The Other Side Of The Wind Will Take Away Your Breath

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“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.

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The Haunting of Hill House – The Stuff Of Nightmares

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“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…

 

Spellbinding New Trailer For Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

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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)!

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Teaser Is, Well… Chilling.

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Regular readers of this site will know that the forthcoming Netflix series of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is highly anticipated around this neck of the (haunted) wood. The brand new teaser trailer has just dropped and it’s rather lovely.

Based on the cult, hit series from Archie Comics, the show tells an updated version of the 90s kid-TV favourite, with less emphasis on humorous shenanigans and more on blood and horror.

The trailer is appropriately spooky and the show,  starring Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman, who has to decide whether to sign the Devil’s book and become a Bride of Satan on her 16th birthday, looks like a whole heap of horrible fun.

With a great cast including Miranda Otto, Michelle Gomez and Lucy Davis, I can’t wait for this to raise my spirits on October 26th.

Back With A Punch – Jessica Jones Season 2 Trailer

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So it’s not really any great incite to say that while Marvel’s cinematic output has hit a lot of home runs, its TV offerings have been of far more variable quality. From the great (Daredevil Season 2) to the not-so-great (hello, Iron Fist). Jessica Jones fell firmly within the former camp and now we have the first, full trailer for season two.

Thankfully the trailer shows a great deal of promise, as we are teased the secret origin of Jessica Jones (without all the tedious world-building that usually has to be done with origin stories).

Of course, this is a just a trailer and the Netflix show is still thirteen episodes – the bane of many of the Marvel/Netflix shows to date… what’s wrong with shorter seasons anyway!? But let’s hold our collective breath and hope this a return to form.

Jessica Jones season two drops March 8th on Netflix, if we’re lucky it will be bingeworthy.

It’s Star Trek, Jim, But Not As We Know It – Discovery Arrives

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Star Trek: Discovery finally arrives, after troubling tales of behind the scenes problems and somewhat less-than-thrilling trailers, and I suppose the first question to ask is whether it’s the disaster many were expecting?

Happily the answer is no. The first two episodes, which dropped yesterday on CBS and the network’s CBS All Access subscription service in the U.S.A. and on Netflix almost everywhere else today, are generally exciting and well-told, with high production values and a decent cast. However, at least with the evidence at hand, it does veer away from creator Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful spirit of exploration, and this may be an issue for some.

Taking place some ten years or so before the original series’ tales of Captain Kirk and co (a point I’ll come back to later), Discovery features as its focus not the traditional Starfleet Captain (though there is one, played by Michelle Yeoh) but instead on the first officer of the USS ShenzhouMichael Burnham, as portrayed by Sonequa Martin-Green.

Burnham’s parents were killed by Klingons, which resulted in her being raised by Spock’s father, Sarek, on the planet Vulcan. This becomes important in the opening episode when Burnham’s ship is the first to engage in a direct encounter with the Klingons in almost one hundred years. Needless to say, the encounter quickly goes pear-shaped and we’re treated to a pretty epic space battle, alongside some interesting twists and turns for the characters (particularly in the second episode).

Michelle Yeoh is good value, and thankfully brings more humour and emotion to her role than the stilted trailers led us to believe, Science Officer Saru, played under heavy prosthetics by the always welcome Doug Jones, is also immediately likeable. Without these two the show would definitely have been lacking the human touch, as the rest of the crew singularly fail to register anything beyond dark-haired man, red-haired woman and grizzled admiral who only appears as a hologram, etc.

Viewers should be advised there’s also a lot of Klingon grousing about purity of race and what a rum lot we humans are. With subtitles. Of course, looking at the state of the world right now, it’s difficult to disagree with their summation of mankind. Let’s hope the show gives us enough of an opposing viewpoint to feel better about ourselves as it goes on.

Jason Issacs, another actor I usually enjoy, didn’t make an appearance in the first two episodes, so we have that treat to look forward to.

My biggest problem with Discovery was with Martin-Green, who faces the tricky problem of engaging us with a human raised by the emotion-subsuming Vulcans. It’s a delicate balance pulled off marvellously over the years by the late, great Leonard Nimoy, but across the first two episodes I found that balance to be weighted in favour of some stiff-sounding line readings and an inability to connect with the character.

Martin-Green faces a difficult task, especially being the viewer’s eyes through these shenanigans, but the cliff-hanging climax to the second episode at least suggests she’ll be getting a promising arc as we move forward. Of course, some better dialogue might help too. *cough*

My second big issue comes with the show’s setting. As mentioned above, we’re rolling around a decade before Kirk and co, but everything here looks WAY more advanced than the original series. Again, this was always going to be a tough nut to crack: you either embrace the 1960s-produced vibe of the original series or you say “Screw it, no one will buy that in the age of shiny CGI” and go for a modern design ethic. The producers of Discovery have chosen the latter.

Is this a geek-only problem? Will more casual viewers give a hoot that it looks more like the new timeline-set, JJ Abrams movies (particularly in its annoying overuse of lens flare) than a prequel show? Casual viewers may not care but this decision is baffling when so much of Discovery’s Klingon Cold War setting relies on understanding its place in Star Trek’s chronology. If nothing else it smacks of indecision at best, and downright carelessness at worst. The large number of producers and executive producers listed in Discovery’s opening credit sequence may suggest an answer to this…

What is for sure is that most of Roddenberry’s idealism is gone, as Discovery has more in common with a Game of Thrones viewpoint that humans suck and war is hell than it does with discovering Tribbles and dallying with green-skinned dancing girls, while it rams home analogies about fundamentalism with all the subtlety of a Klingon punch to the face.

Finally then, Discovery shows some promise in its set-up, but it’s likely to tick-off many long-term Star Trek fans. Personally, we have endless hours of Star Trek in its various forms before this, so I’m happy enough to see the franchise try something different. However, it’s so mired in Star Trek history (while simultaneously contradicting it left, right and centre) that I’m not certain how much it will appeal to Trekkies or non-Trekkies. Which could be something of a problem.

Whether or not that different feel is enough to sustain my interest in the long run remains to be seen, or to bring in those obviously much-hoped for casual viewers, but I’m certainly intrigued enough to see what this… sorry to use the word, but… grittier take on the final frontier has to offer. I had fun for its duration, and there’s something to be said for that, plus it’s good to see Star Trek back on television, its spiritual home.

Beam me up, at least for now…

Netflix and King – 1922

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Netflix appear to be getting into the Stephen King business in a big way.

With their film of Gerald’s Game dropping this week and looking as kinky, creepy and gnarly as King’s book, the channel has now released a trailer for 1922, based on a novella taken from his 2010 collection, Full Dark, No Stars.

Starring the always watchable Thomas Jane as a farmer who manipulates his son into murdering his wfe, the Netflix film looks like it will fully embrace the ghastly goings-on as Jane’s wife (played by the equally watchable Molly Parker) comes back to torment him along with a plague of rats.

With the success of IT and these two new productions from Netflix, it’s good to see a rash of King adaptations that might just help us to forget 2017 was the year Sony made a trainwreck from The Dark Tower.

1922 arrives on Netflix on October 20.

The Defenders: Better Together (And Shorter)

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After the double-stumble of the generally entertaining but stuttering Luke Cage and the thoroughly tone-deaf and lazy feeling disaster of Iron Fist, the Netflix/Marvel universe was on decidedly shaky footing. It was beginning to seem like the growing promise of Daredevil and Jessica Jones had been blown in two seasons of stretched-out superheroics, so I’m happy to say that The Defenders puts our heroes firmly back on track.

Marvel’s anti-team alternative to The Avengers began in the pages of Marvel Feature # 1, in 1971, before gaining its own long-running title the following year. The reluctant, non-team initially consisted of Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner and The Hulk, but soon expanded to include a rotating cast of heroes. Although both Daredevil and Luke Cage tagged along for a while, they were never core members.

Netflix’s The Defenders takes this group in name only, instead bringing together the casts of their previous shows: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Also brought along for the ride are returning supporting characters and villains.

The first big plus point here is the big bad, none other than Sigourney Weaver. Weaver is quite obviously having fun with the role, clearly relishing her many arch lines of dialogue, but the character is given some essential moments of vulnerability too, leaving us with another in the stable of successful Marvel TV villains (after Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin and David Tennant’s Killgrave).

But you came here for the heroes, and of course The Defenders delivers these in spades. Daredevil continues to be tortured (though with some welcome added humour), Jessica Jones is all-snark and snap, Luke Cage is the picture of wounded noblility and Iron Fist is, well, he’s actually rather likeable here. Consider that a triumph after being an asshole for thirteen episodes of his own show. In fact, for long-term comic book fans, seeing long-term buddies Luke Cage and Danny Rand spar off against each other will be a genuine buzz.

Which brings us to another big score for The Defenders. I’ve said repeatedly that the fixed thirteen episode season format has harmed the Netflix/Marvel shows (even the good ones), taking interesting stories and stretching them way beyond their shelf life. The Defenders is a relatively brisk eight episodes and boy, can we feel the difference!

The first two episodes take their time to get moving, somewhat pointlessly reintroducing the various characters and their supporting casts, but they soon begin to pick up speed and then the third episode is where everything comes together: narratively and literally.

Episode three is one of the best hours of Marvel TV to date, with a fast-paced, driving narrative, kick ass action sequences, snappy dialogue and great interaction between the leads. In fact there were one or two moments that had me punching the air in delight, definitely a first for Marvel TV.

From here the story moves deliberately and enjoyably, neatly pulling together a lot of threads which had been left dangling in other shows and at last we have a show which doesn’t feel like a chore to get through. Netflix/Marvel, please take note: eight episodes is the perfect format for these shows and unless you have an incredibly compelling reason otherwise, this should be your model!

There’s still the odd bit of clunkiness lurking around and overall I’m not sure there’s too much in the way of character development (except, surprisingly, something of a maturing for Danny Rand/Iron Fist), plus The Hand have proven to amongst the most ill-defined and ineffectual bad guys ever (after four whole seasons yet) but despite these failings, and in terms of watchability, Netflix/Marvel have definitely upped their game with The Defenders. Whatever failings the show has are more than compensated for by its brisk pace and fun antics. And there is a lot of fun to be had here.

With more seasons announced for all four main characters, plus a first run for Jon Bernthal’s Punisher, it’s clear the superhero train will keep on running on Netflix. Let’s hope they learn all the right lessons from this enjoyable Marvel team-up!

Netflix’s Empty El Chapo

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I’m a sucker for a good series about crime lords, gang wars and drug trafficking, so when I saw articles suggesting Netflix’s El Chapo might be their answer to The Wire, I was practically drooling.

Sadly, anyone seeing this show as being anywhere near as dramatically satisfying as David Simon’s classic tale of the narcotics trade in Baltimore is probably getting high on their own supply.

Co-produced by Netflix and Univision, El Chapo recounts the beginnings of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in 1985, when he was a low-level member of the Guadalajara cartel until his rise to power and his last fall.

Guzmán’s story makes for rich dramatic picking. From 2009 to 2011 Forbes magazine ranked him as one of the most powerful people in the world, and named him the 10th richest man in Mexico in 2011, with a net worth of roughly US$1 billion. The magazine also called him the “biggest drug lord of all time.” The U.S. federal government considered him “the most ruthless, dangerous, and feared man on the planet.” So, you know, there’s quite a lot to get your teeth into here.

There is a wealth of great material: the cartels and their various squabbles, the involvement of the U.S. government, the rise of a lowly government official to a position of power involved with the underworld, a crusading reporter, appearances by Pablo Escobar (and the show’s first real dropped ball by not getting Narco’s Wagner Moura to reprise his role, robbing us of the chance to experience a Narcos shared universe) and of course, the trials and tribulations of Guzmán himself.

The show looks fine, though it doesn’t exactly drip with period feel, but what really lets down the whole endeavour is the writing.

As I’m typing this review I’m six episodes into the nine episode run and I know literally nothing more about Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán than I did at the beginning of the first episode. Oh sure, the events are all in place and there are sporadic bursts of excitement and bloodshed, but Guzmán remains nothing more than a cypher, as in fact does every single character in the show. Guzmán stays unknowable, as does his wife, his girlfriends, friends, allies, rivals and enemies.

No one speaks about their emotions, nothing happens that’s character-driven, and no one has an inner life of any kind. The scripts must have been a doddle to write, because never before have I come across a high-profile show of this kind where the dialogue is 100% functional. Characters tell us where they’re going, what they’re going to do, who they’re going to kill or pay off… but never why.

The nearest we get to an actual living, breathing character is Humberto Busto as conniving politician Conrado Higuera Sol “Don Sol”, but even he never gets a single line of dialogue that does anything but gloss over the veneer of his actions.

As a result El Chapo is purely functional, moving people you’re not allowed to care for, empathise with or hate from one situation to another. The events themselves are interesting, but ultimately it’s a hollow shell. As drama it’s a complete disaster and an object lesson in how not to write compelling, nourishing TV because there’s no meat on El Chapo’s bones.

UPDATE: the final two episodes deal with Guzmán’s internment and also give us a glimpse of his formative years (and therefore something passing for character development). It’s a mystery why this material wasn’t spread out as flashbacks throughout the season, as it would have added sorely-needed depth.

So finally, the show ends with some improvement but sadly it was a case of too little, too late for me.

Netflix’s Super Friends – Marvel’s The Defenders

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After the hugely disappointing Iron Fist, my hopes for The Defenders, Netflix’s all-star Marvel mash-up, were seriously on the wane.

Thankfully, positive word of mouth and this latest trailer have done a great deal to restore confidence.

The pilot episode was screened at the San Diego Comic-Con yesterday and reports are largely positive, including this review from Birth.Movies.Death. Alongside the good news, a second trailer has been released which not only makes the show look like a whole lot of fun (a quality seriously lacking from Iron Fist) but also promises a terrific performance from the show’s Big Bad, the legend that is Sigourney Weaver.

The thought of Evil Ellen Ripley going toe-to-toe with Jessica Jones is worth the price of admission alone. Throw in Daredevil and Luke Cage too (…okay, and Iron Fist, if we must) and I’m certain I’ll be bingeing come release day. That this show is only eight episodes is also a huge plus point, as all of the Netflix/Marvel shows have suffered from over-extending their dramatic life.

All episodes of Marvel’s The Defenders drop on Netflix, August 18th.