Review: Scream 3 (2000)


Are there any good horror movie trilogies? That’s a genuine question that’s been crossing my mind since rewatching Scream 3. It’s hard to make a case for many because they tend to become series that expand beyond the scope of three movies. Anyways, I’ll leave you to ponder that question. Have you seen Scream 3? Let me know in the comments below.

And if you like my ramblings on horror, then you can find more at my second home, Horror Obsessive. In my second piece on Final Girls, I examine Sally Hardesty from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).


Compared to my memory of the previous two Scream movies, I had no prior strong sentiments about my first viewing of Scream 3. However, out of the three so far, it may have been the most fascinating to revisit. While it does riff on the horror genre, Scream 3 engages more as a black comedy about the exploitation of the Hollywood machine.

After the murder of LA-bound talk show host Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), his girlfriend, Christine (Kelly Rutherford) and actress Sarah Darling (Jenna McCarthy), things become tense around the set of Stab 3 (the film within a film that’s based on the events of the Scream movies). As members of the movie are killed, Sidney (Neve Campbell) reluctantly finds herself drawn back into the fray when she begins experiencing quite vivid visions of her deceased mother, Maureen Prescott (Lynn McRee).

On the surface, Scream 3 has a lightness by going to Hollywood. Various scenes have cute cameos, whether it’s Jay and Silent Bob or Carrie Fisher. And there are also a handful of moments where the production of Stab is mirroring the murders in a comically absurd version of life imitating art. However, a lot of other threads feel like takedowns of Hollywood. Part of this, comes from the unravelling of Maureen’s past when she was in Tinseltown. The fact that her past as an abused Hollywood actress was covered up by producer John Milton (Lance Henriksen) to ensure that the Stab movies remain lucrative perpetuates a cycle of abuse that carries on with Sidney.

In the film’s most moving moment, Sidney stumbles upon the set of her old house, where she experienced the terrifying events of the first movie. In a sense, her traumatic experiences have now become a cheap commodity to be thrown around for the titillation of many people, just like Maureen was when she was an actress.

In moments such as this, I was reminded by the sobering power of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare insofar as carrying the indelible sense of a horror director earnestly reflecting on a genre that he had defined for an entire generation. There are also threads about how Scream 3 works as a post-Me Too commentary that I discuss in an upcoming piece for Filmhounds Magazine. I’ll link to it in an upcoming preamble.

Additionally there’s something darkly comic about the identity of the Ghostface killer who, on the one hand (in his civilian identity), bemoans his film career being cursed but is directly responsible for its downfall due to his murderous actions. The plot point and ironies feel like a satirical knife, which aims for the extremes that Hollywood deals in. Despite being saddled with a lot of exposition, I found the motivation for this Ghostface to be quite inspiring, particularly in their relationship with one of the killers in the first movie.

Scream 3 represents a series first insofar as Kevin Williamson is not responsible for the story or screenplay. The result is a mixed bag. While Scream 3 thematically feels the strongest and closest to what I loved about Craven’s New Nightmare, it falls as a meaningful showcase for Sidney.

Part of this comes from Neve Campbell only having 20 shooting days due to other commitments. Consequently, it often feels that Sidney is passive rather than active. It’s a credit to Campbell that in her limited screentime, she still illustrates the indelible fiery spirit and coy wit that partly makes Sidney a great character.

This aspect is compounded by quite inane and paper-thin supporting characters who often feel like they’re indulging in one of the cynical cliches of the slasher genre, namely rooting for the killer to dispatch the cast because they’re so unlikeable. Even some of the main players feel oddly placed in with the Hollywood antics, most notably Dewey (David Arquette), who feels too sweet and upstanding to keep the company he does in the movie. The sole character who escapes this is newly introduced, Detective Mark Kincade (Patrick Dempsey), who is a good match for Sidney in more ways than one. Dempsey effortlessly walks a razor edge between charming, haunted and suspicious.

Finally, Ghostface’s voice imitator device proves to be a double edge sword. On the one hand, it’s goofy and contrived beyond all measure. And on the other hand, its use does lead to some of the movie’s effective sequences. In particular, an early sequence involving the ghost of Sidney’s Mum is effective as a Gothic-inspired sequence that would feel at home in a surreal Mario Bava movie (via its framing and use of colour).

Posted in Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Last of Us Episode 7: Left Behind


Much like Episode 3, this week’s episode of The Last of Us feels like it comes with some semblance of anticipation. While the episode (for the most part) does not strictly adhere to the game, it comes from something that’s become so ingrained with the original experience that’s become the equivalent of rewatching the Lord of the Rings (in their extended forms). With that in mind, have you seen Episode 7 of The Last of Us? Let me know in the comments below.


Despite being downloadable content (DLC), Left Behind was a remarkably moving experience that juxtaposed the coming-of-age antics of its two female characters with the impending doom of the post-apocalyptic setting. It comes as something of a relief that Episode 7 is a weighty and poignant experience that captures the tragic nature of its DLC source material.

In the present day, Ellie is frantically trying to find some things around an abandoned house to stop the bleeding from Joel’s severe wound. However, most of the episode is dedicated to Ellie’s last night with her friend, Riley, who is due to leave the city to be with the insurgent group known as the Fireflies.

Left Behind expands the scope of the DLC by showing us some of Ellie’s school life. By making this choice, we’re shown how Ellie attaches herself to people as opposed to causes. This is shown by how a superior officer pitches to her the importance of his role and how it keeps a community from descending into chaos. This aspect is juxtaposed with Riley, who chooses to attach herself to a cause (aka the Fireflies) that she sees as a surrogate family.

With this in mind, the change from many zombies to a singular one that causes Riley’s death and Ellie’s awakening as someone immune is quite tragic. It’s pitched as something random akin to an act of nature that awakens the dead creature from his long-gestating sleep. In fact, this was my favourite moment of the episode, as it’s a horrifying reminder of the omnipresence of the disease and how it can linger even in the most innocent of places.

Bela Ramsey is remarkable in the moments where the character is silent, whether it’s the trusting physicality she displays towards Riley or the knowing glances of adoration as she’s riding a merry-go-round. Storm Reid provides a low-key cool performance that’s commanding and emotionally authentic in equal measures.

My issues with the episode are twofold. Firstly is the juxtaposition between Ellie showing frustration over her and Riley’s terminal predicament in the past and Joel’s worsening condition in the present. Rather than being an elegant parallel, I instead found it jarring due to its suddenness and lack of set-up. Finally, I wish we got more of Ellie’s backstory. While I appreciate, this episode being a sound emotional context to some of the declarations Ellie made last week, I think her backstory could have contrasted well with Riley’s notion of chosen family.

But those issues aside, Left Behind is still a powerful adaptation of its DLC source material, perhaps made even more tragic as a contrast to Episode 3. While love flourished and lingered with Bill and Frank, it was mealy a passing shadow with Ellie and Riley.

Posted in 2023, 2023 Reviews, Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Scream 2 (1998)


I think it’s becoming quite something that I feel more nervous about writing the preambles then actual blog posts. But hey, ho, there’s only so much you can do to frame the discussion or warm up before the post. So, with that in mind, have you seen Scream 2? Let me know in the comments below. And if you like my ramblings on horror, then you can find more at my second home- Horror Obsessive.

In the first of two pieces that I wrote on Final Girls in the slasher genre, I discuss Jess Bradford from Black Christmas (1974). The article is also available in audio format (read by the sublime Anne Flowers).


In many ways, I remembered Scream 2 as an indulgent exercise in meta-commentary on the nature of sequels. However, in returning to the 1998 film, I found it to be an odd misfire. It’s a movie where its set pieces are effective (for the most part), but its ideas lack any shading.

Picking up two years after the original film, Scream 2 sees Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) settled into college life with a new best friend, Hallie (Elise Neal) and boyfriend, Derek (Jerry O’Connell). However, this seemingly peaceful existence is interrupted when two college kids are murdered during a screening of Stab (a movie based on the events of the first film that’s adapted from Gale Weather’s book). With the return of an old friend, Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), Sidney must navigate the trials and tribulations of college life whilst figuring out whether or not she can trust those closest to her.

Scream 2 has many thoughts occupying its mind. On a basic meta-level, it wants to explore the nature of sequels, the rules that come with surviving a horror movie sequel, and the effect horror movies have on actual violence. Many of these threads feel like sketches for great themes but are often confined to one scene. In particular, the effect of cinema on real-life violence feels particularly shallow. There’s a debate on it that regresses into a conversation about movie sequels. This is compounded by the reveal of the motives of the killers at the end, which sees a literal murder of this thread when one of the killers says (after shooting their partner in crime), “MY GOD, that old “Blame The Movies” motive. Did you buy that for one second?”

And the opening murder sequence hedges its bets on the issue, with one moment giving way to the erratic fervor of seeing cinematic violence to the horror of seeing it play out in real life. The opening sequence instead works as a meta-commentary on the nature of the first Scream, clearly showing how it bucked many of the slasher trends (including gratuitous nudity and instances of shallow writing) with clever set-up and genuine horror.

It’s ironic then that certain moments in Scream 2 feel like they’re from an inferior slasher movie wherein the characters make silly choices. One such scene comes near the end, where Sidney (after a harrowing escape from Ghostface) goes back to unmask him. It’s framed as an empowering moment due to Sidney choosing to no longer hide from the horror she’s experienced. But it comes across as silly particularly, as Hallie warns her about how smart people would not do what she’s about to do. And the ending to that choice left my eyes rolling.

Despite this problem, some scenes are exceptional. For example, a sequence depicting Sidney in a dress rehearsal for a staging of The Oresteia is effective in its metaphorical potency. In the play, Sidney plays the role of Cassandra, who is cursed by Apollo. Much like her character, she must embrace her burden of fighting Ghostface. This theme of the battle for the soul being played out on the stage, and by extension through art itself, is a fantastic embodiment of the plight of the Final Girl.

At the same time, some of these sequences contain the best instances of filmmaking. In particular, the scene where Sidney (as Cassandra) is running from various masked figures (including Ghostface) is nightmarish in its use of medium shots and flickering editing. The result is a scene that blurs the line between perceived reality and the possible paranoid delusions of the main protagonist.

Elsewhere, the performances fuel the lack of new interesting teenage characters (on the page). In particular, Timothy Olyphant casts an impression as Mickey, who walks a fine line between edgy and empathetic. But the performance that impressed me the most was Liev Schreiber as Cotton Weary. In a film that’s often pulling punches with its satire, Schreiber’s performance carries the weight of ambiguity that defined a collective fascination with figures such as OJ Simpson in the 90s. Schreiber is an amusing and tension-filled presence, from subtle knowing glances to nearby cameras to moments of personal space-breaking confrontation.

This aspect applies to the rest of the cast, who provide the film with a lot of drama and fun, whether it’s David Arquette’s assertive turn as Dewey or Neve Campbell’s slight cheeky edge as Sidney. These smaller character moments are charming, but can’t disguise the film’s lack of substance. Scream 2 often barks more than it bites (via its many tantalizing ideas) but often falls short in seeing them through.

Posted in Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Last of Us Episode 6: Kin


With the series being well over the half way point, The Last of Us has not slowed down in its interest to me. On the contrary, the latter stretches of the game (namely the section entitled Winter) enthralled me the most. With that in mind, have you seen this week’s episode of The Last of Us? Let me know in the comments below.


On the surface, Kin has the grandiose and expansive qualities that have come to define the series. However, the episode plays like an intimate and therapeutic bottle episode that tests Joel and Ellie’s relationship.

After the harrowing events of last week’s episode, Joel and Ellie continue their search for Tommy (Joel’s brother). Eventually, they both find Tommy settled in a community that has a semblance of normalcy. However, things become complicated when Joel tasks his little brother with taking Ellie to the last stop of their journey.

Perhaps more than in any other episode, Kin truly attempts to get beneath the surface of Joel and Ellie. This is not only from the vantage point of their induvial fears but how those hang-ups manifest in how they behave with one another. Joel fears that his age and competency have caught up with him and will eventually get Ellie killed. This is compounded by the guilt of not being able to save his daughter who he is still haunted by.

Despite the tough front that Ellie puts up, she’s truly afraid of being abandoned because deep down, there’s still a semblance of a child who is looking for guidance and hope. Bella Ramsey steals the episode with a comedic and empathetic turn as a character who seeks assurance and comfort. Pedro Pascal is heartbreaking in the scenes where he’s discussing his frailties and failures. And Gabriel Luna brings a subdued sense of sympathy as Joel’s settled and frightful younger sibling.

It would not be a review of The Last of Us without a reference to the second game. And Kin had plenty for me to chew on for the eventual adaptation. Aside from featuring part of the setting of that game (Jackson), the episode featured several seeds that will eventually flourish in the second season. The most notable is a prolonged scene where Ellie and Joel are discussing their dreams. The former is expressing her admiration for a female astronaut and wanting to go up to space. Without spoiling it, this sets the stage for one of the most heartwarming scenes in the second game. I hope it’s adapted in the second season.

In the same scene, Joel expresses his dream of wanting to own a farm with a bunch of sheep. This is a potential foreshadowing for a plot point in the second game insofar as a place where Ellie finds herself. But above all, the episode alludes to Joel’s violent past. Aside from serving the episode and its theme of who you should put your trust in, it also alludes to a theme that’s explored in Part 2, which is the unravelling of treasured generational figures.

Posted in 2023, Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Last of Us Episode 5: Endure and Survive


I know. I know. I’m late to the party on this one. Thanks to the Super Bowl, Episode 5 of The Last of Us was streamed early. This had a ripple effect in jolly old England with the newest instalment hitting our streaming service in the early hours of Saturday. However, my weekend was quite busy, and I thought four blog posts in a week was tantamount to torture. Plus, I do like a routine. So, here we are. Have you seen Episode 5 of The Last of Us? Let me know in the comments below.


For once, I was at a loss for words at the end of Episode 5 of The Last of Us. Instead, I was a tearful puddle who was trying to comprehend what I had just seen. But in the hours since being in that state, I can say this now. Perhaps more than any other episode, Endure and Survive made me think of the nature of video game adaptations insofar as how fidelity and change can walk hand in hand with one another.

Joel and Ellie’s temporary shelter is disturbed by the arrival of Henry and his little brother, Sam. After a tense standoff, Henry tries to persuade Joel to help him escape the city via a series of underground tunnels. However, things become harder as the sibling pair are being hunted by the leader of a local resistance group, Kathleen, who is hell-bent on killing them for their betrayal of the overarching cause.

Conceptually, Endure and Survive has the skeleton of the Henry and Sam section from the video game in terms of getting to the same emotional endpoint. But the deviations to get us there are fascinating and meaningful. Firstly is the difference in Sam. In the game, he was a talkative person who still had a sense of innocence. While this latter quality is retained in his television counterpart, the former is lost due to the character having contracted leukaemia. This subtle change results in a theme that gets to the heart of the game, which is the lengths you would go to for your loved ones.

To get medicine for his brother’s condition, Henry had to rat out one of the community’s best people, which resulted in his death. Lamar Johnson during the moment where he says he’s the bad guy provides an incredibly moving performance that carries the weight of ambiguity in this post apocalypse world. Equally as compelling is Melanie Lynskey as Kathleen, whose seemingly sweet and soft-spoken nature hides a dangerous side.

This juxtaposition between Sam and Kathleen not only plays like a parallel of that previously mentioned theme (with Kathleen being a dark mirror of Sam insofar as her relationship to her sibling is concerned). It also greatly informs Joel’s journey as someone who initially sees Ellie as cargo to be delivered but opens up to be a meaningful person that he grows an attachment to. This seeming change in attitude is the episode’s best moment of filmmaking. The camera captures Joel in a medium shot as he ruminates over a person’s grave. Ellie is faded in the background. Pedro Pascal captures an authentic sense of loss and wistfulness that seek to get the character to reflect on what’s been and very well could be lost.

But above all, the episode made me consider and reflect on the differences in how leadership between these insurgent groups. That’s an interesting shade of grey that the game never delved into but is great thematic material for the television adaptation.

Posted in 2023, Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Scream (1997)


I’ve been meaning to write about the Scream series for a while. And now with the upcoming Scream VI less than a month away, there’s no better time to revisit the famed horror franchise. In covering the movies, I hope to cement my opinion on the slasher films, as I’ve never particularly had firm thoughts on them. Have you seen Scream? And in keeping with the movie’s antagonist, “What’s your favourite scary movie?” Let me know in the comments below.

And if you like my ramblings on the horror genre, then you can find more at my second home, Horror Obsessive. One of my recent pieces was about the film’s full trailer that promises a Ghostface unlike any other.


Looking back, it’s almost too easy to remember Scream as the cinematic equivalent of an annoying audience member who bellows out every cliché, problem and general grumbling annoyance with the horror genre at large. In returning to the film several years later, Scream plays like a refined and upmarket slasher film, one in which the genre conventions are acknowledged and affectionally used to fuel its meta-commentary.

After a pair of gruesome murders, the quiet and small town of Woodsborough is shaken to the core. None of its residents is more affected than Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) whose mother was recently raped and murdered. As the number of murders grows and intense media scrutiny increases, Sidney must battle for survival and attempt to keep her relationships in check.

The appeal of Scream comes from two elements it takes from the slasher sub-genre of horror. The first is the notion of the Final Girl. Typically, these characters are defined by their innocence, singledom, and virginal status. The last quality, in particular, is something that’s become so ingrained, it’s become a subconscious association with the genre at large. It can be argued that Scream popularised this last quality.

While the movie demonstrably calls this aspect out as a cliché, Scream also gives the concept a credible emotional context. Aside from surviving various reprisals from the central killer, Ghostface (voiced by Roger L. Jackson). Sidney also has to contend with her relationship with her boyfriend. There’s an inherent fear of her being sexually intimate because she does not want to turn out like her mother, whose she’s still grief-stricken about. This contention and Sidney’s choice to express herself sexually is an excellent way of bucking the Final Girl trend insofar as unshackling from its partial virginal definition by showing a considerable amount of agency.

The second aspect that Scream takes from the slasher sub-genre of horror is the convention of the murder mystery. While a few slashers have flirted with the conventions of the long-standing genre, the execution has often left a lot to be desired. Scream not only plays with the standard aspects of the genre, but some of its characters are acutely aware of their place in the chopping order (namely Randy, played by Jamie Kennedy).

This sense of characters who know they’re in a horror movie or frequently referencing other ones in everyday conversation would prove to be a staple of 90s horror. This comes courtesy of screenwriter Kevin Williamson whose arguably the closest the genre would come to the screenwriter trumping the director insofar as auteurist vision is concerned.

On the whole, the screenplay is fun and loose with the referencing. It can also be a double-edged sword. Some of the dialogue in the tail end where characters talk about their place in the story and endings can be a little trite. This is compounded by a thread of the older generation denouncing the younger generation. As a theme, it feels shallow and reactionary. It also pales in comparison to Wes Craven’s much more personal and salient reflections on the genre and its effect on people in New Nightmare (1994).

From the hypnotic use of Dutch angles to a medium shot depicting Ghostface in someone’s eye, Wes Craven directs the film with a dreamy European flair that understands tension and uses it as savage punctuation marks.

There’s also an operatic quality to some of the performances in Scream. In particular, the largeness of Kennedy and Matthew Lillard stands out, not only from physicality but also from facial expressions and vocals too. Skeet Ulrich bears a striking resemblance to Andrew Robinson in the tail end of Hellraiser. Much like that character, Ulrich is effective in portraying a sense of contained rage that threatens to bubble to the surface. Neve Campbell strikes a chord with her vulnerability and fierce determinism (particularly evident in the third act). David Arquette is a sweet and endearing presence as hapless cop, Dewey. And Courteney Cox is formidable as the go getting television reporter Gale Weathers.

Posted in Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: The Whale (2023)


The Whale has been on my radar for a while. Aside from being Darren Aronofsky’s latest effort, which in itself holds a huge sense of appeal, it has also been touted as Brendan Fraser’s comeback movie. With that in mind, I was eagerly awaiting its release in the UK. Have you seen The Whale? Let me know in the comments below.


In contemporary American movie-making, there’s no one quite like Darren Aronofsky. He’s thematically ambitious in ways that are dizzying and crazy. This scope is often paired with a fascinating cinematic eye that often viscerally leaves an indelible mark on the psyche of moviegoers. Having said that, I found The Whale to be an empty and emotionally deficient experience.

Based on the play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter, The Whale is about a morbidly obese man called Charlie (Brendan Fraser). Realizing he is close to death, he attempts to make amends with his teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink), to who he offers a substantive amount of money alongside helping her with her English essays.

For much of The Whale, I felt it was engaged in a tug of war between being a life-affirming picture and a brash, darkly-pitched black comedy. Part of this comes from the approach to its central character. Shot using an aspect ratio of 4:3, the film attempts to make us empathize with Charlie by showing how cramped and boxed-in he feels as someone who never leaves his apartment. However, the cinematic choice instead is used to make the audience revel in Charlie’s condition akin to witnessing an old-school freak show (made worse by Ellie posting pics to social media that often paint her Dad’s condition in quite unpleasant terms).

There’s a detachment I felt to Aronofsky’s direction that plays like a scientist being fascinated by an ongoing experiment. However, I think the miscalculation comes from the director pairing this with a sense of overwrought drama. Aside from a few moments where I was charmed by Charlie’s delight (in the form of laughter) that’s often paired with heart-wrenching pain, I found Fraser’s acting to be too performative for its own good. In fact, I found Hong Chau gave the most emotionally true performance of the film. Between her sharp and caustic nature, there’s an acute sense of subtle resignation and loss that Chau brings to her role as Charlie’s nurse and only true friend.

By the same token, Aronofsky’s usual juggling of biblical and personal themes feels like an exercise in crass judgement, culminating in a scene where a missionary called Thomas (Ty Simpkins) is being confronted by Charlie, suggesting his lifestyle is disgusting etc. In the past, Aronofsky’s biblical preoccupations have delivered (for the most part) quite profound truths about the human condition. I felt here it was used as a metaphorical stick to beat the main character with.

Ultimately, there’s a nugget of a good movie in The Whale. But it’s buried under a rubble of elements that often clash quite drastically with one another. For every darkly comedic moment (particularly apparent in Chau and Samantha Morten’s scenes), there’s a crass moment of sentimentality. Charlie often calls for honesty throughout the movie. However, the truth is that between mother! and The Whale, Aronofsky’s trapped narratives have often felt muddled at worst and one note at best. I’m yearning for the Aronofsky of Black Swan and The Fountain, who was able to pair the intimate and profound with delicate beauty.

Posted in 2023, 2023 Film Reviews, 2023 Films, Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: The Last of Us Episode 4: Please Hold To My Hand


In contrast to previous preambles, there’s nothing substantive to say other then it’s been a joy carrying on watching and reviewing this show. It has become appointment television in an era when that has faded in importance. Have you seen this week’s episode of The Last of Us? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.


So far, I’ve appreciated The Last of Us for how it stands in contrast to its source material, whether it’s major changes like Frank and Bill’s relationship in the last episode or small changes that either juxtapose or paint fascinating portraits of its characters. With this in mind, Episode 4 engages as a fascinating singular experience that’s about the core human values and instances of culture we have left in the show’s post-apocalyptic world.

After exiting Frank and Bill’s privately closed town, Joel and Ellie go in search of the former’s brother, who should be near a Firefly base of operations.

Perhaps more than its source material, Episode 4 of The Last of Us tightens its focus to ask about what we have left in a post-apocalyptic world. In an early section, there’s almost a wistful quality as Ellie hands Joel a tape of Hank Williams’s “Alone and Forsaken” to play. The cheery campfire quality of the song excellently contrasts with long shots of ravaged and run-down industrial spaces filled with car traffic jams and abandoned military hardware. It reminded me of the following point: cultural things like music, art, film and theatre only carry meaning because they exist and have lived within the confines of a stable society.

Once that society breaks down, there are only a few of us who carry the memory and meaning of that piece of art. There was a slightly melancholic edge when Joel says to Ellie that Hank Williams was before his time. It truly made me think of the title of the show and video game insofar as there are very few of us who carry the memory of works of art. The same could be said of human laws. There’s a scene in the middle of the episode where a woman called Kathleen is interrogating a medical doctor. She lists basic human values from a relief group. Like the point with the Hank Williams song, it reminded of just how fragile the constructs of human law can be when society breaks downs. They’re not fixed and are only carried as maxims by a few of us.

Aside from this philosophical point, the rest of the episode is dedicated to the further bonding between Ellie and Joel. I appreciated how their bond gets them to change roles as the episode goes on. At first, Ellie is a persistently fun and curious person who seeks reassurance from Joel. The scene at the camp illustrates this quality as Joel is kept awake but wants to remain tight-lipped with Ellie.

And to get my obligatory reference to The Last of Us Part 2 out of the way, some of the sound design and tension that came from the ominous wood setting did remind me of how terrifying the Seraphites can be in the show’s second series.

By the end of the episode, Ellie is a somewhat closed person who wishes to keep some elements of her past a secret. And Joel is the curious one who wants to know about the other time that the young girl used a gun.

It was heartwarming to see Bella Ramsey cut loose as Ellie in the episode. Her lighthearted moments of jostling and almost whimsical curiosity were a treat to see from a character who has been caustic and fierce. Likewise, it was also great to see Pedro Pascal cut loose. The almost absent-minded qualities that came from Pascal’s performance during the Sarah scenes in the pilot return here. There’s something almost quite bittersweet about their resurgence as he tries to console Ellie after a traumatic incident.

Much like the philosophical qualities that defined the episode, the revolving door of traits that Ellie and Joel imprint upon one another is perhaps a good indication of any of the bonds of human connection. They still somewhat hold true, even when the world around us has gone to hell and so few of us remain.

Posted in 2023, Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Last of Us Episode 3: Long, Long Time


On my first and subsequent playthroughs of The Last of Us, two sections really struck and stayed with me. The first was the stretch entitled ‘Winter.’ And the second was Bill’s Town. The latter appealed to me because its environmental storytelling said so much about its central figure. And the hidden story of a man called Frank who grew tired of living within the confines of Bill’s paranoid lifestyle, that he resorts to suicide was haunting. So, with that in mind, I was very curious about episode 3 as an adaptation. You could even say it was the first time I felt a semblance of preciousness about the show and the choices it was making. But with that in mind, have you seen the third episode of The Last of Us? Let me know in the comments below.


So far, The Last of Us has had subtle, if not entirely subdued moments of deviation from the famed source material. They exist almost as faint flickers amongst the blowing candle of the HBO adaptation. However, the show’s third instalment changes that. It draws a line in the sand and differentiates itself from the video game with a powerfully raw and emotive episode.

After the tragic events of the last episode, Joel and Ellie continue their journey. Along the way, they go in search of Bill and Frank, who live in an abandoned town that’s filled with booby traps and supplies.

Rather than using Bill’s town as a landscape to illustrate the character’s fervent paranoid survivalist lifestyle, the episode instead dims its attention to focus on the relationship that Bill has with Frank. In the videogame, the character has a lingering presence due to a series of optional notes that the player can pick up and read.

The change results in a powerful series of scenes that depict a sweet and endearing romance that carries the weight of tragedy from a couple trying to make a life together, after the world has gone to hell. The change retains some of Bill’s paranoid spirit as he argues with Frank about doing up certain sections of the town for a potential group of friends.

I really appreciated how Nick Offerman takes the brash and loudmouthed Bill from the game and turns him into a sensitive person who is still not willing to put aside his paranoid delusions. At the same time, there’s something almost machine-like in Offerman’s performance. One good example is after he hears Frank say how amazing it is to have a shower after ages. There’s almost a mechanical way he responds to the words as he efficiently turns and leaves the room. It’s akin to someone who is so clockwork to surviving that the precision in his body movements is the only response when it comes to emotions. This results in the subtle instances of Bill’s emotions throughout the episode all the more striking in their power.

In her brief scenes, Bella Ramsey impressed me in this episode. In particular, the scene where she finds an infected creature whose been crushed is particularly heart-wrenching. Ramsey balances an almost scientific curiosity with sadistic cruelty. Pedro Pascal continues to be the show’s most impressive acting element and seeing him absorb the gravity of Bill’s parting words was beautifully poignant.

Like previous episodes, the changes in a roundabout way get to the heart of what made the Sony game work; whether it’s the lengths you would go to for your loved ones (in the tragic final moments that Bill and Frank have with one another) or the darkly comic spirit that pervades Bill’s letter (much like Frank’s in the game).

But above all, the changes are interesting to see how they affect the final outcome and potential events of Part II. There’s a tragic irony to Bill and Frank’s life together, knowing what happens to Ellie in the second video game. And it’s a mark of an excellent show that gets you to reconsider events of multiple source materials.

Posted in 2023, 2023 Reviews, Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Babylon (2023)


TV, TV! I’m almost one review away from a meme-worthy pile on the conference for Microsoft’s Xbox One, whereby the word TV was said a lot. In all seriousness, it’s honestly great to be back reviewing movies. And I could not think of a better one to start the year with. While January is a quiet month across the pond, in the UK, it’s the time when all the Oscar-type movies release and vie for attention. With this in mind, I sense a bit of a theme with this year’s crop, which is a celebration of movies as a whole (between The Fabelmans, Empire of Light and Babylon) So, I’m curious how Damien Chazelle’s latest contends with this overarching theme. Have you seen Babylon? Let me know in the comments below.


So far, Damien Chazelle’s films have excelled at juxtaposing the ambitions of his main characters with the personal toil it takes on them, whether it’s Andrew’s internal life in the pursuit of musical perfection in Whiplash or the central couple’s relationship in La La Land, that’s sacrificed on the altar of their ambitions. Babylon is an enrapturing follow-up to themes that Chazelle has explored in his other movies, existing as the cinematic equivalent of a Jackson Pollak painting. It has the veneer of being unruly and erratic, but it’s a film that viscerally celebrates the era of early Hollywood while denigrating its larger-than-life excesses.

Set in the years between the peak of Silent Cinema (the 1920s) to the advent of the sound and musical era, Babylon depicts two people’s ever-changing fortune in the industry. The first is Manuel Torres (aka Manny) (Diego Calva). He’s a Mexican film assistant who yearns to have a large footprint in the industry. The second is Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), who aspires to be a star on the silent screen. Through various trials and tribulations, the pair experience the highs and lows of being in the Hollywood machine.

In contrast to Chazelle’s other movies, Babylon is an effort that demands your attention in rather showy and bombastic ways. This comes in the form of many parties that are depicted throughout the runtime. In one breath, they can be seen as juxtapositions between an era in its infancy (Hollywood) and the last days of Rome in their sheer acts of surreal debauchery. But I found them quite interesting. In particular, the opening one (before we’re treated to the title) feels like a truthful depiction of the roaring twenties in a manner that would make Jay Gatsby blush, say blimey and promptly take a long lie down.

They also reminded me of the chaotic verve of some of Terry Gilliam’s movies, which equally had a satirical eye in their anarchic spirit. In the case of Babylon, it uses its chaos to both illustrate the unwieldy nature of early movie-making and the delusions our central figures indulge in being part of that system.

Take the famed silent actor Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt). He is a vocal advocate for the virtues of Hollywood movies in people’s lives and the new ways they can innovate (namely sound). However, he’s often aloof at his continued irrelevancy and power as a star in the face of Hollywood steamrolling into progress and modernity. If Conrad is an ignorant frog who is unaware that he’s slowly been boiled alive, then LaRoy is a tragic flame that’s swiftly snuffed out.

Due to the character’s insecurity and exposure to the excesses that come from the Hollywood lifestyle, LeRoy chooses to become the embodiment of it by acting out in impulsive ways. However, when the system requires her to be well-mannered, she chooses to become the contemptible figure that people secretly think about her. These scenes where LeRoy has to be at a buttoned-up doner party felt like Chazelle’s critique of the Oscar-baiting and campaigns that require excessive sucking up and swooning. Even LeRoy’s last appearance in the film, disappearing into the night and subsequently being reported dead in a newspaper montage, feels like a commentary on the fate that befell many early stars of the silver screen.

While the first two characters in Babylon’s triad feel completely in synch with the themes and satire of the picture, Manny gets lost in the shuffle. This is due to the screenplay saddling the character with a never-ending feeling of passivity. Many things happen to Manny rather than the character having any sense of agency. Even the life-changing event that ignites a wave of success (for the character) comes from someone else’s suggestion rather than Manny himself. It is a shame as Calva gives a committed and passionate performance (especially in the opening where he delivers a barnstorming speech about what it would mean to be part of movies).

Pitt’s performance at the tail end of the film, as he realizes his time is up as a star, is the most striking, particularly as they contrast with the bravado displayed at the beginning of the movie. Robbie delivers a star-making turn worthy of Katherine Hepburn as the live wire LeRoy who always feels like she’s performing (even privately). And in a film littered with excellent performances from characters actors such as Jean Smart and Eric Roberts, Tobey Maguire steals the show. It’s fun to see his infectiously dorky and puckish charm being filtered through a disarming mobster who has a rancid idea of entertainment.

In his direction, Chazelle channels Gillam too. In particular, one scene reminded me of the Brazil filmmaker’s theatrical tendencies. There’s a scene where we see a closeup of Manny, half-lit by a green-tinted colour. During this moment, he has to tell Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) that she’s no longer needed for writing intertitles for silent movies. The simple almost spotlight moment is an effective illustration of the twin faces that Manny now carries as a human being and studio executive.

Likewise, an early scene in which we’re shown a tracking shot of a historical silent movie is amusing for its sheer disordered nature that at times feels Python-esque in its humorous reach. The same could be said for Babylon’s editing which wrings quite a few instances of black humour out of its pauses and slow moments early on. These go a long way to showing the cruel nature of Hollywood as its popularity comes at the price of its increasingly merciless soul. In those instances of clarity, the sheen of Hollywood loses its lustre, much as Chazelle intends. And that in essence is partly why Babylon engaged, moved and thrilled me to no end.

Posted in 2023, 2023 Film Reviews, 2023 Films, 2023 Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment