Why Halloween (1978) is the perfect horror film

Here’s a picture of me at Comic Con dressed as Michael Myers with an impressive Vader costume and an Imperial Officer

A modern-day ghost story 0n-stage: 2:22 A Ghost Story – A Review

Are ghosts real? This is the question on which playwright Danny Robins’s 2:22 Ghost Story hinges. In the spirit (no pun intended) of the holiday season, I went to see the play at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End. The play incited many scary and humorous moments, and questions about the existence of the paranormal. The latter is what the 2:22‘s appeal hinges on; in a modern day world surrounded by technology and reliance on scientific explanation, why do we still cling on to beliefs about the paranormal? Are we simply fascinated by the unexplained? 2:22 tells an effective story about how a contemporary household deals with these questions.

2:22 is about two couples; Jenny and Sam who have recently bought a house which they are renovating, and Lauren and Ben, who have been invited to their house for a dinner party. Jenny is convinced the house is haunted, so she gets the party to stay up to 2:22.a.m. to see what transpires. I appreciated the realism of the characters and setting, the cast members are your typical 30-ish, suburban couples maintaining the weight of responsibility of adult life whilst still trying to enjoy themselves. Jenny (Laura Whitmore) is effectively the heart of the play. She is the one taking the paranormal activity the most seriously, especially since she is the mother of a sleeping baby in the room above. Her husband Sam (Felix Scott) however is the opposite of Jenny in many ways, he’s the least open-minded of all of them, sceptical about the paranormal and is always clinging to rational explanations. Tamsin Carroll was exceptionally entertaining as Lauren. Uncertain on where she stands regarding the paranormal, she drinks too much to hide her insecurities. Lauren’s boyfriend Ben (Nigel Allen) was a good contrast to Lauren; a man very sure of himself yet fairly open-minded when it comes to the inexplicable. The cast all had good chemistry, which created a good balance between quippy banter and serious, somber moments. It’s a shame some of their characters weren’t explored more, but then you can only fit so much in a two-hour play centred around one evening in one room.

Huge props (again, no pun intended) must be handed to the production team. The kitchen-diner set felt like somewhere you could actually live, making all the tense paranormal goings-on hit closer to home. From the Monopoly board on the coffee table, to the half-painted walls, it feels like a real living space that matched the characters’ personalities. Set designer Anna Fleischle stated she wanted the set to show the transition between the old and the new; the tension between the two and that the new effectively tears down the old in its place. This tension is not only reflected by the untidy walls and exposed bricks, but also between Jenny and Sam. As the one most concerned with what could be haunting their house from the past, Jenny values what’s left behind more than her husband Sam, who’s lack of sensibility and excessive rationality creates an intriguing conflict. The tensest moments in the play were those in which no word was spoken. Letting a revelation linger in the room for a few moments whilst a light flickers or a baby monitor flashes. Those are the moments which are the most unsettling, and whilst the play has its fair share of jump scares, they aren’t overly relied upon.

2:22 A Ghost Story excels in its exploration of the paranormal. It questions the plausibility of ghosts and if they exist, how would they? What would they do? What would their purpose be in a modern world? It unlocks that underlying fascination people have with the inexplicable. You spend two hours in the company of these two couples, eavesdropping on their alcohol-fuelled bickering. In doing so, it brings genuine tension between the characters, and uses an otherworldly subject matter to spark quarrels about their insecurities and feelings about each other. I think that’s the most unsettling thing about 2:22. It feels genuine, as if it could really happen. I have no doubt 2:22 would make a thrilling adaption as a short film, with some creative cinematography and sound design to recapture the tension seen on stage. We’ve all had the conversation with someone over whether ghosts are real. 2:22 shows how far that conversation could go if we’re given plausible evidence of the paranormal. Are ghosts simply a paradigm used to explain what science cannot? 2:22 heeds caution to the blind sceptic, and opens the mind as to whether ghosts are not simply a paradigm, but could really exist. As Danny Robins playfully puts it, ‘Perhaps the question is not “Do ghosts exist?”, but “Can we exist without ghosts?”

A picture of the set I took on show day

From Shakespeare to Star Wars: A conversation with local actor Simon Paisley Day

Simon Paisley Day is a local actor from Whitstable who has had roles in Sherlock, The Crown, Doctor Who, and even Star Wars. He also has had an extensive theatrical career, consisting mostly of Shakespeare, spanning from Measure for Measure to Macbeth. I got the opportunity to chat with him over zoom about film, TV, theatre, and tips for budding actors.

Gareth: Good morning Simon! It’s lovely to get the opportunity to chat with you. I understand the pandemic has presented many obstacles for filmmaking over the last two years. As an actor, how did the pandemic affect your career?

Simon: When they announced the first lockdown, I remember Susie, my wife, going ‘Oh my God, I really hope that’s not going to really mess you up’, and I always remained optimistic and thought, oh, things won’t affect me. I swiftly realised however that it would. Theatres were closed, TV productions were shut down and I wouldn’t be earning anything. Theatres especially took a lot longer to get back up and running, because you’re playing to a live audience. By the second lockdown, things were getting back on an even kneel. TV and film companies conducted regular testing and bubbled together their actors. So, if they were shooting a film, they’d make sure that everyone involved in the film was bubbled with each other for the duration of the shoot. Actors would have to say goodbye to their loved ones for a couple of months until the filming was over because they couldn’t risk cross infection. One job I had during the dark days of the first lockdown was at a Stately home in Yorkshire. My friend Jenna Russell, who just lives around the corner, was in it too, and we were playing husband and wife or something. We were going to be sitting next to each other at a dinner table in this stately home in Yorkshire, so I suggested sharing a taxi, but the production company wouldn’t have it to avoid cross infection. The taxi I got in was swaddled in plastic, and I could barely hear what the taxi driver was saying. So, we both drove all the way to Yorkshire separately, and then the next day we were sitting next to each other acting! Whenever the director wanted to come and speak to us, he’d put a mask on and he’d come across and he’d give us a couple of notes, and then he walked away and took his mask off. It was properly bizarre, but I understand why they needed to do it. When I got the big job of playing Dominic Cummings in the drama This England, we filmed in an aircraft hangar in Norfolk, and we were all staying in little cottages near the hangar. We all had to be bubbled away from our loved ones and just get on and work. So, the business found a route back to work which involved regular testing, and asking their actors to be not going to nightclubs and snogging anyone they don’t know, which clearly is difficult for actors!

Gareth: (Laughs) I can imagine. I remember in one offer I had to be an extra they said I had to go to Leavesden studios to do a COVID test, and then go all the way to Sussex for the filming!

Simon: I understand it, I mean, if a supporting artist comes on set with COVID and an actor playing my size of role gets it, they can’t film anything.

Gareth: You mentioned theatre earlier, how does film, TV and theatre compare? Do you have a preference?

Simon: The last theatre I did was a Yasmina Reza play called God of Carnage. It never made the West End because of COVID, so it had a short run, but I loved it. We rehearsed it for a month and then we played eight shows at five venues across the country. Sometimes, a tour will go for 20 weeks, or it’ll do a five-week tour like I did and go into the West End where it will play for minimum of 12 weeks to a year if it does well. I’m incredibly wary of those because I get bored of doing the same play repeatedly for so long. This is especially the case for me as I live in Whitstable so I need to commute in and out. So, I do love theatre, but I much prefer doing TV and film because you learn the lines, you do the scene a couple of times until you get it right and then you move on. You don’t get stuck doing the same thing over and over.

Having said that, I do miss audience reactions in the theatre. On a TV or film set, when the scene is over there’s no applause. No one comes to the stage door and goes, ‘Darling, you were marvellous!’ and many actors thrive on live audience. In film and TV, the most you’ll get is a director approaching you after a take and saying, ‘Good job!’ and moving on. Actors live for praise, and the applause you get after taking the audience on an emotional journey on stage for 2 hours gives you something to feel proud of.

Gareth: Speaking of theatre, you’ve done a lot of Shakespeare. How does Shakespearean acting compare to more contemporary acting?

Simon: It depends how well it’s rehearsed. If you don’t get sufficient rehearsal, you’re not directed well, or you’re not acting with the right people, it can be very tricky. But if all those things are right, then there’s nothing like it. It’s like learning a different language, but you need to speak as if it’s natural dialogue. I’ve said to countless drama students you need to figure out what your character is saying, and then say the line with the intention of the simplified idea in your head. So effectively, you’re saying the Shakespearean line with modern English intention, and hopefully it comes naturally.

Simon with actress Samantha Spiro in a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew

Gareth: You frequently play quite authoritarian, military-type characters. Is that something that happened by chance or is it something that you always wanted to do?

Simon: Most actors end up getting typecast, and it can get repetitive. If you shuffle into an audition quite unconfidently, they might think that you would be good for a role which requires you to be unconfident. Likewise, if you walk into the room and you stand up tall and speak confidently then they’d probably think you’d be good as an authority figure. Quite early on it seemed to me I would get cast in authoritarian roles. I went to a public school for the last three years of my education, and I learned to speak posh. So, I’ve got used to playing lawyers and all sorts of military people. But because I’ve been typecast so much I’m itching to play something completely different like a criminal or low-life who isn’t very articulate. I keep telling my agent that if any of these sorts of roles become available send them my way!

It happens less in the theatre than on television, I think because theatre is a big dressing up box. For example, you could be doing a Shakespeare play and there’s a cast list of 28 characters, but they haven’t got 28 actors. So, they get a team of 10 actors and everyone has to play multiple roles. Within those plays I had the most fun I’ve ever had in the theatre. I was doing Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure around some American universities with four friends about 25 years ago. We had no costumes, really. We had no props. Just the language. Since there was only five of us, each of us played at least three roles. I remember I played Angelo, who’s the sort of corrupt power figure, and this geezer called Frog, who was always getting into trouble. Another was this pimp who was trying to get people for his prostitutes. Playing multiple roles in a play is the most fun in the world. Within one scene you’re flipping from one character to another with different posture and different voices. It’s shape shifting. Which is why we all go into it because we don’t want to be ourselves, we want to be someone else for a bit.

Gareth: That’s true, I’ve noticed actors tend to get a lot of praise for versatility. One authoritarian role you played was in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; you played General Quinn in a scene where you get choked by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). As an avid Star Wars fan, I must ask – what was it like being on set? Was that you being thrown in the air or was it a stunt double?

Simon: Well, it was a combination of me and a tall, skinny stunt guy. The stunt guy is who you see being thrown in the air, and they had to give him a bald cap so he looked more like me. But it happens so fast you can’t even tell it’s not me. They winched me up to the ceiling in a harness and I had to be on the ceiling pretending to be choked for about half a minute. The whole thing was over in a flash. As soon as I finished filming, they took me off to this room filled with cameras. They then asked me to pull several different faces for the cameras, so I stood there for about 10 minutes being photographed at all different angles. It was so they could CGI my face onto the stunt double just in case they decide to do it in close-up.

Simon as General Quinn in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

But was it enjoyable? Not really. There was a lot of pressure on set, and you were made to feel like you were very, very lucky to be there. JJ Abrams, the director, he was nice. Everyone else was rather gruff and business-like. It was not a particularly friendly set up. Hilariously, none of the actors in my scene knew whether they had lines until the day of shooting. We walked onto set and we all sat around the big table, and this woman comes around and hands everyone laminated scripts of the scene that we’re about to do. I look down and I see my character, General Quinn, has a few lines. Richard E Grant, who’s sitting next to me, also had some lines. Several of the other actors however did not have any lines, and they were looking pretty frustrated because it’s now emerged to them that they’re supporting artists for the scene.

JJ Abrams then comes on and he’s nice and friendly to everyone. Adam Driver then came on in his Kylo Ren costume, and I thought maybe he’ll come around and go ‘Hey I’m Adam, nice to meet you!’ but clearly, he thinks he’s a bit too cool for that. Richard E Grant kept forgetting his lines as well which was rather funny. I wasn’t even allowed to take a picture of the script so I could learn my lines because they didn’t allow phones on set! But I guess it’s so the plot doesn’t get leaked and no one bothers to see the film. The whole thing was shrouded in secrecy.

Gareth: That’s understandable since it’s backed by Disney after all. The other recent role I wanted to talk to you about was Dominic Cummings. It’s a coincidence that you were in Brexit: The Uncivil War alongside Benedict Cumberbatch who played Dominic Cummings, and now you’re playing Dominic Cummings yourself in the new drama, This England. So, what can you say about that role and how did you prepare for it?

Simon: I’ve worked with Cumberbatch a couple of times now, and he’s a nice fellow, but I thought when he played Dominic Cummings he was just playing himself really. But I guess that’s what you do as a big film actor. You basically play yourself and let the character come to you. Dominic Cummings is quite shy and doesn’t like the media, so there wasn’t much footage of him to go on. But I watched what I could find, and I just played him as a slightly arrogant, more intense version of Cumberbatch’s. Although I’m sure Dominic Cummings isn’t as arrogant as I portrayed him to be, I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice husband and dad.

Simon as Dominic Cummings in the new drama This England Sky Atlantic and Now TV

Gareth: So the drama is about the government dealing with the pandemic during the first lockdown, right?

Simon: Yeah, it basically goes from Boris winning the landslide election in 2019, leaving the European Union and then into the pandemic. So, it’s about the first 5 or 6 months of Boris’s government.

Gareth: Have you got a particularly big role in the series then?

Simon: Yeah, I’m like the second biggest role in the show after Kenneth Branagh as Boris. Which is nice because it’s a massive break for me. I’ve played small parts over the past two years because of the pandemic and suddenly I get 55 days of filming so it was huge to me.

Gareth: That’s great to hear. Have you got anymore upcoming roles you can talk about?

Simon: Well there’s a possibility of a film in India I might be doing in December and January. It’s a drama about the Amritsar massacre, which happened 100 years ago when some British officers shot down a group of Sikh protesters at the Golden Temple of Amritsar. That should be interesting.

Gareth: Have you done a lot of filming overseas during your career then?

Simon: I’ve done filming in East Europe because they’re cheaper for the production company. So, they film a lot of things in Prague, Budapest, Bucharest or Bulgaria. I’ve also done one thing in India for a film called Victoria and Abdul with Judi Dench. So, I do enjoy going abroad to film.

Gareth: I have one last question, and that was whether you have any advice for budding actors trying to break through in the industry?

Simon: Most people say to budding actors don’t even bother because there’s so much disappointment and rejection. But I think if you’re passionate about it and you get enough of a buzz from it then give it a go because you never know. You might have the face and the voice that people want right now. It’s not just about whether you’re talented, it’s to do with whether there’s a need for what you’ve got in terms of how you look and how you sound. Your face could happen to land on a casting directors table and they go ‘They look about right for what we need.’ So, if you enjoy it and can take rejection, which you have to be able to do, then give it a go.

Gareth: Yeah, I can imagine it’s got a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time.

Simon: Exactly. On day one of drama school we were told that acting is the art of reacting. Reading and learning lines is the easy bit. You also need to listen to when your cue is coming up, and to listen to whoever is talking and react to the conversation like you would at the pub with your mates. You’ve got to keep directing the focus back to the person who’s speaking. If an audience member drifts and starts looking around and sees you picking your nose or just looking bored, it doesn’t look right. You’ve got to give all the energy back to the person speaking so that audience member is reminded of who they should be listening to. It’s an interesting skill to acquire and you don’t get it unless you practice. I remember when I played Horatio in Hamlet I got so bored of listening to Simon Russell Beale on stage for a year. Even though it’s the greatest language ever written, I was on stage with him all the time listening, watching, and pretending to be interested in what he was saying. That’s the skill you have to acquire, making it look like you’re interested, even if you’re bored silly. 

Gareth: I suppose that’s ultimately the core of acting, learning how to react appropriately when you’re not speaking. I appreciate all the advice you’ve given Simon, and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat about your career!

Simon: No problem Gareth, it’s been a pleasure! Good luck with all your future endeavours.

100 years of horror – Does Nosferatu still hold up?

Horror classic Nosferatu (1922) recently turned 100 years old – a milestone most films have yet to reach. I recently watched this centennial film in all its glory on Amazon Prime, making it the oldest movie I’ve ever watched. But as a 24-year-old film enthusiast indoctrinated into films by superheroes, CGI and animation, how does Nosferatu rate? Do the grainy colour-changing textures of the film affect its enjoyment? Does the atmospheric orchestral score compensate for the film’s lack of dialogue? Most importantly, does the film’s creepy atmosphere hold up? Well, when it comes to film, age is just a number, because I still thoroughly enjoyed Nosferatu.

I can see why Nosferatu is considered to be the origin of horror and vampires. It was made in the wake of the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, and plays on the real fears of widespread disease and death. Nosferatu’s arrival to civilisation is as allegorical as it is literal. He brings fear, death and disease and disrupts the safety and security of a an otherwise stable society. It’s an interesting take on Bram Stoker’s original Dracula story, except the titular antagonist is much more dehumanised in this film. He’s permanently hunched, has pointy ears, freakishly long fingers, two sharp front teeth, and a pair of haunting, black eyes. His movements too, are ominously slow, giving the impression that this is no human, but a creature of the night. You can always feel his presence throughout the film even when he’s not on screen, simply by the effect he has on people and through the film’s atmosphere. If anything, the film’s grainy look adds to the creepy, claustrophobic feeling it thrives on. I thought it was interesting that the version I watched used different washes to indicate times of day – yellow and pink to indicate daytime, and green and blue indicating night. Even the vampiric descriptions in the book protagonist Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) reads are menacingly beautiful – describing the vampire in a way that forebodes Nosferatu’s presence.

The score does a perceptive job of creating the film’s creepy atmosphere. Depending on its intensity, it is a key indicator of the mood in each scene. When Hutter is enjoying time with his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder), the score is somber and peaceful. But when there is any mention of the supernatural, or when Hutter is travelling up a rocky road towards Count Orlok/Nosferatu’s castle, the score is much more ominous and intimidating. It gives an indication that something sinister is coming, and that something is a hunched, bloodthirsty vampire. The lighting of this film also enhances its atmosphere. From the use of a negative filter to convey the eeriness of Hutter’s journey, to the iconic shots of Nosferatu’s looming shadow, these simple effects remain genuinely creepy a century on.

Nosferatu still holds up not just because of its score and minimal effects to create its ominous atmosphere, but also by the themes of death and disease it conveys. There hasn’t been much in terms of remakes or reboots in the last century, aside from Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake, Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Shadow of the Vampire (2000) which was a fictionalised account of the making of the original. The 1979 remake didn’t particularly resonate with me, with it’s wooden acting, poor writing, and severe lack of tension. Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck/Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire does however sound appealing. Nonetheless, the influence of the original has disseminated throughout the horror genre. Travelling a long, eerie, mountainous road to an isolated location to create a sense of foreboding can be seen in films like The Shining (1980) and Evil Dead (1981), and even Nosferatu’s silent, predator-stalking-prey stance can be attributed in slashers like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). The Lighthouse (2019) and The Northman (2022) director Robert Eggers is writing and directing a remake of Nosferatu, with Pennywise himself Bill Skarsgård set to portray the titular role and Anya-Taylor Joy in an unknown role. If there was any filmmaker today who could adapt the atmosphere of the original Nosferatu for a modern audience, it would be Eggers; and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Why are modern day films and TV obsessed with popular 80s music?

There’s something delightfully nostalgic about watching a gratuitous fight scene to Bonnie Tyler’s 1984 hit ‘Holding out for a Hero‘ or a tense dance off between two groups of super humans to Kenny Loggins’s foot-tapping ‘Footloose‘ (both coincidentally recorded for the soundtrack to the film Footloose). The 1980s blessed pop culture with a colourful variety of both music and film, and aside from the fashion and various Pepsi and Coke ads, this vibrant synergy of music and film has become synonymous with the decade. Ever since films such as Footloose, cinema has continued to pepper soundtracks with the most popular 80s hits. But why has this tradition continued for so long in cinema? And why have films always gone back to 80s music rather than use the most popular contemporary music?  The answers to these questions can be gained from a delightful excursion through the history of pop music in film.

The pop musical energy of the 1980s is most often captured in fun, fast-paced flicks which don’t take themselves too seriously. A prime example that has excelled at using a retro soundtrack to capture this energy is the Guardians of the Galaxy series. Granted, not all of the songs in those films are of the ‘80s, but it seems overlaying a tense fight scene with some retro beats was the perfect way to capture the comical, vivacious energy of happy-go-lucky superhero characters. Even more mature superhero content such as The Boys and The Umbrella Academy series has used ‘80s pop music in some scenes to capture it’s hyper violent and sexual energy. What better way to capture this energy with music from a time where the world was more carefree and fun loving? ‘80s rock has trickled its way into Romcoms, coming-of-age films, and even horror. From 1999’s 10 Things I hate about You using Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation to incite title character Kat’s rebellious nature, to comedy horror Zombieland opening with a montage of zombie antics to Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, ‘80s rock seems to boost a film’s sense of chaotic fun. It ensures an audience knows a film doesn’t take itself too seriously in all the right ways.

Why do films use ‘80s music specifically? Pop music from the 60s and 70s is also often used in film, but they don’t quite capture the same vibe. 60s music in film tends to be used for more pure, cathartic energy with that raw guitar-bass-drum sound. Ironically one of the best examples is The Beatles’ Twist and Shout in the 1986 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, in which Ferris gets a whole parade dancing to the sound of Paul, John, George and Ringo. The energetic yet edgy rock of the 70s however tends to be used to make gratuitous scenes more enjoyable. Take Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 rock song Free Bird in 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, which perfectly captures the slick yet violent energy of Colin Firth murdering a group of brainwashed Church goers. The increasing use of synthesisers and electrical experimentation with classic rock instruments in the 80s provided film soundtracks with the foot-tapping, cathartic energy of the 60s, but also the enjoyable edginess of the 70s. It seems therefore that 80s music effectively merges these two vibes together. Even the vast diversity of 90s music means it tends to capture different vibes in film. Known best for its cheesy Britney Spears, edgy Nirvana rock, or hard-hitting gangster rap, all of which have their own unique effect in film, but don’t quite match the colourful vibrancy of the 80s. As for the modern day, it’s difficult to imagine the music of Drake, Beyoncé or the Weekend to have the same colourfully nostalgic effect as Kenny Loggins, TOTO or Bon Jovi.

Thanks to modern day film and TV, the 1980s have come to be appreciated by a younger audience who aren’t quite old enough to have experienced the decade first hand. Given the huge revival in popularity of songs such as Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill thanks to Stranger Things (which saw a staggering 9,900% streaming boost on Spotify) and Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine thanks to Thor: Love and Thunder, love of the ‘80s shows no signs of stopping. Who would have thought a decade could invoke such a unique sense of nostalgia for those that hadn’t even experienced it first time around? The ‘80s were a wonderfully simpler time with the coolest gadgets, cheesiest special effects, no internet spoilers, and enough funky synth tunes to keep Kevin Bacon dancing for decades to come.

Quentin Tarantino’s novelisation of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – A Review

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of my favourite films. From the colourful visual textures which capture the retro aesthetic of 1960s film, to the captivating performances of its stars (Leonardo DiCaprio as actor Rick Dalton, Brad Pitt as stunt double Cliff Booth, and Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate). The film encapsulates 1960’s Hollywood, following the lives of Rick, Cliff and Sharon as they negotiate the rapidly changing film industry. Years before it’s release, the film was written as a novel by Tarantino, having not yet decided whether it would be turned into a screenplay. When I discovered Tarantino had followed up on this and published a novelisation of Hollywood, I was overjoyed. The novel mostly follows the events of the film, except with additional backstory, characters’ inner thoughts, and enough references to 1960’s film to satisfy the ultimate film buff.

Tarantino’s novelisation mostly follows a couple of days in the lives of the stars of the film in February 1969, but divulges into past and future backstories and other narratives between this time. The backstories broaden the personal lives and personalities of characters portrayed in the film, providing a more detailed feel of the film industry in 1969. These include real-life 60’s actors James Stacy, Aldo Ray, and Sharon Tate (the former portrayed by Timothy Olyphant in the film), but most noticeably stuntman Cliff Booth. Booth is portrayed as possibly the most laid-back yet no-nonsense guy in Hollywood. The book details his WWII history, describes in detail how many times he’s got away with murder, extensive detail on his passion for Japanese cinema and erotic cinema, and even explains how he obtained his faithful pit bull Brandy. In essence, Booth is portrayed as the coolest psychopath in 60s Hollywood. In contrast to his best friend and anxiety-ridden Rick Dalton, Booth is content with his career and has accepted the changes occurring in Hollywood at the turn of the decade; happy to enjoy himself and be Dalton’s go-to guy.

Most of Rick Dalton’s scenes in the novel are the same as the film, except in the novel Tarantino provides Dalton’s ongoing inner thoughts during these scenes. I always appreciate this in books, as it distinguishes between characters act and how they feel. Dalton is struggling to find his place in a film industry that is rapidly changing from the one he’s used to. Attempting to make a transition from his hit 50’s Western show Bounty Law to 60’s film, Dalton has a choice of acting in films he’s not comfortable with or fading into obscurity. As such, most of Dalton’s thoughts are rather cynical, often containing spiteful comments about those around him which reflect his discontent with the changing film industry. Despite this, Dalton is strangely likeable. He mostly keeps his cynical thoughts to himself, in an attempt to appease those around him to maintain himself in a good light and accept the changes. Dalton finds himself playing the antagonist on the set of real-life 60’s Western series Lancer, which Tarantino details the plot of in certain chapters. This was one of my favourite aspects of the novel, effectively providing a story within a story; a morally ambiguous Western revenge tale which modestly reflects the genre which defined the previous decades of film which came before it. The way Dalton goes from playing Western hero in the 50’s to Western villain in the 60’s captures the essence of what Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about; the fading of the classic Western scene into a New Hollywood which deviates from the norms of so-called ‘golden age’ of Hollywood.

The novelisation of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood provides many of the components that made the film stand out. It is a celebration of a by-gone era of TV and film, and details how actors of the time navigated their careers through this changing time. As in the film, the novel doesn’t have much of a conventional plot, but simply details the events of the characters’ lives and by doing so absorbs the reader into the era. As such, those who didn’t enjoy the film probably wouldn’t enjoy the novel, but then it’s unlikely you’d be reading the novel if you haven’t seen the film! The novel allows Tarantino to flex his extensive knowledge of the history of Hollywood, packed with references to the most well-known 60’s flicks like how Rick Dalton was nearly cast in The Great Escape, to more obscure references to Japanese cinema with a list of Cliff Booth’s favourite films from Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. The era is not just captured in it’s film scene, but also in it’s music scene. In the film, Californian radio station KHJ is constantly playing whenever the characters are driving, and just like the film, the novel constantly reminds the reader which music track or ad is playing; from Paul Revere & The Raiders to Red Apple Cigarettes (‘Take a bite and feel alright!’). It is this level of detail that underpins why Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is regarded as Tarantino’s ‘Magnum Opus’, and the novelisation is the perfect accompaniment to this celebration of 1960’s Hollywood.

‘Bullet Train’ Review: Move over Thomas, there’s a new No.1 train in town

What do you get if you cross the slick action of John Wick, the comedic timing of Deadpool, and the fastest train in the world? No, not a bad dad joke, but Deadpool director David Leitch’s action comedy film Bullet Train. This film is exactly what it sets out to be, a (literal) bullet train which takes you at breakneck speed through its humour, violence and action. This style of filmmaking matches the engaging cinematic energy of the Deadpool films, but with a unique setting and premise. What else would you expect when you place nearly a dozen deadly assassins together on the world’s first high-speed train line?

The film’s plot is fairly straightforward; several assassins end up on a Japanese bullet train together and are forced to face each other in one way or another. For a film so focused on its action and humour, it doesn’t need to have a more complex plot. Brad Pitt portrays ‘Ladybug’, the assassin film’s plot pivots on. Not only does Pitt yet again prove himself to be one of the masters of cinematic action, but also of comedic timing. He’s hilarious in this film, mixing the goofiness of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor with the quips of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool. Aaron Taylor Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry and Joey King were also standouts, portraying assassins ‘Tangerine’, ‘Lemon’, and ‘The Prince’ respectively. Tangerine and Lemon were effectively a British gangster comedy duo, constantly arguing over Lemon’s unusual obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine, which was hilariously ironic given the film’s setting. Joey King’s ‘The Prince’ was a no-nonsense assassin posing as an innocent schoolgirl, who could seamlessly slip between the two. Being set in Japan, the film also boasted several Japanese actors, namely Andrew Koji as ‘The Father’ and the legendary Hiroyuki Sanada as ‘The Elder’ who only polished the film’s razor sharp slickness with their cut-throat Katana action. There is even a few surprise cameos along the way, which make you laugh purely at the fact that said actors agreed to take part in such a ridiculously fun film.

The cast and premise of the film are at the forefront of what make it a summer must-watch, but it’s the little things that make this film standout. The little details of the plot that eagle-eyed moviegoers will notice which are paid off later, the tight camerawork and gorgeously colourful lighting on each of the different train carriages and stations, all add to the visceral, exciting energy that Leitch pulls off. The film introduces each assassin with colourful neon lettering also dubbed in Japanese, creating a stylistic, almost comic-book feel to the film’s meticulous energy. The only times we aren’t on the bullet train are when the film provides flashbacks to characters’ past, which are brief enough to not take us out of the fun of the train, but just enough to weave the plot together. Thanks to the lighting and camerawork, the film convinces its audience that we are on the bullet train with the assassins experiencing the mayhem first hand.

Bullet Train excels mostly because it appeals to both the casual moviegoer and the serious moviegoer. It’s unique and accessible premise topped with its quip-filled humour make it an easily enjoyable summer film, but it’s meticulously sleek filmmaking style makes it stand out as a thoroughly enjoyable action film worthy of the John Wick hall of fame. It is a film about both good and bad luck, and about fate. Is it fate that decides who lives and who dies? Is it fate or skill which allows characters to survive? As Brad Pitt’s Ladybug says, ‘Fate is just bad luck’. The film addresses these types of conundrums in interesting ways, and makes you question whether there even is such thing as fate or luck. What better way to address them than on an assassin-filled 200mph train journey? If Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino agreed to make a film together on the condition it was full of Thomas the Tank Engine jokes, it would probably result in something like Bullet Train.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the closest thing to real-life magic

When Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, if you’d have told a nine-year-old Gareth that the next Harry Potter story would be a stage play, I most likely would’ve been flabbergasted. Seeing the magic come to life on the big screen is one thing, but to see it come to life completely on stage is something else entirely. From the simple things like levitating books to the seamless transition between scenes, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child clearly utilises the special effects of a theatre to their highest potential. It is almost like a real-life magic show; many of the feats of magic performed on stage really make you think ‘How did they do that?!’. Some were so fantastical that the audience erupted in applause in the middle of the scene. Whilst the special effects are arguably the core of the production, the play itself provides a heartfelt story with everything we love about the original Harry Potter stories, and more.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a stage play which has been running at the Palace Theatre in London (also at various other theatres around the world) since 2016. It is separated into two parts, which are effectively two separate plays. I remember first hearing the announcement that the eighth Harry Potter story would take place on stage, and that it would be about Harry’s son Albus Potter at Hogwarts. Needless to say I was ecstatic, although it was only until recently that I finally got around to seeing it! After seven books and eight films, what better idea than to have a new Harry Potter story performed live on stage. Without revealing much of the plot, Cursed Child features adult versions of our childhood favourites; including Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione and a more-or-less reformed Draco Malfoy. The stars of the show however are Albus Potter and his best friend Scorpius Malfoy (Draco’s son). The play revolves mostly around Albus’s relationship with his father, and how he deals with the legacy of being the son of the famous Harry Potter who stopped the dark Lord Voldemort. In addition, it revolves around Albus’s relationship with Draco; a friendship which provides much of the heart and humour of the play. Luke Sumner, who played Scorpius when I went to see it, was a substantial stand-out; he was so animated and made the character his own, getting many laughs out of the audience. Scorpius is much unlike his father, being rather shy and socially awkward at times, yet clearly with a heart of gold. Thomas Aldridge who played Ron also shined, easily getting the most laughs out of the audience with his whimsical Weasley humour. Even James Howard who played Draco was a highlight, giving us a sympathetic insight into Draco’s character that we’ve never seen before in a Harry Potter story.

I cannot talk about Cursed Child without mentioning the special effects. They push the limits of what is possible on stage, and for that I have the upmost admiration for those who organise it. The fire and light used to represent the spells was bedazzling, one which stood out to me was how they did a certain Patronus spell; wonderfully creative and unique in a way I was pleasantly surprised by. The play also utilises the effects of lighting to create seemingly magical effects, to hide or highlight certain things on stage to cleverly divert the audience’s attention. One scene was even portrayed as being entirely submerged underwater, the actors seemingly swimming around and later appearing in a real pool of water at the front of the stage. The special effects also made the play particularly frightening at times, highlighting the darker elements of the wizarding world with dementors flying around the audience and ominous sound design and lighting to make the audience feel as vulnerable as the characters on stage. The transitions between scenes were done seamlessly so they would never take you out of the play; stage hands dancing around sweeping their magical cloaks to clear the stage and set the scene.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened my eyes to the effort and organisation that must go into creating such a vast stage production. It isn’t like a film where if something goes wrong you can simply restart the take. If something goes wrong on stage you must improvise and make the most of it so as to not take the audience out of the story. Everything from the actor’s lines to the rigging of the effects must be so perfectly timed as to provide an eloquent and bedazzling production which as one of the staff proclaimed as we entered the theatre, will ‘melt your brain’. Stage plays also allow actors to give their performances their all, and Cursed Child is undoubtedly no exception. The cast provide us with newfound appreciation for characters we know, and the ones we’re introduced to. The narrative is well maintained across the two parts, although I enjoyed part 2 more since the stakes and tension were much higher. As someone who doesn’t go to the theatre that often, Cursed Child also opened my eyes to the realms of possibility and enjoyment that theatre plays provide. It made me want to see more stage productions and what they’re capable of. It is a play that not only Potterheads will love, but anyone of any age; it is truly a once in a lifetime real-life magic show.

Lightyear review: Pixar takes Buzz to infinity and beyond

You can see the sweat on Buzz Lightyear’s face as he propels through the stars at hyper speed. You can hear the retro-style sci-fi sound effects scattered throughout the adventure. The shot of a lone space ranger floating through space shows the terrifying magnificence of the universe. More than anything, Lightyear shows the cosmic wonder of space exploration, and how Pixar are the pinnacle of film animation. It is a classic heartfelt Pixar romp disguised as a grand space adventure. Chris Evans’ voice turns what was originally a toy into a real person, Michael Giacchino’s epic score transports you to the unknown plains of T’Kani Prime and makes you feel as if you were travelling at light speed.

Lightyear is framed as the movie within the Toy Story universe which inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy line. This is reflected in the film’s 90s style sound effects, showing the care the sound team placed into the film which we’ve come to expect from Pixar. Even the Giacchino’s score somewhat reflects this; providing Buzz with a classic hero’s ‘riff’ throughout the film. which I loved. The film delivers what you’d expect from a Buzz Lightyear spin-off and more. Although this time around, it’s less about the heart and more about the adventure through space. Whilst it is appropriately heartfelt and poignant in places, Lightyear reflects how the stunning cinematography and visuals show how far animation has come. From intricate new landscapes on unknown planets to the vast expanse of open space (especially a spectacle to admire in IMAX), Lightyear is possibly the most stunning animated film of the year so far. It clearly intended to go lightyears beyond the scale of Toy Story; Andy’s room to Buzz in Toy Story is the entire universe to Buzz in Lightyear. Lightyear was undoubtedly going to contain nods to the first Toy Story, which are scattered just the right amount throughout the film. Not too much that the film feels it can’t stand on it’s own without the legacy of the original, but not too little that the source material is under appreciated by the filmmakers.

The film introduces us to some likeable new faces, which become integral to the film’s core message. On a mission to save quite possibly everything he cares about, Buzz is teamed up with the likes of Izzy (Keke Palmer), Mo (Taika Waititi), Darby (Dale Soules), and a hilariously adorable robot cat called Sox (Peter Sohn). Each of these characters bring something unique to the roster, and not only learn something about themselves, but teach Buzz a valuable Pixar take-home lesson which we can all relate to. Sox is undoubtedly a stand out; providing that quizzical humour of a naive android companion in all the right moments. What sci-fi adventure wouldn’t be complete without an interstellar cat? The film also puts an interesting spin on Buzz’s nemesis; Zurg. Not quite emperor in this iteration, but having a level of sympathetic depth which we’ve come to expect from, well, most movie villains at this point. Once again, the animation shines particularly with Zurg’s design; an intimidating, anime-inspired robot body which is about 10 times the size of Buzz and his companions. There was even some subtle nods to classic sci-fi cinema; including Alien, Star Wars, possibly even The Terminator which I really appreciated.

As a guy who used to run around his neighbourhood dressed as Buzz Lightyear, this film not only tingled my nostalgic affection for Toy Story, but also took me on a fantastic animated adventure through space. Lightyear is a quality film regardless of its connections to Toy Story. As with any new Pixar film, it shows how far animation has come in delivering stunning new visuals, fantastical sound design and musical score. Pixar are known for turning an out-of-this-world setting into a down to earth, emotional story which wells the throats of movie-goers. Lightyear certainly isn’t the most down to earth Pixar story to date, but it doesn’t need to be. It is a new story inspired by a beloved character, with a gorgeous new setting and engaging story fresh enough to entertain any audience and well throats at the right moments. Does it make me want to run around my neighbourhood dressed as Buzz again? Of course it does. Although it makes me want to go slightly beyond my neighbourhood.

‘Batman: Unburied’ Review: An auditory adventure through Gotham City

Audio drama is one of the most unique styles of entertainment. It is one of the only ways of telling stories which relies on only one of the senses. It shows how much we rely on sound and audio to be entertained and to be told a gripping story. Batman: Unburied is the first in a series of audio dramas on Spotify set in the DC comics universe. This isn’t just a story of Batman being read off a page; it is a living, breathing story with a musical score, sound effects and some compelling voice acting. Much like reading a book however, the lack of visual components allows the listener to picture the story in their mind; relying on the sounds of Gotham City and what the character’s interactions would sound like. For me, it does this very effectively, I felt as if I was watching the story unfold in my head. The story itself explores the fractured psyche of Bruce Wayne, specifically where Bruce Wayne ends and Batman begins (no pun intended).

Winston Duke stars as the caped crusader as he unravels the mystery behind a series of gruesome murders committed by a man known only as ‘The Harvester’. Interestingly, Batman is absent for a while in the story, the first few episodes focusing on the more innocent side of Bruce Wayne. The story begins with Bruce working as a forensic pathologist in Gotham Hospital with his still-living father Thomas. We get a glimpse into what Bruce’s life would be like if his parents had not been shot down on that fateful night, as he initially has no memory of Batman. This is where Duke’s voice performance shines; he gives us a more sensitive, human side to Bruce that we haven’t really seen before in other mainstream media. He shows the comfort and care Bruce finds with still having his parents around in adulthood, yet still portrays his slightly unhinged side as the story unfolds (although I won’t deny his Batman voice does take some getting used to). I also never would’ve imagined Lucius Malfoy himself, Jason Isaacs, would be such a good Alfred; providing that British charisma which is so synonymous with the character. Hasan Minhaj also provides a seemingly more innocent yet charismatic portrayal of the Riddler, as he is forced to help Barbara Gordon (Gina Rodriguez) uncover the mystery of the Harvester with no signs of the world’s greatest detective.

The series frequently reminded me of the 90s Batman animated series in its tone and nods to the extended Batman mythos. This Gotham feels like that more animated, slightly supernatural city that we’ve had in the series and the Batman Arkham games. One of my favourite aspects of the series was its exploration of the dual identity of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Why does Bruce put on the cape and cowl every night? Does he do it for the memory of his parents? Or is there another, more profound reason? Moreover, how does much of a mental toll does being Batman take on this sensitive, naive version of Bruce Wayne? The fact that the series opens with a completely different angle on the story of Bruce Wayne provides enough intrigue to get listeners interested and keep that interest going. This isn’t just a story of Batman; it’s a murder mystery, a psychological thriller and almost a supernatural fantasy at some points. It’s a story that can be enjoyed by non-Batman fans, but Batman fans will appreciate the nods to the wider universe and its various surprises along the way. It doesn’t just divulge into Bruce Wayne, it divulges into certain other characters from the Batman universe which gives them a level of depth and intrigue which we’ve never seen before in mainstream media.