Wednesday, 1 February 2023

"Hangry" and "horngry" are different things and I learned this the hard way

Easily my favorite sci-fi show at the moment, FIRE COUNTRY is a dystopian drama set in an alternate timeline wherein America utilises slave labor to battle hazardous wildfires caused by a climate catastrophe brought about by the same insatiable capitalist expansionism that the inmates are charged with protecting, even at the cost of their lives.  Where do they get their ideas from?

The show brilliantly mixes satire of life under authoritarian rule with a knowing pastiche of soap operatic conventions akin to that seen in the original Starship Troopers, a comparison I think holds up even better when you see how both works show people to be treated as little more than disposable frontline soldiers in ultimately-unsustainable imperial enterprises.  Were one to walk blind into a room showing an episode of Fire Country, they could be forgiven for thinking it really was a television show with the depth of a puddle that goes beyond the expected conservatism at the heart of American copaganda and instead displays an outright contempt for a proletariat that is constantly reminded that it should be grateful to be allowed to die in service to a middle class that offers nothing more than a display of "claps and cheers" for a job well done rather than any material compensation for life-threatening and life-saving labor - a particularly brilliant joke early in the first episode establishes that the slaves are paid "two dollars an hour", so that within the fictional universe, it can never be claimed that these are actual slaves - but to assume Fire Country was harmful corpo-fascist propaganda would be a disservice to the talented and insightful satirists who have concocted such a wonderful critique of the moral vacuum at the heart of a slave economy.  What an age of television we've lived to see!

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Nothing is broken, things are supposed to be this way

GLASS ONION?  More like uhhh ASS BUNYON amiright?

I'm probably not, as quantifying Rian Johnson's second murder mystery has thus far been a task that has defeated such towering intellects as Ben Shapiro and Critical Drinker, and if a cogent analysis escapes such objective and learned media critics, I surely have no chance of offering anything insightful about Johnson's lighthearted critique of meritocracy and great man theory that might be of interest to any passing readers.  Nonetheless, to anyone who cares about such things, I can offer that I very much enjoyed it, even though I didn't really think much of Johnson's Last Jedi, which I only mention because the vast majority of overly-harsh critiques of Glass Onion that I've come across seem to have a problem with getting to the end of the review without drawing your attention to the fact that that Last Jedi was not to their taste.  Millenials probably refer to this as "Long Butthurt", but I'm buggered if I can be bothered looking up what the avocado toast-eating bastards are actually saying, because my attention span is already a disaster without getting addicted to Chinese spyware apps while trying to look up what "fleek" means.  Yes, references to avacado toast and then fleek - Dear God I'm old.

There are some interesting takes on Glass Onion, particularly Pillar Of Garbage's examination of it through the lens of Disruption Theory not just as a central theme of the film but of Johnson's work to date, though philistine and simpleton that I am, I just liked it as a riff on the kind of cosy afternoon murder mystery television shows such as Psych and Monk, with the preceding film - Knives Out - reminding me of Columbo, while Glass Onion has the distinctly playful whiff of Diagnosis: Murder about it.

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

I'm gonna be forty soon, Prescilla - Forty, and nobody's gonna remember me. I never did anything lasting.

In BEAST (2022), Idris Elba and his kids get mugged while visiting The Old Country, and I can't decide if this tale about Africa being a dangerous place for black people even without whitey coming around to ruin things like we do (and we do this at least once during the course of the film) has an inherently chauvinistic central conceit or not, as obviously only a white male is qualified to make that judgement.  No I am not attempting to set up a self-aware joke about how white people can only view media products featuring black people through the lens of race, I really am this shallow and stupid - there's literally hundreds of posts below (and soon, above) this one that prove what a terrible media critic I am, but if anything you're the problem for reading this far and encouraging me to keep going.

Thematically, Beast is an exploration of how black men are conditioned to isolate themselves from their heritage in order to become successful within Western patriarchy, and how the false sense of masculine identity that comes from this ultimately alienates them from emotional connection with their wives and daughters.  I mean, it's probably about that, but I just liked the bits where stuff blew up and that part near the end where Dris turns back to face a lion that's been hunting him just like the action hero he often plays elsewhere and gets completely mauled in a scene that goes on too long to not be funny.  It feels like a remake of that 90s movie The Ghost And The Darkness but with some clumsy modernisations including the usual "teens and dads not getting along" character arcs that never really go anywhere and make me wonder the point was beyond the obvious: that everything has to have a teenage girl in it now because modern writers think this is a shortcut to attracting a younger and/or female audience to things that might not usually attract such a demographic, like a movie about a middle aged man returning to his recently-deceased wife's rural hometown and encountering adversity when he runs afoul of the perils of the local environment.  It was actually while watching the Walker: Texas Ranger reboot - simply titled "Walker", because modern audiences might not stick around for the whole title if it has too many syllables in it - that it first occurred to me that every show on the CW is essentially the same thing regardless of what the originating premise or hook of the show might actually be, and always ends up being about the sex life of a teenage girl played by a twentysomething actress, even if the originating premise of the show was "six time world karate champion kicks latino men in the head for 42 minutes, also sings the theme tune" or "African-American vigilante rejects violence in favor of teaching children how to survive the systemic racism and unjust hierarchies which bring injustices into their lives more than the actions of individual criminals do".  No matter where these shows start off, by the time the credits roll we've had to sit through the dull lovelife dramas of the supposed lead of the show's boring-ass kids instead of watching him punch a bear or something.  This ill-considered and misplaced rant about the CW's output is really making this paragraph drag out.

I guess Beast was okay, but I wouldn't specifically seek it out or anything.  It kept me from looking at social media apps on my phone and wondering how long I have left, so it's not like it was a total waste of 90 minutes.

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Tim Burton, you've done it again

Midway, a 2019 "independent" movie that cost 100 million dollars, is about how foreigners doing terror bombing is bad, but doing terror bombing ON foreigners is retribution justified not just in retaliation for wrongs perpetuated upon history's main characters - The Whites - but also in atonement for not recognising the dangers of leaving the foreign devil to his own devices.

In Midway, much is made of America's need to strike back, but little is seen of why it hadn't joined a war that was two years old already, as - SPOILERS FOR WW2: Americans were going to sit the war out if they could, much like Britain had tried to do already and, well, no-one ever accused America of learning a lesson easily, any more than anyone has ever accused America of opposing rather than gleefully embracing authoritarianism.

It kind of sucks coming to a movie like this in my twilight years, the joys of a thousand potential futures shaped by the boundless dreams of youth finally drained from my increasingly-frail and failing body to be replaced with the bitter cynicism of lived experience, as I like to think* that if I'd seen this when I was a perpetually-drunken and uneducated dipshit cruising through a life without consequences, I would have at least enjoyed the way director Roland "Stargate is my most historically accurate work" Emmerich made a new spin on what is now known as the Death Star Trench Run by simply portraying dive bombing with historical and technical accuracy, the practically-suicidal technique of slowing a plane to within a hair's width of its stalling speed before flying it towards enemy guns and/or diving from above the effective range of flak straight into a barrage of exploding death and hoping you didn't run into one of the billions of white-hot fragments of shrapnel flying around at supersonic speeds is - it turns out - quite an exciting affair to watch unfold, and Emmerich does it well on multiple occasions, only slightly let down by the film's coloring, which too often makes the difference between physical objects and CGI a bit too obvious.

I am as surprised as anyone else to find myself not hating this, thus sparing my already-overtaxed liver the trouble of making more bile to poison me and expedite my journey towards the cold embrace of the grave.  Roland Emmerich has failed to hasten the day of my death, and it's not often I can say that about a film.

* possibly "like" is too strong a word, inferring as it does the possibility that I might still be capable of even a molecule of happiness.

Monday, 31 October 2022

He sure wasn't killed by the flu!

OCTOBER 31st - BUCK ROGERS: SPACE VAMPIRE is, as regular readers of the blog - lol what a concept - may know, THE BOSS LEVEL OF HALLOWEEN VIEWING, and I watch it every year.  The heroes are heroic, the villains are villainous, the spooky bits are spooky, and the sci-fi bits are embarrassing reminders of the limitations of 1980s television budgets and how they could never stand in the way of the most powerful force in the universe: the imagination and willing suspension of disbelief of young boys who knew they weren't gonna get anything that looked like Star Wars on a tv screen so they damn well made do.
I unironically luuuuuuuuv Space Vampire, and if it wasn't an affront to God and explicitly illegal under Northern Ireland's draconian and frustratingly-specific laws on marriage, I would join in holy matrimony with it and make the Heavens tremble with our love.  And no, a civil partnership with it is not the same.
Sadly, I can't find the fantastically bonkers electronic suite for the episode anywhere on Youtube, so have some of the SPACE ROCKERS OST instead, being the original home of Johnny Harris' "Odyssey: Part 1", which damn near made me flip my wig when it appeared on the original Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack, so it's a nostalgia double whammy.

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Which one is the ugly one?


OCTOBER 24th - THE LAIR (2022) is a joint by Neil Marshall, and if all you've ever seen of his work is cult classic Dog Soldiers, you'll know what to expect in this military horror if you replace the werewolves with Venoms.  A fun movie despite being made by reputedly dreadful people.

OCTOBER 25th - SCREAM (2022) is funny in that, when series writer Kevin Williamson was a young man, the movies were about the truly frightening things that young people were worried about: Do my friends actually like me?  Can I trust them?  Do my university friends hold my baggage against me?  Is everyone looking at me?  Does my childhood trauma really have to define the rest of my life?  Will being stabbed hurt?  Now that Williamson is a cranky old man, the series is about how The Young Folk And Their Pesky Computers are all being turned into crazy psychopathic killers by social media - even though this is a movie series that's been going for a quarter of a century now, its central premise being that The Young Folks were doing bad things 25 years ago before everyone was even on social media.  Scream as a movie series has been about toxic fandoms right from the very start, so it's amusing to see Old Man Williamson put on his crank hat and blame social media for somehow pulling this kind of thing into existence.
Scream 2022 is also Not Very Good.
It rehashes a lot of the same story beats as before, the same killers, the same motivations, and even the same commentary about social media attention-seeking.  There is nothing new here, and no amount of the film copping to it by going on rants about soft reboots and requels can hide that.  It's well-made, but so were all the others, and the first three at least could pretend they had something to say, something new to bring to the horror/slasher genres.  It passed the time, I guess.

OCTOBER 26th - CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF has likely birthed more than a few reviews along the lines of "a movie in which Oliver Reed plays a man who goes drinking and turns into a monster?  LOL talk about typecasting etc", but it's actually an enjoyably camp monster romp that remains on my PS3 hard drive to this day, hence its inclusion here.
Oliver "I quite like screwing" Reed is actually pretty good as the perpetually-tortured wolfman cursed from birth to a life of tribulation because of the misfortune of his parents, or... something - it's actually pretty unclear why he's a werewolf, as the film goes to almost comedic lengths to pile on one bad omen after another, from his mute mother stabbing her abusive baron to death (which I'm not sure we're supposed to see as something entirely bad, as the old bastard absolutely has it coming) to his troubled birth described as "an offence against Heaven" to leering gargoyles reflected in a pool of holy water at his Christening as a thunderstorm rages outside the church.
This poor kid never gets a break to the point you're still kind of rooting for him when he goes on a murder rampage, a feeling probably helped along by the fact that young Reed is a bit of a snack, even as a foaming-at-the-mouth blood-drenched monster, to the point I can believe most of the audience at the original screenings were thinking "yeah some of this is bad optics but I could still fix him" even as he chewed on the throat of some random soak.
The brownface actors are probably a bit problematic these days, if only because some of the make up - especially Catherine Feller's bizarre sheen - looks weird on HD tvs, but the oversaturated colours are a big part of the sense of artificiality that lends this and other Hammer Horror productions their legendary garish charm.  Great fun while it lasts.

OCTOBER 27th - CRAWL is a horror that brings the experience of being a black person in New Orleans between 2004-2022 to America's white middle class, and follows the relatable misadventures of a pretty white girl who has to deal with insurance write-offs on her dad's mortgage, looters, and good and helpful cops just doing their job.  Oh, also there are some alligators who show up and tear people apart.  I liked this, even if it is, as mentioned in jest, very, very white.

OCTOBER 28th - THE RATS ARE COMING!  THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! yes I watched it because of the title.  A cheap-ass horror that tries to keep you guessing what kind of monster is at the heart of things despite having the title that it does, as - SPOILER WARNING - the creepy family at each other's throats are not secretly rats.  I hate movies and tv shows that think they're keeping you guessing about an upcoming twist, so tv episodes or movies where I figure it out early or have it spoiled for me before it starts just feel like they're wasting my time, and I wasn't really in the mood for being strung along by this, either, but it's at least entertainingly horrible seeing these dreadful people making each other's lives miserable, even if this never looks less than super cheap.

OCTOBER 29th - MAGGIE... my mum died of liver cancer last year, and it's been weighing on me around this particular season because we just had her year's mind a week or so back, so a movie about someone dealing with a disease that slowly eats a loved one from within and makes them increasingly unrecogniseable over the course of the last few weeks of their life probably wasn't a good choice on my part for inclusion in a series of blog entries where I flippantly talk about meaningless ephemera that usually just sort of washes over me.  This one was difficult to process, especially given the limitations of Swarzeneggar as a leading man in an intimate character piece, though "guy who can't quite express himself in a satisfactory way, even with the clock ticking" was a concept that I personally thought he handled quite well.  I think it was the tiniest hints of denial here and there that really sold me.
I don't know that I can say I enjoyed this, but I appreciated what it tried to do.  I probably won't watch it again.

OCTOBER 30th - HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS - being the movie version of a gothic soap opera I have tried to watch a couple of times, but I gather this condenses the most popular/memorable arc from the series, which centered on the murderous vampire, Barnabus Collins.  Campily enjoyable, it seems like it's packing in a whole bunch of plot arcs and feels like a bit of a roller-coaster ride, with some of the characters feeling like they could be fleshed out a bit more - I didn't even realise that one character was the protagonist of the film, as another character who takes an early bath (literally as well as figuratively) feels like they have far development, though this also makes their being suddenly killed-off before the final reel feel like more of a shock.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more of some of the arcs, particularly the doomed vampiress who's tracked down and dispatched by suspiciously effective police officers, with help from a doctor of science who has a medical bag which contains - as standard - a medically-sterilised wooden stake and large mallet and seriously, I knew American health care was the worst in the Western hemisphere, but even so holy crap.

Sunday, 23 October 2022

just think of me as a man who went berserk one summer day and was never right again


OCTOBER 17th - THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES is another Youtube find, a low-budget sci-fi horror born of the prodigious career of Roger Corman and infamous for various reasons such as its non-union status that led to Corman directing most of it across several days on a single sound stage before anyone could stop him, and its being sold on the back of a lurid and hastily-assembled lobby poster that had little to do with the finished film, a sticking point for the distributors to the extent they went back to the edit to bring it more in line with the poster and ended up building and shooting a monster for less than 200 dollars which only appeared in several seconds in the final reel, and which still bore no resemblance to the monster on the poster.
All of which is probably more entertaining than the film itself, which is a bog-standard b-feature about a psychic alien who tries to conquer the Earth by controlling the mind of one good dog, and one very horny mute. I did like the abstract nature of the menace the protagonist family faced, its agency doesn't really manifest in any real way until about halfway through the film when the family dog, Duke, goes bonkers under psychic duress, but he's just so dang lovable and clearly the best thing in this turkey that when he's dispatched offscreen with an axe, the film lost me. How dare you give us this beautiful boy and then just take him away, The Movie? 

OCTOBER 18th - ALIEN, because it's quite a while since I saw this and I thought it would make a nice companion piece with...

OCTOBER 19th - (Halloween events paused for mum's year's mind)

OCTOBER 20th - ALIEN: RIVER OF PAIN, an audio play featuring the likes of Anna Friel, Colin Salmon and Alexander Siddig doing voice duties in a story that runs concurrent to the events depicted in...

OCTOBER 21st - ALIENS, and to complete the multimedia event I also played the unofficial Aliens sequel...

OCTOBER 22nd - ALIENS: COLONIAL MARINES (PS3), the much-hated videogame that got a barrage of abuse upon release for its infamous array of technical issues and underpowered game engine, but I'm only here for that sweet, sweet Aliens sequel action in the cut scenes and linear/scripted voice-acted segments of the game and so planned to just sleepwalk through the shooty-shooty bits except NO FLIPPING KIDDING THIS THING IS JANKY so it was a bit of a slog. So yeah, I am all Aliens-ed out this Halloween.
There is little I can say about ALIEN and ALIENS that has not already been said, but here is my hot take, nonetheless: all this time, writers and directors have been trying to make a sequel to the wrong movie, and instead of making a new Alien, they should be making Aliens 2. Going backwards was a mistake for the franchise, as evidenced by every new Alien sequel searching desperately for some hook that "adds" something to the central premise of a monster terrifying the residents of a confined location but ultimately just ends up changing what that location is and calling it a day, and "It's Alien, but in (x)" has now been the setup for Alien 3 ("Alien, but in prison"), Alien 4 ("Alien, but in a space station"), Alien 5 ("Alien, but in a prequel") and Alien 6 ("Alien, but Alien"), and now I'm just over it already and just want them to do another Starship Troopers knock-off.

At this point in the property's life cycle, people are not interested in the subjective takes of an auteur like Ridley Scott or David Fincher or whatever the "original core vision" of what an Alien movie or franchise might actually be, they're just going to the cinema to keep current with what's going on with the established brands of the day - or at least, people who are actually going to the cinema who don't fear THE DEATH VIRUS THAT STALKS AMONG US are going to the cinema to keep current with established brands, and I don't just mean the endless Marvel movie parade, I mean the Fast And Furious-es and the Star Treks and the Whatever The Hell Jump Scare Piece Of Crap Horror Series Is In Vogue Right Nows-es, as cinema has been colonised by corporations for a while now because Oh God I'm ranting about capitalism again, does it ever end? Look, people know of the Alien brand and they will watch any old load of bollocks attached to it, which Ridley Scott proved beyond question with the abominable Prometheus, so I'm begging you here to just give me an Aliens sequel already.  Leave Ridley Scott to make his space gods prequel movies and hire himbo auteurs like Michael Bay or Zack Snyder to churn out muscular military science fiction in an alternate cinematic universe like the one the Aliens Versus Predator movies presumably exist within.
The original two movies are classics, so I can offer you little insight to those, but the audio play - RIVER OF PAIN, available on Youtube, should you wish to search for it - is quite amusing, even if it falls apart the closer it gets to events in the original movie canon, with some of the expository dialogue that "organically" fills you in on what's happening through audio cues being entertainingly blunt to the point it may bring you out of the fiction, but it's still more fun than almost all of the Aliens comics I've read. Technically, it's preceded by another audio play that tries a similar trick of weaving events in and around the space between two films, but life is short, daddio. You may as well expect me to play - or at least watch the cutscenes from - ALIEN: ISOLATION, which also does the whole "between movies" thing, but instead of an atmospheric haunted house in space stealth game with gorgeous retro-aesthetics channeling the sci-fi design sensibilities of the 1970s, I went with the far less impressive ALIENS: COLONIAL MARINES, a stiff sci-fi shooter with gorgeous retro-aesthetics channeling the sci-fi design sensibilities of the 1980s.
A first person experience that borrows liberally from the Alien/Aliens canon to pad its linear and uninteresting narrative experience with lore, it just ain't great, despite some good environment models and atmospheric sound design. The sudden appearance of Michael Biehn's Hicks dangles the possibility of something interesting happening except he immediately dismisses that by responding to questions about his activities between the end of Aliens and his reappearance in this game with "but that's not important right now" because - of course - you have to buy seperate game content to get that story, because capitalism is inescapable and destroying everything it might once have claimed to have created and holy crap I'm doing it again. Anyway, I literally bought this game for four quid from the local CEX, so if you're curious, it'll cost you buttons to check it out, but as mentioned, it ain't great.
So I guess there wasn't a lot of insight or content to come from the whole Alien multimedia event bit of the horror marathon, huh? I thought it might be a good idea, too - diversify the subject matter away from just watching a movie a day. Ah well.

My one takeaway, I guess, is that the longer the Alien franchise goes on, the worse the plots and scripts got, until all you're left with is some background lore for the storefront to an online service, and this isn't even me slipping into the Capitalism Bad thing again, this is literally all that's left of Alien - or any other piece of art - after its dystopian capitalist hell crept up on us in the dark until we were consuming in a way that didn't even require we have something physical to show for it, like a copy of a film or game or book that we could put on a shelf, even when those things have become increasingly cheaper as people offload them to glorified pawn shops in favor of streaming services.  The last piece of Alien lore I saw was the Colonial Marines menu screen telling me to log onto their store to buy new levels now that I'd finished the rather short game campaign.

We don't "buy" anymore in the sense that we work towards owning something, instead it's become the norm to pay a tithe to a corporation for temporary access to media that we already paid for, to television, to movies, to games, to healthcare, to water, to shelter - to food, even.  Our corporate future has arrived and it has taken even the concept of aspiration from us and we embrace it and tell ourselves it's better than what we had, making peace with the concept of owning nothing much like the peasantry of the post-Enclosure era made peace with their new reality.  Why do I mention this?  Well, because the dystopian hell future of the Alien franchise never predicted this, so its capitalist version of the future, meant as cautionary and frightening, is actually optimistic, because within that fiction, characters at least had an end goal, even if it was only to own shares in the corporation that treated them as disposable.  In our world of 2022, we only really work to keep the lights on, and somehow we got convinced this is better.  That's probably something we should be scared about.

OCTOBER 23rd the Dun-Dun-DUNNNNWITCH HORROR, starring an oddly-flat Dean Stockwell, who I am more used to seeing in an animated state in his acting roles, though to be fair, his rolling eyes do a lot of the heavy lifting in this one. I kinda liked this slice of atmospheric 1970s eldritch cheese based on one of HP Lovecraft's less noticeably racist works, but the presence of a mustachioed Stockwell - welcome as it is in any and all circumstances - just made me think of fellow 1970s horror cheese offering "Whisper", one of the better episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, in which Stockwell delivered a similarly detached performance in a story not a million miles from HPL's cosmic horror ouvre. If these reviews seem scattershot and in desperate need of an editorial pass, it's because I write them while I'm drunk.  Being a high-functioning alcoholic with adult ADHD is what really scares me these days.