Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Starship Troopers (1997) #review

Humans in a fascistic, militaristic future do battle with giant alien bugs in a fight for survival.

I admit freely that the first occasion I saw this film, I spent most of my time hiding behind the couch. I was squeamish, and I didn't (at that stage) handle gore all too well. (Also, I'd yet to see the Alien films, so I can be excused, I think.) I shrieked like a little boy with his willy slammed in a car door.

Pretty much all I recalled from the first viewing was a lot of gore, explosions and missing limbs. I didn't recall the satire too much. Granted, fast forward a good decade or so later, I find I was more fascinated with the social commentary than the action. So far as old SF films go, the actual production of Starship Troopers holds up well (and in fact better than the rejigged CGI for Star Wars episodes IV to VI). Perhaps it's because to a degree Starship Troopers still feels a bit old school that helps. Movement is also so fast in some of the action sequences that if there is dodgy graphics, it's over too quickly for it to be out and out annoying.

The characters are, for the most, forgettable and pretty much cardboard cut-out. There's the yawn-worthy prerequisite love triangle, the dick-measuring rivalry between two males, and it's all very much a much of a muchness. Nothing groundbreaking. Johnny Rico wants to go kill himself some bugs 'cos they blew up his home town. He'll break a few hearts along the way and inspire some others. Pretty much stock-standard hero's journey. I could probably check all the boxes if I wasn't so god-damned utterly lazy and ill-inclined to make the effort.

Two words, however: Clancy Brown. I love me some Clancy Brown. Pause a moment to bask in the gorgeous baritone of that man's voice.

Okay. Enough fangrrrling.

What the director Paul Verhoeven says about society is far more interesting than the film's actual narrative. And the way he draws parallels between contemporary American society and Nazi Germany, though a bit heavy handed, are chillingly close to the bone. But that's about it. His motives are so dog-damned obvious it's kinda like getting slapped upside the head with a floppy bratwurst.

And I'm pretty sure your average movie goer won't have the socio-historic context to draw those parallels because they'll be too busy cheering on all the ultra violence. And gore. And missing limbs. And explosions and shit.

Sorry, I'm jaded. Social media has taught me much about the human race (which is probably why I live like a hermit at the bottom of Africa).

This is a solid piece of SF cinema, that's quite self-aware about its message. But it's not a film that's having me flail about in transports of joy. Most importantly, it didn't irritate me, like most films do nowadays. In hindsight I'm glad this film was made during a time when cinema wasn't overly reliant on CGI to make up for the deficits in most scripts nowadays. It means there's slightly more meat to the bone here. And Verhoeven had to pay attention to his work.

Will I watch this film again? Meh. Maybe. Will I tell you to? Meh. Was this eye-achingly awful? Nope. But it wasn't The Event Horizon, and nor was it Alien or Fire Fly, if you catch my drift – all of which I'll most likely revisit when the time comes.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dane Cobain has No Rest for the Wicked #guest

Today I hand over my blog to Dane Cobain, who's chatting about the books on his radar. Who knows, maybe you'll find a little something here to pique your interest – I've always maintained you can tell a lot about people looking at the books they read.



Hi, folks! My name’s Dane Cobain, and I’m the author of a supernatural thriller called No Rest for the Wicked and a book of poetry called Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home. Today, I’m stopping by to talk about something we can all enjoy – books!

I pick up books from an eclectic collection of sources, from charity shops, book exchanges, friends and birthdays to PR agencies, publishers and authors. The only thing that they have in common is that they’re all physical copies – I collect books, and I have around a thousand of them in my house, spread out across a couple of rooms.

So, without further ado – here are a few highlights from my ‘To Be Read’ (TBR) list!

Ray Bradbury
Here, I’m talking specifically about Fahrenheit 451, although I’ll probably move on to some of his other work afterwards. Despite this being a classic, I’ve never got round to reading it, which is a shame – it’s one of the more modern classics, but it somehow passed me by. Now that I’ve got a copy, I can’t wait to get started!

Stephen King
I have about twenty Stephen King books in my collection, and all of them have come from charity shops – I’m thinking about trying to pick up his complete bibliography without looking anywhere else. I’ve read four or five of his books, but I have at least a dozen more of them to get started on – I also have the first five books of the Dark Tower series, and so I should probably get started on that, at some point.

Hugh Laurie
You’ve probably heard of Hugh Laurie as either one half of Fry and Laurie or as the actor who played House in the series of the same name. He’s a talented man – he also makes music, and he’s published a couple of books. I’ve got The Gun Seller, and I can’t wait to get started.

Stieg Larsson
I recently read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I thought it was pretty good – good enough for me to pick up the other two books in his Millennium trilogy. Again, these ones are from charity shops – you see them everywhere.

R. L. Stone
When I moved out of my old place, my housemate was getting rid of a load of their old books, including their Goosebumps collection. I rescued them before they made it into the bin, and so now I have a collection of forty or so Goosebumps books to work through.

Oli Jacobs
Oli is a local author, and he performed at the spoken word night party that I held for the launch of Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home, my book of poetry. When we were there, he gave me a copy of one of his collections of short stories, which I’ll be reading and reviewing in due course.

George R. R. Martin
It took me a while to get round to reading the books that Game of Thrones is based on, and I didn’t watch the show because I wanted to read the books first. Now I’m powering through both – I’m just coming to the end of A Clash of Kings, the second book, and I’ve been waiting until I’ve finished reading it to start the second season.

Colin Dexter
Recently, I’ve been working my way through the Inspector Morse books, although not in any particular order. This is another author who’s all over the charity shops – I’ve read a couple of his books, but I want to finish the rest of them off.

Claire Riley
I picked up Odium, Riley’s zombie novel, at a book-signing event in the summer of last year. Somehow, I still haven’t got round to reading it, but I’m looking forward to getting started!

Gary Vaynerchuk
Vaynerchuk is a social media thought leader and an industry influencer. I went along to the launch event for his most recent book, #AskGaryVee, and my ticket came with a couple of free copies. I can’t wait to get started!

So now that you know which books I’ll be reading this year, I want to hear from you. Leave a comment to let me know what books you’re looking forward to reading, or tweet me (@DaneCobain) with your thoughts. I’ll see you soon!

About No Rest for the Wicked
When the Angels attack, there’s NO REST FOR THE WICKED.
Father Montgomery, an elderly priest with a secret past, begins to investigate after his parishioners come under attack, and with the help of Jones, a young businessman with an estranged child, Montgomery begins to track down the origin of the Angels.
The Angels are naked and androgynous. They speak in a dreadful harmony with no clear leader. These aren’t biblical cherubs tasked with the protection of the righteous – these are deadly creatures of light that have the power to completely eradicate.
When Jones himself is attacked, Father Montgomery knows he has to act fast. He speaks to the Angels and organises a final showdown where he’s asked to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Dane Cobain is a writer, poet and musician from a place you've probably never heard of, somewhere in England. When he's not writing books, he's reading and reviewing them on his book blog - SocialBookshelves.com - or working at his day job in social media marketing. Find him at Facebook.com/DaneCobainMusic or follow @DaneCobain on Twitter.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

In discussion with Bloody Parchment's Matt Hayward

In the last of our interviews with SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment finalists, we've got Matt Hayward stopping by my spot today. (BTW, if you're yet to purchase your copy of Bloody Parchment, it's over on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords – do support our wonderful authors.)

Welcome, Matt. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm an author/musician living in the mountains of Wicklow, Ireland. My music career has been kind, and I've gotten to play and write with such people as Edie Brickell, Malfunkshun, Clannad, Nick Pollock (My Sister's Machine), and many others. My band Lace Weeper released our debut album in March of last year which featured Nirvana drummer Chad Channing on a couple of tracks and was nominated for album of the year.  I also put out my first solo EP in December and Alan M Clark, who did books covers for so many in the horror field, provided artwork for me. That was a huge honor.

What gives in your story? 

I wanted to write a story set in a time when Rock N Roll was something new and exciting. I included a lot of homages to tracks I enjoy, and scattered them throughout the tale like a soundtrack. I enjoy pulp for pulp's sake, it's what I like to read and what I enjoy writing, so a monster story with teenagers smoking cigarettes and driving fast cars in a small town is all I set out to do, just something entertaining, like a quick rock song.

Why do you love about reading and writing speculative fiction?

Mostly, I want characters that draw me in and stay with me long after the book's been put away. In terms of setting, I know a lot of people want to find the latest twist on old tropes, and that's great, but I really do enjoy the standard settings and creatures. Vampire in a small town? I'm in. Zombie apocalypse? Sure. As long as I connect with the characters and get to see them pull through.

Is there a novel or movie that you feel has been the most influential on you, that you keep coming back to? 

For writing, it's strange, I get influenced by different kinds of mediums. Comedians, for example. People like Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Doug Stanhope, they've all had a massive impact on what I write about, even though they themselves never touched horror fiction or horror. But I like their content, and I try to carry the torch (in my own way), talking about issues I feel are important but putting them into a horror setting. I like the pulpy b-rates when it comes to movies and that impacts my writing a lot. So yeah, social commentary mashed into a slab of b-rate gore.

How do you approach the writing process? 

Richard Laymon called it 'BIC' in his novel A Writer's Tale. Butt In Chair. I do one-thousand words a day, and edit on weekends. That's about it for me, no acts of voodoo or strange prayers, just four or five pages a day and leave the work at work as much as possible. I found Joe Lansdale and Joe Hill's tips on writing to help a lot.

Not content to conquer the rock music world via Lace Weeper and his own phenomenal solo work, Matt Hayward has now turned his attention to dark fiction, and how much richer we all are as a result. Brain Dead Blues is everything you’d expect from a rock star turned horror writer, documenting not only facets of the music world but also the darkness that can result from obsessions both creative and violent. I have long been a fan of both the music and the man behind it. Now I’m a fan of his writing too. - Kealan Patrick Burke, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of THE TURTLE BOY, KIN, and SOUR CANDY

Follow Matt on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bloody Parchment's Liam Kruger

If you're yet to pick up a copy of the current Bloody Parchment anthology, it's available on Amazon and Kobo, among other vendors. In the meanwhile, I have one of the contributors, none other than Liam Kruger, stopping by.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, I mean, I write, that's the main thing. Also variously read, run, and drink. I'm a recent graduate of the University of Cape Town's Masters in Creative Writing programme, with a handful of stories published in genre and literary publications around the country.

What gives in your story?

Not much, really? My stories are not, historically, overwhelmingly giving. It's a couple of ghost kids walking around, shooting the shit, coming to terms with their relatively new ghostly station. Sort of like if you saw the trailer for Ghost World and assumed because of the title that the protagonists were actual ghosts.

What do you love about reading and writing speculative fiction?

I mean - look, this notion of speculative fiction being qualitatively different to realist or literary fiction started off as a a marketing tool, and then got a bit out of hand. Good fiction, irrespective of genre identity, should be doing the same stuff in terms of being entertaining and instructive and unsettling. Maybe speculative fiction has a little more carte blanche about the tools that it uses in achieving that effect than the standard realist stuff does.

Is there a novel or movie that you feel has been the most influential on you, that you keep coming back to? 

Y'know, if there is, then my subconscious is probably doing me a favour by keeping me in the dark about it? A couple of years ago I published a story which, in hindsight, had a scene lifted almost whole cloth out of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita - which is not an obscure book - and when a friend asked me about it, I had no idea what they were talking about. Probably there's another, even dumber source for all of my other work that I'm ignoring. Something like The Mighty Ducks 2.

How do you approach the writing process? 

Obliquely. I try and trick myself into writing longer things by writing a series of smaller things - vignettes, chains of dialogue, whatever - and then looking at them for a while to see how they fit together, if they fit together. The alternative - the one where you outline, try and storm the thing all at once - terrifies me.

liamkruger.com
twitter.com/liamkruger
Some books I'm in

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Interstellar (2014) #review

A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space in an attempt to ensure humanity's survival.

Interstellar was another of those films I swore I’d not go see, possibly mainly because of the hype. But then I discovered that Hans Zimmer did the soundtrack. Then I listened to the soundtrack and fell utterly in love. Zimmer wears his Philip Glass on his sleeve with this one, and if anyone’s seen Koyaanisqatsi they’ll understand the reference.

TBH, I couldn’t help but think about that Jodi Foster film Contact (1997) while I was watching Interstellar. Granted, I don’t remember much about Contact except that it left me feeling rather disappointed and that it tapped into some of the current pet conspiracy theories surrounding extra-terrestrial life.

Interstellar sucker punches the audience with its visual and aural elements. Apparently (and this is what I’ve heard anecdotally) the science behind the time dilation in the film all checks out. I wouldn’t know, since the whole relativity thing kinda does my head in, and I’m simply not motivated enough to get into arguments with people who know more about the subject than I do.

All I’ll say is that the narrative loop (because the story kinda loops into itself) was almost predictable. The actual premise of the story didn’t really blow my hair back, because I mean, really, if they have enough technology to send people through wormholes, then why the hell can’t they fix the blight that’s destroying all the food crops? Surely they’d have biodomes or synthesised food or something? But jawellnofine, don’t pay the author any mind. This is a film, and things get simplified for the sake of cinema.

At the heart of the story, however, there’s the troubled relationship between a father and his daughter. That kinda tugged on me hard and made me a wee bit choked up. Especially near the end. Daaaaamn. But then again, anything involving fathers and daughters and complicated relationships will hurt me because I can’t help but reflect on my own father and how much I miss the relationship I never really had. But this is neither the time and place for me to have a moment of existential wangst.

What Interstellar also succeeds in underscoring is exactly how hostile space is. These kinds of films never fail to instil a sense of claustrophobia in me – I’ve always been fearful of situations where people run out of vital resources like fuel or oxygen. There’s a predictable race against time by the end of the film that will leave most folks digging holes into the soft foam of their seats.

And then with regards to acting, I have to admit Matthew McConaughey is a very strange-looking man who, as an actor, has grown on me over the past few years. I quite enjoyed him in True Detective. I’m looking forward to seeing him The Dark Tower. He brings a certain dry, wry practicality to his roles that tickles me.

Would I watch Interstellar again? Probably not. It’s one of those life’s-too-short-to-revisit films, though I know there are others who’ll disagree. I’m kinda on the fence with this one, but I know I’ll be listening to the OST again and again, at full volume, because Hans Zimmer totally blew me out of the water. Again.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens #review

Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

I’ve purposefully held off talking about Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (TFA) for a number of reasons, the main one being to allow the hype to die down (and also mainly because I’ve just not had much in the way of time for reviews of any sort until now).

In preparation of this landmark event, myself and a few friends marathoned the preceding Star Wars films so that we’d be ready for TFA. This also resulted in a fair amount of lively discussions as we weighed up the merits and flaws of the various films.

And in that regard, I feel it’s important to view TFA through the lens of the preceding films.

When Episode IV came out all those years ago, George Lucas and his mates didn’t have access to all the neat CGI effects that we take for granted these days. So some of the costumes and creatures are, by today’s standards, a bit corny. (And yes, half the shit Lucas puts in with the rebooted episodes was mostly unnecessary.) Yet it was very much the pulpy, slightly tongue-in-cheek self-aware humour of these early films that makes them stand out for me. They consciously play with the stereotypes and conventions. (Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?)

Though I didn’t see any of the films on the big screen until Episode I, episodes IV, V and VI nevertheless had a huge impact on me at the tender age of 11 when I got to see them on telly. Bad SFX and all. I could suspend disbelief and get carried away by the sheer excitement of what is a classic case of a Chosen One prophecy.

I could segue off on a whole Joseph Campbell Monomyth vibe but I’m not going to because that discussion has been done to death. I use it often enough when running writers’ workshops, as it’s one of the most basic themes in many SFF stories.

I’ve always maintained that the true hero of the entire saga is Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader – the hero who is only able to bring balance to the known universe once he’s dabbled in the Dark Side. The first six films are all about him. Episode VII in that sense is a fresh start; it’s the Great What Happens After.

Except Episodes I to III fall flat for me not only because of the wooden acting and godawful dialogue, but because they lost the X-factor that made IV to VI awesome. That sense of fun is simply lacking, and we're left with a limping morass of doom and gloom. Which could have been fixed (and this series of posts offer some lovely suggestions).

Yet if we’re looking at cyclical storytelling (which is often inherent in all sagas) then the choices JJ Abrams makes for TFA, are perfectly sensible.

Episodes IV to VI have an energy all of their own. It’s typical farmboy-turns-hero. We are invested in ever-escalating badness. We are introduced to the planet-busting Death Star. A bigger bad behind Darth Vader is introduced, and lastly an even bigger, meaner and downright nastier planet-destroying secret weapon is vaporised. Everyone lives happily ever after. Well, kinda.

Episodes I to III bring nothing new to the table other than backstory, along with annoying amphibious locals in possession of prehensile tongues. We have a showdown between primitive tribes somehow beating a technological superior army. (Moon of Endor, anyone?) We have betrayal. We learn why Anakin went bad (because twu lub, y'know). It can be argued that much of the energy for episodes IV to VI is sorely lacking here, as our anti-hero is revealed as a snotty, whiny brat who pouts and stomps his feet when he doesn’t get his way. Obi Wan, so sagely expressed by Alec Guinness in IV to VI, is portrayed by a sorely ineffectual, under-utilised Ewan McGregor. Natalie Portman’s Padme has a single purpose – to be Luke and Leia’s mum and literally die of a broken heart at the end as a reason for the good guy to go bad. Her passing, of course, just seems like a by-the-by GRRM treatment to get rid of inconvenient characters. Basically, these prequels were three feature-length missed opportunities and pointless staring off into distances with teared-up eyes filled with unjustified emotional wangst.

So yeah, I was filled with trepidation when Episode VII came out. Would they find that fresh current that somehow recaptured what made IV to VI great (for the time in which they were produced)?

My verdict: a resounding yes. I am a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise, despite its many flaws. Episode VII delivered all the excitement and more. Was it a bit too self-referential? I mean, I’ve heard some folks say this is basically A New Hope rebooted. I’ll agree, that there were many moments that echoed the earlier instalments, but I’ll counter by saying that the echoing was necessary to pay homage to the existing canon and to provide a platform for fresh dynamics.

There is a touchstone of familiarity to keep the existing fans happy while not dropping us off the deep end. And oh, the delicious nuance. Kylo Ren has an opportunity to redeem himself, which he rejects. Han Solo makes a stand (and we’ve all seen how he’s been running for years) – and pays the price – but his sacrifice provides a vital pinch point in the plot. We have the call to adventure and the denial of the call (hello, Campbell). We have women plausibly in pivotal roles (thank you). We have diversity that doesn’t feel forced (once again, thank you). Rei, Finn and Damon make a delightful triad easy to love, to temper the rather creepy Kylo Ren. I'm really looking forward to see how they'll develop.

At the appropriate moments, I clung to my seat, shrieked and cried. Abrams certainly knew exactly how to play me.

TFA is a film that was clearly created by a fan of the franchise, for the fans. Is it fresh and original? Objectively, I have to say no. Has it revived the franchise? Yes. But does it entertain? Oh yes. Will I watch it again? Make that a HELL YES.

Avatar (2009) #review

When his brother is killed in a robbery, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. 

It took me a very long time to get round to watching Avatar. Mainly it was the case of the film having way too much hype at the time of its release. Also, at the time, I’d had a lot of other things on my mind and going to the movies had been the least of my concerns.

By the time the film came out on DVD, it was a case of not being able to convince my SO that we should watch it. So yes, ever since 2009, right up until early 2016, I successfully avoided watching the film about the blue slightly feline alien people who hug trees.
I’m also aware, on the periphery, that there was a lot of bitching and moaning from various communities about stereotypes – especially the idea of the “noble savage” vs. “evil, greedy capitalist scumdogs with big guns”.

Did James Cameron have an agenda when he created this film? I suspect he did, even if he didn’t quite admit it to himself. Or even if he did, does it really matter? There’s a more than heavy-handed environmental message here to bash viewers upside the head. And yeah, some of the dialogue is a bit “Well, as you know, Doctor Bob, the unobtainium…”

Unobtanium. I mean, really? [Falls over. Dies laughing]

But then again, attempting nuanced dialogue in big-budget films when you’re aiming for a broad audience isn’t always possible. I guess. And knowing what I do about behind the scenes of big-budget films … things can be hairy. Sometimes simple is best.

But …

But …

What I can’t deny is that Avatar is a pretty film. A very, very pretty film. I’m almost sorry I didn’t get to see it on the big screen because the CGI, even years on from its release is still jaw-droppingly amazeballs. And the James Horner OST, though a bit schmaltzy, is pure loveliness. I am still listening to it on Apple Music.

Essentially, as I’ve read before, Avatar is Dances with Wolves on a moon with blue cat people instead of the First People. Privileged white boy somehow immerses himself into alien culture and succeeds in becoming their Chosen One. It’s pure, Marty Stu wish fulfilment in all its inglorious ridiculousness.

SJWs and the rest of the Regressive Left probably have a million reasons why this film franchise is harmful to XYZ and that James Cameron is a Very Bad Person.

If you’re looking for depth of character, grey areas, and a nuanced plot, then this is not your film. If, however, you just want to hold onto the ikran and let go to fall through the verdant rainforest, and discover a fantastically rendered world filled with dangerous beasts and insane vegetation, this is a lush, gorgeous film. And kudos to all the creatives behind the scenes in production and art department. You guys are amazing, and your work is beautiful. Also, any film featuring Sigourney Weaver rocks.