Home

  • Sleuths for Truth: A TRUE DETECTIVE Roundtable – Season 4 Finale and Aftermath

    Sleuths for Truth: A TRUE DETECTIVE Roundtable – Season 4 Finale and Aftermath

    The Nic Pizzolatto fanboys are big mad, the other skeptics have some valid criticisms, and those of us who got swept into Night Country can’t wait to tell you what we loved… this is our final week of Season 4 recaps and we thank you for coming along the journey with us

    Before we dive into this week’s episode, let me first remind everyone… there will be spoilers. So let this serve as a SPOILER WARNING and if you’re caught up with the show, we hope you’ll stay, share your theories, and let us know what you think about True Detective: Night Country. We’ll be posting every week with our latest thoughts on what happened and what we think is going to happen.

    While my beautiful wife couldn’t join us in discussing the finale and our final thoughts on the season, the rest of the gang is all here, with Brendan and I repping Cinapse and our guests returning for one last hurrah (on this season, at least… I hope they’ll join us for more discussion on other properties and future seasons).

    Brad Milne

    We are all in the dark country now. The episode opens with Navarro and Danvers beginning to comb through the ice caves in search of the elusive Raymond Clark. The storm that had been threatening as the last episode ended is in full force. The pair find Raymond Clark in the bowels of ice caves but he manages to once again evade his pursuers. Danvers has a nice callback to the season premiere, as she once again tracks the sound of Twist & Shout throughout Tsalal station once again extinguishing the sound with fury, as the duo continue their pursuit of Raymond Clark.

    The feminine energy that has been a constant through line throughout the season remains. Not just the investigation of Danvers and Navarro, but the whole episode is ruled by the women of Ennis. Peter Prior enlists the help of Rose Aguineau, with the disposal of Otis Heiss, and his father. Also as we learn the fates of everyone that remained after Clark’s escape. The final story of what happened to the men of Tsalal station passed down in a great oral tradition of the elders of Ennis’s indigenous population. Of course, it is just a story, and maybe not even entirely true.

    Another great season of True Detective, ends with everything as close to resolved as is possible. Of course, these stories take place in a world where nothing is solved, and so there isn’t quite closure for anyone involved there is at least resolution. I feel like this season is probably the most narratively satisfying of the seasons so far. I am still a little unhappy it was only six episodes, but that has to do more with the fact that I wanted more time with Danvers and Navarro, and the younger Prior. I know some people are upset with the way the season ended and that there was no concrete connections to the first season, but I feel like it was never really going to happen so I was happy with the tenuous threads that tied the two seasons together. I also loved the feminine energy that seemed to propel the show.

    The cast were all terrific including the army of indigenous women who spelled the doom for the men of Tsalal station, Fiona Shaw, Kali Reis, Jodie Foster, Isabella LeBlanc, Anna Lambe, Nivi Petersen. And even more amazing feminine energy with Billie Eilish’s theme song. It was a great effort behind the scenes from Issa Lopez as well. Definitely was glad she was given the reigns for the full season. I can’t wait for what the same team has in store for the fifth season. Thanks again Justin and Cinapse for allowing me to tag along and share my thoughts.

    (@BradMilne79 on X)

    Sarah Jane

    Hell, yeah, Izza Lopez nailed that landing! The final episode of True Detective: Night Country was terrific! For me, the ending tidied up all the loose ends that were left hanging by that penultimate episode. My favorite part about the ending was how the men of Tsalal were killed. No spoilers here in case you haven’t seen it yet but, man, that was some satisfying television right there. Especially true considering what those men were actually up to there at the research station anyone. Also, anyone catch that actual skeleton in the ceiling of the ice cave?

    Season 5 of True Detective has already been greenlit by HBO with Izza at the helm once again. Obviously, there are zero details yet, but I am definitely looking forward to what she will be coming up with next.

    (@FookThis on X)

    Brendan Foley

    Can’t speak to anyone else’s reaction, but I came away from this finale feeling nothing but deep satisfaction for the ultimate shape of the story that Issa Lopez and her team told across six episodes. Threading the needle of bringing the season-long mystery to a satisfying close while also allowing space for the mystical/mythical atmospherics that define True Detective, without tipping over into overt supernatural fare, that’s a tall ask (and one that the still-iconic first season fell short of).

    Here, Lopez provides a neat, human resolution to the mystery: The various local women of Ennis forced the murderous men of Tsalal Station out onto the ice and left them to die, naked in the cold dark, as vengeance for the killing of Annie K. Why did Annie K. die? Because she discovered that the Tsalal men were not only covering up the local mine’s pollution, they were actually encouraging the mine to pollute even more, as the environmental mayhem helped their research (despite the horrific effects this had on the women and children of Ennis). Danvers and Navarro solve their case but decide, Murder on the Orient Express-style, that justice has already been served.

    But even with the “corpsicle” cleanly and clearly explained, Night Country retains one foot in the vague, unseen lands that lie on the other side of the deep dark. Lopez feels no need to tie together every loose end or offer a rational explanation for things like the one-eyed polar bear or a late-in-the-game timeslip that bends our understanding of the causality of what happened on that vengeful night. It’s a real “have your cake and eat it too”’” sort of ending, one that nicely brings things full (flat) circle while leaving room for the circle to keep spinning into infinity.

    (@TheTrueBrendanF on X)

    This entire season has been a fantastic watch for me personally, though I have seen a ton of complaints online. I want to be fair to those that didn’t like it and note that not all of them are launching baseless attacks that seem fueled by misogyny, sexism, and/or racism – but it’s also worth noting that most of the loudest voices seem fueled by exactly that. Some criticisms have resonated with me a bit… most notably, I concur that the season felt a bit truncated and could easily have used another couple episodes to flesh out a few characters and build some bridges between certain pieces of the story. It is also worth noting that some of the song selection (the use of “Twist and Shout” and, especially, the most bizarre cover of Eagle Eye Cherry that could possibly even exist) felt misplaced at best.

    However, even with the fair criticisms of the show, it felt like the best season of the show since the first and one of the best seasons of television in the past few years, period. Despite a ton of people on the Internet repeatedly claiming that Issa Lopez’s writing was “awful” – to me, she wrote the shit out of this season. Coupled with the casting, the show worked pitch perfectly.

    The long and short of it, it seems our whole squad was along for the ride. Of course, we respect those who just couldn’t find their way aboard. The beauty of art is that it is subjective, by and large. And, the folks who didn’t enjoy this (well, at least the ones who had reasons that went beyond their obvious fear of strong women) still have the previous season of the show to watch and enjoy.


    And in the words of Cinapse founder and geninuely great human being, Ed Travis…

    We’re out.

  • The Dangers of Faith and Reconciling the White Savior Trope in DUNE: PART TWO

    The Dangers of Faith and Reconciling the White Savior Trope in DUNE: PART TWO

    If you’ve seen Dune part one, you know that Dune: Part Two being a good film is a foregone conclusion (It’s great I assure you!). So instead of boring you with the accolades of one the most consistent sci-fi auteurs working today, I want to dig into the way these two films look at faith and religion. Personally, I have a rather complex relationship with my faith. While I consider myself a Christian and I do believe in God. I honestly struggle quite a bit with not only what people who claim to be Christians do in the name of their faith these days, but the countless wars and deaths attributed to our holy wars. I think this relationship really applies to the thematic strands that tie together the plot of Dune: Part Two, the lengths people will go, or not for faith, and how there is a clear distinction between independence and codependence when it comes to one’s spirituality and beliefs.

    What sort of inspired this take was Javier Bardem’s Stilgar, Paul’s personal hype man and leader of the Fremen sect who took him in. Stilgar is a steadfast believer in Paul as an off world messiah, whose arrival will signal their freedom from the Harkonnen oppression and delivers a performance that while embodying the pure hope of salvation, he also personifies the utter complacency this prophecy has created. You feel like Silgar believes with every fiber in his being that Paul is indeed this Christ-like messiah, and his hope in these moments when the prophecy is realized is palpable. But the other side of that coin is – as such a powerful warrior, could he have led the Fremen to freedom on his own? Dune: Part 2 is scathing in Denis Villeneuve’s take on the dangers of faith, something even stated aloud by Princess Irulan, when her father toys with the idea of Paul’s assassination. 

    This Dune film series so far examines religion as a device to enslave, to suppress and also unite a people. The crux of this being, I mean why start your own revolt and risk your own life when someone is eventually prophesied to do so? It does this while still making the audience painfully aware of the fanaticism these beliefs can also create and fuel, something we were very aware of during COVID; that people are willing to die for a belief even if it contradicts actual proven fact. But that is still just piercing the surface, so let’s start with that. While Dune is full of religious subtext, there is also some exploration on the problematic theme of the myth of the white savior. Paul is of fair complexion compared to the Fremen around him, and that only helps to not only amplify his otherness to those around him, but charges his character and the situations a bit more racially than I expected.

    But I think probably the smartest move director Denis Villeneuve could make is trying to infuse this nearly fifty year-old story with a more contemporary awareness, with such a possibly problematic protagonist. He paints Paul as painfully aware of what this weight and the repercussions to not just himself, but these people he’s grown to call his own. Spiritually Paul appears to be agnostic, and refutes these beliefs and claims when pressed, unless his mother’s and unborn sister’s life is in question. This is directly in contrast with Stigar’s more fundamentalist beliefs that gleefully notes only a real messiah would be so humble as to constantly say he is not the messiah. Paul spends two acts reminding everyone he is first a man who just wants to live a simple life among the Fremen, getting revenge on the people responsible for his father’s death, while continuing his romance with his love Chani (Zendaya) to earn his place among the Fremen, who believe everyone is equal – except their messiah. 

    To sort of negate the white savior trope, instead of learning some lesson thanks to his ascension at the end and his time spent with the Fremen, Paul is forced to choose ignorance, lose his true love, and forget the billions that will die in his holy war. There’s an interesting bit in there about Paul choosing to try and ignore his birthright as well, to sort of live this simpler life. This is signified by Paul’s removal of the House Atreides signet ring, when he states that he has “now found his path” in the desert. When Paul is left with no other option, but to lead the Fremen into war against the great houses, a future he has seen foretold by his visions, he is forced to once again place the signet on his finger retaking the mantle as Duke Atreides. I think the choice of knowing the terrible consequences, rather than some farcical enlightenment allows the audience to sympathize with Paul making this sacrifice on the behalf of the people, because of how complacent and blind these supplanted beliefs have made them. 

    At the end of the film, we discover that Paul in fact not only embodies their messiah belief that was implanted in the Fremen culture by the Bene Gesserit, but he also is the Kwisatz Haderach, another prophesied messianic character that was foretold by the Bene Gesserit. That said, the crux that Denis is sure to not let us forget, thanks to Zendaya’s more empowered take on Chani, is how these prophecies have lulled her people into obedience. Instead of rising up to take the planet back themselves sooner, they’ve simply waited for this off-worlder and outsider to free them. This is something that is echoed when Paul storms into the southern meeting with the leaders making them painfully aware he is only fulfilling his role, because they refused to be empowered by his successes and became his believers instead of brothers in arms. 

    While sticking close to the text, Denis has made some very clear choices to highlight these passages on independent thought and belief through Chani, who was much more subservient in the book. Instead she plays the role of the director coming in to remind the viewer that beliefs can cripple a people, and it’s something that firmly resonated with me. There is nothing more dangerous than blind faith in any sort of idea or thing, and even if we do believe in some sort of organized religion we should always be constantly questioning the intention of those who push certain beliefs, like Chani, to uncover who’s agenda these things benefit. Does it truly look to empower those who believe in it or subjugate them or look to exclude those that are different. While the film is visually spectacular, and completely solid story-wise, it’s this extra effort to update the more dated tropes and themes that I think earned my admiration to fine tune the message for today’s audiences. 

  • Review: ORION AND THE DARK Brings Anxiety to Animation

    Review: ORION AND THE DARK Brings Anxiety to Animation

    Charlie Kaufman’s Fingerprints Are All Over This Colorful Cartoon Fantasy

    “Charlie Kaufman” and “children’s animated films” aren’t necessarily words that seem like they belong together (but then again, so are “Noah Baumbach” and “Barbie movie”, and “Brendan Fraser” and “Oscar winner”. Oh cinema, you mischievous hydra of a medium). And yet, on Netflix right now is Orion and the Dark, an animated children’s film written by, yup, the Being John Malkovich guy. The Eternal Sunshine guy. The guy whose last foray into animation was a R-rated stop motion film with a graphic sequence of middle-aged puppets getting it on.

    (Side note: Charlie Kaufman apparently did uncredited rewrite work on Kung Fu Panda 2, the best of the Kung Fu Panda saga. So perhaps Orion isn’t quite the leap it first seems in the context of that filmography.)

    Orion and the Dark is all the more remarkable for being a successful children’s animated film that nonetheless feels totally of a piece with the rest of Kaufman’s filmography. From its protagonist paralyzed by an endless litany of anxieties to its flair for jet-black humor, through to the way it pulls itself apart with meta-flourishes, it’s actually a shorter walk than you might imagine from Adaptation to Orion.

    Directed by Sean Charmatz (a storyboard artist who has previously directed a few spinoffs of the Trolls media franchise), Orion and the Dark has a visual style and opening sequence that falls in line with much of today’s CG-animated films. Orion (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is an awkward grade-schooler who goes through life in perpetual terror of virtually anything and everything. The tiniest of stimuli can send Orion hurtling down rabbit holes of compounding disasters. Just getting a field trip permission slip signed by his parents leads to apocalyptic imaginings in the poor kid’s overwrought brain.

    This is familiar stuff, sure, but there’s a specificity and frankness to how it is depicted that cuts to the quick. The spiraling anxiety of Orion’s mind is illustrated (literally illustrated) at the same lightning speed of firing synapses that would be inconceivable for a live-action film, giving these internal dilemmas a visual immediacy. And Kaufman’s script is remarkably blunt on subjects that most movies aimed at this audience dare not touch.

    When Orion’s downward trajectory brings him to thoughts of death, it’s not done with the cheeky Gothic fun of a Tim Burton or similarly Addams Family-inspired morbid silliness. Orion describes his mortal fear of death, of his belief that there’s nothing after you die, of how impossible it is to even imagine ‘nothing’ because even darkness and silence is ‘something’.

    Before this train of thought can become too overwrought, the train gets derailed. The derailing agent is Dark (Paul Walter Hauser), the living embodiment of, you know, “the dark”. He’s had enough of Orion’s nightly freakouts and decides that the only way to get the kid to finally give it a freaking rest is to take Orion around with him as he does his nightly rounds of…you know…night.

    Here’s another place where Orion and the Dark avoids the easy formula its premise makes possible: There’s no mission that Orion and/or Dark are trying to accomplish. There’s no powerups to collect, no doomsday device to turn off. There’s not even a villain. The film recalls back to a version of children’s/fantasy fiction before the monomyth became inescapable. Instead, the story moves in fits and starts, more interested in exploring the nooks and crannies of its world and characters than making sure that it hits the prerequisite narrative beats at the assigned page number.

    Dark introduces Orion to the other night entities, including Sweet Dreams (a constantly cascading nebula voiced by Angela Basset, who, let’s be honest, was born to give voice to a celestial being); Insomnia (a twitching mosquito voiced by Nat Faxon); Sleep (an off-brand muppet-looking thing voiced by Natasia Demetriou); Unexplained Noises (a rascally robot voiced by Golda Rosheuvel); and Quiet (a little puffball that swallows sound, Kirby-style, voiced by Aparna Nancherla).

    There’s also Light, voiced by Ike Barinholtz in full Rude Dude mode, but don’t expect any sort of conventional antagonist in some sort of day vs. night conflict. Again, there’s no real villain here beyond Orion’s need to confront his fears and Dark’s own self-esteem issues.

    Yes, even sentient manifestations of the phenomena of absorbing photons requires therapy these days.

    This is all charming, funny stuff, particularly a particular detail of how Sleep goes about her task, a wonderfully dark running joke that I won’t spoil here. But where the film truly starts to fly is with a distinctively Kaufman-esque move that radically realigns what story we think we’ve been watching. It isn’t a ‘twist’ necessarily, so much as it is an unexpected expansion on our perspective of the events we’re seeing.

    The central lesson of Orion and the Dark is straightforward and spelled out in the opening moments: Sometimes the only way to overcome your fear is to do the thing that scares you. The mid-film wrinkle demonstrates the vast world of difference between a lesson and a story, while reminding us all that stories are alive, changeable, and they belong to their audience as much as they do to their tellers.

    Orion and the Dark is currently streaming on Netflix.

  • DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS: A Mostly Fun Road Trip with a Few Speedbumps

    DRIVE-AWAY DOLLS: A Mostly Fun Road Trip with a Few Speedbumps

    “What’s wrong with Tallahassee? It’s very nice. There’s Spanish moss and live oak.”

    Apart from a documentary on rock-n-roll icon Jerry Lee Lewis, Ethan Coen has been the somewhat quieter of the two Coen brothers following their decision to go their creative separate ways. That changes this week with Drive-Away Dolls, the new dark comedy featuring Coen at the writing/directing helm for the first time as a solo act. The movie can rightly be called a lesbian road trip dark comedy that besides offering an assortment of laughs, should clarify (for those who still need clarifying) which brother was the director and which one was the writer. If that sounds like a back-handed compliment, it’s not. Drive-Away Dolls is a competently made film that, while not ready-made for mainstream success, is certainly destined for cult fandom. It will surprise no one to learn that there are many touches here straight from the Coen universe, and just like with the majority of Coen titles, fans will know who this movie is for and who it isn’t.

    In Drive-Away Dolls, reserved Marin (Geraldine Viswanathan) is struggling to get out of her shell and find a woman who gets her. Meanwhile, her friend Jamie (Margaret Qualley) has just broken up with her girlfriend Suki (Beanie Feldstein), leaving her homeless. On a whim, the pair decide to rent a drive-away rental car and head to Tallahassee for a break from their lives. Unbeknownst to them, the car they rented was meant to be picked up by a couple of henchmen (Joey Slotnick and C.J. Wilson), who were tasked with delivering the car and its contents to Tallahassee for their boss (Colman Domingo) and his client (Matt Damon), an image-conscious politician.  

    As soon as Drive-Away Dolls starts, it immediately announces itself as a vintage Coen brothers film in many ways.  The world Marin and Jamie exist in has that feeling of a heightened reality that isn’t defined by any one decade. Many of the movie’s cuts, dynamic scene transitions, absurdist humor, and side characters would seem right at home in virtually any comedy film Coen helped create throughout his impressive career. This is especially true in the dialogue that Coen and co-writer/editor wife Tricia Cooke have conjured up, which is easily one of the movie’s strongest assets. Lines such as the freshly single Jamie declaring: “I’ve had it with love. I don’t believe love is relevant to the 21st-century lesbian” are pure Coen and give the movie an energy that fans will latch onto. For all of the familiarity, the Drive-Away Dolls is at its best when focusing on its two differing leads. Marin’s yearning to come out of her shell and Jamie’s sex-positive nature is a good match for these two friends who, despite their occasional frustrations with the other, aren’t willing to let each other go. While it might be tempting to question how a wild card and an introvert could have ever become friends, the pull to each other and the devotion that exists between them may not be upfront in the beginning, but by the end more than speaks for itself. 

    The journey Drive-Away Dolls took to the screen was a long one. Coen and Cooke originally conceived of the idea back in the late 90s and came close to getting it before the cameras numerous times before things would fall apart, causing a series of rewrites over the years. It’s these rewrites (which took place over two decades) that account for some of the movie’s shortcomings. Usually, when a script gathers dust for so long, the end result becomes hopelessly dated and generic. That isn’t necessarily the problem with Drive-Away Dolls. But there is a clumsiness to the film that shows up here and there with certain plot points needing to be more sketched out and fleshed out. The mechanics of the screenplay function well enough in terms of conflict, resolution, and overall character development, but one can’t help but suspect some missing components fell by the wayside which perhaps might have made the film soar. I’m sure it must have been a personal triumph for Coen and Cooke to finally see their long-gestating project come to light, but it looks like decades of tinkering and reworking their script has resulted in a closeness to the material that can’t help but suffocate it on occasion.  

    Viswanathan and Qualley take their time generating the right kind of chemistry here, but the two eventually develop a shorthand that helps with their respective approaches to the characters. The former plays Marin with a buttoned-up manner and the latter injects Jamie with a go-for-broke approach to life that serves both the actresses and the movie well. Slotnick and Wilson likewise sport such worthy comedic chemistry, that you begin to eagerly await their next scene. Domingo adds an appropriate amount of menace in that Colman Domingo way, while Feldstein is the movie’s secret comedy weapon, generating laughs every minute she’s on screen thanks to a slightly unhinged energy that’s just priceless. Finally, Damon, Miley Cyrus, and Pedro Pescal make the most out of their limited screen time for a trio of wholly enjoyable glorified cameos.

    It should have at least been something of a comfort to know that the dissolving of the partnership between the Coen brothers was due to an impasse they faced in their work and not in their personal relationship. Speaking solely for myself, I prefer to feel the passion in the work of my favorite artists and can understand the decision to walk away from the art itself when the desire and drive for it isn’t what it used to be. Even if it doesn’t work as a complete experience, Drive-Away Dolls does contain the kind of excitement that made Coen such a prominent figure in cinema. As far as what the future holds for the filmmaker, well, there’s his next solo directing effort, Honey Don’t already lined up as well as a reunion with brother Joel on a horror project. It’s near impossible to even try to guess the road ahead for Drive-Away Dolls in the face of such intriguing upcoming projects, but there’s enough here to suggest that fans are at the dawn of a new Coen era; one that could very well be worth the trip.

  • Sleuths for Truth: A TRUE DETECTIVE Roundtable – Season 4, Episodes 4 & 5

    Sleuths for Truth: A TRUE DETECTIVE Roundtable – Season 4, Episodes 4 & 5

    The polarizing finale has already aired, but we’re playing catch up because Justin has been slammed with life stuff… but we promise, we’re still here and we have thoughts to share

    Before we dive into this week’s episode, let me first remind everyone… there will be spoilers. So let this serve as a SPOILER WARNING and if you’re caught up with the show, we hope you’ll stay, share your theories, and let us know what you think about True Detective: Night Country. We’ll be posting every week with our latest thoughts on what happened and what we think is going to happen. If you’d like to join in our final post on the finale and the season wrap-up , you can submit your thoughts to me at [email protected] by 11:59 PM EST Sunday February 25th.

    While many reading this have probably already seen the finale, keep in mind everything we had to share about these two fantastic episodes was prior to learning how the season would wrap. These two episodes created a ton of Internet buzz leading into the finale, complete with all types of theories, praises, concerns, complaints, and all that jazz. The dude bros kept complaining (and spoiler alert, they haven’t stopped since – with additional complaints about the finale and bellyaching about the announcement of Issa Lopez being brought back for Season 5). But, the crew here seemed to really enjoy watching everything unfold.

    For our catch-up discussion on the 4th and 5th episodes, Sarah and Brad take the lead with some awesome thoughts they had before the season finale aired… let’s start with Brad’s thoughts on episode 4…

    Brad Milne (Episode 4)

    As we open upon episode four of this season, Danvers remains haunted by the images on the video of Annie Kotuk last moments on earth. The feminine energy that has been a strong through line throughout this season continues with Danvers both showing tenderness to both her stepdaughter and then to Navarro’s sister as the cold open concludes. After we hear Billie Eillish crooning about burying friends, Navarro consoles her distraught sister and manages to convince her that perhaps seeking treatment is the smart play. Both Reis and Foster continue to play well off of each other, their alliance always an uneasy one. They have a give and take relationship, especially as they confront school teacher Adam Bryce, Danvers forcing Navarro to work lead so as not to earn any fury from Bryce’s betrayed wife.

    The male members of this season also have moments to shine, as well. The younger continues to demonstrate both his competence and his allegiance to Danvers, even when everyone else seems to be more urgently in need of his time. Christopher Eccelston returns, and though he insists on friendship, the impression that he has motives bordering on ulterior. And Pete, played by the always brilliant John Hawkes, has a moment as he awaits the arrival of his mail order Russian bride. The hope vanishing in heartbreaking fashion when he realizes she has not arrived as promised would be his Emmy moment if he were to have one. In an instant the crestfallen look on his face would be enough to break your heart if his character was worthy of any pity, from his behaviour throughout the first season. Also, Eddie Qavvik (Joel Montgrand) continues to shine in his role as Navarro’s put upon bedfellow.

    It’s Reis, though, who feels like the MVP of the episode. Both in the haunting way she bids unknowingly a forever goodbye to her beloved sister, standing on one end of the hallway while her sister disappears down that hall. When she finds out that her sister has surrendered to the demons she checked into the facility at the episodes beginning to thwart swallow her whole. She goes off in search of trouble and easily finds it. First, taking out her fury on the employees of the voluntarily rehab centre. Then, instigating a fight with the same man she arrested for abusing his wife or girlfriend in the season premier. It’s an unfair fight and the outcome while not fatal isn’t pretty.

    We also find out more of what happened during the Wheeler arrest. Navarro seeing things that may or may not be there, as they have a confab with each other early Christmas morning.

    The episode ends with Navarro and Danvers on the trail of Raymond Clark, living in the remains of a broke down dredger. It’s a fun game of cat and mouse, with a haunted Navarro seeing things that cannot be, and Danvers coming face to face with Otis Heiss.

    As the season continues to hurtle towards its conclusion I remain hooked. The investigations mix of mystical horror, and straight up mismatched detective procedural continues to be worth the commitment of time. Really love this season, easily my favourite since season 1.

    (@BradMilne79 on X)

    Brad Milne (Episode 5)

    We are all in the night country now. The penultimate episode begins with us witnessing the cremation of Navarro’s sister Julia. It’s easily the most somber cold open yet.

    There is a protest at the mine which turns into a riot that the Alaska state troopers are called into quash. Leigh Danvers step daughter throws an object which strikes Navarro in the back of the head but because of the riot gear startles more than inflicts damage. However, another state trooper takes exception and begins to attack Leigh, but Navarro intervenes on the side of right, wanting to protect the child of her ally, but Danvers being her usual standoffish self instead decides to have Navarro book Leigh into custody. Things further deteriorate as Connolly’s true motives are revealed as he tells Liz to drop it, when Kate McKittrick who runs Skyline mining in Ennis brings both into the head office to tell them the cause of death for the Tsalal men was basically accidental, as well as to enquire why Danvers and Navarro were on Skyline property at the mouth of an abandoned mining cave. With no murders the case is closed, Connolly getting assurances from Danvers she understands. To hedge her bet McKittrick enlists Hank to make sure that the engineer Otis Heiss who was taken into custody at the end of the previous episode is disappeared. When Hank claims he is not a killer, McKittrick obfuscates, but it’s clear that his death would be helpful McKittrick wanting to keep Danvers from somehow implicating the mine. Liz tells Navarro as much when she returns form her dressing down at Sun and the two women share an uncomfortable exchange, which ends with Navarro putting the unsolved murder of Annie on her. Her conscience getting the best of her, she enlists the help of Otis Heiss, who during earlier questioning says he will help if she provides his drug of choice. She is unwilling earlier in the episode but after Navarro lays the guilt on thick she agrees. In a move harkening back to season one Danvers steals heroin from evidence, much like Cohle had stolen cocaine in the first season.

    The episode comes to a head at Danvers home. Where Pete has been staying after it’s revealed he blabbed to Connolly that the way Navarro and Danvers say the Wheeler case came to an end wasn’t the real truth. So she tells a homeless Prior after being booted from his not so happy home by his wife, to move out to the shed behind her home. Of course Hank has been trailing Liz and arrives intent on removing Heiss from her supervision by any means necessary. Things hit the fan when Peter arrives on the scene after hearing the gunshot that killed Otis, and after Hank seemingly aims his sights on Danvers, Peter kills him.

    All hell has officially broken loose. As we are all in the dark country now. Everything I have said about the season in earlier recaps holds true, and I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.

    (@BradMilne79 on X)

    Sarah Jane

    Boy, these last two episodes such packed a wallop!

    We learn from Prior that the Tsalal station is funded by the Silver Sky Mining Company. That wasn’t really a surprise. The station was there to put out favorable data about the mining company. It’s clear that mine is poisoning the people of Ennis but you wouldn’t know it by the Tsalal figures. We also find out where Annie was murdered. AND there was a show down between the Priors, father and son. That, my friends, was one satisfying death. Danvers was told by Connelly to stop her investigation of the deaths of the Tsalal team. Apparently, they died in a weather event. Yeah, we know that shit ain’t right. I smell a cover-up! Danvers and Navarro aren’t going to stop looking into both the Tsalal deaths and Annie’s death. They know they are linked, they just need to find the rest of the missing pieces of the puzzle. All the while, Navarro is dealing with the suicide of her sister, Julia.

    I’m really enjoying this season. Again, I’m loving Foster’s performance. She’s tremendous as Danvers. I hope she pops up in more things over the next couple of years. Reis, on her part, is holding her own with Foster. She’s new to me but I think she’s been great, so far. The young Prior, Finn Bennett is fantastic. He’s new to me, as well, but I think he’s perfect as the “freshman”.

    I’m also in love with the setting. It’s dark, cold, isolated, and goddamn eerie. Especially so when you compare it to the hot, steamy, closeness of the previous seasons. I was happy we got the latest episode early because of the Super Bowl but now, we have to wait just that much longer for the finale. Will all the pieces be found and will everyone make it out alive?

    (@FookThis on X)

    While I personally, don’t have much to add for this 2 week recap that Brad and Sarah haven’t shared, I am excited to share my final thoughts on the season as a whole and the finale in a few days, so join use Monday for a final wrap-up of this fantastic season of premium television.


    The Finale

  • DRIVE AWAY DOLLS. A Road-Trip Crime Caper Revolving Around Fun, Farce, and Phalluses

    DRIVE AWAY DOLLS. A Road-Trip Crime Caper Revolving Around Fun, Farce, and Phalluses

    Ethan Coen goes solo with a bumpy road-trip, propelled by the charms of Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan

    Even the most sensible adults need to blow off some steam now and then. A night where a more juvenile, care-free attitude comes to the fore, even if it means a hangover the next day. Drive Away Dolls feels tantamount to Ethan Coen (yes, he of the seminal, and award winning brothers Coen), cutting loose, with a bawdy, fun, and yet very messy solo directorial feature.

    Set in the early 90s, Drive Away Dolls kicks off with some murderous intrigue, before introducing us to a pair of girls, destined to be swept up in a this glimpsed criminal enterprise due to some ill fated timing. Jamie (Margaret Qualley, Sanctuary, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) whose sexual philandering lead to her being dumped (and evicted) by her girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart). Her friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan, Bad Education, Blockers) is still down after a breakup with her own girlfriend two years earlier. As she plans a trip to visit family in Tallahassee, Jamie sees an opportunity to escape the heat by getting out of town, and more importantly to help draw Marian out of her post-breakup shell. A plan largely centered around getting them both laid. They sign-up for a “drive-away”, taking receipt of a care and driving it one-way to it’s owner in Florida, a route plotted out by Jamie to include a series of stops at standout lesbian bars along the way. Due to mistaken identity, they are given a car that is meant for someone else. The girls setoff and soon, a pair of hoodlums are on their trail looking to reclaim their merchandise hidden in their trunk. A screw-ball, road-trip meets crime caper, centered around friendship, fun, farce, and phalluses.

    The film marks a different kind of collaboration for Coen, one forged alongside his wife (and editor) Tricia Cooke, whose own sexuality and personal history has largely informed the film’s characters, themes, and story. Their script is imbued with that madcap sensibility that underpins many of his crime capers, certainly in the wheelhouse of Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading, along with a slathering of tongue-in-cheek lesbian humor. A project gestating for many years, finally coming to fruition, Drive Away Dolls does somewhat feel like a film that could have been better framed within the era in which it is set. A backdrop of the looming specter of Y2K, the end of the Clinton administration seems to hint at the end of an era. A last huzzah for the liberal and liberated, before the right rises once again. It flirts with some of the prejudice that tinged the 90s south, but it never really takes hold of the film or fate of these characters, the good time takes precedence. Where the film is more successful is in channeling Cooke’s own memories of her time in the New York 80s queer scene. Showcasing the various bars and clubs that offered not just sanctuary, but celebration for the lesbian community. Between this and Bottoms last year, it’s great to see this demographic getting to have some fun on screen.

    The core of the film is this odd-couple pairing of a sexually liberated lesbian and her more stoic companion. There’s a rather sweet quality to their deepening understanding as the film rolls along that goes a long way to endearing the film to its audience. Qualley’s Jamie is bawdy fun, with a libido as loose as her mouth. Her introduction comes while fully committed to an act of cunnilingus, and her Texas-twang, and loose, punkish attitude round out much of what you need to know. On paper, something of a caricature, but Qualley gives her a level of gusto, honesty, and warmth. Marian’s entrance comes more appropriately framed by an office cubicle rather than a woman’s thighs. Viswanathan plays the “straight-guy” in this affair, but remains us again what a quietly potent comedic force she is. Around them is a smorgasbord of talent, including Beanie Feldstein, Pedro Pascal, Colman Domingo, and Matt Damon. They all deliver, but in a way all feel a little lost in the melee. Bill Camp, bringing a brilliant sardonic edge to his few scenes, highlights a tonal contrast the rest of the film could do with more of.

    This highlights some of the other weaker elements of the film, largely how quickly (84 minutes), and slickly things move along. The humor unfurls with a face pace, but character moments and plot points unfurl with similar wild abandon. Aside from a few plot hijinks, the stakes never really manifest, compounded by the commitment to more farcical elements. On top of this are frenetic cuts, swipes, transitions, and needle drops, that make for a structural and visual experience that matches the erratic tone of the narrative. In short, it’s all laid on a little too thick. You can appreciate the sense of adventure, but a little less could have resulted in the film being all the more effective.

    There’s probably plenty to be gleamed from the psyche of the Coen siblings when comparing their indulgences when flying solo. The goofy punch of color and comedy in Drive Away Dolls is a marked contrast to the austere and brooding tone of Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. Together, their eclectic qualities undeniably marry into something greater, but it’s hard to overly scrutinize each indulging in their own nature. As road-trips go, it’s a bit of a bumpy one, with a lack of control and focus, a slathering of quirks, and tonal issues making for a messy affair. Despite this, Drive Away Dolls is still a fun time, and recent interviews have revealed a second chapter of their adventures is about to begin filming, and with the pairing of Qualley and Viswanathan in the drivers seat, count me in for another ride.


    Drive-Away Dolls Opens nationwide February 23


  • Satoshi Kon’s PAPRIKA (2006) Haunts Your Dreams in 4K UHD – New Steelbook Edition Review

    Satoshi Kon’s PAPRIKA (2006) Haunts Your Dreams in 4K UHD – New Steelbook Edition Review

    Beloved multi-hyphenate anime director (and writer, animator, and manga artist) Satoshi Kon passed away in 2010, but left behind a legacy of enduring cerebral works which continue to challenge and entertain fans, and entice and entrance new ones. This “all bangers” filmography includes some of anime’s most celebrated films, including Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers – thoughtful, adult-oriented films that challenged the limitations and conventions of what animated entertainment can be.

    Sony Entertainment now brings his final film from 2006, Paprika, to 4K UHD, newly restored and color-timed for HDR. The disc comes in the form of a beautiful Steelbook package which also includes a Blu-ray disc with the film and extras. Included on the 4K disc is a brand new featurette, highlighting the restoration process which seeks to honor Kon’s legacy and the movie’s film origins while also refreshing it for a new medium.

    Paprika introduces us to a team of researchers who develop a prototype sensory device, dubbed the DC Mini, that allows its operator to enter and record dreams – an extremely dangerous capability, in that it can be used to influence and exert control over the dreams and minds of other people, causing manipulation, madness, or death.

    Their worst dreams are realized – literally – when the DC Mini is stolen with malicious intent, leading our multiple protagonists – including an investigating detective and a mysterious female operator known as Paprika – on a surreal chase through a confusing swirl of reality and nightmares where nothing is as it seems.

    This dream world serves up a series of weird and sometimes disturbing scenarios and images, as dream logic does – at times with an unapologetically adult nature, including some difficult sexual violence. The incredible stream-of-consciousness visual inventiveness makes Paprika regarded by as many as Kon’s masterpiece.

    Paprika remains a mesmerizing experience, and it’s not hard to see how the film’s influence can continue to be felt in other films and media like Inception and most recently Dream Scenario, which incorporate similar plot elements, ideas, and themes.


    The Package

    Paprika is new Feb 20th on a gorgeous new 4K Steelbook edition from Sony. The film is a work of beauty and that strength clearly has been the inspiration for this beautiful Steelbook which features a colorful collage. The matte surface gives the image a nice lustrous, metallic sheen.

    The Package includes a Blu-ray disc (with the film and extras) as well as a digital copy insert.

    Specifications and Extras

    4K ULTRA HD DISC

    • 4K resolution with Dolby Vision
    • Japanese Dolby Atmos + Japanese and English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio options
    • NEW Featurette: Restoring Paprika (8:26)
      This restoration featurette discusses honoring Kon’s legacy with the 4K UHD version of the film, and explains the philosophy of the sound mix and HDR color gradation, intended to honor the film and only add dimension without compromising the film’s beauty or vision. It would seem that they succeeded, for the film looks positively beautiful, but still looks like a film from 1996.

    BLU-RAY DISC™

    Note the archival features on this disc are generally SD and interlaced.

    • Feature presented in High Definition, sourced from the 4K master.
    • 5.1 Japanese & English Dolby TrueHD audio
    • Filmmaker Commentary
    • Tsutsui and Kon’s Paprika – Making-Of Documentary
    • A Conversation About the “Dream” (29:03) – a creator’s roundtable which includes Kon.
    • The Dream CG World (15:09) – an interview and tour with cinematographer and CGI director Michiya Kato discussing specific scenes and how they were visually rendered
    • The Art of Fantasy (12:08) – Art Director Nobutaka Ike discusses the style, color, and composition of realizing both real and dream worlds
    • Storyboards and Original Drawings (HD, 10:09) – a dozen short explorations of original art and animatics showing different stages of creating the final image.
    • Theatrical Trailers
      • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:23)
      • International Trailer (HD, 1:46)

    A/V Out

    Get it at Amazon: If you enjoy reading Cinapse, purchasing items through our affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.

    Paprika 4K UHD Steelbook

    Screen captures in this review are taken from the Blu-ray disc (included with the 4K UHD edition) and for illustratrive purposes only – they do not represent the full color or resolution of the 4K image.Additionally, images may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and imaging for web.

  • Review: DUNE PART TWO Continues Denis Villeneuve’s Run of Sci-fi Masterworks (Plus a Quick Recap of PART ONE)

    Review: DUNE PART TWO Continues Denis Villeneuve’s Run of Sci-fi Masterworks (Plus a Quick Recap of PART ONE)
    Everything we know about Dune: Part 2 | Space

    Known for his heady themes and stunning visuals, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has been a proven talent at crafting films that are both visually and mentally stimulating, as thoughtful as they are artful.

    Dune: Part Two continues the story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), a young prince with powers of premonition, based on the classic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. Paul’s aristocratic family is tasked by their intergalactic emperor to take control of the most lucrative mining operation in the empire: a substance known commonly as “spice”. Its manifold applications include pharmaceutical use and fuel for space travel, making it the most valuable commodity in the universe and it’s found in only one place: the harsh desert planet Arrakis – aka Dune.

    While Dune: Part One was a fascinating film – and a hit for Warner Brothers in the difficult pandemic era – it was mostly world-building and setup. The Atreides clan arrives on Arrakis to perform their new duty as bidden, but it’s not long before their enemies the Harkonnens (led with slimy nastiness by Stallan Skarsgård as the Baron Harkonnen and David Bautista as his top enforcer) launch a surprise attack, slaughtering most of the family and their household including patriarch Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and weapons master Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) – a betrayal by the Empire. Paul and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) narrowly escape the massacre, and are rescued by a sympathetic band of the local population, known as the Fremen. A lone dissenter challenges Paul to a duel, and the outsider’s unexpected victory in fair combat earns him a place in the tribe – “a life for a life”, according to their custom.

    Part Two picks up right where its predecessor leaves off, with Paul and Jessica in the company of the band of Fremen which include leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and the alluring Chani (Zendaya), the latter of whom Paul recognizes from his visions and dreams.

    But whereas Part One was largely setup, Part Two is a payoff worth the wait. While initially rebuffed by the Fremen, Paul quickly proves his mettle in natural leadership, combat, strategy, and adapting to the harsh desert. His meteoric rise lends credence to a prophecy of a messianic outsider – and is fun to watch. (Incidentally I remember the omission of this as the greatest flaw in the David Lynch film, which weirdly glosses over this necessary development in trying to compact its overstuffed runtime).

    The film touches on – but doesn’t quite directly address – questions of religious faith, superstition, and cult fanaticism. For Paul, who has premonitions of the future, there’s an internal struggle to both grasp and reject the opportunity afforded him, and at times he both eschews and encourages the prophecy. He knows that he can help his adopted people, but his visions warn him of the great risk that doing so can invoke more bloodshed in his name.

    As grand spectacle, Part Two handily outdoes its predecessor and delivers grand-scale storytelling: it’s action-packed and tremendously rewarding, as Paul and the Fremen fight back guerrilla-style against the Harkonnen, and in turn the Empire. The behemoth sandworms which we saw a bit of in Part One play a much more prominent role this time, and they’re a marvel to gaze at, with a sense of physical scale that’s rarely matched with such power. Sound design is something I rarely take much notice of, but I was frequently stunned by it here as the voluminous bellowing of worms, crashing of immense machinery, and clashes of battle are a buffet for the ears that really help to sell the film’s grand scope. It’s this scope which marks this as a film that demands to be seen in a theater.

    The expanding tale also introduces us to additional characters new or only mentioned before – the wily Emperor (Christopher Walken), his daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), and a new major Harkonnen antagonist, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), a rival to Dave Bautista’s Beast Rabban who proves to be equally sadistic and cruel, if not more so.

    There’s plenty of setup and some unresolved conflicts and romantic tension which suggest that a Part Three is likely on the way, perhaps following the darker realization of Paul’s premonitions coming to fruition. While I can’t imagine that the story will stop here, even so it’s cool that the film tells a pretty complete story with a definite conclusion thanks to a massive battle and aftermath that serves as the film’s rousing climax.

    Gorgeous, epic, and hugely entertaining, Dune: Part Two is a monumental leap forward from the already quite great first film. Highly recommended.

  • Make It a Double: Wim Wenders’ PERFECT DAYS and TOKYO-GA (1985)

    Make It a Double: Wim Wenders’ PERFECT DAYS and TOKYO-GA (1985)

    Wim Wenders’ new film puts into practice the lessons of his 1985 travelogue documentary which explored Tokyo and the world of Ozu

    Now playing in theaters, Perfect Days finds director Wim Wenders back in his familiar environs of Tokyo, with an unadorned look at the life of an unmarried public restroom janitor (Kōji Yakusho). The film and its subject find value in simplicity. Protagonist Hirayama is an analog man in a digital world: as those around him interact with the world through cell phones and layers of technology, he listens to the music of his youth on cassette tapes, enjoys curling up with a good book, and captures striking moments with a point-and-shoot 35mm camera that he keeps on hand. The movie’s presentation, framed in a 4:3 aspect ratio, seems to subtly reinforce this.

    His life is one of regularity and personal quietude: others in his regular sphere know and understand that he is a man of few words. Seemingly content in his work, we watch how he attends to his job with a meticulous zeal: scrubbing toilets, cleaning glass and counters, even using dental mirrors to view the weird angles and ensure he’s reaching every nook and cranny. Though he says nothing, he obviously notices and bristles at the shoddier work done by his coworker Takashi, a friendly but directionless young man whose primary trait is his immaturity.

    Hirayama’s workday follows a pattern: a canned coffee, lunches in the park, and listening to music while traveling between his job sites, and ending with a visit to the bathhouse. Outside of work, his life is also one of routine: frequenting the same eateries and visiting the same shops to purchase a new book or develop a new roll of film. He’s most comfortable where he’s known as a regular and not expected to speak out loud. On the weekends he visits a small bar where he enjoys a gentle flirtation with the lady proprietor, who likes him enough to make the other regular patrons take notice and complain that he gets special treatment.

    Wenders gives us a look at this routine in order to show it becoming interrupted by a series of changes, both small and large. When Takashi introduces the girl he is trying to date, Hirayama begrudgingly helps him and even gives him some money, despite innately realizing what the younger man doesn’t: he’s way out of his depth. Later, when Hirayama is forced to work a double shift, we see how badly the change to his routine unbalances his equilibrium and disturbs his typically genial mood. For most people, these minor deviations are just incidental regular life, but for Hirayama, a creature of habit, they are interruptions to his state of mind.

    Bigger disruptions also come into play when Hirayama’s runaway niece pays an unexpected visit. The girl’s initial embarrassment of her uncle’s work soon turns to an understanding respectfulness of his lifestyle, and she even pitches in to help. This interruption is the rare positive kind, and it’ll be sad when the girl must return home. It’s only through this interaction that we get a glimpse of Hirayama’s family or the unspoken past hurt that estranged him from them.

    In the end, yet another new interruption puts things into a different perspective, leaving with a gentle and hopeful message: change is OK, and sometimes necessary.

    Wenders directs the tale with a light touch and gentle affection, and the slice-of-life approach to telling a simple working class story set in Tokyo made me think that this was his way of creating something in the tradition of his favorite filmmaker, Yasujirō Ozu (which I’ve sinced learned is something that he has confirmed).

    Tokyo-Ga, his 1985 travelogue in search of Ozu, adds some perspective to this.


    Forty years ago, a younger Wenders set out on a pilgrimmage (while insisting it wasn’t one) to Tokyo in search of the spirit of Yasujiro Ozu. As the German director narrates in English, he has a great love for the films of Ozu. While many directors evolve, work, and create in a variety of different genres and styles, Ozu was consistent in his output, telling simple stories centered around family life in Tokyo until his death on his 60th birthday. Unlike virtually any other director, his entire catalogue, spanning decades, could be approached as a single masterwork.

    Tokyo-Ga is Wenders’ document of his trip to Tokyo, hoping to still find something of the spirit of the great master there, 20 years after his death. He explores the city, comparing and contrasting the contemporary technological and cultural hub with the version that Ozu depicted. He finds a place of noisy machines, inescapable commercial business, and rampant advertising, but also one with a sense of identity: narrow alleys, quaint neighborhoods, trains – a place that still values humanity and art.

    Chishū Ryū visits Ozu’s grave – Tokyo-Ga

    Perhaps most relevantly to his search for Ozu, Wenders interviews two of the director’s contemporaries: actor Chishū Ryū and cameraman Yuharu Atsuta, who both share their fondness for the director and their careers with him, as well as a sense of nostalgia for what he meant to them and their careers – things were never quite the same after his passing. Ozu was a man meticulously set in this ways, preferring certain routine in his approach (such as preferring to position the camera statically at the same low angle) – one wonders of perhaps a little of this personality of Ozu made its way into Wenders’ Hirayama.

    Yuharu Atsuta demonstrates Ozu’s preferred camera angle – Tokyo-Ga

    The film is a little meandering, as Wenders trains his eye on interesting but questionably relevant sidetracks like a pachinko parlor, a golf driving range, a gathering of rockabillies, lots of trains, and a factory where artisans craft realistic looking wax food for restaurant displays. Cinephiles may also enjoy watching him meet up with a couple of other filmmaker friends, Werner Herzog and Chris Marker.

    The editing is not organized in the “obvious” way most people would have done it, by inserting clips of Ozu films throughout to complement the relevant discussions. Whether for artistic or budgetary reasons, Wenders bookends the film with a couple of Ozu scenes but his own travelogue is kept uninterrupted. He also prefers to directly narrate his interviewees’ words rather than subtitle them, which I kind of dug as an unusual personal touch.

    Now that some decades have passed, I think the film is probably of greater interest than it was in its own time, offering not only its original search for the spirit of Ozu, but a quite detailed window into the past: an outside (and non-American) perspective of Tokyo of 40 years ago.

    It works particularly fittingly as a complement to Perfect Days. Here we see the beginning of Wenders documenting his journey into the work and spirit of Ozu, whereas Perfect Days is, at least for now, the culmination of it.

    A/V Out

  • Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING Arrives Fully Stuffed On Blu-ray!

    Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING Arrives Fully Stuffed On Blu-ray!

    Eli Roth’s holiday themed slasher Thanksgiving hit Blu-ray last week, and it’s a film I’ve been looking forward to since I caught the fictional trailer in Grindhouse opening weekend back in 2007. Out of all the trailers, admittedly it was probably my favorite, probably due not only its extreme nature, but its pitch black sense of humor. That said, I am also a bit of an Eli Roth apologist, I enjoyed Cabin Fever, I dug the Hostel series and I am even an avid defender of The Green Inferno. But it’s been a hot minute since Roth has directed a fictional narrative, since he’s been working on various documentaries on the horror genre cementing himself as one of the leading voices discussing and dissecting the genre. 

    So it was a bit of a surprise honestly, that nearly two decades after the fact, he would finally direct the feature length adaptation of Thanksgiving. 

    For those that missed out. Thanksgiving is Eli Roth’s love letter to the holiday slasher that takes place of course, in Plymouth, Massachusetts during the Thanksgiving holiday and follows a group of teens being picked off one by one, by a man in a John Carver mask, dressed like a pilgrim. Carver was a great icon to model a killer after, not only because of the name, but he was one of the pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower and was the first governor of Plymouth Colony. The film begins a year earlier as many slashers do with the inciting incident, when a group of teens are responsible for causing a riot at a black friday sale. Several people were trampled and killed, as rabid consumers stormed the local department store to not miss out on the free waffle irons, in a nod to the consumerism and capitalism that have taken over the holiday. 

    Now, having looked forward to this for so long, I honestly have to say I initially felt a bit let down by the film the first time I saw it in theaters. I think this was primarily because I was expecting beat for beat everything from that trailer, which is about 70% there in the theatrical film. Since then however, I’ve adopted the rationale that given the trailer felt like something lost from the 80s, this new version was something akin to a remake or re-imagining by the same director, given the change of time period. Speaking of which, right off the bat Roth does something most filmmakers don’t, wont or can’t, and that is keeping the cell phone and social media in the narrative. This has Carver not only taunting his prey from an instagram account, but also allows Roth to comment on the toxicity of online culture. 

    While the first watch was simply a reactionary one. Since there’s a lot of gnarly kills and comedic beats to react to, rewatching it for this review I started to dig into the craft of the film itself. As a slasher, Thanksgiving is rock solid, themed appropriately to the holiday and it moves rather briskly from memorable kill to memorable kill. Now the film itself adheres to some very particular rules of the slasher while doing this, beginning with the inciting incident, the viewer is then forced to spend the film wondering who our masked killer is, and it’s a fun game of whodunnit embedded in the story. But where Thanksgiving shines is not just the memorable characters, or the iconic kills, but it’s how well it feels thought out with its understanding and subversion of what the audience has been trained to expect. 

    Let’s take the Yulia kill for example, which is probably one of the best in playing with expectations. We as an audience know since she’s trying to flee to Florida, she’ll no doubt be moved up in the kill queue. I also enjoy that folks in Thanksgiving understand that they need to get the hell out of Dodge, even though that doesn’t always work out. In Yulia’s sequence, Roth toys with the audience giving these mundane tasks she does while getting ready to leave for the airport these long drawn shots, underpinned by a really tense score, just upping the dread, while putting her in a very vulnerable state, that’s not a shower, over and over again. It’s this teasing and subverting expectations that really make this particular bit work as well as it does. Of course Carver eventually stabs here with corn cob holders through the ears, but it’s that sort of unexpected and slightly absurd kill that shows how well he really understands the genre. 

    Roth then takes it a step further allowing her to live and throws her still living body on a table saw, resulting in one of the most over the top and grotesque kills I’ve seen in a major Hollywood movie in a decade. 

    While most studios have gotten complacent with bare bones releases, leaving more well produced discs to the boutique labels. This disc feels like it’s delivering on a clear edict by Roth for fans, to give them something worth picking up. The extras on this disc are as bountiful as grandma’s Thanksgiving feast, which are basically on Scream factory level. Included are the normal EPKs, but you also get a commentary by Roth, Outtakes, and 35 minutes of deleted and extended scenes. There’s even some more gore in these deleted bits, Karen Cliche’s cooking scene is a few minutes longer and speaking of her character, we get to see a lot more carving at the table. There’s not just gore on the cutting room floor, but my other favorite lost bit is a scene with some characters engaging in some baby goat yoga, that stops when the goat decides to pee on the actor. 

    So in my reassessment, I have  to say I’ve come around on this one in a big way. Watching it again really helped me to get past my hangups and start to really enjoy the place setting Roth has given us in Thanksgiving. I feel like every course was planned, dissected, planned again and then punched up, and finally filmed. You rarely get that with horror these days, some directors think being sloppy, copying another film or just going big is the way to go, and you don’t realize how wrong they are until you watch something as well executed as Thanksgiving. Every beat just feels so well thought out and purposeful and that’s something if you dig into the extras you will appreciate, since you see some of the trimmed fat in the extended scenes. Thanksgiving is one hell of a holiday slasher and a film that is going into my holiday rotation right alongside Blood Rage.