satisfactory ending for certain characters, notably Wil Wheaton’s anaemic, Wesley Crusher. Family ties and dramas linked many of season 7’s narratives, yet there was also the usual high concepts and socio-political themes explored throughout. Thus, dearest Next Generation, I thank you for taking me on a bold ride to the final frontier of journey’s end. Here are six of my favourite episodes of season seven!
ATTACHED – EPISODE 9
One of the great pleasures of watching The Next Generation is that the show always gave us mature romantic relationships. The “will they-won’t they” romance of Dr Crusher and Captain Picard is directly addressed in Attached, as the two find themselves shackled physically and telepathically by a paranoid alien race. As they attempt to survive and escape capture the two explore their hidden feelings in a moving episode of some power.
THE PEGASUS – EPISODE 12
Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is portrayed as a dynamic action hero of strength and skill, so it is always interesting when his character is tested. In The Pegasushe is faced with both the sins of the “father” and of his own past. The surrogate father is this case is Captain Erik Pressman, portrayed brilliantly by Terry O’Quinn. Pressman is determined to track down the lost ship, ‘The Pegasus’ before the Romulans get to it. He places pressure on Riker to keep confidential the secrets the missing vessel has as the episode contains great drama and conflict.
HOMEWARD – EPISODE 13
When shows have been going for many seasons they often have to introduce previously unknown siblings, parents or love interests to manufacture storylines. I totally get this and often it creates fantastic episodes. In Inheritance we get to meet Data’s “mother”, but an even better episode is Homeward where Worf’s foster brother, Nikola (Paul Sorvino) rebels against the ‘Prime Directive’ to save the Boraalan people. It’s a great episode full of twists and some excellent scenes between Paul Sorvino (not playing a gangster for once) and the ever-excellent, Michael Dorn. The use of the holodeck as an integral part of the narrative is highly inventive too.
LOWER DECKS – EPISODE 15
Most episodes of Star Trek will focus on the core characters with a leaning to one or two of the main cast. But Lower Decks turns that around with the fantastic premise of profiling some of the younger crew members. It’s a well written narrative which focusses attention on a Starfleet promotion with Ensigns Sito Jaxa, Sam Lavelle and Taurik in “friendly” competition to achieve the goal. We immediately warm to their personalities as the witty dialogue adds much fizz, but the drama of the piece is heightened when Bajoran, Sito Jaxa, is sent on a dangerous mission, leading to a powerfully emotional denouement.
GENESIS – EPISODE 19
I loved this episode because it contained a fantastic melding of sci-fi and horror genres with some monstrous creatures on show. With Gates McFadden directing her only episode, the story finds the Enterprise crew falling ill and regressing to various animal states. Worf has reverted into an aggressive predator attempting to mate with Troi; Riker an Australopithecine (Caveman); Troi an amphibian; and Barclay a spider. Even Spot the cat has become an iguana. While it may sound weird and a bit silly I loved the imaginative animal transformations as the cast shed both their human skin and inhibitions.
ALL GOOD THINGS – EPISODES 25/26
As they say all good things come to an end. So, after boldly going for many seasons, The Next Generation finally concluded with a moving and inventive two-parter. I must admit that while it was clever to call back to the first episode, Encounter at Farpoint, I was never a massive fan of the character, Q. Even though John De Lancie’s performance always brought great energy to every episode, I just felt that this character with uber-God-like powers could always resolve the drama with a Deus ex Machina click of the fingers. Nonetheless, the idea that he was always testing humanity was a great theme, and once again in All Good Things, he puts Jean Luc Picard through a trio of trials in the past, present and future. It’s a superbly written, acted and directed finale and possibly one of the best final episodes of a long-running TV show of all time! The last scene with Picard finally joining his crew at the poker table is truly logical! Make it so – Number One!
Produced by: Arnold H. Bruck, Edgar Ievins, Tom Kaye
Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner
Cinematography: Bruce Torbet
Edited by: Frank Henenlotter
*** REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Being a massive fan of horror and cult movies, it is quite incredible that I had never seen Frank Henenlotter’s low-budget exploitation film, Basket Case (1982). So, when I saw it available via my Shudder subscription I dived straight into the basket, and found the insane premise, bad acting, zero-cash lighting style, lo-fi stop motion and monster effects, all combining to deliriously horrific and hilarious effect. Because, what it lacks in polished performances and filming style, it makes up for in riotous bad taste and shocking entertainment.
Henenlotter’s debut film was shot on grainy 16mm film and for a budget of around $35,000. The story finds the enthusiastic Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck), visiting New York and staying at the low-rent fleapit called the Hotel Broslin. What makes Kevin so intriguing is he carries around a basket. What’s in the basket I hear you ask? Well, you soon find out that it is something quite disgusting and despicable. A grotesque freak which, when you learn it and Duane’s backstory, takes on a bizarre kind of empathy. As Duane begins to make friends, both with a prostitute neighbour and Doctor’s receptionist, his grisly telepathic and physical connection with the monster pushes him to the brink of insanity. Because the demon is driving Duane to assist him on a vengeful journey of bloodlust and murder.
While the story is certainly nuts and much of the acting is woeful, Kevin Van Hentenryck’s energetic performance makes Duane a likeable protagonist. You really root for him when he begins to fall in love, but the monster becomes jealous, wreaking havoc on Duane’s romance. Further, Henenlotter deserves so much credit for making the insanity on the screen work. I think he does this because he gives us a tragic lead character, moves the story along at a whip-crack pace, has a fantastic monster and devises many memorably gruesome deaths. All throughout I was both laughing and feeling sick at the same time. Lastly, I also just love that Henenlotter made up many of the names in the credits because only a handful of people were in the crew. Indeed, Basket Case (1982) is a true independently made gonzo-horror classic, which makes the most of the dirty-porno-sleazy New York streets it is set on. Dare YOU open the basket?
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, Christopher Lee etc.
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
***CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***
In my last review I wrote with nostalgia about trips to the video shop. Yes, an actual shop where you could hire films existed! Imagine that. Now, I further lament the splintered streaming marketplace where you have to pay a subscription to watch a film when I used to be able to see it on telly for free. Plus, there are TOO MANY platforms. Those £5.99 and £4.99 and £7.99 per month fees soon stack up. I used to love turning on Channel Four or BBC2 or latterly Film Four and there would be a cult horror film, classic film noir, World cinema, art film or early directorial release from a now famous director on there late at night – FOR FREE! Thankfully, aside from all the streaming stems I have to manage, a channel on digital TV called Talking Pictures does show some genuinely great movies that time and humanity may have forgotten. One such is Deathline (1972).
Deathline (1972) – (AKA Raw Meat in the U.S.) is a genuine cult classic horror film which is gruesome, darkly witty and incredibly moving in equal measures. In this era of constant remakes I am surprised no filmmaker has decided to transfer this grimy and quintessentially British movie into the modern day. In many ways I am glad they haven’t as it, despite some glaring flaws in characterisation of two main protagonists, borders on being a bona fide under-rated classic. The premise involves a series of missing persons who are disappearing around the area of Russell Square underground station. The sarcastic Inspector Calhoun (inimitable Donald Pleasence) is tasked with cracking the case. He does so with gallows humour and gallons of cups of tea.
Pleasence is not the only person who gives a memorable acting performance in Deathline (1972). Because the screenplay and direction spends a lot of the grisly running time creating a thematic and visual mythology around the antagonist. Indeed, while the killer, described in the credits as the ‘Man’ (Hugh Armstrong), commits several brutal slayings and abductions, the ghastly backstory given and Armstrong’s emotionally charged portrayal really make you empathise with his situation. The combination of pustular make-up effects, the rat-infested underground lair he inhabits, plus the tragic circumstances surrounding the ‘Man’s’ plight ensure he one of cinema’s most empathetic monsters since Karloff in Frankenstein (1931).
It’s a shame therefore that more wasn’t done to develop the leading couple in the film, students Alex Campbell (David Ladd) and Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney). While she is at least sympathetic, he is completely unlikeable and mostly unheroic. So much so I was rooting more for the plague-pocked ‘Man’ at the end rather than him. But hey I’m watching this for the gore and deaths aren’t I? Well, there’s plenty of that in between Inspector Calhoun’s chirpy working-class snipes and demands for cups of tea. Plus, director Gary Sherman gives us a tremendous, long take which establishes the cavernous setting for the murder and horror, utilising the dank London underground tunnel system to maximum impact. While Christopher Lee is given poster billing, he’s only in one scene as a privileged MI5 agent. Finally, did you know Marlon Brando was originally cast as the ‘Man’. Well, I’m kind of glad that was an offer he did refuse. Because Armstrong’s tragic human monster lives on long in the mind, even after the film’s haunting final echoes have faded.
Produced by: Dave Franco, Elizabeth Haggard, Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman, Joe Swanberg, Christopher Storer
Cast: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss
Cinematography: Christian Sprenger
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
If you’re old like me you will remember the golden era of video rental stores in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I used to love going to the video shop at the weekend and choosing which films to watch. For example, on a Saturday afternoon at Blockbuster I would choose three films usually. One would be a banker like a high quality release or made by an acclaimed filmmaker whose work I was certain to like. Another would be a more commercial choice like a high concept action film or comedy; something to take the brain out for. Lastly, I would take a gamble on either an arthouse or foreign or indie character-driven film; OR an even bigger gamble on a lower-budget or unheard horror film or thriller with a back-of-the-video-box pitch that grabbed me. Often the latter choice would end up being a terribly arty bore or a schlocky B-movie disaster. However, every now and then I would find a film gem which totally gripped me.
With streaming now there’s not so much of a gamble as you haven’t had to walk or drive to the video shop. Even better there’s no need to return the tapes on time and risk getting fined. You switch on your streaming device and choose your film. If you don’t like it you can turn it off, although I do tend to see things through to the end on most occasions. But hey Paul, enough about comparing the past with the present – WHAT’S YOUR POINT! Oh yes, the Dave Franco directed The Rental (2020) is one of those films which I took a chance on because of the cast and the back-of-video-box-pitch (i.e. the Amazon online trailer). I’m glad I did watch it, as it is a terrific thriller with a tension-filled script which leads and misleads you through a series of compelling twists. It’s a simple premise, involving two couples spending the weekend at a beautiful rural property where poor choices destabilise their harmony, only for all hell to break loose when a serious crime escalates the action.
The cast of Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Shiela Vand and Jeremy Allen White are arguably punching below their weight where the B-movie material is concerned. Yet, they bring quality to the proceedings as the initial peace between the characters descends into chaos when first infidelity and then murder rears its ugly head. One of my favourite character actors, Toby Huss, is excellent here too as the suspicious property manager. I’ve seen some so-so reviews for The Rental (2020), but it’s the kind of tightly plotted suspense thriller I really thrive on. What starts as an idyllic getaway for two relatively wealthy couples is carefully unravelled by Dave Franco’s well-paced direction, complimented by Brie and Steven’s committed performances, has wonderful locations and a seriously proper killer ending.
Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith
Directors (Season 6): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales
Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer)
No. of Episodes: 6
I have written exhaustively about how brilliant this television programme is, so much so I don’t think I can add any further other than I believe it deserves regaling as TV national treasure. Just when you think Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton could be running out of creative steam they prove you wrong with another superb series of Inside No. 9. If you are interested, here are prior articles I have written about it.
However, to recap, if you have never seen Inside No. 9 I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six stand-alone episodes per series. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and amazing actors each time led by the multi-talented Pemberton and Shearsmith. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely unforgettable. It again privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moreover, the events usually unfold in one location with rarely more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate. In series 6, there is even more growth within the anthology genre and much risk-taking where style and form are concerned.
So, here are my mini-reviews of each episode from Season 6 with marks out of nine (obviously).
*** BEWARE: POTENTIAL SPOILERS ***
EPISODE 1: WUTHERING HEIST
Main cast: Paterson Joseph, Gemma Whelan, Kevin Bishop, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Rosa Robson, Dino Kelly etc.
Not only are Pemberton and Shearsmith accomplished actors, writers and directors, they are also acutely aware how fans revel in their incredible work, devilishly mocking their own mythology and playing with audience expectations. They do this to dizzying impact in the puntastic opening episode, Wuthering Heist. Marrying elements from farce, crime, Commedia dell’arte and the plot of Reservoir Dogs (1992), the players wear masks, prat about and bleed over each other while attempting to pull off a diamond heist. Set in one location, a disused warehouse, Gemma Whelan is superb as the fourth-wall breaking narrator attempting to hold all the story innards together. Pretty soon though one realises that the flurry of puns, sight gags, plot contrivances and comical misunderstandings are intended as wondrous and silly fun. The lack of emotional depth is the joke here and the writers know this. Because Shearsmith and Pemberton’s script has a gag every four seconds, be it a sight jape or involve some sparky verbal dexterity. Lastly, not only do they know they are jumping the shark, but they revel in doing so during this hilarious meta-work.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 2: SIMON SAYS
Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Lindsay Duncan, Nick Mohammed
Among many of the recurring pleasures of watching Inside No. 9 is wondering what the number nine will refer to. It’s been a myriad of things including: a karaoke booth, a hotel room, a train sleeper car, a dressing room, a referee’s changing room, and even a shoe. In Simon Says it’s the name of a television epic called The Ninth Circle. This show is very similar to Game of Thrones in genre and scale, and likewise has a battalion of fans across the country who feel the final series undid the majesty of the prior seasons. The episode opens with immediate mystery as Steve Pemberton’s writer, Spencer, enters his flat with blood staining his clothes and conscience. Suddenly, Simon (Reece Shearsmith), is at the door saying he has evidence Spencer has committed a serious crime. Simon, a Ninth Circle uber-fan then blackmails Spencer into, among others things, rewriting the whole of the last season of The Ninth Circle into something more fan-friendly. Managing to be both funny and suspenseful in equal measures, Pemberton and Shearsmith’s characters play cat-and-mouse expertly, throwing in several big plot twists at the end of this compelling tale.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 3: LIP SERVICE
Cast: Sian Clifford, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith
I watch some television series and films and am often struck at how much time is wasted in setting up the protagonists and story. Similarly, in unnecessarily long TV series you get either eight or ten episodes full of padding in the middle which destabilizes the momentum of the story. Nothing of the sort occurs in Inside No. 9. Stories are set-up with stylish economy and the situations immediately grab you by the throat and rarely let go. In Lip Service, Steve Pemberton’s downtrodden Felix is holed up in a hotel room waiting to liaise with a woman. But it’s not what you think. Sian Clifford’s Iris arrives and it turns out she is there to offer her services as a lip-reader. Felix suspects the woman he loves is having an affair and he requires Iris to read her and a possible lover’s lips at an adjacent hotel suite. I’ve now seen this episode three times and it truly is breathtaking. There’s empathy for Felix’s lost soul, some fine linguistic comedy, a potential romance, Clifford’s performance knocking it out of the park, Reece Shearsmith having great fun as an officious German hotel manager and THAT ending. The denouement, while totally believable, comes out of nowhere and leaves you genuinely speechless.
Mark: 8.5 out 9
EPISODE 4: HURRY UP AND WAIT
Cast: Adrian Dunbar, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Donna Preston, Bhavna Limbachia, and Pauline McGlynn
Quite possibly my favourite episode of the series, Hurry Up and Wait manages to achieve that difficult juxtaposition of being meta-textual and containing some real emotional power. Because it is one thing to be self-referential and satirise the creative process, in this case the making of a television police drama starring famous actor Adrian Dunbar, but it’s quite another to build in a murder mystery and empathetic characters who you root for. While Reece Shearsmith is always excellent playing angry characters, here he portrays James, a mild-mannered actor, who has got a break playing a scene with the precious talent, Dunbar. The TV drama they are in concerns a missing child and the “green room” happens to be a static caravan owned by a working-class family who may have important information about said grisly crime. Steve Pemberton and Pauline McGlynn play the parents of immature, Beverley – the brilliant Donna Preston – adding much comic relief, but all possibly hiding a dark secret. As James learns his lines he also plays detective seemingly discovering the truth until the truly chilling ending is revealed.
Mark: 9 out of 9
EPISODE 5: HOW DO YOU PLEAD?
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Derek Jacobi
Arguably the darkest tale, both in terms of the noir lighting and foreboding themes, it is difficult to discuss this tale of soul-searching guilt and justice without giving away too much of the story. Thus, I’ll talk about the actors and characters more. Derek Jacobi gives a deeply moving performance of a dying barrister who prides himself of, after an upturn in his early legal career, never losing a case in court until retirement. As he lies dying in bed, lungs heavy around his heart, he feels guilt about one case where he defended the indefensible. As he confesses his regret to Shearsmith’s cheery carer, it is soon revealed both men have sins they buried in the past which will soon come back to bite them. Watching these two fine actors spark off one another is as compelling as television drama can get, but there’s also comedy there too as Shearsmith delivers some spirited one-liners in between Jacobi’s grand screen gravitas. But where’s Pemberton I hear you ask? He’s sitting there waiting patiently in the shadows of this evocatively lit and thrilling tale.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 6: LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS!
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Glover, Debra Gillett, Bamshad Abedi-Amin, Sarah Parish etc.
Are you aware of the work of Dennis Potter? He was one of the finest writers in British television from the 1960’s way into the early 1990’s. His scripts were always highly erotic, political and incredibly controversial. They skewered very British and human themes and burnt great sacred cows of the church, government, family, sex and marriage on the TV barbecue, leaving charcoal remains in their stead. Potter was a genius and with Last Night of the Proms, Pemberton and Shearsmith match him for bravado in deconstructing human nature and what it means to be British. Set in a well-to-do, middle-class household, a family of three generations sit down to watch the Last of the Proms on the BBC. It’s a big traditional classical music event and cultural celebration of what it means to be British. It makes me sick! Britain isn’t great. The British are racist, imperialistic and hardy murderers, who have a history and present (fucking Brexit!) they should be ashamed of. The thought-provoking screenplay here is heavy on compelling themes, memorable imagery and striking symbolism. This is a jarring and messy episode and what it lacks in precise plotting it more than makes up for in juxtaposing horror, satire, drama, surrealism, Jesus, social commentary and comedy to rather mesmerising effect. Potter’s ghost would have watched with glee and disgust and hate and love and pity and sadness; which is much how I felt witnessing Last Night of the Proms.
THE HORROR OF IDENTITY: DOUBLE BILL FILM REVIEWS – DEERSKIN (2019) & POSSESSOR (2020)
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”-Oscar Wilde
We’ve all wanted to exist outside our own skin. Or perhaps inhabit someone else’s? Or, maybe even change our own identity, both literally and psychologically. Or is that just me? At the least we have all thought about it. Even losing weight and going down the gym or giving up alcohol or changing our hairstyle is a means of basic transformation. We may make a more defiant change and leave that job we hate or break out from a negative relationship. Arguably though, personality, attitude and mental changes in one’s life are the most difficult. After all, it is incredibly difficult to change the very fabric of one’s personality or character.
We can find an alternative source of transformation in a vicarious sense through storytelling mediums such as literature, television and cinema. The horror genre especially is replete with monstrous visions of identity switches, psychotic breakdowns and physical transmogrification. I personally take great pleasure in seeing altered identities occur on the screen and am especially drawn to characters who experience mental and corporeal metamorphosis. That simply isn’t because I cannot change who I am or what I do on a daily basis, but it’s quite scary to attempt to reshape one’s existence and identity. It’s bloody hard work without much guarantee of success. Horror films, while also frightening when done well, are far more satisfying and give a more immediate hit than the grind of reality.
Two films I have seen recently both relate to mid-life crises and exhibit themes that illustrate two characters changing their appearance to bring about a shift in identity, behaviour and personality. They also show characters spiralling out of control in incredibly violent, bizarre and entertaining ways. Those films are Deerskin (2019) and Possessor (2020) and here are my reviews.
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Directed and written by Quentin Dupieux
Main Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adele Haenel
Have you ever seen the film Rubber (2010)? It is a gonzo horror-comedy about a murderous-tyre called Robert killing birds and people with telekinetic powers. Beneath the insanity of the pitch there is in fact a subtextual satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think!It came from the mind of Quentin Dupieux, so I was intrigued that he had nabbed for a subsequent production the grand talents of Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel for the obsidian killer comedy, Deerskin (2019).
Dujardin is Georges, a middle-aged loner, recently dumped by his wife whose only aim now it appears is to purchase a deerskin jacket. Buoyed by the confidence the jacket has given him, and armed with a video camera thrown in with the deal, George plots up at a rural hotel and befriends Adele Haenel’s bar server and enthusiastic film editor. Their budding friendship threatens to turn this into a relatively conventional love story, however, a series of twisted turns tip the story into a hilarious series of murderous set-pieces, with Georges determined to get money to make a movie, but most importantly buy deerskin trousers, hat and gloves.
The story of a middle-aged man altering his outer look in order to transform his life and fortune is a staple of Hollywood comedies and romance films. Deerskin (2019) is that kind of film on the surface. Yet when filtered through Dupieux’s iconoclastic imagination the premise is an altogether different kind of demented animal. Ultimately, it is a low-budget gem of a black comedy with some fantastic ideas and fascinating character study of a man attempting to shift skin, but falling deeper and deeper into psychopathy. It’s a wacky journey with committed performances, yet, it felt like the ending was just too sudden, as if the filmmaker either ran our of money or just wanted to screw with audience expectations right up until the final sudden frame.
MARK: 7.5 out of 11
Directed and written by Brandon Cronenberg
Main Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton etc.
Whereas Deerskin (2019) finds a literal and figurative metamorphosis when a character buys a jacket, Brandon Cronenberg’s vicious horror film, Possessor (2020), is an altogether more cerebral, violent and psychologically stunning journey. Andrea Riseborough is as intense as ever portraying an assassin named, Tasya Vox, who through some incredible technology is able to inhabit the mind and body of another individual and use them as a human puppet to commit murder. It’s a perfect set-up for the assassination agency led by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s handler, Girder. Yet such murder by scientific proxy comes at a cost to Vox’s family life and mental stability.
After a glorious opening scene featuring an astoundingly brutal stabbing, Vox attempts to reconnect with her partner and son, but finds herself becoming ever more disconnected. The pressure of taking over another individual’s identity is causing Vox to discombobulate as her mind begins to fracture. Despite this she takes the next job, a contract to kill John Parse (Sean Bean), using Christopher Abbott’s Colin Tate as a conduit. As Vox struggles with her splitting psyche, Tate himself is having personal issues also and this leads to some mind-bending and psychedelic montage scenes as the two battle within Tate’s brain. If this all sounds a bit weird, it is and it isn’t because the filmmaking is of such a high quality one believes the process. Further, the director never loses his grip on the narrative and Cronenberg gets a compelling performance from Abbott as his character confronts the invasion into his soul.
Overall, Possessor (2020) has a stunning concept at its heart but I just kept wondering how a genre filmmaker like Leigh Whannell may have handled the idea. He certainly would have made the characters more empathetic because it is so tough to warm to either Vox or Tate. Indeed, Tate’s character should have been developed more at the beginning in my view as he would have made an ideal “innocent/wrong man” type character so often used by Hitchcock. Nonetheless, Brandon Cronenberg has crafted one of the most visually impressive and shocking psychological horror films I have seen in a long time. Like Whannell’s Upgrade (2018), it contains some memorable gore and violence. It is also very intelligent as the fantastic ideas explore what it means to not only inhabit another person’s skin, but rip through their very soul.
SIX OF THE BEST #32 – CINEMATIC STATEMENTS OF INTENT!
This is a dive into the world of punchy dialogue that sums up a film or character or a relationship in a few key words. Because sometimes you just don’t want to think and sometimes you don’t want subtle hints to a character’s intentions. On occasions you want the whole plot and cinematic situation summed up succinctly and in an emotionally impactful way. I like ambiguous or complex characters, but from time to time I just gots to know, in a few words, what the character wants or their plans or capabilities. How do they do that? Well, through a good old-fashioned statement of intent.
I would categorise a statement of intent as generally involving the words “I” or “me” and has a character telling another character or group, plus the audience, what they intend to do or how they feel about a particular moment in their life. Or indeed their life as a whole. There is no ambiguity, but rather a direct proclamation of where the character stands and what he or she wants. Actually, I should say this is an extremely masculine list, but la-di-da, it is what is and so it goes. Thus, here are six of the best, of what I call statements of intent from film.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
QUINT – JAWS (1975)
“I’ll catch this bird for yer – but it ain’t gonna be easy. . . bad fish!”
One of the great character introductions of all time and an incredible statement of intent too. In a way Quint did catch the “bird”, but that big bird caught up with Quint too! What a speech! What a film!
HOWARD BEALE – NETWORK (1976)
“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Acclaimed playwright Paddy Chayefsky arguably wrote one of the greatest cinema speeches of all time with Peter Finch’s newscaster, Howard Beale, reaching the end of his tether with society and life! The saddest thing about this statement of intent is that NOTHING has changed – the world is still nuts and it gets crazier by the day!
T101 / T800 – THE TERMINATOR (1984)
“I’ll be back!”
Sometimes three simple words can say more than a lengthy monologue, as James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger combined to amazing impact in this classic sci-fi action film! Arnie lived up to his promise too, coming back again and again in a series of sequels and prequels and, aside from Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992), rarely equalled follow-up films.
MARTIN RIGGS – LETHAL WEAPON (1987)
“Do you really wanna jump… Well, that’s fine by me!”
Amidst all the mullets, bullets and B-movie baddies of Shane Black’s over-the-top 1980’s script, there is in fact a moving buddy relationship in here too. There is also a compelling character arc of a suicidal man finding a reason to live through an adopted family. Mel Gibson’s Riggs has so many great scenes to demonstrate his wild-man acting style and the “jumper” scene is probably the best of them.
HAWKEYE – THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992)
“You stay alive no matter what occurs – I will find you!”
This statement of intent comes later than they usually might in a film. But, under the fall of water and with the majestic score swelling Daniel Day Lewis’ Hawkeye powerfully declares his love and intentions to Madeline Stowe’s Cora Munro in Michael Mann’s incredible romantic war drama.
BRYAN MILLS – TAKEN (2008)
“I have a particular set of skills… I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you!”
Despite the xenophobic undertones within Pierre Morel and Liam Neeson’s rapid-paced action thriller, it does have one of the most iconic statements of intent in recent film history. Neeson delivers it brilliantly and what’s great is he does find the kidnappers and he does kill them! Just like he said he would! Nothing I like more than a man who keeps his word!