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.
Ante K. Lundberg guides you through a personal list of films that inspired and informed Stranger Things, plus some his own choices, just for fun.
So you’ve finished the latest season of Stranger Things, and you’re looking to fill that hole in your heart it’s left you? Well, you’re not alone. As a child of the 1980s, I find myself in the middle of a resurgence of film, television, video games and music made by my generation that is inspired by the 80’s. And it’s beautiful.
I was born in 1985, the year of a certain summer in the town of Hawkins, as seen in Stranger Things 3. Notable cinema releases that year included true classics such as Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Day of the Dead, Weird Science – and many more.
As requested by the ancient editor of Out of Dave’s Head, I’ve gathered a list of recommended films for viewing if you, like me, just can’t get enough of the ‘80s love that is happening right now. Some of the films on here have inspired the Duffer Brothers in creating and writing Stranger Things, others are just perfect examples of wonderful ‘80s cinema. These are the real deal, friends, so put on your Walkman, rewind that tape, and let’s get to it!
Stand by Me, director Rob Reiner, 1986
A group of young friends discovering who they are, the meaning of friendship, and life lessons? Check. Walking along a railway? Check. Small town thugs terrorizing our teen heroes? Check. While set in the 1950s, Stand By Me is an ‘80s film through and through, with a cast including young Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland! Based on a novella (The Body) by legendary author Stephen King, Stand By Me is a genuine, grade A classic, full of character, fun and heart.
The Lost Boys, director Joel Schumacher, 1987
There’s hardly a more ‘80s-looking and sounding film than The Lost Boys. This is the whole package; the music, the costumes, the hair. It also has Tim Capello shaking his sweaty, muscular hips and saxophone, and a healthy dose of teenage vampires living forever, led by (there he is again) a young, menacing Kiefer Sutherland, the hilariously bad vampire hunters the Frog Brothers (featuring that other ‘80s Corey… Haim), and a cracking, fast pace. Trust me, you won’t be bored by this one.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, director Sam Raimi, 1987
I’m not in any way saying you shouldn’t see the original Evil Dead, but the sequel not only (kinda sorta) recreated the first film in the intro, it went way beyond the original with a fantastic combination of fear, blood and laughs. If you’re looking for one of the most hilariously over-the-top splatter comedies out there, Evil Dead 2 simply set the bar. Bruce Campbell’s performance is one for the ages, with some of the most amazing physical comedy ever put on film. It’s not without reason his wonderfully awkward-yet-badass leading chin Ash Williams got more films and recently a series, Ash vs Evil Dead – which is also well worth a watch! In addition, fans of Stranger Things 3 will find the cabin-under-siege setting nicely familiar!
Aliens, director James Cameron, 1986
James Cameron has made two of the finest sequels ever in Aliens and Terminator 2 Judgment Day (and I haven’t even mentioned Stranger Things 3’s HUGE homage to The Terminator… oh wait, I just did). It’s common knowledge that in Aliens, the tight spaceship corridors first established in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien are expanded to play host to some of the best action sequences put to film.
Aliens is a perfect mix made up of one part great production design, one part a superb cast of character actors playing a ragtag group of soldiers (including Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn – who would be a great addition to the Stranger Things cast!), one part body horror and huge parts action, all flavoured with a beautiful mother/adopted daughter relationship.
Add to that mix a scheming Paul Reiser (none other than Stranger Things 2’s Dr. Sam Owens), on great form as the company man more ruthless than the titular Aliens could ever hope to be, you’ll be hooked before you can say “game over”.
The Thing, director John Carpenter, 1982
I mean, really, John Carpenter in general, but in particular….
One of my favourite films is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Another claustrophobic body horror, set in an isolated location the characters can’t escape (see also Aliens, above), the mood in The Thing is unrivaled thanks to Carpenter’s direction and Rob Bottin’s incredible, practical animatronic work on the title creature.
Another great contribution from Carpenter, too often overlooked, is In the Mouth of Madness (1994 – yes, I’m cheating to include this, I know!), a horrifying Lovecraft-inspired film with lots of potential friends for Stranger Things’ Demogorgon.
In fact I would bet several films in Carpenter’s catalogue have inspired the Duffer Brothers in some way, as his body of work is chock-full of classics that I implore you to seek out and watch, including Escape from New York, Halloween, The Fog, Christine, Prince of Darkness and more.
Carpenter’s scores, often written and performed by the man himself, are also a huge inspiration for the Stranger Things soundtrack composers, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.
Pretty much everything John Hughes had a hand in during the 80’s
Yeah, you heard me. John Hughes had an incredibly creative output, and most of his stuff really is the beating pulse of ‘80s cinema. Writing and/or directing classics like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science and Pretty in Pink, he leaves us quite the legacy of movies that nicely illustrate the trials and tribulations of the teen years.
Although time has not been perfectly kind to all these films (especially in the female characters department), the look and feel are true ‘80s, unbeatably so. I recommended starting with The Breakfast Club, where you will at least have seen the gif of a totally ’80s tough guy raising his fist victoriously in the air, from one of the film’s many classic moments. “Don’t you forget about me” indeed…
Day of the Dead, director George A. Romero, 1985
George A. Romero pretty much invented the modern zombie (sans the running) with his slow, lumbering packs of dread in Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead. All three should be considered classics in their own right and can be watched separately or as part of a saga where – not really spoiler alert – things do not bode well for mankind.
In Day of the Dead, odds are not in our favour, as the zombies outnumber us and the remaining human population hide in shelters, trying to find a way to survive. Romero’s zombie films are part visceral horror, part social commentary (stop teasing the zombies, really!) and, as usual, it seems our biggest threat is each other. Day’s opening sequence also plays a big part in the opening episode of Stranger Things 3.
The Goonies, director Richard Donner, 1985
Personally, I’m not a big fan of The Goonies but it’s considered by many as an essential watch, and certainly is a Duffer Brothers touchstone for their Netflix show. If you’re after a “kids on a mission” film filled with adventure, treasure and danger, then look no further, and it features Sean Astin, Stranger Things’ lovable Bob, years before he was a Hobbit for Peter Jackson.
E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, director Steven Spielberg, 1982
Tonally, Stranger Things owes a lot to Steven Spielberg’s lovable ET. The little guy is stuck somewhere he doesn’t belong, and is just trying to get home, despite the government suits doing their best to stop him. Cue the brilliant and inventive 80’s kids (see an ongoing motif here?) doing their damndest with what they have by hand. The film also includes that legendary bike sequence, glaringly referenced in the first season of Stranger Things.
The Deadly Spawn, director Douglas MacKeown, 1983
A fabulous and fun creature feature starring young Charles George Hildenbrandt (the son of one of the Hildenbrandt Brothers, who painted the legendary fantasy-style poster for Star Wars in 1977, as well as the poster for this movie).
The plot concerns a crash-landed alien that finds refuge in the basement of a house and grows to monstrous proportions, and the plucky band of teenagers who do battle with it. The many ghastly teeth of the monster here sure do look a whole lot like the ghastly teeth of the Mind Flayer from Stranger Things 3.
Altered States, director Ken Russell, 1980
All Ken Russell films are worth your time, but Altered States, Russell’s adaptation of the Paddy Chayefsky novel, will particularly resonate with fans of Stranger Things 3, as it runs with the idea that sensory deprivation tanks (as used by Eleven in the show) can activate hidden parts of the brain. But boy, Russell takes things in a totally wild direction that will blow your mind.
Ghostbusters, director Ivan Reitman, 1984
I don’t really need to over-explain this one, right…!? Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Sigourney Weaver, proton packs, bustin’ makes me feel good, Zuul! Stranger Things 2 crosses them streams.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, director Wes Craven, 1984
I can only imagine the feeling of seeing this particular nightmare in a cinema in the 80’s (Editor’s Note: It was pretty darn good!). The now iconic Freddy Krueger was an inescapable foe, terrorizing the dreams of poor teens with knives-for-fingers and a serious case of bad skin day.
I was late to the Elm Street party and, seeing it at an older age, I found myself really digging the over-the-top scenery chewing performance from Robert Englund as Freddy. Definitely worth a watch, even though “you’ll never sleep again!”
I can’t really recommend Tommy Lee Wallace’s IT miniseries from 1990, which time hasn’t treated well. The acting is wooden (Tim Curry not included, he is great), the pacing is slow and the effects are completely outdated (Editor’s Note: this calls for fisticuffs in the pub later, Lundberg). But it does have the loser’s club camaraderie seen in Stranger Things and, I’m willing to bet, was a childhood watch for the Duffer Brothers.
Rather, DO give the book a read, even if it is a long one, or see Andy Muschietti’s new two-film version that is in turn set in the ’80s and inspired by the same palette as Stranger Things. You can watch the trailer for IT Chapter Two here.
Mullets, big-haired teens in pastel and neon clothes, muscle cars and BIG songs might have defined the decade, but the ‘80s have so much more going for them in terms of entertainment. And if Stranger Things has left you with a hankering to revisit those years, this list will be a good place to begin!
About the author
Ante K. Lundberg is a movie and music buff from the fjords of western Norway. Living with his wife and two small children, he longs for the day when he yet again will be able to binge watch a series.
He wrote this essay on a straight regime of pitch black coffee, Meteor and Gunship on vinyl, and several (imaginary) training montages.
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!
Okay, because many folks have asked… here are my favourite nine films from 2018.
Notice I said favourite and not best. I was recently interviewed for a newspaper piece where the reporter asked my favourite three movies. This felt like a refreshing change as I didn’t feel a need to spend time over-intellectualising my responses as I might have done if she’d asked what I thought were the best three films ever.
Before I launch into my list, it’s worth pointing out I still have some catching up to do, hence no possible entries for films such as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, You Were Never Really Here or Bohemian Rhapsody.
So, with that caveat clear and without further ado, let’s head to my favourite nine (…nine, because, why not!?) films of the past twelve months…
9. Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
I have to admit the M:I films were mostly sort of washing over me, enjoyable in the moment but somewhat unmemorable bar their set-pieces. But then Fallout appeared, not only leaving me with a bill from my local cinema for having left fingernail holes in my seat, but also with a much greater enthusiasm for the previous entries. I’m gearing up for a run-through of the series at home in readiness for a second viewing of Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie’s remarkable piece of breathless skullduggery. Also, finishing off a series with two films featuring Sean Harris is always a bonus.
8. The Rider.
Yeah, yeah, I know that it premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, but those of us in the real world didn’t see it until its official release in 2018. Hopefully that doesn’t trigger anyone too badly. Chloé Zhao’s contemporary western drama concerning rodeo riders feels like a top contender for the ‘film more people should see‘ award, 2018. Both painfully intimate and sweepingly widescreen, Zhao paints a portrait of a contained community with universal problems. You can read my full review here.
7. Eighth Grade.
In many ways this shares some DNA with The Rider, taking me to a world I knew nothing about. This time, the unknown is the life of an adolescent girl in a time of social media, and this smart, sensitive, occasionally excruciating and ultimately uplifting film, from director Bo Burnham, features a hugely engaging central performance by newcomer, Elsie Fisher.
6. A Quiet Place.
The first of two horror films in a strong year for the genre (see also Apostle, Mandy, Halloween, etc). Unfair on my behalf, but I was absolutely not expecting this from Jim Halpert from The Office. Directed and co-written (along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) by John Krasinski, this post-apocalyptic monster movie hits all the right beats, gradually unveiling a world of silent terror using a personable family, headed up by Krasinski and the always-excellent Emily Blunt. Understated until it doesn’t have to be, this is great, old-school horror that could easily have worked as an old Twilight Zone episode.
5. Ant-Man & The Wasp.
Tricky one, this. I didn’t want to fill my list with Marvel movies (seeing as we had three releases from them in 2018) and I really struggled between this and Black Panther, but in the end I had (slightly) more fun with Peyton Reed’s delightfully light-touched sequel, especially since I’m the type of Marvel Geek who believes this film will pay off more once we see Avengers: Endgame.
Ari Aster’s uneven but striking mix of family grief and the supernatural is a divisive film, very much a case of go-with-it-or-don’t. The first three-quarters of the movie is mostly all slow-burn intensity until the final twenty minutes or so go off into full-blown hysteria (which is where many viewers seem to check out). I went with it the whole way on my viewing, but will be curious to see how it holds up next time. Worth pointing out that regardless of any future reaction, I’ll still laud it for probably the most outrageous WTF moment in cinema this year. Review here.
3. The Meg (just kidding).
3. The Other Side of the Wind.
Freewheeling and meticulous, Orson Welles’ lost masterpiece (never a more fitting appellation) first started production in 1970 and was only completed after Welles’ death by a team headed up by Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall. Released onto Netflix at the end of the year, Welles’ mesmerising film is both a celebration and a satire of Classic Hollywood and avant-garde filmmaking. Review here.
The only disappointing thing about multihyphenate Alfonso Cuarón’s almost tone poem telling of a tumultuous period in the life of his childhood home-help is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see it on a cinema screen, seeing as it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve laid my eyes on in a long time (to avoid a lynching by my significant other, I mean cinematically, of course). Review here.
1. Avengers: Infinity War.
Marvel Geek nirvana. The Russo brothers and co. pulled off a remarkable, if overpacked, feat in bringing to a head ten years of films across multiple franchises while still managing to create a cultural zeitgeist moment with a single finger click. Of course, we know most of the galaxy’s missing half will be restored (…don’t we!?), but the joy, as with many comic books of the source material, is in seeing how our heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And now we don’t have much longer to wait. Review here.
Dishonourable mention: Suspiria (don’t @ me).
See you all in 2019. Feel free to leave me your favourites from 2018 in the comments below.
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.
“Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Whatever you do, set aside some binge time for Netflix’s new ten part horror series, The Haunting of Hill House. Since both Shirley Jackson’s original novel and the 1963 movie The Haunting from director, Robert Wise, are among my all-time favourites I went into this quite guardedly. Thankfully, what we have here is not a straight adaptation or remake, but something else entirely.
Directed and written by Mike Flanagan (Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil), the show is a slow-burn drama of a family going into emotional meltdown, with the added bonus of an utterly malevolent haunted house as the disease which tears them apart (in that way completely faithful to Jackson), told through a constantly surprising series of time shifts – which gradually peel away to reveal what lies at its rotten core.
Loss and mourning lay heavily against the beams and timbers of the house, and it’s these psychological terrors that are used to torment the unfortunate Crain family who choose to inhabit the spooky corridors and clammy bedrooms.
Though one or two revelations are a little too easily signposted (I picked up on the true identity of The Bent-Neck Lady at least two or three episodes before her mid-season unveiling) this is pretty masterful stuff, and one episode in particular revels in its glorious nature of seemingly taking place as one, 50-minute long, continuous shot (it’s not, of course, but the trickery is sustained), but does so in service of the story, racking up the tension of a family gathering for a funeral to sometimes truly queasy degrees.
The cast are uniformly excellent, featuring excellent turns from both Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton (who really comes into his own during the previously mentioned ‘single take’ show).
If there’s a downside to all this, it’s in an element of the denouement which I actively disliked, but it’s difficult to discuss without going into spoiler territory. It’s enough to say that it irritated me but didn’t take away from the excellence of the preceding story.
Filled with both plentiful jump scares and a surprising number of subtler chills, the show will not disappoint viewers either looking for a funfair ghost train ride or those of us hoping for something whose depth of character allows for horrors of a darker shade.
The Haunting of Hill House is streaming now on Netflix and comes with my highest recommendation. Just don’t expect to sleep easily afterwards…