Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Late to the Party: Prison Break – Seasons 3 and 4

As this show continues, it becomes ever-more ludicrous. Having distanced the characters so far from realism in the first two series, the ever-expanding world of double-crosses and conspiracies can only escalate, which it does with aplomb. Series three is the weakest of the show’s run, being more or less a reimagining of the first-series’ circumstances. Presumably its half-length run was due to the Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007-08. Regardless, season 4 reinstates some of the outlandish paranoia established in series 2. Most fun of all are the writers’ attempts to fake out the audience by offering events that make little sense, then later revealing what was “really going on”. The trait largely fails because after the first instance, the repeated ploy is no longer surprising. However, the trait admirably attempts to subsume the viewer into the characters’ world of “trusting no one”. Moreover, the technique allows the writers to throw in what look like enormous errors. By resolving them, the writers dispel viewers of the compulsion to pick holes in the unwieldy plot. Of course, there are plot-holes aplenty, but the masking technique is ingenious. The coda episodes known as ‘Final Break’ are weak, and are better avoided. Otherwise, Prison Break is .22 calibre, action packed trash-TV. 

Monday, 24 June 2013

15 Second Review: Lord of the Flies (1963)

Confession time: I have seen both Battle Royale  and The Hunger Games, but until this week had not seen Lord of the Flies. One the plus side, I have remedied this fundamental gap in my knowledge. On the less positive side, I wish I had left this piece of history on the shelf. The fundamental story is every bit as clever as one would imagine it to be. The source material is a rich reflection on “civility” and its flaws. Even if the colonial themes seem a little (thankfully) distant to the contemporary viewer, Golding’s dissection of human nature rings as true. The film contains some powerful moments. However, the whole is marred by some truly awful performances. There are very few good child actors in general, but some of these lads should have never been put in front of a camera. Worst of all is Hugh Edwards in the role of Piggy, not only because he is incapable of delivering a line convincingly, but also because he is given so many lines to deliver in his stilted fashion. Praise be that Edwards has since gone on to bigger and better things – ergonomic design, not acting. The bonus is that Piggy features less as the film progresses. It is no coincidence that I enjoyed the film most in its concluding sections. This might sound cruel, but when the film is populated solely by an adolescent cast, they need to at least be watchable. All this said, at least this film might divest school kids of watching film adaptations as a substitute for reading their core literature texts.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Censorship: Robocop TV Edit

Aaah, the lost art of TV edits. Back in the 1980s, when it wasn't acceptable to say 'schmuck' on television, a dedicated troop of well-meaning and creative individuals were hired to sanitise the most ardent blockbuster filth, such as Robocop (1987). I'm sure they had a great deal of fun while doing it too. The substitutions in the clip above range from the downright impressive ('bloodsucker') to the ludicrous ('airhead').

Saturday, 22 June 2013

15 Second Review: Venom (2005)

Laughably formulaic neo-slasher Venom is riddled with clich├ęs. The characters are entirely uninspired and uninspiring. For example, the final girl’s relationship is on the rocks because she is leaving their small town to go to college. Sound familiar? The plot is forced. The dialogue is similarly atrocious. Lines such as ‘you’re starting to scare me’, ‘god help us, what are we doing?’, and ‘no one is safe’ sound like they have been written for the trailer rather than the feature film. The actors cannot feign crying or fear. Unfortunately, the script requires a great deal of weeping in terror. The killer does a passable impersonation of CJ Graham (Jason in Friday 13th Part VI: Jason Lives). The final seconds of the end credits set up a possible sequel, but one is yet (mercifully) to emerge. Unintentionally funny, frequently boring, and virtually gore free, Venom belongs at the very bottom of the bargain bin. This film represents a criminal waste of money, and is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who sits through it.

Friday, 21 June 2013

15 Second Review: In Treatment (seasons 1-3)

Based on the Israeli series Be Tipul, In Treatment is a small scale drama series in the best sense. In contrast to the “blockbuster TV” it sits alongside, In Treatment is constituted by 25 minute episodes that feature two people in an analyst’s office, talking. The scripts are naked: there are no gimmicks, and little action. Perhaps due to the immense pressure of this set-up, the writing is also lean and precise. The staging is so stripped down that the actors have nowhere to hide. Luckily, the acting is first-rate. Gabriel Byrne is particularly strong as the therapist, Paul. The series is based around one session per episode (four per week) and a fifth session in which Paul himself undergoes therapy. This structure presents Byrne with the challenge of playing Paul both as an astute therapist in the sessions he runs, and also as an arrogant, paranoid and aggressive being when he undergoes treatment. The device not only allows Byrne to flex his performative muscles, but also adds an extra dimension to the scripts. During his sessions, Paul utilises all that he has heard as an apparatus via which to articulate deep-seated issues. As the series progresses, the layers of dramatic irony build. Thus, the dialogue is akin to great jazz: the silences matter just as much as the ‘notes that are heard’. Be warned: although the episodes are short bursts, they are frequently both emotionally draining and intellectually demanding.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Monday, 17 June 2013

15 Second Review: Hemlock Grove (2013)

Having just seen all 13 episodes of Hemlock Grove back-to-back, I thought I would have more to say about it than I do. Unfortunately, the series was so mediocre that it does not lend itself to commentary. Clearly an attempt to ride on the coat-tails of other successful series such as True Blood, American Horror Story and Being Human, Hemlock Grove spins a yarn about werewolves. In all fairness, lycanthropes are among my least favourite horror characters, and this series does little to convert anyone who shares my view. The writers try to adopt the sexiness of True Blood, but fail to sustain that thread, or create any real synergy between the werewolves’ animalism and sexual-expression. The writers also try to adapt some of American Horror Story’s quirkiness, but similarly do not manage to create a convincing amalgam from the various pieces. There is nothing too detrimental about what is here (aside from some shoddy CGI effects). The real problem is that the story is not very compelling. In fact, the whole affair is really rather dull. Rumour has it that the series has just been commissioned for another run, so here’s hoping that having established the premise (and killed off most of the characters) the creators take some risks next time around.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Late to the Party: Deadwood Seasons 1-3


After hearing so much praise for Deadwood, I decided to try it. In some respects, I make a good test audience for the series: I do not like westerns or period drama in general. However Deadwood lives up to the hype: it is far closer to Shakespeare than John Wayne. The plotting is uncomplicated – it feels rather like an old-west version of Dallas at times – but that direct structure provides room to for the strongest traits to shine. The writers invest time developing interesting characters and human conflict, some of which operates on a micro-scale. Most surprising is the amount of comedy on offer. The series is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. The entire cast is strong, but Ian McShane is truly majestic as the Machiavellian brothel owner. Robin Weigert is also quite staggering in her role as loose-mouthed drunk Calamity Jane. Deadwood demonstrates that drama works best when driven by its characters, rather than by contrived circumstances. What is more, Deadwood does not represent the wild west of conventionalised myth: indeed, the signifier of such a myth (‘Wild Bill’) is summarily dispatched very early into the first series. What remains is lawlessness, racial hatred, misogyny, violence, inadequate medical facilities, mud, and politics. Unglamorous it may be, but that is what makes it my kind of history.

Friday, 14 June 2013

15 Second Review: Would you Rather (2012)

Torture porn lives! Would you Rather distils many of the subgenre’s key facets. The film is set in a restricted location and focuses on the protagonists’ capacity to inflict suffering on fellow humans. More than most other torture porn films, Would you Rather is quite literal about posing ethical questions, asking the coerced protagonists to choose whether self-interest is enough to stimulate immoral behaviours. Would you Rather’s trailer gives away most of what occurs within. In the main, the film’s bluntness detracts from the viewing experience, leaving less space for ethical rumination than most torture porn films offer. That said, the movie certainly underlines that torture porn is a subgenre driven by moral questions rather than gory displays (as its detractors so commonly and erroneously posit). Would you Rather also pertinently distils the ethos that I underline in my forthcoming book: that torture porn constitutes a form of  philosophy in action. Doubters should read Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy:  The Moral Limits of Markets – an explicit call for public engagement with philosophical rumination - then watching Would You Rather: both raise uncannily similar questions, albeit in very different ways.


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cultural Oddities:Youn Sun Nah - Enter Sandman Cover


This version of Metallica's Enter Sandman is perhaps one of the oddest cover songs I've heard. If you don't dig it, skip to mid-way through to heat her wail.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

15 Second Review: District 13 (2004)

At face value, District 13 is much like The Transporter (which District 13’s director Pierre Morel also worked on as a cinematographer). Both are very flashy and are full of action, but neither has much substance. District 13’s plot is limited to make way for some spectacular stunt-work (comparisons to Ong-Bak are well justified). Right now, District 13 looks slightly ahead of its time given the recent boom in violent “impoverished tower-block” movies (Comedown, Tower Block, The Raid, Dredd and so forth). What sets District 13 apart is that its action is based around parkour. Unlike the rather stilted parkour dance-movie Beat the World which uses parkour as a means of iterating the body’s propensity to move, District 13 utilises parkour to illuminate spatial dynamics. Architecture guides us through spaces, limiting movement. Parkour seeks to repudiate conventional ways of engaging with and imagining space. The smartest element of District 13 is how the parkour ethos contributes to the plot’s overt discussion of the eponymous ghetto: a walled community that offers its citizens limited opportunities. This connection is not laboured in the film. None of the dialogue refers to parkour specifically, and the protagonists do not train to attune their bodies to their environment. It is assumed that humans quite naturally resist implicit forms of coercion. Underneath the film’s masculinist posturing is a savvy and timely commentary on economic disparity and physical protest against the conditions of oppression, which adds depth to the film. Even smarter is that this dimension is easy to ignore if the viewer just wants bone-crunching thrills, which District 13 offers with heady abandon.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Song of the Day: Karma Police Cover

I'm no fan of Radiohead. Maybe if they sounded like this instead, I'd like them more

Monday, 10 June 2013

Trailer Trash: Teachers Day (2013)

Well, it certainly lacks "class". It also looks like the director needs to take a lesson or two...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

15 second Review: Texas Chainsaw (2013)


Around 45 minutes into Texas Chainsaw, I had an epiphany of sorts. As a card-carrying defender of the 21st Century Chainsaw films, I really wanted to like the latest entry. However, trying to like this movie was an uphill struggle from the start. At the half-way mark, I became angry: not with the film, but with myself. I realised that it was not my duty to like the film: it is the filmmaker’s duty to create a quality product. From that point, I stopped excusing the evident shortcomings. Since the film is shot for 3D, the aesthetic is light and spacious rather than dark and grimy. From the outset, the plot is unsettled, swinging between degrees of nonsense and laziness. The characters’ motives are hard to decipher because they are (ironically) so two dimensional. The film contains several gory moments, but not enough to sustain the film – had it been an out-and-out gore flick, the lack of coherent plotting would matter less. As it is, the film severely hindered by its uneven pacing, awful script-writing, and awkward editing. Editing-in footage from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre during the opening credits did not really work: the aesthetic shift is jarring, and the amalgam further muddles Texas Chainsaw’s plot. The sequence in which the lead protagonist Heather/Edith is strung up, gagged and has her shirt ripped open is crass and unnecessary. Even the music playing over the end credits is tonally inappropriate (and moreover, it ranks as one  of the worst songs I have ever heard). The silly post-credits coda is closer to Scary Movie than contemporary slasher. Is Texas Chainsaw a better sequel than Leatherface? Probably, but that is no cause for celebration.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Cultural Oddities: Restaurant Evil

 
I'm not really a fan of Resident Evil (the games or the films), but that does not mean that I don't want to go to the new Resident Evil themed restaurant in Tokyo. Any eatery area that has biohazard signs emblazoned on the walls is definitely somewhere I'd want to purchase food from.

Friday, 7 June 2013

15 Second Review: I Didn’t Come Here to Die (2012)


I Didn’t Come Here to Die is very cheap, and I mean that both in the senses of ‘inexpensive’ and ‘trashy’. The latter is not intended as a criticism: ‘trashy’ is exactly what I Didn’t Come Here to Die needs to be. The plot is standard “teens in the woods” fare for the most part. The ingenious twist is that there is no masked killer. Carnage ensues regardless. The result is quite dull at times, but when the film is fun, it is a whole hell of a lot of fun. Unlike many of his peers, writer-director-editor Bradley Scott Sullivan understands the relationship between comedy and horror. Most of the violent incidents are sudden and likely to inspire a sharp intake of breath from the most jaded of viewers. It is not that the film is “extreme”. The gore effects work well inasmuch as they are unrealistic, that just means they are funny. The violence works well because the comic timing is so acute.  I Didn’t Come Here to Die is hardly Three Colours: Red, but then it never tries to be. The film is brutally honest about what it is, and that is ultimately what makes it worth checking out.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Torture Porn: Read the introduction for free

 
You can now read the introduction (as well as the contents page and index) of my forthcoming book Torture Porn: Popular Horror After Saw by clicking on the 'Download sample chapter' link here:
 
You can pre-order the book either directly from Palgrave-Macmillan at the above link, or from retailers such as Amazon:
 
 
The book is due to be published on August 2nd.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

15 Second Review: Lords of Salem (2013)


Lords of Salem is divisive filmmaking. On the one hand, the movie is a visual feast. Zombie has a great eye for composition. That trait has been evident since his first film. Much like Zombie’s incoherent debut House of 1000 Corpses, Lords of Salem has little in the way of plot. Unlike the former, which was a tribute to (derivative of) Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Zombie’s most recent effort offers a smart (if sparse) take on panics over subliminal satanic messages in metal music. That Lords of Salem has little in the way of plot development aids the film, rendering its freaky imagery all the more unsettling. In contrast to Halloween II – a slasher movie intercut with inappropriate unicorn imagery – Lords of Salem’s hallucinatory images work well with the witchcraft theme. The dream-like imagery and floating narrative movement chimes with the plot’s central fugue-inducing record. Do not be fooled by the thudding captions that signal time passing: Lords of Salem is more akin to The Serpent and the Rainbow than The Shining. Indeed, the overall effect of striking set-pieces and drifting narrative is reminiscent of Lucio Fulci’s scrapbook-like The Beyond, which is why I really enjoyed it (and probably why many will hate it). Lords of Salem arguably suffers from being a little too glossy, outlandish, or even self-conscious, and is certainly not a masterpiece. However, for my money  it is easily Zombie’s best film to date.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

New issue of Feminist Media Studies now available



Features articles by Rosie White, Charlotte Brunsdon, a special section on Fifty Shades of Grey. The issue also features my article “Gender Monstrosity: Deadgirl and the Sexual Politics of Zombie-Rape”.

Monday, 3 June 2013

New Uneven Structure EP - 8

Uneven Structure have rerecorded their EP 8 - the result is released today, and can be sampled in full above. Much less muddy than the original recording.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

15 Second Review: Dead Mine (2013)


Steven Shiel’s follow-up to Mum and Dad is likely to consolidate his critics’ worst fears. Mum and Dad was hardly original, but it at least made for grim viewing. Unfortunately, with Dead Mine Shiel has made a terrible gaff: he removes Mum and Dad’s characteristic dismalness and retains the lack of innovation. The result is Dead Mine: an unhealthy mishmash of recent bunker entrapment films (Outpost, The Divide, Bane, Basement), blended with a dash of The Descent, The Hills Have Eyes 2 and Shadow, topped off with imagery from Oasis of the Zombies, and old-hat “Unit 731” themes (see Men Behind the Sun, Philosophy of a Knife). Slow and dull, Dead Mine boasts no significant narrative trajectory to speak of, and eventually simply ceases. As the end credits roll some generic post nu metal music trundles along in much the same way the film itself did. Ultimately, Dead Mine commits the worst crime a horror film can: it is boring, uninspiring and utterly forgettable.

Saturday, 1 June 2013