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Podmentum: Scary Books, Game of Thrones and Romance Edition

Posted April 24, 2014 by Mark

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This week we talk about the books that have scared us and what makes them scary. We also discuss the return of Game of Thrones, the under-representation of romance at writers’ festivals and discuss the books we’ve been reading this week.

What we’re reading

Craig

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

Joel

SCP Foundation website

Patrick

Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse

Mark

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

 

 

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2013 Aurealis Awards

Posted April 7, 2014 by Gillian Polack

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The Aurealis Awards are fun. All kinds of authors and editors and publishers (and maybe the occasional critic) dress up finely and hand out and receive awards. Judges read for months and months, hundreds and hundreds of works. And it all comes together in an evening of glitz, this year on 5 April in Canberra.

It ought to be dull, but it never is. This year was particularly not-dull. The MCs were Simon Brown (Momentum author! also one of the nicest people in the writing world) and Dr Sean Williams (writer, humourist and fine human being). Together they crafted a narrative that led us all through the evening, one where all the presenters had different timelines into the far future and distant past. One particular presenter tagged dinosaurs with barcodes. And this is where I admit, right up front, that I had the honour of presenting the Children’s Book Award. And to barcode dinosaurs. I nearly did it while only wearing one shoe. (Best not to ask about the shoe.)

Momentum didn’t hijack the evening, but we really should have, retrospectively. It would have been a lot of fun. (Joel – why didn’t you organise us?). Amanda Bridgeman was there, and so was Simon and so was I. The real Momentum stars of this year couldn’t make it, but were cheered loudly in their absence: Greig Beck and Graham Storrs were shortlisted for their 2013 books. Given the extraordinarily high quality of this year’s short lists, it’s a high achievement. Every single book and story in every single shortlist is worth a look, or two, or three.

Rochelle Hernandez from Harper Voyager with Momentum author and co-host of the awards, Simon Brown

Rochelle Hernandez from Harper Voyager with Momentum author and co-host of the awards, Simon Brown

And now, since it’s late at night and a whole bunch of my writing friends are busy getting drunk while I’m writing this (never go to a big event in your home town – you go home and work while they explore the breadth of a bar’s whiskey collection) I shall give you some notes that I scribbled in between demented bouts of frenzied clapping. They’re random notes, I’m afraid. This randomness has nothing to do with the number of times I dropped my pen. Or the fact that it’s 2 am.

Note 1: The best science fiction short story was won by a major horror writer (Kaaron Warren).

Note 2: I loved it when the publisher of the children’s book winner was so excited that she told me five times “Kirsty will be so excited!”

Note 3: When a spider swings across in front of a projector at an awards ceremony,  Simon Brown is your person. He gently rescued the spider from imminent death (or possibly only a minor crashlanding) and saved the ceremony (or possibly only the spider).

Note 4: If horror writer Rob Hood goes on a revenge rampage, it will be because of the codpiece Sean Williams ascribed to him in the introduction. He was the only presenter to open with zombiespeak. Fortunately he translated for the non-zombies in the audience.

Note 5: Rochelle Fernandez was greeted with a ‘Spock salute’ (she works, after all, for HarperVoyager) which I’m afraid may return to haunt her.

Note 6: Jay Kristoff thanked Margo Lanagan for not having any stories in his category this year. Margo wasn’t there to accept his thanks, unfortunately.

A quite different rundown is here: http://bookonaut.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/the-aurealis-awards-2013.html

And you can find a more sensible list of who won what and where, here: http://tsanasreads.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/aurealis-award-winners-announced.html

Both of these summaries miss Sean Williams’ sign-off, though.

In a very distant future, he said, “Somewhere, there’s an Australian making shit up and then going to get shitfaced.”

Not a dignified lot, us speculative fiction writers, even when dressed up to the nines. We do know how to have a good time, though. Also how to do Spock salutes while wearing cocktail dresses.

 

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Gillian Polack is the author of Ms Cellophane, available now for $1.99

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What is the point of reading scary stories?

Posted April 3, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Why write horror stories?

Why write something that is designed to induce fear? Designed to scare? Designed to shock and upset and haunt and terrify?

And why indeed do we read these stories? Why do we watch them?

It is a strange thing for me to find it the genre that I have settled into, that I have found comfort in, both as a reader and a writer. It’s certainly not through education, or carefully guided study. I basically fell into it by accident, having not really thought much of the genre or the writers within it.

Recently, Neil Gaiman spoke at BIL 2014 (a kind of anti-TED talk conference; BIL & TED, geddit?) and he discussed why he tells scary stories to children. Gaiman describes his reason as ‘inoculation’, a way of acclimatising readers to the difficulties and challenges in life.

Gaiman says that his fiction stories are ways of getting ‘to deal a little bit with the things that scare and hurt and damage us.’ He goes on to describe how he signs countless copies of Coraline to now-adult aged readers, and how that has enabled a conversation with his readers about how they have dealt with horrible things in their lives, and that the book became a comfort for them. The story, which deals with a young girl’s misadventures in a parallel world with parallel parents who attempt to sew black buttons over her eyes, is aimed at a younger audience, and is extremely dark, Gaiman clearly labelling it as a horror story for children.

For Gaiman, the horror story offers possibility, and hope, but not in the usual way. It talks to the reader, without talking down to them. It doesn’t try to hide, but instead reveals uncomfortable truths, truths that the reader is afraid to deal with. And the inoculation he speaks of is the fact that the reader knows they can get through it. They can get through the difficulties. If the horrific aspects of life are depicted in a story, then they’re manageable, they’re navigable.

Even if the characters of a horror story succumb to the terrors that lurk, even if the ending is a negative one, the reader still survives. They are the witness to the horror, the friendly ghost that accompanies the characters into the haunted house, and are able to walk back out again.

Terry Pratchett, who wrote the glorious end-of-the-world novel Good Omens with Gaiman, acknowledges this process between the horrified and the horror in his book Hogfather. The book itself is part of his Discworld series, which is primarily a fantasy-themed series, but in this particular story Pratchett deals instead with the fantastical things children believe, and what their terrifying reality is. In Hogfather, there really are monsters under the bed and in the cupboard, the Tooth Fairy travels with pliers, and the bogeyman actually exists, though he is upset as nobody believes in him anymore.

Pratchett has his characters confront the terrifying make-believe, often with improvised tools like fireplace pokers, and contrasts his heroic characters who can make sense of their fears with those who succumb to them and give in to the terror.

In the dedication at the beginning of his enormous horror novel, IT, Stephen King writes to his three children, then aged fourteen, twelve and seven.

‘Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.’

The novel itself deals with a group of children who are confronted by unspeakable horror during one summer. Two decades later they reunite as adults to not only remember what had happened, but also to finally confront and defeat the horror in their lives. It’s a powerful structure, and one that acknowledges how horror works for readers.

As children, we are afraid easily. We scare at the coat on the back of the door, the noise from the floorboards, the cellar with the broken light. As children, so much of the world is unknown, undiscovered, and strange and unusual. We scare because our imagination overruns our knowledge. Our conscious gives way to the unconscious, and terror reigns. We are scared because we don’t know any better.

As we age, so our knowledge grows. Things stop mystifying us, we reason our way out of our fears. We know that the shape is just a coat, the noise is just the house cooling after the warm day, and the cellar is dusty and dank because we haven’t cleaned it this year. We think too much, and imagine too little.

It pains me that horror can be maligned as a genre, or misjudged as ghastly and disturbing preoccupations of writers and readers. For me, a horror story works when it tricks the reader, it fools them into believing something they know cannot be true. A horror story does something I think no other genre can do, by not just utilising your imagination, but letting it loose and allowing you to see the world as more than the sum of its parts.

One of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest short stories, The Curious Case of M.Valdemar, managed to create a scene for readers where a person was both alive and dead at the same time, terrifying and fascinating us all at once, by using words to extend the reality of the known world.

A great horror story is about believing, and in this belief we can confront more than we can in our waking lives.

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 16: A

Posted April 2, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

This week the focus of the show is directed back on Rick in a major way. Rick has spent the last season or so trying to be someone else, and that’s shown to great effect in this episode.

The show begins with flashbacks to the beginning of the season, with Herschel trying to turn Rick into a farmer. They’re safe in the prison, and Herschel knows how crazy Rick’s life had become and is trying to save him from himself. It’s nice to see Herschel again, and his presence is a reminder of what the character brought to the show, and much his loss is still being felt.

These flashbacks then lead to a sequence in which Rick, Michonne and Carl are finally discovered by Joe’s group. It’s late at night, they’re isolated and defenceless and Joe is out for brutal vengeance. Daryl arrives on the scene and begs for Rick’s life, offering himself up as a sacrifice – if blood needs to be spilled, let it be his. By Joe’s twisted rules, Daryl’s defence of Rick is a lie. He gives the order for Daryl to be beaten to death, and then he tells Rick that he’s going to rape Michonne, and then Carl, and then kill them all.

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It’s a very confronting moment that the show pushes right to the edge – Carl is pulled out of a car and pinned on the ground by a member of Joe’s crew – before Rick snaps. He manages to struggle with Joe, and in the fight he bites into Joe’s jugular, tearing out flesh and spitting it away while Joe quickly bleeds out. Michonne takes the opportunity to disarm her captor and shoot the remaining members of Joe’s crew, saving Daryl as she does.

One man is left standing, the man who was attempting to rape Carl. Rick kills him with a knife, stabbing him over and over and over again while Carl watches on.

From this experience, Rick realises he was never meant to be a farmer. He embraces his inner psycho, because it’s his inner psycho that has kept them alive and Carl safe so far. Rick finally accepts that the old rules don’t apply anymore, and that their survival depends on his ability to channel his violent tendencies into action.

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The episode then follows Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Carl as they complete their journey to Terminus. They sneak around the back, rather than coming up the tracks, and surprise some of the residents. Gareth, the spokesperson for the Terminus residents welcomes them, and brings them to Mary, who is to ‘prepare a plate’ for them.

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And then Rick notices that one of the Terminus residents has Glen’s watch, and another is wearing his riot gear. Crazy Rick rises again, and what follows is a tense shoot-out, where Rick and the others are herded through terminus by sniper fire. As they run through they find many disturbing things that lead to the conclusion that the residents of Terminus are cannibals who eat those who arrive.

The episode and the season end with Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Carl being locked into a train carriage to await what comes next. But in there with them are Glen, Maggie, Bob, Sasha, Eugene, Abraham, Rosita and Tara. A grim reunion that sets up a great premise for season 5.

Deaths?

Joe and all his men, some random in a field, that guy Rick held hostage.

Best line? 

Rick: “They’re going to feel pretty stupid when they find out…”

Abraham: “Find out what?”

Rick: “They’re fucking with the wrong people.”

Best moment with a walker?

When Rick and Carl witness a random dude being killed by a walker herd.

What’s going to happen next season?

Obviously they’re going to have to face off against the cannibals. Tyreese and Carol are still on the way to Terminus, so maybe they’ll be helping them escape? Also the whole getting Eugene to Washington storyline will be addressed.

Season 4 reflections

Season 4 was uneven and suffered from massive pacing issues. In season 3, the Governor showed how well the show can function with a villain, and from this point on they really do need one. Battling walkers each week is only interesting for so long, and then it starts becoming mundane. But they didn’t want to introduce a new villain too quickly, so there needed to be some space. So the first half of the season was great – the return to power of the Governor and the slow-build of his plan to take the prison was intertwined with the horror of the disease that was spreading through the prison, and the fact that there seemed to be a murderer in the prison population.

Once that had all been resolved in the fantastic mid-season finale, the pace slowed. The characters were all split up and spent most of their time wandering around in the wilderness facing off against walkers and their own personal demons. Sometimes the episodes were strong, and sometimes they were terrible. But the lack of tension was noticeable and it was clear they were killing time before introducing a new storyline.

Despite that, this season was definitely worth it. The strengths outweighed the weaknesses and the set-up for season five promises another batch of strong episodes.

That’s it for now! We’ll be recapping The Walking Dead when it returns for season 5 in November. In the meantime, Craig will be writing weekly recaps of Game of Thrones.

 

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 15: Us

Posted March 28, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

The penultimate episode of season 4 finally starts drawing all the story threads together. For much of this half-season the show has spend entire episodes focussed on one or two groups of survivors after the prison assault scattered everyone. This has not always worked, as some episodes have tended to drag, in stark contrast to the beginning of the season which was relatively fast-paced and plot-heavy.

This week opens with Glen’s group finally discovering one of the messages that Maggie left painted by the side of the railroad leading to Terminus, which leads to Glen running towards the camera in a rather inadvertently goofy shot. But it’s nice to have some sense of hope after last week…

The focus of this episode is on Glen’s quest to finally catch up to Maggie, and Daryl’s life in the new group he seems to have been conscripted into. We also see Rick, Carl and Michonne, the only group left out is Carol and Tyreese.

First to Daryl: Daryl is having a hard time adjusting to his new group. The leader, Joe, has a few rules that everyone must live by. Some of the rules make sense (don’t steal) but others (shout out ‘claimed’ and whatever object you see is yours) prove tough for Daryl. He butts heads with another guy in the group, and it all comes to a head when Daryl is accused of stealing. But Joe knows that Daryl is innocent and has his accuser brutally beaten to death.

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But later there is a revelation. Daryl’s group are looking for someone. Turns out, they’re the group who invaded the house Rick was in a few episodes back, and they’re looking for Rick and have a thirst for revenge. As a reminder, Rick killed one of them and let him reanimate as a walker to provide a distraction that allowed him to escape. So Daryl is now headed to Terminus, too. Although Joe makes another claim – that Terminus is not the sanctuary everyone is expecting.

Glen and Tara are closing in on Maggie, Tara even volunteering to continue without rest despite a knee injury. They part ways with Eugene, Abraham and Rosita at the entrance to a dark tunnel – Abraham thinks it’s too dangerous to go in, but Glen is convinced Maggie went through.

Turns out, part of the tunnel has collapsed and trapped a bunch of walkers. Once he’s established that Maggie isn’t one of them, Glen tries to sneak around them, but Tara gets stuck in the rubble. It looks like they’re done for but suddenly a bunch of people appear from the other end of the tunnel with machine guns – Eugene drove around to the other end of the tunnel and came across Maggie, Sasha and Bob.

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Glen and Maggie reunite! And Maggie makes Glen burn that polaroid of her! Nice moment. And Tara is given the chance to begin again, Glen doesn’t tell anyone where she really came from, just that he met her on the road and she saved him.

So Glen, Maggie and friends go on and are the first to arrive at Terminus, which is strangely deserted. There’s evidence of life, with vegetable patches and gardens, but the only person they see is a mysterious woman named Mary (holy shit, was that TASHA YAR???) who bids them welcome. Something is not right, though. She just seems…off.

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Deaths?

I can’t remember the character’s name, but the dude who tried to frame Daryl for stealing.

Best line? 

“Hi. I’m Mary. Looks like you’ve been on the road a while. Let’s get you settled and we’ll make you a plate. Welcome to Terminus.”

Best moment with a walker?

The whole tunnel sequence.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Tara’s story arc (redeeming herself for the prison attack by helping Glen find Maggie) is now done. Carol was most likely going to die at Tyreese’s hands but now that’s not a thing. Glen and Maggie have had a happy reunion…maybe it was TOO happy. I’d say definitely Tara.

 

 

 

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The best fictional diseases. Wait, worst. The worst fictional diseases.

Posted March 19, 2014 by Mark

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Flu season is almost here so I thought it would be a good time to look at some horrible diseases from fiction. Most of these will get you a lot more than three days off work…

 

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Captain Trips (The Stand by Stephen King)

A highly contagious, constantly mutating flu-like virus that is fatal in 99.4% of cases. Starts as a cough and ends in brutal death. Originally developed as a weapon.

 

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The Phage (Star Trek: Voyager)

A disease that kills off organs and other body parts, the only effective treatment is replacement of the infected organs.

 

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Greyscale (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin)

A flesh-based disease that leaves its victims disfigured but can lead to madness and/or death.

 

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Bone-itis (Futurama)

“My only regret…is that I have…bone-itis!” It’s a horrific disease that, if left untreated, kills you by snapping every bone in your body.

 

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Solanum Virus (World War Z by Max Brooks)

A virus that attacks the human brain, killing the host and then reanimating them as a flesh-eating zombie.

 

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The Pulse (Cell by Stephen King)

Another brain-attacking virus, this one also turns the host into a flesh-eating zombie. But this one is spread by a mobile phone signal. Most phone companies would charge extra for that.

 

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Rage (28 Days Later)

The rage virus is highly contagious and develops in seconds, turning the victim into a mindless rage machine, driven to violence and nothing more.

 

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Vampirus (I Am Legend by Richard Matheson)

This diseases causes light-sensitivity, tooth growth, and compels its victims to drink blood and appear in bad Will Smith movies.

 

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Meningoencephalitis Virus One (Contagion)

A flu-like virus that starts as a severe cough and ends with brain haemorrhage. This movie’s tag line should have been, ‘Nothing spreads like fear. Except meningoencephalitis virus one.’

 

 

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Dave’s Syndrome (Black Books)

If a sufferer of Dave’s Syndrome is exposed to a temperature over 88°F, they’ll go on a Hulk-like rampage, usually involving a loincloth of some sort. Heat-be-gone-booties are not good at preventing an episode.

 

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Irumodic Syndrome (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

A neurological condition that degrades the synaptic pathways leading to memory loss and confusion.

 

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Uromysitisis Poisoning (Seinfeld)

A potentially fatal illness that’s caused when the victim fails to relieve themselves.

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The Walking Dead: season 4 episode 14: The Grove

Posted March 18, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

After a disappointing handful of episodes, The Walking Dead truly recovers its form this week. Two of the major story arcs from this season have been wrapped up, clearing the way for the season finale (part one of which airs next week).

The episode opens with one of the best shots you’ll find in the history of the show. A record is playing. A kettle is boiling in a rural house. Through the window a couple of girls are playing. As the camera focuses on the view outside the window, you realise that you’re not watching girls at play, you’re watching a girl playing with a walker. The strangeness of the moment, they way the viewer is given very little in terms of context and is just deposited in the middle of this moment that is almost normal, and then confronted with horror, represents what this show often strives for, and often doesn’t achieve. It’s a powerful moment that is made all the more powerful once you reach the episode’s grisly conclusion (which I will definitely be spoiling, so keep reading at your own risk).

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The Grove focusses on Carol, Tyreese, baby Judith and the two girls, Lizzie & Mikah. On the road to Terminus they take a brief break to find some water and stumble across an isolated house in a pecan grove. It’s abandoned, the occupant having died and reanimated some time ago, and after he’s put down, the group moves in.

The idea is to stay for a couple of days but that, and Terminus, are quickly forgotten as they begin to believe they could stay for a long time. None of them are ready to be around other people. Carol is still full of pain and guilt over Karen and David, Tyreese is having nightmares and cannot find it within himself to trust strangers (side note: Chad L. Coleman does a better job convincing us of Tyreese’s feelings for Karen in this episode than he did when she was alive). And the Samuels girls could benefit from the isolation, too. Lizzie is…well, there’s something not quite right about her. And Mikah is too nice, to soft, still a little girl at heart, and not able to cope with the horrific reality of the outside world.

Here they have food, water, and an easily defensible location. They could stay here. They could have a life, a dysfunctional, post-apocalyptic family.

BUT THEN…

…Lizzie stabs Mikah to death. Turns out that not only is Lizzie a weirdo who gives walkers names and feeds them rats, she’s also the psychopath who tortured the animals at the prison. She doesn’t see the walkers as a threat, just different, and is upset when they are killed. She kills Mikah to prove a point – she’ll reanimate and still be Mikah, just different than she was before. She would have killed Judith too, but Tyreese and Carol find the gruesome scene just in time.

Shocked, unsure what to do, Carol and Tyreese talk options. Lizzie clearly needs help, but where she can get it in this world? She can’t be near Judith, she can’t be left by herself. In the end, Carol takes her out to look at some flowers and shoots her.

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In the horrible aftermath, Carol finally confesses to Tyreese that she killed Karen and David in an attempt to protect the prison from the illness. She waits for Tyreese to kill her, but instead he forgives her. At the end of the episode they leave the house together, presumably to continue their journey towards Terminus.

This is another story that echoes a plotline that unfolded in the graphic novels. One of the kids in the comics turns out to be a psychopath, but it’s dealt with differently. I’m sure anyone familiar with the graphic novels was prepared for this story, but I wonder if people who only know The Walking Dead as a TV show will easily accept it. It’s a huge thing to swallow, and I’m not sure they did a good enough job establishing just how deranged Lizzie really was.

Deaths?

Lizzie and Mikah.

Best line? 

“Don’t worry, she’s going to come back. I didn’t hurt her brain.” – Lizzie when Carol and Tyreese find Mikah’s body.

Best moment with a walker?

Has to be the burnt walker attack. Through the episode there’s a strange column of smoke in the distance (presumably from the Moonshiner’s shack that Beth and Daryl set alight). And there comes a point in this episode where crispy walkers, still smoking and fresh from the flames approach the house.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Hm. Beth.

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The strange world of David Lynch

Posted March 14, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Something strange always seems to happen in David Lynch’s films.

Ever since the first drones of white noise crept into our ears and the first flicker of light among darkness peeked out at us from his bizarre art-student project/B-grade midnight movie Eraserhead, Lynch has found a way to unsettle audiences even in the most ordinary of ways. His films have a way of drawing you into even the most banal of events – a cup of coffee, overheard conversations, even the flicker of an electric lamp is charged with significance and meaning – that there’s interesting lessons to be gained from watching his films, for anyone trying to tell a story that merges the ordinary with the extraordinary.

Eraserhead itself comes across as some nightmarish projection of fatherhood – Lynch’s alter-ego (played by his long time friend Jack Nance) stumbles his way from a vague relationship into a horrific child-rearing scenario, set against a barren industrial cityscape and a pencil-making factory. There are dreams of a lady who lives (and sings) underneath the radiator, and visions of a man far off in space (or deep within the earth) who pulls leavers and seems to control the world.

The child Nance has to raise is possibly one of the most horrific things put on screen: a wailing, gnashing, swaddled phallus – Lynch has famously refused to say what he used to actually create the monstrous baby, though there are some fairly disgusting rumours.
Eraserhead is akin to Kafka’s The Trial, except the protagonist here is not detained and charged for a crime, but persecuted into paternity. This is Lynch’s common theme: making the home-life into something unusual, something dark and mysterious, and often terrifying. He’s probably never as blatant with this as he is in Eraserhead, and it’s a shockingly effective introduction into his films.


There’s a term commonly used to describe Lynch’s work: unheimlich. Closely related to uncanny, the term is more literally translated as ‘unhomely’. The familiar and the comfortable is rendered something different, something strange.

After the wondrous and saddening The Elephant Man (for which Lynch was nominated for an Oscar), and the bloated and tonally confused Dune adaptation, Lynch returned to his own stories and his own tastes with Blue Velvet. If you haven’t ever seen Blue Velvet, it’s worth not reading ahead and just tracking down a copy immediately. Possibly the most pristine of his visions, it is as classically Lynchian as Psycho is Hitchcockian.

Blue Velvet follows the steps and missteps of Jeffrey Beaumont (again alter-ego, this time Kyle McLachlan) as he journeys from his idyllic white-picket fence lifestyle, complete with aw-shucks innocent girlfriend, into the dark and mysterious underworld that lurks within his neighbourhood. The world of light is mawkish and naive compared to the dark personified by Dennis Hopper’s psychopathic, nitrous-inhaling Don, and again Lynch pushes the viewer to examine just how closely the strange is to our everyday lives, if we scratch the surface but a little.

The themes and ideas set up in Blue Velvet were then writ large in his TV series Twin Peaks, followed by the film (prequel and sequel) Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Lynch held audiences for (almost) two seasons, as they fell in love with the search for the answer to Who Killed Laura Palmer? There was murder in the household, while everyone drank their coffee and ate their cherry pie. It was the forerunner to The X-Files, and then to other high-concept long form narrative that now populates every inch of our TV screens.

Wild At Heart took the cornerstone of American pop culture – The Wizard of Oz – and fashioned it into a grand road trip narrative across weird and wild middle-America. It crass and disturbing, but only Lynch can make the sentiment that ‘there’s no place like home’ still work in a 90s film full of thrash metal and Elvis Presley tunes.

However, to really feel the force of Lynch’s unhomely aesthetic, it’s worth watching Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. Both films inform each other, and turn everything Lynch had offered before on its head. Gone is the sentimental and hopeful underpinnings, gone is the innocence. The light and the dark aren’t as clearly distinct in these films and what at first seems like the naive and innocent is suddenly revealed to be the dangerous nightmare.

If Eraserhead was about the fear of being a father, Lost Highway is almost a film about the fear of jealousy. The protagonist here discovers he is the antagonist, and that it’s not enough to hit the road and run away from danger – as Lynch’s heroes had in the past – because the danger is always there, the darkness is within. Take a look at this scene where Pullman’s everyman meets the manifestation of his inner rage:

The terror is at home, it is inside the home, and it’s there because it was invited in. Totally terrifying.

Mulholland Drive started life as a TV pilot, lost financial backing, and was then given a boost to turn it into a two-hour feature. Lynch ran with that, and the film literally turns on its head two-thirds of the way through, challenging the medium and the constraints of traditional narrative as the audience has to decide what is real and what is a nightmare. That he set this in Hollywood, and the world of actors and directors and filmmaking, is evidence enough of how Lynch eschews mainstream narrative (as much as he appropriates it at the same time).

In Lynch’s Hollywood, one loses oneself, one’s image is repeated infinitely until the soul disappears, and we become the ghastly creation we imagine out of our nightmares. Mulholland Drive is a film of broken dreams, where good intentions meet bad ends, and it becomes impossible to see just where any of us have a chance to stop it, as there’s always someone making life bad for us, just like in this scene here:

Lynch’s stories are worth watching, not for their weirdness as far too many cinema students are wont to do, chuckling at the non sequiturs and false irony. Rather, they’re worth seeing because of how they treat story, traditional stories, and how Lynch nudges them into unexpected places. He borrows from horror, and mystery, and crime, and presents road movies and bildungsromans and stories from our past that have faint recollections of familiarity.

He takes what we know, and what we’re comfortable with, and challenges us to change, and to do something different. For writers, and for storytellers, it’s worth experiencing.

 

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The Walking Dead: season 4 episode 13: Alone

Posted March 12, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

Fortunately The Walking Dead bounces back a little bit this week, after last week’s nothing episode about Beth and Daryl.

The opening scene is a flashback to Bob and his first meeting with Daryl and Glen, after they find him wandering the wilderness by himself. It’s a nice way to set up this episode, as we’re finally going to see more from some of these minor characters after more than half a season of them just filling out the cast.

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“This situation is really fogged up. Geddit?”

Post-credits, another extremely effective scene in which Bob, Sasha and Maggie face off with a herd of walkers in the fog. It’s another very simple set up for an action sequence and it works really well. And while season 4 has had its fair share of disappointing moments, the action has become much more interesting.

This episode follows two groups of survivors. The first group are Maggie, Bob and Sasha. Sasha wants to stop moving, and find somewhere safe and secure to settle for a least a little while. Maggie still wants to find Glen. When they stumble across the train tracks leading to Terminus (the ‘safe place’ that everyone is slowly heading towards), Maggie decides to go there, despite how far it is, as she’s convinced it’s what Glen would do. Sasha doesn’t want to go, and that leads to Maggie striking off on her own.

Bob is then torn. Sasha definitely wants to stay in the first safe place they come across, and Bob has feelings for her. But he also knows how hard it is to be out in the world alone, so he wants to catch up to Maggie, to help her in her quest, and to not lose the sense of community he’s just found.

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“Beth, please stop. Your singing is literally killing me.”

The second storyline follows Daryl and Beth…again…but this time something actually happens. Discovering a funeral parlour that offers some safety, they decide to rest. There are some nice touches to this setting, the place has been well-kept, and is obviously someone’s sanctuary. Whoever it is has also been doing their best to embalm and care for the dead walkers they’ve encountered. Are there still good people alive?

Daryl starts to mellow a little more. He’s less annoyed with Beth than usual, and eventually proposes that they try staying there – when the person whose sanctuary it is returns, they’ll try to team up and make it work.

BUT then there’s a late night knock at the door. Daryl opens it expecting to see the dog who triggered their makeshift walker alert system earlier in the day. Nope, it’s a herd of walkers. Daryl tries to lure them away from Beth, telling her to meet him outside on the road. Once he finally loses the walkers, Daryl makes it out and finds Beth’s backpack, and a car rushing off, presumably with Beth inside.

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Youth assaults on the elderly skyrocketed after the apocalypse. Bloody Gen Y.

Meanwhile, Sasha, Bob and Maggie have split up. Maggie is heading to Terminus, killing walkers and writing messages in blood for Glen. Bob is trying to catch up to her, and Sasha has stopped at a secure building. She looks out the window and sees Maggie lying in the street, about to be taken out by a walker. She runs down to help, and the pair repel a walker attack. Maggie then tells Sasha that she can’t do it alone, and convinces her to help her make it to Terminus. They then catch up to Bob and it’s all nice and happy (won’t last).

And Daryl, desperately chasing after the car that took Beth, winds up confronted by a group of men. They seem like bad guys, but Daryl teams up with them. They want his bow skills, and if he refuses it looks like they’ll kill him.

The final shot of the episode is Glen discovering a sign pointing to Terminus. So if he has Tara, Abraham and the others in tow, it means that the only people not headed to Terminus are Beth and Daryl. I assume that the season will now end with everyone reuniting at Terminus (there are only 3 episodes left now). If the show vaguely follows the structure of the comics (which it has thus far), Terminus may be the next place where everyone finds sanctuary, and will become a huge part of the series going into season 5 and beyond.

 

Deaths?

None.

Best line? 

“I thought I couldn’t ask you to help me, but I can.” Maggie convinces Sasha that their journey is about more than just finding Glen.

Best moment with a walker?

Maggie using them as pens is pretty good, as is her decapitation of one with a road sign. Maggie, if you never find Glen, give me a call, ok?

Which regular cast members will die this season?

I’m changing my prediction that Maggie and/or Glen will die this season. It seems like they’re going for a happy ending there. Maybe the Bob/Sasha storyline is headed for tragedy instead?

 

 

 

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Cover Reveal: GORGON by Greig Beck: Alex Hunter Returns

Posted March 11, 2014 by Mark

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Bestselling author Greig Beck (This Green Hell, Black Mountain) is back, and so is Alex Hunter, the Arcadian.

An ancient evil awakens…

Alex Hunter has been found – sullen, alone, leaving a path of destruction as he wanders across America. Only the foolish get in the way of the drifter wandering the streets late at night.

Across the world, something has been released by a treasure hunter in a hidden chamber of the Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul. Something hidden there by Emperor Constantine himself, and deemed by him too horrifying and dangerous to ever be set free. It now stalks the land, leaving its victims turned to stone, and is headed on a collision course with a NATO base. The Americans can’t let it get there, but can’t be seen to intervene. There is only one option – send in the HAWCs.

But Alex and the HAWCs are not the only ones seeking out the strange being – Uli Borshov, Borshov the Beast, who has a score to settle with the Arcadian moves to intercept him, setting up a deadly collision of epic proportions where only one can survive. Join Alex Hunter as he learns to trust his former commander and colleagues again as the HAWCs challenge an age-old being straight from myth and legend.

GORGON will be available worldwide on 10 June 2014, where all good ebooks are sold. Pre-order now, and check out Greig’s other bestselling titles from Momentum:

 

 

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The First Bird 

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Black Mountain: An Alex Hunter Novel

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This Green Hell: An Alex Hunter Novel

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Arcadian Genesis: An Alex Hunter Novella

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Return of the Ancients: The Valkeryn Chronicles Book 1

 

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The Walking Dead: season 4 episode 12: Still

Posted March 7, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

Seriously, Walking Dead. What the hell?

In ‘Still’, Beth decides she’s tired of doing nothing with Daryl and goes off to find…something to drink. She’s never had alcohol before, so she’s going to go an find some, whether Daryl likes it or not.

She finds a golf club where she could get a drink but Daryl, finally feeling sorry for her, decides she needs a ‘proper’ first drink, and takes her to a little shack where there’s lots of moonshine. They get drunk, share their emotions, realise that they both do care about the people they’ve lost, and then burn down the shack.

That’s it.

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Deaths?

Nobody

Best line? 

Beth: “My dad always said bad moonshine could make you go blind.”

Daryl: “Well, there’s nothing out there to see anyway.”

Best moment with a walker?

Golf club to the face that splatter’s the new white cardigan Beth found with gore.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

I really hope it’s Beth.

 

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 11: Claimed

Posted February 28, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

This week was probably the best episode this half-season. It follows two threads, one featuring Michonne, Carl and Rick, with the other following Glen and Tara who are now with Eugene, Abraham and Rosita.

In the first thread, Michonne and Carl are having a rare light-hearted moment, discussing the pros and cons of soy milk. Carl starts to say that he’d rather drink Judith’s baby formula, and then reality crashes back in as they both realise how much they’ve lost. They decide to go on a supply run and leave Rick to rest.

But while Rick sleeps, the house is invaded by newcomers. A group of heavily armed men, presumably on the hunt for supplies, has found the house and decided to take up residence. Rick barely makes it under the bed before one of the men claims the bed and falls asleep on it.

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Meanwhile, Michonne agrees to tell Carl a few things about herself while they clear a house. Among a few other things she reveals her son was named Andre Anthony. However, this brief moment of friendship and opening up is disturbed when Michonne discovers that the family that lived in the house killed themselves in the daughter’s bedroom. It’s a surprisingly emotional moment that’s been earned as Michonne and Carl work through their grief.

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Rick is still stuck under the bed, and knows Carl and Michonne will be returning soon. When one of the new people comes upstairs and disturbs the one who was sleeping, there is a fight, resulting in one being strangled on the floor, seeing Rick under the bed, but being able to do nothing about it as he looses consciousness. It’s a nice, tense moment, and adds to several inventive set-ups The Walking Dead has carried off this season.

Rick manages to escape, and kills one of the men he finds in a bathroom, leaving him there to reanimate, which he does soon enough, giving Rick the opportunity to escape and stop Carl and Michonne from becoming victims. By the end of the episode, they find themselves walking the very same train track that Carol, Tyreese and the kids did…

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Meanwhile, Glen is stuck in the back of Abraham’s truck. Via this storyline, we find out a bit more about the newcomers. Abraham and Rosita have a thing going on. Abraham likes killing. Eugene is some sort of scientist, and knows what caused the outbreak, they’re on a mission to Washington to ‘save the world.’

Seriously, Abraham says ‘save the world’ about 1000 times this episode. It’s awkward.

One thing leads to another, there’s a fight, a zombie attack, and their truck gets disabled. Glen and Tara go back to find Maggie, and Abraham, Eugene and Rosita follow.

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I like your idea, I’m going to mullet over

The pace was picked up a bit this week, and the episode included some nice emotional and action beats. It looks like the Rick/Carl/Judith reunion is just around the corner, but Glen is now further away from Maggie than he’s ever been.

Deaths?

Random dude in a bathroom that Rick kills.

Best line? 

Abraham: “So tell me how in the hell you managed to kill this truck?”

Eugene: “A fully amped-up state and an ignorance of rapid-firing weapons.”

Also when Eugene is through telling Abraham why they should follow Glen and Tara: “Trust me, I’m smarter than you.”

Best moment with a walker?

Rick killing a dude so that he reanimates later, creating a diversion se he can escape.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Still saying Carol and Glen and/or Maggie. Oh, and Tara seems disposable.

 

 

 

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Why I won’t be watching Wolf Creek 2

Posted by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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On Wednesday night, ABC’s show At The Movies decided to not present a televised review of Greg McLean’s locally produced sequel to his 2005 film Wolf Creek.

That David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz chose not to review the film among the four presented on the show is their choice. An interview with McLean and leading actor John Jarratt was provided on their website, and Stratton had earlier reviewed the film for The Australian, giving it two stars.

McLean took to Twitter to express his feelings about the omission from the show, claiming he was ‘curious’ to see their review of Wolf Creek 2, though expressing surprise that they didn’t review it, saying that it was a ‘first’, as if all locally-made films have a right to be reviewed publicly on At The Movies. Jarratt later complained that it was snobbery, and elitist behaviour from Pomeranz and Stratton, saying it’d have a better chance of acknowledgement if it was a subtitled film – again ignoring Stratton’s earlier review of the film.

Jarratt has form for this kind of reaction. After the run of the original film, it was nominated for a large amount of AFI awards (now renamed as the AACTA awards), however Jarratt missed out on a Best Actor nomination. He took to the press over perceived injustice, in a similar fashion to his comments yesterday about the non-review.

Jarratt seems to have lost the plot over his involvement in what is now the Wolf Creek series, claiming hypocrisy from Pomeranz and Stratton, citing their campaigns over the years for the right to screen highly controversial and subversive films. This is ridiculous. The right to see a film is wholly different to the desire to review it. Reviewers are not held to a mandated responsibility on geographically relevant films. To align reviewers with ‘support’ of the local film industry is a fallacy, and Jarratt should really stop complaining about the industry that has provided him with a living.

McLean is different, in that he is clearly seeing this as further promotion for an already heavily promoted film. At The Movies’ decision to not review the film is not censorship, nor snobbery, nor is it remotely controversial. It’s a matter of taste, which is what reviewing essentially is about.

For me, this changes nothing. I see no reason to go and watch Wolf Creek 2, just as I saw no value in my experience of watching the original. Made on a small(ish) budget, and making a healthy profit, Wolf Creek was a horror film of its era. Exploiting its connection to the Ivan Milat backpacker murders, cynically referencing other, greater horror films, and eschewing any meaningful plot development for a lop-sided two-act stream of unrepentant gore, Wolf Creek tapped into the endurance horror experience of the mid-2000s. Not really concerned with scares or terror, McLean crassly showed his audience time and time again what was horrific, forcing the audience to watch torture, as if this was entertainment.

I hated it. I hated everything it aspired to be. But I acknowledge that it’s just my opinion and personal taste. I want more from horror. Actually, no, I just want horror. Wolf Creek wasn’t it.

I don’t try to hide that I despise what has happened to the horror genre in cinema in the last decade, and that I hope we’re through it now and can go back to something that engages the audience and engages story more. Unfortunately McLean seems to be committing the cardinal sin of sequels, in that he’s fallen in love with the hype around the original, and has inflated that aspect for the sequel.

Wolf Creek 2, by McLean’s own admission, is more focused on Jarratt’s character. He’s made the film about the villain – ludicrous for a horror film. The audience knows who this character is, from the beginning, they know what he does and what he likes – so why make him the main character? There is no room for development, no arc, no change. Stories need to show change. Otherwise what do you have? Torture, on screen, for two hours.

Australian cinema has more to offer than this. Horror cinema has more to offer than this. McLean has tried to claim this is his political statement, that the film is thoughtfully commenting on the state of the union in our country. Crap. Layering a mock-nationality test over a torture scene is base, facile reasoning about the world. If McLean really wanted to make a statement about Australian politics, he wouldn’t love his monstrous creation so much. If McLean thinks making two films about torture is tantamount to the Jerilderie Letter, then he’s more of a fool than I thought. He might think this is a Big Political Statement, but the audience isn’t going for that. They’re feeding off Jarratt’s violence, and McLean’s voyeuristic camera.

Wolf Creek 2 is the death of ideas. It is the nadir of originality. I don’t need to see it to know this. After the original, McLean made Rogue, a derivative Jaws-knock off about a giant crocodile. Made for $26 million – an enormous budget for Australian cinema – it made just over $4 million back. Returning to Wolf Creek is a sign that there isn’t much else. Everything has been amplified. More villain, more torture, more gore, more more more more. Why? Because racist Australians? Come off it.

If Australian cinema wants to be celebrated, then it needs to celebrate ideas. New ideas. Something rather than flogging old ones to death in a torture pit, severing their spines and gloating over their corpse while charging $20 a ticket.

 

 

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Nine reasons to be excited about Jurassic World

Posted February 27, 2014 by Mark

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The long-awaited fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise is about to start filming. If you’re anything like me, this fills you with a joy so profound you can’t really describe it. Here are a few reasons you should be getting excited.

1. It’s been a really long time since there was a good dinosaur movie

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21 years to be exact…

 

2. Chris Pratt is the lead actor

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I’d love to see him do the role as Andy from Parks and Recreation.

 

3. It will form part of the 2015 orgy of nostalgia

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Between this and Star Wars Episode 7, we’re all going to feel like 12 year olds with no friends again!

 

4. The director is Colin Trevorrow

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Who made the charming time travel film Safety Not Guaranteed, with another Parks & Rec star, Aubrey Plaza.

 

5. It’s not the ‘mutated dinosaurs being trained for the military’ storyline that was talked about a few years back

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While the exact details of the story aren’t known, it’s definitely not that.

 

6. It promises to show the park as a successful, functioning theme park

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You were always curious as to what the park could have been had it succeeded and now you’ll know!

 

7. It’s a sequel, not a reboot

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Although the suits at Universal would have been tempted to go for a complete do-over, this way there’s still a chance that Jeff Goldblum or Sam Neill could turn up.

 

8. The screenplay is based on a script by the writing duo behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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Now there was a reboot that offered a fresh, inventive take on an established franchise.

 

9. Velociraptors 

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Clever girl.

 

 

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In the mood for more dinosaurs? Greig Beck’s The First Bird is  Jurassic Park meets The Walking Dead and has just been nominated for an Aurealis Award for best horror novel! 

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 10: Inmates

Posted February 19, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

After last week’s relatively slow mid-season premiere, we finally get to find out what happened to characters who aren’t Carl.

In this episode we catch up with four groups of prison survivors, Beth and Daryl, Maggie, Sasha and Bob, Glen and Tara, and Tyreese, who is with the kids Micah, Lizzie and Judith. That’s right, baby Judith is alive and well, although how long that lasts is an open question as her cries attract walkers, and Lizzie clearly wants to kill her.

And this episode is significant for another development, the return of Carol…

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Nothing much is happening with Beth and Daryl, they’re running through the countryside, going in the same vague direction as the others, and feeling generally depressed. This episode did a nice job of showing Beth and Daryl first, even though their story takes place after everyone else’s.

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Maggie is with Sasha and Bob, but is obsessed with finding Glen, who she assumed left on the bus. Once they track down the bus (only to discover that it’s full of zombies), Maggie kills every single zombie just to make sure none of them were Glen. Also all the zombies were the last of the Woodbury people who came to live at the prison at the end of season 3. They were ‘all good people’ or so Bob says.

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Meanwhile, Glen wasn’t actually on the bus, and wakes up in the prison by himself. Upon spying that photo of Maggie he snapped earlier in the season, he collects his gear and takes off to find her. Along the way, he finds that Tara is still alive and he enlists her help, even though she was a part of the prison attack that cost him so much.

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Tyreese is stuck with the kids, including Judith, who keeps crying and attracting walkers. It’s revealed in this episode that Lizzie is the one mutilating rodents, and there’s a moment where she almost suffocates Judith to keep her quiet, and seems to enjoy it. Lizzie is a psycho, better be careful. This is consistent with the comics, where there was a psychopath child (I won’t spoil what happens with that plot line, but it will be interesting to see how far the show pushes that storyline).

Tyreese and the kids also stumble across Carol, who has apparently been tracking them. Tyreese still has no idea about Carol’s involvement in Karen’s death, so that will make for an awkward conversation later on. They are then directed by a dying man to follow the train tracks to a ‘safe place’. It seems that there’s another town, but is it another Woodbury?

And finally, three new regular characters are added in the final moments as Glen and Tara are found by Eugene, Abraham and Rosita, who are major characters from the comics.

Deaths?

A couple of randoms who are bitten and tell Carol & Tyreese about the ‘safe place’ before they die.

Best line? 

“Faith? Faith ain’t done shit for us. Sure as hell didn’t do nothin’ for your father.” Daryl being all nice and sweet to Beth.

Best moment with a walker?

Probably a tie between Glen walking through a swamp of walkers in his riot gear, and Maggie killing every walker on the bus.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Carol. Tyreese is going to be pissed when he finds out what she did (or what she claims she did), also wouldn’t be surprised if Lizzie does some more killing.

 

 

 

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Aurealis Award nominations

Posted February 17, 2014 by Mark

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The Aurealis Awards are Australia’s premier awards for speculative fiction, showcasing the very best in Australian horror, science fiction and fantasy in its various forms. This year, two Momentum titles have made the shortlists in their genres.

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Best Horror Novel: The First Bird by Greig Beck

EXTINCTION IS CONTAGIOUS

Matt Kearns, linguist, archaeologist and reluctant explorer from Beneath the Dark Ice and Black Mountain returns to help save the world. And this time he doesn’t have Alex Hunter to save him when the stuff hits the fan.

When a fame-hungry scientist brings an impossible, living specimen of a creature long thought extinct back from the wild jungles of South America he unwittingly brings along a passenger. Something with the potential to destroy every living thing on our planet.

The infestation begins, rapidly overtaking medical resources and resisting all treatment. One woman knows the danger, Carla Nero, chief scientist of the Center for Disease Control. She makes Matt an offer he can’t refuse and together they join a team heading to the deep jungle in a desperate race to locate the hidden place where the specimen was taken.

Only by finding the location of the specimen can the team – and the world – hope to uncover the secret of how to survive the ancient, horrifying parasite that has been released.

Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

 

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Best Science Fiction Novel: True Path: Book 2 in the Timesplash Series by Graham Storrs

The most wanted man in America is about to destroy the entire nation… or save it.

It’s 2066 and Sandra has kept a low profile for 16 years, working as a tech in a quiet British university, hoping her past would never catch up with her. But it has.

When Jay hears Sandra has been kidnapped, he drops everything and goes to the U.S. to find her. But Sandra’s kidnapper is not an ordinary criminal. He’s America’s most-wanted terrorist – a man driven to to free his country from religious oppression at any cost. Sandra, still suffering from the fallout of earlier timesplashes, refuses to help create the biggest timesplash ever, which would unleash a wave of destruction that the rebels hope will kickstart a new American revolution.

When Cara, Sandra’s teenage daughter, is taken by one of the many factions on the ground in Washington D.C., Sandra’s resolve is shaken, and Jay is forced into a race against time to stop the deaths of millions or save Sandra and her daughter.

Sandra and Jay must ultimately decide between what is right for them and what is right for all in this thrilling continuation of the Timesplash series.

Click here to purchase from your preferred ebook retailer

 

Congratulations to Greig, Graham and all the other wonderful authors who made the shortlists! 

Find out more about the Aurealis Awards here

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 9: After

Posted February 12, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

The prison is uninhabitable. The Governor is gone. The survivors are separated, lost, wandering in the outside world once again. So begins this rather quiet episode in which we follow Rick, Carl and Michonne as they make their way from the devastation they witnessed.

Rick is suffering from his injuries, sustained in the attack. They find a safe house to stay in, and Rick collapses on the couch, drifting into a deep unconsciousness. So that leaves Carl on his own.

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Carl. Jesus. He’s angry at the situation he’s in, having lost the relatively stable life he had in the prison, he’s angry because he’s lost Judith, and it’s manifesting in rage towards Rick. “I’d be fine if you died,” he says in an awkward monologue delivered to his comatose father. And then he almost gets eaten by three walkers.

It looks like we’ll be seeing more of the dark side of Carl this half-season, which will either be good or annoying. Most of the episode is dedicated to him, out in the world by himself, actually surviving. Although the moment where he tries to bust a door open and winds up flat on his back is pretty funny.

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After his misadventures he returns to Rick. During the night, Rick wakes up, but because of his injuries he can’t move well or talk properly. So all Carl sees coming at him in the dark is a grasping hand. It looks like Rick has died and turned. Carl prepares to shoot, but discovers he can’t. He loves his father, and doesn’t want to be out in the world without him. Part of that is also the knowledge that while he survived the day, he might not be as lucky tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Michonne has struck out on her own. After killing zombie Herschel with a sword-stab to the brain, she cuts the arms and jaws off another pair of walkers, ropes them up and starts walking. This apparently keeps her safe from other walkers. She discovers Rick and Carl’s tracks but decides not to follow them, heading off into the wilderness instead.

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The main part of Michonne’s story is about a dream she has, which is a semi-flashback to her life before. She has a partner, friends, and a small child. As the dream progresses it’s revealed that her lover and his friend were the original pet walkers she had at the start of season 3, and that her child is gone, presumably dead. It’s good to see a little more of Michonne’s backstory, but the dream sequence didn’t really fit well with the rest of the episode (or series, for that matter). It’s also made clear that her lover/partner did something bad, but we’re not let in on what it was.

Michonne struggles with the question of what she’s going to do next. She can walk around the world forever with her zombie pets protecting her, but what kind of existence is that? Finally, she snaps in the middle of a zombie herd (that includes a zombie-Michonne lookalike), and cuts all their heads off with her sword. She then goes back to where she found Rick and Carl’s tracks, and follows them to the house where they’re staying. She knocks at the door, and Rick sees her through the window, telling Carl “it’s for you.”

This was a nice way to end the episode. Michonne is happy to have found her friends again, finally coming to terms with the fact that she needs other people and Carl realises how much he needs his father.  An upbeat ending for a Walking Dead episode? I’m sure it won’t last.

Deaths?

None.

Best line? 

Carl: (trying to draw out walkers) “Hey asshole, hey shitface!”

Rick: “Watch your mouth!”

Carl: “Are you kidding me?”

Best moment with a walker?

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Michonne cutting the heads off a herd of walkers.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Carol. She’s still in the opening credits so she’s sure to come back, and probably to make a noble sacrifice.

Who is the psychopath? 

Don’t forget about the person who was dissecting rodents! Someone has gone over the deep end and is still out there. I’m sure there will be more on this in the coming episodes, but a few people have theorised that Carol was covering for someone else when she claimed she had killed Karen and that other guy. It has to be one of the kids, in that case.

 

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The most threatening vehicles in fiction

Posted February 6, 2014 by Mark

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Vehicles have proven fertile ground for several writers of horror and speculative fiction. Here are a few of the creepiest and most threatening vehicles from books and films. Add your suggestions in the comments!

Christine 

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The worst novel Stephen King wrote in the 80s is about a possessed car that will totally run you over if you piss it off. Christine doesn’t talk, just kills.

The Event Horizon

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A haunted spaceship that is full of nasty things that can kill you, and is also the best mode of transportation to the hell dimension.

The truck from Duel

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Like Christine, except it’s driven by a madman. Or possible the devil.

Blaine the Mono

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Another from Stephen King, Blaine features in his Dark Tower series. Blaine is a malevolent monorail train that likes to play riddles, and is completely insane.

Martian Tripods

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These creepy vehicles contain terrifying, blood-drinking martians, and roll all over the landscape, hooting and laying waste to everything before them.

 

 

 

 

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An introduction to The Dark Tower

Posted February 4, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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While we are still being fed tiny morsels to whet our appetites for an adaptation to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (Aaron Paul! Javier Bardem! Netflix!), it still remains an extremely unlikely prospect that the hybrid TV-film series will ever get off the ground.

At least we have the books. And such books. Eight volumes spanning decades in publication history, thousands of pages, numerous revisions and revisitations, all depicting an epic quest in search of the elusive Dark Tower.

And yet it remains a series unlike many others, and quite (understandably) resistant to the bandwagoning that has seen other epic series like A Song of Ice and Fire hurtle into the stratosphere of public acclaim. It is a difficult series, strange and evolving, and defying genre classification. It isn’t even easy for regular Stephen King fans, many unsure how to place the series in his oeuvre, given how it seems to reference and influence many of his classics.

Here then, for those considering beginning their own journey, is a brief introduction to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

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The Books

Eight in all, published between 1982 to 2012.

The first, The Gunslinger, was actually started by King as a university student and took him over twelve years to write before it first saw daylight as serialised short stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, only bundled together as a complete novel a year later.

It is possibly the most difficult of the books – a dense, ambiguous genre-bender that introduces the main character, Roland, and his pursuit of The Man in Black; the first stage of the quest for The Dark Tower. King drew inspiration from the Robert Browning poem Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came, and fashioned a story that was part-Western, part-Jodorowsky acid trip, part-knight’s tale of chivalry and exile, with doses of fantasy and horror thrown in for good measure.

From there, the story picks up with The Drawing of the Three, where King happily admits his style and narrative really takes hold. Roland draws forth supporting characters for his quest, pulling them through portals between his world and (supposedly) our world. This continues in the third book, The Waste Lands, which leads Roland and his group further into a decaying world, full of abandoned cities and malevolent technology, as it becomes apparent Roland need not just find the Dark Tower, but he must actually save it.

It was six years until King wrote the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, and at this stage the series had already been going for fifteen years. Easily the most divisive novel in the series, this is effectively one big flashback into Roland’s past, where much of his world is explored and established so as to give further urgency and agency to his quest. It’s also some of King’s strongest writing, in what is really an old-fashioned tragic romance.

In 1999, King was hit by a car and nearly died, with the series incomplete. Having this knowledge of the writer’s reality in mind when reading the rest of the series is necessary. The Wolves of the Calla was published in 2003, followed shortly by Song of Susannah in 2004, and The Dark Tower in 2005 – King evidently charging to the finish with a clear idea of the importance of this series in his career. As one reads these final books, it becomes frighteningly clear how important these books are to King, and how he views them in contrast to all his other writing.

In 2012, King published a short re-entry to the series, The Wind Through the Keyhole, a book that surprised some and added much to the journey of Roland – and is best seen as Book 4.5 in the series.

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The Characters

First and foremost, it is the story of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger of Gilead, the last great city of his world. He is seen as a descendant of a King Arthur-like mythical figure, and yet for all these knightly qualities, his persona is borrowed liberally from Clint Eastwood’s Man Without a Name gunslinger in his spaghetti westerns. It is his quest for the Tower, his journey that binds the tale, and is for all intents and purposes, the defining hero for Stephen King’s imagination.

Roland brings with him Eddie Dean, a recovering heroin addict and small-time grifter, Odetta Holmes, missing both her legs due to an accident and suffering from schizophrenia, and Jake Chambers, an eleven-year-old figurative ‘son’ of Roland’s. All three are pulled out of New York and into Roland’s world, to take up the quest with him.

These three – and a few others here and there – form Roland’s ka-tet, a term King uses to signify the bond of a group unified by a single purpose and destiny. It is a concept King returns to in many of his novels, but it is in this series that he gives it particular significance.

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The World

Roland’s world is similar to our own yet not. He journeys from In-World to Mid-World to End-World, noting often how death, decay and ruin seem to befall everywhere he goes. The world’s moved on, is the repeated phrase, and it becomes clear that Roland’s world is merely one level of the Dark Tower, which is in danger of crumbling and thus bringing about the end of his world.

However, with the introduction of the New York characters, and others, it becomes clear that The Dark Tower connects many worlds, and that all are in danger. The Dark Tower is both literal and symbolic, an axis mundi to the universe, but also to Stephen King’s imagination.

It’s an epic series, a unique series, one that covers a scope quite beyond this short introduction. It’s difficult for me to think of a series that stands not just as a thrilling and imaginative journey, but also as a personal document, a story that attempts to explain a storyteller. If you’re at all interested,  I suggest opening The Gunslinger and just reading the first line. It won’t let you go.

 

 

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Let the right horror in

Posted January 31, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Alfred Hitchcock famously quipped that ‘television has brought murder back into the home – where it belongs.’ In fact, many view Psycho as a direct correlation of that thought, in that Hitchcock created a horror mystery that dared to suggest the evil that lurks in the heart of men is most often exercised at home; domestic horror being the hardest to endure.

The irony is the success and legacy of Psycho has translated best not through a raft of dismal sequels and remakes but through a TV show, dramatising and serialising the life of Hitchcock’s antagonist and his fated mother. Horror has once again come home.

When we add to this Hannbial - doing likewise with Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter – as well as The Walking Dead and the continuing themed miniseries American Horror Story, there seems to be a growth in shifting the genre to the smaller screen. So why has horror come back into the home?

There are several reasons that I can see, and the first is really levelled  at what’s happened to the horror genre since the advent of television. Let’s take IGN’s list of the top horror films as fairly representative of most.

  1. The Exorcist
  2. Psycho
  3. Jaws
  4. Alien
  5. The Silence of the Lambs
  6. The Shining
  7. Bride of Frankenstein
  8. Rosemary’s Baby
  9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  10. Night of the Living Dead

Not bad, nothing outrageously against conventional thinking there. But what do we have? Five monsters, four killers, and zombies. No vampires, thankfully, though I suspect Nosferatu isn’t far off the Top Ten. But we also have seven book adaptations. The three that aren’t – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead and Alien – all borrow extensively from heavily established horror conventions and tropes, as well as factual accounts and cultural traditions.

They are all excellent films. A few are truly great exponents of the cinematic medium. But in the breakdown of what’s what, we have the origins of what’s gone wrong with cinema horror.

The most recent film on that list was made in 1990. The second was 1980. Too many horror films since are remakes or reworkings of original ideas. Even more, like many in the list above, are just needless sequels and spinoffs of, again, original ideas. We have the reliance on standard fallback horror cliches – serial killers, supernatural serial killers, vampires, werewolves, zombies – and very little when it comes to imagining new, original horrors.

Additionally, how many new horror films are looking to books for inspiration? If seven out of the ten are book adaptations, doesn’t that say something? Even when we do get one, like Let The Right One In, and it astounds us with its originality and clarity of vision in telling a horror story, it’s then bundled up and remade a couple of years later.

We need new ideas, people. Cinematic horror is not offering them. Except in one really awful way.

I make no secret I dislike the trend of excessive gore in horror. None of the above films trade in that currency. The only one close to it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is tame by today’s standards of gore, and unfortunately appears to be left with a legacy of kickstarting this more-is-better gorefest.

But okay, people still watch these films, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of horror. Or does it?

Horror cinema made its name in the thrill of the experience, seeing something visceral and challenging in a shared environment. It was something people took others with them to see the horror, to make you feel okay, to commune in the adrenalin. This then lead to horror as the date movie and the drive-in experience, where couples could do much of the mentioned sharing but add an extra dose of anticipation to the mix.

That’s all gone with excessive gore. Now it’s just a Youtube sensory viewing. Ingest what you can, so that you can add your name to the list of those who have seen it. The films are aiming for vomit, not screams, and the genre loses its appeal of being a shared viewing. Aspiring couples are more likely to want to scream their way through Alien than they are wanting to spew through Hostel.

By returning horror to TV, it brings with it a level of censorship. Even in these HBO days, there are visual limits to which TV shows are allowed to go, and we have a restoring of old elements to the genre. Suspense, anticipation, fear of the unknown, rich and dense narrative: these are all part and parcel of the new wave of horror TV.

I’m not holding onto much hope that cinema will return to the cinematic heights of The Exorcist and The Shining, but perhaps this boost of the genre through a different medium might reignite some of that lost flame. Rosemary’s Baby is scheduled to be adapted into a new series and Hannibal and Bates Motel have both been renewed for more. Hannibal itself aims to not only tell the story before The Silence of the Lambs, but also retell the film’s plot, and move beyond it. TV is allowing the horror to be once again told in an original way.

With the publication of Doctor Sleep late last year, as a sequel to The Shining, we’re left with the possibility that someone might perhaps try to do a cinematic sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s film. And yet a better opportunity is afforded here – serialise the character of Danny Torrance, the now-adult survivor of the Overlook Hotel, as he tries to find a life to live among the horrors of the modern world.

There’ll be more horror on TV, I’ve no doubt, more horror brought into our homes, and perhaps that will give audiences an opportunity to rediscover the almost-lost magic of the genre.

 

 

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What we can learn from the films of 2013

Posted January 9, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Initially this was going to be a look back at the best films of 2013. But to be honest, last year was a rather middling one for the big releases. So, for something different, I thought I’d look back at some of the big films that came out in the last twelve months and see what went wrong with them, and what we can learn for the future.

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Evil Dead

It did okay, received decent enough reviews and made enough money to warrant its production. But if we have to endure another year of horror film remakes that are merely amplified, exaggerated versions of what we’ve already seen, then I might just give up on them all together. The horror films of old had their own conventions and tropes, and if directors and studios keep flogging ancient dead horses the whole genre is running the risk of becoming obsolete.

It’s fascinating that in the last decade of remakes, reimaginings and reboots, two of the more interesting and original horror films (The Mist and Bug) have come from two veterans of cinema and horror – William Friedkin and Frank Darabont.

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Oblivion

Again, didn’t fare too badly critically and financially, but it’s an unfortunate formula when we’re left with the feeling that it’s another year, and another time Tom Cruise saves the world. Looking back over his career, it’s dotted with endless Jacks, Bills, and Davids; Cruise is intent of being the everyman who saves us all. The problem is, he is too unrelatable a persona for audiences to invest in anymore. On the occasion where he’s reinvented himself – Vincent in Collateral, and Lestat in Interview with the Vampire – he’s shown us how good an actor he can be.

Let’s just hope that The Edge of Tomorrow – ignoring its nonsensical title – is as good as the preview suggests, and not another so-so attempt from Cruise to ingratiate himself with audiences.

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Iron Man 3 & Thor: The Dark World

Okay, Marvel wants to take over the world (if it hasn’t already). But come on. At some point this needs to just stop. Iron Man 3 felt like an ego trip born out of the fact that they could let Iron Man 2 be the lasting impression of the character. Ludicrous, pompous, replete with token child in need of saving – let’s all applaud Downey Jr. for getting his life back on track, but surely he’s just treading water with the glib motor-mouth Tony Stark?

And Thor, well. Second film. Has the word ‘dark’ in the title. Marvel are starting to feel like the annoying kid who just wants everyone to talk about them constantly, no matter what crap they’re doing.

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Star Trek Into Darkness

Second film, ‘dark’ in the title. Fun on first looks, but five minutes after walking out of this we’re starting to feel hollow. Lens flare obsessions aside, if this is a reimagined Star Trek, then why bother with the homages to old stories? If the earlier Star Trek went to crazy lengths to establish that all previous incarnations of the franchise still happened, and the new one was happening on a different but parallel timeline, then why bother remaking and rebooting old plots and characters?

And come on. Enough with the dark stuff for the middle chapter. We get it. The Empire Strikes Back happened. Get over it.

See also Man of Steel for needless po-faced ‘darkening’ of a franchise.

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The Great Gatsby

Big lesson to be learned from this: don’t let Baz Luhrmann make films anymore. Please. For all that is good and decent in the world. Stop this madness. Stop this man.

Never before has 140 pages of profound depth and imagery in a novel be turned into 140 minutes of the most vapid, shallow, cartoonish, glitter-stained vomit ever put on a screen. Ugh.

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The Heat

The lesson to be learned here is: this film was great and deserved watching. And a sequel.

Another lesson to be learned here is: studios need to learn how to advertise far better when their film doesn’t contain male leads or females under the age of 30. The worst evidence of this was in the photoshopping disaster that occurred in the UK to make lead Melissa McCarthy more ‘appealing’ to viewers. Jesus.

Making films with female leads who are aged over forty isn’t going to bring about the apocalypse.

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The Wolverine

This was a surprisingly decent film. After the mess of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, audience were actually treated to a decent portrayal of a comic book character that didn’t try to outdo everything that has come before. Also eschewing the trend of blockbuster films that globe-trot to the point of turning into an ad for TripAdvisor, Wolverine pared it right back to basically one major setting, with one set of characters to interact with.

Additionally, it abandoned the highly insecure trend of tagging all franchised films with superfluous umbrella titles and punctuation. Simplicity is good, people. It works.

More of this, please.

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Carrie

This should have been released for Halloween, but instead was held back two weeks into November. Effectively a small, independent horror film that was catering to old fans and unaware teenagers, it needed to maximise its 90-minute runtime beyond the actual screening with the right mix of advertising. Instead it went for elaborate stunts and trailers that told the whole story, alienating all and missing out on actually getting better recognition.

Not a success, but a horror film that also works as a superhero origin story, with multiple female leads. Surely this is a good thing, and worth investing in?

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The Apocalypse

Enough. If our only vision for the apocalypse in 2013 was half a dozen guys either improvising toilet humour (This is the End) or running from pub to pub (The World’s End), and where apparently there’s room for only one token female in either apocalypse (Emma Watson and Rosamund Pike, respectively), then the male gaze has won and we should shut it all down.

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Endless cash-grab book adaptations

Finally, the last thing to be learned is this: just because a book is well-loved, just because it has an established readership, just because it has sequels and prequels and gazequals doesn’t mean it will make a good film.

Additionally, throwing a bunch of known actors at it and a director who is happy with the epithet ‘good with SFX’ doesn’t mean this adaptation is going to hold water.

Questions studios should ask themselves: does this story need adapting to another medium? Does this story actually work in a visual medium? Are we actually damaging the impression of the original book by adapting this in a half-arsed fashion? Do we have enough money to swim in already?

This is why Catching Fire worked. The story translates well to screen. And it was cast well. And directed well. Learn, guys.

 

 

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The Horror Read: The Silence of the Lambs

Posted December 17, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in a series of posts where I read my way through the winners of the Bram Stoker Award for a horror novel, in an attempt to not just read more horror fiction, but also gain a better understanding of what a horror novel is in the 21st century. 

The second winner was a sequel, of sorts: Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.

The second official Bram Stoker winner for best horror novel, The Silence of the Lambs has clearly gone on to forge an ever-evolving legacy as a classic of the horror genre. Throw a pillow and you’re bound to hit somebody mentioning fava beans and chianti, discussing lotion-rubbing in the third person, or just idly wondering when the lambs will stop screaming.

Hannibal Lecter has become so iconic that the character has entered into that white noise of cultural references, whereby we are never really sure if the constant humour invoked at imitating or channelling Lecter – by way of Anthony Hopkins – is merely an attempt at staving off the nightmares of Lecter the cannibal.

In fact, so dominant was Jonathan Demme’s 1991 adaptation of Harris’s novel, that it’s easy to forget the character’s establishment in the earlier novel Red Dragon, which in turn was adapted by Michael Mann in his 1986 film Manhunter, where Lecter was played by Brian Cox, in an underrated yet highly chilling performance.

And there is more of Cox’s Lecter in the most recent incarnation of Harris’s character in the TV series Hannibal, with Mads Mikkelsen’s performance of the lead character far closer to Cox’s than Hopkins’s portrayal, both in wit and humour and engagement with the other characters.

So, has Hannibal Lecter become the Hamlet of horror? What is it about the character that seems to encapsulate so much about the genre that storytellers and actors are repeatedly drawn back to it? And, as always, where is the horror?

The fascinating thing about Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs is that he is not, at least initially, the most horrific feature of the story. This is consistent with Red Dragon, where Lecter is an advisor to the horror that the nominal protagonist – here, Clarice Starling – witnesses and attempts to overcome.

Starling’s investigation into Buffalo Bill’s serial murders is the stuff of Law & Order and CSI, with a little dose of X-Files and Millennium thrown in for good measure. In short, it’s a police procedural into a horrific crime. This is not the mystery with the horrific reveal, like so many gothic horrors from the 19th century. Starling is our guide into the horror, our Virgil guiding us by the hand through Purgatory and into the pits of Hell, but we see everything as we’re going. There’s no surprise here. The dread, the dreaded horror, is that we must walk with her. And she keeps going.

Everything about the reader wants her to stop, but at the same point we are compelled to go. Just as she keeps returning to Lecter for more advice, for more of his company, so we want to see the horror more closely for ourselves.

Horror is a car crash. We can’t help but look. This insatiable desire to look at something that we know is going to terrify us.

Harris has, in effect, envisaged and established much of the late 20th century’s and early 21st century’s obsession with police procedurals, crime scene minutiae, tabloid horrors and the cultural currency of shocking images. It is hard to imagine the glut of tepid crime shows on TV without The Silence of the Lambs. It is shocking to realise that we have turned the horrific fascination with real-life serial killers in the 20th century into ever-present fictional serial killers on TV in the 21st century.

Has Harris made us love serial killers so much that we need them as entertainment?

This is decidedly new horror, in contrast with Swan Song which just seemed to capitalise on already established tropes. Harris is suggesting a hell of a lot about modern culpability, when it comes to our readiness to accept and include the disturbing in the everyday, which goes some way to explaining the traction of his characters. It is interesting, in the latest incarnation on TV, that Harris’s characters are returning to our screens to remind us that if we just watch murders and murderers constantly on TV, then we are no better than they. But if we watch them to understand, to empathise, then perhaps we might learn how human behaviour can get us to such horrific horizons.

There is an interesting aspect to Harris’s writing in The Silence of the Lambs, where it is for the most part written in the past tense. However, At the beginning of certain chapters, Harris allows the reader to experience scenes in the present tense – such as when we first see Lecter’s cell – as if suggesting to the reader that whilst this is a story, the story is still here, still happening. It allows the horror to extend beyond the pages.

Next, it’s Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons, which won the Bram Stoker in 1989.

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 8: Too Far Gone

Posted December 3, 2013 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

This season has slowly been building up to something and it delivered in spades in this, the mid-season finale. Just a note on mid-season finales, The Walking Dead seems to do these much better than its actual finales. Season 2 ended mid-season with the discovery that the missing Sophia had been a zombie in Herschel’s barn the whole time, season three ended mid-season with Daryl and Merle finally being reunited in a to-the-death zombie arena battle, and this…well, read on. And of course, MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS EPISODE AND SOME ISSUES OF THE COMICS.

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Tanks for agreeing to see me! Get it?

At the end of the previous episode Brian (“don’t call me the Governor”) had lined up Michonne in his gun sights. But instead of shooting her he kidnaps her and Herschel. He takes them back to his camp and outlines his plan to his people. He wants the prison. He’s going to drive the tank up to the fence and threaten to kill the hostages unless Rick’s group moves out. If they move, all well and good. If not, he kills the hostages and storms the prison. It’s a stupid plan, because he backs himself into a corner. If Rick refuses, Brian is forced to show his true nature to his people, even though he’s pretty much promised them that nobody has to die. He may act like a changed man, but beneath the surface this is all about one thing – revenge.

So the previous two-parter in which we see the Governor almost become a good man and then become an asshole again was kind of pointless? The entire arc just returned him to who he was before. The show has struggled with this character, on the one hand it wants to portray him as someone who is hugely evil, but it also wants to show him as a complicated character with hidden depths and motivation. Unfortunately they have often seemed like two different characters. They can deliver the evil, they can deliver the hidden depths, but never at the same time.

In my opinion he works much better as the evil baddie. Revenge is a pure and believable motivation for him and doesn’t need to be layered beneath his grief for his lost family and his desire to protect his new one.

At any rate, he convinces his new group to go for it with an “it’s either us or them” speech. Herschel attempts to persuade Brian that both groups can live together, start with a clean slate and let the past be the past. But Brian is convinced it won’t work. He still claims he doesn’t want violence, but Herschel sees through it.

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“Guys, seriously, I’m not evil anymore.”

When he rocks up to the prison, announcing his arrival with a blast from the tank, he calls Rick down for a chat. The discussion is tense, but does go in circles a little. With Herschel and Michonne on their knees, threatened with execution, Rick has no choice but to talk. Andrew Lincoln does a great job in this scene. He begins by begging for the lives of those within the prison, there are sick kids in there after all. He begs Brian to use his common sense, if violence starts then the prison will be ruined for everyone. He appeals to Brian’s followers, do they really want to face a war? And finally, Rick makes the offer that proves he’s a new man. He offers to open the gate and let everyone in, they can live in separate cell blocks until they’re ready to cooperate, but he’s prepared to leave the past behind and start fresh.

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“Well it looks like I’ll be heading off now.” Be heading? Beheading? Hello, is this thing on?

And then the shit goes down. Rick has outmanoeuvred Brian, offering a peaceful resolution where nobody has to die, and everyone gets to be forgiven for whatever sins they committed outside the prison walls. But Brian can’t accept that. His true colours shine through, all he wants, all he ever wanted, was revenge. He takes Michonne’s sword and cuts Herschel’s neck open. Then the gunfire begins.

The following sequence is probably the best in the history of the show. The gun/tank battle is perfectly staged and contains some unforgettable moments, including Brian chasing after the injured Herschel so he can hack off his head. There’s a real sense that everyone is in peril, including the untouchable Daryl, who is left looking like he’s going to get bitten by a walker until he reemerges, using said walker as a shield.

And halfway through the battle, Brian’s new “wife” comes to say hi. Only she’s carrying the corpse of Brian’s new “daughter”, Megan. He left them somewhere they were meant to be safe, but Megan wound up being bitten by a walker that had been buried under some clay she was playing in. And then Brian shows his transformation is complete by blowing the girl’s brains out before she can reanimate.

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“I believe you said something about us being perfectly safe?”

The tank continues to blow shit up until Daryl lobs a grenade down the main gun and blows it up. That’s right, Daryl kills a frikkin’ tank! And he then shoots the driver in the heart with an arrow.

Meanwhile, Brian and Rick are fighting to the death. Brian manages to beat the living shit out of Rick and then begins to strangle him, in a disturbingly realistic scene. And then the most FUCK YEAH moment in four seasons of this show, Michonne runs Brian through with her sword, rescues Rick, and leaves the fatally wounded Brian to become food for the walkers (he’s saved from that particular fate by his new wife, who blows his brains out as revenge for destroying her family).

To make a long story short, the prison is destroyed and overrun by walkers, Brian is dead along with many of his people, and Rick’s group are scattered. A bunch of the Woodbury people (and a still not-well Glen) escape on a bus, Tyreese escapes with some of Carol’s former students, and all the others make it out either by themselves or in small groups. Boom. Done.

Oh wait, what’s that? Baby Judith? Yeah, where is she? Is she on the bus? Oh, look, Rick has noticed her baby carrier. How could someone leave it there like that? Lucky Rick walked past-OH MY GOOD IT’S FULL OF BLOOD AND THERE’S NO BABY!

Deaths?

Megan. Herschel. The Governor. Lots of extras and people who have had four or five lines. And possibly baby Judith!

Best line? 

“That ain’t her!”, delivered by Daryl when Rick tells him that Carol killed Karen.

“Am I?” Brian’s “wife” when Brian tells her that the good people at the prison are with bad people.

Best moment with a walker?

The scene where the zombie wakes up from under the clay and bites poor Megan.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

I was right about my Herschel prediction! You all owe me a coke.

Who is the psychopath? 

So someone has been feeding rats to the walkers. Tyreese discovered a rat that had been cut open and pinned to a board. Is there a psychopath amongst the survivors? In the comics there were several unstable people who were in the group at various points. But I’m going to say at this stage I think it’s Carl. He was spiralling out of control last season. Has he become a better person, or just found a new way to channel his violent tendencies?

What will happen in the next half season?

Well, they’ll all be on the road again, and will have to meet up. I imagine there will be a bit of a Glen searching for Maggie storyline. Carol is still out there, so it’s inevitable that someone will run into her, but who will it be? Tyreese, who is still ignorant of her (alleged) role in Karen’s death? Or Daryl, who is hugely upset that she’s gone and that she’s admitted to being a killer.

The show has loosely modelled itself on the comics (although there are vast differences). If they follow that loose structure again then the next plot will be about the group meeting up with a couple of survivors who are heading to Washington, because one of their number thinks he knows how the virus began. Also they meet cannibals.

Is Judith actually dead? There was no body to be seen, and it’s not confirmed whether the blood was hers or someone else’s. She dies in the comics during the battle with the Governor, but the show hasn’t always stuck to the fates of the various characters. It’s possible she’s still alive, but it’s also possible that the bloodied baby carrier was the only way that AMC were comfortable showing her death. I’m going to predict that she’s still alive.

Well that’s it until February!

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 7: Dead Weight

Posted December 2, 2013 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

Another Governor-centric episode last week, which really served to underscore that the Governor is a Bad Guy. This is the second half of a two part storyline dedicated just to him, about his fall from power and his eventual return to leadership.

Last week we saw a different side to to Governor, a side where it seemed possible for him to start fresh, leave his sins behind and finally become the family man he so desperately wants to be. But this week we see just how impossible that is. Being invited back to the community lead by his former subordinate, Martinez, Brian (as he now calls himself) can’t seem to help himself when it comes to taking over.

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He firmly believes that he is the only person who has the necessary qualities to keep the community safe. He’ll kill without hesitation if he thinks it’s for the greater good, and that includes killing anyone in his way. But at the same time, he seems to hate having to do it. He realises that he has the potential for good within him, but that potential will always be subsumed by the things he has to do to protect everyone.

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The show has taken great pains to show the Governor as an extreme version of Rick. They’re both reluctant leaders who have had to deal with horrible things in order to keep their groups safe. They both began this season in a diminished capacity, Rick retiring from a leadership role, and the Governor being abandoned by the few who were still loyal to him. But while Rick’s eventual return to power was done slowly, with careful consideration, and with a reassessment of what he could and couldn’t live with, the Governor’s return to power was fast, violent and a return to the darkness he had almost left behind.

This episode begins with “Brian” and his family being brought into the community lead by Martinez. Everything seems to be going alright, until Martinez offers him a supporting role leading the community. Brian suddenly murders Martinez in cold blood, all the while shouting “I don’t want it!” When another from the group takes power, Brian kills him, too, and then starts making the necessary alliances to consolidate his hold on the group.

This is all leading up to an assault on the prison. The community as it is now is vulnerable, and the prison serves two purposes – safety and revenge. The final scene of the episode catches us up to where we last saw Rick being silently observed by the Governor. And then it goes a few moments on, he notices Michonne, takes out his gun and lines her up in his sights…

Deaths?

The best death this week was Martinez, being hit in the head with a golf club before being dropped head first into a pit filled with walkers.

Best line? 

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“I don’t want it!” The Governor’s repeated line as he murders Martinez.

Best moment with a walker?

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After killing Pete and dumping his body in the lake, the Governor returns to the scene of the crime and sees the reanimate Pete, weighed down under the water, attempting to reach up for him.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Next week is the mid-season finale and it looks like the Governor is gearing up for an assault on the prison. *SPOILERS FOR THE COMICS AHEAD* In the comics, the assault on the prison resulted in the deaths of Tyreese and Herschel (among several others) but was hugely significant because it also resulted in the deaths of Lori and baby Judith. Not sure if the series will go as far as killing a baby, but we’ll see. The assault also forced the survivors back on the road. Anyway, there haven’t been any major deaths this season so there has to be at least one in the next episode. My money’s on Herschel.

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 6: Live Bait

Posted November 25, 2013 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

Uh-oh. The Governor is back! Uh-oh. This whole episode is about him doing not much.

We’ve been waiting ages for the inevitable return of the Governor, the big bad from season three. The problem this show has with the Governor is that he never really lived up to his potential as a bad guy. While he did kill people and had a room full of zombie heads, he wasn’t the evil, sadistic mastermind that was presented in the comics. That guy was a psychopath. This guy? I dunno, there’s definitely something wrong with him but in this episode all he does is help a family, let go of his past, plus rescue and bond with a little girl.

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My feelings have manifested themselves in this beard.

So anyway, the Governor, fresh from killing the soldiers who fled his attempted attack on the prison, is abandoned by those who remained loyal to him. He wakes up alone one morning and begins walking, developing a Sad Guy Beard as he does.

Eventually he collapses in the gutter and prepares to die. But he notices a little girl in a window, and goes to investigate. He discovers a family that has been living there since the outbreak began, surviving off the food in the smallgoods truck their father used to drive.

The Governor spends much of the episode grunting and shrugging and being all quiet and moody. Going in to meet this family, his motivations are unclear. He’s just murdered his own people and been abandoned by those who survived. Is he going to lash out at this family? Is there a creeping dread in the potential of these characters to come undone by the evil they’ve unwittingly let in?

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“No, don’t tell me what happened to your previous daughter, I’d rather not know.”

But instead of giving the Governor some evil plan, his character is given something more complex. The young girl in the family obviously reminds him of being a father, so this is an exploration of the side of the character who loved his daughter so much, he kept her chained in a closet after she’d been zombified. And here we run into one of the biggest problems with the character.

In attempting to give the character more depth than the comics, the creators gave him a lot more emotional investment in Woodbury and in his daughter. But the character has had to remain a threat, so he’s given flashes of psychotic behaviour. But up to this point, he’s always had motivation. He’s wanted revenge, or to get information, or to protect his position and his town, or to get rid of Rick. In fact, he’s kind of been an uber-Rick. So when, at the end of the last season, he massacred his own people, it didn’t seem like something he would do. He was angry, but to kill like that?

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Stop saying that I look like a pirate!

Anyway, he winds up being taken in by this family, and going on the road with them once their father succumbs to the cancer that was killing him. The Governor makes sacrifices, takes risks, and forms a strong familial bond with them. It’s almost like this story is about him rediscovering the good person he allegedly was before the virus. But there’s more to come in the next episode, so I’m sure he’ll do something randomly evil then.

So after all that waiting it’s still hard to tell just what role the Governor will play in this season. The writers still seem determined to present him as someone who has the potential for both great good and great evil, but all they do is make it harder to connect with his ultimate motivations.

I’m sure this is all building up to an assault on the prison. If that does happen, expect a pretty epic mid season finale. In the comics, the Governor’s successful assault on the prison results in the deaths of about 6 major characters. So prepare for the worst.

Deaths?

Only one, the old guy in the apartment.

Best line? 

“I won’t let anything happen to you.” The Governor delivers this to the little girl after rescuing her from a pit full of walkers. Kind of setting yourself up for a fall there, dude.

Best moment with a walker?

The bit where the Governor falls into a pit full of zombies and kills them all with his bare hands, including one whose jaw he breaks with a bone.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Still not straying from my Herschel and Maggie or Glen prediction.

 

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