What I thought of ‘Outlaw King’

The first thing to get over in David MacKenzie’s Outlaw King is that it’s a de facto Braveheart sequel. It’ll never admit to being so officially and while director and cast alike do refer to Mel Gibson’s film there’s nothing official to say it is, except for the fact that you need to have the knowledge of the story of William Wallace before entering this film.

What the film does do is tell the story of Robert the Bruce who fought the invading English army in the First War of Scottish Independence and in particular the story of the Bruce. Indeed for the first half hour or so it strives for historical accuracy as much as possible, barring a obviously telegraphed Chekov’s gun (well, more of a swordfight) in the first reel that pays off in the end. The first half hour is also tediously slow and dull with some of the only fun being when Chris Pine’s accent (which on the whole is fine) slips into his own, or some hybrid accent with a tough of William Shatner thrown in.

Then about half an hour in, Outlaw King kicks into gear, forgets about being a historical drama and decides to become a gore-soaked exploitation film as Pine’s Bruce starts his bloody war against the English, who also become less nuanced and more like the slaughtering, raping baddies the story needs them to be because we don’t want nuance, just leering baddies who we cheer being sliced graphically in half by a sword. In fact the best way Outlaw King works are the scenes where Robert’s forces are fighting superior numbers and winning because the film isn’t about history, but telling the myth.

Outlaw King also looks astonishing on a reasonably big telly, so it’ll look even better on a cinema screen. It uses the landscape of Scotland so well that it becomes it’s own character as it supports Robert on his struggle which ends here not at Bannockburn as those aware of their history may expect, but at the battle of Louden Hill (I assume just in case there’s enough demand for a sequel) is presented here as a muddy, bloody swamp of death and the aforementioned Chekov’s Sword is brought into play.

Overall Outlaw King isn’t the film it couldn’t have been. It tries hard not to do a Braveheart, but dips liberally from that film, and when it tries to be political (at several times it’s quite clearly speaking to the audience in a 21st century post 2014 context) it doesn’t have that clarity of vision Gibson’s film did which may have been simplistic, but was also effective. What the legacy of Outlaw King may be I don’t know as it’s too early, but as an effective action/adventure/exploitation film flying the Netflix banner it’s a flawed, sometimes dreary bit of entertainment that doesn’t fly til it shrugs loose it’s chains and then it repays your faith in the film in steel and blood.

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You all have to experience ‘Interface’

Ever since YouTube arrived over a decade ago there’s been a rise of sometimes astonishing creativity and in the case of Interface, there’s  so much creativity on display that it can be a bit overwhelming.

Interface is the product of the mind of Unami, whomever that may well be, and it’s set in Canada, and it draws from things as diverse as David Cronenberg, Twin Peaks, Philip K Dick and William Burroughs. It has a wonderfully dreamy/nightmareish tone that flips on a penny and is best experienced late at night.

The first episode is below, the rest are here. I implore you to try it out.

Five films for Halloween you may not have seen in other clickbait lists!

It’s nearly Halloween so this means clickbait lists of horror films that have the same films all the time. This isn’t to say the likes of Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Nightmare of Elm Street are crap films; they aren’t but they’re always on these sort of lists apart from this one.

So to dive right in…

5/ Deathwatch.

Horror films set during the two great wars of the 20th century are rare, mainly because the real horrors of warfare surpassed what people can imagine, but 2002’s Deathwatch, written and directed by Michael J. Bassett, tries in what is a gory, grim horror film set in the trenches of WW1.Jamie Bell turns in a great performance in the central role, while Andy Serkis eats up everything he can in a Cage-esque performance but the star of the film is how it looks and how it makes you feel as a viewer as various characters are broken down, in all senses.

This is firmly an exploitation film that relies on atmosphere as well as the jump scares and gore, plus it really is like no other horror film of the modern age thanks mainly to the setting.

4/ Creep

 

The 2000’s were a good time for British horror films thanks to works from Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Descent) and Danny Boyle ( 28 Days Later) helping kick the genre up the arse but films were lost, including writer/director Christopher Smith’s 2004 film, Creep.

Like the splendid Deathline, Creep is mainly set on the London Underground and like that film, uses the winding labyrinth of the network to scary advantage.It’s a film that plays up the oddness of being several stories underground in places, and being in an alien world of darkness and tunnels which in this case are inhabited by a creature that is more than it first seems.

Creep is a splendid, and of course, creepy film not to mention very violent, and very gory. After the July 2005 bombings in London the film seemed to vanish from the collective memory by the very real horrors of that July day and sadly it’s been lost somewhat but search it out as it is a wonderfully effective film.

3/Wolfen.

In 1981 the werewolf film was back with An American Werewolf in London and The Howling leading the way, and you’d think looking at the UK poster above that Wolfen was a total fucking bloodbath, but it isn’t. What it is, is in fact a film that mixes social commentary (this is probably the first film I saw which deals with the issue of gentrification) with a side-order of tense horror and a wee bit of quite wonderfully done gore.

Adapted from Whitley Strieber’s book and written and directed by Michael Wadleigh (who directed Woodstock) this is an eco-horror film mixed with a cop thriller that bends genres and oh, it isn’t actually a werewolf film even if the marketing of the film strongly suggested it was. What it does do is use the decaying New York of the early 80’s to tell the story on the surface of the investigation of the murder of a Donald Trump-esque character who was redeveloping parts of the rotting city. Wadleigh uses New York amazingly well as a backdrop, while Albert Finney turns in a great performance as the jaded New York cop in whose lap this mess lands.

It’s a flawed film for sure, and at times it does get a tad too preachy, but it’s got an odd feeling of unease running through the film, and when it scares, it does it right.Search it out.

2/ The Last Broadcast

The found footage film is everywhere these days, as is the mockumentary but back in 1998 it was still experimental as more portable video equipment and digital technology became available. Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler‘s The Last Broadcast predates The Blair Witch Project,  and is easily its equal, if not often the better film. Both share the concept of footage being found and reconstructed to find out what happened to the people in that footage, but both come at this premise from different angles as the Blair Witch Project is a pure found footage film, while The Last Broadcast mixes elements of found footage with mockumentary.

What I love about The Last Broadcast is the slow burn and the general atmosphere of something dreadful coming. In 2018 you may well be familiar with the tricks used in the film, but remember this was one of the first in a genre while more importantly it works as a horror film exceptionally well. Go watch it now!

1/ Lake Mungo

First time I saw Lake Mungo it was sometime in the late 2000’s on the recommendation of a mate down the pub. I went home that night, a tad pished, downloaded the film, thought ‘ach, this is going to be rubbish‘ after a few minutes watching thinking I’d be drifting off to sleep soon with a cold kebab to wake up to. Instead I spent 90 minutes or so being gripped and scared in equal amounts as writer/director Joel Anderson spins an incredible story of some sadly, all too real horror but something else creeps in from nearly the start.

The terror is almost Lovecraftian as Anderson plays with our fears brilliantly to the point where after I’d watched it and gotten over the end, I couldn’t sleep til the first shards of light poked into my living room. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about as the less you know going in the better because this needs as few preconceptions as possible.

So there you go, five films for Halloween night you probably won’t see on most clickbaity lists. Go try them out, and remember, watch with the lights off…

Watch the ‘lost’ Star Wars documentary

The history of lost film goes back way to the very beginning of motion pictures, but by the 1980’s you’d expect companies and individuals would be archiving everything, especially if it’s anything to do with something as huge as Star Wars?

Michael Parbot was an acclaimed French cameraman/reporter who in 1980 made a film dealing with the making of The Empire Strikes Back, the eagerly awaited Star Wars sequel. For years it’s been one of those talked about lost bits of media that have teased fans for decades, and now it’s been found and placed online for everyone to see.

It shows never to completely give up on lost media, and as well the importance of archiving media for future generations, and with that crucial life lesson here’s the film to enjoy…

The strange sexless word of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The other night I was watching Avengers: Infinity War on Blu Ray and totally enjoying it as much as I did at the cinema. As is always the case I watched the deleted scenes and a wee thing stood out. Firstly watch the scene of Vision and the Scarlet Witch fighting Thanos’s Black Order in Edinburgh.

That line from the Vision about staying in bed and the Scarlet Witch’s smile is a cheeky little reference as to what Wanda and the Vision have been doing in Edinburgh apart from drinking in every pub in Rose Street and eating kebabs. Here’s the deleted scene; spot the incredibly small difference…

It’s only a few frames and it’s a longer shot on Wanda’s smile after VIsion’s ‘we should have stayed in bed’ comment, but those few frames change Elizabeth Olsen’s smile from a knowing one to a bit of a dirty ‘phwoar, I’ve got a super-powered sexbot’  kind of smile. It then dawned on me that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a chaste universe where people smile at each other or make jokes, but nobody, well, actually fucks. Hell, there’s barely any kissing let alone anything that might make Thor’s hammer twitch.

But it wasn’t always like this. Back in Iron Man in 2008, Tony Stark is shagging anything with a pulse, to the point where it’s hinted that he’s doing the deed with his pole-dancing staff.

There’s an attempt to set up a romance in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, but it isn’t helped by the lead pair of Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman having zero chemistry togehter onscreen, and Branagh concentrating on the more Shakespearean/Kirbyesque aspects of the story, while Captain America being the eternal virgin was a nicely hinted part of the characters sacrifice in WW2. ”He never came home for the girl” was loaded with meaning.

Through to Iron Man 3 there’s still a feeling that the people inhabiting the MCU live like normal people with the same urges but then once Disney have bought Marvel, the films become more celibate, sure there’s a longing glance between Bruce Banner and the Black Widow but it doesn’t go anywhere. Captain America might get a snog but he’s going to get nothing more than that. Sexual relationships don’t exist in the MCU (unlike the Marvel television shows, especially on Netflix, where characters are at it all the time) and have been replaced by this 1940’s style of interactive human relations where there might be a glance, or an odd cheeky line but no pants are ever dropped. It’s a very Disney, very bland vision. The one part of the MCU that stands out is the Guardians of the Galaxy, and this video from Lindsay Ellis explains some of the complexities going on in these films.

Two films where the expectation of Quill getting the girl has been dangled in front of us, and it’s never happened thanks to some very clever writing from James Gunn. Sadly much of this is wasted in Infinity War for the sake of the plot, but it shows there’s still room for emotional complexity in a series of films aimed for a family audience that’s action orientated.

I understand why the MCU films are like this. Marvel are now owned by Disney  and they need to reach as large an audience as possible but in creating a formula (and the MCU films as entertaining and fun as they are, follow a strict formula) they’ve created a strange sexless world that can be as violent as they can get away with for a 12A certificate but human relationships are limited to side-glances and marriage plans.I’m not saying the MCU should become like the Netflix shows, but perhaps rounding out the characters may make them a bit less 2-dimensional and a bit less Disneyfied because right now Disney is in danger of homogenising our entertainment and that isn’t a good thing.

Losing Harlan Ellison

I have a Harlan Ellison story. Lots and lots of people who’ve been in, or are fans of, comics, SF, fantasy or just fans of his writing have a story. I’ve told mine before but here it is again. In 1985 at a SF convention in Glasgow, Ellison was guest of honour and was having great fun pissing off and entertaining all the right people because even as a young lad somewhat awestruck at being even in the same city as one of his heroes, I could see that Ellison danced the line between genius and arsehole easily. One minute he’s be amiable and chatty, the next he’d be annoyed and angry but he’d never compromise himself. His comments about writers getting paid show this.

So back to the story. I was working a dealers table selling comics and Ellison came in to have a shufty at our stuff. He picked a few things up and much to everyone’s surprise knew more about British comics than I’d have suspected. I was wearing a Marvelman badge, and spinning off the conversation from Warrior, Ellison asked if we had any for sale which we didn’t. He then asked if he could have mine. I eventually gave him it because this was my hero and I didn’t want to disappoint.

Ellison later came over to me in the bar, offered to get a drink and we ended up chatting about how great Dreamscape was. Indeed, it still is.

Ellison then had to move on with his small entourage but I was a happy lad as he’d signed a copy of The Glass Teat which is one of the greatest books of criticism ever published.  That book is something that influenced why I started this blog, and in fact it wasn’t until Ellison’s death I realised how much he’d shaped me growing up.

See, that wee story I have is something I’ve pulled out often over the years because it is a great wee story. The part of the story I usually miss out is when Ellison talked about not compromising which is something I don’t think Ellison did once in his life which led him to do great things, not to mention some awful things.

But that idea that someone can’t compromise because once you do it then becomes a game as to how far you’ll go without fully compromising yourself. I can’t remember when I did start compromising and although my life was better in some ways, a wee part of me was dead.

I’ll miss Ellison not being around. I’ll miss not being able to see if there’s a new soundbite  that I can use to help me sum up current events, and with current events being horrible I think we’ve lost a guide at a bad time.We’ll still have his mountain of work but we’ve lost a voice who could be good or bad, arrogant and uncompromising but always had something worthwhile to say. There will never be another like him.

Goodbye and thanks for whatever small lessons you’ve given me. I’m going to watch Dreamscape later and wallow in the memories of 1985.

Fandom are arseholes

Rose Marie Tran is an actress who played the part of Rose in Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi. Ever since the film came out she has been the subject of sustained, often aggressive, often racist, often misogynist abuse which has caused her to give up her Instagram.

This isn’t the first time Star Wars fans have abused an actor in the series, and it probably isn’t the last. This though has shades of the abuse Leslie Jones got in the wake of the Ghostbusters reboot, not to mention Gamergate, and more recently, Comicsgate.It isn’t a shock to trawl through some of the abuse Tran has received and see some of the names involved with those particular examples of targeted abuse crop here so what’s the point of all this?

Well, those abusing Tran will whine about ‘SJW’s’ and virtue-signalling’ while telling us that film-makers shouldn’t ‘pander to feminism’ while spouting nonsense ripped from the lungs of people like Jordan Peterson, The rhetoric is sometimes dressed in the cod-intellectualism of the ‘alt-right’ but to normal people, it’s just racist, sexist shite from often sad, even unstable people who’ve been groomed and weaponised.

So Tran deletes her Intsagram and the abusers get another small victory. This frankly, is tiring to see people being turned into victims because a section of fandom don’t like them because of their sex or race. There’s a line between criticism and satire with what’s been happening to Tran but what’s so depressing is that these people will move on like locusts to their next victim.