Sunday, 15 September 2019

Don't Hug Me. I'm Scared Episodes 4-6 (2015-16)

From https://image.tmdb.org/t/p/original
/uMTxurEGfwxTKejuWMf8FC0UgIF.jpg


Directors: Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan
Screenplay: Joseph Pelling, Becky Sloan and Baker Terry
Cast: Baker Terry as Yellow Guy / Duck Guy / Additional Characters (voice); Joseph Pelling as Red Guy (voice); Becky Sloan as Lamp / Spinach Can / Sketchbook / Additional Voices (voice); Royngtt as Colin / Additional Voices (voice) ; Kellen Goff as Additional Voices (voice)

[The following is a continuation of a review covering the first three segments of this web video series. Follow the link HERE to that first review.]

[Some Plot Spoilers Ahead]

Episode 4 is my personal favourite of the entire web series. Already beginning with a delayed gag, expecting another object to suddenly begin singing, it gets off to a great start in which an obsolete computer, down to his electronically distorted voice, starts to go on about the virtues of computers. The virtue of this episode is how it doesn't even need to use the gore and nastiness of before for its creepy horror, instead being working against this in creative ways. This involves deliberately dated glitchy animation, which appeals to my love for obsolete animation, and a slyer sense of humour. The message is pretty obvious too - a computer that never gets around to answering the question the trio initially wanted settled, and the computer world a place of time wasting tasks such as consumerism or "DIGITAL STYLE!!", to repeat probably the most quotable dialogue of the whole series.

At this point, this is without question one of the most lavishly put together web-exclusive productions outside of large conglomerates, and this is worth bringing up in knowledge that the later episodes from two to six, including Kickstarter campaigns, were soon put into production when the show started gaining a fan base, becoming as much a production that showcased their talents alongside with everyone making these props and characters. Episode four does start to build to a larger scale story as well as Red Guy, our most matter-of-fact figure with his deadpan rebuttals, ends up breaking out of this reality and in a curious set of circumstances literally has his head explode. The result of this plot thread is open to interpretation, but it offers a lot of material to keep the series afresh, especially as this figure has the most dynamic plot thread onwards, even if he's not actually in Episode 5 barring the end credits.

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/dWGBNC0roEs/maxresdefault.jpg

Episode 5 is a flashback to the ghoulishness of the first half, but with knowledge of the series building, it makes a good follow on. If anything the joke's strong on the get-go as, with Duck and Yellow Guy being tormented by a pair singing about healthy eating, something which I can't help is openly mocking fads as much as it is a gabled lesson as done before in the series, as they contradict themselves, recommend white sauce as a staple diet one minute and not the other, and have a convoluted diagram of the body being represented by a literal house where good food stays for a party. The nonsensical lessons grow revisiting this web series, in that fan theories can have a detrimental effect on what could have intentionally been written as nonsense on purpose, the completely illogical still able to be intelligent and a critique of society in how their guides to people can be up to question if holes are punched into their logic. One interesting idea, suggested by YouTuber Inside the Mind1, which evokes this is how, in his idea the series is about growing up, that the show comes from the perspective of a child, the lessons coming off as nonsense as kids might not understand the words spoken to them, which is a fascinating take on from one of the show's funniest and more rewarding aspects.

Episode 6, which was the conclusion before an announcement of a series was brought up n 2018, ends on a very different note. Notable there's a suggestion that there's another world, shot in a realistic aesthetic, where Red Guy lives a banal life working in an office. This has made a healthy amount of speculation about what the Episode's about be created, which isn't to deny considering it's a bold choice that would've led to these theories just in the sudden change in reality that's taking place. That the final episode, without spoiling it entirely, as the Yellow Guy is left in the original house tormented by various singing figures, involves the plug being pulled literalised is with a sense of built up spectacle, a reset button that concludes in a logic of its own.

Episode 6 was also built up to even as far back as Episode 2, with the series having various cameos by Roy Gribbleston, a figure painted as Yellow Guy's father who even had a production credit on the Don't Hug Me... episodes themselves, adding layers which clearly left a lot unsaid to tease the viewership. Certainly this web series builds to a great conclusion, a risk taken with almost a pastiche mood of David Lynch felt throughout, such as with Gribbleston floating along at one point with a comically stretched arm. There's also a clear influence from British comedy, Red Guy in an office pissing about with a folder, as if it could sing, much to the bafflement of his similar looking co-worker clearly indebted to post 2000s comedy.

From https://blinkinkcdn.s3.amazonaws.com/_wide_800/Becky_and
_Joe_DHMIS_5_H264.00_01_19_14.Still002-copy.jpg

Don't Hug Me. I'm Scared
is an applaudable project, especially now on revisiting it I can move beyond its initial premise of perverting this type of children's show aesthetic and see what it was built like. A lot of questions were left open to what it actually means - interestingly, as Inside the Mind points to, Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan co-wrote an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball called The Puppets (2017) in which the protagonists are tormented by their childhood toys and end up walking away from their childhood memories to grow up, an interesting comparison to make with some of the symbolism found here. Admittedly, there's also a lot of speculation that means taking this and any idea with a pinch of salt, especially as the lead creators aren't telling us anything. For me, even if it wasn't the intention of the first episode, there was clearly a lot of satire about children's programming peppered throughout, and certainly when we get to the final, once you start bringing in alternative realities when Red Guy is being heckled on karaoke night for trying to start an edutainment sing-along, you are playing into the idea for me of the original context being either a nightmare or a trap to escape.

Also, it is interesting to see a production which could've easily been dismissed, as I initially did, as another web video that just turns children's iconography into nightmare fuel. In comparison, this is the high bar, a high quality labour of love which got more idiosyncratic for the better as the sequel episodes were created. Another question is left about the promise of a TV series, an entirely different structure to work with and certainly an entirely different conversation to have if it ever happens...

Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Surreal
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None


From https://i.redd.it/ii1x619ae0uz.jpg

Friday, 13 September 2019

[Archive]: Sunday School Musical (2008)

From https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com
/images/I/51iu7XgQHIL.jpg


Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg
Screenplay: Rachel Lee Goldenberg and Ashley Holloway
Cast: Chris Chatman as Zachary; Candise Lakota as Savannah; Krystle Connor as Aundrea; Robert Acinapura as Miles; Amy Ganser as Margaret; Millena Gay as Anita; Dustin Fitzsimons as Charlie; Cliff Tan as Trevor; Mark Hengst as Pastor Joe
First written on 10th July 2013

Continuing with my Archive reviews, here is piece of an entire month of "Bad" cinema from my older blog, which is still in existence but with mind of keeping all my materials together, I've transitioned to here. This was film #12 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema, back when I was mad enough to coordinate an entire month where each day had a review; eventually, to pull back the curtain like the Wizard in Oz, I cheated by composing the reviews the month before, as with my October horror festivals, but the challenge was felt and I am still proud of these mad little challenges even if they caused more stress than the plan was intended to.

As always, none of the material no matter how embarrassing it is will be altered, just with the grammar and paragraphing changed when required to make it easier to read.

In terms of the review, I was mean to The Asylum, but I will defend the attitude of my older self that by the 2000s this straight-to-video market got exceptionally lazy, even if my rose tinted glasses about Roger Corman have disappeared, and in mind to how I have become found of the low budget curiosities that have made up this era. The line later on that Christians should make their own films has becomes ironically precedent for myself hasn't it though? I confess I haven't dealt into the wave of Christian cinema from the United States that was being made from this era onwards, but by all accounts, the modern strain has none of the nuisance of say, Robert Bresson, instead falling into the kind of very simplified viewpoints that are problematic. We should point these issues out as much in liberal American cinema, but there's as much to clearly find in this wave of Christian cinema of a conservative bent which isn't helping the cause either, not just Kirk Cameron taking a nose dive on metaphorical concrete when he made a very embarrassing defend about Christmas that appeared in some cinemas. There's a lot I'd want to watch and even cover though, not just morbidly as by accounts Indivisible (2018), a war film based on a real life war chaplain, is a fascinating and appropriately complex film I'm now reminded to investigate, so I wouldn't just dismiss this entire cultural movement offhand without an eyewitness account.

As for Sunday School Musical itself? I'd gladly investigate the film again even though I was put off by The Asylum back then because they never lived up by the standard of at least being memorable. Sadly Chris Chatman, the lead who I compliment, never made enough film baring one in post-production called Welcome Matt. The director Rachel Lee Goldenberg, to my surprise, is behind the curious Lifetime film A Deadly Adoption (2015), played entirely straight by all accounts as their usual type of film but starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig outside their usual ballpark, marking it a potential curiosity if I can ever track it down. Goldenberg is also unfortunately the directoress of the musical remake of the 1983 film Valley Girl, which has been in limbo due to its casting of YouTuber Logan Paul, a figure whose controversial decision to upload footage of a suicide victim on his YouTube page contributed to the film, which was complete, never getting released.

To soften the tone of that later, incredible dark piece of knowledge I learnt of just putting together this Archive review, I'm also throwing in a bonus mini-one about the live action Fist of the North Star adaptation. Not really reviews, more of a stub, but sod it, since I horde this content on my computer hard drive, why not release it again anyway? Plus it's a reminder that, whilst a 1000 Anime review in truth, if I could ever re-see the 1995 film, based on the Japanese manga/anime franchise, I'd more than happy revisit the film for all the curious tit-bits I mention. I didn't even write, to my surprise, that Malcolm McDowell is also in it of many details long forgotten...

========
From http://www.cantstopthemovies.com/wp-content
/uploads/2011/04/sunday1.png

Original Review

I worried, looking out of curiosity for reviews of this film online before planning one of my own, that by covering it I fall in danger of taking on the same cheap targets that I questioned professional critics of doing with the Jack and Jill (2011) review. Is anyone who reviews a film like this, including myself, really going to write anything thoughtful, even actually funny, or will this be like a bad video review where you see the whole film dispersed with obvious and bad jokes? Am I just being a hypocrite for reviewing this, and writing this entire introduction?

I have broken a rule set up for this season by reviewing a film made by The Asylum company. I was willing to break the rules here because this movie seemed to be an exception from the material that made me put that rule up in the first place. It’s not about an overgrown, CGI fish monster but a low budget musical designed to take advantage of the High School Musical phenomenon and also be part of the company’s Faith Films subdivision, designed to make Christian themed films. Getting hold of this film was for the promise of a terrible movie, a concept that, as this season has gone on, is pretty questionable now, but in hindsight a genre that is usually extravagantly made turned into such a minuscule budgeted, Christian film was also a fascinating proposition. This kind of melding of genres and concepts in unexpected ways is like viewing abstract Non-Euclidean geometry within a HP Lovecraft story, trying to imagine all of its parts working together without going insane. The film itself is, well, what I have sadly come to expect from The Asylum company; as much as I want to love them, it feels like I keep going back to them like an idiot, as all of us who have reviewed their films, as they secretly praise us for the reviews even if they are negative ones.

When he is transferred to a new school, and away from his adored choir and friends, Zachery (Chris Chatman) finds it difficult to connect to his environment. His grades are failing, the choir at his new school are hopeless in terms of their musical abilities, and the church of his old choir is in danger of closing because of finance issues. However, it is possible that, through joining together the choirs, and winning a competition, that every problem can be solved, all the while he slowly connects to the leader of the new choir Savannah (Candine Lakota) who has to overcome losing her mother only a few months earlier. In the film’s favour, the cast for the most part, especially Chatman, have musical talent; it is great that for such an ill advised take on a musical that there are people in front of the camera who can sing and have charisma, and there are moments where the music they are singing too is trying to be good. Unfortunately, for most of the film, it is also music at its most generic and sterilised rather than really good songs. This could be only my personal taste, but when songs have the same tone and sound to each other it is not a good sign. For the most part, it is merely bland and innocuous, but as with the song set around a bench, it can become terrible.

Sunday School Musical outside the music is worthless. Chatman had the potential to be someone special, if he had made anymore films after this 2008 production, but the rest of the film is cheap looking. It is sad that the practices of former exploitative film companies have not been continued for the most part this era; at least Roger Corman and Italian film producers would hire talented directors and film making personal and let them make whatever they want as long as it could be marketed for cinemas. Even Godfrey Ho had a sense of fun. In this era – where blockbusters hog the cinemas, and digital film cameras and computer effects are cheap – laziness has sadly been allowed to come into this sub culture of cinema. Even straight-to-video films from the yesteryear could attempt to be great works, and while there are still great films made today, wading for them in the mass is even more difficult.

Sunday School Musical is bland looking; unnecessarily frequent and choppy in its editing, and just dull to sit through. I am more likely to sleep through another viewing of this than feel pain. As a cash-grab for High School Musical, which I admit to having not viewed alongside its sequels, it is a half-hearted attempt at a musical that could have been special even if it was a failure. The Cannon Group, back in the 1980s, would have tried something special even on a pittance. The Aslyum group, from Almighty Thor (2011), which I reviewed for this blog, to this, are exceptionally lackadaisical in their attitude.

And what makes this even more disconcerting is that this is supposed to be a Christian film. There is very little in the film that really delves into faith or Christian values at all. It has choirs as it main plot and Savannah’s father is a preacher, but this seems arbitrary. It could be argued that these types of films don’t have to directly tackle issues of faith, but this is pointless as there are films already made that Christians enjoy and gain a lot from, and if there wasn’t, they could make their own films rather than rely on someone like The Asylum. A Christian film for me, as it stands now, should tackle the issues of faith in ordinary life, which Sunday School Musical fails to do at all and instead panders to a lame interpretation of R&B and hip-hop music lacking the bite and meaning to it. Alongside 2012 Doomsday (2008), another of these faith based films by the company I’ve seen, there is something exceptionally wrong about The Asylum’s attitude to these films that Corman or an Italian producer, even Ho, is completely innocent of. Not only are they making lazy rip-offs of blockbusters rather than fun ones like the Italians could make, but it can be argued that they are conning Christians, who would want movies for them, without any attempt at making something interesting. As an agnostic[1], I can see how something like Sunday School Musical, in its lifelessness, would be insulting to the Christian god, like offering a turd to Him as some kind of sacrificial gift and excepting to be lavished with praise.

And the worst part? I am dumb enough to review another film from them after my bile for Almighty Thor. Admittedly, I had hope for this to be something interesting from The Asylum, and I still want to see Mega Piranha (2010) and their take on the Halloween films, but I have tricked myself again even if I spent only 50p for a second hand disc. Are all of us who review these films, even mock them, just encouraging this sort of filmmaking paradoxically? For all the criticisms I’ve had with the film, I’ve just encouraged more people to watch this film when it should be ignored and vanish from existence. I could have scrapped this review to do this, but to both stroke my ego and out of need to write about this film, I have to post it. If the phrase ‘fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me’ ever applied to any context, this is the perfect time to use it. On my part, I may go for three and please The Asylum again, or actually have some common sense next time.

From https://mojtv.hr/thumb.ashx?path=/images/cc47f58c-fd9d
-4203-a32d-b894833326fb.jpg&w=491&h=250

[1] Pass six years, I'm also not an agnostic as I wrote this review but a spiritual person, as a result of discovering that I had entirely misinterpreted what "agnostic" meant. Being "Agnostic", which I didn't know writing this review, is actually closer in spectrum to atheism rather than not knowing what a divine godhead might be, but with some philsophical differences of importance, if you research its theological and philosophical beginnings even on Wikipedia. That does leave me in the annoying position of believing in an entity upstairs and soul, but not with any organised religious ship to anchor myself to. Also "spiritualist" doesn't roll off the tongue and just evokes charlatan Victorians Harry Houdini particularly hated, so its a position in dire need of a marketing department to come up with a name for. 

======

Bonus: Fist of the North Star (Director: Tony Randel, 1995)

My knowledge of Fist of the North Star is very limited, but a British Kenshiro who looks like the muscular brother of Benedict Cumberbatch, who can still make your head explode, was not what I was expecting but utterly hilarious.

Despite being part of the wave of pop culture films from the 1990s that I am obsessed over, visually part of the era and crammed with the obsessions (end of the world scenario, a cast with everyone from director Melvin Van Peebles to pro-wrestler Vader), it is pretty tedious however. Even if Chris Penn steals every scene he is in, the film’s narrative is incredibly generic and for a film that needs good fight scenes to work, the compromise to their presentation, and the gore from the original manga removed for the most part, undermines the whole project. I’ve never been a fan of Tony Randel, especially of his second Hellraiser film, and I wonder what this’ll been like if it was allowed to be good or as insane as a film like Street Fighter from the same era.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Don't Hug Me. I'm Scared: Episodes 1-3 (2011-2014)



D
irectors: Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan
Screenplay: Joseph Pelling, Becky Sloan, Hugo Donkin and Baker Terry
Cast: Joseph Pelling as Red Guy / Additional Voices; Baker Terry as Yellow Guy / Duck Guy / Additional Characters; Becky Sloan as Notepad / Additional Voices; Royngtt as Tony the Talking Clock / Shrignold / Additional Voices
[UK]

In a room, a red puppet with a mop face, a yellow humanoid puppet, and a green duck puppet are sat around a breakfast table in a kitchen. Wanting something to do, suddenly a notepad comes alive and starts singing about being creative. Very much a children's edutainment show barring the fact it tells the yellow guy green is not a creative colour.

That's mean, but nothing prepares you for the short to end on a nightmarish freak-out involving a cake made with blood and organ meat, or glitter art with an actual heart. Admittedly, the power has been lost now we've corrupted the image of children's entertainment over parodies, mock films and even an officially sanctioned horror film where the Hanna-Barbera characters the Banana Splits are sociopaths. But Don't Hug Me. I'm Scared became something much more, all stemming from this first short film; reflecting back on the entire project, by British artists Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan, whilst sadly the premise of taking a children's entertainment aesthetic and using it for darker material has been driven into the ground by now, the success and attention this short had lead to five sequel shorts which grew in creativity and layers.

First of all, let's nip the theory in the bud that this is all a metaphor for how corrupt children's media is. It became popular from a YouTube channel The Film Theorists, and whilst the idea does have a subconscious weight, where we should question what our children watch, I a) prefer my surreal work to not have oversimplified meanings, and b) many details complicates this all. Noticeably, according to a Motionographer interview, Becky Sloan likes this type of children's edutainment, and that the project was originally to mock the idea of teaching creativity, the Sesame Street puppet aesthetic only coming afterwards1. There's also the fact that since 2018, the duo have plans to make a TV series with these characters and world which undercuts this entire theory they hate commercial television.

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/9C_HReR_McQ/maxresdefault.jpg

Instead, there's a lot more interest material to unpack without ever caring to explain what the shorts are actually about. The series got more interesting when they aren't about shocking the viewer, the first episode despite beingthe most famous one of the weakest for me when the others later got more peculiar. The production without a doubt however is exceptional, one of if not the best YouTube made production I have ever seen even over what insane lengths Fatal Farm's Lasagna Cat got to. A world of felt and puppets is constructed with what would've been time consuming and difficult to put together, a history between Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan in short films, music videos and even an advertisement for St. John Ambulance built around such ideas and trademarks. The comment earlier belay how sadly it's a now lazy juxtaposition to have children's iconography cuss, fuck or murder, since the times of CreepyPasta to SFM porn now exist, but it's a bigger challenge that Don't Hug Me... takes and succeeds in through having a legitimately surreal attitude with its style and tone.

I mean, most productions like this wouldn't be this well made, embracing a cute world where everything has eyeballs and looks cuddly until everything goes to hell. Few would qualify as musicals, and have proper and well put together songs parodying the type found in edutainment work. It's a greater challenge to recreate a children's Saturday morning show with this level of detail - bright and vivid, the songs alone perfect in comparison to recreating the kind I like myself grew up with from these shows. I had originally viewed it a weakness how easily the series fell into shock tactics - "death" spelt out in glitter among details in the first short - and the later episodes thankfully went away from this to much more interesting creepiness. But to the first short's testament, it sets this up, possibly to the point viewers over thought theories about it, a sense of playfulness in deliberately adding all the content it has. The idea of this being about the evils of children television feels far less interesting when the surface itself is more rewarding already, knowledge of how this was meant to comment on the difficulty (and inanity) of "teaching creativity" already poignant as the arbitrary views of the notepad don't help at all, something thankfully played with through all the guest stars in this world's surreal lack of logic.

Even the decision to evoke children's television for the initial idea makes sense not as a slam against capitalist television but in style for the theme - how many shows did I grow up with, let alone Art Attack or Blue Peter, were about being "creative"? The odder aspects, how it cuts to a digital CGI version of the kitchen as a set, does offer many suggestions, whether it was meant to mean a thing or not, but definitely the ideas initially there are strong, and the freakish weirdness were the bloody icing on the cake.

From https://coubsecure-s.akamaihd.net/get/b72/p/coub/simple/cw_timeline_pic/
4068afb517a/4d8b81c63aa8cbf2fab9c/big_1463806097_image.jpg

In 2014, the second short would appear in Time, in which a clock turns out to be a sadistic. Inherently for myself, the balance of horror and subtler weirdness is stronger, the lyrics and events where the clock's behaviour keeps cutting off more existential thoughts of time becoming enough of a commentary on the inability to think enough on such subjects. There's such a danger to over think material like this, not presume aspects of these shorts were Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan just coming up with dark or weird ideas without greater meaning, whether abruptly cutting to a bath time against the protagonists' will or the abrupt appearances of fish. That said from what could have had no profound meaning can be itself meaningful instead what it's about - the moment that I'd argue hits a more profound meaning that any attempt at a sociological or political commentary is when the duck suggests time is a construct of the human mind, only for this to enrage the clock whose noise in anger is enough to cause yellow guy's ears to bleed.

You don't need to elaborate on this further; the image of someone preventing a more complex question on an established idea we are complacent of is a pointed comment enough. Arguably, when the clock ages them to decay it's just meant to be the horror, with no intellectual symbolism, as I suspect these shorts were always meant to be entertainment first. But the "jokes" for a lack of a better name themselves hit pertinent ideas just in what they are.

This definitely is to mind with episode three, in which distraught by Duck killing a butterfly, Yellow Guy flees a picnic and meets another butterfly who talks about love. What happens next could be easily be a parody of religious cults as Yellow Guy meets a group who sings to him about one's true love and bonds. I'd argue that its closer to a cult as, honestly, one of the most embarrassing things to witness is bad, one note anti-religious commentary in the midst of a piece of art, especially as it's a dangerous thing to confuse a cult with a religion, religions for all their problematic issues a complex structure of dogma and theology, which becomes more complex when you require spokespeople for the God(s) and their morals can slide in or an organised religion, whilst a cult is usually based on a dubious single figure representing the Godhead themselves, not speaking for the actual God or a series of figures, whose dogma is never about the betterment of people but vapid platitudes without any of the struggle religion usually talks of when informed. Also, there's a sense that, as I'd do in their roles, the creators thought the punch line would be funnier if they were a cult of furry woodland animals who worship a giant rock head, which is legitimately funny.

From https://i.ytimg.com/vi/kcgnilFIw0g/maxresdefault.jpg

And dark too, as the commentary comes not mocking religious ideas but that, for all their singing about a true love for everyone, the most inspired part is a tale within the short told of a deformed boy who hides in a cave with nothing about him ever finding true love being brought up as the tale is said to do, made even more striking and powerful in its corpse black humour in that no one bats an eye to this and just go along with singing. I'd wouldn't be surprised, thinking of this scene, whether the commentary of Episode three had nothing to do with parodying religion or the idea of monogamy, but just to take the absolute piss out of Disney musical numbers, and ones in children's animation and entertainment in general, by imagining the woodland creatures of Bambi and other animation practicing a Wicker Man-like cult.

If anything, the greater question to ask is why this is creepy? There is something inherently odd about children's entertainment when we return to it as adults. I accepted this material as a child, in television to toys, but as adults with the knowledge this material is created by other adults trying to appeal to children, these exaggerated forms and aesthetics are strange. Strange creatures like the Teletubbies, baby faces in the sun and all, for example with their garish colours and odd contraptions were weird, even before you take into account the uncanny valley effect of costumes and puppets. The mind of the child drastically changes when they become an adult, and these strange colours and forms are curious to us grown up as a result. The repetition and order, between games and activities repeated every episode, could become hellish like a rejected Albert Camus piece if you over thought it, but the nuisances and the freedom you gain as an adult make these restrictions striking. The one thing I take from the media theory is how, whilst a noble act to teach and educate children through fun, to teach someone in a way that can become almost patronising and encoding environmental influence is an issue in itself even if the lessons of good morality are noble on the surface. If they are not thought about and prodded at the same time, they become hollow and a trap.

Don't Hug Me... also does play with grotesque things, but its better when its less shock related. Having a picnic consisting of raw chicken legs, whilst leading one to hope the production staff washed their hands after handling it all, is jarring in contrasting real meat against puppet felt in a little, clever detail rather than explicit gore. The idea that the lessons of the guest stars make no sense or are authoritarian in a problematic way is ran with further, and for the better, in the episodes after the third one, and really provides a glorious series of ill-logical but quotable dialogue. A lot improves in episode four to six, the best of this little series of web videos, but the ground work here for the first three were already strong. The difference is that the creators decided to stray further from the gore and nastiness, even if it reappears in Episode 5, with more gleefully surreal and rewarding nightmare fuel. When I get to those final three episodes, these same questions through this review will be asked again, but the initial three, if they were the only ones made, were by themselves exceptional pieces of strangeness.

Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

From https://forum.callofwar.com/index.php?
attachment/4973-maxresdefault-jpg/

====
1) The interview is linked to HERE. 

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Otley (1969)

From https://img.moviepostershop.com
/otley-movie-poster-1969-1020255091.jpg


Directed by Dick Clement
Written by Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement
Based on the novel by Martin Waddell
Cast: Tom Courtenay as Gerald Arthur Otley; Romy Schneider as Imogen; Alan Badel as Sir Alec Hadrian; James Villiers as Hendrickson; Leonard Rossiter as Johnson; Freddie Jones as Philip Proudfoot; Fiona Lewis as Lin; James Bolam as Albert; James Cossins as Geffcock; James Maxwell as Rollo; Edward Hardwicke as Lambert; Ronald Lacey as Curtis; Phyllida Law as Jean
Obscurities, Oddities and One-Offs

Released in the wave of influence James Bond had on cinema - regional interpretations, rip-offs, spy films in general - alongside the more grounded adult versions of espionage especially coming from the United Kingdom like The Ipcress File (1965), Otley is what happens when even these low key and realistic spy dramas were taken further when a snarky former university graduate, coach surfing, has to be the central protagonist in a spy war and web of conspiracies when he's accidentally sleeping in the room when an acquaintance is assassinated. Waking up the night after inexplicably in an empty football/soccer field, he has by fate found himself in the midst of two rival factors in London.

Speaking as someone who actually likes the franchise, I find that Bond has always come off as a stereotype of British culture, an elitist figure for the government of an entirely different type of the cinema viewing audience, reflected as the sixties films were as much tourist documentaries for exotic locations as they were action films. Even the idea of creating a female James Bond that have persisted wouldn't be able to cover the fact that, as an institution, all the potentially problematic cultural baggage of that fact would still be found. Otley's noticeably different as our lead's as working class as you could get. You don't have Sean Connery fleeing police with a bacon sandwich in one hand over canal boats. Even the Roger Moore years, when the franchise got sillier, even Diamonds Are Forever (1971) with Connery, weren't this openly absurd rather than accidentally. An entirely different language is to be found here visually and in content that pops the balloon of spy adventure as a farce.

A very big factor to mind for Otley is that in the director seat is Dick Clement, who co-writers this novel adaptation with his regular collaborator Ian La Frenais. For the British, the pair is more than likely known as writers than filmmaking as, with the many reruns and TV programmes about old British television we still have in the 2010s, they have a legacy of huge hits. Specifically it's Porridge (1974-7), (an institution I even saw episodes of growing up decades later), Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? (1973-4), (and its 1964-6 prequel The Likely Lads), and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, (1983-2004 for all its tie-ins), which are huge cultural signposts in British TV. Porridge is the only one I know of so far, but apt with Otley as, shot in a matter-of-fact and following Ronnie Baker as a prisoner, that style of black humour with a lot of dialogue based humour is felt here only with a cinema budget, more ambition and humour that is a lot more caustic.

Barring one offensive comment against a Chinese masseuse, a lot about Otley has aged a lot better when a lot of British humour of the past will wilt in the fires of political correctness, not even from a perspective of a snowflake social justice warrior but that sixties and seventies Britain is an entirely alien to decades later1.. Instead, Otley is amazing nasty and black humoured in a way that hasn't dated but is pretty stark, especially as this is rated "PG", suitable for family viewing in spite of how sharp the witticisms are. This isn't a nice, cuddly British comedy of old, but proudly sharper, as the titular Otley is surrounded by men in suspicious groups who callously call their wives a bitch, or include the bizarre but scene stealing character of an assassin whose day job is a tour coach driver who owns a farm. Even one important side character, who could've easily been a crass gay stereotype, is more interesting with nuisance and because his actor relishes the pithy remarks of his. Even the fact the plot gets confusing does a favour as it adds to our somewhat hero, somewhat anti-hero, being completely lost.

Said Otley is of course played by Tom Courtenay, and he's tremendous. Otley at times is a prick, but he's also a charming one even when he pickpockets valuable possessions throughout the narrative, Courtenay a huge lynchpin among many for this film to actually work. He does nothing amiss, and barring that one offensive one liner, every comment or joke at the expense of his situation is amusing and usually self deprecating first. Drifting through life, it's a fascinating character to dump into this scenario, still a handsome charming figure because of Courtenay's prescience, even making the fact that he woos Romy Schneider's female spy credible as well as in depicting his cluelessness of what is happening. It also adds credibility to what happens even in the context of a comedy which exaggerates this genre, more credible in realism arguably than many spy films to this day.

Again, returning to even the romantic subplot having credibility, this manages as a PG rated film in Britain to be quite frank about sex, so it never feels like it is undercutting verisimilitude by being prudish, instantly showing this as Otley is first found sharing his older landlady's bed, she happy with the night together but still kicking him out for not paying the rent, immediately making even some of James Bond's innuendo childish in comparison from the era. Schneider's prescience is a surprise, a huge actress of European cinema abruptly appearing in this British film, more so as by this point she was already cementing a legendary reputation. This was not the last time she was in a British financed film, Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch (1980) with Harvey Keitel set in Scotland, but certainly given the role that, frankly, has a lot more nuisance than most Bond Girls, (all?), it was a hell of a casting choice.

Shot in London and out in the countryside, played to humour when the coach driving assassin has Otley as a prisoner but still has him do farm labour to pass the time, the film's verisimilitude does stand out and not just for nostalgia, also adding a lot of character to create some excellent scenes. A lot of this is taking advantage of the locations for humour and effect. A chase on the intercity canal is made between as it involves actual canal boats. The Notting Hill Gate subway becomes a place of a trade where a suitcase may be a trap with sickly humoured results, all with additional historical interest in how the posters of the era look. The countryside, isolated, offers a surrealism of an assassin who'll still offer his prisoner a cup of tea and force them to clear out pig muck in their stay there. And then there's the central scene where Otley tries to take a driving test only for it to abruptly turn into a car chase, which is magnificence and shouldn't be spoiled.

Its amazing Otley is an obscurity, but in general the sixties and seventies could be seen as a lost era for British cinema; for every great film, the likes of the British Film Institute's "Flipside" project took years to uncover a lot of forgotten and underrated gems, not even getting around to this one. This was a Columbia Pictures release, which made it a pretty big production for the era, which was probably not a help in the damndest. Among all the spy parodies, or straight up spy films, Otley could've have easily been lost in the crowd. A shame hopefully to rectify as this was an excellent discovery, a film I knew of for years and could thankfully see.

=====
1) I mean, good God, for all the stick we could level at the Americans, they didn't have a primetime minstrel show, about white performers doing numbers in actual blackface, called The Black and White Minstrel Show that lasted between 1958 to 1978. One which had fucking merchandising and novelty records at that.


From https://i2.wp.com/cinemaderien.fr/wp-content/uploads/
2018/05/Otley1969.jpg?resize=850%2C468&ssl=1

Friday, 6 September 2019

[Archive]: Deatherman (2012)

From https://i0.wp.com/terriblemoviesforterriblepeople.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/deatherman_thumb25255B325255D.jpg?resize=396%2C396


Director: Bobby Keller
Screenplay: Bobby Keller
Cast: Dominique Capone as Holley Cooper; Gena Comandy as Tessa Carpenter; Mike Gavern as Dan Anders; Jenni Grasso as Buffy Winters; John Kasper as Dalton Law; Bobby Keller         as Coyote; Jim Keller as Mumbo Chef; Allison LaRussa as Leech

[Preferably, I would like my reviews to be published within some reasonably time soon after viewing each film/media I cover. Unfortunately, in the case of this review, I had written out a version on paper but never typed the document up for publishing, which is entirely against my usual method for creating content for the blog. Desiring to begin including old material on said blog as "Archive" material, and not wanting to waste a review from early 2019, I publish this review now. Due to the nature of what happened, with only those notes available, I apologise for the lack of my usual practice of improving and adding to the material in the midst of creating a typed digital copy. Barring correcting any potential grammar and spelling mistakes, alongside [bracketed text] clears up confusion content, this is entirely the notes typed up so the time spent writing them, and viewing this extremely obscure no-budget film, wasn't wasted.]

It pains me to say this, considering there were moments that amused me, but sometimes your resources can be too small to fully create an interesting work. Deatherman, a throwback to eighties and nineties shot-on-video cinema likewise shot-on-video, and under sixty minutes, does feel flimsy even in knowledge that you can have very little to work with. Improvising is a virtue, but a bar scene that feels like three actors in a room, unless you can add an enthusiastic energy in spite of this, is going to lack mood and drag at any cost of production.

Ostensibly, one weatherman learns that a new female colleague is joining [their station]. A sexist, both dismissing her ability to became a weather reporter and hitting on her, his comeuppance is soon imminent. She and two female friends, who all knew each other in psychotherapy, dispose of the body, only for acid rain to resurrect him, jokes on the loose logic [of this actually being able to work only taking place when its already become] a revenge tale. It's silly, just for the title pun and could've easily been ridiculous. Honestly, the real joy is to be found not in the story, a horror comedy whose lack of structure and unused resources strips the energy out, but in the humour provided by enthusiastic non actors. [The premise is average], as you are following a completely unlikable character, the Deatherman, who cannot be stopped and (barring some gore) throttles most his victims, [the film] only a few times [springing to some life] like with an umbrella [related murder and little else].

Instead it's Marvin, a one scene one joke character for a fake news channel commercial, screeching about his magic shop over a fake news screen and telling his grandmother to go fuck herself [who is of reward], or one of the female lead's friends once wanting to marry a box of cereal. Arguably Deatherman, a film really only an acquired taste[,] grows into something legitimately fun because, contrary to the plot, there's a tiny cast of characters doing incredibly silly things or having some comic timing. Such as the restaurant chef, a guy not even in a chef's costume and a chef's hat, muttering like a madman, bashing vegetables to death with a knife, and repeating words like "Caesar Salad) over and over again. If anything, it's a great case study of how cinema is not about narratives but the importance of the likes of mood and character, great narratives birthed through these too.

By itself, Deatherman wouldn't suffice even for fans of SOV cinema, long patches that are sluggish or compare badly to more ambitious and weird shot-on-video films this was a tribute too. These one joke characters, not to forget a drug dealer who's a fan of the weatherman who even rings him, have a spark of fun which is an absolute blessing; legitimately so, as there's a glee in this silliness [in vast contrast to the problems with the film's structure].


From https://assets.mubi.com/images/film/
183909/image-w1280.jpg?1507919744

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Scary Movie (1991)

From https://www.filmfracture.com/wp-content/uploads/
2019/01/scarymovie_1-1050x550.jpg


Director: Daniel Erickson

Screenplay: Daniel Erickson, David Lane Smith and Mark Voges
Cast: John Hawkes as Warren; Suzanne Aldrich as Barbara; Ev Lunning as Sheriff Pat Briggs; Mark Voges as Jerry; Zane Rockenbaugh as Billy; Jason Russel Waller as Brad; Virginia Pratt as Shelley; Ernie Taliaferro as the Laughing Man; Zeke Mills as Basil; Butch Patrick as Eddie; Lee Gettys as John Louis Barker; Lorne Loganbill as Otto
Obscurities, One-Offs and Oddities

First of all, if you were expecting a review of the parody horror film by the Wayan Brothers, or the sequels, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Can I make it up with a once impossible to see horror film from Texas, not properly released until 2019, instead? Arguably the biggest factor to bear in mind, beyond the fact our fresh face lead is actually a thirty here and would become Oscar nominated John Hawkes, is that director Daniel Erickson was only nineteen when he made Scary Movie. That's pretty incredible especially as, in the midst of all the horror films churned out at this point in history, it's with its flaws still a hell of a lot more accomplished than many.

Halloween night - Warren (Hawkes) comes to a haunted house attraction less than in a great state of mind, nervous already having had a vivid nightmare the night before of a Grim Reaper like figure which is also found at this gruesome local haunted house. There's a potential romance - with a near sighted girl with raven black hair, bold eyeliner, in a white virgin maiden costume and with a collectomaniac habit - but he's still jittery. It doesn't help either a known killer has escaped from the nearby mental asylum that same night.

Don't expect a slasher film however, which was a big surprise and honestly a lot more interesting for myself. It's a make-or-break detail of the film for many, but I'm personally not a fan of slasher films as a concept; I enjoy them, but when they, like most, turn into stalk and chase scenes I turn off, when in reality even the emptiest of characterisation is more appealing. I personally found the result we get with Scary Movie a breath of fresh air instead, getting what is a very late regional horror production more interested in mood. Incredibly late, into the nineties, but very much of the type as this production also feels like a time capsule to community haunted houses which stands out; Halloween is an important holiday in British, but especially for the Americans, the traditional having greater weight even in terms of this type of yearly spectacle, where even the Evangelical Christians built their own "Hell Houses" to scare people to Jesus. This one in the film feels a lot closer to reality, to the point of potential verisimilitude, in how it's an immense creation but clearly the product of locals in a small town with enough elbow grease and cooperation between them, right down to the ghouls inside committing horrors being buddies likely to be drinking in the bar the day after.

From https://www.filmfracture.com/wp-content
/uploads/2019/01/scarymovie_4.jpg

It's an interesting mood to latch onto, and it's strange in slight doses in the best of ways. Even without Roky Erickson and the Butthole Surfers on the soundtrack, large portions of Scary Movie are incredibly eccentric. The collectomaniac to the reoccurring large man, the same one wearing a red top, who is always there to laugh at the appropriate moment, the film's openly peculiar. It also means the film wrong foots the viewer deliberately - the aforementioned ghouls from the last paragraph get a clever take on expectations I won't spoil. In general the local flavour right in terms of side characters onscreen add an incredible charm and personality to the material.

A lot of the film is also at a great advantage of both the director and production creating a very atmospheric film, one also aiding by John Hawkes in the lead. The film is built more on tension, as rather than a lot of deaths or jumps, Scary Movie taking its time housed in Warren's mind and his fears by the moment he is literally shoved into the haunted house. In dark, claustrophobic corridors and rooms, the homemade world of the set is idiosyncratic, and thankfully, Hawkes plays the neurotic main character exceptionally well, even with the fact he's clearly been based on Bruce Campbell's character Ash in the Evil Dead series in look. It follows a similar logic if not as cruel as what happens to Ash, but including climbing over pumpkins, the same tension is to be found with a killer in the same environment.

[Major Spoiler Warning]

Expect that isn't the case, and for any criticism that Scary Movie is a slow eighty minutes, Daniel Erickson especially as a nineteen year old filmmaker managed to pull out a morbid plot twist, where Warren has had a psychotic breakdown and maimed, even killed, patrons thinking they were a killer. It's a horror pulp story conclusion to be proud of, befitting as Scary Movie has tricked the viewer into thinking a figure has been killing haunted house staff only to continually undermine it continually throughout the film beforehand. And it makes sense considering how Hawkes' performance is great, built upon an anxiety built up from the start.

[Major Spoilers End]

Laced with an incredible cynical and black sense of humour at the end, Scary Movie does so much to admire, sad in knowledge that it took so much longer for the film to be properly seen. The film only had a semblance of release originally by a few VHS distributed locally in Erickson's home in Austin, Texas. This was the reason the film was unavailable, but also why versions were available as its composer Hank Hehmsoth, who only worked on this film but should be praised for his startling electronic score, put the film up online. As of 2019, the American Genre Film Archive released the film for cinema screenings with plans to be released properly in general, a wonderful conclusion for the film as it's worthy of an actual release finally. Erickson himself never made a lot of work sadly, though intriguingly he did return, with John Hawkes also returning to voice a character, with the utterly compelling premise of Eve's Necklace (2010), a neo-noir entirely acted out with mannequins.

Yes, mannequins...which has to be an inspired creative idea worth investigating for myself...


From https://www.americangenrefilm.com/wp-content
/uploads/2019/06/ScaryMovie3.jpg

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Too Old to Die Young (2019)

From https://static.stereogum.com/uploads/2019/05/
TOTDYCover-1557511203-640x640.jpg


Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay: Nicolas Winding Refn and Ed Brubaker
Cast: Miles Teller as Martin Jones; Augusto Aguilera as Jesus Rojas; Cristina Rodlo as Yaritza; Nell Tiger Free as Janey Carter; John Hawkes as Viggo Larsen; Jena Malone as Diana DeYoung; William Baldwin as Theo Carter

Realising it in the midst of this review, Nicholas Winding Refn is becoming our new Quentin Tarantino. He doesn't have the reach of the latter, who can still somehow get violent and unconventional films playing in a British multiplex in the middle of the afternoon, but since Drive (2011) and its unexpected breakout success, he's the man whose name is used to promote other work and has spent his own money to restore exploitation films he feels are worth preserving. The later through byNWR, whilst not always great in the choices, is enough to point to in terms of him being a great guy1, but his actual films are divisive. This is an issue in the sense I have nothing but good will for the man, but in this particularly case that'll leave a sadness as what half way through was a great production eventually ends with a bitter taste to the mouth. On paper, following on from giving Sion Sono the mini-series Tokyo Vampire Hotel (2017) to relocate his sense of fun again, Amazon Prime funding this minimalist Refn production created with comic book writer Ed Brubaker was enticing. Whatever your thoughts on Amazon, or just its corporate head, it was at least a huge risk to fund this auteur after the divisiveness of The Neon Demon (2016), but for most of its length, Too Old to Die Young felt like a new, weirder and rewarding turn in Refn's career. Sadly things do take a turn, but let's start at the beginning first before we get ahead of ourselves.

The project was unexpected, deliberately playing to its unconventional history, when Amazon threw wads of cash to Refn, with two middle episodes being premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, a creation that develops a Jekyll and Hyde personality as, when the mini-series is good, Refn has developed a new style of weird, confrontation avant-garde genre cinema waiting to blossom. At its worst, whilst I will still wait with interest for his next work, I cannot hold Refn as a great director for all his indulgence in violence laced in a deadly amount of pretension, perversely emphasised now Tarantino (for his controversial creative choices) has amazing matured and chewed on polarising ideas with deliberate complexity.

Too Old to Die Young is over ten episodes, and is paced as the most extreme of slow cinema where a simple dialogue scene can last over five or more minutes. Its surprisingly comparable to Filipino director Lav Diaz, for who eight hour plus films are a regularity, but whilst Diaz obscures important stories in way too much padding for me for the most part, Refn's deliberately taking a premise of a two hour film and stretching it to an extreme, but still had to make it with a pace appropriate for Amazon Prime where events do transpire of note. This conflict is a fascinating and rewarding result, as was the case for Sion Sono who had to start bringing back his older eccentricity and stretch a long form story out, and here Refn with Brubaker for the first half of Too Old... does create a compelling work.

Two main sides co-exist at first, conflicting each other in the first chunk of the first episode. A cop Martin (Miles Teller), who is involved with shady dealings, will be there when his cop partner is murdered point blank by Jesus (Augusto Aguilera), the son of a cartel boss taking revenge for the murder of his mother Magdalena, who he has is revealed to have an incestuous obsession with. For Jesus, he will flee to Mexico to his father, who is on death's door in illness. Martin will be promoted to a police detective, all whilst his romantic relationship with Janey Carter (Nell Tiger Free), as well as being problematic in that she is only seventeen and underage, will bring him into her life with her eccentric father Theo Carter (William Baldwin). Eventually this series will split from these two men to two women. Diana DeYoung (Jena Malone), a victim's advocate who secretly has hired Viggo Larsen (John Hawkes), a former FBI agent dying of a terminal illness, to kill rapists and child molesters, and Yaritza (Cristina Rodlo), who is the carer for Jesus' father but is secretly the High Priestess of Death, an urban myth who is killing men who harm women, especially those forced into sex work.

My eventual disappointment with the streaming series is tragic as at the start, Too Old to Die Young is very good. The insanely glacial tone mixes with Refn's obsession with neon is a match made in heaven, cinematographers Darius Khondji and Diego García earning their keep with the bold visual style, and Refn's usual composer Cliff Martinez hits it out the park again with his score. Probably the most interesting detail, working with Ed Brubaker, is that over a longer format, you still have to create enough to fill the detail, and this is where the show finds its best virtues.

Episode 2, in a bizarre paradox against its cold nihilism, even has a warm humanity, regardless if it's discoloured in black humour. For me it's the best episode as, when Jesus returns to his family in Mexico, his ailing cartel father despite being evil is made sympathetic as a tyrant reduced to a dying man, obsessed with football, and repeating a memory of seeing Pele over and over again, to the point he uses it as a peace maker between his group and the corrupt police force in their payroll to deal with tensions. In this, Refn had the potential to make even the worst in humanity perversely human in just giving them this detail. It could seem problematic, in Episode 5 when Martin has to track down and kill two brothers who make "rape porn", to have people who create the material argue over what to put on the radio in the middle of a long duration car chase, but it feels tonally appropriate and hits another highlight of the series when Barry Manilow's Mandy gets used in a montage immediately afterwards.

Points of absurd humour and even full blown weirdness are also a godsend. Be it that that car chase is not helped by an electric car used for one of the participants' runs out of energy in the middle of the desert, or how a confused police station reception asks Martin if someone really shot some ducks in a person's pond. Even something as absolute out of place like Diana DeYoung, in the final episode when we are meant to have a climax, having a scene using virtual reality porn with a head visor, even when the series sadly falls into its biggest problems, has a weight of something utterly unconventional and stands out more as its had no connection to anything that took place beforehand. Hell, William Baldwin's character of Theo Carter feels like he's wandered from a David Lynch film, a creep who's uncomfortably close to his daughter in how he finds her beautiful and, upon first meeting Martin, communicates to him waving around one of her plush tigers and growling at him. Refn has had this weirdness before, and it's one of his best virtues, be it The Neon Demon just beforehand, but it's rarely been funny with the exception of Bronson (2008) in the past.

From http://horrorfuel.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/too-old.jpg

Even the nihilism at first is spiked with a humane side perversely skipping throughout. America's going to hell in a hand basket, as the problematic vigilante attitude of Viggo Larsen is counteracted by the fact of his despair both over his declining health and that he's also looking after a mother who is suffering from dementia. The only thing on the radio is a conspiracy disc jockey, and either that's contacted by a puppet making an appearance in the finale scene, and everyone's idiosyncratic, from the Jamaican contractors of hits to random samurai groups in the city. Even Martin is a curious one just for how much Miles Teller spits all the damn time and barely says a thing, not exactly Ryan Gosling in the slightest in style. The less said the better about his fellow police detectives the better, the strangest of them all - homoerotic yet joking about it in mock machismo, proudly singing about fascism in group sing longs, creating a mock version of Christ's crucifixion in the office from Martin's leaving party, definitely the weirdest moment of the entire series, and generally acting in a way that one criminal is horrified to even consider they are actually law enforcement at all.

The problems with Too Old to Die Young begin when the first major character is killed off. Callously, just written off, and whilst I tried keeping my enthusiasm up, I really got tired of the nihilism. Having passed my thirtieth birthday, I realise I cannot stand this. The truth is also that, an issue returning back to the likes of Only God Forgives (2013), the mini-series just comes off as juvenile and contrived after a while. The show literally peters off with the two main female leads as heroic vigilantes, a rewarding change of plotting undercut by how nasty and grim the violence also is.
And frankly, the vigilante content, with the pretension, is problematic in an eyeball rolling way, as Malone has a monologue directly to the camera about how in the future the world will turn to death and concentration camps again but she will protect the innocent. Throughout there are references clearly to the political era after Donald Trump became president, Nazi flags appearing more than once, but the idea of killing the evil doers yourself is like Dirty Harry (1971) without any of the ambiguity or whit. Its inherently a cheap sentimentality, a perverse one, to make the villains killed rapists and paedophiles, as no one morally would defend them, but it's still a cheap ad hoc creative choice that's dumb.

Least when you had Episode Five, starting with a disturbing opening of a young man being dragged into a "performance", it was still a show about moral darkness punctured with corpse black humour and how these figures had quirks. Instead, this evokes Drive, his most well known and probably best regarded film which I always found incredibly shallow and too obsessed with nastiness since it first came out. And this sucks as this turned into an accidental bait and switch. The bait was a subversion of Refn's usual material where clichés - the criminals, corrupt cops, murderers and scum - developed more complexity just through the obtuse pacing and eccentricity of the oddest sort.

However Refn falls back on this dull cool misanthropy masquerading in "profound" final episode dialogue and it sucks - even as I hold a few of his films in my personal canon, this is a time I cannot hold Refn on a high level as he's going to keep doing this and annoy me. Even if I still praise byNWR and still take interest in him, this issue is going to now linger in the back of my mind. It was like when I started becoming disengaged with Quentin Tarantino around 2007 to circle back to the beginning. Tarantino is still divisive, still has the problematic violence, but even if I have thoughts about a film like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), he's nonetheless grown up and still engaging. The controversial aspects of his cinema are laced in questions whether he wrote material that was deliberately divisive to get uncomfortable reactions from the type of cinema he creates.

Refn is capable of this, but that I have never seen him really be someone where those questions can be asked about his ideas. This is why controversially I consider his best film was Fear X (2003), the John Turturro production which killed off his first attempt to enter American cinema. Now that he has licked his wounds, and even directed a Miss Marple TV movie, he's been able to make idiosyncratic work but there's a danger not in him becoming more divisive, but that the violence and nihilism is just tedious, something to bear in mind as Fear X had none of it and was a dark, Lynchian puzzle of great interest. (The other film behind it was Valhalla Rising (2009), which was violent, but was also a period Viking freak-out where it made sense to have it and wasn't the main subject matter).
Aspects as a result are lost which could've been taken further. An interesting penultimate episode scene of the cartel discussing their heritage in terms of their work, hating on white taco vans invading their turf and Jesus making an apocalyptic view on the subject, shows what could've been, as is the sub current of actual supernatural content as Diana DeYoung is psychic and even, after one particularly strong one, has to get an exorcism so she can get her eyes back to their normal state. The fact each episode references Tarot cards in their titles, which immediately intrigues me, but never feels like they have any weight to the material just enforces a danger of pointlessness. He even ends the show on an old Judas Priest cut which proves Nicolas Winding Refn has the talent and the style; he just unfortunately falls back on ultimately boring themes.

Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Minimalism
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

From https://nypdecider.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/too-old-to-die-young-miles-teller-
ep-1.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=646&h=431&crop=1

======
1) Oh, and relocating a presumably lost Andy Milligan film Nightbirds (1970) that was deemed culturally important as a British production for the British Film Institute to come knocking at his door, or he to theirs, so he's done enough there to earn a pat on the back.