Greetings, ‘1408’ is a 2007 film directed by Mikael Håfstrsöm and based on the works of prolific horror author Stephen King. While King has many world renowned projects to his name, the same cannot be said for its Swedish director who has few titles that would be known to an audience outside of his native Sweden. Some of the more internationally appealing movies in his filmography include ‘Derailed’ starring Jennifer Anniston and ‘The Rite’ in which Anthony Hopkins was involved but these appear to have fared poorly with audiences. ‘1408’ features notable actors and actresses including John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack and Tony Shalhoub among its cast. The music was composed by Gabriel Yared who had also contributed to well-known films such as ‘The English Patient’, ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ and ‘Amelia’.
The plot follows Mike Enslin, a cynical and jaded author, as he travels across America in search of haunted locations with the intention of debunking their supernatural reputations. After spending the night in one such inn, Mike leaves without experiencing any strange phenomenon and becomes increasingly self-assured that the claims are only made by the owners to draw in visitors. Shortly after his underwhelming stay, he is in California on a book tour to promote his new book. The novel details supposed hauntings but Mike appears to be motivated more by financial need rather than being inspired to write it by his own genuine passion. The trip isn’t all business as he decides to surf the Californian waves but he nearly drowns after encountering a large tidal wave and has to be saved by onlookers. Not being put off by a near death experience, Mike is back to work not long after he is discharged from hospital and his interest is piqued after he receives an anonymous postcard. The postcard is of ‘The Dolphin Hotel’ in New York City and the mysterious note advises him to simply not enter room 1408.
Mike does not heed the warning and has taken it as a challenge instead. As such, he flies out to New York and after trying to book in with reception Mike meets with the hotel manager, Gerald Olin, when it is clear he intends to stay in the cursed room. Gerald tries numerous times to dissuade Mike by informing him of the room’s grotesque history of mutilations, murders and suicides as well as promising him a place in the pent suite instead as well as an $800 bottle of cognac should he abandon his foolish endeavour. Mike, believing it is all a bogus scare tactic to drum up a tense atmosphere, eventually gets his way through threat of legal action and enters the sinister room. Upon entering the room, it appears to be a very mundane location and there are a few incidents early on that he brushes off as being orchestrated by Gerald including a radio that refuses to stay turned off. It isn’t long before Mike begins to experience things that defy explanation and his theory of it all being his overactive imagination spurred on by Gerald’s storytelling is put to the test.
Comparisons to ‘The Shining’ are undoubtedly going to be made considering they share the same subject matter and are written by the same author. Unsurprisingly, the film is certainly not on the same level as Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation in my opinion although it does have its own charms. I really liked the set up in ‘1408’, especially around Mike’s background in debunking the paranormal, and there is an impressive tension when Mike finally enters the evil room thanks to Gerald’s gruesome warnings. Once he is inside the room however, it loses its sinister edge somewhat as the audience is no longer relying on their imagination to visualize the horrors that unfolded in it but are watching CGI ghosts torment the protagonist. Despite all of this, I still enjoyed the movie and would definitely like to check out the story that it is based on.
Quote of the Day
Whoa, whoa. You better watch what you say about my car. She's really sensitive.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Greetings, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ is a short story from 1820 by essayist, historian and author Washington Irving and is regarded as being one of the first examples of fiction created in the United States. Lauded as one of America’s greatest writers, Irving wrote ‘Sleepy Hollow’ as merely one entry in a collection of stories and essays entitled ‘The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.’ Among this set of works is ‘Rip Van Winkle’, another famous tale in which a Dutch-American villager falls into a deep slumber for 20 years and wakes up to discover that he slept through the American Revolutionary War. While I did read all stories in the book, ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is by far the most memorable addition in my opinion and the others are very much products of their time with subject matters that would be considered quaint by a modern audience.
The plot takes place in 1790 in the aforementioned Sleepy Hollow. It is a Dutch settlement in the vicinity of Tarrytown, New York. The protagonist is one Ichabod Crane who is a schoolmaster from Connecticut and is noted as being superstitious in mind and spindly in physicality. While staying in the supposedly mystical area as required by his work as a teacher, Ichabod is enthralled by the local’s tales of supernatural occurrences in the small settlement which includes a reputedly haunted tree that was used in the execution of a British spy. No figure captures Crane’s imagination quite like that of the Headless Horseman or, as he is sometimes alliteratively described by the populace, the ‘Galloping Hessian of the Hollow’. The folktale goes that the Horseman was a Hessian, a German soldier, who fought alongside the British forces as they attempted to crush the insurrection that was raging in the 13 colonies. During a nameless battle, the Hessian mercenary is killed by cannon fire as a cannonball separates his head from his body.
The story goes that the restless spirit can be heard riding down the forests at night as he looks for his missing head and it is warned that should anybody be so unfortunate as to cross the Horseman’s path then they shall soon loose theirs too. Ichabod is much unnerved by talk of the spectral horseman but continues to reside in the Hollow regardless, being enamoured by the local women who are drawn to his academic intelligence and gentle nature. Crane’s popularity with the fairer sex becomes an issue when a young woman, named Katrina Tassel, catches his eye. Katrina is the daughter of the richest man in the Hollow and Ichabod begins to daydream of living a life of luxury should he inherit the property and farmlands. This doesn’t go down well with one of the residents, a man nicknamed ‘Brom Bones’ as he as the same intention of asking for Katrina’s hand. As such, Brom starts to conspire against the interfering interloper Ichabod.
I’ve always had an interest in the monsters of old fiction and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ had been on my reading list for quite some time. I was intrigued by the time period in which it is set and the notion of a vengeful headless horseman certainly caught my attention when I was first introduced to a version of the character in Tim Burton’s 1999 film adaptation. The very simple plot has been paid homage to numerous times throughout the decades such as the child friendly version produced by Disney back in the 40s or the gothic and wildly unfaith adaptation made by Burton. If you are wanting to dig into the annals of history, this short work is worth a read and while there isn’t a lot the happens in the story I can see why it has endured long after the world it was created in has vanished into memory.
Quote of the Day
Two years ago, a man came into my office. He said his name was Mayhew. He wanted one of my clients to lie for him under oath. He offered me money, I refused. That night, as I was leaving my office, I was attacked. A bag was shoved over my head, I was hog-tied, I was driven out of the desert. And when they pulled the hood off, I was kneeling in front of an open grave with a gun pointed at my head! That was my introduction to Walter White! I was terrified! But not for long. That night I saw an opportunity—a shot at big money—and I grabbed it, and I held it tight. And for the next sixteen months... my every waking moment was spent building Walter White's drug empire.
Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman
Better Call Saul
Greetings, ‘Inside Job’ is a Netflix original comedy series that was created by Shion Takeuchi who has worked on several well-known animations such as ‘Regular Show’, ‘Gravity Falls’ and ‘Disenchantment’. Aimed at an adult audience, the series was released in two parts with the first batch being available to stream in October 2021 and the latter half a year later in November 2022. The cast is comprised of some icons in the voice acting industry and includes Lizzy Caplan as the lead Reagan Ridley, Adam Scott, Christian Slater, Clark Duke, Tisha Campbell, John Di Maggio, Bobby Lee and Brett Gelman in the major character roles. The music was composed by Robert Bolton, Matthew Bronson and Mischa Chillak who don’t appear to have much in the way of a discography at present.
The plot is set in a world where powerful secret societies exist, cryptids roam the land and even the most bizarre conspiracy theories ring true. The story begins when Reagan, a highly gifted Japanese-American robotics engineer, arrives at the gates of the White House where her drunk father, named Rand, is harassing tourists and ranting about the shadowy elite who really run the country. She convinces the inebriated Rand to leave the White House by dragging him into her car and drives him to her place of work, Incognito Inc, which is the very clandestine organisation that Rand was railing against. Once inside, Reagan attends a team meeting were she informs her strange and colourful colleagues about her plans to ensure the newly elected American President is under Incognito’s control. She has built a robotic replica of the Commander in Chief that she has dubbed ROBOTUS and schemes to swap out the real President with the machine.
Her plan seems to be going well until her boss J.R. advises that she will only be co-leading the mission as he has brought in a charismatic new recruit, Brett Hand, to make up for Reagan’s appalling lack of social skills. Reagan is not well pleased with this decision and becomes even more insecure when she learns that Brett landed the role without any prior experience and effortlessly charms her colleagues into liking him. She attempts to usher him out of the company but her efforts backfire and the out of his depth Brett is put in charge as the sole lead of the mission. Things go further wrong for Reagan once the AI replaces the President and becomes self-aware. Once in full command of the Oval Office, ROBOTUS decides to wipe out humanity when he realises how awful the human race can be. With the world in immediate danger, the only way for the situation to be resolved is if Reagan and Brett put aside their issues and work together to beat the masquerading machine.
I really enjoyed this show and its unique premise of an office based sitcom set in the backdrop of a conspiratorial reality meant there were endless possibilities for stories to be told. The humour was a highlight of ‘Inside Job’ for me which remained consistently good throughout and the more dramatic moments were executed well by a talented ensemble cast who really breathed life into their characters. The dysfunctional protagonist of Regan has a very distinct personality and she was an enjoyable character in particular to watch as she tried to navigate through the chaotic workplace and her less than stellar life. Unfortunately, Netflix followed its usual business strategy and cancelled the show after only 18 episodes even though it was receiving positive reactions from critics and developing a strong following. As I liked this show so much, I will likely be checking out more of Shion’s work in the future.
Quote of the Day
Villainy wears many masks, none so dangerous as the mask of virtue.
Greetings, ‘The Whale’ is a 2022 film which was directed by Darren Aronofsky and is based on Samuel D. Hunter’s play, that came out ten years prior to the adaptation’s release, from which the movie derives its title. Aronofsky was behind other projects in a directorial role such as ‘Requiem for a Dream’ and ‘The Wrestler’. The film stars Brendan Fraser, who is most known for being the action lead of Rick O’Connell in ‘The Mummy’ trilogy, amidst a welcomed resurgence of his cinematic career after a significant lull in his filmography in the 2010s. The actors and actresses working alongside Fraser include ‘Stranger Things’ cast member Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton. The music was composed by Rob Simonsen who was involved in scoring the soundtracks of ‘Moneyball’, ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘The Age of Adeline’.
The plot begins with Charlie who is an English teacher who tutors his students via online lessons. He does so without revealing his appearance as he is a morbidly obese man weighing in at just under 600 pounds and is ashamed of himself for letting his size problem get out of hand. During a session of over excitable self-pleasuring to homosexual pornography, the overweight Charlie suffers severe heart pains and believe his end is at hand. Fortunately for Charlie, there is a stranger at the door who enters the apartment once he is aware that the door is unlocked. The stranger is a missionary who had come to preach the Good Word and is named Thomas. He is shocked to discover Charlie in his state of distress. A frantic Charlie shoves a document in Thomas’ hands and pleads with him to read it aloud. The concerned Thomas is confused by the request and offers to call for an ambulance instead but is eventually persuaded to read the document, an essay on ‘Moby Dick’, after Charlie denies any other help.
The attack subsides and Charlie calms down after he found solace in the essay. Liz, Charlie’s friend and a trained nurse, comes to the apartment shortly after the incident to check him over for any apparent medical issues that could arise. During her visit, Liz treats Thomas with hostility due to his relation to his ministry, with which she has a complicated past, and he is forced out of the apartment despite having comforted Charlie in his moment of need. When they are alone, a tearful Liz berates Charlie for becoming chronically overweight and stresses that he needs to attend a hospital or face the very real possibility that he would soon pass on. Charlie vetoes the idea with complete disregard for his safety and says that he could not afford to pay the astronomical fees for his healthcare. The near death experience inspires Charlie to reach out to his estranged daughter called Ellie and encourages him to try to reconnect with her while he still has time.
While this movie couldn’t be described as an enjoyable film due to its bleak and depressive atmosphere, it did manage to keep a hold of my attention the whole way through despite the rather simplistic plot. It was pleasant to see Fraser return to the silver screen and the fat suit he wears looks natural enough to not break the immersive experience. The small cast of performers do an excellent job here, especially Brendan as the likeable but ultimately broken Charlie, although most of the characters could be quite difficult to warm to due to their abrasive personalities. This was especially true of Ellie who comes across as an irredeemable and sadistic being who merely uses others to get what she wants. I’ll most likely look into other projects Aronofsky was involved in due to my positive experience with ‘The Whale’ and will keep an eye on his future films.
Quote of the Day
I only gamble with my life, never my money.
Better Call Saul
Greetings and welcome to the first blog update of 2023! ’Better Call Saul’ is a spinoff of the pop culture hit, ‘Breaking Bad’, and serves as both a prequel and sequel to the iconic show. The series ran from 2015 to 2022 and consist of 63 episodes spread over 6 seasons. It is centred on the exploits of Jimmy McGill, a crooked lawyer, as he embraces his mischievous side to become the sleazy scam artist Saul Goodman. Many actors from ‘Breaking Bad’ reprise their roles for this show including the main star Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut as well as a few other key figures as the programme progresses into its later seasons. There are also plenty of new cast members who give excellent performances such as Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Michael Mando as Ignacio Varga, Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin and Michael McKean as Chuck McGill. The music was composed by Dave Porter who is mostly known for his contributions to the ‘Breaking Bad’ universe.
The plot begins after the high stakes finale of ‘Breaking Bad’ as Saul Goodman, now going by the alias ‘Gene Takavic’ as was assigned to him by relocation expert Ed Galbraith, is trying to live under the radar and escape from the fallout of the chaotic mess created by drug lord Walter White. ‘Gene’ works as a manager in a Cinnebun store in Nebraska, far from the state of Albuquerque where Saul committed his unlawful deeds and aided the Heisenberg criminal empire. Despite fleeing from his past, it is clear in the quieter moments in the mall store when he has time to reflect that Saul misses the exciting old life he had lead which was fraught with danger and thrills. One night ‘Gene’ goes to his empty home after a long day, indulges in alcohol as he puts on a VHS tape of his old ‘Better Call Saul’ advertisements and tearfully recollects how his life had gotten to this low point.
The main story starts in May of 2002, 6 years before he encounters Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, when ‘Saul’ was a struggling lawyer simply known as Jimmy McGill. His squalid office is a boiler room located at the back of a Vietnamese nail salon and his work seems to bring in a feeble income with his latest job only racking in $700 after defending 3 teenagers. On top of having difficulties in his work, Jimmy is also responsible for looking after his older brother known as Charles. Hi brother, also going by the nickname ‘Chuck’, is a hermit that is housebound due to a perceived illness known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity. The mental issue means that Chuck cannot be near electricity and lives entirely without items that use it as a power source. With such an unenviable life, Jimmy begins to be tempted by ‘get rich quick’ schemes when he meets two scam artists who sloppily attempt to con him.
Despites its slow first season or two, I certainly came to love this spin off and think of it as a worthy addition to the franchise as it grew into its own the longer it went on. I always liked the smarmy Saul Goodman and considered him to be one of the best characters to inhabit the underworld of Albuquerque. As such, I was curious to see what Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould would do to flesh out this character and they certainly didn’t disappoint in their efforts. They made Saul a complex individual and introduced other equally compelling characters such as Kim Wexler, Saul’s love interest and a fellow lawyer who becomes increasingly corrupted due to Saul’s presence in her life. I always find it interesting that this show was spawned by a throwaway line in ‘Breaking Bad’ when Saul, kidnapped by a masked White and Pinkman, is knelt in front of a freshly dug grave and starts to plead for his life once he believes he has been kidnapped by Lalo’s men, a villainous figure who only appeared in the spin off. This one is a must watch in my opinion.
Quote of the Day
This is the Way.
Happy New Year: 2022 Review!
Greetings and welcome to the last blog update of the year! 2022 will undoubtedly be remembered as a historic year for the turbulent events that transpired within these past twelve months. From the outbreak of conflict in Europe on a scale not seen since the harrowing days of the Second World War to the public assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it is safe to suggest that the year won’t be fading from our minds too soon. In Britain alone, Number 10 saw three Prime Ministers enter its famous door in quick succession of each other as one premiership flamed out after the other. Of course, the most striking and profound change was the end of the modern Elizabethan Age with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the ascension of her son Charles to the throne which commenced the Carolean era.
While all these important events were unfolding, I busied myself by delving into many great television shows, films, games and books to keep myself entertained. There was a lot of excellent content that I indulged in throughout the year and I have listed some of the best I experienced and reviewed during this time below.
Television Show of the Year: The Prisoner
It was certainly tough to choose my television show of the year after watching a lot of gripping series but I believe ‘The Prisoner’, the cult hit from the sixties, stands out the most to me. I was intrigued by the unusual premise of this show and its colourful strangeness years before I had even seen a clip of it. Like a lot of my first impressions of cultural works, I was introduced to the series when it was spoofed in a classic ‘Simpsons’ episode. The plot revolves around an unidentified British spy who wakes up in a mysterious society known as the Village after being gassed and knocked unconscious in his home. Relegated to the moniker of Number 6, the protagonist tries to escape the Village after it becomes clear the authorities there want to extract highly sensitive information from him that he must protect at all costs.
Book of the Year: Doctor Sleep
It is always difficult for authors to build on top of a much beloved work and carrying on from a novel as highly acclaimed as ‘The Shining’ must have been a daunting task for King but he did it admirably. Many decades after the first book was published, ‘Doctor Sleep’ follows a now adult Danny Torrance, who works in a hospital, as he is haunted by the same spectre of alcoholism that his father Jack fought against and lost to. With the help of copious amounts of alcohol, Danny is able to supress his unique talent of the ‘Shining‘ which so troubled him and his mother, Wendy, at the Overlook Hotel in his childhood. He may have learned to overpower the ghosts but there is a new evil named the True Knot that Danny must face and save the gifted young Abra Stone from.
Game of the Year: Tomb Raider: Legend
‘Tomb Raider: Legend’ is a game from 2006 which saw Lara Croft return to her well renowned gaming series ten years after her first outing in the original PlayStation days. It is the first entry in the ‘Legend’ trilogy which also consists of ‘Anniversary’, a remastering of the trailblazing 1996 title, and 2008’s ‘Underworld’. I certainly enjoyed this game which has a good mix of action and puzzles to solve, as one would rightfully expect from a Lara Croft game, but it doesn’t have much of a complex plot or well fleshed out supporting characters. This is particularly the case for its one dimensional villains who I found to be unfortunately quite forgettable. On the other hand, Keeley Hawes’ performance as Lara Croft is of note as she brings a lot of fun to the role and captures the essence of the character nicely.
Film of the Year: The Founder
This biographical film from 2016 is a must watch in my opinion as it follows businessman Ray Kroc as he transforms McDonalds from a small restaurant in San Bernadino into a corporate juggernaut that conquered the world through the revolutionary idea of fast food. The film has a great cast that is comprised of Michael Keaton, who displays a level of smarm and sleaze that is reminiscent of his earlier Beetlejuice role, as well as Nick Offerman and John Caroll Lynch among its main talent. It is a fascinating if ultimately bleak movie to watch as the audience is all too aware that the hardworking and innovative McDonalds brothers are going to be slowly pushed out of their rightful success by the crafty and ambitious Kroc. ‘The Founder’ greatly succeeds in making the audience sympathetic towards the struggling Ray Kroc at the beginning and turning him into a loathsome character by the end of the movie.
Did you have any favourite media yourself that you watched, read or played these last several months? If so, feel free to leave your highlights or recommendations in the comments. While I’d like to give an optimistic appraisal of the coming year and be more uplifting, I believe we are in for a troublesome period ahead to put it mildly which even the most apolitical of laymen should be able to see at this point. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that 2023 will be a good year on a personal level regardless of what is going on in the world at large and I’ll be back to blogging in January with my usual reviews. Have a Happy New Year and all the best for 2023!
Quote of the Day
My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don't know.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes