Arriving almost stealthily but just in time to prove 2020 isn’t all bad, The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix is a riveting story of loss, genius, addiction and chess.
Smartly and economically written, gorgeously designed and shot, and with an excellent score (by Carlos Rafael Rivera) the series however, is owned lock, stock and barrel by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Emma).
The actor plays orphan Beth Harmon and the seven episodes detail her meteoric rise through the world chess rankings. Director/writer Scott Frank (Godless) makes full use of Taylor-Joy’s eyes throughout, which seem to sometimes threaten to burn right through the screen. It’s a frequently astonishing performance, one that starts from those eyes and manifests a dark and fascinating inner life for her character. This was clearly a rather special collaboration between the two.
Based on a 1983 thriller novel by Walter Tevis (who also wrote The Hustler, The Colour of Money and The Man Who Fell To Earth), the story moves forward propulsively but never less than thoughtfully and also highlights a complicated but tender relationship between Beth and her adoptive mother, played by Marielle Heller.
The cast is uniformly good, featuring superb turns from the likes of Isla Johnston (as young Beth), Bill Camp (the care home janitor who spark’s Beth’s nascent talent) and Moses Ingram (as Beth’s closest friend, a character we should definitely have seen more of in the narrative).
But this is Taylor-Joy’s show and a great showcase for the young actor. Frank and Taylor-Joy give us a fascinating, magnetic character in Beth, and mostly avoid making her talent magical by highlighting her obsessive and destructive traits.
The Queen’s Gambit feels very much like a piece of classic Hollywood storytelling, yet rises above that with a cool boldness that feels utterly compelling.
The series brings a wonderful, stylish slice of viewing joy (sorry, not sorry) to a pretty awful year.
With that list of names above you are going to watch this immediately, right? Okay, let’s do it…
There have been plenty of event movies to get excited about this year, but arguably none more so than The Irishman.
Based on the non-fiction novel, I Heard You Paint Houses, by Charles Brandt, this adaptation sees the reuniting of one of the greatest directors ever with some of the greatest actors of our time, in a milieu in which they’re all extremely comfortable, the gangster movie.
The titular Irishman (played by DeNiro) is, as you can guess from the trailer, a hitman working for the mob, and it probably won’t surprise you that nefarious deeds are afoot with the involvement of Pacino’s union leader, Jimmy Hoffa. And I don’t need to tell you what happened to him, right?
Netflix originally green-lit Scorsese’s hugely anticipated new movie at $130 million, but the budget escalated to $200 million because of the complicated and unprecedented amount of CGI de-ageing process on the actors (seen here working impressively on DeNiro).
Let’s face it, after that trailer, I could be writing my grocery list here, but let’s all reconvene to talk about its brilliance when Netflix release The Irishman this autumn.
Is it autumn yet…?
Netflix has just dropped the first full trailer for their sequel to the late Jim Henson’s 1982 movie, The Dark Crystal, Age of Resistance. Check out the trailer here:
While I’m a huge admirer of Henson and of the artistry behind his amazingly creative films such as The Dark Crystal, I’m also not the world’s biggest fantasy fan – despite my myriad of other geek credentials – so I’m approaching this with some wariness.
But I have to say the trailer looks ravishing and has piqued my interest. I’m sure I’ll be catching the first episodes of this ten episode series from the increasingly world-dominating Netflix (at least until Disney launch their rival channel later this year).
Directed by Louis Leterrier (Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk), and featuring the voices of Taron Egerton and Anya Taylor-Joy, The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance launches on August 30th, 2019.
Entertainment Tonight Online have just dropped the brand new trailer for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Part 2, and as usual it looks like a whole lot of fun…
The show’s creator and executive producer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, has this to say (as reported by ET) on what’s in store:
“[In part one] we were telling the story of Sabrina trying to hold on to the mortal world. She was dragged into the witch world – a little bit kicking and screaming.
The second half of this season is kind of more about Sabrina accepting this part of her life and deciding, ‘What’s wrong with being a little bit wicked? I’m here – I might as well explore it.’ So it’s a lot more about Sabrina embracing her darker, more wicked side.”
That wicked side may well include the character briefly glimpsed at the end of the trailer, none other than Lucifer Morningstar (or Satan, to his fiends).
Regular followers of this blog will know that I am totally down with this Netflix show and I can’t wait to get cosy with Sabrina again on April 5th!
Regular readers of this blog will know that we’re all about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, so you can imagine our excitement at this newly dropped trailer for Part 2 of the Netflix series.
As well as the trailer we also have a release date, April 5th, 2019, so we can start getting excited for next year already. Before that, of course, we have the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Christmas special, which will drop on December 14th, and which promises a look at our favourite witch testing out her new, fully unleashed powers, after (SPOILERS) signing the book of the Dark Lord at the end of season one.
All in all, it’s a good time for fans of the Teenage Witch. Now all we need is for Archie Horror to finally getting around to releasing some more of their seemingly infinitely delayed comic books and all will be right with the world…
First created in 1962 (by writer George Gladir and artist Dan DeCarlo), Sabrina The Teenage Witch has become a mainstay of popular culture, existing in comic books, a long-running, live-action TV series, animated series and more.
More recently, Sabrina Spellman found herself reinvented once more, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, with art by Robert Hack, for the line of Archie Horror comics, replacing the more child-friendly version with a darker take on the same material.
Now Netflix has given this latest incarnation a new afterlife as a ten episode first season, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
The essential set-up is the same, half-witch, half-human Sabrina lives (in Greendale, neighbouring town to Riverdale, home of Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica) with her witch aunts, Hilda and Zelda, and dates the human Harvey Kinkle. As the show opens, Sabrina is approaching her sixteenth birthday, when she will attend an unholy ritual to sign over her soul to The Dark Lord (that’s Satan, to you and me). Of course, Sabrina has been keeping her true nature a secret from Harvey and her school friends, Roz and Susie. And Sabrina, deep in the throes of love with her human boyfriend, is having doubts about her forthcoming dark baptism.
Mixed in with all this are Ambrose, Sabrina’s cousin, a warlock confined to house arrest in the Spellman home and Mary Wardell , Sabrina’s teacher and mentor who proves to be, well, something else entirely…
It’s a great roster of characters and the first thing to say about the show is that it’s packed with terrific actors. A hearty well done to the casting director. Kiernan Shipka makes a superb Sabrina, not quite the bubbly teenager from the 90s show, this incarnation is more complex, and Shipka balances the character’s sweetness with an emerging arrogance and carelessness, while never losing our sympathy. It’s an intriguing juggling act for the young actress to pull off, but Shipka never puts a foot wrong.
Lucy Davies and Miranda Otto are both quite delicious as Sabrina’s aunts, and Chance Perdomo is delightful as her frisky, pansexual cousin. Michelle Gomez is frankly magnificent, obviously relishing her role as Wardell, while Jaz Sinclair and Lachlan Watson make the most of their well-defined ‘best friend’ parts, both providing strong role models. Ross Lynch is somewhat less successful as boyfriend Harvey, which brings me to one of the show’s failings.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina provides us with a raft of strong female characters, with family, friends and rivals all well-written and acted, their relationships complicated and defined. I’m less enamored of some of the fellas, however.
As mentioned, Ambrose is good value, but the other male roles don’t stand up to strong scrutiny. Gavin Leatherwood’s Nicholas Scratch, a classmate of Sabrina’s at the Academy of the Unseen Arts, has mostly been used as a one-dimensional, slutty rival and counterpoint to Sabrina’s boyfriend to little effect, and Richard Coyle, as the Academy’s head (and High Priest of the Coven) is fun and the best of the bunch but, like Scratch, his character hasn’t been gifted with much depth so far. Finally, and most damagingly, Lynch’s Harvey is a 100% genuine wet blanket.
The character is so insufferably dull that you wonder what exactly it is that Sabrina sees in him, and why she might consider giving up her witch-hood for him. Not only does it make any scenes with him a chore but it also diminishes Sabrina’s character as, unfortunately, many of her actions revolve around her relationship with him (which could certainly be argued as another of the show’s failings).
Even when the character finally gets some gumption in the final episode, he does so in a dull-witted manner which just made me want to punch him. Note to writers: must try harder when it comes to Harvey.
The irony of all this is quite rich and I’m sure there might be some readers (rightfully) thinking: well, this is the kind of nonsense female parts have suffered forever! But weak characters make for weak drama, no matter the gender, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina could do with a serious male shake-up for its second season. Be clear, I’m not suggesting the fellas take center stage, far from it. I do feel they should make better use of the corners of the stage they occupy, however. It’s common sense that a show is more enjoyable as a whole if we can get behind all the characters.
Despite these caveats, I can recommend Sabrina as a thoroughly good time. I’ve read certain reviewers having a tough time with the show’s often whiplash changes in tone, but for me this was one of its plus points, adding a frisson of enjoyable unpredictability to proceedings. One moment we’re enjoying Spellman family larks, the next a host of witches are hanging by their necks from a gnarled tree or engaging in a pansexual orgy. Melissa Joan Hart would have a heart attack, but that’s part of the ghoulish fun.
Happily, Sabrina isn’t content to spin its wheels and maintain the status quo, as the show gets gradually darker as the season progresses and leaves many of the characters in very different, more complex places by the end of the final episode.
There’s plenty of subtext behind the show’s blood and zombies too, with fundamentalism and fanaticism, LGBTQ intolerance and even censorship in schools all having healthy swipes taken at them.
For long-time horror fans a swathe of references can be spotted, everything from the sibling cycle of murder and resurrection of DC Comics’ House of Mystery hosts, Cain and Abel, to ‘Salem’s Lot’s hovering ghoul at the window and The Evil Dead’s tree demon. Movies such as Hellraiser, The Shining, The Craft and even The Devil and Daniel Webster all get pointed shout-outs too.
This was a highly anticipated show for me, as I’m a big fan of the Archie Horror comics it’s based on, and while it doesn’t get quite as dark I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed as it does find its own voice and, overall, I had a blast with it.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has me in its spell and I can’t wait for season two to materialise in a puff of demonic fire and brimstone.
“Jake is just making it up as he goes along.” – Max
“He’s done it before…” Billy.
In The Other Side of the Wind, this exchange is said as a criticism of Welles’ character, but of course the truth is that all stories are made up as they go along.
With The Other Side of the Wind, the final film from legendary director Orson Welles, now streaming on Netflix, we actually get two final Welles films for the price of one: the main narrative, which tells the story of the last night in the life of a legendary film director and a screening of his final film, and the footage of that film – the film within a film, a study of sex and desire. The parallels are obvious enough to be written in neon.
Welles’ rise to fame hardly needs repeating, and his crushing rejection by Hollywood on productions such as The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil is still a bitter pill to swallow.
In 1970, after years spent working in exile in Europe, Welles returned to Hollywood and gradually put together the pieces to make his next movie. Pieces is the operative word, as The Other Side of the Wind would be made like a jigsaw, finding money to film here and there, shooting when and where he could, the only man with a true sense of the story leading a rag-tag team of acolyte filmmakers who would work themselves to the bone to realise his vision, for six long years.
Funding to complete it fell apart, not least because of the Iranian revolution, as one of the producers was the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran, who saw his assets seized, including the existing footage of this film. If Welles had a history of using smoke and mirrors to represent his life and career, this was one moment even he might not have been able to conjure up.
Sadly, Welles would never complete an edit of The Other Side of the Wind, and the film seeped into legend as one of cinema’s great lost productions.
Thankfully, the film was finished in 2018 after a high-profile crowdfunding campaign and a hefty influx of cash from Netflix, by a team including Frank Marshall, producer of countless blockbusters including Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose early Hollywood career saw him working as a production assistant for Welles (he can also be seen in this movie, as part of the documentary camera crew, following Welles’ alter ego, Jake Hannaford, as played by John Houston). The team completed the film using an existing rough cut and Welles’ copious notes to get as close as possible to Welles’ intentions
The completed film has a lot to say: it is, of course, also about the passing of the Hollywood old guard to the new Hollywood, as visualised perfectly in Peter Biskind’s book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and represented here by Peter Bogdanovich, clearly flagged up in the scene between his Brooks Otterlake and Tonio Selwart, as The Baron, and in Otterlake’s relationship with Hannaford, and how that passing of the torch is reflected in their friendship and the betrayal of that friendship (which also comments on Bogdanovich and his real-life relationship with Welles).
The Other Side of the Wind is seeped in the very DNA of Hollywood, drenched in the process of filmmaking, in the selfish, obsessive nature of the creative drive (and therefore of the creators), and as much about film itself as anything else, reflected even in the nature of its completion.
While it’s self-referential, autobiographical and, yes, masturbatory, The Other Side of the Wind is also fascinating and frustrating (the array of underdeveloped characters flag up the film’s fractured development), while its very presence is a cause for celebration. The film’s content and form are as much of their time as they are as fresh as anything to grace a screen this year – the film within a film is ravishing and vivid, astonishingly sexy and unlike anything else Welles created (the sex scene in the car is beyond breathtaking). Full of Welles’ trademark sly humour and questing, experimental nature, it’s as far from the work of an ageing talent as it’s possible to be, and instead reinforces Welles’ genius.
Falling somewhere between a confessional and a documentary, the film has now become inseparable from its myth, and perhaps cannot be fairly judged on its own terms. But we’re still judging Welles by many of the myths he created around himself, so this seems perfectly apt for the director’s final work, as a comment on both the man, his life and his body of work.
“Almost every kind of story is a lie… except this time”.
Welles once said that on camera, in F for Fake. That’s also a lie, particularly when it comes to The Other Side of the Wind.
Regular readers will know I’m all about the forthcoming Netflix show, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. And after seeing this new trailer I’m even more all about the forthcoming Netflix show, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina! Cast a look at this:
Campy, funny, sexy and downright creepy in places, this is frankly the most fun I’ve had with a trailer in ages.
Can you tell I’m excited yet!?
With an awesome cast (Kiernan Shipka, Jaz Sinclair, Michelle Gomez, Chance Perdomo, Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, Richard Coyle, Ross Lynch, Bronson Pinchot and Tati Gabrielle) and a really cool look (those are some stunning visuals up there), this is shaping up to be one of my most anticipated shows this season (alongside the return of The Deuce, of course).
Based on the Archie Comics series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina hits Netflix just in time for Halloween, on October 26th!
She’s coming to get you, Barbara (yeah, yeah, I know… I couldn’t resist)!