Schitt’s Creek Season Six – “Impulsive, Capricious and Melodramatic” Series 2020

Schitt’s Creek Season Six – “Impulsive, Capricious and Melodramatic” Series 2020

What you did was impulsive, capricious and melodramatic, but it was also wrong – Catherine O’Hara as Moira Rose

From Season 1 to Season 6, I find it difficult to encapsulate in words the immense love I have for this show. Comedy legends Dan and Eugene Levy have gifted the world with a golden collection of hilarious, heartfelt and lasting laughs. For the sake of brevity I shall only address the sixth season of the show in this post, and keep it as brief as possible to avoid spoilers. It goes without saying that Season 6 builds on the various happenings of Season 5 so there will be spoilers ahead. This post will be published some weeks after the extraordinary performance of Season 6 at the Emmy Awards. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara won outstanding lead actor and actress in a comedy series, Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy won outstanding supporting actor and actress in a comedy series, and the show itself took home the award for best comedy series, and quite rightly too.

The general premise of he show is that a rich Jewish family lose their riches when one of their business partners screws them over. The federal government seized all of their assets aside from one small town called Schitt’s Creek. The family then moved to the town’s Motel where they remained until their fortunes improved. Season 6 of Schitt’s Creek picks up where Season 5 ended, on a dazzling finale showing the cast doing a performance of my favourite musical Cabaret (and doing it splendidly at that) and the announcement of David Rose’s engagement to his boyfriend Patrick. Season 6 follows the story of the wedding planning and the wedding itself, as well as Moira’s resurgence to television fame, the downfall of Alexis and Ted’s relationship and the expansion of the Rosebud Motel empire.

 

Without speaking at length about each episode, I shall give you a few of my season highlights. the first episode sees David, Stevie, Alexis and Patrick looking for wedding venues. They find the perfect venue, only to find out gleefully that the first Sunday of every month is heavily discounted. There is an opening coming up for the coming Sunday and David is on the cusp of accepting when the group hears the screaming wails of pigs being slaughtered on a neighbouring farm. The noise and stench prove too much for the gang who continue on their search for a suitable venue.

Another highlight for me was Episode 7, Moira Rosé, where Moira returns to Herb Ertlinger’s winery to have a specialist wine named after her, following the success of her recent film venture, The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening. Mr Ertlinger appears first in Season 1 with an equally disastrous visit as the one in Season 6. A clip from the Season 1 episode, Wine and Roses, is featured below. The Season 6 episode is for me demonstrative of the reasons I love Schitt’s Creek. It is first and foremost a comedy. The writing is stellar, the story arc is beautifully executed but the crux of the show is to show simply and without prejudices an alternative way of life. This is keenly demonstrated by the touching scene where Johnny Rose and Patrick have a heart to heart while watching football on the television, something Johnny is clearly not well versed in. The scene conveys perfectly that Johnny loves his son enough to put himself in an uncomfortable position speaking to his soon to be son-in-law, and that Patrick loves David enough to poke fun at Johnny by partially ignoring him in favour of the game. Patrick knows that Johnny is too polite to interject hence Patrick can confront the inevitable talk on his own terms, which he does. In the end the two have a frank and almost tear inducing conversation which ends with the mutual understanding that both just want David’s happiness. All of this is done without an iota of preaching or suggesting the viewer should feel one way or the other, it just is. And that is the most beautiful thing about Schitt’s Creek.

 

Seeing Henry Czerny in Episode 7 as Alexis’ new lover and Johnny Roses’ stern talk with him was also a big highlight for me. Both he and Eugene Levy are actors I have a huge respect for and their performance is dazzling.

My final highlight of this dazzling Season is of course the final episode. Catherine O’Hara, when asked about her favourite episodes, said the first one (Season 1 episode 1) and the last one (Season 6 Episode 14). I can concur though I would highlight Season 1 episode 2 as one of the strongest in the show overall. This episode has everything, it has romance, comedy, plot finalising and a suitable cliffhanger making the viewer wonder about the future of the splendid characters in the series. It also has the most iconic Moira Rose outfit of the whole show but I will not spoil this for you.

Sadly the show ends its six year run here, just as it has garnered global recognition and suitable reward at Emmy level. In a way it is better for it to end now. It has fostered a love within its fan base which has been incrementally built up over the last six years hence its appreciation has solid grounding. It is poetic in a way for the show to end now at the peak of its fame. Please watch all the seasons if you have time. I am firmly of the belief that the sixth season is the best one. See below a highlights reel of the first five.

Escape Room – Terrific Insular Horror

Escape Room – Terrific Insular Horror

M and I are horror aficionados, and were pleasantly surprised with this 2019 offering. My first instinct when I have enjoyed a film is to check Empire for their invariably scathing review. This film did not fare well with the discerning male critics, and I do share some of their criticisms, but overall I thought this was a well wrought, impressively produced and tantalising piece of horror. The premise is this: six ostensibly random people meet and try to solve a series of escape rooms to obtain a prize of £10,000. It soon becomes apparent that they are in fact trying to survive.

After a flash-forward to a character in deep doo-doo, the set-up is a little mechanical, introducing us one by one to the (thinly drawn) key players as they are invited to the game via a little black box bearing the old Cannon films logo. So we meet shy but genius maths (physics, as it happens) student Zoey (Taylor Russell), cynical millennial Ben (Logan Miller), dedicated escape roomer Danny (Nik Dodani), scarred Iraq War vet Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), blue-collar trucker Mike (Tyler Labine) and smarmy financial whizz Jason (Jay Ellis). Empire

I’m afraid that the character depth in this film does not go much deeper than the above block quote. However, what the characters lack in dimension and depth is more than made up for in set design. Without spoiling each wondrous room for you, I shall concentrate my praise on one room only. This was the enormous bar room with an oversized jukebox playing a distorted version of Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ on repeat. This bar was not as it seemed however, it was upside down! The escapees had to climb their way through the room and solve the riddle as the floor/ ceiling was falling away beneath them. This made for jaw dropping graphics but also thrilling watching.

I do not necessarily agree with Empire that the lack of character dimension sufficiently hampered the film so as to lower it to a 2* rating. This is to be expected of this type of horror. With the possible exception of the first Saw movie (horror icon James Wan’s co-directorial debut, please note), the character development and backstory are always secondary to the elaborate torture scenarios devised for them. Overall this was a fast paced, visually staggering offering to the altar of horror and I would be remiss not to recommend it to you. It is streaming on Netflix at the time of writing.

Ready or Not – Unique Dark Comedy

Ready or Not – Unique Dark Comedy

I am often skeptical when Pater suggests films to me but my spidey senses were tingling with this title. Once again they did not let me down. All credit to Pater on this one, mind. An excellent find. Ready or Not tells the odd story of Grace, an orphan who marries into the wealthy Le Domas family. On her wedding night to Alex, she is made to play a game, as is family tradition, without realising the horror that was to come.

Samara Weaving … Grace

Adam Brody … Daniel

Mark O’Brien … Alex

Henry Czerny … Tony

Andie MacDowell … Becky

Nicky Guadagni … Aunt Helene

Prepare yourself for 90 minutes of brilliantly realised thrilling horror. Ready or Not was filmed at various locations around Toronto, including Casa Loma, Sunnybrook Park and the Claireville Conservation Area, as well as the Parkwood Estate in Oshawa, Ontario. Somehow they managed to complete filming in 26 days, which does not at all show in the quality of the finished product.

The set-up is delicious in its absurdity. Grace (Weaving), an orphan brought up in foster homes, is marrying Alex (O’Brien) and into the wealthy Le Domas family, whose fortune has been made in board games. On her wedding night she has to take part in a bizarre ritual: every time someone new joins the family, they partake in a midnight game mechanically selected from a scary antique box. If not thrilled by the prospect, Grace plays along when the card selected is ‘hide and seek’. What she doesn’t realise is that she is now the prey for the rest of the family to hunt and kill by sunrise or they will all perish. Empire

Stellar acting on the part of Weaving, Czerny and MacDowell, together with Jutkiewicz’s restless camera and Tyler’s wonderful score drive the film forward without impacting the gothic soul of the film. I had all but written off Weaving after seeing The Babysitter and Killer Queen but she was on spectacular form here. Running from a cabal of related maniacs in a ruined wedding dress escaping her attackers was a constant thrill. Ready or Not even destroyed the getaway car trope in horror films. I shall leave you to find out what I mean by this while watching the film.

Within the mêlée, Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin allow just enough time to sketch the personalities and dynamics of the crazy clan: frenzied patriarch (Czerny), a stern matriarch (MacDowell), a good-hearted son (Brody), a poisonous aunt (Nicky Guadagni), an ineffectual brother (Kristian Bruun) and a hilarious coked-up sister (Melanie Scrofano) Empire

Overall, this is an excellent high paced horror thriller with some top class acting and a plot to die for.

 

Die Hard – Great Christmas Action Movie

Die Hard – Great Christmas Action Movie

Die Hard for me was one of those films which I had heard of, probably seen at a younger age and paid no further mind to. Somewhere in the back corridors of my memory I remembered that this was supposedly a Christmas movie so I decided to watch it on Christmas Day. I will not exaggerate by saying this is probably the best action movie I have ever seen. If not, it is up there with Aliens, Predator, Terminator (1 and 2), The Matrix and RED, to a lesser but still large extent.

Bruce Willis … John McClane

Bonnie Bedelia … Holly Gennaro McClane

Reginald VelJohnson … Sgt. Al Powell

Alan Rickman … Hans Gruber

Paul Gleason … Dwayne T. Robinson

De’voreaux White … Argyle William

James Shigeta … Takagi

Alexander Godunov … Karl

Based on the 1979 Robert Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever, this 1988 masterpiece was directed by John McTiernan and written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza. Die Hard follows New York City cop John McClane (Willis) as he attempts to deal with a terrorist takeover of Nakatomi Plaza while visiting his estranged wife (Bedelia). The terrorists are headed up by Hans Gruber (a stellar Rickman).

John McClane’s smartmouthed New York cop was a career-defining turn, mixing banter, action heroics and a dirty white vest to stunning effect. Acting up to him every step of the way is Alan Rickman, at his sneering best – but the script and cast are pretty much flawless. The very pinnacle of the ’80s action movie, and if it’s not the greatest action movie ever made, then it’s damn close. Empire

Without spoiling the plot which I imagine many of my readers will know well already, I was so impressed with the concept, execution and dialogue of this film. I remarked to M halfway through that this was a flawless film across many fronts and succeeds in cinematography, script, is visually stunning, has suitably menacing foreign (to the US) villains and more gripping, relentless action than I could have imagined possible. A particular highlight for me was Willis’ roof leap hanging onto a fire hose, shooting his way through one of the windows. I had to watch that again several times. Aside from being a brilliant piece of action movie making, it was just so damn cool.

In summation, Die Hard is a classic, all-American action feast which succeeds across every metric by which one measures a good film. I am no less than staggered by it in its entirety and cannot recommend it enough.

 

Night of the Living Dead – Seminal Horror 1968

Night of the Living Dead – Seminal Horror 1968

George A. Romero will be remembered in cinematic circles for inventing the zombie horror genre. Night of the Living Dead is and remains the inspiration for the slew of zombie related horrors which follow. It is not without its unique issues, but these are more a product of the time in which it was produced, than serious indictments of the character of the film. The plot is thus: Barbara and her brother Johnny are laying flowers at their parents’ grave when suddenly a lone zombie comes up and attacks them. This spawned the iconic line “They’re coming for you Barbra” which I have included in the clip below.

Barbra escapes to a nearby farm house where she finds herself locked in with Ben, Harry and Helen Cooper, their sick daughter Karen and Tom and Judy, a couple. Will they escape intact?

 

  • Duane Jones … Ben
  • Judith O’Dea … Barbra
  • Karl Hardman … Harry Cooper
  • Marilyn Eastman … Helen Cooper
  • Keith Wayne … Tom
  • Judith Ridley … Judy
  • Kyra Schon … Karen Cooper / Corpse in House

As with all seminal horror films, we have become desensitised to the comparatively demure techniques used to evoke terror. However, it must be recognised that this was the first zombie movie and as such would have terrified audiences then. M and I wondered what it would be like for us to travel back in time and show the same audience The Conjuring. I suspect they would not have slept for many weeks. Romero established the core facets of zombification in this movie, that is to say the resurrection of the bodies from graves, eating the flesh of their victims, needing to shoot the zombie in the head to kill the brain and thus neutralise the threat. These all came from this film and can be seen featured invariably in the zombie horrors which followed.

An independent film shot in grainy black-and-white on a shoestring budget, Romero delivered a stark and subversive horror that established the most important facets of zombie lore (bodies returning from the grave, destroying the brain to kill them for good) and proved the director as a filmmaker adept at genre-infused social commentary. As Ben, Barbra and more hide away from the rising corpses in a rural farmhouse, Romero reflects ideas of racism in the USA, the ongoing trauma of the Vietnam War, and the American public facing up to the realisation that their greatest enemy might actually be themselves. Empire

I was somewhat concerned at the portrayal of Barbra as an incapable, panic stricken mess throughout the film. I suppose this is again a product of the time of the film. I was impressed by the consistent drama between the guests of the house, namely Ben and Mr Cooper (the latter of which obsessively insisting that everyone would be safer in the basement of the house – they were not). This drama and the tendency for Ben to be correct more often in his strategic thinking leant itself to some stellar drama and dialogue.

Overall, without spoiling any of the surprises of this film, I must admit it ended exactly how I suspected it would. I am deeply impressed by this movie and encourage you to watch it to gain an understanding of all the zombie films which followed. Please see below a more modern trailer for The Night of the Living Dead.

 

Further watching (optional)

  • 28 Days Later (Boyle, 2003)
  • 28 Weeks Later (Boyle, 2007)
  • Train to Busan (Sang-ho 2016)
  • Dawn of the Dead (Romero 1978)
  • Day of the Dead (Romero 1985)
Raise the Red Lantern – Conspiratorial Delight

Raise the Red Lantern – Conspiratorial Delight

Raise the Red Lantern tells the story of a young university dropout who marries an ageing clan elder with multiple wives. The red lanterns are raised outside the home of the wife with whom the master chooses to spend his night. It becomes clear early on that the wife whose home the Master chooses most frequently controls the household. This unquestionable masterpiece was filmed by Zhang Yimou and completes his Confucian trilogy which opened with Red Sorghum and Ju Dou. All three of these films starred Gong Li who was propelled to superstardom. She is considered one of the most successful actresses in China today. Raise the Red Lantern is an unquestionable masterpiece and I shall now elaborate on, as Fry & Laurie put it ‘the whyness’.

No film had a more startling effect in the west than Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern, which rushed Gong Li, a star after Red Sorghum and Ju Dou, into the superstar league. Li plays a student in northern China in the 20s who agrees to become the fourth wife of an ageing clan leader. Only 19, she finds herself confined to the old man’s palatial complex, where his other wives conspire with courtiers and intrigue is permanently in the air. Derek Malcolm

I am working my way through Derek Malcolm’s Top 100 Movies. I decided quite by chance to watch the oldest one on the list. Malcolm describes this film as “a marvellously structured, richly imagined and well-acted piece of work, with a central performance that holds the attention throughout.”. For me, this is spot on, though I would add that each of the performances were immaculate. Saifei He as Meishan (Third Wife) blew me away consistently, especially during her two or three opera performances.  Cuifen Cao as Zhuoyan (Second Wife) was wonderful as the conniving outwardly friendly yet power hungry player. I was especially moved also by Lin Kong as Yan’er, robbed of place as Fourth Mistress by Songlian. Their enemy status confirmed early in the film, they would ultimately be each other’s demise.

Moreover, by filming mostly in long shot in lingering deep-focus takes, Zhang sought to suggest the isolation of the Chinese authorities and their entrenched positions regarding reform, while the consistent use of delimiting framing devices reinforced the overall sense of repression. However, this was also very much a film about both the historical and contemporary status of Chinese women. For all the delicate artistry of the décor and visuals, this is an uncompromising study of the part that women play in their own subjugation within a society that denigrates them from birth. Empire

In addition to a stellar cast, the location was absolutely stunning. The picture was filmed in the Qiao Family Compound. The tourist map is included below just to give you a scale of the thing. Throughout the film we get to see a lot of the compound, my favourite moment in the film being up above (near the Climate and Season part of the below map) where Gong Li hears the Young Master (her stepson) playing flute. There is a wonderful shot when they are parting where they turn around from outside both entrances and stare back at each other through the building.

This is a tale of power and the lengths to which people are willing to stoop to obtain it. It is told beautifully, and colourfully. The shots are long and do indeed exacerbate the loneliness of the principal characters in view of the enormity of the sacrifice they are making. The cinematography is outstanding, the music is wonderful and the moral is unclear. This is a monumental film which exhibits a wide panoply of human emotion. I encourage you to read Derek Malcolm’s review of this, which does it true justice. There is a reason why it appeared in 36 polls of most important films of the 1990s!