Behold! Tintagel brewery’s fine ales! Supreme quaffing for all fantasy authors and readers. ‘Merlin’s Muddle’, ‘Castle Gold’ & ‘Arthur’s Ale’!
[Guest review by Nadine West @andiekarenina]
There is a very specific Taika Waititi humour. If you’ve seen Thor: Ragnarok, you already know it. It revels in incongruity, wordy monologues that reveal more than the speaker intends, occasional pratfalls and the thwarting of best-laid plans and, if you like it, it’s entirely addictive. Call it a Kiwi thing; in the land where no tall poppy is safe from culling, prodding at the pomposity we all try to hide in our dark hearts is a sure-fire comedy winner. When the protagonists are immortal vampires, and the setting is the meek streets of Staten Island, What We Do in the Shadows comes dangerously close to being a comedy masterclass.
The FX TV series is based on, spun off from or otherwise riffs upon the 2014 film of the same name starring Waititi and his co-creator, Flight of the Concords’ Jermaine Clement. This original vampire-in-the-city film was set in Wellington, became a cult hit as a result of its dry humour and faux-documentary style, and seemed destined to remain yet another in the long list of underrated NZ films. (Full disclaimer – I used to teach several Kiwis who now work in the film industry and I am biased as all hell. Pay more attention to NZ creators, you fools.) When Waititi smashed Thor: Ragnarok out of the ballpark and had his moment as the darling of Hollywood, however, studios asked him what he wanted to do next. His answer? I’d like to make What We Do in the Shadows again, please. And I’d like to make it BRILLIANT.
And it is brilliant. Perhaps it’s just a happy coincidence of my humour and theirs, but I have not guffawed this much for years. The series is a single-camera reality documentary parody (and without going too full-film-nerd, the camerawork and lighting are impeccably 1992’s The Real World, with amateurish lighting, camera-swing and dodgy focus-pulling, but at night) following three house-sharing vampires, Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja, as they attempt to co-exist, dispose of corpses, host high-pressure orgies and, just perhaps, take over the world.
The burden upon vampire-kind to take over the world – or at least the New World – leads us straight to one of the pilot episode’s classic lines: Matt Berry’s Laszlo contemplates this sacred task. He is dressed in a black cape. His fangs glisten. He furrows his brow and waves one laconic hand – “Yes, conquer the New World…but as you can see…it’s fucking massive.” This series likes bathos. They like it a lot. Undercutting is what they do: every time Laszlo transforms into a bat the CGI is movie-standard and the magic is real, but Matt Berry has to awkwardly shout “BAT” each time, in the tones of a cricket umpire calling “out”. When Nandor decides to launch his dominion over humankind by controlling their leaders, he ends up at a Staten Island Borough Council meeting, trying to hypnotise grey, earnest bureaucrats who ignore him in favour of a discussion of zoning regulations. (“They cannot be hypnotised,” he notes, aghast, “because they no longer have souls.”)
The cast is uniformly excellent. Once again, a little bias creeps in, because the unimpeachable and glorious Doug Jones is here as Baron Afanas, a recurring guest starring role which allows Jones to flip-flop between deeply creepy and deeply silly, often within the same line of dialogue, whilst giving us one of those physical performances that no one does better, because Doug Jones is a god who can do no wrong and this is a hill I will die on. In the main cast, Kayvan Novak makes a delicious Nandor – slightly haughty, slightly baffled – longing for a homeland and delighting in glitter and “creepy paper”. Natasia Demitriou is a cheerfully demented Nadja, and Harvey Guillén gets huge mileage and moments of genuine pathos out of Guillermo, Nandor’s long-suffering familiar whose only wish is to be “turned” by his master.
There are, inevitably, one or two nit-picks. The energy vampire idea – despite the character of Colin being very well played by Mark Proksch – wears out by episode three and stays threadbare. (He doesn’t feed on blood, he feeds on energy! Like that awful guy at your office! And he wears a grey cardigan! Yes, still the same single joke, over ten episodes!) The “LARPing as a rich mine of virgins” joke is old, so old, pretty offensive, and hit repeatedly with a mallet for diminishing returns. And, well, I don’t get on with vomit humour in any form, never have, never will, and let’s just leave that one there before I go green again.
But overall, this is a genuinely brilliant tv show. It is knowing – the use of vampire lore and canon is impeccable – but it is not self-satisfied. It slips in cinema-quality effects that you will barely notice happening, because it gets mundanity so very, very right. It makes you laugh out loud, not just once, but repeatedly. It will make you want to take up a VERY specific kind of gardening.
What We Do in the Shadows has, cheeringly, has already been commissioned for a second series. FX has a winner on its hands and we can only hope that this one runs and runs.
The second series isn’t just a dull re-tread of the first series, I’m glad to say. It genuinely moves the relationship between Eve (played by the wonderful Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (the even more wonderful Jodie Comer, who’s from Liverpool originally!) forwards.
Famously, season 1 was adapted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (the writer of Fleabag, init), but season 2 has been done by Sally Woodward Gentle (who’s due to play Camilla Parker Bowles in series 3 of The Crown). For me, the dialogue of season 2 isn’t as sharp as season 1, but there is plenty of the quirky humour we have come to expect of KE.
Apparently, season 3 has already been confirmed, so don’t worry that the BBC is going to leave you high and dry at the end of season 2.
Season 2 is effectively a fun version of Silence of the Lambs. More than that, I shall not say, else I give the flaming game away! (Oo, that rhymed.)
Be warned once more, however: the first 4 episodes are a bit back and forth, lacking a clear direction, despite the thrills. Things become far more compelling and compulsive with episode 5. The first four episodes are a bit voyeuristic, surprisingly, but we do get into the more psychological aspect of things eventually.
All in all, season 2 manages to keep the sexual tension and sense of danger alive in the relationship between the two female leads. It is believable and does not give in to cliché. And Jodie Comer steals the show in KE2 even more than she did in the first series! Boom.
The John Wick movies have quite rightly earned a cult status. The fresh fighting style that’s used (I heard Keanu describe it as being based on ‘gun katas’), the cool Matrix stylings and intertextuality, the simple righteous revenge plots, the intriguing underworld and global hierarchy of assassins, the lack of fear when it comes to the body-count, and Keanu’s inimitable style of acting… all combine to give us a compelling, adrenaline-fuelled and screamingly addictive ride. And it’s a welcome ride that really has resurrected Keanu’s career, to boot!
The first movie in the sequence opened without much media fanfare but quietly grew in audience and fame. Now, with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, we have a movie that has taken more at the box office in its opening weekend than the first film did in its entire run. Added to that the fourth movie is already confirmed and a TV show spin-off called The Continental (named after the uber-cool, steampunk assassins’ hotel) is also being produced. Oo, and if you want my guess, the gun-toting Halle Berry character from the third film (along with her trained killer dogs) will also get a spin-off!
Regular readers of this site will know that this often grumpy reviewer was a massive fan of John Wick 1 & 2. So what did this often grumpy reviewer make of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum? Well, indulge my grumpiness here, if you will. The title of the film itself is something of an indicator that the simple innocence of the first two movies has somewhat been lost. Things have become somewhat overloaded with new and contrived expectations. (For reference, Parabellum means ‘Prepare for war!’)
You see, the first two movies were based on simple revenge plots. In the first movie, John’s dog is killed by mafia types (and the dog was a gift from his wife before she died!) and his car is stolen. The mafia types have failed to realise that John is a notorious retired assassin… whom they have just brought out of retirement! Gulp! We cheer as the aggrieved and grieving John sets out for revenge upon the entire mafia. We are properly engaged, meaning that the action is emotionally compelling, no matter that it is overblown and not credible. It works morally and symbolically. The second movie is very similar… and that’s just fine indeed.
Yet the third film departs from the plot premise of the first two. It’s simply John on the run from all the other assassins because he has broken the rules of the assassins’ hotel/world. Hmm. Morally, we don’t feel much for John concerning this… after all, he’s a cold-blooded assassin himself. When we don’t care, the umpteen fight scenes become tedious rather than compelling. The refrain of the movie is ‘There are always consequences!’ but that is just a tautologous nonsense statement about the cause and effect nature of the world and basic physics, surely. The film struggles and strains to give itself depth… where before it naturally had it with simple elegance and without effort. Chapter 3 is by turns a dull and painful struggle to watch. Even the baddies in this third part aren’t properly bad. We have the Adjudicator character and her hired samurai, but they are simple functionaries, simply doing their jobs… and not actually evil for the fascinating sake of it. So we can’t even root for John based on his being more morally attractive than who he’s up against.
Look, true fans might be able to see past the inadequacies of the third film anyway, and I note the film has good scores from IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, so maybe I/we shouldn’t talk too much more about it. Certainly, the third film does offer some new ideas and some extra world-building. And it’s setting up one helluva war for the fourth film! So let’s just say John Wick 3 is the equivalent of The Matrix 3, and leave it at that. I, for one, and no doubt one of many others, fully intend to watch the fourth movie and all future spin-offs – and maybe that’s the only real test of things! Onwards to war!
The listing of science fiction, fantasy, horror, cosplay and comicbook conventions has now been fully updated here: https://metaphysicalfantasy.wordpress.com/events/uk-conventions-and-festivals-scifi-fantasy-and-horror/
I have a few insights for you concerning the UK convention scene!
- While most of the big beasts continue to roll on, year on year, a few of the signature conventions have fallen by the wayside, such as Nine Worlds and Festival No.6.
- Some small conventions have collapsed, inevitably, and a few more have cancelled their plans for 2019… and are hoping to run something in 2020.
- Clearly, there were too many conventions going on pre-2019, and they couldn’t all survive. Some people were trying to jump on the festival band-wagon, trying to make a quick buck. Added to that, Brexit might be biting with regard to how people use their disposable income.
- The Irish convention scene is having a good 2019. They have a WorldCon going on, and TitanCon and OctoCon are still alive. Not sure about Irish Discworld, though.
- Doctor Who and Trek conventions still seem to be popular! Old and trusted brands!
A J Dalton, Falmouth, May 2019