Tales From the Loop (Amazon Prime) Season One, Episode Eight – “Home” Written by Nathaniel Halperin Directed by Jodie Foster
Tales From the Loop has always been a complicated series to parse and break down. It’s an anthology show but also a collection of interconnected short stories with ongoing plot elements. It’s a science fiction series that uses its fantastic ingredients to highlight deeply human stories. The tone incredibly sedate and contemplative despite presenting large scale cosmic ideas. I don’t imagine Tales From the Loop will find a broad audience as it’s such a specific thing, and not every episode hits on all cylinders leading to an uneven experience. I still argue these eight episodes are worth a watch because if nothing else, they are some of the most visually gorgeous television.
Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime) Season One, Episode Seven – “Enemies” Written by Nathaniel Halperin Directed by Ti West
Ti West is a director that came across my radar back in 2009 with his Eighties horror homage, The House of the Devil. I enjoyed his follow-up films, The Innkeepers and You’re Next. Since the early 2010s, he’s done a few other lesser movies and started to pick up more television work. I personally enjoy his filmmaking style because it is nostalgic without being shallow, West understands how to set a mood and sit in that space instead of leaning into endless, unearned jump scares. His contribution to Tales from the Loop actually borrows more from the artbook’s sequel Things From the Flood and brings some very subtle horror elements to the series.
Phase IV (1974) Written by Mayo Simon Directed by Saul Bass
Saul Bass is primarily known for his graphic design work in the opening titles of films like Vertigo, Psycho, West Side Story, and many others. Phase IV was Bass’s first and only foray into feature film directing. Anytime you get a movie made by someone working primarily in the visual arts, it’s going to be visually appealing but not necessarily following the standard narrative structures. Kubrick was a photographer, David Lynch is a painter, and so on. Panos Cosmatos has cited Phase IV’s influence on his own Beyond the Black Rainbow. These directors aren’t so much interested in narrative points and character beats as they are as in establishing a potent atmosphere. Saul Bass’s Phase IV falls right into that same category.
Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime) Season One, Episode Six – “Parallel” Written by Nathaniel Halperin Directed by Charlie McDowell
Tales from the Loop continues its trend of taking a previously supporting character and making them the protagonist of their own episode. This time it is Gaddis, the security guard that works the gates of the Loop. We spend some time in the first act getting to know him better and quickly realize Gaddis lives his life in lonely sadness. He has friends, like Loretta and her husband, but he doesn’t have any intimate relationships. There is a brief flirtation with a new man in town, but Gaddis’ insecurities get in the way. Instead, he focuses his time on repairing an old tractor in a field near his home.
Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime) Season One, Episode Five – “Control” Written by Nathaniel Halperin Directed by Tim Mielants
Tales from the Loop continues its interconnected anthology structure with a chapter that touches on events from episode two, yet you don’t have to watch that one to understand what is going on. In fact, I think you could watch this series on shuffle and still have the same experience as the connections are so light. There is even a brief reference to episode three that you don’t need to fully comprehend to follow the story being told here. The theme for this episode is Grief and how people work through that process while feeling powerless to do anything.
Cocoon (1985) Written by Tom Benedek Directed by Ron Howard
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. has a profound influence on the 1980s and created a subgenre where family, fantasy, and science fiction merged. These were humanist movies, without threatening antagonists or, in some instances, no real villain at all. The common factor in all the pictures was characters experiencing contact with some fantastical entities, typically alien, evoking a sense of child-like wonder in them and leading to the resolution of interpersonal issues. Of the E.T.-inspired movies, Cocoon is one of the better pictures because it keeps the story character-centered and allows the science fiction elements to enhance that narrative.
Total Recall (1990) Written by Philip K. Dick, Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and Gary Goldman Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Total Recall is not the best film ever made. It’s not even the best science fiction movie, but it is a beautiful example of a type of science fiction film that died out around the beginning of the 1990s. The practical effects, the matte painting, the clever use of computer effects in minimal ways, all add up to a world I wish we could spend more time in. But, I’m sort of glad that we don’t get more of this setting because it makes the bits and pieces provided all that more interesting to mull over.