Friday, 8 August 2014

TV: IS NEW SCI-FI DRAMA SERIES "THE 100" THE DUMBEST DRAMA SERIES ON TV?

Answer: probably not but it has to come close and I'll tell you why after the obligatory picture.

I'm halfway through watching the first series and it's been renewed for a second so it's obviously popular. Hell, I keep watching it even though it annoys the piss out of me so it has to have something. Intelligence and logic, however, aren't among its dubious virtues.

It's nearly a hundred years since a nuclear war ruined the planet. Humanity -all 2,400 of it- lives in the Ark, a merged conglomeration of space stations called the ark and systems are failing.

Notable Stupidity 1: There is only one child  allowed per family which means every succeeding generation is half the size of the previous one which would pretty much lead to the extinction of the human race in a couple of hundred years.

However in order to control the population growth, not that it's necessary as we've established that that wouldn't happen, any crime is punishable by death -thrown out of the airlock- for adults 18 and over.

Notable Stupidity 2-4: As systems are failing they need to establish if it's possible to survive on Earth so they send down one hundred under 18's who have committed crimes. Rather than send down a small trained crew, well-armed with lots of devices to check radiation levels, etc, they send down the most inexperienced people possible, with no weapons or other means of survival, and only the location of a place where they could find stuff they need to survive. These are also mostly the dumbest people as they've committed crimes in a tightly controlled system where it's hardly possible to get away with any infraction. They have no radio, only wrist bands which transmit a signal that the wearer is still alive.

Something to consider: given that there are thousands of spy satellites currently orbiting the planet, you'd imagine that some could still be working, or that the habitat would have some of its own -toss it out of the airlock with a small propulsion system to get it to the right altitude and there you go.It really is hard to believe that being so close to the Earth (see below) they've no way of telling what it's like.

Something else to consider: given that systems are failing and that within a relatively short space of time life on the Ark will be impossible, it might not be a bad idea to tell people and give them the short of going to Earth. If it can't sustain life then the humanity is finished anyway.

No matter, down to Earth the 100 go and find themselves crashed some distance from the safe place but, surprise surprise, life seems to be thriving even if they do see a deer with two faces, one of them deformed. The kids themselves act stupidly, selfishly, thoughtlessly, and only a handful seem to be intelligent and sensible with the ability to think more than five minutes ahead. This also means that the title should change from episode to episode as there aren't even a hundred left by the end of the first one.

Anyway, our gang of 100, counting down, 99, is dominated by a bad kid (who'll probably be redeemed eventually) who declares there are no rules and no leaders, not even him, though of course he is, so they can all do anything they like (unless he doesn't like it). He also decides to smash the wrist bands (whether the wearer likes it or not) so everybody on the Ark thinks they've died. Our hero, sorry heroine, sets off with a handful of not so stupid kids to try and get to the haven only to find there are people (? -we haven't actually seen any yet) who will shoot arrows into strangers.

In this week's episode, for reasons I can't be arsed to go into, our 93, 92, counting down, have to fire rockets so as to let the Ark know that they aren't dead. Conveniently the Ark is either in a geosynchronous orbit right above where the kids went down and can't be more than a couple of hundred miles above the surface (in which case, why does it take hours to reach ground?) or is conveniently right above the spot where the rockets are fired from.

I'm sure there's more stupidity to come so, as I continue to keep watching the show, I may do an update or a sequel. But for now, having just watched Veronica Mars: the Movie, I'm resuming watching Veronica Mars Seasons 1-3 where I find plenty of intelligence, wit, and interesting characters, plus really good acting for a teen drama.

PS. What does the post-holocaust Earth look like? Answer: a Canadian rain forest as seen in countless other American TV series (but not Veronica Mars).

Thursday, 7 August 2014

FILM REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY


So who needs a review of this movie from me? It's the summer blockbuster. It's been, mostly, glowingly reviewed all over the place. The only people who haven't heard of it are those completely uninterested in new films in the cinema. So what can I say about it that hasn't been said already? Probably nothing.

But that's never stopped me before.

First off, it's got all the depth of a blank sheet of cheap paper. It's a pure popcorn movie. It also happens to be a very well done superior popcorn movie which is pretty much what I expected. Director and co-writer James Gunn hasn't done a lot of stuff but I've seen most of it -Tromeo and Juliet (writer, for Troma, and head honcho Lloyd Kaufman gets a cameo in GOTG), Dawn of the Dead (writer, the surprisingly good remake of the classic George Romero film), Slither (writer/director, excellent horror-comedy), and Super (writer/director, a dark look at an ordinary but obsessed man who dresses up as a superhero to get his wife back)- so I was expecting him to come up with a really good movie and he did. He's now hero of the month just as Joss Whedon was with The Avengers a couple of years back and it's nice to see someone with real talent and a geek sensibility getting some deserved acclaim. But then I would because his stuff touches so many of my cultural and movie bases.

So what's good and what's less good about it? 

First let's skip all the action scenes, particularly the space battles, of which there too many, if well done, and also the rather frenetic pace which can be a little hard going at times.

The good guys get all the good dialogue, especially the witty lines. the bad guys are very bad and very humourless. The women tend to get short-changed. While Karen Gillan proves she can be an effective bad guy/girl she's largely wasted. Zoe Saldana is okay but not as interesting as her other heroes. Yes, even less interesting than a walking plant with a three word vocabulary but then it's not what he says as how Groot says it and he delivers the film's most poignant line when he changes a personal pronoun near the end. Rocket, the angry furry experimented-on bipedal creature is great and, like Groot, you forget he's a cgi creation. Wrestler Dave Bautista has won a lot of fans with his portrayal of the revenge-obsessed Drax who completely fails to understand the concept of metaphor. Chris Pratt has vaulted to the status of superstar with his layered witty Peter Quill aka Starlord ("Who calls him that?" "He does."). 

All the heroes (except Groot unless I missed it) get their back stories slotted in albeit often rapidly or info-dumped.

The film is also packed with excellent actors in either supporting or cameo roles including Michael Rooker, Benicio Del Toro, British character actor Christopher Fairbank (who's in it for more than the one scene I was expecting) and many more including Nathan Fillion as the voice of a one-scene cgi character who gets two of Groot's fingers up his nose. It's the sort of film that, on DVD, film buffs and geeks (like myself) will be pausing to check the background details for in-jokes, esoteric references, and easter eggs, and replaying scenes.

So I've got minor quibbles but I enjoyed it a lot and I'll probably like it even more when I can follow all the dialogue on the DVD (hooray for subtitles) as, because of the frequencies used for cinema viewing, I tend to miss odd bits.



Tuesday, 29 July 2014

DVD REVIEW: VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE 2.



The Amazon review.
Well, here we are again horror fans and enemies of censorship for anyone over 18. And it does indeed seem like we've been here before. Of course it's a good place to be, no doubt about that, but the fact remains that it's a familiar place.

I may be wrong but this feels very much like the material, the content, was compiled at the same time as this DVD's predecessor and omitted simply for space reasons. The locations of the guest reviewers are the same and, though I haven't checked, I wouldn't be surprised if they were wearing the same clothes. The story does, of course, continue with the films that the powers that be thought were video nasties but probably couldn't get a jury to convict them so, fuzz, confiscate any you think you can get away with. It also highlights idiots like David Alton MP instead of Mary Whitehouse and the stupid fuss over Child's Play 3.

The best parts are the critics' perceptive and witty introductions to the films themselves and they usually contain so much footage it's hardly worth watching the actual trailers.

I loved the original documentary, this one I just liked quite a bit. But then we all know about sequels, don't we?
 
Further comments.
 
If find issues of censorship to be fascinating because censors are almost always invariably wrong, particularly in the case of the so-called video nasties. The original furore was superbly analysed in the first documentary which is essential viewing for anyone interested in censorship, not just in film. This sequel takes the story on a little further which looks at the films which the authorities couldn't ban because they'd already been passed by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification/Censorship) albeit often with cuts, but which the authorities had decidedly uneasy feelings about so encouraged the fuzz to confiscate stock from video stores. Films like John Carpenter's The Thing. The reaction of anyone who has seen this film is -you what? Yes, it is scary and gruesome but it's fantasy violence. There is no way on earth that it could deprave or corrupt anyone. There are no women in it so no sexual violence. Quite often, as the reviewers point out, a film was nicked because they either didn't like the title, the way the distributors publicised it (emphasising horror that just wasn't there) or without even watching it all the way through. 

It's worth noting that most of the original video nasties have now been released uncut in the UK. One, Contamination (contains mild unsadistic disembowelling) with a 15 rating. The few that remain either banned or noticeably cut involve either animal cruelty or hard sexual violence (or both). And yet civilisation hasn't crumbled. How strange.

Now I should come clean here and state that I haven't seen most of the original nasties or those included in this second volume and that despite being an avid lover of horror movies. The reason for this is that the type of horror I prefer contains elements of science fiction, fantasy, the supernatural, but, most importantly, monsters. While I've seen a few slasher movies, most of them didn't do much for me. I certainly don't like films which have explicit sexual violence or violence against women (like many of the cannibal movies do).
Glancing at a couple of shelves of DVDs near me, all I can see in the horror genre are The Evil Dead Trilogy and a couple of movies by cult Italian director Mario Bava including his superb and still scary as heck 60s anthology film Black Sunday (not to be confused with his Black Sabbath his 1960 b/w scary almost as heck vampire movie).

What gets me about would be censors, such as David Alton MP and James Ferman of the BBFC, is their arrogance and elitism. Their attitude is: I have seen these films and while they have not affected me (superior middle/upper class person that I am) they could clearly affect lower class and lesser intelligent adults who lack my ability to discriminate between fiction and reality, therefore I must protect these inferior beings (not that I'd ever admit to thinking of them as such) in order to prevent their baser natures becoming inflamed by the violence and sexuality as seen in these films. An attitude to which I can only respond by saying, "Fuck you, asshole!"

Sorry about that, just my baser nature coming out.

Another reason to get this DVD is because of the informed, perceptive and often witty and lengthy introductions to the trailers by critic, writers, and academics such as Alan Jones (who seems to have known everyone in Brit Horror for the last forty years) and the always congenial Kim Newman, though there are several more and all very good too.

Oh all right, let me lay my position on the line in case I haven't been clear enough: FUCK THE CENSORS! (As painfully as possible.)

Sunday, 6 July 2014

DVD REVIEW: CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

I actually bought the Blu-ray months ago but for some reason, possibly its length (172mins), possibly it's assumed complexity, I kept putting it off.

Idiot!

Okay, I was confused somewhat by it at first but it wasn't long before it clicked and I got it. It actually isn't that complicated it's just a matter of understanding the structure. There are six individual narratives presented in chronological order of the their internal events. These narratives are intercut with each other so that, while the stories are very different, each sheds light on and affects the others. The intercutting is one of the things that makes this film so amazing and if it didn't it should have got masses of awards for editing. 

The acting is outstanding. Tom Hanks gets the best of it because he's in it most, or it seems like it, though it's very much an ensemble piece. He plays a vile seagoing rogue in the historical slavery sequence, a London gangster turned author in the present, a sleazy hotel owner, a primitive with a guilty secret living in the aftermath of worldwide collapse, and more. Hugo Weaving appears as a recurring villain most notably in the contemporary comedic sequence as the brutal (female!) nurse of an old peoples' home from which Jim Broadbent is trying to escape. We all know that Halle Berry is a good actress (still underrated in my opinion) and she delivers the goods as a crusading journalist in the early days of feminism (the 70's) in an almost Shaft-noir type thriller and in the farthest future setting as a woman from a dying but high tech society trying to contact extra-planet colonies; again, and more. And all that is just the tip of the iceberg.

A weakness is that it can too easy to be distracted by trying to work out who the actor is under layers of makeup -Hugh Grant playing a 70-something and a heavily tattooed and scarred future savage cannibal, for example, and in the latter case, I assume, for no reason other than it's a very good joke (though the two characters are not as dissimilar as it might appear). 

Characters can play variations of their nature throughout their different lives and, for at least one, there is a final salvation.

The dialogue is literate which is no surprise coming from a complex literary modern novel as it does. The technical aspects and the photography are exemplary.

Am I stating the obvious when I say that I loved this film and intend to watch it again soon in the expectation that I'll enjoy it even more?

But it is a film which polarises people. For everyone who, like myself, find it bold and daring and a near-masterpiece there will be others who consider it boring and a case of the Emperor's new clothes -they're wrong of course- but give it a chance and find out for yourselves.

(I've come to the end of this review and I haven't mentioned directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski who created this fascinating original film. Shame on me.)

I could go on.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

THE ANNOTATED VIEW FROM MY COUCH

For absolutely no reason whatsoever other than my own amusement (I've an odd sense of humour) I decided to take a series of photos of things I can see when sitting on my couch today at 7.00pm. I may do a followup of things I can see from my computer chair (it swivels round so there'll be more than just the computer screen).

My young cat Emma sitting in the bay window. If it wasn't her it would be one of six others.

My fireplace. I'll comment on certain items in later photos. I like cream painted walls. Cats can't scratch paint like they can wallpaper, though they can be hell on gloss.

Computer, desk, and CD shelving unit. Is that stating the obvious?

The conservatory with kitten. Intended as a place for me to sit in the sun and either doze or read, it has been permanently taken over by kittens to be re-homed and by fostered cats (ditto). I've never used it for anything else.

The next few photos are closeups of things previously seen.
Comment superfluous.

My mantlepiece which I'm in the process of re-organising. Far left is a figurine of Gollum from vol 3 of the Lord of the Rings de luxe box set which was previously on the hearth. I moved to counterpoint the newly acquired figurine (with several points of articulation) of Godzilla modelled on the 2014 film. It cost £25 and if that seems a lot you should look up Godzilla figurines on Ebay and prepare for a shock. The film itself was reviewed a couple of posts ago in this blog. Here's a closeup.


There's something odd about this fireplace. I didn't realise it until a friend pointed it out a few weeks ago.

The painting are Japanese. They actually belonged to Susan but I liked them so much she let me have them when we split up. No, they aren't lopsided, it's just the way you're sitting.

So that's my living room where I spend much of my time. Amateur psychologists can start psychoanalysing me- NOW!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

MUSIC: ROCK COMPILATION CDs

I rarely, if ever, listen to music in the house. Stupid really as I've a got a neat Bose CD player. But mostly it's on CD in the car or, less often when I'm not using the car but am out and about, on my Ipod. In the last few days while browsing Amazon I came across really cheap multi-disc (usually 3 but one has 5) Rock music compilations starting with  NME Classics: 61 Classic Tracks From The History of the NME which I picked up second hand (around four quid and change including postage). As you'd expect, it's quite eclectic and mostly covers the 70's and 80's. 

I thought this sounded a good idea and ordered a cheapo like new copy of Ultimate Collection: Driving Rock 100 Hits, a 5-disc set. When I came to play it/copy it to my PC, disc 5 turned out to coated with some white stuff and wouldn't (play that is) but it cleaned off okay. (I wonder if I should have sniffed it?) Now as someone who never does anything by halves, I also ordered (this time at only a fiver each through Prime -free postage) Greatest Ever Soft Rock The Definitive Collection (54 tracks) and Latest and Great Guitar Heroes (58 tracks, and included the name of the lead guitarist on the listing which was nice).

So, 212 tracks and a total price that worked out at £1.00 for one hour of music which is pretty good value no matter how you look at it but given that the quality of the music is also pretty high and I only had a grand total of 8 tracks already duplicated in my collection then I really can't complain at all.

Not that I'm going to let that stop me.

Oh, well maybe a tiny carp, a minnow-scule of a criticism but nothing really fishy. 31 of the 212 tracks are duplicated between the four sets, two particular tracks are shared by three of them which works out roughly at about 14%, so I'm really only getting 171 different tracks which I didn't have before. Considering they came from three different labels, that's not such a bad ratio and I wouldn't have not bought them all (probably) if I'd poured over the track listings before ordering. 

As each individual CD has a running time of a minimum of 75 minutes (usually more) that works out at about 19 hours continuous playing time so I'll be listening to them in the car for quite a while. Plus, of the tracks I've heard in the past, there are none I dislike and as for the stuff I haven't I imagine I'll like quite a bit of it and may even lead me to investigate further.  All in all a win-win.

I do still have one on order: Greatest Ever Prog Rock The Definitive Collection. I think there's a 2-track overlap and I'm surprised there's that many. As it's got Owner of the Lonely Heart on it I can now get rid of the Yes collection I picked up at our charity shop for coppers.

Time to go for a ride I think.


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

FILM: GODZILLA (1954, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2014)


(Brief introduction.
I watched my first Japanese giant monster movie back in 1963 at a local flea pit. It was The Thing (one of the many titles of the first Mothra movie) and was rated X (no-one under 16 allowed) because the British Board of Film Censors thought giant monsters would upset children, despite mostly lacking the slightest trace of gore, when in fact they were its likely biggest audience. Since then I've seen most but not all of the Godzilla movies (maybe missing about three) and several other similar/related Japanese films like Rodan, etc. So I'm quite well versed in this eccentric subgenre.)

The first problem with doing Godzilla seriously is that you can only do it once and it's already been done back in 1954. There are two versions of this film, the Japanese original and the slimmed down with added Raymond Burr American version which is in every respect inferior to the film from which it was edited. Gojira, to give it its proper name, is a bleak movie in which the monster clearly symbolises the atomic bomb which had been used only nine years earlier on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Cut from the American print are the quieter moments which focuses on individuals. One brief scene has a young mother in the rubble, while noise of destruction continues off-screen, cradling her young child and murmuring, "Hush, we'll be with your father soon." That is, not to put too fine a point on it, dead.

If you only see one Godzilla movie then this should be it. All the others pale in comparison and all you can do next is to make a series of giant monster fights. Rather than repeat giant monsters every other sentence, I'll use the Japanese term  kaiju to stand for giant  monsters and the giant monster sub-genre itself.  That said, this post is actually a review of the new American British-directed version but after seeing it I felt like watching the most recent era of Japanese movies which run from 1999 (with Godzilla 2000) to 2005 (ending with Godzilla: Final Wars which, so far, it is, though the Japanese also whipped out Godzilla 2000 after the critical disaster of the American Godzilla 1998) and have just completed doing so and will be commenting on, though I've also just got the Blu-ray of Godzilla 1998 which I'll watch before completing this post. And if I was speaking that sentence aloud I'd be out of breath by now. Let's take a breather anyway and look at some DVD covers.

On second thoughts, let's not. The new series of Godzilla is technically the best of the three eras, the special effects notably the models, the detailed miniatures and the kaiju themselves, with the puny humans  being less irritating and/or boring. There is some use of cgi but it's carefully done and the kaiju are always, always, always, men in suits. Unless they're giant moths, flying skinny insects, or spiders, but including Mothra larvae. Of the first three, the best is easily the third with its multi-monsters and elements of mysticism, though there's always magic around when Mothra's involved as her spokesperson are two tiny women who hold hands all the time and speak in unison but aren't twins.

This is one of the top 3 Godzilla movies ever. 
The one below, not above! And there's a neat put down of Godzilla 1998.
A new incarnation of Mechagodzilla marked another revamp of Godzilla himself and Tokyo S.O.S. is a direct sequel albeit with mostly new characters. They're both reasonable fun and everyone's favourite giant moth is back but that's about it. Godzilla: Final Wars, however, has everything a G-fan would want (except Mechagodzilla) and, alas, even more.


A group of young people have mutant genes making them faster, stronger, and more resistant to human damage than ordinary people. They're so tough that, with big guns, they can take down one of the lesser kaiju  Ebirah the monster lobster. There's also a super-submarine that can fly and go underground as well as under the sea and a few years ago it took down Godzilla, burying him/her at the South Pole.

Just as well as a sneaky bunch of aliens have disguised themselves to look like humans, secretly unleash all the monsters from previous Godzilla movies, pretend to rescue the Earth from them, and also lie about wandering planet that's going to destroy Earth in a few years unless we co-operate with them. But really they're slimy ugly things who just want to eat us.

It looks like they've won but a small group of humans and mutants escape in supersub and free Godzilla who, with a little help from Mothra, takes on all the other monsters one, two, even three at a time. Godzilla 1998 version, here called Zilla, is casually brushed aside by the real one causing the villain to throw a tantrum for its being so tuna-eating useless.

It's big, dumb, stupid and didn't make as much money as everyone expected but I love it. 

The second problem with doing Godzilla, if not seriously, but properly is what to do about the puny humans and this where we come to-

 -Godzilla 2014.

And that is the film's major weakness and has been pointed out by just about every reviewer so don't expect any devastatingly original insights from me here. With the exception of Bryan Cranston who gets offed somewhat under halfway through, you just don't give a flying fuck about any of the characters. They aren't annoying, they just aren't interesting. Aaron Taylor Wotsisname is Soldier-technician solely concerned about getting back home to make sure his wife and son are okay. While he gets involved in some fantastic set-pieces you just don't care about him as a person. Ken Watanabe is Intensity-sama, The lively vivacious British actress Sally Hawkins is Ms Infodump, Elizabeth Olsen is Nurse Working-wife in Peril, Juliette Binoche is Mrs Blink and you'll miss her, and none of the other characters raise even a remote flicker of interest.

Honestly, all the Japanese movies I've mentioned so far have more interesting characters than this one which is really really sad. Even worse, so does Godzilla 1998.This is a much and unfairly maligned film which I've just watched since typing the previous sentence. The problem is that the Japanese are right: this is not Godzilla. If they'd given it a different title/name it wouldn't have attracted anywhere near the crap on from a great height criticism it received. It's a good fun giant monster movie (not kaiju in this case which has to be a man in a suit) with a good cast (including Jean Reno, Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria, Michael Lerner, and Harry Shearer) and engaging lead and supporting characters who are proactive rather than reactive -the main problem with G:2014. At two hours I never once felt the urge to fast forward through any of it. There's also a decent selection of extras on the 2009 Blu-ray (which only cost me a fiver) and I'll probably watch them tomorrow.

However, back to Godzilla 2014 and what it actually does get right. And also wrong.

Big complaint from many reviewers is that the title character hardly appears in his own movie. However, much as I would want to see more of the big guy, the director has it right on this score. Let's face it, the idea of giant monsters on the rampage is a silly one and there's little you can do to disguise it unless you create a mystique by building up the suspense about when he's going to appear and what he's going to look like when he does. Similarly for the other two kaiju featured in the film. Holding them back, showing only glimpses increases the expectation and this works well in terms of the film when it finally does show its hand. By this time you're psychologically prepared to take the damn things seriously. And leaving the audience wanting more is lot better than leaving them wanting less.

Of course they're cgi, not men in suits which should be a shame but isn't. The kaiju are well done and the set pieces of destruction and the fights with Godzilla are very well done indeed. The special effects are magnificent. In fact you can't fault the technical level of the film.

What didn't set so well with me was the sheer size of Godzilla, by far the largest he's ever been in any movie. It just didn't feel right. He's too damn big and too unstoppable even though the other creatures give it at fair shot, at least briefly. Also it's too easily accepted that he's the good guy who just wants to stop the other creatures from breeding and thus ending up destroying humanity if they do. You get the ludicrous sight of the U.S. navy acting as his escort across the Pacific to L.A. rather than trying to blast him to bits.

Overall I really liked what was good about it and could tolerate the not so good.

As we all now know it's become a blockbuster with a second film commissioned with the same director which poses the question: how are they going to do it without it becoming either a monsterfest or a repeat of the first film? I'd prefer the former provided it has a really good human story to provide the film's spine. Can anyone think of a third alternative?


Sunday, 11 May 2014

CD REVIEWS: 'TIL TUESDAY -COMING UP CLOSE, A RETROSPECTIVE (1982-88) and THE BOTH (2014)


Quick Quiz: What's the connection between these two CDs?

If this was a pub quiz, the question would be on the hard side. If this was a music quiz it would be easy.

The Answer: Aimee Mann.

And to those of you who said: who? your musical education is sorely lacking.

Til Tuesday (forget the apostrophe which is annoying) was Aimee Mann's band and she wrote, either singly or in collaboration, all the band's songs. You could call them intelligent pop-rock with great hooks, good harmonies, and great and very distinctive lead vocals from Mann who also played bass. If you can't afford all three albums (which I'm now regretting not buying instead of this compilation) then this compilation is essential. That said, apart from one big hit they never really enjoyed the commercial success they deserved.

Five years after the band split up, and due to contractual problems, Mann finally emerged in 1993 as a solo artist and proceeded to release, somewhat erratically, a series of excellent albums. Typically they enjoyed massive critical acclaim and lousy sales condemning the talented Mann to cult status. There is one compilation available but it was released by Mann's previous label and she is vociferous in asking people not to buy it. Her own authorised compilation has yet to appear. When it does, grab it.

Meanwhile you can enjoy her collaboration The Both with Ted Leo, another cult artist and one of whom I'd never heard. They recently toured together and enjoyed it so much they went into the studio and produced this excellent album. What makes it special is that it's a genuine collaboration. All the songs, apart from one by Phil Lynott, are co-written. Vocals are dictated by the song's content and harmonies are plentiful. Leo's electric guitar gives Mann's more laid back style a good jolt of energy making this a definite rock album rather than singer-songwriter territory and Mann adds substance to Leo's rockist style. The result, an album acclaimed by the critics, loved by everyone who buys it, and almost certainly doomed to mediocre sales. Me, I want them back in the studio together and I want Mann to release her authorised compilation of her solo work.


Basically, Aimee Mann is great. Give her a listen whether it's Til Tuesday, her solo stuff, or The Both. She's so good that her and her band appeared in an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where she was heard to say, "Man, I hate playing vampire towns."



Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY

I'll get to that in a minute, but first something else.

1. On an actor.

Is this phrase racist? A popular black actor. 

Permit me to explain the context. I was watching TV when a trailer flashed up for tonight's Holby City, HC being one of two medical drama soaps I watch. In the trailer it was revealed that the arrival of a possibly extrovert new character could cause a fuss and bother for the regular cast. I smiled when I saw who it was -Don Gilet, a popular black actor who's been regularly working on TV for some time now. I remember him in lots of things, notably a cop series The Night Detective set up the road in Newcastle. Gilet played the lead. Not long ago he played a psycho killer in Eastenders and I remember him playing Donna Noble's deceitful fiance in Doctor Who. Good addition to the cast, I thought, and while I always watch HC I was actually looking forward to tonight's episode.

And then I thought to myself: Whoah Nelly! Did I just think of Gilet as a popular black actor rather than just a popular actor. I wouldn't of think of fill in your favourite name  as a popular white actor would I?

So, is the phrase racist? It obviously wasn't intended to be as I find Gilet a good and engaging actor who always brings a certain something to whatever role he plays. But the question remains: is the phrase itself racist? I could have called him a popular bald actor for example, but I chose to single him out as black even the parts he's often played aren't race-specific. 

Here's a Holby City photo of the worthy gentleman in case you don't know who I'm talking about. (To be honest, I forgot his name and had to look it up but that's just an ageing failing memory.)


2. Is This a Christian Country? 

And on that note I'll leave and return to today's main dish: David Cameron and how dare he call this a Christian country!

Cue outrage, frothing at the mouth, racism, whateveryouhaveism, ignoring minority group feelings, the insensitive swine, pandering to the conservative heartland or what have you.

As regular readers or even anyone who's read anything about me in the sidebar will realise, I'm an atheist with no time for organised religion so you'd naturally expect me to be one of the hounds baying for our not particularly beloved Prime Minister's blood.

Well I would be if history wasn't on his side.

Britain is a Christian country. Its history, literature, and traditions are steeped in Christianity. It seems pointless to provide any examples because it's all pervasive and the contemporary secular tone of our era doesn't change that. Britain is traditionally a Christianity country and that Christianity shaped our society for both good and ill. We may well be in or emerging into (hopefully) a post-religious era but that doesn't affect the past and there is a lot in our past to be proud of. From it we've emerged as the most open, in every sense of the word, of all western nations with our acceptance of that which and who is different. We may no longer need religion but we can't deny it, deny Christianity, in shaping what we have become. So, yes, in that sense we are and remain a Christian country and it is nothing to be ashamed of or to deny. 

Just don't expect a photo of either Dave or Jesus in this blog.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

BOOK/MAGAZINES/DVD: XEROX FEROX by JOHN SZPUNAR, MONSTER!: 2, WENG'S CHOP: 5 (all 2014); CREATURE (2013)

For much of my life I had an uneasy fascination with horror movies which was hindered by my belief that I was too squeamish and often looked at the gory/scary bits over the tops of my glasses which meant everything over two feet away was a blur. That became pointless after two cataract operations about fifteen years ago which resulted in me only needing them for reading and, at first, only just. By then, however, I'd already discovered that I wasn't particularly squeamish anyway and was busy exploring all those films I'd never dared even watch before and discovering joys like The Evil Dead, Re-Animator, and so many more. In the process I also developed an interest in cult and exploitation movies, things with an oddball, offbeat charm, though perhaps 'charm' isn't  the right word.

What I missed out on during that period was the plethora of 'fanzines' (I've put the word in quotes because it has a different much more amateur meaning for me as a once active member of Science Fiction Fandom) dealing with horror/exploitation/cult movies. These fanzines do range from the admittedly, amateur but also include professional magazines like Fangoria and the UK's The Dark Side (i.e. they were printed on glossy paper and could be found in chains like WH Smiths). I did pick up a few related books, however, like the excellent four volume series DVD Delerium to enhance my knowledge and guide me to movies I'd like which DVD D still does even after multiple readings. So, having been a member of what is now called, and more respectfully (just), geek culture, it's no surprise that I'd be interested enough to pick up-


It's a massive 800 page volume consisting of interviews with 42 individuals who played a significant role -usually as editor/publisher/writer of horror film fanzines (with a considerable overlap with cult and exploitation as there's a definite mindset which makes it highly probable you'll be into all three to varying degrees. To be honest, it isn't the sort of book you sit down and read straight through. I did try that but eventually I moved it to my toilet and placed it near the loo seat so I could dip into it while having a crap. This isn't an insult as It's where I go through my DVD Deleriums over the course of a year. 

(It's written/compiled by John Szpunar whose surname I pronounce in my mind as Spooner. Sorry, dude.)

It's interesting to me partly because there are clear links to SF fandom and also to Comics fandom. One of the earliest dabblers was the late SF fan Bhob Stewart and, much later as a reviewer of horror fanzines in The Dark Side, UK SF fan Steve Green. The very first interview is with writer/artist Steve Bissette who was part of the team on DC's Swamp Thing which helped transform Alan Moore into !Alan Moore!   

As you'd expect if you have any knowledge of geek culture, most of the people involved are intelligent, talented, literary, and arty but basically normal ordinary people with a rather specialised interest. They are not weirdo freako neurotic oddballs, except for the handful that are. But shake any tree... So I found it interesting, learned a lot of new stuff and when I've finished this review will pop it on my Amazon Marketplace shelf (literally -I have a shelf in a cupboard of all the stuff I have available for sale on Amazon Marketplace) because while I enjoyed it it isn't the sort of book I'm likely to re-read. 

It may be coincidence or I may be displaying my lack of knowledge, but publication of this has coincided with what may be a minor resurgence of the horror fanzine.


After a series of covers of varying effectiveness, they've hit the jackpot with this slick piece which hits all the right bases, especially in the background. (You'll have to trust me on this because I couldn't find a bigger sharper image.) Can you name all the movies referenced? I think I got about 70% of them, maybe more.

Anyway, Weng's Chop is more broad-based than just being a horror fanzine, though it doesn't short-change the horror fan either, as it covers cult, exploitation and just downright odd movies like the look at Jungle movie babes which is the opening piece in this issue. It also includes, along with a load more, the Johnny Wadd movies (porn starring John Holmes), Mexican monster movies, Indian exploitation, as eclectic a bunch of film reviews as you could find anywhere, and even stranger stuff. And all of it written by knowledgeable people who can write.  Incidentally, the magazine has gone from being a slim smallish paperback to a large-format 260 page monster and it's still quite reasonably priced -I paid £7.47 for this issue (post free as I'm on Prime). Look like it's going to be a wild and crazy ride and I'm clinging on while it lasts.


Monster! is a spin-off from Weng's Chop. It is purely devoted to monster movies. That is MONSTERS pure and simple: monster movies. Got that? No slashers allowed. And this slim 60 page magazine could have been made for me. I loved monsters long before horror. I still remember, age around 9, seeing Ray Harryhausen's giant stop-motion octopus in It Came From Beneath The Sea at a cinema in Scarborough while on holiday. I remember exactly where I was when I saw King Kong (still my favourite all time movie ever) for the first time -in a Liverpool cinema on a double bill with, bizarrely, Don't Lose Your Head (before it gained the Carry On hyphen prefix).

Despite being a slim little cheaply produced (printed by Amazon, as is WC) paperback with lots of photos, there is also plenty of reading material to enjoy. If they can get it out on a regular basis, it may have the honour of being kept in my loo. 

It opens with a five page look at a cheapo 1959 ripoff of Creature from the Black Lagoon called The Monster of Piedras Blancas which I remember showing in Sunderland in the early 60's but never got to see. It's so cheap that you never see the monster in the water despite it being aquatic, though it is quite gory for the time. Needless to say that the piece made me want to see it immediately. And, at the back, is a list of all films mentioned and their availability. Or lack of it in this case. Then there's twelve pages devoted to last year's critical and audience flop, the widely despised Creature  written by Steve Bissette which made me want to get hold of it and so I did from Amazon for the acceptable price of £2.46 (post free cos I'm on Prime) and see review below. There's Hong Kong and Indian monster movies. One of the former took my fancy but I could only find a single copy available for £36.00 so screw that.

Only three quid. Great magazine. More please. Now!

Creature opened just long enough for audiences to decide they didn't want to see it -Bissette was alone in the cinema when he saw it the first time and the audience doubled the second- and for critics to shit on it from a very great height. Bissette, while not pretending it's an undiscovered masterpiece, argues that it aint all that bad. And he's right.

There's is plenty in it to pick fault with if you decide you don't like it. But if you can go with the flow then it's quite reasonable fun. After a prologue in a which a young woman, strips naked and goes for a swim in the bayou and gets her legs bitten off, we meet three young couples who just got lost and shortly thereafter they meet a bunch of seedy and sinister locals, led by cult actor Sid Haig, who it soon becomes apparent have seedy and sinister designs on our six (six?) heroes. It's not long before they're being stalked by the creature who seems to be some kind of human-alligator cross. Who will survive? Spoiler 1: the likeable black dude and his likeable girlfriend. Usually the black guy is notoriously the first to go (standard rule in horror movies). Spoiler2:   it wasn't an accident they got lost, it's a trap. 

It's all done reasonably efficiently and it's certainly competently made in terms of production values, photography, and acting. The monster suit certainly looks good but it's here the budget shows its limitations. The jaw never moves. The headpiece is a complete unit so the mouth has to be open all the time. They also obviously ran out of money by the time they got to shoot the climax because -massive spoiler!- you don't see the hero kill the monster. Talk about breaking the rules of horror movies. You always see the monster die even if it comes back to life just as the credits roll. Oddly enough it kinda sorta maybe works if you've gone with the flow and quite like the movie, which I did. Or, you might want to wrench the disc from the player and jump up and down on it. I could cite other examples of dumb things but I really didn't care while I was watching it. As far as I'm concerned I got my £2.46 worth.

And soon: Godzilla 2014.

I feel faint with excitement.



Sunday, 13 April 2014

TV/DVD: CONTINUUM SEASONS 1 & 2


I picked up Season 1 last year on a whim and enjoyed it a lot, so much so that I watched it again just before Season 2 arrived which I then watched (all 13 episodes) in a couple of days and enjoyed it at least as much. 

The premise is superficially simple. A group of terrorists in 2077 are about to be executed but somehow escape to the present (2012) dragging along a Protector (cop) with them. Their intent is to change the past so that their future never materialises. The cop wants to stop them and get back to her own time and her husband and son.

The execution is far from simple. Our hero Kiera befriends Alec a teenage genius (who will become very powerful by her time), gets in with the local cops and partners up with good looking cop Carlos. Villains do villainous ruthless things except they think they're heroes and the problem is that they actually might be.

There's a flashforward at the beginning of each episode which gradually reveals more and more about Kiera's world which starts to look more and more like a dystopia run by and for the benefit of mega-corporations. It soon becomes apparent that Kiera was set up to go back in time, possibly by the old Alec.

The more the series goes on, the more devious it becomes. The bad guys turn on each other. Not everyone is what they seem. Not every thing is what it seems. Is Kiera there to stop the bad guys (Liber8) from preventing the future to happen as it did which does not seem to be a good thing? In which case she actually may be the villain. Or is everything pre-determined?  And then, towards the end of Season 2, we get the appearance of a third party with a different agenda that suggests a different possibility.

Basically this is really good intelligent,well thought out TV science fiction. There's plenty of action, plenty of character beats, more mysteries than you can count, and it's really impossible to predict what's going to happen next as revelation piles on revelation. In at least one case a man who is accused of murdering millions, and actually has done that, but the situation is far from what the viewer has been led to believe.

Here's a photo of some of the cast. Speculation on time travel in the series is continued below.


From l-r: ambiguous guy, our hero, good guy, bad guy, good guy (for now), very very bad guy.

How this series is going to end: the three possibilities.

The scenario which annoys me the most: the closed loop. Everything is self-contained. The future dictates the past which makes the future possible. See also: Dr.Who-Blink, Robert Heinlein's "All You Zombies". I absolutely hate closed loop stories because they depend on there not being a first cause which makes them logically impossible. It also makes the series totally pointless and if the series ends this way, fans will burn down the studio. I think it's the least likely option but I could be wrong.

The past is changed, therefore the future is changed. The fun with this scenario is how the future is (being) changed. It makes everything open-ended.

Changing the past does not change the future. It creates a new world with a different future; in other words, the alternate world shtick. This possibility is hinted at near the end of Season 2. 

I think that whatever happens, whichever of these three happens, Kiera will end up being re-united with her son and, possibly, her husband. 

I also happen to think that time travel is one of science fiction's most stupid tropes because on any logical level it doesn't make sense. Unless you accept that  travelling to the past automatically creates a new alternate world. I'm not saying it doesn't make for entertaining and thought provoking stories because it most certainly does, as does the parallel/alternate world concept. 

Anyway, Series 3 will be on Sky later this year and I'll be glued to it. Unless, of course, the past is changed and the show was never given the green light in the first place and you never read this post.

Monday, 7 April 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE MACHINE (2013), THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958), FRIDAY 13th (1980), FRIDAY 13th PART 2 (1981)

This has been hailed as the best British Science Fiction film since Moon. Well, I thought, on reading that comment, it wouldn't take much as I thought Moon was very overrated, admittedly one of the few who had that reaction. So it's hardly going to be surprising when I tell you that The Machine is certainly a lot better than that film, though it's not exactly perfect either.

It's set a couple of decades in the future when the West's economy is on the skids as a result of a cold war with China. A secret government unit is trying to create cybernetically enhanced soldiers by experimenting on those severely injured in battle. If they don't work they're callously disposed of.  Computer expert Caity Lotz is hired by cyberneticist Toby Stephens (who works for evil Denis Lawson) because she's created a computer which can pass the Turing Test -i.e. when talking to it from elsewhere  it's impossible to tell if it's human or not. He uses an experimental machine he's created to map her brain (which he also uses on his young dying daughter) and when she's murdered by Chinese agents uses it to create a humanoid robot. What's interesting is not that Lotz's personality reappears in the machine, it doesn't, but the machine appears to have a consciousness and begins to the explore the world around it -not the physical world, but the world of moral choices which naturally brings it into conflict with  Denis Lawson who wouldn't know a moral choice if it bit him on the arse.

What's not so good about the film. The science for one thing. It's not bad science, I was just a bit confused about exactly what science they were doing. It's almost all set indoors/underground/at night which makes for a murky viewing, though it's tonally appropriate for the film. I was never really sure about a group of subjects as to whether they were humanoid robots with/without bits of brains in them or cybernetically/surgically enhanced humans. Maybe I should watch it again and pay more attention. Though it could be because there are no fucking subtitles on a fucking Blu-Ray disc which is fucking inexcusable and fucking annoying as hell when you're somewhat deaf  like me!

Still, there's a lot good about it too. 

The cast for one. You'd expect Stephens and Lawson to be good and they are. But it's Caity Lotz who is the revelation. A friend of mine (also called Ian but isn't me) saw her first appearance in the TV series Arrow and declared her to be a useless actress. All I can say to that is: her and Jennifer Lawrence, crap, crap, crap. She is good as the human scientist but her part as the machine is subtle and nuanced and riveting. Plus, as a trained gymnast, she also does most of her own stunts. Plus, she's gorgeous. Up yours, other Ian.

Despite the low budget and the murk, it looks good. And sometimes hideous. A character who appears early in the film has had part of his skull blown away and just covered with skin -I've seen this in real life, though here it's cgi, and to my shame I find it repulsive to look at.

And there's Caity Lotz. And a bitter-sweet sting in the tail.

So, flawed but good and intelligent, which, when you see what abortions pass off as SF movies these days, is no mean achievement.


Every so often I like a dose of authentic samurai drama and/or a fix of legendary director Akira Kurosawa.

This is what passes for Kurosawa being playful. Two farmers have gone off to war thinking they'll get rich but their side loses. General Toshiro Mifune has to save the Princess and the gold in order to get the clan's ruling family up and running again and get back home all the while being hunted by the victors. The farmers join up with General and Princess. And that's the plot in full. 

The two farmers, however, are actually the main characters and they are as venal and as stupid people as you've ever seen in a film. They think of nothing but themselves and not even of each other. If one can gain something over the other (usually gold) they'll try and get it. Throughout the film whenever there is a chance of them to gain an advantage without hesitation they take the selfish option and every time it makes things worse for them. And they never learn. They even consider raping the princess while she sleeps and while the general is off somewhere. 

For all that it is quite a likeable film if, for me, a touch overlong at 138 minutes. There's an introduction by George Lucas because, as well all know, don't we, it was one of the inspirations for some little SF movie of his.

Surprisingly, given my love of horror movies, this is the first time I've seen this one. I have seen Jason X (or Jason in space) which is a highly enjoyable piece of gory fun, though it isn't canon as there were more FT13 movies made after, and Freddie Vs Jason which has its moments but not enough of them. I did see a clip of one of the killings not long after it originally came out and thought it was hideous and that put me off for quite a while. However, I've reading a few books/magazines that deal with exploitation cinema like the older (British) Shock Xpress and the newer (American) Weng's Chop which put me in the mood to check out stuff I hadn't seen before.

Over 30 years on Friday 13th is far less shocking than it was at the time and that includes the scene -Kevin Bacon is lying on a bunk when an arrow erupts from the front of his throat makes a mess- that made me want to run over the hills and far away. Now I just admire how effectively it's done and it still looks convincing even by today's standards thanks to gore effects maestro Tom Savini. 

There's really not a lot to say about this film. It's a highly competent slasher which holds the attention throughout. It also introduces tropes which have become cliches. I do think the blurb on the box shouldn't have given away the killer's identity as, possibly, even now there might be someone who doesn't realise that Jason isn't the killer in this first installment.

Friday the 13th Part 2, unlike the previous film, holds back a while on the killing after the initial opening which is mostly a recap, otherwise it's the same stalk and slash now with added Jason who hasn't yet found the iconic hockey mask. Apart from a mean-spirited killing of the nice guy in the wheelchair, it's pretty much same as it ever was. 

I've got Part 3 on my pile to watch but I may quit while I'm ahead after that as I've plenty more films to watch. Like the recently acquired super-special edition of Dario Argento's Inferno to watch among others.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

GRAPHIC NOVEL: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR -JULIE MAROH (2010/2013) and FILM REVIEW: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR dir. ABDELLATIF KECHICHE (2013)


Okay, I bought this mainly because I was so fascinated by the film and also frustrated by the film's confusing timeline that I thought the graphic novel might help with this and clarify my thoughts on the film. Which it did. If you haven't read my review of the film a couple of posts ago, please check it out first as this post is a postscript to it.



It's important that I show you the above two images because I'll be making a point about them later on. If I could have figured out how to include a clip from the film I would.

The graphic novel begins with Emma visiting the parents of Clementine (Adele in the film) after Clementine's death. The rest is a flashback with the only narrative coming in the form of extracts from Clementine's diary (often referred to in the film but never quoted from). Other than that (plot differences aside) the structure of both is similar. 

The graphic novel, however, is  focussed on the relationship between the two young women and is very much a work of lesbian fiction. It also provides a clearer timeline than the film, for which I was grateful, as it made it easier to understand a significant aspect of how the story developed in the film as stages were signified and the span of the story covers Clementine/Adele's life from 15 to 30. It's delicately done and I've no doubt that, as a graphic novel, it makes a substantial contribution to the genre of gay fiction,

But, and I'm not underestimating its importance to that, that's all it does. Kechiche's film, while substantially adhering to the GN's text, turns it into a transformative experience by broadening the substance of the text into something which transcends its genre roots. It is still a film about an enduring affair between two young women but it is so much more than.

The film is focussed on Clementine (now Adele) and her life beyond her problematic relationship with Emma. The demonstration she attends in the book is supporting a railway strike, in the film it is significantly a protest against cuts to education. Adele's sexuality is never really specifically defined as lesbian and she has sex with boys/men. Her inner life is explored as well as the inadequacy she feels when surrounded by Emma's arty friends and the significant contrast between her working class parents whom she keeps ignorant of her true relationship with Emma while Emma's parents happily accept her as their daughter's lover. 

There's been a lot of fuss over the explicit sex in the film but really, apart from the scissoring, it's not much different in terms of the amount shown in the book. The difference is, and I know this is obvious, the former consists of still images and realistic but still stylised drawn images on paper. In the film it is two real young women making love. The graphic novel consists of frozen moments, panels, in other words selected extracts of the act itself. The film depicts movement with one act flowing into another. In the graphic novel the reader accepts and appreciates the aesthetic style of what is shown. In the film there is no such distancing effect.

I'm making it obvious that, as a work of art and irrespective of format, I prefer the film. Would I have preferred it had I read the graphic novel first? I like to think not, though I can hardly make a definitive statement on that, as preconceptions always colour an opinion. I can certainly understand why a gay audience would prefer the book because it is aimed directly at depicting their experience whereas the film opens it out, transcending its origins so that it speaks more directly to a wider audience. But I still think that, as an adaptation, the director has done the author proud and many people will be guided to the source material as a result.

Monday, 31 March 2014

DVD/ BLU-RAY REVIEW: HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)

It immediately ocurred to me to compare this to the Twilight films and to Ender's Game to the detriment of both. In the case of Ender's Game, it's based on a science fiction novel (albeit the middle part of a trilogy) but unlike that movie it doesn't water down its source material. And, really, there is no comparison to Twilight which is a cliche-ridden trite vampire romance. Catching Fire (and I also include its predecessor in this) is vastly superior to both. 

This series is rich in substance, packed with subtext, drenched with genuine emotion, and feels completely believably real. 

As the film opens, Katniss is back home in District 12, the most depressed, downtrodden and oppressed of the 12 districts, though most of the others aren't much better. She's become a symbol of hope to the masses though, as she admits to the President who wants to destroy her, all she wanted to do was survive. Despite that she's forced by events to be that symbol and, at first, even her phony boyfriend, previously a bit of a wimp, displays more moral strength than she does. As they go on nationwide tour to publicise their victory of the previous year and demonstrate how powerful the government is, discontent spreads. So, in order to first destroy her heroic image and then kill her, a new Hunger Games is announced consisting of previous winners which then takes up the second half of the film.

The second part of a trilogy (though the films have been extended to a quartet and may the inventor of the word quadrilogy burn in hell forever) is always the hardest to pull off but this works well building on the first film and intensifying certain aspects of it. It'll be interesting to see how the two films based on the third book do when there are no Hunger Games to focus on.

Jennifer Lawrence is, as I've said before, the best young (under 25) actress around and here she displays as thoughtful a nuanced performance as she does in more mainstream roles. 

Two films in, this is the best blockbuster series around: exciting, intelligent, thoughtful.