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Review – Joker

A Spoiler Warning is in effect throughout this whole article, I want to do a deep-dive as best as I can, and it can’t be done without discussing some huge plot points.

Todd Phillips’ Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill man trying to be happy in the 1980’s at a time when the world doesn’t care about him or anyone like him. He’s beaten down just far enough, that during the events of the film we get to watch him break. Combining elements of the Killing Joke with a subtle hint of the Court of Owls (like, a tiny hint, really small) and creating a version of the Joker that we can really empathise with… a little too much. (more…)


In The Tall Grass vs. Triangle

Stephen King never really goes out of style in the film industry, he waxes and wanes like the moon, his work is prolific, and readily adapted for film, although it can be a little variable in quality. Certainly with IT Chapter 2 forefront in everyone’s mind, now is definitely the time to adapt some of his lesser known work, and here we have In The Tall Grass popping up on Netflix, and while I’m watching, I can’t help but be reminded of another film with a concurrent theme. And then I think, hey, haven’t done a film-versus in a while. (more…)


Three Horror Reviews

It’s October, and there’s things I have found on Netflix and simply not talked about. Actually a lot of my watch list and to-watch list is horror films, and while I’ll get round to From Beyond, Troll Hunters, and maybe even Errementari at some point, there’s also a few new favourites.

Time to get into the mood for some serious fear, here’s a collection of quick-fire reviews of some of Netflix’s selection of horror films.

Ghost Stories

Let’s kick off with a horror anthology which – aptly – tells three stories of hauntings and fear, but the truth is that the framing device is the film. An investigator dedicated to debunking psychics is summoned to the hiding place of an old hero, a man who faked his own death decades ago, who leaves him with a handful of case studies that he believes prove the existence of an afterlife that he’d been dedicated to debunking. A night watchman, a nervous teenager, and a boisterous landowner, beset by stories that have traumatised them to their core, each barely capable of talking through their experiences, each forces our investigator to confront something about himself.

I’m a big fan of anthologies, not that I think one can accurately call this an anthology as such. Meeting the protagonist of each story helps build some of the tension ahead of time, seeing how deeply each player is impacted by their part. This is also a parade of British talent at its best, Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, and Martin Freeman are tentpoles of the cast. At times Ghost Stories get’s a little reliant on jump scares, and yes they’re often exaggerated by cheesy musical stings, but it uses them to solid effect, and supports it with magnificently built tension, a little well-placed humour, and subverts the format of the anthology by turning it wholly on the main character for the finale.

“Why is it always the last key that unlocks everything?”

The Descent Parts 1&2

Ok, this is cheating, only part 2 is on Netflix right now, and I’d seen them both anyway. Let me clarify as well that I sincerely think that the two are inextricable and that we should not offer one without the other, so do not watch it on Netflix, find some other means. Actually distribution of these films when they were created may not have done it many favours, release dates four years apart (’05 and ’09) when in fact they tell a single, unified story, but that may be about the only criticism I have. A claustrophobic tale of potholers, cavedivers, and thrillseekers who go deep underground in the Appalachian mountains and discover that something has been down there for quite some time.

Use of pure red lighting is very du-jour for the mid-00’s but it’s used to great effect as personal tensions in the group build, and spot some of the camera work and set building that really betrays the decade. But they do a great job of creating a fear of the hidden places below ground, create a genuinely horrifying monster, and mix them with a horror that lurks above ground. It’s very Lurking Fear in it’s inspirations, and is easier to appreciate if you’ve read/listened to the book, but The Descent takes a slant on the idea of subterranean humanoids and makes monsters of some of its main cast at the same time.

Apostle

For some reason Dan Stevens is not listed as being famous for Legion on imdb? What the hell is Downton Abbey?

Anyway, he and Michael Sheen headline a Wicker Man-esque horror that delves a little more directly into the supernatural while still keeping the focus on the horrors brought about by humanity’s own bad habits, our tendency to abuse a resource, mysticize what we can’t understand, and lean towards totalitarianism in the pursuit of freedom. It also fits most solidly within the modern horror oeuvre of mounting tension above overt fear, and manages to insert a rather complete thriller amongst the more terrifying elements.

A girl is held to ransom by a charismatic cult leader in a bid for money to keep his flock alive, all while maintaining a facade of normalcy. From the perspective of the mysterious stranger come to rescue his sister, normalcy is highly strange practices of bloodletting, strange scriptures, and unmerciful practices, along with visions of a strange figure that roams abroad. A cunning trick played by the soundtrack includes the sound of dripping liquid into glass, or very similar, to drive home the sanguine nature of the fear.

I’d say the ending takes a turn for the aesthetically wonderful, but starts to detract from the fear so wonderfully conjured by the first and second acts, but don’t take that as too harsh a criticism. Apostle is still a great film, just one that coasts through its finale, rather than rises through it.


Disenchantment Season 2

Matt Groening’s foray into fantasy dropped its second season this week.

Wow do I wish I had more to say. Usually when I review something I’ll be watching it again on the other screen while I write, but Lego Batman’s on Netflix now, so is the Between Two Ferns movie and those are two things I would rather watch! It’s nothing against Disenchantment… no, wait, it is, it’s definitely something against Disenchantment because so help me I do not recall anything that happened in the series that I watched three days ago!

Continuing the storyline that began in the first season and wrapping up the cliffhanger we left in in which Princess Tiabeanie “Bean” leaves Dreamland with her evil mother, oblivious to the fact that said mother is evil. Elfo the elf is dead, Luci the demon is stuck in a bottle, and all the people of Dreamland have been turned to stone, leaving King Zog alone to go mad. All of the above is wrapped up within a couple of episodes, and we learn who the shadowy figures were, Bean’s aunt and uncle.

We now get new plot threads, an elf conspiracy that goes nowhere except now all the elves have moved into the kingdom despite the fact that the city is a terrible place for them, and there’s an ever growing mess with the mother’s side of the family. But… I mean we’re not here for the story, right, we’re here for the comedy? Not sure what happened to that either to be honest.

In season one, Bean was a troubled and rebellious teen, she seems like she’s lost a lot of her zest, becoming a wooden peg on which the plot hangs. Elfo’s incredibly upbeat attitude has been tempered by cynicism with an upbeat delivery, which suits his character progression but loses his naive obliviousness. And Luci, who had been the main source of cynical comedy suddenly takes a backseat. King Zog is beaten down and humbled and clashes less with Bean which was half of his schtick. The first season was rife with jokes that didn’t so much subvert fantasy expectations as shine a massive spotlight on them, mixed with some excellent wordplay, with comical situations and characters.

This time around the jokes are few and far between, and the watering down of the characters only makes the whole thing more bland, and that’s the worst of it, it’s just underwhelming. Secondary characters are thrust forward to negligible effect I felt like Disenchantment was building to something, and I feel like it burned through a lot of the interesting questions pretty easily and left us without much to drag us into season three, if such a thing is coming.

And the worst part is… if it does, I still think I’ll watch it. There’s a cliffhanger, a mystery or two, and a likeability to the cast of characters that makes viewing all too easy. This is passive viewing at its most passive, while the humour is weakened, fewer laugh out loud moments, but it remains watchable and vaguely entertaining, especially if you watch both seasons back to back because there are a handful of running jokes that are forgettable but still kind of humorous, and there’s enough interesting narrative to keep you just barely engaged while I do something else on the other screen… like complain about what I’m watching!

It all nets to somewhere around “watchable”, or perhaps “bearable” but given the legacy it’s come from that makes it something of a disappointment. From the creators of Futurama and the Simpsons comes “more of the same”. Enjoy it if that’s what you want in life.


Top 10 – Hunters

GeekOut Top 10s

Shh, do you hear that? It sounds like the trees rustled over this way, quickly, hide in the underbrush. Now, careful, for today we’ve got to keep on the low-down, lest we become prey for them. Whether you’re a vampire, a beast, or even just an ordinary human, today we’re going to check out the Top 10 Hunters across all pop culture. Video games, Film, TV, Literature, you name it, we’ve got it covered. (more…)


Studying Video Essays

I’m a great proponent of the internet as a tool for delivering easy to digest learning materials, and yes, YouTube is awash with exactly the kind of tools I’m talking about.

Movies especially have an abundance of video essayists who talk at length about films and the film industry, taking wildly different approaches to the art form. Nerdwriter is a current favourite, whose short discussions that may dissect a single scene in a film, deeply explore a particular technique, or occasionally delve into a different topic. Lindsay Ellis does extensive studies that delve deep into the industry, historical relevance of certain creative choices, or shed light on some behind the scenes processes you might not have heard about before. The Closer Look, Every Frame a Painting, Lessons from the Screenplay, there are many of incredible students of film out to share their thoughts and insights.

For academia in general, Kurzgesagt, CGP Gray, some of the extra vlogbrothers content like SciShow; for literature Tale Foundry, and to an extent Terrible Writing Advice; for tabletop RP, Monarchs Factory, Matt Colville; these are the talking heads, the voices of people who have learned enough to want to share and impart what wisdom they can. Though most of it is heavily slanted by the perspective of the author/essayist/YouTuber in question, most strive for an objective approach and back their opinions with research or extensive experience.

I have been spending vast portions of every day studying the talking-head genre, because some time before the end of this month I’m hoping to put my own videos out there. Not something you’d think I’d consider too difficult, I’ve written 500-2000 word articles twice a week, almost every week, plus Top 10 entries, and most of those have been released on time (here, the author coughs by way of acknowledgement that this does not include today’s piece). I also like talking, especially to an audience, be it a half dozen gamers sat at a table, or a hundred or so gamers who are fool enough to want to listen to my opinions.

So where’s the hang-up?

First of all, a moment of gaming the algorithms on YouTube, what I need to produce has to last for ten minutes. After some experimentation playing around with an autocue generator, I’m estimating a minimum of 2000 words, and I – unfortunately – have a tendency to write concisely, too concisely. So it has been a lesson in padding and drawing out subjects without making it dull listening. This also presumes a script, which I’ll come to momentarily.

Second… talking to a microphone is a world apart from talking to an audience. I invested in a moderate quality microphone, poor audio quality is a killer for videos like this and frankly my webcam was proving inadequate. But here this thing sits… glaring at me, unresponsive. As someone who – by necessity – feeds off the reactions of the audience to inform the content, a microphone is a maddeningly passive audience.

Do I improvise, or do I script in full? I know there are plenty of talking-heads who do one, the other, or both. In my early attempts I tried to strike a balance, writing my script as if it were a D&D game plan, a few notes on talking points, a rough idea what I want to talk about and when, enough to structure without being restrictive, but I learned afterwards that I have a maddening idiosyncrasy that makes editing that style of essay impossible: when I’m thinking, I draw out syllables so that the space in between is almost non-existent. So effort two reads straight from a script, and, while better, I find I stumble over the words that I have written. I entered into the idea thinking it would be the perfect for someone who enjoys talking as much as I do, and here I find I’m learning to talk all over again.

When I put down my keyboard I’ll be trying again, and again, to get this right, possibly trying a few other approaches. I write purely to vent, this is a topic on which there are a thousand answers, none of which right for everyone, it falls within the category of “practice making perfect” and “finding what is right for you”.

I’ll be back when I have a right answer.


Top 10 – Rocks and Stones

GeekOut Top 10s

Hey, it looks like we’re on a roll. Whilst you may be rocking away, things are going to get a little cold, a little stone cold! Ahh, I crack myself up, so whilst we boulder towards this week’s list, let’s get some ground rules out of the way with. This list must at least feature the rocks, stones, boulders or otherwise in a fashion that they stand out. That’s about it, so let’s get ready to rock and roll!


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Review – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

I think I watched the original Jim Henson production a couple of years ago, a double bill with Labyrinth which – to be entirely honest – I never remember watching as a child. But Dark Crystal, the original Dark Crystal, I most certainly saw many years before. One of my earliest experiences of pure fantasy, and it is pure fantasy, free of human protagonists, devoid of anything familiar upon which to hang a sense of reality, comprised only of the complex and wondrous puppetry with which the Henson name is synonymous.

It remains firmly in the cult classic category, a lesser known kids film that connects and resonates with adults who loved it then and revere it now, and – like many a resurrected passion project – the prequel series saw a lot of fans emerging from the woodwork to support it. (more…)


Top 10 Characters With Crazy Hair

GeekOut Top 10s

These characters know how to show off their unique personalities. This list is to celebrate characters who hair is literally an extension of themselves and their personalities. It’s also for if they can use their hair as weapons, or just general talking points. Whether it’s a cultural thing or if it’s just how they roll, we’re going to celebrate hair in all of its ridiculousness. Yes, this list is only for Characters with Crazy Hair.

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Monstrous Ecology

A quick soapbox moment, August has been a busy month and what little bit of time I have had for myself should not be spent watching mediocre films.

So that Netflix had something to suggest when people looked for A Quiet Place, they produced The Silence. The shameless similarities are well documented, it’s practically an Asylum film*, a piggyback on the popularity of a blockbuster to parasitically gain a sliver of notoriety, so I won’t go too deeply into the similarities, but here’s the brief synopsis:

The world has become overrun with monsters that have some hypersensitivity to sound, and they hunt and kill anything that makes a lot of it, they appear to be blind, so anyone capable of living in silence has a chance to survive. One member of the family we follow is deaf, so sign language becomes an essential part of day to day life, and little mistakes cause death, plain and simple. One film is most definitely better than the other, and I won’t start on why, but The Silence raised one hell of a bugbear for me.

So many films are simply bad at designing monsters, and in many cases it’s because drama defies logic. I remember years ago hearing someone remark that dinosaurs would never have roared at random during a hunt because it’s simply bad stealth, announcing your intent to kill someone is the business of certain serial killers who enjoy the fear and dominance of predation, not something that depends on killing to eat. That’s shoddy dinosaur behaviour, but it’s only a narrow leap of logic away from the truth; The Silence’s subterranean bats on the other hand, require some tremendous feats of thought.

Creatures wholly dependant on sound and echolocation make only sounds that support their hunting efforts, and they are adapted to make sounds at a pitch and frequency that make echolocation incredibly effective. We – humans – understand very little about our surroundings by screaming at them. For a start echolocation requires short sounds that are over by the time the echoes return to us, rather than a drawn out howl that drown out the feedback. Of those humans that have mastered echolocation as best as a human can, they make small clicks and pulses, incredibly quiet, but shockingly effective.

The creatures in The Silence shriek, and they shriek constantly. When they move they make a loud fluttering, they scream at each other, they attack anything in the way with a loud clattering sound. These are not echolocation sounds, these are not hunting sounds, these are horror film sounds, and the dimmest understanding of the logic is enough to make such monsters unwatchable and boring no matter how good an actor Stanley Tucci is. A prime example: in an early film moment when the bat-things are attacking a car, and somehow one of them hears activity nearby that the others don’t, and hears it over the sounds of senseless screeching and battering.

And yet later on loud noises are enough to drive them insane?

Let us also briefly touch upon the notion of horror movie predators that delight in leaving corpses for people to find, still with plenty of edible flesh on them. For a creature that appears to have survived centuries below ground, that’s some profoundly wasteful eating habits for a creature that requires a vast amount of calories to both fly and keep screaming like that.

Anyway, rant over. Feel free to discuss other examples of illogical creature design with me, this particular irritation doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, not as long as we continue to sacrifice the basics of logic in the name of a good story. A plot hole or two is fine, but I will not climb down into that particular crater.


*Actually the screenwriter, Shane Van Dyke, has worked on Asylum mockbusters before! There’s interesting. Dude does not understand how deafness works.