Monday, 30 January 2017

Five Great Horror/Comedy Films

Horror and comedy have always struck me as being an odd mix. The reaction that each clearly wants to elicit from the audience is, after all, directly opposed in a very fundamental way. Horror wants to scare the audience, obviously. And, just as obviously, the aim of comedy is to make the audience laugh.

And, that's where the problem can be found. If you're scared, then you're not laughing. And, if you're laughing, then you're not scared. It's probably for this reason that most films which try to blend 'horror' and 'comedy' ultimately end up feeling more like comedy films which just happen to be set in a context, or situation, typically more strongly associated with 'horror'.

That's not to say that these sorts of films aren't entertaining, though - because, many of them are. Take the classic example of the Evil Dead franchise, for example. Army of Darkness is, in my own opinion, easily the best of the original films - and, it's basically slap-stick comedy with only a touch of horror. The original film, on the other hand, never really interested me.

I've always enjoyed the odd blending of 'horror' and 'comedy', and I've always loved the strange brand of macabre black humour that so often results. I might even be willing to go as far as claiming that I prefer it to straight-forward horror which, more often than not, usually doesn't do anything for me.

Below, I've gathered together a list of five of my own personal favourites. Of course, with so many great examples of horror/comedy films out there, it might be fair to ask what makes these five, in particular, more worthy of mention. Well, the simple answer to that is that there is no reason - these are just the five I decided on for this list.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Review - 'Arrow', S05E10 - 'Who Are You?'





The surprise reappearance of Laurel Lance, at the end of the previous episode, had been a pretty great way to bring the series to its mid-season break. Not only was it just an entertaining cliff-hanger – but, with a handful of plausible explanations for how she could suddenly come back, it had also been the source of some entertaining speculation, for me.

My own idea, that Laurel's reappearance (along with Leonard Snart's, on Legends of Tomorrow) could be somehow be connected to Savitar as part of another surprise cross-over, ultimately proved to be entirely wrong, of course – but, honestly, I'm not even a little disappointed. After all, as the fifth season's tenth episode quickly revealed, it was still all based on a connection to broader continuity – just not in the that I had initially thought it would be.

Picking up only moments after the previous episode came to an end, the episode wastes no time in addressing this central mystery. The most amusing thing about the incredibly outlandish tale that Laurel wove for Oliver was that, given what we understand about the increasingly strange world that these characters live in, it actually came across as almost plausible. The idea that Laurel's sister would be willing and able to use the Waverider to alter the past, and bring her sister back, sounds as though it would be in character – apart from the fact that any viewer who also watched Legends of Tomorrow would know that Sara had already come to the conclusion that she can't attempt to change the past, for her own benefit.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E09 - 'Raiders of the Lost Art'





From its very first episode, one of the things I have most enjoyed about Legends of Tomorrow has been its willingness to fully embrace the absurdity of its own premise. With its wildly varied cast of characters tossed into increasingly outlandish situations, Legends of Tomorrow has always been the series that made the most of its 'comic-book' origins (even managing to beat out The Flash). In its time on-screen, we have already had stories featuring Nazis, 1920s era gangsters, Confederate zombies, and a trip to feudal Japan.

With the second season's ninth episode, though, Legends of Tomorrow may actually have managed to outdo even the most bizarre story-lines of the past season and a half – and, it did so by heading back to 1967, for a story featuring a young George Lucas. Of course, this isn't the first time that Legends of Tomorrow has featured a 'real-life personality' – but, it is definitely the first time we have had one who is still very much alive.

While memories of the Star Wars prequel trilogy (and, his near constant tinkering with the original trilogy) may have coloured people's impressions, the fact remains that George Lucas is a very influential figure in the entertainment industry. Because of that, there is a definite appeal in the idea of bringing him into this outlandish time travel tale in a way that is clearly intended to pay homage to that. The idea that Ray Palmer and Nate Heywood were both so inspired by George Lucas's films (Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, respectively) that their lives would be fundamentally altered if those films were never made is something that manages to walk a very fine line between being incredibly cheesy and actually genuinely clever.

Review - 'The Flash', S03E10 - 'Borrowing Problems from the Future'





From the very beginning, Barry Allen has been a character very concerned with the past. The night when Barry's mother was murdered has been the main driving force behind many of Barry's decisions, over the past few seasons – and, it has been the catalyst for a fair amount of drama. It was also, most notably, what finally drove Barry to alter the events of the past, resulting in the creation of the 'Flashpoint' time-line and the still fundamentally different time-line that Barry now inhabits.

Of course, with Barry finally coming to terms with the fact that attempting to alter the past is too dangerous, and too unpredictable, it seems that writer's felt the need to come up with some new source of drama to act as a replacement. How else can you explain Barry's sudden trip to the future, in the previous episode, and his glimpse of Iris West's seemingly inevitable death at the hands of Savitar.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E09 - 'Supergirl Lives'





While the second season of Supergirl has felt like a fairly significant improvement over the first, in a variety of ways, there have still been some elements that proved to be somewhat disappointing. For one thing, despite the potential that it had seemed to have, Cadmus ultimately proved to be very underwhelming as the antagonists for the season's first arc. Along similar lines, it has a source of some frustration, for me, to see this series continue with the tradition of featuring so many underdeveloped, and essentially disposable, 'one-off' villains. Also, it soon became painfully obvious that the writers still don't have any idea of how best to use James Olsen – with his sudden transition into the costumed vigilante, Guardian, feeling less like a logical progression, and more like the writers' last ditch efforts to salvage a mishandled character.

Of course, even with its weaker elements, Supergirl has still managed to become a series which, more often than not, manages to be genuinely entertaining – thanks, in large part, to a cast of genuinely likable characters, and the quality of the performances given by those cast to portray them. This is especially fortunate when you consider the fact that the season's ninth episode, returning after its mid-season break, does unfortunately seem to quickly fall into the same routine.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Book Review - 'The Long War', by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter





The Long War picks up roughly 10 years after the previous novel, The Long Earth, left off. After his voyage into the distant reaches of the Long Earth, that series of seemingly infinite parallel worlds whose discovery set the series into motion, Joshua Valiente has settled down, married and had a child, and become the mayor of a small community on a parallel world. His days as the 'Davy Crockett' of the Long Earth are behind him, and he seems content to keep it that way.. But, he is still famous in some circles - both for the help and guidance he once offered in the early days of Long Earth colonisation, and for his long distance expedition with the sentient A.I, Lobsang.

The world has essentially moved on without him, though. As the world, as a whole, slowly adapts to this new discovery, the need for 'trail-blazers' like Joshua Valiente has slowly lessened. Dirigibles capable of making the jump between worlds, much like the one that Joshua and Lobsang used in their previous expedition, have become common-place - allowing resources to be easily transported and turning the once arduous task of travelling between worlds into a relaxing cruise. Also, the development of anti-nausea medications has effectively removed to only real downside to 'stepping'. With these new developments, the human race is able to spread outward faster and further than it ever has before.

Book Review - 'The Long Earth', by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter





It all begins when the blue-prints to a mysterious device are put up online. It is a device that can be constructed from easily obtainable parts - and, seems to be powered by a single potato, of all things. It has all the makings of an elaborate joke, of some sort - but, it is still intriguing enough to attract attention.

Within hours of these plans being put up online, curious kids all over the world had constructed their own copies of this device, called a Stepper, in order to see what would happen. The results of their efforts later came to be referred to as Step Day - as children all over the world suddenly found themselves stranded in parallel worlds on each side of our own. There was panic, of course - but, this panic eventually died down. In the years that followed Step Day, though, the existence of these alternate worlds has become common knowledge. People quickly came to see the potential of this new discovery - which came to be called the Long Earth. The population of our own Earth, now referred to as the Datum, suddenly finds itself at the centre of a long line of parallel worlds stretching off in either direction, and open to exploration. And, as it seems that the Datum may be the only version of Earth to have evolved intelligent life, also free to be claimed.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Five Great 'Star Wars' Fan Films

The whole point of a 'fan film' is that it's made simply for the simple love it, with whatever resources you happen to have available and with no intent of actually making any money from your efforts. It takes a level of passion and commitment that, I have to admit, I don't fully understand.

That non-commercial aspect of the whole process is especially important, too - since, along with the difficulties of actually making a fan film, there is also the small matter of its actual legality.

Some fan-made projects are met with acceptance, or even approval, from the owners of the particular intellectual property on which the film is based. But, in other cases, copyright holders have actively worked to put a stop to fan productions - sending out the dreaded 'cease and desist' letter, in an effort to ensure that the film remains unseen. The fans are, essentially, at the mercy of the copyright holder, here. They could support a project, allow it to proceed unhindered, or work to put a stop to it - all at their own whim. So, not only does the making of a fan film require passion and commitment, but it also comes with the element of risk that the result of your efforts will never actually be seen.

Of all franchises that have ever been able to inspire fans to develop their own projects, there is probably none that has received quite as much attention as Star Wars. While the passion of the fans is undeniably an important factor, it would be only fair to also give some credit to Lucasfilm, itself, which has traditionally been very open and supportive of its fans - even going as far as giving out its own awards for the best fan films.

Listed below, I have gathered together five Star Wars fan films that I consider to be particularly worth watching.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Five Great Short Fan Films Available Online

The whole point of a 'fan film' is that it's made simply for the simple love it, with whatever resources you happen to have available and with no intent of actually making any money from your efforts. It takes a level of passion and commitment that, I have to admit, I don't fully understand.

That non-commercial aspect of the whole process is especially important, too - since, along with the difficulties of actually making a fan film, there is also the small matter of its actual legality.

Some fan-made projects are met with acceptance, or even approval, from the owners of the particular intellectual property on which the film is based. But, in other cases, copyright holders have actively worked to put a stop to fan productions - sending out the dreaded 'cease and desist' letter, in an effort to ensure that the film remains unseen. The fans are, essentially, at the mercy of the copyright holder, here. They could support a project, allow it to proceed unhindered, or work to put a stop to it - all at their own whim. So, not only does the making of a fan film require passion and commitment, but it also comes with the element of risk that the result of your efforts will never actually be seen.

That aside, though, I do have to admit that quite a few of the fan-made short films that have been successfully released to the public over the years have been very impressive.

Like the five listed below, for example.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Five Great Short Horror Films Available Online

Why do so many of us like to be scared? The long and proud history of the 'horror' genre seems to suggest that we clearly do - though, an adequate answer regarding exactly why this is the case seems like a tricky prospect (if that particular topic interests you, though, click here).

In many ways, horror actually feels like one of the simpler genres an aspiring film-maker could delve into. The expectations are well established, after all - and, it sometimes seems like the standards aren't very high.

Truly great horror is something different, though. Gore and jump scares can be fun, in a morbid and macabre sort of way - but, they aren't necessarily the components of effective horror. Quite often, in fact, they almost seem to be a crutch used to prop up a mediocre effort. The best horror places the emphasis on establishing, and maintaining, an atmosphere of quiet dread - something that can keep the viewer on edge, even when nothing particularly important is actually happening.

The five short films below are each good examples of the more subtle and restrained brand of horror that I tend to prefer. None of them are graphically violent, if that's a concern for you - but, they all clearly strive to be as creepy and unsettling as they possibly can be. And, in my opinion at least, they all succeed.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Film Review - 'Rabies'





Going in knowing that Rabies was, apparently, the very first feature-length horror/thriller film to be made in Israel, it would be fair to say that I was definitely curious. Sure, the film could have, very easily, turned out to be an amateurish effort, that I would have been better off avoiding - but, there was also the potential that it could offer an interesting new take on a somewhat worn out, and often cliche-ridden, genre. At the very least, the fact that the film is set in Israel should be enough to give it a suitably different tone.

It all starts off in fairly familiar territory, though. As the film opens, we are introduced to an attractive young woman who seems to have fallen into complicated pit trap, set up for unknown (though, undoubtedly sinister) reasons. Her brother, similarly young and attractive (in the grand tradition of this sort of film) finds her, but is unable to free her - and so, reluctantly, he sets off in search of help.

He soon meets with a group of (similarly young and attractive) friends who have managed to get themselves lost, on their way to a nearby country club. They country to help, however reluctantly - and, the young men set off into the woods, while the young women stay with the car to try to get in contact with the police.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Film Review - 'Cargo'





First released in 2009, Cargo actually has the distinct honour of bring Switzerland's very first science-fiction film. It was also the first film from Swiss director, Ivan Engler. So, that's two firsts - when either one, on its own, may have been enough to cause some degree of trepidation for the audience.

The first thing that we learn about this fiction universe is that Earth is dying. We are never really giving the specifics on what has rendered the planet largely uninhabitable, but what do know is that the human race is currently leaving in droves - seeking out new homes, elsewhere. The problem, though, is that there is simply nowhere for most of those who leave Earth to go - leaving many stranded in an increasingly over-crowded space station, in orbit around a slowly dying planet.

This is not the fate for everyone, though. For those who can actually afford it, there is also the option of making the journey to a distant planet called Rhea - a world which, according to the advertising, is practically a paradise, perfectly suitable for the wealthy elite. Anyone who is able to make the journey to Rhea, it is claimed, will be able to live out the rest of their lives in a carefully crafted utopia - but, of course, the journey takes money. So, while some get the make the journey, it seems as though the majority are stuck in an uncomfortable mid-point.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Film Review - 'Primer'





Primer may be one of the most frustrating films I have ever willingly sat through - yet, at the same time, it is a film which manages to provide one of the most convincing portrayals of time travel that I have ever seen. I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a tough time following the film's plot the first time through, though.

Primer is a film which concerns itself with fully exploring the complexities of time travel - a concept which, as any fan of science fiction would already know, can serve as the basis for a great deal of confusion. Even the simplest stories, after all, will eventually find themselves having to take on classic science fiction concept of the 'time travel paradox' - with the various ways in which this particular issue can be approached, and resolved, ranging light and almost flippant (Marty McFly's photo with the slowly disappearing family members, for example) to the very serious. Primer is a film which leans heavily toward the more serious side of the scale - as it seems to revel in exploring the complex and tangled mess created by its protagonists, while challenging the audience to make sense of everything that takes place.