WHY THE X-FILES NEED TO BE CLOSED. FOR GOOD.

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This is a hard post to write.  We’ve been a fan of the X-Files since it’s inception.  Hell, since the first season aired late night on BBC 2 in the Nineties and we were banned from watching it by our Mum because it was, and we quote ‘too terrifying for someone of your age.’

 

We of course managed to bypass these unfair restrictions by nefarious means (luckily in those days parental controls weren’t a thing on TV sets) and found ourselves lost in an amazing world of mysteries, conspiracies and damn good storytelling.

Which meant that when the series was rebooted for a Series ten and eleven, with Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny and all the original cast signed up, we were beyond excited.  Hell, we were freaking ecstatic.  Like kids hopped up on Haribo and crack.

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But…then we sat down to watch the last two seasons and our high faded way too quickly.

The come-down was brutal.  Brutal.

And though it sticks in our collective clack to say it, the most recent series has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that The X-Files should never have been resurrected and should in fact have been allowed to go gently into that good night.

 

This sounds harsh we know.  But we have good reasons for stating this.  And if you’ll allow it we’d like to present those reasons to you now….

 

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  • ARGUMENT 1: The on-off, will they-won’t they relationship between Mulder and Scully made complete sense in the earlier seasons of the show. We all know why.  They were two different characters with opposing motivations, the intellectual gap between Scully’s faith and Mulder’s belief in the fantastical a solid reason to keep them from fully committing to each other.  But after everything that has happened between them over the eleven series, (including but not limited to an alien invasion and the birth of their magic-brained child) there is literally no reason to keep them apart romantically, other than basic dramatic license.  To have them continue to dance around each other in the last two series isn’t just insulting to the viewer it’s completely unbelievable and as a result strains any requests for suspension of disbelief in the audience.

 

  • ARGUMENT 2: And for that matter, Scully’s continued scepticism over any suggestion that her partner makes, regarding aliens or witchcraft or whatever it may be, after everything she has experienced to date, just seems trite; like the writers are trying to undo all her character development in an effort to hark back to the glow of the earliest seasons. We’re all for recapturing the magic of the early days guys, but not when it comes at the expense of character progression, you know.

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  • ARGUMENT 3: Ripping story ideas from tabloid headlines. Now, usually we’re a major fan of this, it keeps things feeling fresh and contemporary while maintaining the mythology of the show as a whole.  And so, when we recognised aspects of the IRL Slender Man case in S11 ep 5 Ghouli and the whole crazy Berenstein/Berenstain conspiracy in S11 ep 4 The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat we threw up our hands in glee.  But beyond taking an interesting concept from the real world, the writers didn’t seem to know where to go with these ideas beyond throwing them in and seeing what shook out.  Both episodes wasted solid concepts by weaving them clumsily into the main series arc (the hunt for William) effectively burying any instinctual creativity they might have had.  It’s not so much the choice of story that we objected to but the manner in which they were developed.  And the wasted potential of that act was just sad to see, truth be told.

 

  • ARGUMENT 4: Some of the dialogue. I mean, man.  It’s bad.  Like full on, no-one would speak that way to anyone that knows them bad.  Like let’s lay out all this exposition in case people have got confused kind of bad.  If you need an example, you might want to check out the candle- lighting scene in season 11, episode 9.  Location wise, visually it’s a solid set up for a scene.  And let’s remember that we know these characters.  We know what they believe, what they stand for.  They speak to us in a kind of shorthand now, we’re that close.  And so, to have them basically stand there and explain their inner most thoughts and motivations for behaving in the way that they have been, is so unnecessary at this point, so on-the-nose, that It’s just laughable.  Forced and embarrassing.  How this scene and many others got through the script stage we can only imagine.

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  • ARGUMENT 5: The Comedic episodes. The X-Files has always been known to throw in surreal comedy to balance the darkness of its stories.  It’s something that we’ve always loved about it, especially when it came in the form of standalone episodes that provided a little relief to the overall story arc.  But that balance has been totally askew lately, if you ask us.  And The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat was the perfect example of this.  Ridiculous narratives are absolutely fine.  Bring them on.  But to have the two agents involved in something that casts doubt on their entire career/the legitimacy of their memories and then act like it never happened is just cheap.  And in point of fact, to have them involved in any standalone X-Files investigations at all while their son is missing and the future is headed towards a horrifying apocalypse, with no recognition of the ludicrousness of this circumstance, shows a complete disregard for narrative believability and for an audience’s intelligence.

 

  • ARGUMENT 6: And then we have the S11 finale: to which we can only mutter a disenchanted ‘Good grief,’ before having a lie down in a darkened room. We don’t want to get nit-picky with the intricacies of storytelling.  Seriously.  But… if you’ve spent an entire series building up the disclosure of a shocking revelation to the two main characters (William’s parentage- and side note; non-consensual impregnation of a beloved character by the main villain is not ground-breaking, it’s just plain gross) only to have that secret exposed and show no overt reaction to the news, you should have your WGA card revoked immediately.  Anti-climactic is not the word.  It’s just poor storytelling.  Dissatisfying on a cellular level.  You basically cheat the audience out of something you promised them.  To compound that misstep by ending the main characters long search for their son, by having him shot dead (in inverted commas) one whole second before the uber-villain is killed too is even worse.  It’s a pacing disaster.  Those two things taken together would have been bad enough.  But then to throw in another miracle pregnancy on top of that, as a plot device to stop Mulder and Scully from caring too much about what they have just lost, is teeth-achingly lame.  Honestly, the whole episode is a narrative backfire and obliterated any faith we had left in the showrunners and the series we’re sorry to say.

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Welp, there you have it.

There are a hundred other reasons we could list as to why we were so disappointed with the last season of The X-Files, to be fair.  And we’re sure a lot of you disagree with the things we’ve said.  But as far as we’re concerned, the show has well and truly lost the delicate touch and the distinct character interactions that made it so original in the first place.

And for that reason alone, we think it really has to come to an end.

Don’t agree?  Then come fight us.

We’ll be at the back table in your local, sleeve pulled up all casual like…

 

 

 

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Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (she’s still going strong, thanks for asking)

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‘Tis the season of nostalgia; a time to sit back and re-watch those movies that remind us of a simpler time.  A better time (which the way the world is going, will be any year that happened before 2016.)  And with the release of Ryan Murphy‘s excellent biographical series Feud: Bette and we here at offtherecord decided to take another look at the enduring classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane to try and work out why it holds such power and interest so many years after it was made.

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After watching the film a few days ago and discussing amongst ourselves at length, we complied the following list of five reasons that could explain the films enduring power and ability to thrill its audience whatever their age.  Of course, there will always be many arguments as to why the movie is so popular (all of them valid most likely) but these are the main ones we felt gave the film its sense of individuality and class.

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So, sit back with your turkey leftovers and your cheese ends and enjoy reading through our take on why Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane has clung to our imagination all these years…

 

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  1. Ok well firstly, anyone who is drawn to a good story has wondered whether the creator’s life had any influence on their work. It’s part of being human, right?  French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote his damning essay The Death of the Author on this very topic concluding that traditional criticism’s practice of incorporating the intentions and biographical context of a writer/actor into readings of their work was a ridiculous notion.  He thought it a sloppy and flawed way of looking at artistic creations. And yet…despite his disapproval, the legendary battle between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis has kept movie goers fascinated for years; tales of their passive aggressive disputes on and off set becoming legendary in their own right.  Why else would Ryan Murphy write his popular series to the acclaim of TV critics?  Why else would Shaun Considine’s book The Divine Feud still sell so many copies?  When the two fading legends finally shared the screen in this movie, that enthralling background dynamic was always going to capture people’s attention- Hell the studios basically used it to sell the flick to the general public so it’s hard to fault anyone who watches WHTBJ purely for the chance to see if they can pinpoint any of that longstanding hostility on screen.  Low brow it may be but in terms of a draw, but rubbernecking is a universal motivation and for that reason alone the film continues to enthral an audience hoping to see if Davis’s kick to the head was real or if Crawford genuinely wore a weight belt for the scene where Davis has to drag her across the hall.  Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves (and nor should we.)

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  1. The Artistic Decisions. Famously, Bette Davis made many demands on the shoot before and during filming.  The obvious one we’ve all heard about was her decision to wear all that garish make up to depict her character as an unstable child-like gargoyle.  Not everyone knows though that Davis also argued for the film not to be shot in colour as originally planned by Aldrich and Warner Bros.  She pushed for black and white cinematography instead, claiming that colour would make a tragic story look too ‘damned pretty’.  And she had a good freaking point.  This decision, unpopular though it may have been with the studio actually enhances the films timeless quality and in terms of emotional impact does exactly what she says it would, giving the tale a horrific visceral quality that it probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.  Because of the star’s foresight and appreciation of technique, the film went on to become a cult classic, and that sense of bullish cinematic intellect behind the scenes clearly had more than a little influence on that fact.

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  1. Also in terms of genre, the film is a freaking Rubik’s cube. Is it a social satire on the ‘popular until you’re not’ ethos of Tinseltown?   A psychological thriller focusing on sisterly jealousy?  A straight up horror? The honest answer is all of the above.  And more.  In fact, the movie actually uses tropes and conventions from every single one of the genres mentioned above including (but not limited to) snappy character dialogue, shadowy claustrophobic locations and underlying themes of madness and crippling injury.  It’s external scenes at the lot skewer Hollywood’s chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out mentality while it’s internal scenes focus on the deteriorating mental states of the two antagonists, through the medium of their aging flesh.  It’s all human frailty in one little microcosm.  Whatever Happened to Baby Jane really is in a category all its own, a magpie self-creating genre that picks all the best bits from the others around it and uses them for its own ends.  It even gave that category a name- the Hagsploitation flick (a name we don’t care for but is succinct if nothing else.)  And for that boundary-busting reason alone, it deserves all the longevity it’s won.
  1. To be fair, we would never argue that the film is a bastion of progressive PC thinking- it was made by smarm-master Jack Warner of Warner Bros studios after all. But the fact that the only character who displays a modicum of unselfish empathy (and concern for anyone outside of herself) is Blanche’s housekeeper Elvira, aka the only person of colour in the whole flick, does give one pause when that realisation sinks in.  And for a film that completely centres on women’s issues to be so successful with the general public can’t help but warm the heart a little, especially at a time when the two stars were considered box office poison by their peers.  We don’t think its happenstance either that the only significant male character in the story is a weak, browbeaten individual ruled by his mother’s and Jane’s ridiculous attentions- a retort perhaps, to all those that claimed the movie business ran on square-jawed heroes and dashing romances.  One of these facts caught on celluloid might have been unusual.  But all of them built into the same picture manages somehow to hold up a startling middle finger to all the naysayers with their Hollywood norms; giving the movie a unique character that defines any attempts to make it cliched or just a movie that’s representative of its period and nothing more.

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  1. And now finally (and after much deliberation) we come to what we think is the ultimate reason for the film’s undiminishing popularity…. And that is its main character herself- Baby Jane.  Let’s get one thing clear from the outset.   Baby Jane Hudson is a terrible person.  We all know this; it’s evident from that first temper tantrum in front of all her fans and it’s even more obvious the longer she stays in that large echoing death chamber she calls a home.  Baby Jane is a vile, selfish horror-show of a human being; emotionally stunted, infantilised and cruel.  There’s no way around it.  Intellectually we know this from the outset- we can see it in the way she’s unable to change from that bratty child star from the opening scenes who clings to the doll version of herself.  Hers is the absolute inversion of the hero’s journey we all expect in a film.  She is stagnant.  Stunted.  And rationality tells us that we should hate her for it, that we should NOT at any point feel sorry for her.  But…But because Bette Davis’s performance is so wild, so nuanced and yet unhinged, because we can’t take our eyes off her cracking death mask, we can’t help but feel sympathy for her (even before the film’s jaw dropping revelation on the beach.)  It’s outside of our control.  And that conflict going on inside you while watching- the way your brain fights against your unruly emotions inevitably forces you into a position of cognitive dissonance.  It’s unavoidable.  The film forces you into feeling things you then immediately judge yourself for feeling.  And that uncomfortable sensation, that trap you fall into that turns your heart and mind into a battleground makes you want to keep watching to work out how exactly you found yourself here.  How you found yourself caught up in a moral dilemma as twisted and horrible as the characters on screen that inspired it.  That’s why the film is so damned good.  Because it puts you in Jane and Blanche’s position without any idea of how to get yourself out.  It infects you with its moral entropy.  With its ethical quandary. And come on, if that isn’t the smartest move a film could make, then we don’t really know what is.  It’s a masterstroke.  And the number one reason (at least for us) why you can’t watch Whatever Happened to Baby Jane without feeling a kind of mesmerised sense of unease as you do.  It pricks at your skin without you even knowing, the way all great films should.

 

Yep, so those are our thoughts on why WHTBJ is such an enduring piece of celluloid.  There are probably hundreds of other reasons floating around in the grand expanse of the interweb, explained much more succinctly and eloquently than these here, but for us at least, those listed above were why we think the movie is so darn special.

 

If you have thoughts of your own on the film, positive or negative, do stop by and let us know. We’d love to chat some more about the flick or those involved with making it especially before the newest ‘in production’ version of the tale hits cinemas (we’re not joking, Walter Hill is slated to write and direct based off the original Lukas Heller screenplay and there’s talk Meryl Streep might be involved- horrified face emoji)  Oh, and if you do have the time to catch Murphy’s Feud: Bette and Joan on FX or BBC iPlayer then do yourself a favour and check out all eight episodes, it’s an absolute treat.

 

Otherwise, we’ll see you on the flipside peeps….

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Top Ten Movies of 2017

So we’re closing out the year with no chance to watch much anticipated films like Greta Gerwig’s Lady bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing or Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, at least here in the UK.  Ho Hum.  Nary Mind though.  Instead we’ve taken a look back at the fantastic movies we have managed to catch this year and concocted our list of the best/most original/most enjoyable for your reading pleasure.

 

These are listed below.  They’re in no particular order, but each film offered us something we hadn’t seen before with both consummate charm and visual/technical skill.  So sit back, and give a round of applause for all those involved in the making of the films below who thankfully, made our 2017 just that little bit less apocalyptic.

 

We super appreciate it guys.

 

Heligena’s Best Films of 2017

·         Wonder Woman- how could we not pick this, really?!  The first female super hero movie directed by a woman gave us the opportunity to see a comic book world brought to life without the sexualising influence of the overused (and somewhat blinkered) male gaze.  Gal Gadot is both delightful and believable in the title role as we knew she would be and the characters around her join the dance without showboating or attempting to upstage Diana’s journey.  In conclusion: We need more of this in 2018 please.  Hollywood, take note. wonderwoman

·         Raw- brutal, gory and gripping, this French cannibal drama was unlike anything we’d seen before.  Meshing together the concepts of teenage physical awakening and some unexpected cravings that definitely shouldn’t be indulged, Julia Ducournau’s horror flick kept us thinking well after the end credits had rolled.  More cerebral than most horror flicks, the film is a gut punch for both its body horror scenes and emotional impact.  Not a combination you will find often these days.  raw

·         Get Out- this should make anyone’s list simply for its refusal to sit neatly in any given genre.  Is it a straight up psychological horror?  A social satire?  Black comedy?  The correct answer is all of the above.  And with an A+cast and stunning visuals in and outside of its dream sequences, Get Out made our list with absolute ease.  You would also do well to keep an eye on Jordan Peele in the coming year or two- the director is definitely one to watch if this is the sort of class he can bring to the screen.gt out

·         Mother!- We have to be honest.  When we sat down today we weren’t sure if this was going to be an entry on our Best of or Worst of List for 2017.  Whether you view it as a batshit crazy character study or some grand overarching environmental allegory, Darren Aronofsky’s film is a cinematic fever dream that will hook into your brain from the outset and refuse to let go.  For originality’s sake though, we decided to put it on this list after some long deliberation.  If nothing else, you won’t see anything like it in the cinema again.  That’s a promise.mother!

·         Dunkirk- For its barely-there dialogue and mesmeric filming techniques that often place the camera at the eye level of its characters, Dunkirk is about as close as you will get to understanding how it might have felt to be trapped on that infamous beach without getting mud on your face and trench-foot in your boots.  Sure, it might be a little jingoistic at times, too fist pumping, too ‘everything will be ok lads’, but in terms of immersive cinema experience, it more than makes the list for us. dunkirk

·         Thor: Ragnarok- this was just entertainment all the way folks.  Pure joy on celluloid, freshening up an already awesome franchise with retro visuals and quality comedy performances (not least from director Taika Waititi).  There really isn’t much more explanation needed is there?  And be honest with us- who wouldn’t want to be a Valkyrie after watching this?!thor

·         Logan- again, this is a film that takes an established franchise and puts a whole new spin on it.  Gone are the puns and the spandex, replaced instead with real pain, real grit and a shit ton of character regret.  Consequences are often a forgotten commodity in the MCU but here, James Mangold puts them front and centre for all to see.  And in doing so, amps up the emotion to previously unreached levels.   Because of this, the film felt both necessary and important.logan

·         The Founder- Coen Brothers Lite, this Michael Keaton vehicle might not offer much in the way of flash and flare to a movie aficionado.  But the story behind McDonalds takeover of the Western World is in fact fascinating, morally complex and slightly uncomfortable all at the same time, unwinding as it does with an unbelievably watchable performance from the grizzled actor at its heart.  And if now isn’t the time for musing on the cost of greed then we don’t know when is, quite frankly.the founder

·         Don’t Breathe- Fede Alvarez’s flick is another movie that on paper doesn’t look that original.  A bunch of young photogenic friends get trapped in the house of the blind man they’re attempting to rob.  So far so blah, right? But actually, the claustrophobic settings, a small but dedicated cast and anerve-shreddingly tense atmosphere all combine on screen to turn this into a truly effective scare show.  The questionable morality of each character makes proceedings way more complex than you might think and Stephen Lang as the ‘victim’ of the piece  is goddamn frightening y’all.  Hence the movie’s place right here on our list.  (Side bar: Anyone who wants to talk about one notorious and horrendous scene should also note, we took that into consideration when we drew up this list but felt that overall the movie still deserved an accolade.)Don't breathe

·         The Handmaiden- we’ve been huge fans of Sarah Water’s novel Fingersmith for many a year.  So we were uber excited when we heard Park Chan-Wook of Oldboy fame was making a Korean version of the story.  And thankfully we weren’t even remotely disappointed when the film finally came out.  Injecting extra humour into a fairly sober story, The Handmaiden is a delicate and psychological delight fronted by two captivating young actresses.  Visually sumptuous and lensed in a series of beautiful Eastern locations, the movie is a pleasure to watch from first moment to last and as such, there was no way we could leave it off our top Ten in all good conscience.

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There you have it then.  Our Best of 2017 in all its glory.  Honourable Mentions go to The Big Sick, Moonlight, IT, Hidden Figures, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and La La Land by the way, all of whom nearly snuck in there but failed at the final hurdle.

 

If you agree/disagree with any or all of our choices then hit us up, we’re always down for a verbal fistfight especially at Christmas, it keeps us prepared for family arguments.  Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming Worst of 2017 list.  Coming soon to blogs near you!

 

Peace.

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A MIST OPPORTUNITY:

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Confession time.  We were super psyched for the TV series version of The Mist.  The original novel by horror-maestro Stephen King was a slice of small-town literary creepola and the 2007 movie version scripted and lensed by the one and only Frank Darabont is both wonderfully atmospheric and appropriately bleak.  So how could they screw up a TV remake which would give the story space not only to sketch out its characters but the time to let the slow burn thrills breathe and mutate?

 

How indeed.

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Because somehow, and it makes us sad just to say it, but somehow the makers have managed it.

They botched almost the whole thing end to end.

And honestly, the word gutted doesn’t quite cover it.

 

There were clues this might happen of course.

The directing duties were split from the off between eight different people, no one single person taking on the bulk of the visual work; never letting this beast have a single coherent vision.

The writing element was also unfortunately fractured in a similar way- albeit with Stephen King himself involved in each of the episodes, though not enough it would seem to give the show a solid sense of internal logic.

 

The cracks were there from the very beginning if only we’d paid attention.

 

And then the lights went down and they quickly turned into chasms; offering viewers mis-step after mis-step.

 

You want examples?  Sure.

 

How about these beauts…

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Well, first off, the main plot point for the introduction (and the series as a whole), the single event that sets up most of the conflict for the season is way too delicate of a subject to handle without care.  We’re talking about the non-consensual/rape storyline, of course.  Now, done delicately this could have been an important indictment of modern America, tackling an issue that is red-hot and incredibly prescient right now- the intricacies of consent.  But the cliched ways the narrative (and townsfolk) immediately cast aspersions on the female target of the alleged assault goes straight to promoting the act of victim-blaming in a way that shows no nuance or social intelligence.

 

To pose the question, ‘was she raped at all’ as a central tenet of the series and to allow the surrounding characters to do awful things to Alex because there’s a chance she may be lying about the assault just leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, speaking as a viewer.  It’s a point of view that is way too prevalent in the media/right wing press at this current time and to openly back that idea with a television narrative just seems massively inappropriate.

 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the main family of the show are quite possibly some of the most uninteresting, bland characters you will come across in either film or television.  Legit; they are the human embodiment of the word meh- their struggles (a ‘bad girl’ past that won’t go away, the nice guy who feels like he isn’t ‘man’ enough for his wife, their blonde pouting teenager who doesn’t get on with her too strict Mom) vanilla to the point of causing brain freeze.

 

And to add insult to injury, the characters who do manage to capture the interest (Mia, Mrs Raven, the Sheriff) are then booted off screen to make time for the Blahest of family drama which is simply infuriating.  Inner darkness is key to this story.  And the Copeland family have a severe shortage.

Ok, taking a breath.

 

Pwwwwww.

 

Breathing in white light… breathing out dark smoke.

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To be completely impartial, we can’t deny there are moments that shine briefly.  Mrs Raven’s exhibitionist stroll outside with the Priest for example.  The fate of Moth-Boy as we like to call him.  Mia’s tete-a-tete with her dead Mother.  Hell, the twist on the religious aspect of the book, even skirts fascinating once or twice.

 

But the problem is that everything else about the show drags it back down into the land of the crass.  Adrian’s character might have been worthwhile until a few episodes in when his true self is revealed.   The scene which leads him into a bathroom with a homophobic jock who’s hiding his own gay urges has just been done to death.  Y’all need to stop saying that homophobia is the result of latent homosexual feelings.  Seriously, it’s reductionist and stupid. And it gets worse.  Somehow the writers thought it would be a great idea to have Adrian respond to a vicious beating by kissing his attacker and forcing him to confront those ‘supposed gay feelings.’  Not only does this promote the idea that gay men are predatory, hypersexual and totally ok with dubious consent issues, it blatantly exacerbates the public’s imaginary fear that bathrooms are not a safe space for cis-het people.  That they can’t go in there for fear of being pinned up against a wall by a gay guy who understands your secret desires.

The whole scene was just plain wrong.

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And then there’s the internal logic of the show.

Obviously, you could argue that the series doesn’t have to have everything worked out after one season, doesn’t have to show its cards so early on and there would be some truth to that.  However, purely in terms of the intrinsic physics of the mysterious mist, there seem to be some huge unavoidable gaps in logic.  The physiological impact we get- that it interacts with the mind and body of person it’s touching and creates monsters from their own psyche/personal fears.  That is a sound premise, and actually kind of captivating.  And as a force of nature, using worthless ‘bad’ people as incubators for making new species of insects and creatures makes some kind of sense too.  Taking something destructive and turning them into a force of creation.  Cool.  That works for us.

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But then the writers decide to throw in a mishmash of other aspects, allowing the mist’s attacks to break these set rules.  Sometimes it coalesces to become a kind of Harry Potter-esque Dementor sucking the life from children and teenagers at will.  Other times, the insects are already present and swarm over people, creating nothing only taking life.  And then on other occasions it creates dark copies of people, allowing them passage through the fog but tormenting them just for kicks when it feels like it.  There’s just no consistency.  Nothing to hold fast to.

Anything seems possible and when anything is possible, nothing feels real.

 

We could go on and on but you get the point.

The explanations for the Big Bad’s behaviour (at least at this point) just don’t hold water.

 

 

So, you see why we were so hugely disappointed with the show given our initial expectations.

It had a great concept, a built-in audience even, courtesy of the book and movie and proceeded to throw cheap drama at the narrative, miring it in broken logic and cliched conflict.

 

We’d like to say that if a second series is made we’ll give it a second chance to fix some of these problems but right now, honestly, we’re not feeling that generous.

 

Guess we’ll see about that when the Gods of Renewing TV make their decision.

 

Until then, we’ll be silently weeping in a corner somewhere and distracting ourselves with large bags of rainbow drops.

 

Or a typical Saturday night around these parts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE BEGUILED? PERHAPS THEY SHOULD HAVE CALLED IT THE SOMNAMBULIST INSTEAD…

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So last night we tripped along to our local flea pit to see The Beguiled, the latest release from Sofia Coppola- winner of Best Director at Cannes 2017 festival for this very offering.

Having heard only good things about the film, having read the way other figures like Tarantino have championed its vision, our expectations were high- the trailer promising an evening of languid scenery and tense claustrophobia set against a backdrop of the American Civil War.

What’s not to like, right?

We settled in then, for an evocative ride full of stifling tension and strains of desire.

That however was not what we experienced.

Not even close.

Because sad to say, this film was just plain awful.

Man, you have no idea.

Beginning with a beautiful shot of an untamed Southern Grove, all dappled lighting and fruitful decadence, the scene really leads you into the story, its lack of incidental music (other than a child’s slightly sinister singing) making the whole thing haunting and tranquil.

So far so good.

Except…

Except that’s when a horribly wounded Oirish Colin Farrell rocks up and everything starts to go down-hill quicker than a cheese wheel in Gloucester.

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That first scene that so impressed with its hazy impressionistic quality, we came to realise was going to be copied and repeated for the entirety of the film.  It’s not hard to guess that the intention behind these verdant landscapes was is to create a sense of a long and repressive numbed era where desires found themselves buried faster than new recruits in the army.

And intellectually that aim makes sense.  But instead of feeling repressive the whole thing felt stultifying instead.  Ponderous in its intent.  Languorous when there should be some sense of life or threat.  And that together with no discernible pacing of any kind, with moments linked purely by brief communal scenes, the film quickly descended into a series of impressionistic paintings populated by inscrutable, unlikeable women.

The best way to explain how boring this was to watch is to ask you guys a question.

Do y’all remember that scene in Roald Dahl’s The Witches where tiny Norwegian moppet Erica gets trapped inside the painting by one of the afore-mentioned baddies and her friend can’t get her out?  Despite all their best efforts they’re unable to free her from that prison and end up simply watching Erica age and grow old behind that oil and canvas?  That was what watching The Beguiled; years passing by with us trapped there in our seats wanting nothing more than to free its characters from the confines they were so miserably caught up in.  Alas though we don’t have that kind of power either and so found ourselves forced to endure its full tedious 93-minute run all the way through.

And the characters, Jesus.  Don’t get us started on those.

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This is meant to be a character study, after all isn’t it?  It can be little else given the suffocating individual location and Coppola’s strict refusal to leave this setting.  So, one must presume that the interest lies in the human and moral conflicts of those trapped there.

But despite a creditable cast of players, the truth is that each one of them is hamstrung by a lack of backstory, a lack of any self-expression other than a constipated visage and a tight necked gown.  Farrell is charming enough we guess until he loses his shit in the most ridiculous breakdown you’ll see for some months.  Nicole Kidman is staid and serious as the matriarch of the manor, Kirsten Dunst awkward and unflatteringly miserable.  Elle Fanning for her part was cringingly coy whenever she tried to be alluring (also trigger warning for some dubious consent issues) while the other girls were amorphous and to be quite frank indistinguishable from one another.  It was a surprise to find that they even had names attached in the credits actually.  And spending time with this motley crew of unhappy vixens was so draining that we came out of the cinema feeling flat and miserable ourselves which let’s face it, is never a good thing.

Thinking about it The Beguiled could really take some inspiration from Jordan Scott’s Cracks (2009) which managed to create a suitably claustrophobic location while never skimping on the character traits that set its schoolgirls apart when jealousies and tensions began to arise.  This movie however seems to be of the opinion that snide comments and micro-aggressions a compelling tale make, which is a huge cinematic misstep.  And surprising from the director of great films like Melancholia and The Virgin Suicides at that.

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There are dramatic scenes of course (and we use that word strictly in its filmmaking technical sense.)  But the gruesome nature of the injury detail Coppola uses to up the ante is far too jarring when placed against the torpid overall atmosphere.  And the violence that ensues when tensions boil over was just plain laughable (we didn’t ROFLMAO  or pilot a ROFLcopter but there were points where we actually LOLed and we weren’t the only ones in the audience.)  These scenes were even worse than the endlessly dreary ones in retrospect; unexpected, badly thought out and obvious in their intention to inject some much-needed tragedy into proceedings.

This all sounds incredibly harsh but genuinely when those credits had gone up neither of us watching had any idea what the message of the film was supposed to be buried under all that nubile longing.

That men are cads, charming or not and are singularly unable to keep from getting their horn on when women and girls are in the vicinity?

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That women’s natural instinct is to please men?  That regardless of who they are, their collective sin-stinct tells them to put on a show for any male they come across, acting like a bunch of preening peacocks for the reward of his attention?

That his attention is the only thing that gives their lives meaning?

That’s not very feminist and was actually quite off putting to consider.  And probably the part that bothered us the most in hindsight.  Having no distinguishable message is poor.  Having one that inexplicably links female’s desires to male attention is just plain crass.

So, yeah in case you couldn’t tell we pretty much hated this movie.

It was boring and draining and irritating in its meaning.

And that’s fine you know- there is always joy to be had in experiencing something that makes your skin prickle and your ire burn.

But…and this is important too so take note.

PSA ALERT: As fully paid up, banner waving supporters of any women who manage to make their way in the male dominated world of cinema, we’re also worried that this lemon of a film doesn’t get used as an example to stop other female writer-directors from getting financing. We’re concerned that critics and viewers will use this as an example of the ‘feminine vision’ where crinoline and sexual frustration are all they have to offer in terms of content and put paid to any new female artists coming up through the ranks.  Male film makers produce cinematic turds on a freaking production line and are allowed to make more without taking a fatal hit to their career so women should be given the same chance.

So, there’s that too.  Just something to think about.

 

Anyways we feel a lot better getting this off our tightly corseted chests.

Come say hi on Twitter- @Heligena or @cosmicpixie

And tet us know if you felt the same- we can set up a support group or something with high tea and Annie’s special mushrooms.

Peace y’all.

 

 

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Cover Up Those Insecurities-

Our mind has been on music lately.

Oh, don’t worry, movies will always have our hearts but music it seems has our soul to balance things out.  Now originally, we were going to post a list of the albums we’ve been listening to over the last few weeks and what we happened to be doing while they soothed our savage beast but this morning a song came on shuffle on our iPhone that totally changed that plan.  Not because it was an old favourite, not because it took us back to a time when gym knickers and Highland Toffees were a thing.  But purely because it was a cover of a track that was executed so badly, so absolutely horrendously that a small part of our spirit (one of the few we haven’t transferred into a Horcrux yet) withered quickly and died.

You know the feeling, right?  The intro that starts so familiarly, where you get all gee-ed up for that refrain you know so well and then…a bin bag full of wtf gets pushed against your lughole blocking out everything but that crooning succubus stealing the life from your body.  And it’s so godawful that you can’t bring yourself to switch the thing off.

Yeah, you know the feeling.

Anyway, in a complete change of plan we’ve decided to give you guys a list of the five cover versions assaulting our ears lately, the five versions of songs that we will never be able unhear in the hopes that you young plucklings can recognise and avoid their insidious clutches.

So, to get straight into it, this rundown of absolute ear-bleeding stinkers begins with…

 

1)      The Days of Pearly Spencer- Marc Almond (specifically Live at the Lokerse Feesten 2000) :

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The Days of Pearly Spencer is a class tune let’s get that out of the way first off.  Irish musician David McWilliams who wrote and performed the original tune gave the thing a country gravitas and almost documentary feel, allowing listeners to get an insight into the rundown areas of his hometown of Ballymena.  It also contains sweeping orchestral backing and a totally unique chorus sound apparently achieved by recording McWilliam’s vocals through a telephone close to the studio.  It’s an oddity and a gem.

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Marc Almond’s cover however is…not.  Overlaying any sense of seriousness or social conscience with showmanship and breathy superficiality, Almond turns the thing into a total frothy pop monstrosity.  The strings section he employs sound like they are all on LSD (possible), the electro sound is discordant with the lyrics and his choice to add in an additional verse to make the song more optimistic totally undercuts its entire point.  He basically takes the thing and retools it for the vapid, brainless masses for whom morality is an afterthought.

Words really can’t express how much this cover makes us want to gouge our own anvil and stirrups out.  The race is almost run, Marc? It’s well past mate.  Well past.

 

 

2)      Crazy In Love- Snow Patrol:

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Uh oh uh oh uh oh uh oh oh no no….is correct.

Everyone knows the original, you couldn’t escape it- all chinchilla fur and urban glamorousness.  Sampling Are You My Woman (Tell Me So), a song from the early 1970’s, Beyonce and Jay-Z’s collaboration is a slice of fried R&B gold, complete with blaring fanfares and horn riffs.  But have you happened to stumble across the cover recorded by Snow Patrol during a BBC session with Zane Lowe?

Be grateful if the answer is no.

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Because heavy on the bass and drums, with all melody surgically removed, this dear readers is a total atrocity.  We should all be glad that the bass almost drowns out the vocals in the chorus of this version.  What it seems impossible to be glad about is SP’s choice to drop their usual upbeat sincere sound for a kind of grimy sinister come-on, guaranteed to make your skin crawl right off your bones and go set up home somewhere else.

Seriously, these Irish good guys absolutely murder the Beyonce classic.  And the rap?!  Jay-Z’s awesome stream of consciousness section?  The rap performed by Snow Patrol we have no doubt will be playing on repeat when the time comes to head downstairs and enter purgatory.  There’s no way that isn’t waiting for us in the eternal steam room once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.  And yes, before you ask the thought of that does fill us with dread.  As it should.

It really should.

 

3)      Fortunate Son- U2:

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FFS.

Really, who doesn’t love this Anti War movement anthem, a masterclass in rock from Creedance Clearwater Revival released in 1969.  It’s basically the totem of America’s counter culture and revolt.   Opening with the guitar riff to end all guitar riffs, and laid down with riotous vocals (courtesy of patriot John Fogerty)  Fortunate Son is a piece of vinyl imbued with historical and musical significance and a damn good ride all the way through.

Then cut to 1991.

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And U2 stomping on the airwaves coast to coast. That they would even have the cajones to cover this American protest song, this searing indictment of the nepotism and insidious politics of the Vietnam War is bad enough.  But then Bono is the king of remonstration, the self-proclaimed messiah of dissent so it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise we suppose.  None of that excuses the end result of this cover though.  With guitar riffs stripped of all their violent power and turned into some kind of wilting ethereal presence, the main vocals lay on top coming across as less angry than playful and totally insincere.  All the smugness and conceit the band have been accused of back in the day are on full display in this track and we can only compare listening to it to bathing in a river where an outlet pipe is spewing out effluence further upstream.  It makes your skin tingle.  Then blister.  And finally, just slip off your bones.  God it’s horrible.

In all seriousness, don’t listen to it y’all.  We know you’re tempted now.  But just don’t.

You’ll regret it.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

 

 

4)      The Times They Are A Changin’-Phil Collins

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Influenced by Celtic ballads, Bob Dylan’s classic 1964 song (and album of the same name actually) was written to try and influence the politicians and people of the time.  It was designed to get people to sit up and stand up for their beliefs.  It was…always has been a song of purpose and so it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that since its release it’s been covered by almost everyone and their dog; by anyone trying their darndest to make a difference.

There was always a high chance then that someone would, in their attempts to be political and socially conscious, slay this beast of a tune.  The road to good intentions, you know.

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Enter Phil (not literally, ew.)

Oh, Phil of the land of Collins.  We love you we really do.  You gave us dancing gorillas and a whole Tarzan album when precisely no-one was asking for that.  But damn, you wrecked this cover, man.  You wrecked it good.

How to describe it though?  With only a solo piano playing at the opening, it quickly becomes clear that this version of the song isn’t going to have the authority of its predecessor.  And in fact the longer it goes on the more powerless and weak it feels, sad to say.  Even with the introduction of a beat to jig things along, events continue to go downhill.

The vocals are way too light and airy- too smooth, leaving the the track devoid of any rage or conscience and it kind of makes you wonder if Phil asked to cover this as part of some lame attempt to replicate the social angst of tracks like ‘Another Day in Paradise’ or ‘Both Sides of the Story.’

And as soon as the guitar comes in?  You guessed it.  There’s no hard thrum, instead it’s all eighties Springsteen teen strumming.  Everything just sounds too clean shaven, too ‘of course I’ll shake your hand,’ to sing honestly about spitting in the eye of progress.

And a cut to the bridge, with its own celtic elements (read: bagpipes) takes influences and makes them blatant when they were never supposed to be so overt.  It’s just all too obvious, too easy listening you know?

Giving us chills in all the wrong ways.

 

5)      Mirrors- Ellie Goulding (BBC sessions Live Lounge 2013)

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Justin Trousersnake gives good pop.  You can’t deny it and this particular track that blasted into the charts in 2013, apparently inspired by his grandparents marriage was no flash in the pan- offering up bold vocals and an unusual depth of production from people like Timbaland and J-Roc.  It kind of rocks if you ask us in a catchy-Summer anthem way.

It seems it kind of rocks if you ask Ellie Goulding too because she decided to record a cover version during her Live Lounge session the same year.

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Which was a ‘Big Mistake.  Huge’- As Vivian Ward might say.  Because Goulding’s version is just embarrassing to listen to.  Sorry Ellie.  The range of notes contained in the tune immediately make her voice sound tremulous and stretched.  Also, the number of the words in some of the verses seem to push her just that bit too far and she struggles to get them all out within the framework of the tempo; a rookie mistake when singing live.  For some reason, the song just doesn’t seem to fit with a British accent either.  Who knew?  We sure didn’t but then we would probably have done a practice run before recording it live.  We like to think so at least.

The fact that Goulding decides to throw in way too many fluctuations at the end of sentences will never disguise that failing no matter how hard she tries.  The harmonies of the backing vocalists are ok to be fair but ultimately, overall, she just kind of fades in comparison with them.  There’s no romance, no conviction here- that’s the main issue.  Just throwaway sentiment all being told.  It’s really quite cringe making and as a disclaimer we would recommend that no-one self-harms by giving this track a chance.

If she asks, Don’t keep your eyes on her.  Just don’t do it.

No good will come of it.  Trust us we know these things.

So, there it is.  The top five covers we’ve heard recently that made us curl into ourselves and re-evaluate our life choices.  Please feel free to hit us up with your own suggestions on terrible covers, we’d love to hear them…

The suggestions that is.  The songs not so much.

Lessons have been learned.  This has been an educational and cathartic post today.

And we don’t plan on relapsing anytime soon.

 

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BOOK REVIEW CORNER SPECIAL: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hey hey party people.  With the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale showing tonight courtesy of the wonderful Channel 4, we’ve been raiding our archives again to find our original review of the book back when we first read it.

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This one comes to you direct from the summer of 2001, a simpler world, when we studied the books as part of Twentieth Century Feminist Literature at good old Uni, so we should start by giving props to our course co-ordinator for being ahead of her time with this Canadian literary choice.   As a fan of the novel, we’ve got high hopes for the series, not just for its overwhelmingly positive critical reception but also for its casting nouse and incredible looking production values.  But only time will tell on these things.

 

Anyway here’s what we thought when we first stumbled across The Handmaid’s Tale.

Let us know if you felt the same….

 

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JUNE 2001:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood

This was a tough sell at first glance.  Not for its concept (which is equal parts horrifying and mesmerising) or for its author (Marg is a living legend y’all.)  But because it contains two stylistic traits that I have always disliked- a first person narrative and an overwhelmingly passive female narrator.  Having always found first person points of view either self-centred and/or irritating, that did make me hesitate in reading this, I’m not going to lie.  And the addition of such a benign protagonist just intensified that sense of reluctance.

We were always taught that a narrator who speaks directly to you, has to be one of two things- relatable or likeable.  If they aren’t we were told, then the reader won’t connect with them, will feel for the most part like they are being lectured.  Like they are being talked at, not to.  In regards to that idea, I’m not entirely sure which camp Offred belongs to actually.  She has a dash of likeability underneath her inaction but it’s certainly not enough to be truly amiable or admirable.  And her relatability, microscopic rebellions aside, is tenuous at best.  She’s an oddity really, which I suppose is exactly what made her perfect fodder for our syllabus.

Leaving characters flaws alone for a moment, this is a powerhouse of a novel no question though. 

It’s brutal.  Prescient.

And its oppressive, stultifying atmosphere is crafted with absolute and horrifying precision.

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As a fan of etymology, Attwood’s digressions and Offred’s fascinations with wordplay are also an absolute intellectual treat although I’m sure some will find them distracting; or worse, elitist.

You have to give the author kudos too for employing an impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness style in this novel.  Are the incomplete recollections and vague intuitions of the main character maddening?  You bet your ass they are.  They are in fact, not just frustrating, they are actively discouraging and they prick at your skin every time your brain screams for more- more solid information, more reveals.  But therein lies their power boys and girls- they put us, the reader unapologetically in the main character’s (Hell, any character’s) place, offering tantalising glimpses of a bigger picture without ever fully relieving their/our curiosity.  That narrative technique piecemeal as it is, mirrors the fragmented nature of human memory, mirrors its cast’s sense of incompleteness.  And while that may be frustrating on a cellular level, it is also a master stroke of literary style.  Because just like Offred we find ourselves waiting eagerly for tales of Moira, of Offred’s mother, of Luke even- for tales of daring in amongst a sea of routine and tiny micro-aggressions.  We want riots, we want danger just like Offred but all we get are moments.  Brief sensations.  And most of those have in-built reliability issues- are questionably true at best.  We wade through the pages, as our Handmaid wades through the hours on the clock.

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To be fair, a consequence of this narrative decision is undoubtedly that The Handmaid’s Tale is not an easy read.  Or even an enjoyable one in the usual sense of the world.  I’m sure many will struggle with it or even give up on the book before the end.  I can understand why.

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However, while it’s not an easy read it is an IMPORTANT one guys, not just for the fact that every stylistic and authorial decision is so self-assured, so carefully thought out.  It is important for its warnings about theocratic thinking.  Its warnings on patriarchal rule and the natural slide between democracy and dictatorship.  This may be classified as Dystopian Fiction but there’s a sense underneath everything here, that this awful scenario could all too easily happen given political trends recently.  This novel then, is a silent alarm.  A cautionary account, like all good fairy tales.  And if a world made entirely of emptiness and disillusionment like the one Attwood conveys so perfectly is a possible future for us then we need to do something about that.  Now.

I’m not talking marches and lawsuits.  I’m talking platforms and social change.  We need to make ourselves heard more than ever.  That’s the duty Margaret Attwood places on us as readers of this book.  And I for one am willing to heed the call.

I think.

 

CONCLUSION:  Visionary, verbose and very very frightening

MARKS: 8.5 out of 10.

N.B. Oh and if anyone can get through the scene where Offred has to lie on The Commander’s Wife in order to be impregnated (The Ceremony as it’s disaffectionately known) without cringing or closing the book for a second then you have problems, friend.  Goddamn you have problems.

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So, there it is, our thoughts as a somewhat precocious Lit student (sorry about that 😊.)

As we said previously, we’ll all have to wait for tonight to see if the show does the book justice but anyone who wants to get in touch with us with what they thought of the novel or the show once its aired, please do.

We’d love to get your take on this…

 

Blessed be the fruit…

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