Is there another show on television quite like Bojack Horseman? An existential, painfully funny, dark animation about a washed-up sitcom actor who ruins the life of everyone he meets (and happens to an anthropomorphic talking horse), Ralphael Bob-Waksberg’s black comedy has been one of the best shows on television for a while now. Unafraid of scathing political satire, gut-punching drama, or endless animal puns, Bojack Horseman makes audiences laugh and cry hysterically (often at the same time), and its latest season is no exception. It’s possibly the darkest season yet, but it might also be the most heartfelt.
After last year’s middling JG Ballard adaptation High-Rise, Free Fire is a (mild) return to form for prolific British director Ben Wheatley. Working with his biggest cast and budget (a relatively small $10 mil) to date, Free Fire lacks the charm and originality of his earlier low budget films, but it’s refreshing to see a well-crafted, dumb-but-fun shoot-em-up.
It’s no spoiler to say that ten minutes into David Lowery’s quietly incredible A Ghost Story, Casey Affleck’s musician (referred to as ‘C’) dies in a car crash outside the ramshackle old house he shares with girlfriend ‘M’ (Rooney Mara). Many films end with the protagonist dying, but Lowery is just getting started, using the story of a man waking up in the morgue and wandering home to explore big themes of love, loss, and the passing of time. Making any film as original and moving as A Ghost Story is impressive. That Lowery’s film manages to be so beautiful whilst starring a man wearing a sheet over his head is nothing short of remarkable.
After what feels like forever, Rick and Morty is finally back. Other than the premiere episode of Season 3 (released with no fanfare on April Fools’ Day), it’s been nearly two years since the alcoholic scientist and his nervous grandson last appeared on our screens, getting into all number of convoluted, impossibly clever sci-fi scenarios. Like Futurama before it, Rick and Morty is written by genuinely smart, genuinely nerdy comedy writers who take basic sci-fi scenarios and twist them as far as they can go, resulting in some of the funniest, darkest animation in years.
Picking just five of the best episodes is difficult, as I’ve had to leave off a few I really love, but in order of release date, here are the best episodes of Rick and Morty:
1. Meeseeks and Destroy (Season 1, Episode 5)
Every Rick and Morty episode takes a familiar sci-fi trope and makes it as dark as possible. When Rick introduces the titular creatures to Jerry, Beth and Summer, informing them that any wish they have will be granted, it seems relatively straightforward. However, Jerry’s failure to improve his golf game soon sends the extremely friendly Meeseeks into a murderous frenzy. As well as being one of the funniest episodes of the series (“I’m Mr. Meeseeks! Look at me!”), Meeseeks and Destroy shows how creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland can take any conventional story and infuse it with their own twisted sense of humour.
On July 16th, it was with a heavy heart that I heard the legendary director George A. Romero had sadly passed away after a short battle with cancer. Since that day, I’ve been wanting to write a short tribute or obituary, but it’s been hard to put into words the importance of George A. Romero on me. As a film fan, his work introduced me to the world of horror and fed into my obsession with all things gory. As a filmmaker, he revolutionised the world of independent film and proved you could kickstart an entire genre on your own. Most importantly, as a critic, he taught me that films were more than mere entertainment, designed to pass the time; films could be art.
I first saw his masterpiece Dawn of the Dead when I was twelve years old. I had never seen a horror film before, and the cover of my Dad’s grainy VHS copy (featuring the mangled face of a zombie) terrified and intrigued me in equal measure. That night, I sat in the dark and watched as a battered videotape of a 1978 zombie film blew my mind. The mixture of huge action, repulsive gore, spine-tingling chills, and the still-genius Goblin score seemed far greater than any film I had seen previously (other than Pulp Fiction, the other film that led me to become the cinephile I am today), and it was all I could do not to rewind the tape and watch it a dozen times more. Years later, I upgraded to a DVD copy, but no level of picture quality could replicate the magic of that first viewing experience; Dawn of the Dead was made to be seen on a grainy old videotape.
For a year, I was obsessed with the Dead films, especially the original trilogy. To this day, both Dawn and Day of the Dead rank as some of my favourite films, and while the later films don’t quite stand up as well, they were always entertaining. If it wasn’t for his intelligent, beautifully-directed early horror films, there’s a good chance this blog wouldn’t exist. The effect that first viewing of Dawn of the Dead had on me is one of the key reasons I want to make films, and I spend my time watching films, and I continue writing blogs about films. I have George A. Romero to thank for all that.
It’s sad to think that he’s gone, and we’ll never have another film bearing his seal. Let’s just hope there’s no more room in hell, so the dead can walk the Earth and we might just get to see him one more time.
RIP George A. Romero (1940-2017)
By Harry J. Ford
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Having made a career out of amusingly deconstructing genre films, from zombie (Shaun of the Dead) to action (Hot Fuzz) to sci-fi (The World’s End), Edgar Wright has finally made his own genre film with his long-awaited passion project, heist thriller Baby Driver. Unfortunately, by approaching the familiar story of a getaway driver forced into one last job with an increasingly straight face, Wright strays into exactly the kind of cliché he used to joke about.
We’re just over the halfway point of the year, so what better time to reveal the five best films released in the UK so far? It’s been something of a mixed year, with a phenomenal awards season followed by a rather quite stretch. Certain films that I assumed would easily crack the top 5 (T2 Trainspotting, Get Out) ended up being minor disappoints (to me, anyway), while a few unassuming films turned out to be among my favourites of the year. As with every year, there have been some terrific releases in 2017. Here are the best of the bunch:
*Note: I haven’t seen every major release of the year so far, so if you think I’m missing a modern classic, it’s likely that I haven’t got round to it yet. Looking at you, Logan.*
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Dir. Juho Kuosmanen)
The Salesman (Dir. Afgar Fahadi)
The Fits (Dir. Anna Rose Holmer)
La La Land (Dir. Damien Chazelle)
Jackie (Dir. Pablo Larrain)
Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins)
The surprise winner of Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight has come a long way from its humble start as a low budget indie about three chapters in the life of Chiron, a black gay boy growing up in America.
Jenkins’ confident direction and the beautiful cinematography enhanced the feeling of a waking dream spanning two decades, but Moonlight is very much an actor’s showcase; Naomi Harris gives a terrific performance as Chiron’s crack-addicted Mother, while Mahershala Ali deservedly won an Oscar for his sensitive performance as a patriarchal drug dealer.
At what point does an art film become shlock? The Eyes of My Mother, Nicolas Pesce’s hideously unpleasant debut feature, is clearly aiming for the arthouse crowd; filmed in stark black-and-white, the film is too slow and uncompromising to reach mainstream horror fans. However, the levels of gore and psychological torture on display have mostly been seen in torture porn and New French Extremity, meaning only the most hardened arthouse fan could sit through it. Despite some interesting imagery and a unique style, The Eyes of My Mother won’t quite satisfy either audience.
Having made a name for herself starring in low-budget black comedies like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Sightseers, it’s only fitting that Alice Lowe’s directorial debut Prevenge follows a similar strand of broad humour and bloody mayhem. Written by and starring Lowe as Ruth, a heavily-pregnant woman whose unborn baby convinces her to go on a killing spree, Prevenge isn’t as consistent as her previous work, but a few memorable setpieces and Lowe’s wonderfully deadpan performance keep it entertaining.