Tag Archives: Netflix

Netflix’s The Haunting Of Bly Manor

Stunning. Sensational. Complex. Deeply heartbreaking. Surprisingly romantic. The creators of The Haunting Of Hill House have done it agin with The Haunting Of Bly Manor, a lush, emotional, Victorian Gothic puzzle box of human drama, tragedy, memories that won’t die and yes, horror too although there’s less of it this time round. As one character remarks, “this is a love story, not a ghost story.” It’s true, and while Netflix hasn’t marketed it as such, if you go in expecting a romantic tragedy instead of full on horror like Hill House (think Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak) you’ll absorb the material with a clearer, fairer palette.

Our story starts as young American nanny Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) journeys from London to Bly Manor in the countryside, hired by nervous, boozy Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas, dutifully flaunting a posh dialect he’s clearly worked hard on) to look after his young niece Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and nephew Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Henry keeps well clear of Bly and the two children, content to wallow in his fancy London office, always at the bottom of a bottle for painful reasons we later are privy too. There she meets various complicated and, well written and flawlessly acted characters including tomboy gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve), stoic housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller), lovable cook Owen (Rahul Kohli) and the black sheep among them, Henry’s shady, maladjusted valet Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson Cohen). Bly Manor itself, referred to in baroquely quaint terms by several characters as “a great good place,” is a world away from the omnipresent shadows, oppressive blue hued austerity of Hill House. Bly is rich, ornate, painted in deep chestnut browns, opulent dollhouse purples (the 80’s setting is proudly reflected in colour here) and the grounds adorned in brilliant green topiary, verdant meadows and beautiful rose gardens.

Now, my favourite part: the story. As told by a mysterious, wistfully mournful narrator played by the always brilliant Carla Gugino, this is a very dense, layered arrangement of interweaving love stories and subsequent tragedies, several ghosts and a host of human beings who all feel real, full of life and vitality and whose pain is shared greatly by the audience because of how excellently character development is cultivated, performance is calibrated and episodes are spun together on a loom of effortlessly fluid storytelling. Pedretti is a wonder as Dani, luminous and charismatic but one can see in her wide, drawn eyes and flighty mannerisms she has a painful past. Past and memory are important themes here, and every character, even the one painted as a flagrant villain, has something in their past that haunts them, causes them pain and dictates the choices they make in our narrative. Thomas is achingly restrained as Uncle Henry, Kohli raw and potent especially in an affecting campfire monologue that encapsulates everything we know, feel and wonder about life and death in one pure utterance. The two children are superb in quite difficult roles that require them to change tone, pitch and mood quite frequently. This story reminded me of those staircases in Harry Potter that continually shift their angles and pitch people out into unfamiliar hallways without warning. This narrative does the same for its characters, trapping them in ‘tucked away’ memories that seem arbitrary at first until you realize it’s for them to come to some realization or epiphany. I love that sort of reality melding, spaced out storytelling that uses memory and the mind in a literal sense and setting, it’s used to fantastic effect here and the story, while structured similarly as Hill House, is its own nesting doll narrative full of complexity and shifting components. Is it scary? Well, aside from a few effectively chilly moments no, not really, and nothing comes close to some of the skin crawling sequences in Hill House. But like I said, it’s more of a human story with life in its veins, and the most disturbing, distressing elements are the emotional rigours these human beings must endure, the torment that memory can inflict, the potent pain of a deep heartbreak, the deep wounds that grief imprints on one’s soul and the ways in which some may find redemption and others… not so much. It’s a tough, emotionally devastating tale and especially so for those who feel deeply and get invested in story and character, it takes its toll. But it’s a gorgeous, challenging, complex, beautifully rewarding experience in the same token, and I’m grateful to Mike Flanagan & Co for doing something equally as spellbinding as Hill House, yet cut from a different sort of cloth altogether. If this were a nine hour film (which is how I recommend you view, it demands to be binged in rapturous immersion) it would be my number one of the year.

-Nate Hill

Liz Garbus’s Lost Girls

There’s a certain melancholy defeat in viewing a film where missing and murdered people’s cases are met with lethargy, inaction and suspicious reluctance by the authorities, but in the same token they’re important films to watch as they shed spotlights on gross miscarriages of justice and impart that it can’t continue to go on like this. Liz Garbus’s Lost Girls uses a sobering tone, moody visuals and a deep intentional focus on the victims of the mysterious Long Island serial killer as human beings rather than ‘murdered prostitutes’ or statistical notches on the media’s callous belt. Around 2010 in rural New York State a serial killer struck, dumping bodies along a desolate stretch of road and leaving few clues save for vague ties to a nearby gated community that may be harbouring secrets. For struggling single mother Mari (Amy Ryan) this is a different kind of nightmare as her eldest daughter was in the area around this time and is still somewhere out there missing. Together with her two other daughters (Oona Laurence and Thomasin Mackenzie) she launches a fierce personal investigation into the matter when the lead detective (a smarmy Dean Winters) and even the police commissioner himself (Gabriel Byrne in introvert mode) seem to be willfully dragging their asses. It’s a sad story because Mari’s life is already tough enough; she’s severely low income, on her own as a mother and mental illness runs deeply within her family, already blooming in her youngest daughter. None of this makes the situation any better but she has grit, resolve and a desire for redemption that Ryan infuses in her performance nicely. The best work in the film goes to Thomasin Mackenzie as her middle daughter though, she’s an actress who made a big splash in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace a couple years ago and once again delivers a powerful, understated yet rawly emotional performance. Because this is based on a real story that was never properly concluded there is a sense of heart wrenching, open ended pain here. The police investigation was never carried out properly, their response time to her daughter calling 911 the night she disappeared was unforgivable and as a collective result a heinous serial killer went uncaught. You’ll leave the film feeling sick and depressed, but it’s important that we pay attention because this shit probably happens every day. There’s a strong desire here to shirk the media’s portrayal of victims as deserving it because of their lifestyle and showing them as meaningless numbers in tv reports, while the families are out their mourning the human beings they remember so dearly. It’s in that the film finds it’s one ray of light, an important sentiment to take away. Not an easy watch, but perhaps the publicity now given to this tragic case will one day lead to the arrest of those responsible. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Scott Wilson Performances

Scott Wilson was one of those actors who showed up on screen and before you even heard him speak you wondered what thoughts, feelings and history were behind those introspective features. Whether playing cowboy, cop, criminal, family man, mayor, general or anyone else he always brought a measured, contemplative grit and grace equilibrium to his his work and consistently stood out. Here are my top ten favourite performances!

10. Frank Reasoner in FX’s Justified

Amidst a rogues gallery of fantastic character actors playing criminals, creeps and rapscallions, Scott stands out as a senior citizen tethered to an oxygen tank with one last heist in him, do or die. He’s essentially a decent guy whose plan goes pretty disastrously and he’s inevitably collared by Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) after a, shall we say, leisurely chase. He wistfully outlines his intentions, regrets and and eventually concedes to the law in a very memorable one episode guest arc.

9. General George C. Marshall in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour

He’s basically here in a cameo delivering military exposition to President Roosevelt (Jon Voight), but it’s one of the first things I remember seeing him in as a kid, his grave demeanour and poised line delivery steals the scene from a room packed with venerable talent.

8. Abel Johnson in Netflix’s The OA

This was his last role before passing on and indeed he can be seen in one last season two episode that aired in 2019 a year after his death, which is a nice touch. He and the great Alice Krige play adoptive parents to protagonist Prairie Johnson (series co-creator Brit Marling). Their journey is a complicated, elliptical and metaphysical one that’s often sad and fraught with suffering but he blesses this character with a gentle paternal energy. I’m still so pissed that they cancelled this after only two seasons but that’s another story.

7. Hershel Greene in AMC’s The Walking Dead

Sometimes you don’t get international acclaim and ComicCon level attention until you’re in the vicinity of like 80 years old but hey better late than never. His stoic, vulnerable yet badass turn as farmer and family man Hershel blew up his career as an actor, prompting him to make many visits to conventions all over the world, including my city of Vancouver. I was able to meet him and he was every bit the gentleman, sage and class act I always knew he’d be.

6. Horton/Last John in Patty Jenkins’ Monster

Another brief cameo but one that speaks volumes. Serial killer Eileen Wuornos murdered many men in her spree, some that probably deserved it and others that were total innocents. Horton is just an old man driving across country to visit family when he has the unfortunate luck to run into her. His tearful pleading and telling her he has children is one of the most haunting, heartbreaking scenes of the film and even brings out a note of chilling complexity in Theron’s performance too.

5. C.O. Salem in Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane

One of the all time great drill instructors in cinema, Salem is a sassy, back talking prick with a wry sense of humour and an unwillingness to take shit from anyone, even a manipulative bitch senator (Anne Bancroft) who tries to give him the gears. With a snappy comeback for everything and no shortage of attitude, he’s tough but ultimately fair on Demi Moore’s character who has quite the gauntlet of a character arc to get through.

4. Norman in Krzysztof Zanussi’s Year Of The Quiet Sun

This melancholic postwar romance sees an American soldier (Wilson) stationed in a decimated Polish village sometime after WWII where he falls in love with a local woman (Maia Komorowska). They seem destined to meet yet challenged by circumstance and the still felt affect of the war. He approaches this character dutifully, quietly and with care, it’s worth seeing as it was one of his only romantic lead roles.

3. Eugene in Phil Morrison’s Junebug

This small town family drama sees him play a quiet husband and father who exists mainly in his own headspace, and in his secluded woodworking shop. This is during a time when things begin to change for the clan and his son (Alessandro Nivola) brings home his new wife (Embeth Davidtz). The dynamic is fascinating but most so in Wilson’s work, especially when he makes a wood craft for his daughter in law, doesn’t end up giving it to her and leaves us wondering what it’s like for him internally. One girl at the convention I was at asked him about this part of the arc and his response was as astute and intuitive as this perfectly calibrated performance is, an answer which I’ve provided a YouTube link below so that you might hear it from the man himself:

2. Dick Hickock in Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood

Based on Truman Capote’s infamous true crime novel drawn from knowing these two real life killers for a time, Wilson and Robert Blake have magnetic, chilling chemistry as these two wayward men who commit an unforgivable crime seemingly because they just have nothing else better to fill their time up with. Blake is the intense one while Scott brings a sort of breezy, nonchalant vibe that just barely masks the raging turmoil beneath.

1. Judd Travers in Shiloh, Shiloh 2 and Saving Shiloh

This is the performance I grew up watching and the one that made me such a fan of Scott’s work. Judd is a mean, broken down man with a drinking problem, a violent streak and no end of troublesome behaviour in him. But he’s also an abuse survivor himself and as this surprisingly mature and adept trilogy of children’s films unfold we see the man at his worst and also what’s left of his best, we see how local kid Marty Preston and his dog Shiloh can somehow find some kindness and compassion in Judd by showing him some of their own. It’s a tragic, overlooked performance in American cinema and perhaps the most affecting work he did his whole career.

-Nate Hill

David Lynch’s What Did Jack Do?

Not since Pirates Of The Caribbean has a monkey named Jack made such a hilarious, adorable and frequently unsettling impression. David Lynch is many things on top of my favourite filmmaker of all time, one being a master of the unexpected surprise, both within any given project he crafts and in the way he presents or markets them to his audience. It’s just like him to quietly sneak a seventeen minute short film onto Netflix on his 74th birthday with little fanfare, but here it is. What Did Jack Do is pure Lynch magic: a police detective (Lynch himself) interrogates a talking monkey (Jack Cruz) who is suspected of murdering farmyard birds, but keeps dodging the man’s questions with enigmatic idioms that have little to do with the overall flow of conversation, or lack thereof. That’s basically it, but the signature style and dreamlike sustained atmosphere makes it feel like so much more than just a short about a talking monkey. Lynch sits, stares, smokes cigarettes and annunciates in that clear, purposeful yet slyly elusive way that only he can. The monkey also sits but gazes around nervously as his mannerisms are animated in that unnerving way that those Annoying Orange videos are, yet somehow it seems not tacky like those were but more lifelike than if they’d used CGI, but that’s Lynch’s gift for unconventional practical effects. He shoots in the same ghostly, stark textured black and white employed in Twin Peaks: The Return and yet again crafts something haunting, mesmeric and subconsciously affecting. His wife makes a cameo playing a waitress who serves them, you guessed it, coffee. At one point Jack breaks out into the kind of otherworldly song routine that immediately reminds one of Lynch’s breakout film Eraserhead. It might sound like I’m detailing too much for a film so short but it doesn’t really matter; you can describe a Lynch film down to its buttons in every detail and the reader would still have no clue of its power until they take the plunge themselves. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some living room where the folks have no idea who Lynch is or what he’s about and just pick this from the Netflix lineup thinking it’s a cute little monkey documentary, heh.

-Nate Hill

End of an Era: Nate’s Top 20 TV Shows of the Decade

It has been an amazing decade for television! Not only that but in the last ten years we have seen a giant shift from the casual week-to-week entertainment factor of cable TV towards serious arthouse long form storytelling, major production value on the small screen and a much celebrated golden age of serialized television. There have been dozens upon dozens of beautifully crafted, innovative, imaginative and affecting pieces of work produced and here are my twenty personal favourite!

20. The Big Lez Show (2012/YouTube)

This one is something else. Essentially a simplistic piece quite literally animated on Microsoft Paint, it highlights the profane, raucous and often meditative adventures of Big Lez, his stoner Sasquatch buddies and many others. Australian humour adds an offbeat quality and there’s never a shortage of bizarre comedic set pieces, hysterical character interaction and a sense of WTF-ness that permeates the whole thing.

19. Justified (2010/FX)

You’d never believe that such a legendary, Kentucky fried aesthetic could be distilled from one Elmore Leonard short story, but this thing is a feast. Timothy Olyphant scores big as brittle Federal Marshal Raylan Givens, venturing back to his rural roots for six glorious seasons of pulpy, star studded, densely verbose modern western intrigue.

18. Goliath (2018/Amazon Prime)

Billy Bob Thornton does a career best turn in this surreal LA noir about a disgraced ex super-lawyer on the skids and forced to take on near suicidal class action lawsuits. Cue mystery, political corruption, glossy California decadence and a sense of ramshackle family within his tight knit crew. It’s a fantastic, high powered thriller and intense character study with top caliber guest actors and a feel for California and the surrounding area that draws you right in.

17. Ray Donovan (2013/Showtime)

Part Grand Theft Auto, part L.A. Confidential with a healthy dose of contemporary pop culture, this is a fantastic cross section and often satire of gritty underworld Hollywood through the eyes of Liev Schreiber’s Ray, a Boston bred tough guy with the polish of L.A. who acts as fixer, muscle, often romantic partner and secret agent of sorts to the elites of media and sports industries. There’s morality plays, fierce examinations of Shakespearean loyalty and betrayal, stinging dark humour, farcical sensibilities, dastardly villains and a lot of pathos packed into this still continuing epic.

16. Shameless (2011/Showtime)

Life for a lower middle class Chicago family is hilariously documented in this candid, raunchy, heartfelt and chaotic framework full of fantastic performances, chief among them William H. Macy as their perpetually drunk patriarch and the lovely Emmy Rossum as his brave, fierce and resilient daughter. There’s never a shortage of hijinks, severely R rated shenanigans or berserk subplots around, plus along the way you get a good sense for each family member and their woes, joys and personal struggles.

15. Game Of Thrones (2011/HBO)

I do have issues with this show, namely pacing, tone and the fucking rush job of a last season thanks to those two writers. However, this is a gargantuan fantasy epic that changed the landscape of television forever and has an infinity of gorgeously mounted set pieces, complex character dynamics and yes, dragons.

14. Stranger Things (2016/Netflix)

Neon, 80’s nostalgia, Amblin vibes, Stephen King atmosphere and yesteryear pop culture abound. This show is now an international phenomenon and rightfully so but it legit has the quality and heart to back up the hype, particularly in the near perfect first season.

13. Homecoming (2018/Amazon Prime)

Julia Roberts uncovers a deeply planted conspiracy amongst the ex military patients she’s hired to provide counselling for in this baroque, moody noir that only arrives in thirty minute episodes but somehow seems much denser. Melancholy, burnished and stocked with musical tracks lifted right from classic Hollywood films, this is one captivating piece of storytelling.

12. The Alienist (2018/TNT)

This dark, macabre tale sees a psychiatric pioneer (Daniel Bruhl), a crime scene illustrator (Luke Evans) and the first woman in the New York police department (Dakota Fanning) on the hunt for a terrifying, ever elusive serial killer near the turn of the century. It’s slick, intelligent, unexpected and not watered down whatsoever, leading to one of the starkest and most brutal yet captivating portraits of history I’ve ever seen onscreen.

11. The Terror (2018/AMC)

This inclusion goes for season one, which in its own is a thing of magisterial beauty, terror and primal existentialism. An elemental fiction reworking of a real life naval disappearance in the arctic, this story is best binged in one rainy day to absorb character, incident and the cold atmosphere of such a remote series of events.

10. Fargo (2014/FX)

I’ve been flayed for holding this opinion before but for me this tv adaptation outdoes the Coen brothers’ original film itself. A near biblical trio of seasons that begins with the icy Minnesota black comedy crime aesthetic and ascends at times to something daring and esoteric, this breaks both the mould it was forged in and that of television itself. Plus you get to briefly see Bruce Campbell play Ronald Reagan and if that ain’t worth the time capsule then I just don’t know what is.

9. Letterkenny (2016/CraveTV)

Rural Ontario seems like an odd setting for one of the snappiest, smartly written and hysterical comedies this decade has seen but there you go. Basically just the humdrum misadventures of a town with 5,000 population and no shortage of mayhem, this is television like no other and you really have to just crush like five episodes, immerse yourself in the mile a minute dialogue and jokes to experience the magic. Pitter patter.

8. Happy! (2017/SyFy)

Disgraced, alcoholic ex cop turned hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni in a career best) and his daughter’s imaginary friend Happy the flying unicorn (Patton Oswalt) hunt down all kinds of freaks, weirdos, perverts, contract killers and arch villains on Christmas Eve to find a bunch of kidnapped children. That description says nothing though, only through viewing this can you appreciate how ballsy, subversive and deeply fucked up this story really is. Not for the faint of heart, but anyone with a love of whacked out dark humour and unconventional storytelling will get a royal kick.

7. Hannibal (2013/NBC)

I’ll admit I wasn’t super pumped when I heard that NBC was doing a Hannibal rendition, as they’re kind of a vanilla cable show runner. But creator Bryant Fuller churned out something spectacularly atmospheric, unbelievably artistic and so not what you’d expect to see. Mads Mikkelsen makes a chilling, low key and almost ethereal Dr. Lekter, Hugh Dancy a haunted, empathetic Will Graham and there’s an eclectically rounded cast of guest stars including Laurence Fishburne, Kacey Rohl, Eddie Izzard, Michael Pitt, Katherine Isabelle, Lance Henriksen and more.

6. Westworld (2016/HBO)

The advent of artificial intelligence blends with humanity’s deepest desires and eventually something more profound in this complex, operatic, gorgeously mounted science fiction epic. It’s a tricky beast and a labyrinthine (literally and figuratively) experience to process but stick with it and the resulting effect is mesmerizing.

5. Maniac (2018/Netflix)

Jonah Hill and Emma Stone headline this psychological fantasy that’s kinda tough to pin down. A clandestine drug trial in a casette futurism setting leads to personal revelations, social satire and the kind of episodic time travel multidimensional storytelling that I live for. Brilliant stuff.

4. The Haunting Of Hill House (2018/Netflix)

Stephen King called this a work of genius, and I too share that sentiment. This is old school spook horror done beautifully, with powerful performances, psychological depth, harrowing scares both ghostly and wrought from human nature and characters that forge a strong place in your heart with each passing episode.

3. The OA (2016/Netflix)

I’m still so choked that Netflix cancelled this after only two seasons yet they keep tired, mediocre garbage like Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why limping on long past their shelf life. I’ll quit being bitter now but you’ll see what a gem this is after five minutes of the pilot. Rich storytelling, groundbreaking conceptual design and ideas that don’t only think outside the box but defy dimensional existence. One day someone will pick this up for continuation but until then please check out the two masterful first seasons.

2. True Detective (2014/HBO)

A southern gothic conspiracy folk horror, an inky, fatalistic LA noir and a bleak ozark family saga. So far. The first season kicks off with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the darkest heart of Louisiana and while it’s my favourite part of this anthology so far, all three chapters cast their respective spell wonderfully.

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017/Showtime)

David Lynch delivers not only a dazzling, appropriately perplexing and ever mysterious follow up to his initial series but a personal filmmaking magnum opus. He and his team changed the face of television once in the early 90’s and with this stunning piece of originality, horror, musical performance, surrealism, coffee, cherry pie and inter-dimensional travel… they pull it off again.

Thanks for reading and tune in lots in the coming decade for much more!!

-Nate Hill

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is the kind of film I only watch occasionally as they take a lot out of me, but it’s an important, focused and purely distilled treatise on a relationship that is coming to an end that I greatly enjoyed. That’s not to say it’s a hopelessly bleak and hostile experience, there are many touching moments, humour breaks and passages of whimsy, but when it becomes all business we are flung headlong into both the emotionally oppressive and practically draining wheels of a divorce in motion and that is never a nice thing to witness. This is honest, dutiful work with a naturalistic feel for the way time passes, beautiful and affecting performances from the entire cast and deeply thought out direction from Baumbach, who I was impressed with considering this is his first film that I’ve seen.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannsson are Charlie and Nicole, a husband and wife who begin to sense the spark dimming. First they opt for a separation and we imagine them as two civil parents who can work this out easily, until we take a magnified look at their life and see that it’s more complicated than that, and then then the big guns come out. By big guns I mean two voracious divorce lawyers played by the always amazing Laura Dern and the ever intense Ray Liotta, chewing scenes like there’s no tomorrow but always giving the impression that these proceedings are believable, and sadly so. Also quite effective is Alan Alda as another attorney who comes across as more of a teddy bear when seated next to Dern and Liotta’s sharks. Julie Hagerty, Merritt Weaver, Wallace “inconceivable” and others all make vivid, hilarious impressions as well.

What I enjoyed most about this film is that it not only chooses to focus on the mammoth narrative beats and crucial cruxes of the story that are meant to and do make an impression. It also shines a light on the small talk, the spaces in between words, the benign and seemingly non important mundanities of human interaction that often end up speaking the loudest. There is one conversation between Charlie and Nicole (you’ll know as soon as it comes) that begins affably enough and in a few moments time has escalated into the kind of volcanic venom spewing that can only punch holes in the air and leave the room as silent as before they entered it. It’s an extraordinarily acted sequence but equally impressive are the small moments between the two and those around them, realistic depictions of awkward dialogue and behaviour that has you investing in this world for real. The big moments matter, but the small ones do too, I love and appreciate when a filmmaker realizes and implements this. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Vincenzo Natali’s In The Tall Grass

Stephen King adaptations are all across the board, especially these days, but Vincenzo Natali’s moody, atmospheric In The Tall Grass (a Netflix film) pleasantly surprised me and it further surprises me that it’s getting such negative reception. This is essentially a fairly simple premise whipped up into a complex spiderweb of narrative tricks and elliptical turns which could have overall put people off but there’s no denying that it grabs you with, sticks to and squarely lands its story with effective atmosphere, immersive storytelling and, for the most part anyways, solid performances.

Director Natali also directed the cult horror flick Cube, and one can see the similarities in setting when you consider this is set in a giant shifting maze of tall grass with an ever present, omnipotent malevolence brewing away within it. A brother and sister (Laysla De Oliveria & Avery Whitted) are driving through the states to San Diego when they hear a child’s voice calling for help from a vast field of tall grass lining a desolate highway. When they step inside to investigate and help… well that’s where the fun begins. This labyrinth of whispering vegetation traps them in confusion, moves them mysteriously around and becomes increasingly sinister. Things get especially weird when when they meet the father and husband (Patrick Wilson) of another family who strayed into this maze a while ago and are still wandering around wondering wtf is going on. Soon reality shifts, time begins to have no meaning or linear progression compared to events unfolding on the outside of the grass and everything seems to be controlled by a strange, hypnotic monolith at the heart of the maze with weird cave paintings all over it.

It’s a bizarre, whackadoo premise but also kind of right up my alley; I love horror films about people stuck in otherworldly places where the rules of physics, time and space don’t seem to matter. The performances range across the board and aren’t all up to par but Wilson steals the show as usual, doing a delicately hysterical balancing act of straight arrow affability and diabolical menace, he really sends it in every role. The atmosphere within the maze is overpowering and brought to life by an ethereal score from Mark Korven, kaleidoscopic framing/editing choices and a prevailing sense of disoriented, panicky hopelessness, while the story itself is one that can get pretty complex and seemingly incoherent but actually does work itself out step by step if you’re paying strict attention and letting everything wash over you. Definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight with Stephanie Kurtzuba

Image may contain: 6 people, including Stef Coakley, people smiling, people standing

We are completely honored to bring you our chat with actress Stephanie Kurtzuba. Stef recently stars alongside Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN which is currently streaming on Netflix. Her other credits include THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, ANNIE, and the upcomig film BAD EDUCATION with Hugh Jackman. Her television credits include CHICAGO PD, BLUE BLOODS, THE LEFTOVERS, and THE GOOD WIFE. Stef speaks about her early beginnings in Nebraska to attending NYU, working on stage, and meeting Martin Scorsese and working on one of the best films of the new century, THE IRISHMAN.

Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese closes a decade, much like he opened the 70s; crafting and birthing a deeply personal film that instantly stands to be marveled at, and is cause for celebration. The names Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel are all what legends are made of and once they are gone, they are instantly irreplaceable and each of them will become an idol of a time in human history where movies became cinema, and each one of them will become an iconic footnote of the lasting impression of art.

There is so much to take away from this picture. Yes, it is a cumulative capstone of a generation of artists who have become the living embodiment of cinema, while also revolutionizing computer generated de-aging to a point where it is not a gimmick, it becomes reality. It pushes past the boundaries of tentpole fatigue and allows these four actors to move fluidly throughout four decades, all the while teaching the viewer about the passage of time where the final destination is death.

The entire film is underplayed and painstakingly low key. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing glides at a steady pace, the performances are all somber as they are sublime, with the exception of Al Pacino who gives a magnetically hammy turn as James R. Hoffa. Robert De Niro’s transformative performance marks a new high as what it is to be stoic, and Joe Pesci gives such an anti-Pesci performance, he will linger with the audience long after the credits roll.

And then there is Harvey Keitel. It has been thirty-one years since Scorsese worked directly with Keitel and fifty-two years since the two first worked together on WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR. Scorsese bestows the David Bowie in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST or Paul Sorvino in GOODFELLAS role to Keitel; the extended cameo that is so powerfully singularly due to casting, his presence hangs throughout the duration of the picture. It is an overly emotional re-teaming of the two strange bedfellows – the former Marine and devout Jew coupled with the anxious and hyper-obsessive artist whose Catholic guilt is worked out over the course of over fifty fruitful years of being the father of modern-day cinema. It is an absolute joy to bear witness as these two cinematic icons work together again in what will forever be Scorsese’s most seminal and grandiose work.

Inside the film, Scorsese sticks with the original title of I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES. And within it, he made his most self-aware picture that subtly references his career through music, atmosphere, location, and casting. He pulls in a cast representative of the many eras of his canon. His HBO era cast of Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, and Dominick Lombardozzi to his gangster-era casting of Paul Herman and Welker White to the new guard of Stephanie Kurtzuba, Bo Dietl and J.C. MacKenzie all play a prominent role of merging Scorsese’s entire career into one three and a half-hour film.

There is a moment in the film where De Niro is gifted a ring by Pesci, where the ring in question is only worn by three people: Keitel, Pesci, and now De Niro; signifying Scorsese’s three boys, and the ones who are most representative of cinema’s most important auteur and solidifying their status as cinematic titans.

Netflix has truly outdone themselves with putting all their support and money behind Scorsese and letting him do whatever he wants. There isn’t another entity in existence that would have let Scorsese do what he did with this picture, and their protection of not allowing a massive theatrical run is absolutely just.

I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, is Scorsese’s most import and cathartic work; and shows the audience about the embracement of death in a way that has never quite been conveyed on film. This is not a gangster film populated with slow-motion kill shots cued up to the Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton; it is a deeply personal picture that is a goodbye from Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel.

Opening the doors of perception: Netflix’s brilliant and undefinable The OA Part II

When season one of Netflix’s The OA aired back in 2016, it went by largely unnoticed. This was due to the network doing little to no marketing, fanfare or ads and it kind of just attracted its own little fan base without creating the whirlwind that say, Stranger Things has. It’s sort of a shame and sort of not, because it’s by far the best original content that Netflix has produced and one of the most intricate, challenging and cosmically investigative pieces of storytelling out there (with an emphasis on ‘out there’). Season 2 has recently aired, again with little hubbub surrounding it, and the leaps, jumps and creative epiphanies that series creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij have made in the three years since are both staggering and revolutionary in the SciFi/fantasy genre.

Anyone who isn’t caught up should heed a spoiler warning regarding Season 1 right about here and stop reading as I’d like to discuss certain story beats. When we left our characters after the ambulance chasing cliffhanger of S1, we weren’t sure what became of The OA/Prairie Johnson when the school shooter got her and she seemingly died. S2 opens with a slow burn episode as we follow a gruff ex FBI private detective (Kingsley Ben-Adir, phenomenal) as he searches for a missing girl in a version of San Francisco that’s just a bit removed from the reality we know. This is the reality that Prairie has travelled to after dying in the dimension she came from, for the Movements related to near death experiences explored in the first season are a gateway to endless parallel dimensions and subsequent travel between them. Confused? That’s nothing, I’ve barely described the season opener so far. This new dimension is a fascinating one, full of futuristic tech, underground ‘games’ ruled over by an unseen force and even more intangible metaphysics that we got the first time around. Prairie is stuck in this new plane with Dr. Hunter Percy, the unorthodox rogue scientist played with startling compassion and chilling resolve by the great Jason Isaacs, who is just wonderful here in a role that lets him flex his talents. Prairie leaves her friends in the previous dimension behind to wonder where she went, including Steve (Patrick Gibson), Buck (Ian Alexander), Betty (Phyllis Smith), French (Brandon Perea) and Jesse (Brendan Meyer). The new reality thrusts her forth into a frightening situation with her old friends Will (Scott Brown), Renata (Paz Vega), Rachel (Sharon Van Etten) and Homer (Emory Cohen) the love of her life. It’s a ton of characters to keep track of, each playing at least several versions of themselves and there’s even more new additions that show up for this part of the story including The Florida Project’s Bria Vinaite and an appearance from Zendaya as a mysterious girl with ties to the forces around all of them.

Marling and Batmanglij are light years beyond most artists writing original content right now, their level of storytelling and drive is sort of unparalleled in the sense that they reach out to ask questions that are difficult in the context and boundaries of television, or any filmed medium. The first season hinted at life beyond death and took its time getting to the initial breach between worlds that might open up new possibilities. This season dives headlong into the implications and ripple effect of what came before, has no patience for laggers and hurtles along at a sonic pace, blasting us with ideas, emotion, tricky concepts, psychological labyrinths, new wave cyber software, bizarre biological phenomena, a rose stained glass window with untold power and a telepathic Octopus named Old Night. This is either a show that is ‘too weird’ for most who aren’t open to unconventional thinking or have no capacity for abstraction or it will be the favourite thing out there for those of us that eat this stuff up. Prairie says of her travels and revelations that she’s ‘looking for a border’ that’s hard to define, and the same can be said about the show itself. This isn’t something that is just SciFi or just fantasy or even both, it’s an organic piece that feels like elemental forces at work rather than constructed artifice spin for entertainment.

With this story, all the creative forces work together to open the doors of perception and stretch the nature of what is possible in storytelling. Brilliant characters abound who we care about, are funny and seem like genuine, fleshed out human beings, a specifically distilled visual aesthetic that Sci Fi lovers will go gaga for, fantastic original music by multiple artists including Danny Bensi, Saunder Juuriens and Van Etten herself, haunting complexity in narrative arcs and an overall desire to strive for something new, something we haven’t seen before and that may expand our perspective on the world around us, and those beyond. I’m hooked on this and can’t wait until we get a Part III.

-Nate Hill