27 May 2017


High-Rise is an Interesting Social Commentary
by Kristin Battestella

I didn't intend on writing many spoilers, but director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump's (A Field in England) 2015 feature adaption of J.G. Ballard's High-Rise is an intriguing social commentary with heaps of characters and then versus now parallels ripe for analysis and study.

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a prestige new high-rise designed by visionary architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) – who lives in the penthouse with his detached society wife Ann (Keeley Hawes). Laing befriends the lower living and debt ridden Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife Helen (Elizabeth Moss), as well as his upstairs neighbor Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller) and her young son Toby (Louis Suc). Unfortunately, technological problems within the building escalate the high and low resentments, causing the floors to divide against each other in a social competition for food, necessities, and excess. The residents must fight to survive as the chaos explodes into full blown violence, escapism, and anarchy.

An Unusual framework 
Ironic classical music anchors High-Rise's routine morning rush and good-natured competition on the rowing machines. Most people don't care what happens on the floors above or below them, and it's easy to mind your own business, equally ignoring the small problems such as petty theft and blocked trash chutes or more serious hidden problems like abused children. Laing's introductions provide early exposition and layered subtext, and almost every name etymology or dialogue exchange has a second meaning to match the dual daytime calm and crazy tower nights. Who is the upper man in fancy cologne who stuffs the Financial Times in the mouth of the downstairs girl assaulted in the blackout? Surely, these wild parties and deadly actions are just growing pains like all the little mechanical problems. The advanced tower conveniences provide every envious need to some but not all, precipitating the destruction while bearing a concrete witness to the lust, sloth, and who knows what else happening. Petty races for the closest parking spot become no one remembering where there car is, and less and less people come or go, preferring the chaos inside as more of the building gets trashed with nastiness in the pool, wild sex, gruesome dissections, and children singing to beware the alligator. When it's great at the top there's no need to care if it's dog eat dog at the bottom – no pun intended. The uppers have never been to the grocery store and call it hunting when they don their robes or leisure suits to shop between orgies. Who can they blame below for the anarchy? The lessers must see the superior competition, and the penthouse Joneses will commandeer all the resources necessary – you know booze, canapes, cocktail onions, and cake. The downstairs, meanwhile is divided between staying pat or taking documentary action, capturing the mayhem just as today we look at the world through a rose colored lens on our smartphones. With its futuristic made retro, ambiguous newscaster, and life imitating art parallels, High-Rise retains Ballard's prophetic warnings on media and technology distorting our lives. The visionary design of the building complex – several high-rise buildings with an open palm motif – feels like a Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God warning, with the hellish herd thinned so the worthy can create a new warped normal. Once the sequestered wicked was swept under the rug, but the particular have and have not conditions of the High-Rise let the chaos fester and bloom.

Although the book begins with Laing's post-chaos calm balcony barbecue, this framework and flashback to three months before the breakdown may be a mistake for the film. A novel needs a first page hook with a promise of anarchy enticing the reader. A millennial movie, however, just needs to tell its mayhem from A to B, and the monthly skip adds confusion or a glossed over feeling – especially since there is a montage of destruction halfway through High-Rise with hectic, almost hidden flashes or suggestions viewers may miss. It may be intentional that the audience is unaware of the passage of time as the anarchy ascends. However, when the viewer must ask how long the social bedlam takes after Laing moves in or how the overdue Helen remains pregnant a month or more later, it takes the audience out of the immersive chaos. With such taboo or polarizing angst, High-Rise can't afford to have the viewer check out, and by beginning with Laing's end, the same anticipation that keeps a reader can kill a short attention span movie audience. I don't really want to see more of the violent assaults and implied scares in High-Rise, but the sex seen isn't very raunchy or somehow held back – stoic stiff upper lip rather than full throttle. At least Toby finds an ear! No one but Laing is seen shaving or growing a beard, and nobody runs out candles and cigarettes. Nitpicking contemporary viewers are often so desensitized to onscreen horridness, violence, rape, and murder that it almost seems like not enough happens in High-Rise – or, ironically, we expect social anarchy to erupt in a confined space. Yet if we find fault with High-Rise being too obvious or tame in its commentary on humanity's ugly, then what does that say about us?

Dr. R. Laing 
Like the past participle lain, Tom Hiddleston's buttoned up Doctor Laing is content lying low in his apartment detached from the outside world when not peeling the flesh from a skull or using tightly grip saws and mallets in his pathology work. His life is in boxes – said to contain “sex and paranoia” or “nothing” – and Laing likewise barricades himself in to avoid the destruction between rival floors. Laing has a bent little cigarette when he's insulted by the men at the top, but his third person calculating self won't go along with their lobotomies upon request. He's trapped in the mirrored elevator during the blackout and seems to dislike both lifts and stairs – tools to move above or below his station when he knows his place. As seen in Crimson Peak and Only Lovers Left Alive, the subtle cracking beneath the surface mask is what Hiddleston does best, and his simmer adds dimension to the otherwise neutral Laing, who never really reveals his full hand or says what he is thinking. Laing tells Louis Suc's (The White King) “Little Professor” Toby to blend in so everyone would like him, for he was always covered in mud or failure that his father wouldn't touch, but Toby questions Laing on if he killed his family, likes being the only one left, and why he didn't punch Simmons when he had the chance. Everyone trusts Laing's quietness, and he services all the women of High-Rise in some way – usually with his sexual prowess since he looks good without his clothes. Initially, Laing is concerned with sunbathing, massages, fitness, and cleanliness with repeated showering splices. He won't go in the pool, probably because he's told the children peed in it, and ash smears on his face in the same spot that is later covered with gray paint. Laing's suave seventies style parallels the building breakdown as his bell bottoms roll up, the white shirt dirties, and the choking tie is tossed. Even his hair becomes almost gray, completing his in between, non-committal uniform appearance. Laing blends in as a utilitarian part of the increasingly dirty tower, and his gray walls match the sky outside as the inside and out become one. Laing sponges his clothes in the shower and won't take them off for Helen, saying for the first time he is happy as a kept object with his new unusual family. He's where he belongs and intends to open a private practice to help others surrender as he has.


As his name suggests, the performance that invests the audience most in High-Rise is Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) as the bottom floor family man Richard Wilder. He's a likable guy with a gruff seventies action man exterior. His flirting and fooling around is understandable, too – a guy's entitled to blow off a little steam! He has bills to pay, mouths to feed, and another on the way but the down documentary filmmaker with a vision isn't content as a point and shoot it cameraman. Wilder befriends everyone regardless of floor status and insists on doing justice for the children denied at the pool by an upper floors only reservation. He won't have his children humiliated, and while others try to rise by bending to the top's ways, Wilder intends to conquer them by fighting Simmons. Wilder suspects Royal uses Laing to feed upper propaganda to the lower orders, and the two become like rival sons – one cowering and one a man of action – with their pseudo sexual dance off meant to draw out Laing's wild side. Wilder isn't a bad guy but lashes out like a cornered animal fighting back against one too many snickers on high as most defending family men would do. He begins with petty pet vengeance before valiantly deciding to document the mayhem. He dares question why the police never come and insists on finding Royal as the albatross who can resolve the building's inequalities. Unfortunately, Wilder's climb through the tower's innards becomes a desperate, dirty obsession to get to the top even after his camera is lost. He embraces all manner of subterfuge to ascend the floors, threatening people with violence for information and gaining access with rapacious violations and misogynist control. He growls on a cassette recorder, caged under the glass table and lying in wait, orchestrating his rise to man of the house on a higher floor with a beaten woman serving his canned food supper. Did Wilder always have sociopathic tendencies or did this social collapse shape the warped nurture necessary to achieve his goals?High-Rise admits that a man will do what he can and get away with it once society allows the opportunity. It's uncomfortably provocative and frighteningly accurate once Wilder realizes what he has become – he is indeed the sanest man in the building because he is fully aware of who he is and what is happening, embracing the tower catalyst with no regrets.

The Lower Floors

Sienna Miller's (Layer Cake) Charlotte is described as being one of the few residents who cares – hosting parties, reviewing tenant applicants, and sitting on most of the committees despite a modest mid-tower apartment and no mention of any wealth or position beyond being Toby's mother. Charlotte knows everything about the building, admitting there is a social hierarchy already in place whether Royal likes it or not, and he refers to her as the number 374. But she is on the 26th floor above Laing, who's room is styled as 2505? She approved Laing's “Byronic” application, so she knows his apartment isn't empty as she claims, and the intercut editing of her first party parallels Charlotte's what you don't see illusion. She leads Laing to the balcony, but we only see Toby spying and Wilder drunk under the glass table. She offers to find the tower brothel for Laing but selfishly talks about herself when they are intimate – and Royal knows about their relationship. Charlotte knows about Laing's sister, admits their sex is only about her and doesn't let him finish, and makes “Robert” agree that they must all do things they don't like. Charlotte watches with Talbot like spectators, discussing whether they should interfere with what is happening or not. The trick, you see is never letting one really know her, but the ambitious Wilder figures out her charlatan game. How does her apartment stay okay and supplied with her and Toby unharmed? The women in High-Rise are all somewhat stereotypical slut, mother, or shrew roles, yet each are both used at those stations and rise above them with consequences along the way.

At first Elizabeth Moss' (Mad Men) environmentalist mother Helen does anything to protect her children despite being tired of her family's bleak situation. She has a plant and one small window, but looks the other way for her husband by saying he's lost his documentary focus. She takes Laing under her wing and has a prophetic interested in recycling, but keeps her children home from school so she won't be unhappy and lonely. She loves her husband but doesn't trust Wilder, and Helen insists everything would be better if they could move to a sunny, higher floor. She barters her children's safety with her wedding ring before going upward. Helen finds solace with Laing before her motherhood gains her access to the top – both as a shunned maid and a revered sign of building renewal with her full moon delivery. Enzo Cilenti (Game of Thrones) as the psychiatrist Talbot isn't a parent, but tosses ice cream scoops over the tower's edge to explain gravity to the kids. He thinks the fascists above don't realize the building isn't as homogeneous as they think – especially when you deny people their basic necessities. Talbot says Laing is obviously hiding in plain sight, but people don't choose when they cross the line, it just silently happens. He documents with Wilder but is caught in the grocery, bound, gagged, and left in the uppers trash amid British versus French parallels and xenophobic insults. Reece Shearsmith's (The League of Gentlemen) orthodontist Steele – who does in fact, steal – is also adamant he isn't homosexual. However, he insists women would help the planet by keeping their legs crossed, and several quick moments suggest he's harming the Wilders' daughter. Steele becomes obsessed with people's trash and taking their teeth, and almost steals Helen herself since people are bartering wives for food. Fortunately, Laing says he isn't that hungry, and Steele respects his word, because, after all they are equals on the same floor.

The Architect and Co.

Royal is indeed the lord at the top – Jeremy Irons' (Reversal of Fortune) idea man who conceived and birthed the design but didn't lift a finger for the construction. Royal calls himself the tower's midwife and the architect of his own accident, vowing to see the teething building through after an on-site injury has left him limping and in constant pain with exercise his only relief. He plays squash with Laing, teasing him about Charlotte in a father and son sort of contest – the dressed in white Royal wears a towel around his neck, like a coach nursing this project of social change, but he dislikes the way people have retreated to their rooms with no escape from themselves. He descends in his mirrored elevator, finding his lost black goat in a hellish domain where he unknowingly bumps into the bloodied and red faced devil Wilder. Royal bargains with the officials knocking on the door to look the other way but hits and threatens with his cane like an angry father with a switch. He still could be the god from above brought to the streets putting man right, but Royal unfortunately succumbs to the committee at the top. He must reminds those above they are his guests and he will make the decisions, but they just roll their eyes at dad saying Laing can't be tossed off the roof because he owns him a game of squash. Royal almost comes to admire Laing's simple desire to be left alone, and over their candlelit dinner eating horse, he reiterates how he will not leave his nest. Royal realizes he didn't leave an element out of his crucible for change but let too many factors in the high-rise – a failure that has nonetheless brought about an escape to a new, twisted life.

Keeley Hawes (Mi-5) dresses out of the past as Royal's queenly wife Ann, isolated in her museum-like penthouse complete with a rooftop garden, goat, and horse. She doesn't actually ride, never gets her hands dirty, and is terrible to the maid she won't pay. Ann thinks Laing is there to fix a button for her to get what she needs, as if man has not other purpose, and she insults him in French, suspecting Royal invited Laing to her party as a silly social experiment. Ann switches to a saintly white hooded robe and isn't seen to have sex with anyone – Royal hitting her is the first time he has touched her in months, and the building is like their desperate to keep the dysfunctional marriage child growing worse alongside Helen's natural pregnancy. Ann packs to leave for her rich parents and slaps Royal when he asks if she is still enjoying her party, but Laing insults rather than indulges Sienna Guillory's (Fortitude) actress Jane Sheridan. Instead, she romps with the more dangerous Wilder during the blackout, and her pampered dog pays for it in the pool fight. Wilder tells her to “share and share alike” but she cries while looking at herself in the mirror. Jane bashes a man with red liquid in the supermarket and screams misogynist before drinking from the punch bowl in bed with her lookalike Ann. Did the building chaos bring out the actress's latent lady truths? We don't actually see her have sex with Wilder, and later Jane asks which bastard is going to have anal sex with her. Although, she may end up with the horse while the men have a symbolic but classical music sophisticated dance off instead. In a subsequent, awkward, and open to interpretation scene, Royal has sex with her as Ann stands nearby smoking and holding Jane's hand. Is this their idea of a threesome or a boring obligation for the women who prefer each other? Jane asks if anyone has made an complaint to the high-rise's owners, but Ann tells her they are the owners. She answers happily when asked where all the menfolk have gone, glad to have their brutishness out at the top, but what do the women do alone inside while the men are out killing the horse? Hmm...

Comedian Dan Renton Skinner's Simmons is Royal's strong arm henchman with sarcasm under his breath and a sense of entitlement that keeps him at the top. He wears all black to Royal's all white, putting his feet up and asking Royal who to blame for what went wrong. Despite hearing Royal invite Laing to Ann's party, Simmons tosses Laing out as a cheap bastard exceeding his station. Simmons leads food raids and receives sexual services while telling Royal he doesn't work for him, but the building, as if its an entity itself to those reaping the rewards of its anarchy. Likewise, James Purefoy (The Following) as cold hands gynecologist John Pangbourne is repulsed by the street level antics, walking passed the families arguing with the janitor over food and electricity and telling Royal he's ready to colonize the sky by clearing out the lower floors for a golf course. Pangbourne eventually proves useful delivering Helen's baby, but he beats Wilder, shoving toilet paper in his mouth. He thinks those wearing the leisure suits still control the unspoken rules of the high-rise, and he's willing to humor an exchange with Laing if he will help get rid of Wilder – dividing the ruffians in the middle so the top can prevail and reclaim the building. He mocks Royal as symbolically still holding the key to the building and tries to send him below to get rid of him, for the top isn't as united as they thought – it just takes longer for their ruthless to show once the food runs out and the women grow tired of the men's mistakes.

A Suave Retro Study

I like the Portishead cover of ABBA's “SOS”. It connects today’s bitter bleak with the onscreen breakdown as good film music should. However, I really love the pop gone classical “SOS” version – an ironically pleasant, upbeat strings rendition signaling the imminent social divides amid decadent parties and Marie Antoinette costumes. Dark humor, kaleidoscope designs, visual parallels, and exterior CG imagery accent High-Rise as the initially tall and mighty beacon in the sunny sky grows overcast with the clouds and darkness of its proverbial downfall – the building's shadow looms over the landscape and turns upside down in the perspective of the dead below it. Retro technology, record players, old phones, boob tubes, vintage sports equipment, build it yourself radios, and classy cars invoke the past along with ye olde supermarket styles and platform shoes. High-Rise is obviously seventies set, but it doesn’t say it with any fixed year given. Specifically dating it would trap the film rather than embrace the doubly fun retro futuristic of setting Ballard's predictions in the past. Although an onscreen countdown may have fixed the time frame issues – a character clinging to checking off the essential days or old school digital numbers that switch to handwritten or scribbled counts before disappearing once the chaos goes beyond calendar care. I also wish there had been more period music as a recognizable sign of the then heady excess we recall, if only as an excuse for some ironic Bee Gees!

Though not for everyone, High-Rise is not A Clockwork Orange or as shocking as it wants to be. The film's confusing frame and innate sense of British stoicism can create a numb viewing despite sexual assault and other extremes onscreen. We are also more like Laing than we care to admit – too accustomed to omnipresent sex and violence and sitting back while anarchy sorts itself. David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future is a much more disturbing parable, and the potential comparison to Cronenberg’s Shivers was one of the first things that intrigued me about High-Rise. I followed the entire press tour waiting for someone to ask Ben Wheatley about the similarities between Ballard and Cronenberg’s works, but there was only one article with the director's thoughts on the two. It's an older, inferior production, but Shivers embraces the terrible taboos from which High-Rise may shy, and it would be fascinating to compare these two side by side. Reviewing High-Rise took multiple watches, for I had to keep pausing while I typed all my thoughts. This isn't an entertaining or happy viewing experience and High-Rise at times wears its social commentary on its sleeve. However, this remains an intense little “this is why we can't have nice things” picture for a book versus film study, mature audiences, fans of cast and crew, or dystopian viewers.

26 May 2017

Top Ten: Christopher Lee & Peter Cushing!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews. 

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...


Our Top Ten Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee Movies!

Feel free to visit our Hammer Horror checklist and browse both our Christopher Lee rundown and our Peter Cushing list for much, much more!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.

23 May 2017

Top Ten: Vincent Price!


Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...

Our Top Ten Vincent Price Pictures!

Please visit our Vincent Price tag, browse our Horror page, or check out or American International Pictures rundown for even more classic frights!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.

12 May 2017

Top Ten: Directors!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in alphabetical order...

Our Top Ten Directors!

Please see our Movies page for even more Classic or Horror Directors listed by Genre or Decade! And don't worry if you don't see a famous name – there are more Top Tens to come all year long!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review


07 May 2017


Brimstone a Disturbing yet Must See Parable
by Kristin Battestella

I want to write a entire opus on the 2017 European co-production Brimstone, starring Guy Pearce as a hellbent minister and Dakota Fanning as Liz, the mute midwife afraid of him. The layered statements from writer and director Martin Koolhoven (Schnitzel Paradise) are heavy handed and uncomfortable – many may find Brimstone at best over long at two and a half hours plus and at worst, the picture will be trigger inducing to sensitive audiences. However, with those caveats said, I don't really want to summarize much else nor especially spoil this western thriller, as it is best to go into this must see genre bending parable cold.

The bleak narration and biblically steeped onscreen chapter titles hit home the seasoned frontier, rough childbirth, and rustic farms. The white church and cross atop the steeple stand out as a sense of order amid the natural wilds, and sermons warn of false prophets, wolves among the sheep, and hellish retributions worse than one can imagine for those who stray into lawlessness. Breach births mean choosing between the mother or the child, creating an ostracizing, easy to manipulate divide. Is such a delivery up to God or the midwife's fault? Whispers of evil doing can quickly sway a community to fear and violence. Fiery calls for retribution and paying for one's sins add to the fear and grief of an unbaptized stillborn not finding salvation. Reverse persecution is disguised as divine, and the wolf in sheep's clothing is almost the devil himself indeed. Why be afraid of a reverend and not welcome him into your home? The foul afoot need not be said, and Brimstone doesn't underestimate the audience, letting the drama play out with gruesome animal paybacks, abductions, and torturous injuries. The simmering suspiciousness allows the audience a sense of stillness, time to focus on the characters while the iconography builds suspense. The man in black before the burning building or dragging a girl in white through the mud and calling her unclean are allowed to speak for themselves. Brimstone uses a western setting of creepy brothels, servitude, and no justice for working women to tell a medieval morality play – an already damned purgatory epic a la Justine's virtues made vice with shootouts, dead horses, and all the abuses we can infer. Brimstone's pursuits may be taking place in an abstract limbo, beyond time and space with different girls who are one and the same, perpetually chased by the same terror with precious few other devil or angel on the shoulder characters. The out of order segments change the settings as they advance the tale, behaving more like acts themselves where the audience is at first unsure if this is what happened before or what comes next. Brimstone keeps viewers interested enough to see how the vignettes tie together; we trust the unique constructs are part of the juxtaposition highlighting how the code of the brothel and the rules of the fanatical minister aren't very different and both inescapables can even be one and the same. Obey the nastiness of the patriarchal for body and soul or you are guilty and will be punished. Whatever the origin of her sinful behavior, a girl should be ashamed – it's her fault that menstruation makes her Little Red Riding Hood fair game. Once there is blood there is no innocence, and the vicious cycle continues with twisted irony, fateful orchestrations, and sins that cannot be out run. We'd like to think this was just how it was ye olde back then, but not much has changed has it?

Many actors today simply would not take such a role, but Guy Pearce puts on an incredible presentation in Brimstone as this extremely unlikable manipulator. Our foreboding minister justifies his grooming righteousness with warped scripture, remaining nameless beyond his title or fatherly names – respected monikers advantageously misused along with creepy chapter and verse and touchy feely, uncomfortable familiarity. He knows when Liz is hiding near him and taunts her on how she as such a terrible murderess can sleep at night. This minister has come to punish her and will use her husband and daughter to do it. He immediately expresses a shuddering attachment to her little girl, and after initially claiming his actions are of God, this minister festers into an unstoppable, almost immortal embodiment of the sins made flesh carrying him. Hellbent and beyond salvation, this Big Bad Wolf howls and embraces his brutal scourge. I'm not often disappointed in Pearce's work despite learning early on thanks to superior quality like The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, L.A. Confidential, and Memento (For shame on those who discovered Memento and Christopher Nolan so late, and why is Snowy River: The McGregor Saga still not properly available in the U.S.?) However, this may be his darkest, finest performance, and it's surprising no awards followed. Likewise, Dakota Fanning (The Secret Life of Bees) looks the pioneer part. She's kind in an unforgiving landscape, mute and disliking guns, but strong and we immediately root for her survival at every struggle, be it a neighbor's cold shoulder or a freezing last stand. There's never a doubt that she's in the right, doing what she has to do – her lack of a heard voice lets her actions speak louder than words. Emilia Jones (Utopia) as the younger Joanna is also a spirited girl who learns of her own strengths the hard way. Despite all the abuse and persecution in Brimstone, these ladies are not victims. The Minister believes a woman can't out run what a man has in mind for her and she will pay the price for her resistance, but Joanna flees to the frontier for her freedom. She continues to out run evil in all its disguises whether it is a losing battle or not, and Liz repeatedly take matters into her own hands, refusing to surrender regardless of all that's taken from her.

The ensemble behind the leads in Brimstone really are a supporting cast helping or hindering, well-intentioned or misused, stepping stones and catalysts. Carice van Houten's sorrowful mother and helpless wife Anna is completely relatable. The audience wants to protect her from her husband or see her stand up and do something for Joanna, but her weakling mother who can't do anything contrasts the strong woman alone daughter we see later. This minister's wife won't do her wifely duty, thus she needs to be gagged in an iron mask for not holding her tongue and whipped until she can gain the Lord's favor. Hers is a pathetic existence, and this bittersweet role is the complete opposite of van Houten's Game of Thrones ruthless. Fellow Thrones star Kit Harrington is also featured in Brimstone for Chapter Three – perhaps mostly for the financing incentives and audience appeal after several casting changes – for his accent is terrible and he looks a little too pretty boy modern rather than gritty cowboy. Although we don't doubt his anti-hero outlaw's earnest or sincerity toward Joanna, his masculine intrusion is the first of many would be hopeful sparks used against her. Fortunately, Carla Juri (Wetlands, but more importantly, the gal plays ice hockey!) is a fun and feisty prostitute when it comes to the disagreeable male clientele. She's tender with Joanna, and they plan to leave together as mail order brides after one too many pimp abuses. Viewers hope for their escape from the cathouse – even if we know better. The leaning toward lez be friends because of male hatred innuendo and sacrificial BFF turns may be slightly cliché, but the ladies are likable and charming with turnabout twists right up to the end.

Brimstone is visually aware of its bleak tale, contrasting the gunfire, outhouses, hangings, and blood on snow with birds chirping, hymns, and sunshine. Fine cinematography accents the international locations with overhead angles and camerawork that knows when to move but also how to be still and let the action happen. The sign language, costuming, horses, and wagons add authenticity, and the color schemes don't feel digital or over saturated. The natural outdoor palette and interior patinas reflect the chapters being told – a rustic harvest autumn, the hot summer and barren saloons, the budding fertile spring of a New World congregation, and a frigid, snowy twilight with cleansing water bookends. Ironically, Brimstone was shot in relative chronological order with Three first, then Two, and later chapters One and Four, and the impressive looking blu-ray release includes lengthy behind the scenes interviews and detailed sit downs with numerous cast and crew members. Brimstone is recognizable as a western yet when and where it takes place isn't definitive. There's no cowboys in white hats or other familiar archetypes, only a desolate mood and lawless atmosphere that don't shy away from the period brutality. While not horror per se, Brimstone has many horrific scenes to match its warped attitudes, telling its difficult to watch tale in its own time with no genre limit to stop it from going too far – a refreshing lack of cinema restraint which again, for many audiences, will cross the line. Brimstone is difficult to watch, yet there's little vulgarity, no unnecessary visuals, and no major nudity. Corsets and pantaloons invoke enough saucy, leaving the story and characters to tell the numbing brutality instead of today's desensitizing flash in the pan in your face style. However, I must say I don't think I've ever seen that kind of... um... creative... use of intestines in a movie, ever.

So many Hollywood movies go through the motions, and Brimstone's negative stateside reviews may be because American audiences aren't accustomed to this kind of hardcore storytelling. Period piece horror dramas transcending genre like Brimstone such as Bone Tomahawk and The Witch are being made, however their statement making frights inexplicably remain elusive festival finds outside mainstream release. Spoilers aside, I didn't cover all the details here simply because I didn't take many review notes. I was too busy paying attention to the not for the faint of heart as Brimstone strips the viewer mentally and emotionally with its offensive no holds barred. Maybe rather than shying away from the viewing conversation, we should be embracing a quality motion picture that wouldn't be any good if it didn't push us to our limits as Brimstone does.

04 May 2017

The Bob Newhart Show: Season 4

The Bob Newhart Show Peaks with Season Four
by Kristin Battestella

The 1975-76 twenty-four episode season of The Bob Newhart Show tosses new husbands, potential kids, and one zany Peeper at psychologist Robert Hartley, his schoolteacher wife Emily, their neighbor navigator Howard Borden, orthodontist Jerry Robinson, and receptionist Carol Kester. That's not to mention some wild patients and one drunken Thanksgiving...

Future Newhart costar and third Mr. Pleshette Tom Posner guest stars in the “The Longest Good-bye” season premiere when Bob's college roommate Cliff 'The Peeper' Murdock comes to Chicago – leading to a hokey, you had to be there trip down memory lane. The gags a minute provide our usual straight man psychologist the chance to have some fun, however The Peeper's colorful Vermont pranks and syrup on everything eating habits drive Emily crazy as his leeching stay grows to include their den, Bob's wardrobe, the car, and their credit cards. Fortunately, The Peeper finds a fellow spirit in Jerry for an impromptu sing a long and a fun start to the season complete with snakes in a can. Bob, meanwhile, gets dressed up in his 'bill paying ensemble' for “Change Is Gonna Do Me Good.” His fifteenth of the month ritual annoys Emily so they decide to switch his bills for her grocery shopping. Too bad Emily's checks bounce when she can't follow his payment categories – bodily maintenance, domicile, and communication for the phone and newspapers. Bob can't read her grocery list, either, but calculates the price per ounce at the store and alphabetizes the kitchen in descending order of spoilage. The battle of the sexes psychology spins continue in “Shrinks Across the Sea” as a visiting psychologist exchange has The Hartleys disagreeing on everything from dust to whether they should eat at an American restaurant or cook at home. The Bob Newhart Show has some unusually off handed French snides here, but their guest is fittingly snobby, claiming Paris is nothing to see and afraid Chicago wouldn't have toilet paper. Each psychologist can spot the opposite's stress but can't notice their own petty arguments. After all, Bob thinks their balcony is like Paris in Spring, but Emily says it is Chicago in winter. But hey, this is the seventies, there's no need for prudes to be so provincial. Yogi Bear is on at the same early bird time and everyone will miss it, but Bob intends to wax on the overall effectiveness of group therapy when a television host asks him to be on her talk show in “Who Is Mr. X?” Unfortunately, the barracuda host rips psychology as nothing more than a flimflam after Bob says there is no one cure and he cannot guarantee his work. He's back peddled into revealing that he's counseled an elected official, giving The Bob Newhart Show a humorous debate on how viable therapy may not be or whether it matters who has been treated or not. Bob sticks to his ethics while facing the social stigmas on mental health, but TV has no qualms when audience grabs are at stake. Everyone wants to know who the patient is, with even the newspaper proclaiming, 'Shrink refuses to Name Loony Legislator.' His progressive congressman patient, however, is willing to speak up unashamed after Bob helped him. Bravo!

The Bob Newhart Show peaks with the famous “Over the River and Through the Woods” episode. Emily braves flying to see her family in Seattle, leaving the boys alone for Thanksgiving football and one drunken tough time ordering their moo goo gai pan. Mr. Carlin wants $9.95 for the scotch he brought, Jerry's got a pigskin drinking game, Howard's depressed, and Bob didn't know it was going to be this bad this early in the day. After all, 'You know you're at a bad party when Elliot Carlin is the happiest person in the room.' The titular singing livens things, but four drunk men should not be in the kitchen – nor the turkey in the dishwasher. Bob is drunk but trying his best to remain the straight man on the phone while ordering $93 worth of Chinese food, and it is downright hysterical. Likewise “Bob Has to Have His Tonsils Out, So He Spends Christmas Eve in the Hospital” so our doctor overreacts at the open back of his paper gown and fears he won't make it home to see the Christmas tree. Mr. Carlin gives Bob back the small ugly sweater he gave him for Christmas last year – he expects to have his session post op, too – and Bob's worried, cranky behavior and lack of seasonal spirit spreads to one and all. With no cheery music nor festive decorations and a drab hospital night, this doesn't feel much like a holiday episode. However, it's amazing to see adults facing Christmas as just another crappy day in this non-traditional but realistic half hour. A basketball star with a similar attitude ordered to see Bob in “Duke of Dunk” is also unaware he's a hot dog – he may have sixty-three points in one game but the Sunspots have lost thirteen in a row. Good thing the entire team joins Bob for a 'Fear of Winning' group. In “Birth of a Salesman,” Bob tries to get a salesman patient to be more assertive and helps Emily contest an erroneous ticket, for he doesn't like the nation becoming a flock of sheep not standing up for what we believe. The judicial system needs wise judges to hear all the facts if it is to remain just, but Bob's advice backfires into lawsuits, who is parking in who's parking space, and finger pointing over who started it first semantics bullying another into relenting. The quality of The Bob Newhart Show dips somewhat this season, yet just when you think things feel stagnant late in the year, a still timely episode like this happens. Of course, no one but Bob is happy to see The Peeper and his sparklers in the season finale “Peeper Two.” He has more college glory stories to share, but his wife has left him for the milk man so he's going to stay with The Hartleys for an entire month. Fortunately, dribble glasses and gizzard gags break the serious moments with humorous wallowing. Bob takes The Peeper to the piano bar, refusing to let him sulk and putting him back on his feet – except all the girls in the bar want a married sugar daddy and keep hitting on Bob.

Bob 'The Mooner' Hartley Class of '52 had a brush haircut, a convertible in college, and in flagrante paperbacks under his mattress – but he isn't too proud of such youthful antics. Grown up, inflexible Bob chews his food exactly thirty-two times, always buys Emily the same perfume, and goes really bold by setting his electric blanket to four instead of three. Newhart still does phone skits, but Dr. Hartley questions how much he actually helps his patients in “What's It All About, Albert?” Everyone is successful and accomplished but him, putting Bob on the couch taking advice from others and seeking his college professor mentor. Unfortunately, Bob's not hip with the new go with how you feel hugging campus, W for Wonderful grades, and no need to whisper in the library philosophies. Are scream therapy, inkblots, and psychology really all a crock? The scatterbrained circumspection is able to laugh at the paid to do nothing appearances, allowing Bob to realize his dedication to his work is worthwhile – or at least more important than golf. He's willing to let his patients go to prove he isn't a fraud, but honestly, $35 an hour is a steal! Of course, “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” has Bob up at 7 am for Mr. Carlin and home after his 'Fear of Darkness' group at 10 pm, letting his patients dictate his life until another suave psychologist offers him a partnership. Onscreen time stamps and quirky scene transitions a la The Sting accentuate the zany, but poor Bob ends up working twice as hard – and stuck with an old lady patient who reads poetry and insists on a ninety degree office temperature – while his partner's off on a yacht with pineapples and champagne!

It's been a few years on The Bob Newhart Show and Suzanne Pleshette's hair has grown out – a fuller, mini fro cut to match Emily's long, swinging seventies dresses. I'm not sure about the dresses with hoods, super wide collars, and Little House on the Prairie denim pinafores; but the big shirts, wide belts, flared pants, and black velvet remain far out. Those capes and ponchos are back in vogue, too! Emily says there are still things she doesn't like about Bob, such as his rigid unchanging ways, and they argue in bed about their less than perfect anniversary gifts. She pushes him to update his routine but is not a morning person and dislikes when Bob's stressful hours interfere with their dinner. Emily still stinks at matchmaking, too – relying on if a man sounds gorgeous on the phone and tales from an old best friend who drove a pink t-bird. She doesn't always get Bob's analogies and can't understand basketball, but Emily can bluff through a hockey article when hogging the newspaper. She gets jealous when Bob talks about former school sweethearts – especially the young thin blonde ones – and yells at Howard yet always sets three dinner places to include him. It's nice to have a full plot focusing on Emily when she is promoted over a more experienced male colleague in “A Matter of Vice-Principal.” She's happy to have the unexpected job but is more concerned about telling the teaching couple who were set on the position. Rather then tell her what to do, supportive Bob says she needn't feel guilty over their resentment, but she does think it is her fault, making for a fine mix of professional versus friendship, female authority over males, and crisscrossed couples. Not to mention Emily ends up stuck behind a desk making tough phone calls and disciplining students while piles of paperwork and lack of funds tie her hands. A classroom snake is on the loose and Tracy Grammar School is out of hot dog buns! Fortunately, Emily gets a spiffy parking spot with her name on it – and a $10 parking ticket.

Director Peter Bonerz' onscreen orthodontist Jerry Robinson prefers to be a free cruiser – a debonair swinger with a devil may care vanity hiding his fears of being thirty-seven and alone. He's still very selfish, placing money above people, and wants everyone to overpay in his complicated football pool scheme. Jerry's annoyed Carol's wedding may interfere with his tennis time and takes odds that the groom won't show. He's mostly seen in the office lobby this season ordering her to do something menial, expecting donuts in the morning or complaining about his $200 hard contact lenses – a pricey luxury in the mid seventies – because he doesn't want to wear glasses. While apparently good at his job and seen mentioning his work or coming and going with young patients, Jerry isn't seen doing much and he doesn't know how many teeth people have. Fortunately, he says the pride and accomplishments of his work are better than money, and he does seem to care about events at his former orphanage. Jerry spends Christmas arguing with Howard, too – The Bob Newhart Show seems to forget whether Bob's best friends are currently friends or enemies themselves depending on the situation. Jerry strikes out a lot, and he's not as smooth as he plays it up since he's really only serious about Gail Strickland as the world traveling Courtney. She returns this year in “My Boy Guillermo” wishing to adopt and marry Jerry. She's ready to settle down, but they have very different views on how to raise a child, where to live, even what to name a son and whether he would also become an orthodontist. Naturally paperwork intervenes and Jerry loses the family he didn't have, but seeing him be serious instead of jerky is always a nice moment. Of course, by the next episode he's whining for Bob to get him free tickets and uses some orphan abandonment tears just to make Carol get him a cup of coffee.

He's obsessed with ironing and not interested if life is discovered on Jupiter because he can't fly his plane there, yet Bill Daily's Howard Borden passes his co-pilot test. He eats a piece of celery in the store – finishing it is snacking not stealing – but tomatoes give him hives and cucumbers make him itch. He lays tiles in his kitchen but they won't stay because he didn't peel off the sticky back, and Howard can't spell 'pride' as in 'he pried himself from the cockpit' for a book about himself – and it's not an autobiography because that's about cars. Howard worries about being cremated or frozen and wants to leave The Hartleys the key to his apartment when he dies so they can take back all that's theirs. Outside of such humorous excuses, slapstick magic tricks, or intrusions next door, Howard has very little plots of his own in Year Four. When he comes over at 1:30 am asking for cereal, the milk, a bowl and spoon, and his mail even Bob asks why he is always there. Young Howie visits late in the season for “The Boy Next Door,” and Howard wants his son to live with him. Unfortunately, his airline job makes the child more of a community responsibility – circumventing how despite his love and sincerity, Howard has been made so dumb that he can't be responsible enough to raise a child on his own. He gets his son a coffee maker for his birthday and says he will have to plug in his stove for Thanksgiving in typical bachelor scenes with no mention of Ellen Hartley even though Howard asks her to marry him in “Here's Looking at You, Kid.” Though humorous, the hot out of the street corner station wagon wedding ring, Harvey Wallbangers, and a bumbling proposal don't make us forget how The Bob Newhart Show spent half of Season Three doing the exact same maybe, maybe not marriage. Pat Finley's Ellen is now a legit newspaper reporter and interviewing sportsmen in the locker room, yet she remains wedding shy with cold feet in every one of her appearances – even referring to all the other times they didn't want to get married right now, because they weren't ready, again. Not only does the show not know what to do with the character, but at this point, why would a smart journalist want to date silly Howard at all? We actually see Ellen writing a brutal piece about the medical center in “The Article,” and I don't know why she couldn't just be a strong independent reporter stopping by to recount her latest literary misadventures. Instead, this episode spends more time on her photographer and the quirky doctors with Ellen's article never even going to print. And how about Howard, who walks in, eats toast, and leaves for a flight without ever acknowledging his supposed fiancee – although eleven people pile into Jerry's office for her attention and Bob defends her right to print the truth even when his colleagues humorously threaten him. Whether the visiting tomorrow seven episodes ago mention was a production order mistake or a throwaway line, Howard is surprised to see his brother in “Warden Gordon Borden” and Gordon uses the same family golly gee to also woo Ellen. Like Howard, he's in love and ready to marry her in one episode, and it would be funny if we hadn't seen this merry go round already in every Howard and Ellen episode. I love Pat Finley, but I'm glad Ellen doesn't want either Borden brother and moves to Cleveland, never to be heard of on The Bob Newhart Show again.

But whoa that tie dye denim! Marcia Wallace's Carol Kester is the highest paid receptionist in the building but wants a realistic raise and gets tired of the office routine. She's able to talk frankly to the overweight group about her past, but draws the line at dating a nasty patient who takes her to the Venus Theater for Lady in the Barracks. However, her parents won't visit in “Carol's Wedding” because they say she cried wolf too often, and her overnight husband Larry Bondurant (Later Newhart director Will Mackenzie) is somewhat dull. The series couldn't keep almosting Carol to the altar, but all the courthouse wedding planning happens offscreen in favor of other busy gags. She asks Bob to give her away, but it seems like Carol settled for less than a winner just for the humor. Larry's a travel agent with a discount honeymoon to Japan, but he's late to the wedding because he filled out his ticket wrong and ended up in Cincinnati. This is a significant but fast moving episode, and Carol ends up complaining to Bob about Larry. Perhaps if they hadn't rushed into it, the couple wouldn't have so many issues made humorous? Carol's on vacation for two episodes and only appears briefly in others before doing her nails at her desk and refusing to file when previously she was funny yet efficient. Her marriage isn't addressed again until “Carol at 6:01,” six months later when she should be used to Larry's overly attentive behavior. Marrying her off was supposed to solve her old maid fears, but now her problem is that the husband she barely knew is smothering her with affection, complimenting her cooking, taking her picture, and preparing coffee for his 'Big Red.' If he were charismatic, she'd love the attention, but Larry is played as a dry, annoying dork. Carol still has career woman troubles, too in “Guaranteed Not to Shrink,” but this time his doting inspires her to go back to school to be a psychologist. She only wants to be one because Bob is, and when she realizes psychology isn't for her, Carol switches to teaching like Emily. Bloop.

Kristina Holland's (The Courtship of Eddie's Father) two episode receptionist Gail Bronson is actually just as fun while Carol is on vacation, breaking her leg by falling off her shoes but taking no guff from the doctors. She tells Jerry to get his own coffee, and Carol says in twenty years coffee making will be fully automated anyway! More guests include the debonair cape wearing French psychologist Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space Nine), Philip Allen (The Bad News Bears) as upscale psychologist Frank Wahlburn, and ruthless talk show host Jennifer Warren (Slap Shot). Mrs. Hartley Martha Scott visits in “Fathers and Sons and Mothers,” making her 'sonny' some lemonade when he asks for a drink. Emily calls her mom now but Mrs. Hartley insults her cooking and complains about a lack of grandchildren. Each of her visits has Bob disliking his mother's mothering, but its charming fun to see him squirm. Of course, Jack Riley's Elliot Carlin hates everybody, and Jerry bets he would have been the first of Bob's patients to die. Mr. Carlin says he was Bob's first patient and how Bob feels is irrelevant so long as he feels better. Mr. Carlin appears several episodes in a row, more than some of the regular cast, and has a few plots of his own, including “No Sale” when Mr. Carlin wants Bob to go in on a sweet real estate deal turning tenement buildings into townhouses. Bob's reluctant to go into business with a patient, especially for a seventies steep $5k a piece, and the building is an inner city slum with cast out elderly residents. Though a little heavy on the social commentary with some humor more flat than usual, this is an interesting ethical debate on several layers – forward cutthroat revitalization versus supporting the downtrodden needs – and we're still dealing with this kind of shady business, aren't we? Most of Bob's patients such as John Fiedler as Mr. Peterson, Florida Friebus as Mrs. Bakerman, Renee Lippin as Michelle, Lucien Scott as Mr. Vickers, Merie Earle as Mrs. Loomis, and Oliver Clark as Mr. Herd are seen individually instead of in group therapy, but the core group humorously goes from hating Mr. Gianelli to having awkward vigils after his zucchini related demise in “Death of a Fruitman.” Larry Gelman's Dr. Tupperman joins the 'Overweight Workshop' in “The Heavyweights,” and despite encouraging group openness, Bob uses every euphemism possible rather than say fat. It may not be a perfect episode, but it's interesting to see size debated on television when it wasn't as much of an issue compared to today's onscreen stick figures. The Bob Newhart Show uses humor to address negative personalities, people hiding behind their weight, and lingering appearance prejudices.

Frequent The Bob Newhart Show directors James Burrows and Michael Zinberg return alongside oft writing teams Gordon and Lynn Farr and Tom Prachett and Jay Tarses, however this season's onscreen and behind the scenes changes feel like a second half of the series changing the guard. A funk mix is added to the theme, and though I still like the original brassy 'Home to Emily' best, this update is indicative of the late sixties classy becoming down with the times seventies. The credits are also different, beginning with Bob and Emily at home before his commute and empty coffee cup at the office amid sliding orange screens. Some episodes have a shorter syndication sequence, yet others mistakenly preview a later opening sequence featuring their new apartment while another uses credits from the First Season. The sound is again uneven on the The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series Season Four discs, but the season is easy to marathon alongside commentaries on several episodes, a behind the season featurette, and a gag reel made funnier by its innate retro style. Of course, there's bandannas, big scarves, loud red blazers, wide paisley ties, polka dots, plaid jackets, brown, yellow, stripes, and gingham check. My poor television screen can't handle it! The apartment is still the same from last season's redo, with Howard still using the old brown curtains and orange couches. Actually, I suspect his apartment set is really on the other side of The Hartley's kitchen, as outside of the Chicago establishing shots, precious few sets are used on The Bob Newhart Show – the apartments, the doctors offices, and the occasional restaurant or old green hospital rooms. We see The Hartleys' den, too – with its yellow and orange pullout sofa – and the Rimpau lobby has its own plot when its drab blue walls are painted bright orange. But wow, look at that old blue vacuum, and those manager specials at the grocery store are stamped with one of those giant old price clickers. The cheap champagne price goes up from 89 cents to $1.09 and four donuts cost $1.17! Pencils break and they make Halloween masks out of paper bags when not staring at the test pattern bars on the television. It takes a moment for the boob tube to warm up, too. Remember that? I feel so old now!

Although the quality this season dips somewhat with similar stories standing pat and an uneven character focus on the ensemble, I feel like there's a lot of déjà vu Frasier imitation of The Bob Newhart Show here, too. Ironically, the series also peaks midway through Year Four, becoming a midpoint change with new patients and more gags alongside the still timely statements and downright hysterical, memorable episodes. Despite some hiccups, The Bob Newhart Show Season Four remains nostalgic comfort for the whole family.