Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Meyer Files #18: Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens (1979)

After an extended hiatus, The Midnight Ramble returns with the grand finale of The Meyer Files!

Completed in 1977,  Meyer did not finish his final epic for two years owing to another project which attracted his attention:

Meyer and Roger Ebert were hired to create a movie for the Sex Pistols. A marriage made in hell, the project collapsed after Meyer shot the first scene. Disgruntled, he returned home to complete and release his last theatrical feature.

While it is not great, Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens is a modest rebound from Up!, and marks a return to the optimism of his 60s heyday, with the emphasis once again on the restorative powers of sex, rather than the death and destruction that overwhelmed his last couple of films.

Following her role as the nude narrator in Up!, Meyer's on-off girlfriend Kitten Nattivad was promoted to be the last of his pneumatic stars.

From the beginning, we are back on familiar territory. After the ultra-violence and anger of Up!, it is a blessed relief.

The movie opens with a reprise of the Nazi martial music from Supervixens! We cut inside a mansion where ex-Nazi Martin Bormann (Henry Rowland, reprising his role from previous Meyer epics) gets into a coffin, covers himself with a sheet with holes for his eyes and watches a large breasted woman dance until his kettle boils. As this odd couple get down, Meyer hard cuts to the man who will be our guide through this final Meyerpiece: Stuart Lancaster.

I've already gone into why Lancaster is one of Meyer's best players, and his presence here re-affirms his talents for bland understatement in the face of all the zany rubbish Meyer throws at the screen.

Our 'hero' is Lamar Shedd (Ken Kerr), who, like most of Meyer's protagonists, has a sexual problem that throws the world around him out of whack.

There's not much more than that -- like Spuervixens!, Lamar's search for his libido leads him through a series of encounters with the latest collection of Meyer's buxotics -- including a return appearance from Uschi Digard as SuperSoul, whose outsized jaw remains as unsettling as ever.

There's a couple of subplots involving a gay dentist (who bleeds pink) and a pneumatic radio evangelist, but nothing really standout story-wise.

Here, as with most Meyer flicks, the focus is on the technical elements -- particularly editing and sound design, which are as sharp as ever. You just wish he'd found a new subject to focus on.

There are some odd technical things -- Nattivad appears to have been partially dubbed by an actress with a completely different accent; all the diegetic sound is exaggerated to a ridiculous extreme, and there are odd comic touches which don't come off (a black character bleeds white?!?, a 14-year-old boy is played by a 27-year-old man).

Apart from Nattivad, who plays her role like the Ultimate Warrior after a steroidal binge, the rest of the Meyer women aren't as barnstorming as in previous movies.

The movie does end with a nice cameo from Meyer himself as he packs up his camera and prepares to head home. It's almost like he knew the end was nigh.

And so we reach the end. To be honest, Meyer's career really ended with Supervixens. Everything afterwards feels like an echo of past glories. 

By 2000, Meyer was in the advanced stages of the dementia which slowly claimed him. By the end, he was just a shadow of his former self.

The boxset I own includes Pandora Peaks, the final Meyer project from 2000. It is a DTV movie that Meyer somehow felt was worthy of release. There is not a lot to say about this movie. It's bad.

Well, I hope you got something out of these reviews. It gave me an excuse to finish the box set, and get a broader sense of Meyer's talents as a filmmaker. There were some fun movies I'd never seen, and a few that are some of the worst POS I've ever endured.

For previous entries...

The Meyer Files #1: The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Film fest '16: Day Five

Today marked a return to the back row for a pair of disparate documentaries.

Tower (Keith Maitland, 2016)

A terrific, unflinching yet artful look back at one of the US's first and most infamous mass shootings, Tower takes the now-familiar approach of creating historical re-enactments with rotoscoping animation (ala 2008's Waltz with Bashir being the most notable example).

What could have just been a gimmick is used to support the stories of the eye-witnesses, victims and heroes who were there that day in 1966. 

The approach does not sensationalise or over-dramatise the events, nor do the filmmakers try to force the story into a thriller.

Though he is referenced, the perpetrator, Charles Whitman remains offscreen, the only signs of his presence being archive footage of his rifle discharging from the tower. Unlike more traditional documentaries about spree and serial killers, he is never built up into some kind of cinematic villain. 

The filmmakers keep the focus clearly on the people on the ground, and, despite the obvious constructed-ness of the re-enactments, Tower is an extremely visceral and at times terrifying experience.

Sad, suspenseful but ultimately a moving tribute to the heroes of that day, Tower is unique and powerful viewing.

On the other side of the coin...

All These Sleepless Nights (Michal Marczak, 2016)

What a snoozer.

This Polish drama should have been re-titled 'Forced laughter and significant staring'.

The story concerns a young man trying to figure out his love life over the course of a year.

The film is based around the idea that our late adolescence and early adulthood remain our strongest, most emotionally resonant memories.

The movie makes a good attempt of replicating this by crafting the story as a series of vaguely disjunctive sequences and ultra-realistic sound design.

These technical tricks would have worked if the spine of the story provided a strong hook, but I found the whole experience maudlin and one-note.

The only joy I got out of it was a brief scene where our hero meets a pair of 50-something drug dealers who are the spitting image of Jay and Silent Bob. Apart from this bizarre bit of homage however, it felt like treading water.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Film fest '16: Day Four

No ushering yesterday, so I was finally able to take a look at some flicks I was keen on.

Doglegs (Heath Cozens, 2015)

You give me your best shot and I'll give you mine.

Going into this, I based my expectations on some of the crazy docs that the festival has offered over the years: Big River Man, Trash Humping, The Source Family... movies about crazy shit.

Doglegs turned out to be something considerably more complex and emotionally impactful.

The documentary follows Shintaro,  a disabled man who is one of the leaders of 'Doglegs', Japan's disabled pro-wrestling league. After 20 years, he is ready to retire with a final bout against his longtime rival Kitajima, an able-bodied heel with no compunctions about beating the living crap out of Shintaro.

Other characters we follow include Nakijima, who is a cancer survivor suffering from clinical depression, and L'Amant, a man with extreme cerebral palsy, who takes part in matches with his able-bodied wife.

None of them are good fighters, and there are points where I questioned whether watching a large woman pinning a man with little control over his body was gratuitous and cruel.

However, as the story progresses, you begin to realise that for these fighters, they don't want special treatment.

The quote I opened the review with appears in the film, and really serves as the main theme of the movie -- these people really just want to fight. They don't want coddling, they don't want to be insulated from the world or condescended to.

It's a tough, unforgiving and yet strangely dignified philosophy -- and, like Kitajima, Cozens' film pulls no punches in showing these outsiders' ongoing quest for respect.

Highly recommended.

Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro, 2015)

The title of this one sounded cool.

A day after watching it, I still don't know what this movie is about.

The story follows a bunch of Brazilian  cowboys who run a herd of bulls at a rodeo. These bulls are used in a violent version of cow-tipping in which two cowboys on horseback try to get the bull on its back by pulling on its tail.

The lead, Iremar (Juliano Cazarre), wants to become a clothes designer, and spends the film making a sexy outfit for his boss Galega (Maeve Jinkings). Apart from that, I'm not sure what the plot was, or really what the movie was supposed to be about.

On the plus side, the movie is pretty funny, has some lovely cinematography and the characters are all interesting.

There's a funny subplot in which our hero and his mate Ze try to steal a semen sample from a prize stud so they can make their fortunes. The climax (haha) to this set piece is hilarious.

While there is nothing overtly 'off', this movie is weird.

It's basically a slice-of-life story about these characters in this particular setting.

While I enjoyed it, it might take another go to really get a grasp on it.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Film fest '16: Day Three

Yesterday was the first chance I had to see something non-ushering related.

Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

Following last year's Clouds of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart returns to the NZIFF in her second collaboration with writer-director Olivier Assayas.

Occasionally, I watch a movie and catch myself thinking 'I wouldn't do it like that.' That statement popped into my head quite a few times during this one.

The story is kind of convoluted. Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, an American living in Paris who works as a 'personal shopper' for famous people who cannot go out in public. She is also a medium who is trying to make contact with her dead twin brother. 

Oh, and she is also being terrorized by a mysterious stalker who sends her provocative texts with questions like 'What scares you?' (To this viewer, the answer would be KStew's wardrobe. She models an impressive selection of hideous sweaters (see above) which were far more disturbing than anything else in the movie).

The problem with this movie is that it is simultaneously too obvious and too understated at the same time. The central issue is that the story wants to be too many things at once, and Assayas is not a subtle enough filmmaker to balance all of these elements effectively.

At times, the movie wants to make you question whether it is all in her head -- and other times, she is cowering from a CG ghost. It's an odd, uneven picture with some strong moments, but not enough in the way of narrative or diegetic coherence to make it truly enjoyable.

The acting ranges from passable to very good. Stewart provides a strong central performance -- her sullen, sarcastic presence is a plus here, and she provides a certain level of emotional heft to the darker moments. While the filmmakers seem to have an uneven grasp on the material, she is completely invested, and provides a strong anchor when credibility starts to crumble.

Not a complete disaster, but Personal Shopper is not strange enough to recommend as an oddity. Watch it for Stewart's performance (and her sweaters!).

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Film fest '16: Day Two

Onto Day Two of ushering.

Lampedusa in Winter (Jakob Brossmann, 2015)

A companion piece to Gianfranco Rosi's Fire at Sea (also playing at the festival), Jakob Brossman's documentary offers a look at the small Italian island of Lampedusa.

Buffeted by the elements and broader geo-political forces beyond their control, the small community struggles to cater to the interests of local fishermen and the North African refugees who seek sanctuary there.

This was a pretty good doc, but I felt like I needed to see Fire at Sea to get the complete picture. It always felt like I was watching half the story. Still, worth a look. 

Gimme Danger (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)

The NZIFF always has a strong selection of music documentaries, and this year is no exception. Sadly, I won't be able to watch the docs on Frank Zappa and Sharon Jones. Thankfully, the stars aligned and one of my ushering shifts included this little beauty.

Chronicling the life and times of the 'world's greatest rock band', Jim Jarmusch's wry and funny documentary is a superb encapsulation of what makes Iggy Pop and Stooges so wonderfully iconoclastic, important and, most importantly, fun.

Blending interviews with Pop and his bandmates with animated sequences and movie clips, Gimme Danger is as ramshackle and full of energy as the band it is following. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Film fest '16: Day One

Another year, another festival.

Missed the first week of the festival, so no Green Room review. Sigh.

Anyway. Day One was all ushering. To prepare I did no research on any of the films so you lovely people can get completely fresh takes on these movies.

Let's get into it.

The Road (Zhang Zanbo, 2015)

A fly-on-the-wall documentary about the construction of a new highway in central China, The Road is fascinating. As construction progresses, we follow a variety of different people affected by the massive project — from the people building the road to the people whose lives will be affected by it. 

From an elderly woman complaining about the lack of compensation for the damage to her house, to a local village trying to save their temple, the film does a good job of documenting the collateral damage of the highway’s construction. 

An eye-opening look at the people affected by such massive endeavours. It feels like the same kind of graft and corruption seen in 19th century America — people get rich, others get hurt, and those in power look the other way.

Because the focus is so broad, it does lose some steam in the middle, but overall, The Road is a warm, occasionally sad and funny ground-level view of one of the major political and economic powers of the 21st century.

Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene, 2016)

A queasy mix of documentary and fiction, this movie tracks an actress attempting to get into character as Christine Chubbuck. Chubbuck is infamous for her on-air suicide in 1974 — an incident which inspired the classic movie Network. 

It’s been a day since I watched it, and I’m still not sure if I liked it.I admire its attempts to examine how we re-construct and remediate tragedy, but at the same time, its focus on the central character comes off as self-serving an pretentious. It may be the intention to juxtapose the harsh reality of Chubbuck’s life with that of the actress trying to play her, but it just doesn’t sit well. Despite the filmmakers’ efforts, it feels like they end up repeating the sins they are trying to skewer.

The final denouement is easy to predict, and just feels extremely contrived — you don’t feel like you’ve learned anything new.

It’s a strange, troubling movie, and I don’t think I liked it, but I would recommend it just on the basis that it feels like a good catalyst for a conversation about the issues the movie tries to tackle.

Operation Avalanche (Matt Johnson, 2016)

A by turns hilarious and terrifying mock doc about a pair of hapless CIA agents trying to fake the moon landing, Operation Avalanche was the highlight of yesterday’s screenings. 

No spoilers. Check it out for yourselves. 

Star Trek Beyond: A step forward for the rebooted franchise

I am not a Star Trek fan. I've watched a smattering of episodes from the various TV shows, and watched a few of the movies, and that is about as far as it goes.

I enjoyed JJ Abrams' first Star Trek film, but Into Darkness was just a poorly constructed story with more lens flares than brain cells. While the characters were still engaging, the script was all over the place and it was not nearly as clever as it should have been. I don't know much about Star Trek, but I know enough to recognize that the whole point is the idea of resolving conflicts without blowing stuff up. That, and exploring. And Kirk boning anything with a pulse.

This one had three things going for it which made it one of my 'must-sees' for this year.

Firstly, Abrams, not the strongest storyteller around, would not be back to direct. His replacement was Justin Lin, who is responsible for giving the Fast and Furious movies something they've never had: a sense of fun.

And finally, Sofia Boutella, one of the highlights of Kingsman: The Secret Service last year, was in it.

The story is pretty typical Trek. The Enterprise goes on a rescue mission to an undiscovered planet hidden behind a nebula. The ship is ambushed and destroyed by a mysterious warlord called Krall (Idris Elba).

The crew are scattered across the planet -- Sulu, Uhura and the bulk of nameless red and gold shirts have been captured and imprisoned at Krall's base; Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) by the wreck of the Enterprise; meanwhile odd couple McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are forced to help each other out.

Scotty (co-writer Simon Pegg) is rescued by a mysterious alien Jaylah (Boutella), who may have the key to getting the crew off-planet.

Unlike its predecessors, Beyond feels like a one-shot, self-contained story. There are a few callbacks to the previous movies (all centered around Leonard Nimoy's Spock), but you could slot this in with the other Trek movies and it would not feel out of place.

The key cast get plenty to do, which gives this movie an emotional centre lacking from the previous reboots.

Chris Pine's Kirk has not had much character building in the previous movies, but the script here is based on him figuring out his reasons for sticking with Starfleet. It's a good arc that echoes his father's sacrifice at the beginning of Star Trek 09, and finally allows Pine to step out of the Shat's shadow.

The interplay between Urban's Bones and Quinto's Spock is a delight. Their chalk-and-cheese dynamic is the comic highlight of the movie, but also builds into a quietly moving resolution.

Of course with such a large ensemble, some people get short shrift -- Jon Chu and Anton Yelchin are fine, but fade into the background a bit.

Of the new characters, Boutella's Jaylah gets the most to do -- she plays an alien scavenger who's family were massacred by Krall's minions. It's a cool character -- Jaylah has used archaic Federation tech to construct a Home Alone-style series of traps and camouflage that has allowed her to survive alongside her enemy.

Jaylah's not the backbone of the movie (that's Kirk), but she does have some nice moments which tie into Kirk's arc. They could have fleshed out her story a bit more, but that's nitpicking. No spoilers, but the way her character ends up, it would be nice to see her turn up in the next movie.

Sadly, the villain remains as anonymous as most traditional Star Trek villains. Idris Elba's Krall is merely functional. While he has a potentially interesting grievance, we don't hear about it until the movie is almost over. It's not a fatal flaw, but it means the final showdown does lack a certain punch.

As far as the direction goes, Justin Lin does a terrific job. There's a few moments of overly frenetic action which are confusing, but he has a better handle on how to play out dramatic beats than his predecessor. Where Abrams is obsessed with zipping from one scene to the next in an ADD rush that feels like an extension of his TV background, Lin lets everything play out naturally. The opening sequences, showing the routine on board the ship, is pretty languid and is a nice contrast to the action.

While he knows his way around the bells and whistles, Lin seems to have a better handle on the characters, and tracking their stories. It will be interesting to see where his career goes next, Trek 4 or otherwise.

Ultimately it is the character beats which linger more than the traditional action and plot turns, and make Beyond the most emotionally resonant of this new batch of Trek movies. In that respect, it is a considerable success.

Definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Spy movie review: Central Intelligence

Another year, and more spy movies. This one is a comedy featuring the Rock -- reason enough to check it out.

This guy has been called 'franchise viagra', and this movie is no exception. Let's get into it. 

This review contains some spoilers.

Kevin Hart plays Calvin, a man stuck in a dead end job who feels he peaked in high school. With his 20 year high school reunion closing in, he s feeling especially down.

Until His Rockness, playing a bullied boy-turned-superbuff spy, turns up to catch up.

For the first few minutes, I thought I was in for a bit of a snoozer. While Hart made a believably put-upon Everyman, there weren't that many laughs, and the pace dragged.

And then Dwayne Johnson turns up as Hart's former classmate Bob Stone, and it's like the movie gets a dose of comedy steroids.

Part of it is charisma, the other part is the character.

Bullied at high school, and scarred by an embarrassing incident at his final assembly (as seen in the trailers), Bob is a wonderfully mixed up sidekick.

A lover of both guns and unicorns, Stone is the living embodiment of the old saying that no matter how old you are, you are still the same person you were in high school.

Stone is like an overgrown teenager. Still in hero-worship of Calvin, he yearns to be Calvin's friend, and to help Calvin out of his slump. Sure, he also needs Calvin's skills as an accountant to help on a secret mission, but it's all about the bromance here.

 The role requires Johnson to go to some extremely vulnerable and weird-borderline-stalkerish places, and he does so with complete sincerity. He is never too cool for the material, never allowing his ego to upset the character's extreme awkwardness. 

The result is one of his best performances. And his willingness to send himself up serves Hart as well.

In the role of straight man, Hart is a great counter-weight to Johnson.

Bob Stone is clearly insane, and Calvin is never completely won over by his new friend's antics.

 The rest of the cast are fine, but no one approaches the central duo for yucks.

Aaron Paul turns up as Johnson's deceased partner. Despite being the villain, he gets nothing to do (although the flashback to his faked death is hilarious).

Jason Bateman turns up as Johnson's former high school nemesis, and, in a surprisingly strong cameo, Melissa McCarthy appears as Johnson's high school crush. It's a sweet inversion of expectations, and adds another layer to Stone's character -- despite all his subterfuge and duplicity, his sincerity is real.

Overall, Central Intelligence is a decent comedy pumped a few notches above average by a great star in a great part. The 'spy' part of the movie is a bit underwhelming (the movie could use some better villains and more ambitious set pieces), but it doesn't matter when the laughs are this consistent.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Orange Is The New Black, S4 review: Finale & Closing Thoughts

'Toast Can't Never Be Bread'

Poussey's body is still lying in the kitchen, a day after her death.

This is the point when we finally see just how full of shit Piscetella really is -- chewing gum while giving Caputo some BS story about Poussey attacking Bayley.

Speaking of which, Bayley is basically a basket case.

While it initially looks like Caputo will grow a pair, he tows the company line. 

He's caught in an understandable, though reprehensible, bind -- tow the company line and throw Bayley under the bus, or blame Poussey for being provocative.

In the end, he goes off-script to defend Bayley. This pushes the prisoners too far.

They riot. In the commotion, Humphrey loses his holdout pistol. 

Dya picks it up and aims it at him.

Fade to black. See you next year. Goddammit!

Flashback: Poussey gets a send-off, and it's magic. 

On her last day before heading overseas, her phone is stolen in a club. Poussey runs out to try and catch the thief, but winds up on a series of surreal adventures ala After Hours.

A snapshot of better times, it is the perfect way to say goodbye to one of the series' best characters.

Final thoughts: Season 4 is a major step up from a rather maudlin third season. The storylines are stronger, familiar characters get interesting arcs while other background characters finally get fleshed out. 

And the writers addressed the lack of a major antagonising force in the last season with a real rogues gallery of absolute shits: Piscetella and the new guards, Linda and MCC, even Caputo -- all are great additions who put our core cast through their paces.

Overall, this is a terrific season that manages to build upon everything that made the show great -- great characters, great twists and a few good laughs. Even better -- it feels like it's barely getting started. 

Based on this cliffhanger, Season 5 is going to be a doozy!

For previous episodes

Episode 1 

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Orange Is The New Black, S4 - Episode Twelve: 'The Animals'


Poussey is dead.

Thanks to the internet, I was aware that she died, but it still hit like a punch to the stomach. And the way it went down just made it even more tragic.

Poussey was the most consistently sympathetic character on the show. She had her lapses -- like everyone else -- but she never sank to the same levels as Nicky or even Piper. She was smart and self-aware enough to recognise when something was not right (Vee) and if she faltered (her drinking last season), she had a solid support structure that could help her out (Taystee primarily).

Poussey was a great character, and Samira Wiley was a terrific, extremely empathetic presence. On a show filled with extremely flawed and despicable people, Poussey stood apart.

Let's get through the plot.

The white, black and Latina inmates decide to form an alliance to get rid of Humphrey -- soon the target of their scheme has shifted to Piscetella, the main cause behind all the discontent.

Caputo learns about the previous day's antics from CO Bayley and is PISSED. Initially, you think Humphrey's bacon is cooked -- but then Piscetella turns up.

Piscetella has had Caputo's number from the beginning, and in any contest between them, he would come out the winner. This scene really cements how far Caputo has fallen -- it s ultimately his absences from the prison, and his inability/unwillingness to be hands-on with imposing order on the new guards, which have been responsible for the problems going on in Litchfield.

Instead of kowtowing to MCC and Linda, he forgot what his job was.

Having removed himself, and fired all of his former allies, Caputo is powerless. Piscetella is able to blackmail Caputo into impotence.

Following this humiliation, Caputo finally goes to the one person who can understand what he is going through: Fig (Alysia Reiner). Never thought I would be happy to see her again, but look how times have changed.

In typical fashion, what should be a moment of respite for Caputo turns out to be more hell: he finds out that the new dorm at Litchfield is for the NEW batch of prisoners. Ugh. Season Five is going to be GREAT.

The episode ends with the inmates going on strike to force Piscetella to resign. As we've already seen, Piscetella sees anyone who is not one of his men as an enemy to be crushed.

And that's when Poussey died -- chocked to death by an incompetent guard with no training while the other guards did nothing.

Best zinger: "I betrayed everything I believed in for water with bubbles and soft sheets!" -- Yoga

Flashback: Baxter "Gerber" Bayley (Alan Aisenberg), the young rookie guard. 

These flashbacks gain even more weight when he -- however inadvertently -- killed Poussey.

We see him as a kid, getting arrested for trespassing and underage drinking, losing his job for giving too many free ice creams to pretty girls, and then egging houses. 

Real simple, dumb stuff that emphasises how immature he is.

Bayley just comes across as a silly little boy -- not bad necessarily, but susceptible and clumsy.

By the end of the episode, Caputo's warning that the prison will change him sadly comes to pass.

Bayley is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's barely an adult, and is completely out of his depth in Litchfield.

Final thoughts: What a gut punch. Poussey's death overshadows everything leading up to it, but this episode really cements the conflicts and pressures which have been building since last season's cliffhanger.

For previous episodes

Episode 1 

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9 

Episode 10

Episode 11

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Orange Is The New Black, S4 - Episode Eleven: 'People Persons'

 The discovery of the guard's body throws everything into the shit. This is where Caputo's absence from Litchfield is really starting to cause problems.

Piscetella takes the discovery of the body as an excuse to take his Judge Dredd tactics to the extreme -- interrogation; sleep deprivation. 

Meanwhile, Healey realises that Lolly was telling the truth. In a daze, he leaves Litchfield. 

Judy, Yoga (Constance Shulman) and Luschek take drugs and share their insecurities --  cue the world's most disturbing three-way.

With the prison in lockdown, and no one overseeing his behaviour, Humphrey (Michael Torpey) is really revealing his sadistic side here. Torpey is really terrific in the role -- he manages to be completely unassuming and sound completely reasonable.

God, I want to punch him in the face
He has Susan and her ex-girlfriend Maureen fight for the guards' entertainment.

Enraged by her would-be girlfriend's insults, Susan flies into a rage and beats her to a pulp.

Healey tries to drown himself in the lake, but is called back to reality by the ringing of his cellphone.

Alex tries to give herself up but Healey has already told Piscetella what Lolly has done. As the episode ends, Lolly is dragged into the psych ward.

Best Zinger: "Are you kidding me? ... I killed a cop with his own gun! Wait... did I get caught for that?" -- Freida (after not being picked for questioning)

Flashback: Susan. Haven't had one from her for awhile. 

We start with Susan at her job: a greeter at a big, Costco-like store. While she is as manic as ever, she gets 'Employee of the Month'. 

Despite her moves into adulthood, Susan is still pre-adolescent: she lives with her sister and her boyfriend, and still enjoys toys and games.

Trouble ensues when her sister wants to go away for the weekend.

A bit lost, she finds one of the kids she knows from the store she works at, and invites him home to keep her company for the weekend.

The kid wants to go home.

It doesn't end well.
Final thoughts: With only two more episodes to go, this season has taken a deep dive into pitch black nihilism. Dark and depressing, this is one of the strongest episodes of the seasons -- and the series as a whole.

For previous episodes

Episode 1 

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Orange Is The New Black, S4 - Episode Ten: 'Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull'

The big story here is Aleida Diaz. 

She finally leaves prison and gets picked up by her boyfriend Cesar's OTHER girlfriend. For a hot minute I thought I was about to see the world's most uncomfortable road trip, followed by the two women finally bonding. Hahahaha. Yeah right. 

After that reunion goes nuclear, Aleida tries to go it alone but discovers all her savings have been wasted.

Sadly, while Aleida is scrabbling outside to find her footing, Dya falls in with Maria's crew. Gloria tries to help out, but Dya doesn't want another mother.

Sister Sarah Jane tries to sneak a phone to Sophia and gets found out. This leads to an interesting twist -- Caputo takes a picture and gives the mobile to Danny, who is running a website that airs MCC's dirty laundry. Turns out the warden is not that bad after all.

Among the other things that happen:

Susan makes up with her would-be girlfriend -- who then breaks up with her, just to make them 'even'. This throws Susan out of whack.

Maritza throws up the mouse Humphrey forced her to eat. A few of the guards take note of her odd behaviour, and think it might be morning sickness.

It turns out they think Humphrey might have raped Maritza. Sadly, while the guards think something might be going on AND they think Humphrey is a weirdo, they decide to do nothing. 

Taystee organises movie night -- sadly she picks The Wiz. Not only is the movie... what it is, the white power mob try to start a race riot.

The episode ends bitter-sweet. Thankfully Aleida and Cesar's ex end up getting back onside. 

On the other hand, the guard's body is found when the work crew dig up the garden.

Best zinger: "Men are stupid. And their peckers all got ADD" -- Aleida

Flashback: None again -- instead we get Aleida on the outside. These cutaway scenes are quite tense, as Aleida tries to re-aquaint herself with the outside world. The writers throw in a series of red herrings to make it feel like every time she makes a mistake or acts out, Aleida will be heading back to Litchfield.

Final thoughts: Once again the lack of flashbacks pays dividends. A lot of stories and characters are brought together in interesting configurations, and we get a nice arc for Aleida. 

For previous episodes

Episode 1 

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Orange Is The New Black, S4 - Episode Nine: 'Turn Table Turn'

A lot of stuff happened in this episode. Cue bullet points!
  • Morello's paranoia is really going full-force -- she's starting to think her sister is having an affair with Vinny 
  •  Feeling the heat from the guards, Maritza tries to throw a spanner in the works of Maria's business by dobbing in her simple cousin Alonzo.
  • Sister Sarah Jane Ingalls (Beth Fowler) is trying to get thrown in the Shoe to find out what happened to Sophia, but this coincides with 
  • Piper wants a burger
  • Cindy and Judy have to keep up the charade that they're lovers
  • Red tries to deal with Nicky's drug relapse
As far as the main plot, the focus is on Blanca. 

She comes up with a plan to stop the guards' frisk-and-searches -- using bad tuna and other scents to put them off.

Sadly, the COs figure out what is going on and force Blanca to stand on one of the cafeteria tables.

Best zinger: "In this case I'm the sexy arm candy and she's the ageing playboy" -- Cindy

Flashback: Blanca! Laura Gomez must be so happy to have an episode where she doesn't have to look like Reagan from The Exorcist.

She works as home help for an elderly woman who is extremely controlling and pedantic. Life is made easier when Blanca meets a handsome gardener, Diablo.

In petty retaliation, the elderly woman fires Diablo. 

This leads to one of the best scenes in the season. Blanca gets her own back by having extremely loud sex with Diablo in the old woman's bedroom while she watches in horror.

Final thoughts: Overall, this is a fun episode made more so by the focus on Blanca.

For previous episodes

Episode 1 

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8