Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween 2014

This year I failed to organise my annual "Stevefest", but I did manage to watch a few films. Alongside re-watching the Evil Dead remake and Braindead, I also saw Big Bad Wolves, Simon Killer, Berberian Sound Studio, Christopher Roth, and Wolf Cop. Hopefully I will get chance to 15 Second Review them soon.

I also carved my first pumpkin:


My partner got dressed up to scare trick or treaters - she was in costume by 11am, which was a tad early, but dedication to Halloween is an admirable quality in my book


Thursday, 30 October 2014

15 Second Review: Hitman: Absolution (Xbox 360)

The premise may not be overly pleasant insofar as it is oriented around murdering (at least a handful of) people, yet Hitman is principally a strategy game. It is possible to rampage through, but doing so leaves the game feeling hollow. The narrative alone is certainly not strong enough to sustain one's interest in the material. The game leads the player towards committing multiple homicides inasmuch as one's progression is marked by taking out targets, but success is measured by stealth. The game is "about" skulking in corners, ducking into air-vents, and above all waiting... hours of waiting. That might not sound especially fun to FPS fanatics, but I had a blast. Where the game really comes to life is in its challenge mode. Each hit has a number of possible permutations and extra challenges (such as not using disguises). These options have always been part of the Hitman experience, but Absolution benefits from its challenge list/reward system which incentivises repeat plays and exploration. Absolution has been received negatively in some quarters (Io-Interactive even offered an apology of sorts following accusations of "suckery"), but having played the previous Hitman games again recently, the purists seem to be either mis-remembering the previous Hitman games - which are nowhere near as smooth or rich as Absolution - or are biased against change per se. Absolution is one of the best games I have played on the 360, and is easily the best in the franchise so far. The next-gen Hitman game is rumoured to be an open sandbox experience. I just hope the developers retain the challenge list system to highlight some of the many options the game offers.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Meat Freddy

I like jerky. I like A Nightmare on Elm Street. I'm sure I've eaten jerky while watching A Nightmare on Elm Street. I am not sure there is any need to take that combination any further. Some sick puppies disagree with my assessment of the situation: behold -
Screen shot 2014-10-27 at 12.21.14 PM

The creators of this meatrocity have also shared a "making of" video for everyone to "enjoy": vegetarians beware, this is likely to make anyone feel a bit queasy.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

15 Second Review: The Armstrong Lie (2013)

Cards on the table: I have no interest in sport and barely any knowledge about competitive cycling. Subsequently, I am probably not the ideal target audience for a documentary about seven time Tour de France "winner" Lance Armstrong. However, it is testament to Gibney's storytelling ability that, despite being fundamentally uninterested in the surrounding subject-matter, I found The Armstrong Lie riveting. Since the core story is well known, Gibney is left with space to explore the complexities of the situation; the (perhaps) conspiratorial cover-ups, the pressure of expectation, the power of inspiration, the disappointment of failure, the desire to win, the self-perpetuating nature of lies, and so forth. The film is fantastically rich, accounting for a variety of viewpoints. Most importantly, Gibney does not shy away from his own perspective on the case, underlining points at which he was swept up in the tale, and his disappointment at being lied to along with millions of others. The documentary also dwells upon the normalisation of drug-taking in competitive sports, posing uncomfortable questions about whether, for example, Armstrong really "cheated" if he was competing on equal terms with other cyclists (i.e. if the other major players were using performance enhancers). No definitive answer is available to such a question, but it is to Gibney's credit that he explores these issues rather than opting for an outright defence or vilification. Armstrong is a divisive figure, although even the most fervent anti-Armstrongists are probably most angry about their willingness to believe in the myth and to correlate good consequences (raising money for cancer research) with the agent's character. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

15 Second Review: The Loved Ones

Of all the films I refer to in Torture Porn: Popular Horror after Saw, The Loved Ones is probably the most criminally underrated. The film offers its audience a set of uncomfortable balances. For example, although the narrative events are hideous, the cinematography is gorgeous - I am particularly taken with the rich dark navy and pink combinations in the colour palette. In another (more thematic) example, the fuzzy line between dark comedy and disturbing horror is kept in perfect equilibrium throughout. However, my favourite of the film's disquieting stresses arise out of Robin McLeavy's breath-taking turn as Lola. McLeavy walks a tightrope between sweet and rabidly psychotic throughout, never tipping fully into or abandoning either. Resultantly, McLeavy's performance is not only wonderfully nuanced, but it also creates an electrifying tension at the film's core: it is never wholly clear what Lola is capable of and what she will do next. My 15 Seconds are up, but I've said enough already: anyone reading this who has not yet seen The Loved Ones should stop reading and buy a copy. Anyone reading this who has seen it should stop reading and watch it again.

'Tiger Sex' Video Leads To 6 Months Bail, A Life In Ruin And A Challenge To Extreme Porn Law

Surely this story is a hoax... are the porn laws in the UK really this broken? If this is true, the farcical nature of the story is hilarious (keep reading..."They're Grrrreat"), but it is also utterly tragic and terrifying that Holland's life has been so detrimentally impacted on by such a stupid mistake that stems from a ludicrous law. This is the news equivalent of dystopian science fiction.
The story is worth sharing in full. From the Huffington Post:


A law against "extreme pornography" is being challenged by a man whose life was ruined after he was charged for possessing a video of a woman having sex with a tiger, that turned out to actually be a man in fancy dress.

Andrew Holland, 51, was charged with possession of the video that a friend sent him unsolicited as a joke after the crucial distinction between a real and pretend tiger eluded police and prosecutors.

While facing trial, Holland suffered a heart attack, had to leave his hometown of Wrexham in North Wales because of harrassment from vigilantes and was prevented from seeing his daughter for a year, he told The Independent.

He also faced "public ridicule" from those who thought he genuinely owned a video depicting bestiality, his lawyers said.

The charge was dropped when Mr Holland appeared in court, after being on bail for six months and the clip was played with the sound on.

It was then that prosecutors realised the "tiger" in the video could be heard saying "that's ggggreat!"

While Tony The Tiger, the animated talking mascot for Frosties cereal says this, real tigers do not.

tiger
A tiger that is real and, therefore, not the one featured in the video


Campaigners have said there have been thousands of prosecutions a year under the law, which could "potentially criminalise millions of people".

This is despite ministers' prediction the law would only result in around 30 cases a year.

Backlash, a coalition of lawyers and academics who campaign to protect sexual freedoms, have written to David Cameron about the case.

Mr Holland's solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA) have written to Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions and one of the government's most senior lawyers, to ask for a review of how the relevant law is enforced.

Myles Jackman, legal advisor to Backlash and a lawyer at HJA, wrote that the huge increase in people sharing videos made the review more urgent.

"(Mr Holland's) name became synonymous with the joke, which had a devastating impact on his reputation," he blogged.

"Now, Mr Holland has requested that the Crown Prosecution Service (led by DPP Ms Saunders) review this law, to save other innocents from facing the same fate as him."

He added: "This review comes when it has become clear that millions of adults using mobile phone messaging services like WhatsApp can be sent potentially 'extreme' material to their phones, by friends, without knowing that they are actually in technical possession of illegal images.

"If it is unclear whether an image might be extreme and therefore illegal, how can a person be expected to know if they’ve broken the law?"

frosties tiger tony
The 'real' Tony the Tiger from the cereal box


Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act forbids possession of "extreme" pornography that shows necrophilia or bestiality, threatens life or could cause serious injury to a person's "anus, breasts or genitals".

It also says "extreme" images are those that are "grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character".

In addition to Mr Holland's request, HJA and Backlash have asked the Home Office to do a human rights impact assessment, to back their claim that the law is "disproportionate," the crime is not clearly defined and people cannot be expected to judge what images might be illegal.

If it fails this assessment, they will push for a judicial review of the law.

Backlash spokesman Jon Fuller said: "This law threatens anyone with a sex life they want to keep private.

"It threatens ordinary members of the public who exchange dirty jokes by phone and over the internet.

"Potentially criminalising millions of people is a disproportionate consequence of a law not based on harm and with no clear benefit."

In a statement, HJA said: "Mr Holland does not want others to go through the ordeal that he has faced.

"He wants to ensure that others are not prosecuted unnecessarily in the manner that he was.

"He remains subject to the risk of further criminal charges in the event that he is in possession of similar joke images in the future."

The Crown Prosecution Service, which pursues prosecutions against those charged under the act, had not commented as this story went live.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

15 Second Review: The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The Purge: Anarchy is a lesson in how to make a sequel count. The series is based on a fascinating thought experiment, but the first movie failed to capitalise on its central idea; instead of following the idea through, the premise was used as a backdrop to a mediocre home invasion movie. The Purge: Anarchy finally delivers on the core idea taking the action out onto the streets (where the Purge is actually happening). Moreover, the characters encounter a series of riffs on the core theme: a revenge plot hindered by compassion, homicidal domestic squabbles, a version of "the most dangerous game", a rebel pro-Purge army, a rebel anti-Purge army, and so forth. The latter is problematic inasmuch as their hypocrisy is not addressed: killing people under the protection of the Purge as a way of protesting against the Purge is so dubious that at least one of the characters should have voiced a concern... not least when one character states that she wants to stay with the anti-Purge army because she "want[s] to Purge". As a whole piece the film also struggles to maintain a cohesive narrative since the premise does not lend itself to following the same characters for 100 minutes. The film comes across as a series of set-pieces. That is fine, but the movie may have worked better as an anthology of sorts (perhaps an option for The Purge 3?).Those niggles aside, the sequel is much more satisfying and engaging than its predecessor.  

Saturday, 25 October 2014

15 Second Review: White Settlers


It is worth clarifying from the outset that the marketing campaign for White Settlers - which ties the movie into the ill-fated Scottish independence campaign - is nothing more than an opportunistic ploy to get bums-on-seats. This is not speculation: the director, producer and writer stated as much in a Q&A following the screening I attended. This is unfortunate for at least three reasons: a) the devolution horror movie promised by the campaign would have been intriguing, b) White Settlers ends up being about nothing in particular, and c) the duped audience are left with the bitter realisation that the film-makers are entirely indifferent to the audience they have misled: that much is evidenced by the lazy dross viewers are expected to endure once they have paid. The narrative is not just thematically barren, it is utterly vapid. The plot (such as it is) is so painfully generic that the run-time is almost entirely constituted by scenes pilfered from other movies. The lead actors offer stiff/passable performances, but the central couple lack chemistry. Subsequently it is difficult to engage with their plight. The ending is being touted as "brave" in some circles. Others will feel it is anti-climactic (although the film would first need a crescendo to fall short from). My problem with the ending is that it was utter nonsense, although I look forward to the dry lawsuit that must surely form the basis of White Settlers 2: Dude, What About Our Mortgage? When I am feeling charitable, I think of White Settlers as a boring film and a missed opportunity. Yet, when I think about the money I spent to see the film, I consider White Settlers to be brazenly insulting. Viewers are advised to seek out absolutely any other backwoods horror film, as it will almost certainly be more compelling than this one. #NoOneWins

Friday, 24 October 2014

Trailer Trash: Happy New Year

Part dance movie, part heist movie from the director/star team behind Om Shanti Om? Hell yeah, bring it on

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Ed Harrington's Ikea Freddy

Ikreauger? I love Harrington's Ikea series, but this is my favourite (obviously)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Richard Ayoade vs Interviews

Although Ayoade begins by stating that his book is 'not a deconstruction of the idea of interviews' this interview is. A fantastic, if awkward, piece of TV.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Self-Knowledge for Humans

PictureQuassim Cassam (Warwick) has launched a website in support of his latest book Self-Knowledge for Humans. The site includes a handy "beginners guide", reading suggestions and a lecture podcast, all of which offer interesting ways into the topic of self-knowledge, especially for the uninitiated.

http://www.self-knowledgeforhumans.com/

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Lesbian Sex Scandal: Smut and Outrage in UK Supermarket

I lived in Brighton for many years, and I was under the impression that it was among the most liberal of places in the UK, at least as far as sexuality is concerned. So, I'm left bemused by this report that a supermarket customer reportedly told a security guard that she was "worried for the safety of her child" after witnessing a woman kiss another woman on the cheek. The incident leaves me with a number of questions:
  • How can someone be endangered by witnessing a consensual kiss?
  • What did the customer think would happen to her child?
  • Does the customer know where she is living? (if this is a case of naivety, she had better brace herself for Pride weekend...)
  • How can a Brighton resident be so far behind even the Vatican in terms of their attitude towards sex? Actually, that is quite an impressive commitment to bigotry,..
Enough teeth grinding. Time for some Siya...



UPDATE: on Wednesday a protest was held in the supermarket - showing the bigots the way it is via the power of loitering with the intent to smooch. Good on them.

CFP: Zombie Culture (SPCACA, 2015)

Call for Papers/Presentations: Zombie Culture
Southwest Popular Culture and American Culture Association 2015
http://southwestpca.org/
http://conference2015.southwestpca.org
Make plans to join the Southwest PCA/ACA for our 36th annual conference, February 11-14th
2015, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Conference Center in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico
Hyatt Regency Albuquerque
330 Tijeras NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA 87102
Tel: +1 505 842 1234 or 888-421-1442

The area chair for Zombie Culture seeks papers and presentations on any aspect of the zombie in popular culture and history. It seems as though the world has gone “zombie crazy.” There are zombie walks, games on college campuses like “Humans Vs. Zombies,” zombie children’s books, zombie poetry, fiction, video games, zombie ammunition and guns, and zombie running contests. Almost anything can be “zombified” and society and fans all over the world are literally
“eating it up.” The zombie has come to represent the chaotic world we live in, and courses continue to pop up on college and university campuses all over the world. This is due in large part to the success of films like Night of the Living Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2), Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, and most recently Warm Bodies, World War Z, and the television program The Walking Dead.
Any aspect of Zombie Culture will be given consideration. What is distinctively American (if anything) in the zombie in film, literature, and popular culture in general? How does the zombie influence American Culture in a way that resonates in our transmedia world?
Some topics to consider:

  • Directors: George Romero, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Todd Sheets, Danny Boyle, Sam Rami, Peter Jackson, Amando de Ossorio…
  • Specific zombie films: White Zombie, King of the Zombies, Dawn of the Dead, Tombs of the Blind Dead, Dead Alive, Evil Dead, Zombies on Broadway, World War Z…..
  • Specific books/zombie literature: Zombie Bake Off, World War Z, Book of All Flesh, Case of CharlesDexter Ward…
  • Zombie writers’ fiction and non-fiction: Stephen Graham Jones, H.P. Lovecraft, RobertKirkman, Steve Niles, Max Brooks, Matt Mogk, Jovanka Vuckovic, Stephen King…..
  • The Walking Dead
  • Zombie comics (any aspect: history, cultural impact, storytelling…)
  • Zombies since 9/11
  • Zombie children’s books
  • Zombie running
  • Fast vs. slow zombies
  • Zombie gore
  • Teaching the zombie (zombie pedagogy)
  • Zombie cos-play
  • Zombie brains-food
  • Zombie video games
  • Zombie ants
  • Can a real zombie outbreak happen?
  • The voodoo zombie-the historical roots of the zombie
  • The Euro-zombie
  • Nazi–zombies
  • Viking zombies
  • Marvel zombies
  • What exactly is a zombie?
  • Humans vs. zombies
  • Zombies across the world (Ro-langs…)
  • Zombies’ roots in cinema
  • Are mummies/Frankenstein’s monster zombies?
  • What does the rise in the zombie’s popularity tell us about society?

These are just a few of the topics that could be discussed.

Please submit your paper title and 100- to 300-word abstract by November 1, 2014, through our
database, which can be accessed at:
http://conference2015.southwestpca.org
Please note there are monetary awards for the best graduate student papers in a variety of
categories.
See http://southwestpca.org/conference/graduate-student-awards
The organization also has a new open access peer reviewed journal that encourages you to
submit your work.
See: Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy
http://journaldialogue.org/
Area Chair: Rob Weiner
Humanities Librarian, Texas Tech University Library
rweiner5@sbcglobal.net
http://southwestpca.org/

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

CFP: Daughter of Fangdom Coference

Daughter of Fangdom:
A Conference on Women and the Television Vampire
18 April 2015
The University of Roehampton
London

Following the success of TV Fangdom: A Conference on Television Vampires in 2013, the organisers announce a follow-up one-day conference, Daughter of Fangdom: A Conference on Women and the Television Vampire. Though Dracula remains the iconic image, female vampires have been around at least as long, if not longer, than their male counterparts and now they play a pivotal role within the ever expanding world of the TV vampire, often undermining or challenging the male vampires that so often dominate these shows. Women have also long been involved in the creation and the representation of vampires both male and female. The fiction of female writers such as Charlaine Harris and L.J. Smith has served as core course material for the televisual conception and re-conception of the reluctant vampire, while TV writers and producers such as Marti Noxon (Buffy) and Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries and The Originals) have played a significant role in shaping the development of the genre for television.

Since vampires are not technically human, the terms male and female may apply, but representation of gender has the potential to be more fluid if vampires exist outside of human society. Given the ubiquity of the vampire in popular culture and particularly on TV, how is the female represented in vampire television? What roles do women have in bringing female vampires to the small screen? In what ways has the female vampire been remade for different eras of television, different TV genres, or different national contexts? Is the vampire on TV addressed specifically to female audiences and how do female viewers engage with TV vampires? What spaces exist on television for evading the gender binary and abandoning categories of male and female vampires altogether?

Proposals are invited on (but not limited to) the following topics:

• TV’s development of the female vampire
• Negotiation of gender and sexuality
• Evading binaries
• Female writers/ directors/ producers/ actors in vampire TV
• Adaptation and authorship
• Genre hybridity
• Female vampires in TV advertising
• New media, ancillary materials, extended and transmedia narratives
• Intersection with other media (novels, films, comics, video games, music)
• Audience and consumption (including fandom)
• The female and children’s vampire television
• Inter/national variants
• Translation and dubbing

We will be particularly interested in proposals on older TV shows, on those that have rarely been considered as vampire fictions, and on analysis of international vampire TV. The conference organisers welcome contributions from scholars within and outside universities, including research students, and perspectives are invited from different disciplines.

Please send proposals (250 words) for 20 minute papers plus a brief biography (100 words) to all three organisers by 15th December 2014.

s.abbott@roehampton.ac.uk
lorna.jowett@northampton.ac.uk
mike.starr@northampton.ac.uk

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome...on Slate

Not exactly groundbreaking, but I love that Slate's video about SUNDS is couched in A Nightmare on Elm Street's 30th Anniversary

Monday, 13 October 2014

Behind-the-[Sex]-Scenes

For those who want to know what it is like to film a sex scene, here are Brooklyn Decker and Patrick Wilson in behind-the-scenes footage from Stretch. Awkward, but interesting!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Kill the Rapist Movie

It has been a while since I last heard about the movie Kill the Rapist? As I outlined in an earlier post, Sanjay Chhel's thriller caught some attention for declaring that the fate of the film's eponymous criminal would be decided by audience vote. Here is the trailer:



The film is listed as a 'completed project' on irockindia.com. However, given the volatile climate, this may not be the best time to release the movie. According to a recent news story, vigilantes have attacked an alleged rapist in Ganganagar. According to a report at Huffington Post, 'Suresh Kumar, 40 ... was beaten with sticks for an hour before ... a vigilante group ... hacked off his genitals with a meat cleaver.' While undeniably topical, the film's themes might be a little too hot right now. The tagline question can certainly be read as incitement to further violence. 

The line between the film and its context is not helped by the film's promotional Facebook page, which is mainly populated with news stories about rape in India. Kill the Rapist? is being pitched as a "social issues" film in that regard, but conflating the movie's sensationalism (as evinced by the title) with stories about genuine sexual violence and politically heated events is at best tasteless, and worst highly offensive. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

(Less) Extreme Porn: Kink.com Closing Two Member Sites

Hear that? Sounds suspiciously like another nail in the coffin of "extreme porn" to me. Apparently, Kink.com are closing down two of its subsidiary members sites (BoundInPublic.com and PublicDisgrace.com), and re-branding another (HardcoreGangBangs.com is being renamed FantasyGangbangs.com). In the current climate, Kink.com have apparently decided that being seen as controversial, extreme or sensationalistic is not the best way to raise awareness about alternative sexual lifestyles: if that is their intent, replacing 'hardcore' with 'fantasy' is probably wise. The same applies to the removed sites, which (some might argue) look like they are aggrandizing sexual sadism rather than consensual humiliation or role play. Although this is undoubtedly self-censorship of sorts, the move might be better for Kink.com's image.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

15 Second Review: Ring of Fire (1991)

Ring of Fire is presented as if it is a martial arts extravaganza. The tagline promises 'brutality on the streets of LA'. However, do not be fooled. The film features surprisingly little fighting given that its cast features several ex-champions (Don "the Dragon" Wilson and Gary Daniels, for instance). In fact, Don "the Dragon" Wilson does barely any fighting in the movie: if there is a 'one man army against evil' in this film as teased by the poster art, Wilson was not it. Maybe they were referring to Kwong, a character who drinks vodka and urinates on a group of arrogant racists. The film mainly revolves around an inter-racial love story, which is regularly interrupted by unrelated shots of people training. It is not always clear what those characters are training for: I would hazard that they are intending to fight, but the training is so bizarre that it is uncertain that it will help them in combat. For instance, one character stands on one leg while having their arms whipped; another sets his hand on fire and punches through some ice blocks; elsewhere the same character smashes nails into a board with his bare fists. Also providing a nonsensical foil to the love story is Brad's girlfriend  - whose function in the story is to appear naked - and a "character" who is introduced simply to hang out Terry and Johnny's washing, and who does not even appear in the closing credits. Both women are introduced, and then vanish from the film by the 30 minute mark. These farcical occurrences interrupt the ongoing love story, even during the "climatic" (toe-curlingly awkward) sex scene between Johnny (Don "the Dragon" Wilson) and his beau Julie (Maria Ford). Aside from being excruciatingly stilted, the love-making is inter-cut with Julie's brother (Brad) fighting Johnny's cousin (Terry), making the whole sequence feel a little incestuous. The final fight sequence allows Don to get  into the ring (not the eponymous flaming circle, mind you), to engage in one of the least convincing, but most anti-climatic fights this side of Kickboxer 2: The Road Back. In sum, Ring of Fire is gibberish of the highest order, which will probably appeal to fans of the equally hilarious No Retreat, No Surrender

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Review Archive

I recently revamped my website, and have relocated my "15 Second Review" archive to this blog. The link to that page is to the left, and the reviews are listed in alphabetical order for ease.