Categories
Pirated Media Reviews

Christmas Film Review 2021: Featuring ‘8 Bit Christmas’, ‘A Boy Named Christmas’, ‘Christmas In The Pines’ & ‘Black Friday’

“I.. I.. I’m not doing well..” Dour Dennis the Defective Bear from Black Friday. A toy that really speaks to me.

8 Bit Christmas

First up is 8 Bit Chistmas. This is either Nintendo Nostalgia Product Placement Film #9002 or a knock-off Goldbergs Special dragged out to ninety minutes. Doogie Howser MD and his on screen daughter bond over a tale of 80’s computer gaming obsession. The story starts with Neil Patrick Harris and daughter arriving at his parent’s house where inexplicably his room is exactly the same as it was thirty years ago. He insufferably insists they play his Nintendo Entertainment System, which triggers a traumatic flash-back to the 1980s. Like a man suffering from PTSD, he begins to compulsively overshare about being a middle class brat who would go utterly monkey-shit over basic computer games. The irony of this is that his daughter really, really wants a phone of her own for Christmas in exactly the same way that he wanted a Nintendo way back when. Of course he doesn’t get her one because they are both cunts.

‘No you can’t have a phone. You must work for it instead even though you are only a child. Also you will miss me when I am dead so cherish this moment you ingrate.’ That’s the message of the film. Spoiled it for you. You’re welcome!

This film is full of rose tinted fuckheadeness like that God awful ‘Ready Player One’ film. And much like that particular slop bucket of 80s pop culture offcuts, I don’t understand what audience this film is aimed at: Kids nowadays? Who only give a shit about the 80’s because they are told it was the last good decade in which we had a chance to save the planet. Their narcissistic parents? Who are trying to cling on to the cracked wood panelled dreams of their youth because it was last decade before they fucked it all up? Most likely it was some inner-child addled production executive snorting numbers on focus groups off his iphone.

Yep. The one in the centre. That’s the cunt who grew up to Greenlight this film.

Considering the whole film is free advertising for a Japanese console company it is interesting to see that all the onscreen computer games are not recognisable Nintendo game titles. I assume this is because Nintendo would not play nice with the rights to their marquee titles like Mario or Zelda. For example NPH boots up his classic up his console only to show his daughter ‘Paperboy‘, which was originally an ATARI title.

Rampage. I remember playing this on the Commodore 64

As I mentioned earlier ‘8 Bit Christmas’ feels like an overlong episode of the ‘Goldbergs’. Albeit without the charm, Barry or the irreplacable George Segal. The film tries hard to imitate that kind of tongue-in-cheek approach to the decade and unfortunately mostly misses the mark. Honestly if you want that see that kind of genre done properly just go rewatch the ‘Wedding Singer’. Although ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome‘ captures the spirit of childhood in the 1980’s better than anything else as it mostly involved calling each other spastics and taping up Razzle and Fiesta centre-folds on the school bus windows. I’m sure we spent more time flinging rocks at buses or smaller children than actually playing computer games. When we did play Nintendo (or Commodore 64 or Atari or Sega) we played the good shit like Punch Out, Double Dragon 2, or Wrath of the Black Manta. We certainly didn’t suck up to richer kids for a token go on their machines as is central to the storyline here.

There are some mildly funny moments and it is entertaining if that is your absolute base requirement, but it is also sacharine, sanctimonious and the main kid is a fucking klutz. The moral of the film; that you should enjoy spending time with family (there’s originality for you), will be completely lost on your little brats. As it spends the last twenty minutes hammering this message hamfistedly down your throat, which is far too long. This means your little crotch goblins will have started playing some Minecraft on your ipad well before the end.

Speaking of which SPOILER ALERT!! Steve Zahn is shot to death while reading a magazine on the toilet by his Uzi weilding progeny. Oh no wait that’s Pulp Fiction. I rate it three Ninja Turtle Doves.

“Go to BATHROOM and TAKE A SHIT NOW!! You ARE SHITTING YOURSELF.” “Not yet not yet nyeaa..” True story. This is what video gaming leads to.

Christmas In the Pines. Sequel to Christmas In the Rockies *I think*.

Some of you may have partners, significant others or even be married. At times they may watch certain televisual entertainment genres that you might consider to be in poor taste. Possibly even trashy. Guilty pleasure shows like ‘1000 lb Sisters’ or even blander fare like ‘Love Bites‘.

“We need titles! Hust fill the set up with whatever Christmassy bullshit you find in the prop department. Oh and get a seat for the cast to sit in.” “Will the cast be there?” “Naahhh.”

Sometimes you can share in their vicarious pleasure. Revelling at finding some form of lowest common denominator to both indulge in. or maybe you’ll just wince convivially, before scuttling off to your own dark corner to watch the ‘Sisterwife League of Hillbilly Wrestling’. But then there are particular special interest films that you catch your partner watching and it is as if you have just caught them squatting in the corner, shitting uncontrollably over the carpet while bawling ‘I can’t help it!’. Christmas in the Pines is this film.

Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino yay!

It is certainly family friendly but at what cost? This is the sort of film you find yourself watching after you have been emotionally gaslighted and am numb and bereft of all feeling. I was expecting a hunk and chick filled Hallmark Channel bean-flick and I am sorry to say that my low, low expectations were too high!

“OMFG three purses?!! I am so moist right now..”

The kindest thing I can say is it glossy sexless pap. It’s not even vanilla. I can only the imagine the audience for this is comprised of women (or men) of a certain mental age who will probably write a heartfelt post on reddit’s DeadBedrooms in the next couple of years. If ‘she’ is watching this then ‘he’ is probably in the other room painting Warhammer miniatures while fantasing about oiling up Space Ubermenschen while junior huffs glue in the garage. Then they kissed and everybody clapped. No seriously that is actually the ending. I give it a full Five golden ringpieces.

Here is the love interest. Honestly he actually struggles with any part of the script that has more than two consecutive lines.

A Boy Called Christmas

Are you all sitting comfortably in a posh North London home, set for yet another flashback story? No? Well tough. ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ is a staunchly British excretion, shot much like a Waitrose or Sainsbury’s seasonal advert. You half expect to see animatronic carrots in mixed race relationships with parsnips discovering the joy of Xmas, one tinsel basted Turkey Crown at a time. In which case you’ll only be half disappointed.

Looks more like Belsize Park to me.

Maggie Smith plays Aunt Sourpuss who is the baby-sitting tale spinner in this piece of Xmas schmaltz. Dame Maggie arrives to babysit her three oh-so-clean and impeccably dressed stage school grandkids. The story she tells them is about some brat who goes to hang with the elves in fifteenth century Finland aka Christmas land.

Please don’t tell us a bedtime story Aunt Sourpuss

The cast is pretty star studded. With Michiel Huisman and Joel Fry who both seem to be in fucking everything these days, both showing up as respective dads. Jim Broadbent and Kristen Wiiiiig also put in cameos while Stephen Merchant does the voiceover for the CGI mouse. Which you don’t find out until your half an hour in. If you think that is a spoiler I’m afraid any film with a CGI mouse sidekick is already hitting a fairly high level of contrivance post Stuart Little.

Get used to this face. He does it a lot.

There are some neat bits, the shadow animation near the beginning is rather good but that is all of two minutes long. That’s all I can say really say for it though, unfortunately. By the time Kristen Wiig as Aunt Cuntsmear turned up to bully the soulless ginger elf of a protagonist, I had gotten bored enough to actually do the vacuum cleaning.

Stephen Merchant as a rat.

If you want to stick on a film with Holly, snow and Christmas hats for your kids to yet again ignore in favour watching Elsa screw Spiderman in some bad parenting corner of YouTube while you do some housecleaning, then this one gets four Alan Partridges in a Pear Tree.

Tobey Jones turns up too.

Thus concludes the list of this years Christmas films. My advice is do not patronise your children by sticking to ‘Family Friendly’ fare at Christmas. It doesn’t satisfy anybody. The Christmas films I remember most as a child of the 80’s were ‘Trading Places’, ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ and ‘Gremlins’. So watch grown-up Christmas films with your kids instead. They’ll actually pay attention to shit like ‘The Night Before‘ and you won’t feel like your slowly suffocating under false cheer. Which brings us to:

Black Friday

“Lego! Where the fuck are the Avengers Legooo setss!”

Technically a Thanksgiving film. But for the rest of the world who doesn’t celebrate genociding an indigenous population with extra Cranberry sauce, it counts as a Christmas movie. If you have kids they will watch the living shit out of it. The film is set in a big box toy store where the staff have to work all through the night on Thanksgiving until Black Friday the morning after.

“No time off for COVID, you’ll have to work double shifts LOL!”

It is every shitty job you see posted on r/antiwork with added monsters. The script is sharp and funny for most of the film and it has Bruce Campbell (the B movie Carey Grant dontchaknow) and Michal Jai White (Of Black Dynamite and Spawn fame). It starts with a cynically fake Sinatra song that you will half believe is real. Sure it goes a bit flabby in the third quarter but picks up again for the finale.

I am reasonably certain there is an obvious subtext about Black Friday shoppers being possessed by some splodgy alien intelligence that turns them into hyperviolent web spitters akin to Trump supporters or Q-Anoners. But I was too shitfaced on OVD rum and Yazoo banana milkshake to ‘get it’ by the end of the film.

That is Bruce Campbell. Loving the bow-tie.

I give it Eight Partridges drowned in a two litre bottle of Frosty Jack’s Pear Cider.

Merry Christmas.

Categories
Pirated Media Reviews

Mad God

“And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.”

Leviticus 26:29 KJV

A floating ziggurat towers up into a storm cloud sky. Lightening cracks, blasting it’s pinnacle. From the sky a diving bell drops lower and lower. Sirens sound and cannon-fire rips across the screen. Inside the bell a rubber clad figure in a WWI gas mask desperately pulls levers and turns dials. From the smoothness of the motion it’s almost hard to believe that the model inside is animated, so realistically does his hands work the controls.

So begins Phil Tippett’s ‘Mad God’. A masterpiece of stop motion animation that has been over thirty years in the making. Quite frankly there is nothing else like it. Or rather there has been, the closest comparison is Richard William’s ‘The Thief and The Cobbler’. But that wonderful vision was betrayed and ultimately ruined by Disney. This one was not. To say the animation in either film is good is an understatement. They are both incredible.

In Mad God the detail of the model work, coupled with the lighting and subtlety of the motion control is particularly exquisite. A ‘simple’ walk cycle by the main character is sublimely hyper-realistic. With bulging rubber boots malformed by the weight of the foot as it crunches across a debris filled path. And that is just one little scene.

We follow the gas masked protagonist as he descends through a series of crumbling worlds that are post-everything-a-caust. Places where themes of decaying mutation and evolutionary violence abound. Dead world’s filled with fossils of our own making. Some of which are from Tippett’s earlier work. I spy ED-209 from Robocop amidst the ruins. It’s a trip that parallels Orpheus or Dante’s descent into their own respective Hell. As the figure navigates each one the map crumbles a little more..

Each one is a little more familiarly unfamiliar. A world of screaming giants strapped to electric chairs whose effluvia pours through a grate into the mouth of an even bigger beast. Who has been flayed and deconstructed, so that his organs, eyeball riddled and weeping, pump the bellowing workings of a great machine. Which in turn stamps out spindly figures, molded from dust and hair, born literally rotting to pieces into an industrial hellscape in which they are all too expendable. These figures labour to churn out metal blocks which zip through the air of this factory city. Crushing them as though they are of no consequence whatsoever.

Disney’s Fantasia this ain’t. It fact it’s a emphatic fuck you to all of that kind of schmaltzy classical Utopionist schtick. Like a Michelangelo made of plastic bags and dead seagulls, it is a parable comprised of Freudian offcuts from the grimmest of dark corners of human history. A howling glimpse of a future past that we are all complicit in. Which amidst our current pandemic and ecological collapse seems damn near prophetic.

This is reflected in the soundscape: Feet stomp. Babies scream. Bones crunch. Metal clangs. Amidst all this rotting shadow moments of poignancy do exist. One of the dust figures wants to escape and for a moment the person in the gas-mask holds out a hand.. It doesn’t end well though. There are just too many infantile heavy-footed monsters out there.

Several times the film seems to be heading towards an ending. Only to confound the viewer. One such moment takes places in a world of lost briefcases. Each one seemingly containing dynamite with a ticking clock that only requires winding. Time from this point on becomes a key theme.

This place we are journeying through is a place where time repeats itself. It slows. The hand ticks forward twice then back four time, stutters forward again then back. If mythology is set in ur-time then this one is is a rich expression of suffering time. The kind of time that happens when you break a leg or are having chemo. It drags on and all you can do is hope.

This is reflected in the scratched jerky effects of the film’s stock which turns fuzzy and static filled. Particularly as surgeon’s tear jewels out of the guts of the gasmasked hero, wrapped in gore and ichor, until they reach in to pull out the screaming spine of his or her inner child.

At this point you can make your own mind up about the direction of film. Though personally I found it rather cheering. What that says about me I don’t know exactly. I will say this was probably a sentiment not shared by my fellow cinema attendees. “What was that all about?” and “What a load of crazy shit!” Seemed to be a fairly common reaction as they staggered out of the auditorium. But then I’d shaved my ears, plucked my nose-hair and stolen a bag of donated clothes from outside a charity shop especially for this outing.

Mad God is released sometime soon hopfully. But will probably be showing at a film festival near you. Go and see it. Remember to take your kids too! They’ll love it.

Categories
Pirated Media Reviews

The Midnight Gospel

The Midnight Gospel on Netflix* is the best animated show you are probably not watching. It is a beautifully drawn and thoroughly moving exploration of the human condition. You’ll either love it, hate it or both. Maybe you’ll ‘get it’ or maybe there is nothing there to get. It’s all in your head and what are you exactly inside there? Pulsating meat masquerading as sentience or something greater?

The show is about Death and the ‘primal reality’ thereof. It is also about guilt, acceptance and coming to terms with failure. Which is probably not entirely accurate but that was my impression. I’ve re-watched it a few times. It’s be one of those shows that densely packed with ideas and concepts where the interpreting could shift depending on how you feel at the time.

For instance if you watch it before doing something like going on holiday, with all the expectation of happiness that such an event brings, you might feel differently about the show. The circumstances when I watched it may have affected my slant. It is also very, very funny.

* Or alternatively the show is also available on your favorite bittorrent site.

This Isn’t Really a Review.

I went home for Christmas on the 19th of December, hours before yet another lockdown was announced and ‘enforced’ in the UK. I’m not especially proud of it but it happened. Now the end is in sight maybe I can come clean. I do not have a big family and it seemed particularly important to go and see my mother who is elderly, as much as it pains me to say that. And whose short term memory is a long term worry for me.

It was a long journey from here to there. A good eight hours as the road flies. Doing it in the midst of a resurgent pandemic meant only a bare minimum of stops for petrol and the inevitable bio-break. I had tested negative. I had self isolated. I had spent a week worrying about it. I was committed to making the journey.

The coronavirus has challenged everyone slightly differently. It’s made us all redundant in one way or another. One big shared aspect of virus culture has been the slow existential dripping away of time. Isolated from solitary family members living distantly atomised lives. Silently contemplating all the worst of questions of ‘How Will I Cope If such and such dies?’ By pondering the immediate mortality of loved ones considered most vulnerable and considering the brute realities of this new era should they succumb.

How would you feel watching them slowly die via fucking conferencing software? Robbed of being 100% present in such an acutely important moment. Remember all those great things you intended to do together over the last year? It’s now a road to your own personal Hell. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

Don’t be afraid. Face the void.

Am I Part of the Problem?

I took to that road at the last minute. Sensing lockdown was about to hit like a rake to the face, I threw everything I didn’t need into the back of my 22 year old import. Along with a cantankerous cockatiel and a half ounce of very strong weed called Stardawg. Once I was out there my carefully planned smuggler’s route over the high ground seemed silly in hindsight.

The motorways were just a big series of empty lanes, HGV’s and low level paranoia. The spectre of police patrols sweeping up drivers in between road blocks, checking and fining every car traveling beyond a certain distance on the ANPR cameras was just that: a spectre. A big bellowing paper tiger roaring from all forms of mass media. ‘Stay home! Save lives!’ (except in this case).

I saw only two cop cars on the whole journey. They were pulled up having a chat and a coffee at a popular services on the A1. Inside the building a naked woman screamed at her coven of teenaged children from the doorway of the ladies toilets. For their sakes I wish I had made that up. But I just walked right past them pretending I saw nothing. Eight hours later I drove into a deserted tier 4 city. Eyes bleeding, head thrumming with the cosmic vibrations of a radial tyres thumping four hundred odd miles over tarmac and hardcore.

I was happy to be back. Happy to see the dog, the cat, the parrot. The messiness of home. To be present with my mother and sharing memories once more. I took up residence in the basement in a bed next to the wine rack. Eager to be diminished by soft drugs and alcohol over Yule. I plugged in my eight year old laptop to the TV and HDMI’d my ambitions away until mid January.

The show I started with was The Midnight Gospel.

I’d been saving it for months for this moment. Like I hoard all animations, good or bad, on a special hard drive committed to animated piracy. Four terabytes of brightly coloured escapism of varying quality and theme. Series, feature films, one offs. The collected works of Jan Švankmajer and hundreds of film festival shorts rubbing shoulders with Tom & Jerry, Ugly Americans, Pingu and Thingu. It’s my own little Erebor and like the hoard under that particular hill, it has driven me more than slightly mad.

Stuck exploding. The horror.

I’ll say this; I don’t remember much about watching the entire run the first time. I interspersed it with cycling fast, thrashy laps around Regent’s park. Still stoned of course. Then I went back for more. I don’t think I knew how to feel about it at first either.

The show is about a some dood called Clancy Gilroy who lives a dimension called the Chromatic Ribbon. He owns an unlicenced computer thingy that grants him access to multiple worlds in multiple universes. He visits these worlds to generate content for his podcasts. Clancy has a single loyal subscriber for his podcasts, though he never questions whether they are worth doing. Of course they are. How else can he escape the pain of existence? Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

Due to Operator Error there are No Longer Living Things on This Planet.

While I watched and rewatched I had a lot of questions. Are the podcasts real podcasts? (They are sort of, being adapted from episodes of the The Duncan Trussell Family Hour). Was the whole thing an exercise in Pendleton Ward‘s slow slide into guru led fart-sniffing whimsy? (No it isn’t) Why did it feel so fucking ‘Californian’? Was it some new age religious bullshit masquerading as philosophy? Why was I simultaneously annoyed and overjoyed by it? Halfway through I got the theme. I shrugged. I wrestled with it. I felt uncomfortable. I went out for another bike ride. I poured another drink.

I am not fan of podcasts. They aren’t a part of my cultural diet. There’s something about the format that I find self-indulgent and it doesn’t chime with me. Which is more than a little hypocritical. Though I understand the appeal and have listened to a fair share of them second-hand: Lore, Marc Maron’s podcast, Behind the Bastards, a bit of Louis Theroux. Maybe it’s because I’m full of rage and jealousy. So it’s weird I would enjoy The Midnight Gospel when other people I know who love podcasts do not like it. At all. I think because it’s almost a pseudo fake podcast backed by really good fucking animation that I managed to initially get on board with it.

I could also see a fair bit of myself in Clancy. His rejection of the multiverse simulator as a economically viable workhorse. His unsuccessful podcast. His quixotic dedication to escapism and his embrace of the moment. His clutter. His souvenirs. His solitude. Not that these are all positives. Just similarities.

The second time around I watched odd episodes out of order. The ones I remembered thinking that I enjoyed watching. The ones where I began to realise the whole series was about the grim experience of trying and failing to cope with the inevitability of Death. These were episode four: ‘Blinded By My End’ and episode five: ‘The Annihilation of Joy’.

When I say failing to cope. I mean that in a partial sense. We all fail. It’s a condition of life. How ‘well’ you deal with it is a phenomenological question. You can be an emotional wreck and still bring home the bacon and or a zen bum without a pot to piss in but living a rich existence. What you make of existence is subjectively your life to live.

Of course visually its a real treat. Gorgeously drawn and wonderfully psychedelic and surreal with oodles of charm and neat little animated stories occurring in the background. Each illustrating in a way the underlying theme of each episode, though in some episodes this is more enigmatic than in others. Aesthetically it resembles Superjail, although thinking about it is maybe it’s more like the lesser known King Star King. Which are produced by Titmouse studios (I actually said ‘Chirp’ from their ident when I first saw the opening scene of the first episode.) Who over the last 10-12 years have really carved out their own stylistic ouevre in animation.

As I said before, The Midnight Gospel is show about death and coming to terms with it. This isn’t a hidden theme. Clancy interviews the grim reaper in one later episode but it also isn’t entirely apparent from the earlier episodes.

What struck me most was how well it deals with the both the practical and dysfunctional aspects of grief. The former is much more up front, especially in episode 7: Turtles of the Eclipse, where Caitlin Doughty explains how important and cathartic it is to simply take time to sit with a loved one once they have died. She also outlines how exploitative the funeral industry is in this regard too.

The themes of dysfunction and of how loss can make you behave in certain ways it is much more implicit in the character arc of Clancy. Especially as more of his backstory is revealed. The final episode it very moving. Although I don’t want to give anything away that might spoil it. In this manner I found it sort of similar to ‘Flowers’, which is another brilliant dark’ comedy’ about dysfunctional, traumatised people pursuing what others might deem to be irresponsible dreams. Rather than dealing with the tedious nitty-gritty of life.

As Dr Wong said in another popular cartoon: “..[T]he bottom line is, some people are okay going to work, and some people well, some people would rather die. Each of us gets to choose.”

January came and I had a birthday that I tried desperately to run and hide from. On the day I was blixxzd. Haunted and nervous. I sang karaoke and was red wine sick all over a floor. I laughed about it later while I was hungover. But was I really present for it?

There’s a saying my mother has: ‘guests are like fish, after a week they stink.’ After three weeks I really stank out the whole joint. It was time to head North again. Lockdown was still ongoing, still is in fact. But a viable vaccine seemed to be just around the corner and it wasn’t like I had options.

I drove back up with the cockatiel on my shoulder, shitting on me all the way. Shared memories are important and it had been reassuring for everyone to have a moment we could look back on and say remember what happened over pandemic Christmas? I really feel for those who haven’t been able to have that. For now at least the thought of that inevitable loss was one that I could push aside and make smaller for the time being.

I hope I didn’t kill anybody. I don’t think I did. But who the fuck knows.

Get in.

Categories
Pirated Media Reviews

Possessor

This is IT folks, the real deal. A great concept beautifully realised. A perfect slice of speculative techno horror and a fantastic feature length debut from Brandon Cronenberg.

First lets give the elephant in the room a fat sack of peanuts: Brandon Cronenberg is, yes, the son of that David Cronenberg and, yes, he has certainly picked up a few things from dear papa:

Grisly subject matter: Check. Grim technology used for nefarious ends: Check. Icy performances from emotionally damaged characters: Check. Lashings of gore and blood pumping in spurts from open wounds? Check.

In this regard Brandon is certainly carrying on the family tradition regarding the Cronenbergian approach to surreal and grotesque (and in so doing transcending the usual genre niches). But he also puts his own stylistic flourishes into the film that fortifies Possessor into a prescient and substantial work that can stand quite comfortably on it’s own merits and be a part of the Cronenberg f̶r̶a̶n̶c̶h̶i̶s̶e̶ dynasty. It’s not flawless! Hell what film is. But it is pretty gosh darn good. And it is very pretty to look at too! More so than the muddy ’70’s turd browns of Cronenburg senior’s palette choice anyway.

The story in ‘Possessor’ is thus: Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, an agent who works for a Black Ops organisation who implant targets with a mind controlling device operated remotely by their agents in order to perform high level assassinations. The film opens with Tasya in the body of a professional hostess. Crying her eyes out as he emotionally calibrates with the body of her host, right before she enters a bar and savagely carves up a wealthy looking gentleman with a dinner knife. After that she slices open her host’s throat and wakes up in her own body.

Of course Tasya loves her work! So much so that she simply can’t wait to leave her perfect family behind to get back to it! Her boss, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (channeling a certain meaty surgically enhanced facial aesthetic perfected by Mickey Rourke) can’t help but sympathise. And offers her a hit in which she must inhabit the body of Colin Tate, played aptly by Christopher Abbott. A small time coke dealer who happens to be the boyfriend of a billionaire’s daughter.

Tasya follows Colin, getting his diction and mannerisms right, so that when she inhabits him she can more easily ‘pass’ as him in front of his nearest and dearest. Kind of like Konstantin Stanislavski combined with Richard Kuklinski. Anyway, Colin has an interesting day job courtesy of his girlfriend’s father and intended target John Parse, played by Sean Bean. Colin, via virtual reality goggles must quickly catalog the interior furniture of video streamers. Cue a quite a graphic sex scene in the uncut version where Tasya as Colin fails to concentrate on describing the curtains in the bedroom of a couple of active amateur webcam pornographers. Of course, with Tasya masquerading as Colin, within Colin, things don’t go according to plan…

So far so Cronenburgian. But Brandon is doing things a little differently. The first stamp of his own auteurship (yes I know it sounds wanky but fuck it) is his eye for detail. Nothing is placed in front of the camera lens without an intense degree of thought and consideration. The sets are both sumptuous, chilling and very unsettling. From the very beginning in the opening scenes where the first ‘possessee’ walks up a flight of stairs into some vaulted cellar ceilinged bar located in a sky scraper, you get a strong sense of matter out of place. Of one thing masquerading as another. Indeed in that initial opening the camera follows a spine like sculpture along the ceiling of the bar which made me wonder if that sculpture was made for the film or something Brandon had seen and marked.

From then on, every location seems to have a particular purpose and significance, imbuing the film with a distinct feeling of geodemographic horror. From Tasya Vos’s grotesque modern McMansion that she lives in with her unsuspecting husband and daughter. Which overlooks an interminable row of garages, with apartments attached as afterthought. All with exposed electricity meters. To the stunningly disorientating skyline of Toronto; presented as a cornucopia of glass office-scape apartments reflecting garishly back at each other. As though the whole city were some true to life urban panopticon of blank indifference. Even Tom Parse, the targeted billionaire entrepreneur has his own terrible ostentatious interior on display, over-frescoed, golden gilt and marble edifice just a step away from McMansion Hell.

Honestly I’ve not seen anything this good regarding the dystopian horror of architecture since Gattaca [1997] and High Rise [2015]. The latter of which is surely no coincidence, considering Cronenberg senior made a pretty decent stab of filming JG Ballard with Crash in 1996.

As for the rest of the story. Well I don’t want to give away too much. There are stories with twists and there are stories with turns. Compared to those Possessor is a helter-skelter standing tall above the rest of the fair. Let’s just say that Andrea Risborough imbues Tasya Vos with not only a chilling enjoyment of her work but also a certain amount of sleight of hand. Certainly it is grim grim grim, but beautifully so. Go and watch it dammit and get an uncut copy if possible.

Categories
Pirated Media Reviews

Vampires Vs. The Bronx

I was really looking forward to this film, the overall premise seemed so promising! A teen Vampire film with an interesting subtext regarding gentrification sucking the lifeblood out of urban areas. Hopes were high when I fired it up on the big screen TV, assuming it would be a woke mashup between Fright Night, Lost Boys and possibly Vampire in Brooklyn.

For the first half it seemed like the film might deliver. But unfortunately for the second half ‘Vampires Vs. The Bronx’ turns into a flapping rubber bat of a film. It toothlessly ditches the gentrification angle, trades characterisations for stereotypes and shamelessly rips-off better teen Vampire films of yesteryear.

Don’t worry it’s just the hidden hand of the market.

The Good

Credit where credit is due. The film does starts brightly enough. The post title screen montage shows neighborhood kid ‘Lil Mayor’ Miguel as he cycles through the Bronx putting up posters for a Block Party benefit to save the local Bodega, which is run by his friend Tony. It’s a pretty good way to introduce all the named characters and setup all the locations, showing the spread of blood-sucking real estate company ‘Murnau Properties’ as it aggressively takes over the local small businesses in the Bronx.

Obviously ‘Murnau’ is an outfit owned by and for vampires that chose to ignore the recent memo from the Vampire Grandmaster regarding ‘Coach Feratu’. Seeing as they named themselves after F.W. Murnau the director of Nosferatu, and use a well known portrait of Vlad the Impaler for a logo.

In addition to turning nail salons into hipster coffee shops and artisan cheese bars, Murnau has also bought up the local creepy looking courthouse. Which it plans to turn into luxury apartment vampire nests. It’s not exactly super subtle but it’s a campy kind of fun befitting the genre. Plus there are so many po-faced, clangingly scored horror films out there now that a fun bit of pop horror goes a long way. In VVtB you get precisely 37 minutes of fun and then it loses itself.

The Bad

For me, the film starts to fall apart when the main trio get arrested for trespassing on one of the Murnau properties. The boys are trying to get proof that vampires exist. But of course vampires don’t show up on video! So when they show their phone camera footage to the cops and the gathered chorus of community members and nothing shows up on screen, cue the drama.

So far, so formulaic. However this is the Bronx! Suddenly having all the generations of assorted adults become law abiding to the point of screeching authoritarianism felt especially jarring. It didn’t stop there either. The V-Blogging character, the neighborhood girls and the two aspiring rappers all get their licks of disapproval in on poor Miguel and friends. You’d think the whole neighborhood had never known anybody who’d sat in the back of a squad car. At first it just seemed unrealistic. But the longer it went on the whole sequence came across as condescendingly moralistic. In the age of Black Lives matter and the victimisation of so many young people of color by the police, it hit a bit of a bum note.

‘Lil Mayor and his little friends got caught up by 5-0 for trespassing, such fine boys aren’t they?” Lawful Smugness does not endear.

In fact, regarding the characterisation of ‘the community’, which is always a problematic construct. The portrayal is not exactly deep and meaningful. Being comprised mainly by the usual mish-mash of urban stereotypes that commonly stand in for cultural heterogeneity; Friendly street drinkers playing cards, a couple of aspiring street corner rappers, a handful of gangsters and then the god fearing parents who work 8 days a week as office cleaners or full-time grandmas.

It’s wiggety wiggety wiggety wack.

Another issue is that the ‘kids’ are supposed to 14 or 15 but they’re presented as though if they are dorky ten year olds instead of being urbane and street-wise teens. Nowhere is this more apparent than when Miguel’s mother goes ape-shit at Tony the Bodega guy for letting the main trio watch Blade. Fucking Blade. As though a 1997 comic book movie was too adult for teens.

This also includes Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith who plays the local priest. I was holding a fucking votive candle for Method Man’s big appearance for the entire film. Considering how many times the film mentions ‘Blade’, I really hoped he would turn up as a kickboxing ecclesiastical vampire slayer. Possibly sporting a bitchin’ Wes Snipes high top fade and wearing a pair of $300 Oakleys. Nope! Method Man’s big line is and I shit you not “They stole my Sprite.” That’s it. That’s fucking it. That’s all he gets. What a fucking waste.

N.Y.C Everything but not my Sprite? Criminally under-used in this film.

He’s not the only one. Rita played by Coco Jones, is one of the better characters of the film’s second half. She gets to go with the ‘boys’ on the climactic vampire hunt and has some funny lines. But it still feels like she was tacked on as an afterthought rather than given anything meaningful to do. Overall it’s like if some dry-drunk supply teacher who’d just speed read a pamphlet on inclusion, was asked to direct a school cast version of ‘Lost Boys’. It lacks the wit and nuance.

The dry sarcastic wit of those 80’s vampire films was what made them great. The two Corys in the Lost Boys and Roddy McDowell in Fright Night had bags of it. These were knowing films that didn’t take themselves too seriously, and reveled in playing up the comedy horror angle whenever they could. Even the more serious remake of Fright Night with Colin Farrell was still a comedy horror, though in an darker toned noughties style. So VVtB should be part of a good comedy horror genre lineage.

The Ugly

Unfortunately it’s a lineage VVtB chooses to squander. If not actively ignore in favor of theft, hoping we won’t notice. The scene where the kids go searching for the vampires in their den. Only to find them hanging upside down above them is lifted outright from Lost Boys, almost shot for shot in fact. But is entirely lacking the humor and originality of that scene. In fact at this stage of the film the vampires aren’t even a credible threat anymore and this really is the big problem with this film. It coddles the main characters so much that you know nothing bad will happen to them.

“We are Nihilists Lebowski! Fear my creeping manicure! I as reach for your humous! Do you listen to Depeche Mode btw?
“Grasping hands, grab what they can, everything counts in small amounts..”

It also means that the character’s lack any real flaws which squashes any agency or growth. If they are good to begin with then what have they learned by the end of the film? There is no journey for them to take. No arc. Just plain old return to normality. All of this totally screws with the flow of any movie. This is doubly compounded when you have three little Mary Sue’s versus your stereotypically unoriginal pale Goth bloodsuckers*. Along with any sense of suspense and drama, the cartoonish thrill of the genre itself just evaporates.

*There’s the blond one with long hair and a long coat and the bald one in a black suit and then the lady one and they are all gothy goth goth.
Hisss.

As for the plot about gentrification? Well, that is forgotten about so rapidly it’s insulting. It leaves so many unanswered questions. What happens to the area now that Murnau Properties has been staked through the heart? Who takes over the stolen businesses? Does a law firm run by Werewolves buy up the vacant properties? Why even bother with a gentrification angle to begin with?

Moving to the suburbs is portrayed again and again in the film as good thing. As something nakedly aspirational, even though these character’s spend their lives in a tight-knit urban community. In my experience young people and small business owners living in the real world city are completely loathe to move. Especially to some fucking car-centric suburb well away from their friends and customers. The film just lets this whole subtext go in favour of a superficial and shallow idea of community. One that is defined by block parties rather than daily lives lived enmeshed via the pressures of circumstance.

What are they gonna do for a sequel? I’m hoping an NGO run by Egyptian Mummy’s buys up the leases for the rent controlled apartments in the neighborhood. Ooh scary.

In fact by the end the whole film is unsatisfying and anemic. Phwooshing off into the ether like one of it’s vampires in daylight. It really needs some fucking hot blooded passion coursing through it’s veins. Instead we get a hollow streaming service cash-in masquerading as young adult ‘wokeness’. It’s fake, insincere and symptomatic of the recent trend of teen movies spoon feeding their target demographic de-politicised milky pap.

Stay for the first half, fall asleep before the end and you’ll think it’s just dandy. Otherwise, do yourself a favour and watch something else this Halloween. For a good fix of nostalgia horror, and if you find people in big mascot costumes creepy I thoroughly recommend the Banana Splits Movie instead.

Categories
Pirated Media Reviews

Sputnik /Спутник (2020)

Last night I got around to watching Russian Sci-Fi / Horror film Sputnik which is a clever, compelling and beautifully shot post soviet rethink of the xenomorph body-horror genre.

Sputnik, is misleadingly not about the first satellite to orbit the Earth. Instead it’s a fairly well crafted sci-fi/thriller/horror set in 1983. Russian Cosmonaut Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov) crash lands back to earth when something sinister causes his Soyuz capsule to malfunction. He has no memory of the catastrophic re-entry which may or may not have killed his Co-pilot. Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk), suspects something funny regarding his claims of amnesia and recruits unorthodox and controversial neuro-physiologist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) to treat him at distant military facility in Kazahkstan. Of course, as the promotional poster makes clear, Konstantin did not come back to earth alone..

Ok, but is it any good?

So this film is Egor Abramenko’s full feature directorial debut and certainly marks him out as one to watch in the future. The setting of the film at the just before Perestroika and subsequent fall of the USSR is particularly interesting as it makes it feel like Post-Soviet-Soviet film! No really. I’ve always thought that period of USSR history would make a brilliant setting for a whole series of films. (A vampire film set in Soviet Norilsk anyone? Mutant Siberian Tigers terrorising a gulag?)

Anyways the Eastern Bloc has a long and storied history of producing great science fiction films. If you haven’t seen any I strongly urge you to check out the films of Andrey Tarkovsky. One of the hallmarks of the classic Soviet sci-fi films is it they push well away from convention; ‘Stalker’ 1979 and ‘Kin-Dza-Dza’ 1986 respectively being both well-feted internationally as genre breaking films that don’t rely on the conventional sci-fi tropes.

However even within the well trodden science fiction conventions i.e. space ships, robots and aliens, etcetera, there are Soviet era films such as Ikarie X-B1 1963 and Solaris 1972 that have subtle cerebral and culturally salient takes on such thematic standards. That both those films are based on Stanislaw Lem stories is also rather telling.

Sputnik also knowingly references it’s sci-fi B Movie roots.

In any event Sputnik is more akin to the latter genre of Soviet sci-fi films. For it is essentially a reworking of Alien (1979) and this isn’t a bad thing, but the parallels are fairly obvious:

For instance the main protagonist is a strong female lead and the creature is a violent, body-horror xenomorph not too distantly related to the H.R Giger vision we all know and love. That the powers that be also wish to control it in order weaponise it, and in so doing allow it to munch men in body armour like popcorn, also relates it to the second and third Alien films.

What Abramenko does do differently is add a more intimate and complicit relationship between man and xeno than we might normally expect. Without overly fetishising the creature itself as an intrusively sexual or pointlessly savage. Though visually the beast is well actualised via CGI, it’s not really anything genre aficionados haven’t seen before. But it is suitably alien both in design and behaviour, straddling the line initially between gross and disarmingly menacing. When we are shown it in full in the third act it is not disappointing as it still manages to be inscrutably intelligent and a credible threat.

VISUALS & THEMES

As far as looks go, Abramenko perfectly captures a stylised and aesthetically pleasing version of early 1980’s USSR. The sets and locations are striking and completely of the era and Abramenko makes full use of Brutalist space. The period buildings and internal sets are all heavy concrete and stained birch veneer. Their frontages and auditoriums both massive and gloomy yet seemingly empty and underpopulated. This is clearly the USSR of committees and reports. Indeed we are introduced to Dr Klimova, who is being censured for her unorthodox clinical treatments by just such a committee.

Although much of the film is primarily set inside a military base, there are exterior shots of the Kazahk steppe. Frequently Abramenko has the wide-open slate skies and distant rolling hills bisected by an almost needless chainlink fence. Which is a nice touch regarding other subtle themes about illusions of constraint and control present in the film.

CHARACTERS

The characterisations in Sputnick are fairly robust and well construed. Dr Klimova is suitably hard willed and humanistic, Konstantin the Cosmonaut is funny, rueful ambitious and sly. Anton Vasiliev as Dr Rigel provides a decent cowardly turn. But the standout for me though is Colonel Semiradov who rather than being the hard nosed military man associated with the stereotype in such films is warm, considerate and forward thinking. This also muddies the waters somewhat between whether there is a definite ‘good or bad side’ in the film, which is when it is at it’s most interesting.

My main negative criticism of the film is that I found the score un-necessarily intrusive at key moments, being thumping and fast paced. Others may not mind it so much. There is also a more schmaltzy subplot that does not detract from the film but does feel that it is there mainly to provide closure at the end. All in all I highly it’s an interesting film that provides a decent twist on the genre and it is well worth a watch.