‘Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’ is a Stylish, Thrilling, Phantasmagoric Adventure
From stormy start to fiery finish, it’s a stylish, phantasmagoric adventure which grabs players from their seats, sucks them into the experience, and brings back fond memories just by the way it looks and feels. Bloodstained is everything you could want from a modern Castlevania and more.
One might be right to be hesitant about Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The term ‘spiritual successor’ is one that often leaves me a skeptic. How often have we seen a developer make a “spiritual successor” to a beloved video game series, yet ultimately left us incredibly disappointed? One only needs to point to Mighty No. 9 and Yooka-Laylee and you’ll catch my drift.
Part of the problem is that fans of the original franchise often expect too much, thus imbuing a game with certain unrealistic — or at least unfair — expectations. Another problem, however, is that sometimes it is hard to recapture the magic that made a gaming franchise so beloved in the first place, thus making the homage feel like nothing more than a soulless knockoff.
In case you didn’t know, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the long-awaited spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Developed by ArtPlay and published by 505 Games, the game’s development was overseen by former Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi, who conceived the game after his departure from Konami in 2014. He used the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and successfully raised more than $5.5 million from backers, making it one of the most successful video game campaigns on the platform. However, after some Kickstarter troubles, numerous delays, and a long wait, fans were concerned that Bloodstained would not live up to the hype.
I always say that if you keep your expectations low, you are less likely to be disappointed, and so when I loaded Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, I expected a mediocre game that would entertain me for a few hours and nothing more.
Here’s the thing though: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an atmospheric piece of arthouse horror that’s full of curious details, gorgeous gothic environments, a meaty campaign, satisfying combat, and an absolutely stunning score. The game is a near-perfect blend of contemporary and old-school design, and for those willing to follow along and vibe along with it, its rewards are plentiful. Needless to say, I really love this game, and anyone even remotely interested in the world of the side-scrolling Castlevania series should pick this up.
Weapons, magical powers, crafting and more…
At first, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night feels a bit too familiar. Even though there are no appearances from any of the Belmonts, nor Dracula himself, there are plenty of other similar-looking demons and demon hunters — not to mention a big gothic castle (not so dissimilar from Dracula’s abode), a glob of platforming, and exploration which follows closely in its ancestor’s footsteps. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long before this spiritual successor finds its footing by shaking up the formula that helped define and popularise Symphony of the Night.
From the start, protagonist Miriam has access to a variety of armor, weapons, and other accessories including knives, katanas, short swords, greatswords, maces, whips, spears, and even guns. Every weapon handles differently, and they each have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of speed, range, and damage, giving players plenty of options to experiment with. The main hook, however, is that Miriam is a shardbinder who can absorb the magical power of the enemies she slays by equipping shards. The various shards you collect are not always necessary for progression, but they do offer a number of creative ways to approach combat. Some shards, for example, come in the form of projectiles, while others allow you to summon various ghastly beasts to fight alongside you.
Meanwhile, Miriam can acquire certain skills, such as a double-jump to reach higher ledges, or a rapid slide kick to slip under barriers. Eventually, Miriam will also gain various familiars — floating spirits that follow you around and aid in battle. It doesn’t take long before Miriam becomes a deadly and proficient warrior, able to blend these skills together in order to reach more distant areas. The more shards she carries with her, however, the more Miriam stands to harm herself, as she can only lug a certain amount at a time — thus forcing the player to decide what to hold on to and what to trade in.
In addition to the various items and powers you collect, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night also features a RPG menu system packed with adjustable stats, items, clothing, weapons, and more. The sheer variety of options available to you can be overwhelming at first, but it is well worth experimenting with since the best equipment is often locked behind extensive crafting, and those items can surely help you on your journey when traveling through tough areas or fighting tougher bosses. There are plenty of other fun features as well that separate Bloodstained from other Metroidvania games, including a cursed demon hairdresser named Todd who helps you customize Miriam’s hairstyle and cosmetic look, as well as a handful of sidequests and optional endgame boss fights which decide which of the three different endings you will get. And did I mention that Bloodstained features a speed run, several cheats, a new game plus, local/online play, a boss rush mode, and an additional playable character?
The Level Design in Bloodstained is Top-Notch
The level design and serpentine map is the true highlight here. Metroidvania veterans will immediately fall in love with the focus on non-linear progression, since plenty of areas featuring narrow gaps, high platforms, and other roadblocks require specific tools and abilities to traverse. Exploration remains key, as each section contains a myriad of paths to take that more often than not feature hidden rooms with lost treasure and/or amusing Easter eggs. Bloodstained also comes with a much-appreciated fast-travel system, which makes exploring the map all the more enjoyable. Despite the gargantuan map size, Bloodstained never feels overwhelming, and like any good Metroidvania game, it feels incredibly rewarding each time you advance to a previously unreachable area.
Of course, it helps that Bloodstained is also gorgeous. The level design is quite clever, with incredible attention to detail and a color palette combined with a lighting scheme that quickly calls to mind Dario Argento’s Suspiria. As with Symphony of the Night, the variety of enemies and monsters are all beautifully animated, and the boss battles are truly spectacular (I especially love Bael, the gigantic three-headed serpentine-like demon). The soundtrack, composed by Castlevania veteran Michiru Yamane and Mega Man composer Ippo Yamada, also deserves praise for its grandiose pipe organs, haunting choir, and howling electric guitar. While I wasn’t fond of the writing or the British voice acting, the inclusion of Solid Snake voice actor David Hayter at least earned the game some pre-launch attention. That said, I do recommend trying the Japanese voice tracks instead. All in all, the game accomplishes so much simply through image and sound — which goes a long way to compensate for the stilted dialogue and awkward character interactions. Bloodstained is a stunning combination of menacing Grand Guignol atmosphere, dazzling colours, gory violence, lush decor, and a pounding soundtrack. Koji Igarashi’s use of space, lighting, vivid colors, and impressive set pieces surely overshadows the few missteps along the way.
There is no shortage of good Metroidvanias these days, but Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is well worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of classic Castlevania games from yesteryear. Bloodstained is indeed a rare spiritual successor that actually lives up to the hype, mostly because it plays and feels almost exactly like the legendary Castlevania: Symphony of the Night — which is its raison d’être. It’s meticulously crafted, incredibly fun, brimming with imagination, and brings together all the things Koji Igarashi should be famous for. From the stormy start to a fiery finish, it’s a stylish, phantasmagoric adventure which grabs players from their seats, sucks them into the experience, and brings back fond memories just by the way it looks and feels. Bloodstained is everything you could want from a modern Castlevania, and more.
– Ricky D
Fantasia 2019: ‘Come to Daddy’ is a Plot-Twisting and Surprisingly Heartfelt Genre-Bender
Filmmaker Ant Timpson has been on the horror scene for years, producing some of my favourite genre films including the critically acclaimed Housebound, Turbo Kid and Deathgasm. He’s back in the festival circuit again, only this time with his directorial debut Come to Daddy— a wild genre mashup that had audiences running to the exits when it first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Timpson’s first foray in the director’s chair is a film that refuses to be labeled. It begins as a simple family reunion between a father and son and ends in a violent bloodbath loaded with gruesome set pieces, pitch-black humor, and some surprisingly touching poignancy. And that is its biggest strength – Come to Daddy is full of unexpected twists seamlessly shifting between horror, awkward comedy, mystery, and drama all while constantly surprising viewers from one scene to the next. It really is a wild ride, opening by quoting Shakespeare and Beyoncé and ending with a bizarre shootout at a sleazy motel.
Elijah Wood stars as the finicky and arrogant Norval, whose thin mustache, bowl-shaped haircut and hipster aesthetic borrows heavily from the famous DJ and musician Skrillex. Norval is a self-proclaimed music guru with a limited-edition gold iPhone and a whole lot of male insecurities. After receiving a cryptic letter, Norval visits his estranged father (Stephen McHattie) at his beachfront property in the middle of nowhere. They haven’t seen each other since his dad abandoned him decades previously but when he arrives at the residence, his father not only seems uninterested in a reunion but doesn’t even remember sending him a letter. Regardless, his dad invites him in but as the two men spend time together, his dad becomes increasingly hostile. The more time that passes, the more tensions mount, to the point where, in the midst of an argument, his dad suddenly falls over dead. Left with a lot of unresolved daddy issues, Norval is left to piece things together and quickly learns that his dad has plenty of skeletons in his closet. To say more would ruin the many unpredictable twists and turns the plot takes, as one shocking reveal is made after the next, leaving Norval to battle with demons both real and felt.
Come to Daddy is a perfect inclusion in the midnight section of films.
Written by The Greasy Strangler scribe Toby Harvard, Come to Daddy isn’t quite as crude as Harvard’s previous film, but those with weak stomachs should take caution before sitting down to watch Come to Daddy since it doesn’t take long before the uncomfortable, albeit darkly funny exploration of a broken familial relationship explodes into violent mayhem akin to a ‘70s-style thriller packed with a ton of grime and gore. A large part of the suspense comes from the fact that it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next but Timpson and Harvard never lose sight of the central theme of the film. Ultimately, Come to Daddy is a movie about a young man desperately seeking his father’s love and approval, and would go to
great horrific lengths to obtain it. Yes, there are scenes that will make you cringe but Come to Daddy is also an emotionally resonant portrait of loneliness and about one man desperately trying to reconnect with the past.
While Ant Timpson is no stranger to making movies, for a first-time director, Come to Daddy is impeccably well-made. Shot in and around the gorgeous beachfront home, Daniel Katz’s moody cinematography beautifully captures the picturesque location while Karl Steven’s eerie score is perfectly accommodating to the movie’s constant wavering tones. I especially love the staging of each scene and the visceral old-school makeup effects by Tibor Farkas – not to mention a surprise bathroom brawl that breaks out midway. But what stood out most when watching Come to Daddy, is the uniformly strong cast. Elijah Wood and Steven McHattie are amazing in their portrayals both giving bravado performances as the awkward and timid son, recovering from alcohol dependency, and the not-so welcoming old man who despite his limited screentime will downright terrify audiences. Meanwhile, supporting actors Madeleine Sami and Martin Donovan all have crucial, memorable roles as well, while Michael Smiley’s unsavory flamboyant character straight-up steals the show.
Come to Daddy is a genre-bender and one of the finest genre films of 2019. It’s a grueling little noirish thriller with slasher-worthy gore and absurd humour that is sure to make audiences laugh. There’s no shortage of scenes that you’ll watch through your fingers but you’ll watch all the same to witness the many secrets, successful twists, and brilliant performances it offers. Come to Daddy is certainly a strikingly assured first feature and recommended viewing for genre fans everywhere. I can’t wait to see what Ant Timpson does next!
- Ricky D
Fantasia 2019: ‘The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil’ is a Devilishly Delightful Time
‘The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil’ meshes action, intrigue, suspense, and visceral violence to the highest order.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Few adages carry such eclectic morsels of truth like this one. For starters, it entails one understanding that they have enemies. Second, it implies that one can recognize and distinguish between their enemies — which can be dealt with physically, politically, and economically at a later date in time, and which must be handled swiftly and immediately? To that end, one may agree (if begrudgingly) to form an alliance with the threat that can wait in order to dispatch the more pressing danger. South Korean director Lee Won-tae applies the murky realities of said expression to the fullest in The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil.
The clock is turned back to 2005 during a piping hot summer in Cheonan. Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-yeol) is a police detective with an unenviable reputation amongst his peers for his attitude, amongst his superiors for insubordination, and in the eyes of criminal underworld leaders like Jan Dong-soo (Ma Dong-seok) — who are greatly annoyed by the law enforcement personality — for enforcing the law in his own brash, hyper-aggressive way. Neither Tae-suk or Dong-soo care very much for another other, but their rivalry is soon put on ice after a lone wolf assailant viciously attacks the gangster one night, leaving him to escape the encounter with a few very memorable scars. When detective Jung puts enough clues together to discern that Dong-soo’s attacker is the same individual that has been murdering people at random, a serial killer investigation is opened. Tae-sook and Dong-soo forge a tenuous alliance to combine resources, each one defying the other that they will catch the killer first.
Way back in 2003, Oldboy seemed to change the way global cinephiles viewed South Korean cinema. To this day, that film is quoted as being not only a masterfully bizarre and satisfying thriller, but as the movie that opened the rest of the world’s eyes to the extraordinary talent brewing in the Korean film industry. Since then, nary a year goes by without at least one movie from that country squeezing into somebody’s top ten list. Of course, not all Korean exports can be Oldboy. That would be odd. All the same, whatever their screenwriters, directors, producers, and actors are eating for breakfast before heading to the studio lot or shooting location, just please keep up the same diet for another hundred years.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is another entry on what is becoming a stunningly long list of Korean thrillers that mesh action, intrigue, charismatic and strange characters, suspense, and visceral violence of the highest order. Oh, and by the way, the audience will erupt in a chorus of laughter a dozen times. It’s fascinating to see a film like this unfold before one’s eyes. It isn’t as if filmmakers have never supplied moviegoers with adventures in which goodies and baddies must come together for a common cause, and it isn’t as if there is a shortage of cop films in which the protagonist is a hot-headed, loud-mouthed (and foul-mouthed) jerk; therein likes the magic of what director Lee Won-tae and his team have pulled off. It doesn’t matter that the terrain has been marched on time and time again — the movie is wildly entertaining to the very final frame.
What generally helps movies of this ilk is how the intricacies of the plot are dealt with in engaging and thrilling ways, especially when the major plot outline requires some setting up in the early goings. How is it there is a killer about? What is his or her modus operandi? Who is the lead gangster in town? Why is there a rivalry between him and this infuriatingly persistent detective? In a lesser filmmaker’s hands, all of this would be played in a very ‘by the numbers’ way, lacking narrative flow and momentum. In a word, boring. Lee Won-tae is too clever for that, however, and drops in characters that will come back in big ways later in the picture, whilst thrusting the viewer into the film’s works with gusto and without a safety helmet. Even though the general beats can be guessed, the movie nevertheless succeeds in keeping the audience on its toes because the world itself is so wild and moves along so quickly. By the time Tae-sook and Dong-soo have agreed to partake in a pseudo-friendly competition to see who nails the killer first, the movie already has the audience — hook, line, and sinker.
Helping matters in no small way are the leads. Kim Mu-yeol, in particular, has a very difficult task at hand; the aforementioned trope of the cop fueled by a devil-may-care attitude requires the actor to bring his or her best stuff to the shoot. What Kim has in abundance is charisma. His Tae-sook is indeed a vile individual, behaving very much like — if not worse than — the actual gangsters he is assigned to bring to justice. The highlight is the charm that the actor injects into the part; for every nasty slap or comment, there is undeniable, raw charisma that exudes from his personality. Put differently, he is the sort of detective one would loathe having to tail them, but who must be amazing to have on one’s team, if only for how ferociously dedicated he is towards the ultimate goal — to capture the villain. Although there isn’t a false note in the entire cast, Kim Mu-yeol is the clear standout. Loud? Yes, but oh so amusing.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil never loses steam, nor does it pull its punches. It is a splendid exercise in what South Korean cinema has been doing for so much of the better part of twenty years (at least, since the rest of the world took serious notice anyways). Be impressed by the gangster, sheepishly shake your head at the cop, and stay to see if they catch up with the devil.
Fantasia 2019: ‘The Deeper You Dig’ is Must-Watch DIY Horror
‘The Deeper You Dig’ is the kind of movie that Fantasia Fest was made for: those far off the beaten track, but well worth seeking out if one finds the chance to see it.
As cameras and editing software get cheaper, the bar for entry to becoming a filmmaker gets lower. And despite what snobby gatekeepers will tell you, that is very much a good thing. Art is made by artists, not the tools they use, and the most expensive gear and extensive crews do not a good movie make. The Deeper You Dig is proof of that, having been made for a scant eleven thousand dollars by a family of three who wrote, shot, edited, and starred in the film. While it’s a bit rough around the edges, there’s a dedication and craftsmanship that suffuses every frame, and in many ways those rough edges only add to its charm.
Single mother Ivy lives in a sleepy town with her daughter, Echo, separating the gullible from their money as a fraudulent psychic. But on one dark night, Echo is hit by a drunk driver — the shifty local, Kurt. Kurt hastily hides the body, but soon finds himself assailed by terrifying visions and plain old guilt. Ivy, meanwhile, continues to search for Echo by rekindling her dormant psychic gifts.
The Deeper You Dig is at its best when it is playing out like that old Sylvester the Cat cartoon where he thinks he finally got Tweety, and has nothing to do now but stew in guilt and sweat. Thanks to the impeccable atmosphere, the mostly-silent scenes of Kurt trying to put the accident behind him while he restores an old household instills a wonderfully palpable sense of dread even before the paranormal elements begin to reveal themselves. Of course, those elements do begin to crop up, and the film becomes a more somewhat more conventional ghost movie as it goes on. This isn’t bad per se, but those early scenes definitely leave the strongest impression.
The Deeper You Dig is a great example of how much can be accomplished with very simple tools. It’s quite beautifully shot, for one, with a very careful and confident eye for framing. The editing is also quite stunning at times, occasionally using a carefully chosen crossfade to stunning effect, and marches to a steady but deliberate rhythm the rest of the time. Again, the film is extremely good at using very simple tools to very great effect. Some of the more striking images even come as a direct result of the low-fi aesthetic. Scenes shot in the dead of night feel appropriately pitch black, where a bigger production would have used a lighting rig. Other times, shots are thrown into a high contrast by cameras with low dynamic range. This is the kind of film that reminds one that low-fi is an aesthetic, not a shortcoming.
It does have some rough spots, though. The soundtrack is an odd choice — a droning, amelodic affair that walks the line between music and noise. It often doesn’t quite gel, and some sequences would perhaps have worked better silently. There are also some brief dalliances into surrealism that are certainly ambitious, but can come across as stilted and awkward rather than engaging. The filmmakers will also sometimes try and pull off a visual that perhaps should have been implied rather than directly shown, like a decapitation scene that doesn’t really work despite their best efforts. It’s nothing if not ambitious, and that should be applauded on its own; even if the execution can feel a bit off, the enthusiasm and persistence of vision make up for it to a degree.
A good film demands passion from the people making it, and there’s no shortage of passion in The Deeper You Dig. That abundance of passion goes a long way, and the clear mastery of the tools at their disposal doesn’t hurt either. The Deeper You Dig is the kind of movie that Fantasia Fest was made for: those far off the beaten track, but well worth seeking out if one finds the chance to see it.
The Ten Most Memorable Moments in the Toy Story Movies
Following the success of ‘Toy Story 4,’ we are taking a look at ten of the most memorable moments across all four Toy Story movies.
With the huge commercial and critical success of Pixar’s latest film, Toy Story 4, (it recently broke the global box office record for an animated feature) the Toy Story franchise has marked itself as one of the best and most popular animated series of all time. Having spanned almost twenty five years, a great deal of fans (myself included) grew up with the films and their iconic characters. There are moments throughout the series that have not only become widely renowned within pop culture, but have also been cemented as some of the best moments in cinematic history. Let’s begin the countdown of what are —and likely will continue to be — remembered as some of the best and most notable moments across the Toy Story franchise.*
*Spoiler warning for all four Toy Story movies!
10. Woody and Bo Peep Say Goodbye (Toy Story 4)
The Toy Story franchise is known for having moments with a great deal of emotional weight behind them, and the latest film is no exception. Right from the start, we are given a sombre moment with a flashback to nine years prior, when the toys are still residing with Andy. Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, and the other toys embark on a rescue mission to save a remote control car named RC when he is accidentally left outside during a storm. The rescue is a success, but just as the gang gets RC back into the house, Bo Peep is taken away to go to a new home, as her owner — Andy’s sister, Molly — has outgrown her and the lamp that she is attached to.
Woody attempts to rescue Bo, but she resigns herself to her fate once she realises that there is no longer a place for her; she isn’t Andy’s toy, and Molly no longer wants her. Bo then suggests that Woody come with her, which he almost does. However, they hear Andy calling out for Woody, panicked at thinking he has lost him. Woody and Bo both know that Woody cannot abandon Andy or any child who needs him. As the two of them share an emotional moment underneath a parked car, it is clear that they think that this is the last time they will see each other. Although their bond is apparent in the other Toy Story movies, this moment proves just how much the two of them mean to each other, and the heartbreak they both feel knowing that Bo no longer has a place in Andy’s life is evident.
This moment is offset by the breathtaking animation (the rain is particularly impressive) that we see in the background of the scene as the storm rages. As Woody lies in the road getting drenched by the downpour, he watches forlornly as the car drives away with Bo Peep on board. Andy finds him and takes him inside, and the audience realises that Woody has given up a significant amount of happiness for the sake of his child. The raw emotion of the scene combined with a brilliant score from Randy Newman and some of Pixar’s best animation creates an unforgettable moment.
9. The Cleaner Fixes Woody — (Toy Story 2)
One of the quieter yet still memorable moments in the series occurs during the second film. When Woody is kidnapped by an obsessive toy collector, he is restored by a professional toy cleaner to touch him up and fix his ripped arm. This moment stands out in that it shows the great detail that the cleaner goes into to fix Woody. You can tell that he is hugely passionate for his craft, from the tiny barbers style chair that he places Woody in, to his shaky hand as he carefully threads a needle to sew up Woody’s arm, to his work case with all kinds of compartments holding different toy parts.
There is also an emotional touch added to the scene when the cleaner lifts up Woody’s boot and delicately paints over Andy’s name. The audience knows how much Woody and Andy mean to each other, and how meaningful that small token of affection is. You can’t help but feel a pang of sadness as the paint is applied. Though only a small and sweet scene, it is still memorable as a moment which displays how toys are important to children and adults alike, and demonstrates the care and craft of maintaining and restoring classic toys. As well as being highly satisfying to watch, the scene also demonstrates fantastic animation and attention to detail, which is even more impressive when you consider that the film is twenty years old.
8. Buzz and Woody Argue — (Toy Story 2)
Woody’s dedication to Andy has been a major part of the Toy Story movies, and this becomes particularly prominent in Toy Story 2 when Woody is given the opportunity for a different life. When Andy accidentally rips Woody’s arm while playing with him, Andy decides to leave his beloved cowboy doll at home rather than take him to summer camp. This leads Woody to begin questioning his purpose. After his kidnapping by Al, Woody is introduced to Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete, and realises that he is a collectors doll from what was once a hugely popular television show called Woody’s Roundup. Now that Woody is part of their collection, they are due to be sold to a collector in Japan who will put them in a museum where there will stay behind glass for the rest of their lives.
Although this prospect seems unbearable to Woody at first, he starts to come around to the idea when he begins to fear the thought that Andy might discard him if he rips again. When Buzz and the rest of the gang come to rescue Woody, Woody tells them that he has made the decision to go with the roundup gang and become a museum display rather than return and face possible rejection. Buzz’s argument to Woody is incredibly poignant, telling him that Woody was the one who taught him that life was only worth living if a child loves you. He even quotes Woody’s own words back to him (“You are a toy!”), and although Woody is concerned about the roundup gang having to go back to storage should he leave, it is clear that he is frightened of becoming a lost and abandoned toy.
Woody has always been there for Andy, but his fear of being tossed aside makes him question his role in life. This moment is incredibly relatable. As humans, we all fear rejection and losing that which we love the most, but we know that it is a part of life. Woody goes through the same thing here, but he is so afraid that he is willing to give up entirely, shunning that which he cares deeply for due to his fear of being thrown away. Buzz sums up the situation pretty well when Woody attempts to justify his decision by saying that this is his only chance: “To do what Woody? Watch kids from behind glass and never be loved again? Some life.” It is a particularly human moment for the toys, depicting the difficult decision of living a long life with relative ease but no real love or connection, or a shorter and less certain life, but doing so with love and comfort. It also leads in well to our next moment on the list…
7. Woody Leaves — (Toy Story 4)
The core theme of the Toy Story movies has always been the role of a toy and its duty to a child. But what happens when the child no longer cares for a toy? Should they still fulfill the role that they were made for? Toy Story 2 touched on this with Jessie’s backstory, but Andy still very much cared for Woody. Toy Story 4 explores this idea and introduces us to a group of toys who do not have their own children to take care of. They lead a nomadic lifestyle where they live for themselves, and are only played with occasionally. One of these toys happens to be Bo Peep, Woody’s lost love, who has been living freely as a lost toy for many years.
By the end of the film, Woody makes a major decision, as it had become clear that Bonnie no longer favours him,, as she keeps leaving him in the closet while she plays with the other toys. When Forky comes into the picture, Woody does everything in his power to make him see how important he is to Bonnie, and how special it is to be the favourite toy. Woody realises that he is nowhere near as crucial to Bonnie’s development as he was to Andy, and starts to see that there is a whole world out there where toys can be independent. During the film’s conclusion, Woody, Bo and some of the other lost toys formulate a plan to bring together a lost child and a lonely toy. Their plan works, and it allows Woody to see a new purpose in his life: connecting children with toys, but in a different way. Thus, Woody makes the decision to leave Buzz and his friends in order to stay with Bo. He knows that the situation with Bonnie is not the same as it was with Andy, and that she will not miss him when she realises that he is lost.
Whilst this is a pivotal moment in the series, it is also another incredibly human moment that delves into the idea of living for yourself rather than living for someone else’s benefit. The difference between this and the Toy Story 2 moment wherein Woody almost leaves Andy is that Andy needed Woody, and Woody needed Andy. Bonnie is a different story, and by the end of the film, Woody learns that he does not need Bonnie to be happy. His time as a toy whose purpose is to serve a child has come to an end. So what does he do now that the person who is meant to love him has forgotten him? He lives his own life. The issues dealt with in the Toy Story movies have grown with its audience, and the message at the end of Toy Story 4 is particularly important. Times change, people change, and your desires and goals can change. It is important to stay true to yourself, even if that truth is vastly different from the life you have been living. With Woody’s departure and Bo Peep’s independence, we are given a new perspective on the toys and what their lives can be when they aren’t bound to a child. This idea, combined with the life lessons we can take from it, make this moment particular important within the series.
6. Revenge on Sid — (Toy Story)
Throughout the series the toys have had a strict rule around humans: they must never show themselves to be alive, and always have to freeze in their toy poses when someone appears. There is only one moment where this rule is broken, and it proves to be one of the most memorable. Destructive neighbour kid Sid is the primary antagonist of the first Toy Story movie due to his hobby of destroying and mutilating innocent toys. When Buzz and Woody find themselves trapped in sadistic Sid’s house, they formulate a plot with Sid’s tortured toys to not only escape, but to teach Sid a lesson. When Sid attaches a rocket to Buzz, and is about to send him into the stratosphere, Woody breaks the golden toy rule and starts speaking to Sid via his voice box without using his pull string. When Sid decides that Woody must be ‘busted’, Woody retorts with “who you calling busted, buster?”
As Sid becomes more shaken by Woody’s talking, the toys that he has abused over the years start springing to life and creeping towards him. A monster truck emerges from a sandbox, a disfigured soldier doll with a nail through its head limps along menacingly, and the infamous baby head with mechanical spider legs drops down on Sid’s head. You’d be forgiven if you mistook this for a scene from a horror movie. The most satisfying part of this comes when Woody (who has been explaining to a terrified Sid that toys do not enjoy being torn apart) decides to go full Exorcist and rotates his head all the way around before coming to life completely, speaking to Sid in person rather than through his voice box. Woody says that the toys see everything, and tops it off with a mildly threatening, “so play nice.”
Sid screams and runs away, and it is all the more satisfying when his little sister, whose toys he has been stealing, torments and chases him with a small doll. Whilst it is enjoyable to see the villain get his comeuppance, it is the way in which the toys decide to do it that makes this moment so perfect. Not only is one of the best moments in the franchise, it’s one of the best and most fitting villain defeats in cinema.
5. Incinerator — (Toy Story 3)
Toy Story 3 is a film that handles relatable human scenarios in a masterful way, such as dealing with growing up, moving on, and the fear of abandonment, but one of the most iconic scenes from the film comes in an unexpected and highly emotional scene. The toys find themselves in the garbage dump after an encounter with villain Lotso-Huggin Bear; after Lotso betrays the gang, Andy’s toys end up plummeting into an incinerator. They scramble to escape, but it quickly becomes clear that their efforts are futile. As Woody makes another attempt at climbing out, he looks around to see his friends joining hands and accepting their fate. Buzz extends a hand out to Woody, and Woody takes it.
Watching the toys that we have grown to love face their own mortality is depressing enough as it is, but watching them join hands in camaraderie is a painful moment that I didn’t ever expect to see in a Toy Story movie. It is a very adult situation for the toys to find themselves in, and as they confront the possibility of their own deaths, it is difficult not to imagine what you might do in that situation. Obviously, they are rescued at the last moment (I’m sure that Pixar didn’t want to be responsible for traumatising countless children and adults by forcing them to watch all of their favourite characters melt before their eyes), but the scene itself is a powerful and emotional moment that highlights the strong bond that Andy’s toys have forged during their time together, as well as being genuinely heart racing.
4. When She Loved Me — (Toy Story 2)
The theme of abandonment is prevalent throughout the Toy Story series, but it is explored most powerfully during a musical montage in Toy Story 2 as Woody is introduced to the roundup gang, including Jessie the cowgirl doll. Jessie is terrified of going back into storage, as she has spent so long locked away in the dark. She also seems resentful towards Woody for having an owner. When Woody says that Jessie cannot understand his loyalty to Andy, she tells him about the child that she used to be owned by, a girl named Emily. This is done in the form of a beautiful song called “When She Loved Me,” written by Randy Newman and sung by Sarah McLachlan. The song tells Jessie’s story of her time with Emily, who initially dotes on her, takes her everywhere, and plays with her constantly.
But as the song goes on, Emily gets older and begins losing interest in Jessie. Jessie falls under Emily’s bed, and is left there for years to watch Emily outgrow her from afar. She watches as her horse and cowgirl memorabilia switches to more grown up interests, such as make up and dancing. Emily eventually finds Jessie, who is overjoyed when she smiles at her. The most heart-breaking moment of the song comes when we see Jessie happily sitting in Emily’s purse, smiling as Emily holds her and ecstatic that she is being loved again. We then see that Emily is only holding Jessie as she is taking her to be donated. Jessie watches in shock and sadness from the donation box as Emily drives away, leaving her alone.
This song is a fantastic insight into the fear of being abandoned that we all inherently have within us, but told through the perspective of a toy. It also explains Jessie’s fears, and gives her a well-developed and believable backstory all within the frame of a three minutes. It’s a strong character moment, and one of the saddest scenes in the whole franchise. If you can make an entire generation of children think twice before abandoning their toys, you know you’ve created something meaningful.
3. You Are A Toy! — (Toy Story)
The original Toy Story is full of great moments that have been remembered by cinema fans, and this particular scene is one of the best. When Woody and Buzz find themselves stranded at a gas station, the two begin to argue as to whose fault it is that they’re in this situation. Buzz lets loose a tirade as to how his rendezvous with star command has been delayed, and that Woody is stopping him on his important mission to save the galaxy. Woody merely stares at him for a moment before uttering one of the best lines of the whole series: “You…Are…A…Toy!”
Most of the humour in the first film comes from Buzz’s obliviousness to the fact that he is indeed a toy and not a real space ranger, so this outburst from Woody is a hilarious culmination of his building frustration. Again, it is a great interpretation of human behaviour through the guise of a toy. Tom Hank’s delivery is so perfect that it is impossible not to feel anything when he delivers it. Buzz’s retort to Woody makes the scene all the more iconic: “You are a sad, strange little man. And you have my pity.” In what has become one of the most quotable lines from all the Toy Story movies, this scene firmly places itself as one of the funniest and most memorable of the series.
2. So Long — (Toy Story 3)
Andy has finally grown up in Toy Story 3, and is leaving for college. After a long journey which involves his toys being given to a day-care, escaping, and facing death, they finally end up back with Andy, who donates them to a little girl named Bonnie. When he gives them to her, he gives each toy a moment to shine, and recounts the various personalities and back stories that he has given to them over the years. When he gets to Woody, he is surprised to see him, as he was planning to take him to college with him. Bonnie reaches for Woody, but Andy instinctively pulls him back. This is a nice touch, as it shows Andy clinging to the last lingering thread of his childhood, something that we have all been guilty of.
Andy then realises that Woody will be adored and played with by Bonnie, so he opts to hand him over, but not before he gives Bonnie a tear-jerking description, saying that Woody will always be there for you, no matter what. This is made all the more emotional by the fact that Andy does not know just how true this is. All Woody has ever done has been for Andy; he has loved him and cared for him from afar, and has acted as his protector his whole life. Andy has one last playtime with his toys and Bonnie, and as he goes to leave, he says goodbye for a final time to the toys, thanking them. In doing so, he is bidding farewell to his childhood, and moving on to a new chapter in his life.
The Toy Story films have a brilliant way of creating relatable moments through the toys’ relationship to Andy, and this one is particularly hard-hitting in that it is something that happens to everyone, no matter who you are or where you are from. There will always be a point where you have to leave your childhood memories in the past and move on. This moment is the most relatable that I personally have experienced in the franchise, and one that has gone down as one of the most fitting conclusions to a story arc in film. It is a moment that made grown men cry, and if you didn’t feel even the slightest tinge of emotion when Woody said, “so long, partner,” then you are an emotionless robot incapable of human feeling. That’s in my humble opinion, of course.
1. Falling With Style — Toy Story
It was difficult to choose which moment would be at the top of this list, so I decided to think on what moment could be considered a cinema classic that most people would know. What scene provides us with an image that could be considered a good representation of the series? Even though the other moments in this list have their own strengths, the climax of the first film has to be number one, as it brings together various elements to create a scene that is a cinematic triumph.
At the end of the film, Buzz and Woody chase Andy as he and his family are in the process of moving house. As they chase the van, the toys within soon realise that Buzz and Woody are attempting to reach them. When they are unable to catch up with the truck, they light the rocket that is still attached to Buzz’s back after their encounter with Sid. Buzz flies up into the sky as he holds onto Woody and just before the rocket explodes, Buzz extends his wings. The rocket detaches, and the two appear to fly through the air. Woody exclaims that Buzz is flying, but Buzz returns a statement that Woody said to him earlier in the film during Buzz’s attempt at taking to the air: “This isn’t flying. This is falling, with style.” As the two glide towards Andy’s car, Woody provides another of the most well-known lines from the series: “ To Infinity and Beyond.” They land in Andy’s car, and as Andy hugs them, excited that he has found them after assuming them lost, Buzz and Woody give each other a knowing wink before returning to toy mode.
Though this moment is simpler than some, it is a perfect representation of the series, as well as a great way to show the development of the characters. The visual of Buzz holding Woody as they fly through the air shows their new-found friendship. From bitter rivals at the start to best friends who have saved one another at the finish, the relationship is validated by this image. Their friendship becomes an essential part of the franchise, and it is highlighted most in this scene. The phrase “To Infinity and Beyond” is also hugely well-known across pop culture, and whilst it annoyed Woody to begin with, he now says it with sincerity, which also shows the extent of the character development. The ‘falling with style’ scene is a fantastic moment that emphasizes several important elements that run throughout the Toy Story series, such as friendship, loyalty, and going above and beyond to make a child happy. The first film was a technological marvel, being the very first computer-animated feature-length movie, but it was also a marvel of storytelling. This moment is one that is highly recognizable, and will be remembered by cinema fans for many years to come.
The Best TV Shows of 2019 (So Far…)
As the dawn of the Second Streaming Wars between Disney+, Netflix, and the hundreds of other streaming services, networks, and cable channels approaches, television finds itself in a strange place, an increasingly influential – and overcrowded – medium of art, one facing the end of an era with the conclusion of cultural touchstones like Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory.
It’s still been a wonderful time for television, though – a time for wildly creative auteurs, some memorable performances – and of course, the final season of HBO’s iconic tale of dragons & boobs. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites from the strange, weird half year it’s been – here’s Goomba Stomp’s Best TV of 2019 (So Far):
Barry‘s first season felt like a well-contained story; like many shows in the current era of television, it felt like less might be more for Bill Hader and Alex Berg’s black comedy about a lonely hitman trying to convince himself to live a clean life. Boy, did they prove me wrong: Barry‘s second season quietly transformed itself into one of the best, most devastating character studies on television, catapulting itself into the highest echelon of television with episodes like “rony/lilly” and “berkman > block” (both directed by Hader, who firmly establishes himself as one of the best directors working in the medium).
After an uneven premiere, it appeared Barry was going bigger in its second season: while it certainly has that feel in an external sense (at least, in the show’s wandering first few hours), Barry‘s second and third acts doubles down on its central theme of honesty, and just how it easy it is for people to lie to themselves. The fallout of this self-deception plays out in a number of powerful ways, from Barry’s attempts to extricate himself from Fuches and his bullshit, to Sally’s beautifully layered arc of trying to capture her truth as an artist (the show’s most marked improvement of the season). With it, Barry found a way to refine its mix of violent comedy, industry satire, and deep character study into something much sharper, and wildly more satisfying. (Randy Dankievitch)
Big Little Lies
Adapted from the book of the same name from Liane Moriarty by David E. Kelley and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Sharp Objects), the first season of Big Little Lies was a huge hit for HBO. It received 16 Emmy Award nominations and won eight, including Outstanding Limited Series and acting awards for Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgård, and Laura Dern. The trio also won Golden Globe Awards in addition to a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film win for the series. Kidman and Skarsgård also received Screen Actors Guild Awards for their performances. So, of course, there was going to be another season of a closed-ended story starring one of the most talented ensemble casts on television ever. And this time around, gifted filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road) has taken over direction from Vallée, with Meryl Streep joining the cast as Mary Louise Wright, the grieving mother in pursuit of the killer(s) of her beloved son. After the critically acclaimed first season, the biggest question going into this new installment was can it live up to the tension of the first season? The answer is yes!
This time around, the central question commanding the series isn’t who murdered who, but rather how the Monterey Five deal with the aftermath of Perry’s death. Season two raises the stakes for all five women at the center of the show and it doubles down on the dark humor while also giving its cast even more juicy drama to chew on. Needless to say, if you like season one, you’ll love season two but if there is one reason to watch, it is for the performance from Laura Dern who breathes dragon fire into Renata Klein — she’s by far the most fascinating character on television this year. (Ricky D)
For years Black Mirror has been turning our latest technological advances into our newest fears and anxieties. From social media to smartphones, Black Mirror has found surprisingly inventive ways to turn our modern conveniences into nightmare fodder.
The fifth season continues this trend with three new tales about online gaming, social media addiction and holographic performers. While it may not be the best season of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series, Black Mirror still packs a punch in its latest effort. The middle episode, “Smithereens” (focusing on the kidnapping of an intern for a social media conglomerate, and the international incident which follows) is particularly involving.
With Nine Inch Nails, Miley Cyrus, and other talented performers behind the fifth season of Black Mirror, the show still succeeds in being entertaining, even when it’s not at its best. (Mike Worby)
The end of Broad City feels like the end of a specific generation of late-millennial comedy, a quarter-life-crisis series grounded in one of the most nuanced, unabashedly honest portrayals of female friendship (and New York City, in all its disgusting, adventurous glory). And after a couple of seasons of resting on its comedic laurels, Broad City‘s final ten episodes are a surprisingly emotional ride, prying the two protagonists away from each other as they contemplate the next personal, and professional, steps in their lives.
Broad City‘s final season is basically a breakup story disguised as a Linklater-esque coming of age comedy: it’s equally nostalgic and hopeful, packed with callbacks to earlier seasons, but with the haunting realizations that things for Abby and Ilana are changing, and the adventures of their mid-20’s are far behind them. Neatly divided into two distinctly individual arcs, Broad City finds its genius in the earnest growth it offers both its leading ladies, culminating in the show’s impressive final four episodes, perhaps the most emotionally satisfying arc of the series.
Yes, there’s still drug-addled adventures, plenty of Jewish jokes, and failed romances for both Abbi and Ilana – this is still Broad City we’re talking about, after all. But there’s a different tenor to the show’s unwavering honesty, isolating Abbi and Ilana as they fumble to figure out who they are going to be, in a marked shift from the show’s previous, often lighthearted approach to life’s most pressing questions. Equally sentimental and unforgiving, Broad City‘s ruminations on friendship and identity makes for surprisingly powerful material, cementing the show’s legacy as one of this generation’s defining comedies. (Randy Dankievitch)
It’s been a quiet year for horror series during the first half of 2019 – until Chernobyl arrived in the spring, with the terrifying reminder that nobody is safe from the unseen terror of radiation, the toxic, silent killer at the heart of HBO’s harrowing, moving (and most terrifyingly, historical) account of the Soviet nuclear disaster. Centered around the doctors, scientists, and politicians ensnared by the government to “fix” the un-fixable, Chernobyl is a moving account of the mistakes, guesses, and half-truths that, over time, transformed bad calculus into an international disaster with an immeasurable human cost.
Perhaps the most cogent terror of Chernobyl is not the big explosions and uncertainty of early episodes: it is the creeping realization of how close we are to this happening a (third) time, and how unprepared the bureaucracies of the civilized world are prepared to handle it. Chernobyl is a powerful reflection on human persistence, and what a dangerous double-edged sword it is for the world, and particularly its most powerful men, to wield.
Led by a trio of powerful performances from Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, and Emily Watson, Chernobyl is an intoxicating mix of terrifying images and anxiety-inducing foreshadowing, a damning account of the lives lost at the expense of playing politics (or in the case of a young military recruit, a damning loss of innocence). Even without the horrifying images of seeing what happened to the unsuspecting first responders to the disaster (and the creeping realization of its main players of their own fates), Chernobyl‘s depiction of a government’s ineptitude to deal with the fallout of its own ambition makes it the most frightening show of 2019. (Randy Dankievitch)
HBO’s button-pushing new drama Euphoria zeroes in on the lives of several high school students living in California and how they navigate a world filled with violence, profanity, drug use, overt bullying, and sexual abuse. The show has been billed as a parent’s nightmare, no thanks to the explicit sex scenes, nonconsensual-sex tapes and child pornography but beneath the show’s explicit exterior is a compassionate examination of adolescent longing. Told from the perspective of a 17-year-old drug addict named Rue, who is desperately trying to self-medicate her severe depression with whatever drugs she can get her hands on, Euphoria is both an exploitive and a surprisingly tender look at the overwhelming anxieties faced by teens today including neglect, anxiety, and loneliness. Some scenes contain powerful messaging while others seem designed simply to shock, but more often than not, Euphoria will have viewers thinking long and hard about the current modern challenges facing youth today.
Euphoria channels the spirit of movies like Kids and Gummo, and like those films, it’s best to view the series as a mood piece rather than a guide to Gen Z behaviors. If the series can slow down and stop trying so hard to shock adult viewers, it could become a worthy addition to the HBO pantheon. There’s a lot of potential here, but like the characters it follows, Euphoria is sometimes lost and trying to find its voice. That said, despite its shortcomings, it is still one of the better shows of 2019. (Ricky D)
Nearly three years after its genius debut, Fleabag finally returned for a second go-round in April – and somehow lived up to its gigantic expectations, delivering a second series even more darkly poignant and emotionally devastating than the first. Through the conduit of the meme-ified Hot Priest, Fleabag‘s second offering picks up the first season’s observations about human connection and gives it a properly epic feel, turning the audience into Fleabag’s only friend, and God of her world.
It’s stunning how effortless it all feels: from Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ little glances towards the camera to the layers of nuance in each of the season’s scripts, Fleabag is a work of art all to itself, lacking in the prestige pretention so many other notable series of the era get tied up in. It is undoubtedly one of this decade’s most important, reflective series on the human condition – but it never ever feels that weight, especially as it tells its tragic, comical love story of Fleabag and the aforementioned Hot Priest (who at one point, looks right through Fleabag and towards the audience, as shocking a moment as anything on television in 2019).
There are few shows as rewarding or as rewatchable as Fleabag, in all its twitchy, horny, awkward glory. It is a story of loss and discovery, of failure and retribution – and most importantly, of life’s continuous disappointments and occasional joys. Fleabag reminds us just how hard it is to latch onto the latter; but in the few moments we can, the peace and clarity we’re offered can energize an entire lifetime of beautiful misery. (Randy Dankievitch)
Game of Thrones
Like Black Mirror, Game of Thrones’ latest (and final) season has been incredibly divisive. With many fans lamenting the pacing issues and plot revelations behind the endgame of George R.R. Martin’s dark fantasy series, Game of Thrones may not have another Emmy in the bag, but it does leave a lasting legacy nonetheless.
The settling of some of the show’s most long-simmering and important plotlines may not have pleased all viewers, but the fact that Game of Thrones managed to tell the entire story of a seven book fantasy saga on television at all is wildly impressive.
Even with the polarizing reactions to season 8, Game of Thrones still offered the bombastic story-telling, intricate characterization, top-notch production values, and fantastic performances for which it has come to be known. These factors alone make it stand out among the best television of 2019, even if it couldn’t live up to the sky-high expectations of some of its fans. (Mike Worby)
I Think You Should Leave
As Netflix continues to diversify its eclectic brand of offerings, the streaming service is catering to more markets than ever. One of its latest successes is the no-holds-barred sketch comedy I Think You Should Leave.
Created by and starring SNL alum Tim Robinson, I Think You Should Leave goes all in on each of its increasingly outlandish scenarios, including a cringe-inducing job interview, a man trying to get revenge on a baby, an awkward Instagram lunch date, and bikers from outer space. Yes, I Think You Should Leave is as silly and out there as it sounds, but with guest stars like Will Forte, Michelle Ortiz, Steven Yeun, and a host of others to sell the insanity, the comedy rarely falters.
With the first season coming in at only 90 minutes, and a second season already on the way, there’s no excuse not to give this brilliant Netflix sketch series a chance. (Mike Worby)
Love, Death + Robots
In case Black Mirror wasn’t enough to satisfy your appetite for a sci-fi anthology series, Love, Death + Robots offers 18 bite-sized slices of mind-bending, futuristic goodness on Netflix as well.
Originally conceived as a new version of Heavy Metal, Love, Death + Robots eventually evolved into its own creation altogether. Focusing partly on adapting classic science fiction tales and partly on creating new stories, the series travels all across the space-time continuum, weaving tales of future farmers battling interdimensional insects and cryogenic sleeping astronauts awakening to their worst nightmares.
With tones and themes as eclectic as its settings and stories, there’s something for everyone to love in this gorgeously animated, lovingly rendered anthology series. (Mike Worby)
Entering its sixths season with 110 episodes under its belt, one might surmise Mom‘s latest offering is a rather safe endeavor, settling into the established rhythms of the series with the lower stakes that often come from a group of characters well-settled into their lives. As it always does, though, Mom continues to buck tradition and expectation with perhaps its best season yet, refusing to ever let its main characters – and their larger group of friends and fellow AA attendees – get comfortable, even for a second.
Mom‘s sixth season is as impressive as its first, because of its ability to continue challenging its characters, masterfully walking the thin line between nuanced character study and broad network comedy. Never pandering or exploitative, Mom never forgets it is a show about a group of addicts: but it also recognizes itself as a show about white women of some level of privilege, constantly challenging and humbling Christy, Bonnie, and the gang (which now includes the legendary William Fitchner) as they try to navigate their complicated lives (and remain sober doing it).
Though I do wish the arcs of Tammy and Nora through the season a bit more defined, Mom remains the most rewarding show to watch about a community of women (sorry, Big Little Lies). For a sitcom on CBS, Mom remains surprisingly limber in its advanced age, able to be funny, poignant, and emotionally devastating in the same breath: few shows on television are able to balance so many emotional tenors, even fewer with the same poignancy and effortlessness Mom pulls off every week. (Randy Dankievitch)
Once considered the angriest, most unconventional, and relentlessly intriguing voices in independent cinema, Gregg Araki first made his name as a filmmaker in the 90s, emerging as part of the new queer cinema movement when his third feature, The Living End— a controversial road movie about two HIV-positive runaways who go on a violent cross-country spree. From there, Araki went on to make several more features including Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere (which would become known as the Teen-Age Apocalypse Trilogy) and his most famous film, Mysterious Skin: the coming of age drama about a small-town rent boy played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
If you’ve seen any of the Gregg Araki’s films, you should know what to expect from Now Apocalypse, his surreal, coming-of-age comedy series that … wait for it … explores identity, sexuality, and artistry while navigating the strange, dangerous and oftentimes bewildering city of Los Angeles while the main protagonist Ulysses, is having premonitions about the end of the world. Sound familiar?
Co-written by Araki with sex columnist Karley Sciortino, the new half-hour sci-fi comedy from Starz is bound to confuse viewers who have little-to-no previous exposure to Araki’s body of work – which is fine by me because despite its utterly ridiculous plot, Now Apocalypse features everything you’d want from a Gregg Araki series. Now Apocalypse is unapologetically queer, quirky, mysterious and fun. And while it is admittedly a huge mess, it is also never once boring and quite frankly, refreshingly different from everything else on TV. (Ricky D)
Russian Doll may very well be the very best TV series Netflix has produced to date. Co-created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, the series stars Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov, a New York woman celebrating her 36th birthday, who is doomed to repeat the same endless time loop before she dies at the end of the night each time — only to awaken the next day having to start all over. Every time she thinks she might make it past the reset point, she dies again and again. The stakes are eventually raised when Nadia meets Alan (Charlie Barnett), a fellow wanderer who is also stuck in his own depressive loop. What starts out feeling like a zany homage to Groundhog Day unravels to becomes something darker, deeper and far more complex. With so much bubbling under the surface, one could say, it’s a show carefully constructed like, well, a Russian doll.
One of the most straightforward threads of Russian Doll considers addiction which makes sense considering Lyonne has spoken about how parts of the story were inspired by her own history with drugs. A more popular reading is that the curse placed on Nadia and Alan could stand in as a metaphor for mental illness as they struggle to find a way to end the loop, only starting to realize that they need to first seek the emotional closure in order to overcome their own personal struggles before moving on. Meanwhile, Russian Doll has also drawn comparisons to video games such as The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask in which Nadia, who just so happens to be a video game designer, must race against the clock in order to avoid death, and avoid starting all over again. Along with themes of trauma and existential questions about the construction of the universe and the importance of human connection, one’s interpretation of what the show is all about may vary from person to person. Somehow, though, Russian Doll manages to address all of these subjects and more, weaving countless themes and cultural references into a tight three-and-a-half-hour running time in which not a second is wasted. (Ricky D)
The OA: Part II
There’s nothing on television like The OA, a show about trauma, companionship, love… and traveling through parallel universes by doing an interpretive dance. Nearly two and a half years after its strange, hauntingly beautiful debut, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s ridiculous, heartfelt series returned a completely different animal, trading in its poignant, quiet reflections of season one into a loud, vibrant kaleidoscope of utterly ridiculous stories.
There are deadly online mobile games, a telepathic (and horny) octopus, and mini-robots who dance the movements: these are but a few of the ridiculous twists and turns offered in The OA: Part II, which is somehow a more ostentatiously opaque, thoroughly challenging offering than its predecessor. Unlike anything else on television, The OA: Part II demands audiences to trust it, to believe in the utter bullshit it portrays as plot development on screen – a challenge it most certainly meets, with a welcome earnestness and disregard for formula, or at times, even basic coherency.
It is an utterly confounding, beautiful work of art: The OA: Part II is an unforgiving and bold, one of the rare television series that is truly “like nothing else on television.” In 2019, that is a harder and harder thing to claim, but there is nothing like The OA‘s exploration of identity, destiny, and even reality. It is something you must truly see to believe – especially its ending, one of the most purely bat shit crazy plot twists I’ve seen in the Peak TV era. (Randy Dankievitch)
Perhaps the last great remaining workplace comedy on network television, Superstore‘s fourth season slowly shifts itself away from the melodramatics of its predecessor… and in the process, establishes itself as one of the more heartfelt and progressive shows on TV. More importantly, it does so without pretension, even though just about every major narrative arc of the season hinges on relevant social movements (like immigration, unionization, corporate capitalism), Superstore never lets these moments overwhelm its eclectic, lovable cast of characters, one of the most hilarious (and diverse) on television.
There are too many satisfying arcs to list here (though Amy’s ascension to store manager is a personal favorite) – but it’s the final four episodes of the season, culminating in “Employee Appreciation Day,” that firmly cement Superstore‘s legacy as one of the decade’s great ensemble comedies (and in a roundabout way, everything Aaron Sorkin wishes The Newsroom could’ve been). It’s striking to see a show (a network comedy, no less) take such strong stances on unions, immigration, and corporate discrimination – to do so while also remaining a deeply rewarding comedy about a cast of blue-collar misfits is something truly special. (Randy Dankievitch)
After a rocky second season and a four-year hiatus, True Detective has returned at last with what may be its finest noir tale yet.
Focusing on the disappearance of two young siblings, and spanning the course of four decades, True Detective‘s third season enlists the talents of Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as troubled detectives trying to solve a mysterious case over the course of three different time periods. Moody, atmospheric and haunting, True Detective goes utterly for broke in its latest effort, and is all the better for it.
With tons of twists and turns along the way, a jaw-dropping cast, and a fantastic soundtrack, Nic Pizzolato’s third run at the classic film-noir detective story has reinvigorated the love for this series, and offers plenty of hope for an equally excellent fourth season. (Mike Worby)
The Umbrella Academy
This 10-episode Netflix series, which is adapted from the comic book created and written by My Chemical Romance’s frontman, Gerard Way, might have its share of flaws and excesses, but it, for the most part, feels fresh in what is an oversaturated genre. The basic premise revolves around seven kids with superpowers born to different mothers on the same day and brought together as young children by a wealthy inventor and philanthropist Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) who adopts all seven of these miracle babies, and creates an academy in order to teach them how to hone their powers.
Best described as a particularly bleak X-Men story with the musical and visual flourishes of Watchmen, The Umbrella Academy is as stylish as they come – featuring gorgeous costume design, stunning cinematography, dazzling visual effects, colorful sets, and thrilling action scenes. The production design is simply incredible as is the soundtrack which plays a prominent role in bringing several key sequences to life. Take for instance a split-screen shoot-out in a department store as Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” provides the high-tempo backdrop as the action unfolds – or a scene in which the team listens to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” as the camera glides through the mansion capturing each sibling dancing in separate rooms. And underneath all the razzle and dazzle is a brutal portrait of a damaged, unhappy, dysfunctional family that has drifted apart for various reasons and must now band together in order to help each other while also saving the world. The combination of family drama and superheroics is nothing new but The Umbrella Academy shows enough moments of genius, albeit brief, to warrant a spot on this list. (Ricky D)
When They See Us
Ava DuVernay pulls no punches in When They See Us, a dramatized account of how thirty years ago, five young boys came to be arrested, convicted and sentenced for raping and beating a white female jogger in Central Park, and leaving her left for dead. It is one of the most famous cases of young boys wrongfully accused of a crime they did not commit. The case made headlines around the world and the five teenagers, all of color, would ultimately become known as the Central Park Five. The story of the Central Park Five has been covered extensively by media since, including in the incredible 2012 documentary The Central Park Five, co-directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon. But this scripted miniseries is different and it feels more personal due to DuVernay’s approach in closely examining the five individuals whose lives were turned upside down before they’d even had the chance to finish high school. And in many ways, When They See Us is the perfect companion piece to that famous documentary. Instead of reinvestigating this case, or delving into the circumstances that led up to it, When They See Us focuses more on the suffering the boys endured both when they were forced to do time and when they were released from prison.
The first episode shows how the police department, detectives and lawyers tricked these young boys into confessing to a crime they were not guilty of. The second episode captures the trial and the media hype surrounding the case while the penultimate episode (which brings in four older actors to play the characters as adults), tracks the experiences of Kevin, Antron, Yusef, and Raymond, the four men who emerge from their juvenile sentences and are faced with various obstacles when restarting their lives as registered sex offenders. The final episode which is the most heartbreaking runs nearly 90 minutes long, and focuses on the particular suffering of 16-year-old Korey, the only one of the five sentenced as an adult and winds up spending his time behind bars in various adult prisons. When They See Us is not an easy show to watch but it is essential viewing if you care at all about how unjust the justice system is. It’s a powerful, dense, series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement. It is profoundly rich, urgent, unflinching, and DuVernay’s strongest work to date. It might also just be the best series of 2019. (Ricky D)
You’re the Worst
When the Sunday Funday crew take their final bow, You’re the Worst’s audience will say farewell to an honest portrayal about the pursuit of happiness, and why the “good” emotions of life can often be the most unsatisfying.
The entire final season of You’re the Worst tackles this idea head on, particularly in the professional lives of its main characters. As Jimmy and Gretchen hurtled towards a wedding neither of them actually wanted, You’re the Worst cemented its legacy as one of the romantic comedies of this generation, nimbly moving between stories of professional anxieties and personal battles as it built towards “Pancakes,” the beautiful, bittersweet farewell to Gretchen, Jimmy, Edgar, and Lindsay’s story. Though not quite as potent as it was in its earliest, most revelatory seasons, the continued misadventures of Jimmy’s writing career and Gretchen’s mental health struggles proved to be fertile emotional ground for the show’s final batch of episodes. Of the many shows to end in 2019, this will be the one I miss the most. (Randy Dankievitch)
Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip.
Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com
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