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Brian De Palma’s Sisters is One Hell of a Fractured Psychological Journey

Sisters. 1973. Directed by Brian De Palma. Screenplay by De Palma & Louisa Rose.
Starring Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, William Finley, Lisle Wilson, Barnard Hughes, Mary Davenport, & Dolph Sweet. Pressman-Williams/American International Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTER
Brian De Palma is a quality filmmaker. That quality hasn’t been kicking around much as of late. Doesn’t discount all the great work he’s done in a lifetime of film. He’s spent much of his filmography emulating Alfred Hitchcock, though not in a way that copies or borrows too liberally. No, De Palma has forged his own way through a wonderful career by using that Hitchcockian influence to dust the edges. There are some much lesser efforts out of De Palma than the masterpieces he’s known for – Sisters is not one of them.
This film has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I bought it up as soon as I could because I’d heard of it for years, always wanting to see it. Then once I had the thing, for some unknown reason, the copy sat lonely, unwatched. When I did view Sisters, I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been. Honestly, this is an unheralded classic of psychological horror. Early on in his career De Palma already cemented himself as a natural heir to the Hitchcock throne. The directing, the editing, the Bernard Herrmann score (when he was semi-retired no less), the central performance of Margot Kidder with all its mania and depth; every last piece is like the perfect one for the puzzle. There’s lots of influence here, De Palma clearly emulating his idol in heaps. Rather than feel at all a copy off the Master of Suspense, Sisters was a fresh drop of horror in 1973, tinted with the suspenseful, tension-filled qualities you might have felt from Rear Window or Vertigo. Either way, this is awesome cinema that shouldn’t be overlooked.
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So many great shots. Simple to complex. For instance, there’s a nice shot of shadows on the wall as a door closes that is obviously telling while also chillingly subtle that, along with a bit of score, takes us right into the pure psychological terror De Palma aims for through telling this story. This is just the start.
In a film such as this I have to mention the editing, in combination with the excellent writing. Not long after the shot of the shadows there’s this eerie little moment where the cake is having the names put on it, the icing squeezing out in the names Danielle and Dominique, cut against Danielle having this fit. Just those two names and the way she’s beginning to implode already, these shots perfectly set that up.
Furthermore you’ve got a nice use of split-screen. Certain film fans may not dig that. Others may love it. Personally, I find De Palma uses it appropriately. Because ultimately this is a film that has to do with psychology, fractured identity and perspective, so on. So the split-screen helps give the look a psychological angle all of its own. There’s an overall sense of strangeness that develops, between the various techniques used to tell the story and the story itself, filled with interesting characters and events. I love when the atmosphere of a film matches up so closely with the storytelling, it makes for exciting cinema. Sometimes when a horror, particularly when leaning into the psychological, goes for the grim atmosphere it doesn’t always connect directly to the plot, so much as it’s grim for grim’s sake. Whereas De Palma uses the different techniques to induce a very personal, psychologically driven perspective. In that vein, the story and the filmmaking line up to create an effective cohesiveness. That’s why I find the movie so successful, even as such an early effort by the great director. He showed the film world quickly that his sensibilities as director were well honed already, itching to expand.
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A huge part of what makes the suspenseful moments and the tension work is that juicy, creepy score by none other than Bernard Herrmann; again adding to the Hitchcock influence, the composer having worked on some of his best films. There are absolutely bizarre moments, such as the brutal death of Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson) where xylophones and the Moog synthesizer take you to some other plane of existence. Rightfully so. The greatest aspect of Herrmann’s work, as usual, is that it adds a totally whole other character to the film. It is another character. It shapes the atmosphere. These bizarre pieces of music allow De Palma to put us in the headspace of the main character, as she all but literally falls down the rabbit hole of psychological dread.
There’s also a couple genuinely shocking moments. When Philip is stabbed I actually couldn’t believe it. I knew something was coming, and something bad. But this was a really good scene. I’ve seen worse, there’s just something shocking about the moment that strikes so well. Later, the more quiet shock comes in the black-and-white flashback to a time when the Siamese twins are conjoined – or more so it’s a dream on the part of Grace (Jennifer Salt) imagining herself as the twin joined to Danielle (Margot Kidder). A very terrifying moment that doesn’t need to be outright horror to scare. It’s pitch perfect leading into the finale.
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I have to say, Sisters is my personal favourite De Palma film. Hands down. He’s done some other fascinating work. I can’t shake this one. There’s an undeniably unsettling effect to the whole thing. Each moment that pulls you into the psychological viewpoint makes the end of the main plot feel that much more intense. As you draw closer to the finish there’s a sense of impending doom. The suspense De Palma employs, the tension he uses to work his audience over with is brutish at times, in the best sort of sense. In terms of talent you really can’t say that De Palma wasn’t shining nearly right from the get go in his career. Margot Kidder provides an emotional, manic performance as a woman torn apart by the bursting identities instilled in her through the loss of her conjoined twin. She is a great actor and I’ve enjoyed so many movies because of her alone. Not to say she’s the only one, just that her role and performance are the highlight in that arena. You can’t say you love De Palma and not see this one. Seek it out if it hasn’t hit your eyeballs yet. Not sure, after finally watching it awhile back, why I waited so long. This needs to be watched and watched and watched again. There is much to enjoy, much to fear. What an underrated psychological horror is Sisters! Let’s not forget it. Ever.

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The Demolisher Lulls You in for Nothing

The Demolisher. 2015. Directed & Written by Gabriel Carrer.
Starring Ry Barrett, Tianna Nori, Jessica Vano, Duncan McLellan, Gerrit Sepers, Bruce Turner, Duane Frey, Andrew Bussey, Owen Fawcett, Rich Piatkowski, & Reese Eveneshen. Latefox Pictures.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Action/Horror/Thriller

★1/2
POSTER
Sometimes the hype of a film precedes it with way too much intensity. The Demolisher is absolutely one of those types. One of the posters is loaded down with so many quotes there’s barely enough room for the poster itself; already utilizing a minimalist style having the main character stand in a meaningful pose by himself, as if representing everything about the film. Yet these quotes, and from reputable sources (mostly), confuse me. After watching this I couldn’t figure out exactly how any of these reviewers managed to come up with those words to describe it. Granted, there are aspects here of which I’m a fan. The atmosphere and overall tone, including the score and some of the cinematography, makes for an audio-visual treat you don’t usually get out of small indie films, except for the excellent ones floating around out there. So director-writer Gabriel Carrer milks some of what he can out of The Demolisher. Only, after viewing it a couple times just to make sure I felt solid on my verdict, I can’t help feeling there are missed opportunities for storytelling inside this loaded story, as if the plot never truly kick starts itself and gets going proper. Instead we’re left with 85 minutes loaded down with intense, booming music in the score from Glen Nicholls, and some good cinematography out of Martin Buzora – too often marred by the use of slow motion at times – rather than a supposedly John Carpenter-esque, low budget Michael Mann flick, as the poster touts. The influences are there, no doubt. But the quality is far from that hallowed territory.
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A cable/internet repairman named Bruce (Ry Barrett) takes care of his disabled wife Samantha (Tianna Nori), a former police officer whose injuries came as a result of a gang-related shooting. Slowly, Bruce devolves into his own world where he takes to the streets at night, donning riot gear and a vicious appetite for violence. More and more the nights bleed into his daytime life. He becomes a vigilante of sorts. Except soon enough, his mental health falls apart. And in the daytime, his violence comes out. After killing a man during a house-call repair, Bruce begins to truly go mad.
When he focuses his disturbing, violent psyche on a young girl named Marie (Jessica Vano), his world crumbles into a frenzy of chaotic madness.
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I’m just not sure, above all else, what Carrer is trying to say or do with this movie. What I enjoy is that we get an indie film action flick, as there are several great chase and fight sequences. Added to that is the level of brutality and outright horror inflicted by Bruce, a.k.a the titular Demolisher. So what I do get is that Carrer perhaps wanted to do some action-styled sequences on a lower budget, and they turn out insanely awesome at times; when the slow motion doesn’t rear its head too often.
But aside from action, what’s the point of it all? The Demolisher sets itself up as an emotionally charged character study focused on Bruce and his descent towards madness. However, along the way his journey becomes unclear. At first I imagined there was something to his vigilantism. Or is that merely a gateway into this action-oriented horror? Still not sure. If it’s simply a way to make Bruce into this hulking, always stalking killer like a Death Wish Bronson crossed with Carpenter’s Michael Myers, then it works. Sort of, not always. If there’s something more profound to the journey of Bruce, I’ve yet to figure that out. Not saying the elements are all there to make this anything profound, but it feels like there’s something more this film wants to do or wants to be. Somehow, Carrer loses it along the way and The Demolisher transforms into a lazy bit of horror trying to masquerade as partly arthouse. Never is a mark hit either way. And the finale downright makes no sense to me, so at every corner I’m at a loss for compliments.
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All style over substance here. Except, even when the filmmakers are trying for style, there are moments this does not work well for them. As I said, the slow motion bits were a tad too prevalent, and they did nothing to enhance things. Other than give us some more time to watch the scenery and the nice-looking cinematography. Outside of that, this technique only makes things look boring, as if we’re watching any other wannabe action-thriller; over and over, the action is slowed down, to the point these brief bits are painful to watch.
I do love some of the filter work, such as a quick couple shots of Bruce in his riot gear, bathed in a reddish wave of light. Definitely Mann-inspired. But these few types of scenes are limited, and they don’t add anything overly special to anything. With the amazing, nerve-wracking score from Nicholls pulsing constantly, it’s a shame the visuals never amount to much in the end. There could’ve been so much more accomplished with the film’s aesthetics. Unfortunately, it’s all for nought.
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This movie gets a 1&1/2-star rating. I can’t give it any more without hating myself. Obviously the visuals and the audio make things exciting to hear, and to look at. But none of that is enough to lift this film out of the muck and mire. At first, you expect The Demolisher will rock you with an amazing style. It does nothing except lull you into hoping at some point the plot will break out and do big things. Never happens. Don’t walk into this relying on any of the outrageous quotes put on the poster. In fact, I chose to track down a totally different one to use on this review because I will not let those totally unrealistic expectations poison you. See it, judge for yourself. But this one’s a real rough watch. And not in an awesome horror-like fashion; just rough and forgettable.

Indie Horror House Arrest Makes for a Dark Summer

Dark Summer. 2015. Directed by Paul Solet. Screenplay by Mike Le.
Starring Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell, Grace Phipps, Dinora Walcott, and Peter Stormare. Campfire/ContentFilm International/Preferred Film & TV.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER
After the excellent little 2009 film Grace, I imagined director Paul Solet might go on to do other exciting things in the horror genre. There was a tender quality even to that nasty gem, which I found impressive. When a director can take a story that is truly horrifying and add in dashes of pure, raw emotion, it’s always a treat.
When I heard of Dark Summer, my first thought was Disturbia – the Shia LaBeouf film they actually reference early in this one. But quickly, after I got into the plot and the story started pulling me in the realization that Solet and writer Mike Le were doing something much different. Using a similar setup, with some changes of course, Le’s screenplay takes us into a much more supernatural and frightening space. Even while not everything is as good as it could be, this is a fairly solid indie horror-thriller. Particularly, I enjoy both Keir Gilchrist and Stella Maeve, who ultimately hold up a lot of the film. Add in an amazing score, the ever interesting Peter Stormare in a small supporting role, a few wild bits of horror, and Dark Summer is definitely worth a watch.
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Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) has been sentenced to house arrest over the summer. The young man evidently cyber-stalked and harassed a girl named Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). The terms of his arrest: no visits from unaccompanied minors, no computer access or internet, the last of which are monitored by the police. Parole officer Stoke (Peter Stormare) keeps an eye on Daniel and explains how the house arrest works.
However, Daniel’s closest friends Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Maestro Harrell) come by with a tablet so he can connect to a nearby internet source, and bring him a little weed, bit of Ambien. Later on when Daniel tries to call his mom – the reason for the tablet – Abby calls. And a minute later, Mona Wilson; with whom Daniel is not supposed to have any contact. In a terrible twist of fate, Mona shoots herself in the head on camera while Daniel watches.
As things become more and more sinister, Daniel becomes aware that perhaps his harassment of Mona was not entirely his fault. Once Abby, Kevin and Daniel dig deeper into the mystery, black magic works its way into the equation, and anything they believed before goes out the window.Pic2
Immediately I was aware of the incredible music in Dark Summer. The score swells into a pounding rhythm in certain scenes, which holds us in excitement and suspense at various points. Other moments contain a score that stays just below the exterior, pulsing with the slow and steady feel of a current taking us along for the ride. Composer Austin Wintory is prolific, even if he isn’t well known. His music spans short films, video games (including the 2012 Journey and most recently Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate), television, and of course, feature films; he worked on Solet’s previous film Grace, as well. I can’t speak for all his other titles, but the work he does with Solet is truly exceptional. If anything, you’ll enjoy the creepy, slow burning feel of his score in this movie because it perfectly compliments what Solet was attempting to do. Part of the film’s charm is, no doubt, the music; undeniable.
Some of what Solet did was frightening. For instance, the quieter and more subtle moments where Daniel wanders his empty, dark home are tense, and these contributed to that overall slow burn of the film. Not everything needs to be a jump out and scare you scene, or jump-scare imagery. Solet does include some of that. Mostly, though, he sticks with the creeping feeling of these low-key moments, and the majority of them work. The horror got better as time went by. Above all else, it’s the thriller aspect of Dark Summer which works. As we follow along with Abby, Daniel and Kevin sussing out the mystery of Mona’s suicide, there’s a lot of macabre excitement. Following along with all the steps of what we later figure out is an elaborate dark spell, this makes up for any of those brief points where Solet doesn’t hit the mark exactly with other aspects. Furthermore, I liked the makeup and special effects, as everything fit the tone and atmosphere Solet was striving to achieve.
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As I mentioned, Gilchrist and Maeve each put in terrific performances, as did Stormare in his smaller role and also Harrell.
Gilchrist is a quiet type whose brooding nature comes across easily. He fits the bill of a young man who is withdrawn, not able to outright talk to girls and impress them. At the same time, he has an emotional side that is clear once we get to know the character of Daniel. I really enjoyed Gilchrist in It Follows, and here he impressed once more. The guy is a talented actor with range, which hopefully will get him more work as time goes on. He is certainly cut out for indie films with good talent and a unique sort of look; he isn’t weird looking, but has a look that sets him apart from so many other young male actors out there today.
I found Maeve did the best job of all in this film. She has a quiet disposition, which again fits her character well, too. She and Gilchrist have proper chemistry, and that helped on two fronts: the relationship of these two characters as friends, as well as Abby’s little crush on Daniel. There is an intensity to Maeve that comes across easily without her having to throw every bit of her acting arsenal at us constantly. Sometimes an actor can give the right looks, move the right way, and generally take on the right air of attitude, which Maeve does constantly here. Her caring nature helps to bring the character of Abby closer to Daniel, then as the film’s suspense and horror become more prevalent her performance goes with the flow accordingly, her character darkens and deepens. I’d love to see her do another horror, something even more solid than this, because there is a lot behind her eyes.
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With a few missteps, I still give Paul Solet’s Dark Summer a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. There could’ve been more intense sequences, but many of them present still affect the viewer. In a few scenes, the horror jumps out at us and takes on a life of its own. Most importantly, the drama and thriller portions of the movie are incredibly solid. Within a dark story we find many moments of tenderness, either from Daniel or Abby, or both, and this makes some of the more disturbing, terrifying scenes less shocking; not that this is needed, but it puts an interesting spin on the other elements when a morbid plot has linings of beauty. Regardless, Dark Summer holds it own in enough places that I enjoyed it, and would likely watch it again down the road. I’m interested to see what Solet does in the future, as he’s already put in a segment called “The Weak and The Wicked” for Tales of Halloween this past year. He is a uniquely talented director who will, hopefully, go on to more exciting, frightening, wild projects soon enough. Check this out and if you like slow burn indie thrillers, you’ll probably find surprise in these 81 minutes.

Villeneuve Crosses the Border of Criminality with Sicario

Sicario. 2015. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Max Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, and Kevin Wiggins. Black Label Media/Lions Gate Films/Thunder Road Pictures.
Rated 14A. 121 minutes.
Action/Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTERThe opening of Sicario provides us a definition of the term. The first involves Romans, the Jews killing people who invaded their homelands. The second offers up the term as Mexican for ‘hitman’. Immediately, along with the pulsing pound of the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (who worked with director Denis Villeneuve previously on Prisoners), the film sets us up for a grim story. In fact, the initial 3 or 4 minutes are dark – unbelievably so – and the tone is set.
One of the things I admire about Villeneuve, from his early feature Maelström to the most recent Prisoners, even Incendies, is the fact as a director he sets the atmosphere, mood and tone of his work so smoothly and so quickly that it’s almost ridiculous. Not in a bad way. He immerses us in the bleak lives of the characters sitting in the middle of his stories. We’re right alongside them. In Prisoners, before the main action of the plot even takes place you get this frightening sense of an ominous story to come. Similarly, Villeneuve draws us into Sicario‘s web with a dark and brooding landscape, plus a heavy dose of nihilistic action set within the morbidly electrifying world of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Mexican cartels. Never once does this film let go. Always tense, never ceasing with its suspenseful atmosphere, filled by doubt and an almost raw animal quality. The agents who inhabit this story, everyone involved, they are each predators; all fighting to rule the jungle.
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During an FBI raid of possible kidnappers, Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and the rest of the team find corpses stashed in the walls of the house. Kate and others take a breather, as the investigation team starts a crime scene. Then an IED explodes in the back of the house, which kills two officers on the scene. Dave Jennings (Victor Garber) later recommends Agent Macer to a CIA Special Activities Division, and undercover officer/DOD adviser Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He and a group of operatives are tracking down those responsible, including a hitman for a Juárez cartel named Manuel Diaz. Willingly volunteering her time, and possibly life, Kate takes part in the team.
Once Kate meets a partner of Graver, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), she’s told they are headed to Juárez. This changes everything. Suddenly her journey with the team becomes more likely to be deadly. After they finally land in Juárez, we follow Agent Macer and the others closely, right alongside the action. The drug wars are running high, hot, heavy. The blood is not done flowing, on the streets of America nor certainly is it anywhere near finished in Juárez. Kate has to transform into a different, tougher, more brutal agent if she is to survive the job with which she’s been tasked.

Kate: “The fuck are we doing?”
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One reason I walked away from this film thoroughly satisfied is because, while certain elements are things we’ve all seen before, the screenplay from Taylor Sheridan contains a lot of good stuff. It isn’t a ton of cliched CIA/FBI nonsense jammed together with the tired view of cartels with which we’ve been inundated in the movies. Sheridan provides solid dialogue, as well as paces the film pretty well. For an action film that contains a nice helping of dialogue, there doesn’t feel like any points where the pacing lags. That’s always a downer for a movie relying on action to drive the audience’s attention span. But it isn’t predominantly action. This film has so much intrigue and mystery, specifically pertaining to Benicio del Toro’s character, his backstory and origins. Not to mention the already infamous scene where Alejandro in the interrogation room most likely rapes a man; that’s debatable but I believe a running theme in this film, pertaining to the cartel and also the methods of CIA/FBI Agents, is that the horrors we do see are nothing compared to the ones we don’t see. It’s all about the surface, appearances, and the hidden underbelly. So Alejandro as a character embodies much of that theme himself. Overall, the writing is very subtle in places where it could easily have gone over-the-top, typical, or just full-on cliche.
Next is the fact I thought a female protagonist in Sicario works perfectly. We need more strong but also flawed female characters in cinema. Not to say Agent Kate Macer is flawed in a negative sense. Although, in terms of having to become part of this dangerous drug war world Kate has flaws – she is too human. Throughout the film we watch her struggle with the weight of moral ambiguity in the face of trying to attain the greater good. A man is usually who we see in this situations, whether on television or in the movies. Nice to watch Emily Blunt play an interesting character, especially thrown into this typically male-dominated environment, and we follow along to see how she either fits in, or falls out. And she is not perfect, again, I repeat, not perfect. Just like male characters we see who are allowed to be tough and also ridiculously flawed, Blunt plays Agent Macer as someone not perfect, even if she is tougher than nails. It’s the duality that needs to be allowed to female characters, much as it is for the men. Because they are just as interesting, if not more so depending on the situation. Personally, I dig how she navigates the patriarchal world of law enforcement and particularly the one concerning cartels, eventually proving her worth in the part she plays.SICARIO Day 16 S_D16_04262.NEFPic3
There are a wealth of great characters in this film. Aside from that, again I have to say, Villeneuve does a fantastic job making everything look so dark and murky, even in broad daylight. There are a few elements to all that. First, the cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins is slick, rich, it has a vibrant quality in every kind of light, whether among the shadows or in the dusty sunlit streets of Mexico. Deakins is a master behind the lens and his work with Villeneuve only continues to affirm that, every damn time. They are a perfect pairing, almost with the same sensibilities in terms of how subject matter ought to be captured through the cinematographer’s eyes. Regardless, they work so well as a team. Secondly, as I mentioned at the start Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score provides the appropriate music at every last turn. At the start the opening sequence is driven by his foreboding music, throbbing in our ears and right through the chest. Later, the intensity amps up when the action gets frenetic, or generally swells, gets deeper and more gloomy when the story turns darker, darker still. Jóhannsson compliments the story in the best way, which only helps the work of Deakins and Villeneuve look/feel better along the way.
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If I said Sicario were anything less than a 5-star film, I’d be lying. I’m not saying it has to be perfect. I’m saying it does an amazingly impressive job with every aspect of the film, from music to production design to the writing, the direction and the cinematography. Every bit of this movie is enjoyable. It enthralled me from beginning to end. Seeing it in theatre is worth it, as the visuals look even more gorgeous on a big screen. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing it on Blu ray, which will absolutely be a whole new experience. This is written well, captured well. Denis Villeneuve is a fantastic and fascinating director who is worthy of watching, film after film. I hope he keeps making things with an edge, a darkness in them. He manages to bring across those tough stories so well, with a shadowy yet human quality. This one is a furious, enjoyable romp through drug war territory with a deep and fractured look into the people who fight it, how they do, as well as the lengths to which they’ll go under the guise of a ‘greater good’. At times nihilistic, Sicario is always a treat for the eyes, the ears, and that dark spot in your soul where only little tiny bits of hope cling.

WHEN ANIMALS DREAM: A Folklore Tale on Coming of Age

A young girl's transformation from girl to woman is plagued by the folklore and superstitions and closed minds of her small little town.

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The Knick – Season 2, Episode 1: “Ten Knots”

Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 2, Episode 1:
 “Ten Knots”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler

* For a review of the next episode, “You’re No Rose” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.30.53 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.30.58 PMI’ve only just now decided to start reviews for The Knick‘s second season. Being a huge fan of the first, I thought it’d be fun to get in on the action.
So, after the wild events of the first season in New York – in particular the gutpunch of the final episode as Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) finds himself being weened off one drug, only to be weened onto the dreaded heroin – Season 2’s opener “Ten Knots” begins with a nice fade in on ole Thack’s eyes; fitting shot to start. But first it’s a blurry image turning into a little girl… then the watery eyes of Thackery emerge.
Then we’re back with Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson). She’s dictating a letter in narration to Thackery. Apparently Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) is “bearing up” according to her while Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) is still kicking about, naturally, as well as young Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano) and the steadfast Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland). They’re all getting by best they can. Though, Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) hasn’t returned as of yet, even with his suspension lifted.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.32.15 PMMost interesting, as usual, is Dr. Thackery. In a tiny room he works on a woman’s nose. Very gruesome little bit, not to mention Thack looks like something ragged and worn out. Worse, it appears he’s working for vials of drugs. Sad state of affairs.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.32.27 PMAnother suffering soul, Sister Harriet gets a visit in jail from her Mother Superior (Maryann Plunkett). Mother asks Harriet if the charges against her are true, to which the latter does admit clearly. It’s a sad scene once again, as even the non-religious (like myself) will feel bad for Harriet; she only wanted to do the right thing and help women in need, but this of course turned her against her faith in confrontation. Mother Superior pretty much rubs salt in the wound.
Another actually gruesome scene – at the home of Dr. Gallinger, his wife Eleanor (Maya Kazan) is helping to size up her sister Dorothy (Annabelle Attanasio) for some new teeth… teeth which came out of her own face. Eleanor has a grim smile now with sharp and stumpy gums in her mouth. What an image.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.11 PMDr. Edwards has a problem with the retina in his left eye. This is obviously troubling regarding Algernon’s abilities as a surgeon, difficulties with his vision would mean even worse things for his career. At the same time, Edwards hopes to become the permanent chief surgeon at The Knickerbocker Hospital while Thack is not around. What I love is that Edwards works well with those who wish to give him a chance. For instance, his relationship with the youthful Dr. Chickering seems pretty great; he gives Bertie the chance to have a hand at doing a surgery, encouraging him not to simply watch and rather get his hands on the work himself.
Only problem is, as always, Edwards is constantly the underdog to everyone at the top – simply because he’s African-American. Foolish nonsense, though, we are at the dawn of the 20th century in this series. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.
But the scene where Dr. Edwards is being completely dismissed by the hospital’s board was downright brutish! Wonderfully acted and written scene. Still nasty, though. He’s clearly an amazing doctor, we as more modern men and women can see this, yet those racist old white men just can’t get it through their heads.
One of my favourite moments in this Season 2 opener is near the end when Dr. Edwards is let in on the photo-op for The Knickerbocker, to the dismay of a few old white men. Such a classic moment! Loved the look on all the faces of the others involved in the photo, actually made me laugh aloud. Also fist pumped a little for Algie, he’s fucking classy.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.25 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.32 PMWe watch Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) still continually trying to do good in the world – she carts a load of green vegetables into an obviously poor neighbourhood, Chinatown, and finds herself overrun with people trying to get their hands on a bit of food; pretty dire, no?
Inspecter Jacob Speight (David Fierro) is still kicking around the hospital, up in Barrow’s office, investigating patients records. Certainly we’ll see more about the outbreak of plague, the dirty Black Death, more and more as the episodes get going this season.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.23 PMDr. Gallinger heads over to Cromartie Hospital where Thack, under the name Dr. Crutchfield, is wasting away. Turns out Thackery doesn’t want to leave, he’d rather not go back to The Knick. The drugs have taken hold and I doubt they’ll ever let go. He actually tries to convince Everett to infiltrate one of the doctors offices in order to get some cocaine and other drugs for him – a true addict, through and through. Naturally, Gallinger is only there to try and bring Thackery back to the hospital so Dr. Edwards can’t become chief of surgery; therefore Everett could gladly go back and work under him. It’s amazing Everett is willing to work under a drug-adled headcase like Thackery and not Edwards, all because of race. This whole hypocrisy really shows off the idiocy of racists.
Then in a scene later, Thack wakes tied at the wrists. He’s in the belly of a small sailboat, which is headed out on the ocean. Is Dr. Gallinger going to try detoxing Thack?
Way out on the Atlantic, Gallinger tells Thackery about his plans saying he’s going to “fix the mess” Thack drummed up. Only two options Everett says: “Either get well, or jump off.” Everett also gives Thack some rope to tie, saying he’ll know the naughty doctor is back in control if he can tie the ten knots on a wall chart nearby. I thought this was a great touch.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.36 PMTom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) shows up down at the jail where he sits with Sister Harriet. He gives a sort-of-apology. Funny, though, how Harriet shows off her sense of humour in the face of so-called justice. She jokes around with Cleary quite a bit here, and even Cleary acts the serious part of the pair. He’s worried about her, clearly. Even with the weak apology (that wasn’t even really an apology), you can tell Tom wants to help Harriet and plans on doing just that. Can’t wait to see how their subplot plays out because I like these two characters, ever since the beginning of the first season. Even further, both Sullivan and Seymour are great actors playing off one another.
Over in Chinatown, Barrow is meeting with Ping Wu (Perry Yung). Wu is negotiating terms with ole Herman – he needs his women, the prostitutes, to be clean. Barrow’s hoping to whittle down his debt from Season 1 by providing discount services for Wu’s stable of ladies; $2 reduction with each service. The money man at The Knickerbocker is no better than a gangster when it comes down to it.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.56 PMSo happy the continuity of the aesthetic in The Knick overall is being preserved. With Soderbergh as D.P and Cliff Martinez still rocking out his unique, beautiful score in every episode, there’s no way to deny the power of so many scenes. There’s one sequence which begins with an old school boxing match – in a padded ring with no ropes and a big Masonic-like eye/pyramid on it (similar to the American dollar bill) –  then leads back out to the boat with Thack/Gallinger… such an amazing piece of filmmaking. Soderbergh gives the grim plot such a distinctive look and feel with his camerawork, on top of that there’s a relentlessly percussive score happening which almost keeps you in a frenzy for the two or three solid minutes of the entire sequence. It does not get any better. More and more of this as the episode heads to a close in the last 20 minutes, proving why this Cinemax series is one of the best to ever grace television. Period.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.35.20 PMWhen the episode’s finale comes, Thack has managed to tie the ten knots for Gallinger. However, at the edge of the boat he sees a sickly looking girl – the one from the beginning of the episode – and starts at her with his wide, bloodshot eyes. It’s clear he is not at all back in full control, nor should we have ever thought so – Everett may be too gullible compared to the addiction that rages inside Thack.
Could the girl be Thack’s daughter, one who may have died? There’s a pain inside him he tries to drown in drugs. Take a look at the girl’s eyes – they look very much similar to those bulging out of Thack. Either way, we’ll figure out more about the force driving him towards drugging himself into a stupor, this season will bring us more characterization. Owen does a fantastic job with the role and I’m always itching for more after an episode finishes.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.23 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.30 PMCan’t wait for the second episode. This is one of my favourite series’ ever, plus it’s one of the best on television right now. Stay tuned for my review of the next episode, “You’re No Rose”, coming again this Friday, October 23rd. Cheers!

Scream Queens – Season 1, Episode 2: “Hell Week”

FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 2:
 “Hell Week”
Directed by Brad Falchuk
Written by Ian Brennan/Brad Falchuk/Ryan Murphy

* For a review of the previous episode, “Pilot” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chainsaw” – click here
IMG_2031The “Pilot” ended with the Red Devil – masked and mysterious – running over deaf, now dead, Taylor Swift – a.k.a Tiffany Something. This was a great close to the first episode, now we’re heading into the nasty aftermath at the Kappa House sorority.
Really great opening in this episode, “Hell Week”, as Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) brings us into the modern world. I think people aren’t giving this show enough credit. Not that it’s reinventing the wheel, so the speak. However, Dean Munsch is a no nonsense type of person. She lays out the silly social media world in which we currently live, hurtling headlong into the 21st century, as well as this new foolish sense of self-entitlement people have nowadays. There’s an incredible skewering of youth culture in the beginning, which I found

Lea Michele is someone I’ve never seen before personally, other than her one-off episode appearance on Sons of Anarchy (the Season 7 episode “Smoke ’em If You Got ’em”). But straight up, she has been slaying me as Hester Ulrich here. Everything from the body language to her weird and matter-of-fact style of delivery has me cracking up almost each time she’s in a scene. Plus, Hester is kinda of creepy.
When Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), the remaining Chanels #3 (Billie Lourd) whose earmuffs and dry tone
Furthermore, Denise Hempville (Niecy Nash) shows up in this episode, hired by clueless national sorority president Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad; also a crack-up). Denise is not so much sassy, as black women so often end up being described, she’s a straight to the point type. I swear, when she got on about the walkie talkie, all that stuff, it was almost perfect.
Some reviews and opinions I’ve seen online keep saying that the comedy outweighs the horror. Is that a bad thing some times? I don’t think so. Not to say there isn’t any horror, but definitely the comedy is more a focus at certain points than blood, mayhem, murder.
IMG_2033A new, strange relationship brews between Dean Munsch and the father of Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels). When Wes Gardner (Oliver Hudson) meets with the Dean, she gets a bit frisky. Either way, Wes wants a job on campus so that he can be closer to his daughter, to keep her safe. At the same time Dean Munsch both wants to keep everything covered up as long as possible on her campus, and also wants to find her way into Wes’ pants apparently.
Meanwhile, Grace is snooping around the sorority house. She’s told a mysteriously locked room is only able to be opened by the president, who has the key. Later, Grace finds some of the old relics of the 20-year old death at Kappa House.
SHOCKER! Dean Munsch, and also Ms. Bean (Jan Hoag), helped to cover up the dead girl in the bathtub back then. Honestly, I didn’t actually see that one coming. Mostly I was thinking the Dean was one of those tough yet ultimately helpless authority figures, trying to stave off the media and the coming onslaught of public opinion that might negatively affect her college/its reputation. Turns out, the ole Dean is actually trying to cover up the fact she covered up a young girls’ death, the birth of that baby in the tub. Nice, interesting twist.
IMG_2034 IMG_2035People can say what they want, this show constantly makes me laugh.
The scene between Boone (Nick Jonas) and fellow douche extraordinaire Chad (Glen Powell) is unbelievably funny. I’m able to separate my personal feelings about certain types of people and how I can enjoy a character, even if I don’t particularly LIKE who they are. For instance, these guys – Boone and Chad. They’re such outright knobs, yet they’re hilarious. When Boone asks to get in bed with him, then there’s all the wiener talk… I mean, it’s not even immature, it’s a fucking gut buster.
IMG_2037Why don’t you go in there and ogle his big old broner?

Grace is getting closer to Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta), self-styled investigative reporter. Poor Pete gets attacked by the Red Devil himself. Waking up, he’s hung in front of the school by his pants with a note saying “MYOB” (mind your own business). Only problem is that back in his dorm room, Grace discovers a Red Devil costume in his closet; he claims it’s for mascot duties during football games. But Grace is tainted – she asks how old he is, discovering him to be on the verge of twenty: “exactly how old the baby would be if it grew up“. She storms off and leaves poor Pete behind – for all his faults, we the audience know Pete is not the Red Devil, as we’ve seen him be attacked by the Red Devil.
Or will this series play with our expectations? Did we really see Pete get knocked out? Or did we see what Pete wanted us to see? We can only wait and find out. Personally, I don’t think it’s him as the scene with him being knocked out would be HIGHLY misleading and manipulative.
IMG_2038Personally, I’m loving the music from Mac Quayle in this series so far. He’s done music programming and composed additional music for films like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Only God Forgives, as well as the Season 4 episode “Monsters Among Us” from American Horror Story, the episode “Crutchfield” from the fantastic series The KnickFary Cry 4, and My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Not to mention Quayle has composed music for another twelve episodes of AHS and the new breakout television series Mr. Robot. Here, he instills many of the scenes with either a pop-ish twinkle, or in others it becomes this ominous, foreboding, even grating at times, score which takes us into the heart of the horror in these episodes. While things remain light and fluffy in a horror-comedy/parody/satire way, Quayle’s music really adds some extra weight to certain scenes and moments with a neat style that’s all over the place, in a great way.
IMG_2039Worst comes when the Dean sees Wes meet Gigi – they go off for coffee together, as he leaves his daughter and the girls alone (funny how he just drops safety as soon as Gigi hits on him), and as Munsch watches them with an evil eye.
The Red Devil tries to grab Chanel #1, but she manages to wriggle free and get back to her sorority girlfriends. When they all go back upstairs – hilariously without new security guard Denise or her partner Shondell (Deneen Tyler) – they find a threat to Kappa House scrawled in blood red on the wall. I found Denise (Niecy Nash) awesome in these few moments, just absolutely dropping the ball and having a laugh doing it! When she finds Shondell dead in the cop car, having been visited by the Red Devil, it was HILARIOUS. Great scene.
Poor Boone, though. He finds himself confronted with the Red Devil – “What am I supposed to be scared?“. Yes, Nick Jonas – yes, you ought to be scared!!
The other frat bros find Boone, throat cut, laid out perfectly over the dining room table. Very creepy, very cool, and all set to “I Wear My Sunglasses At Night”.
IMG_2040IMG_2041BUT A BIG SHOCK AT THE END OF THE EPISODE!
When the Red Devil goes to the morgue, which I’m assuming that is, where Boone’s body is being kept after death. The Devil opens up the cabinet where he’s being kept: AND BOONE IS ALIVE! Honestly, never expected that. Wow. A great finisher to the episode, as Boone pulls the slit neck makeup off and whips it away. What does this mean? Who is the Red Devil, or better yet: who’s Boone, really? They’re connected and we’ve got to wait another week to find out.
IMG_2042 IMG_2043Stay tuned, friends! I’m loving this series already. Let those who don’t enjoy it not enjoy. The rest of us can have a little fun with some twistedness mixed in. See you next week for “Chainsaw”, which is directed by