Category Archives: Film and Television

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Hey Kris watcha watchin’

So I’m back at my old moderator job. I’m not complaining because it’s better than being homeless, but even my manager will admit it’s very monotonous work that leads quickly to eyestrain and thoughts of despair.

I’ve coped with this in several ways in the past, including audiobooks and Star Trek. Lately, I’ve been on a horror bent. Netflix has a lot of decent stuff streaming right now and since people ask me for recs sometimes, I thought I might as well note them all down somewhere.

So here’s the stuff I recommend in Netflix’s horror section.

(Necessary caveat: I’m on a US IP and have no way of knowing which of these are available in other regions, or if they’ll be removed at a later date.)

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1. The Hellraiser series

This has some very strong entries and a few weak ones. They’re well known enough that I’ll just let you search them on your own. Chronologically, it’s best to watch 1-4 in order and then stop, forever, but personally my ranking goes: 1, 7, 3, 2, 5, 4, 9, 8. I also recommend reading Barker’s original novella.

(Another note of interest for game aficionados: the designer of the original puzzlebox featured in these films is Philip Lemarchand, the DJ stage name of Uncharted designer Richard Lemarchand and FEZ designer Phil Fish. I predict a themed concert in the duo’s future.)

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2. Ravenous

I described this on Twitter as “Brokeback Mountain with cannibals” and despite all protests no one was able to dispute this. Take one part bad Civil War-era drama, one part appropriated Native American mythology, and a whole heaping dose of homoeroticism. Not really scary but it gets a bit intense and also, cannibalism as a metaphor for gay sex, I am surprised how okay with this I am.

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3. Let the Right One In

Swedish vampire film involving an immortal non-binary vampire child and the little boy who loves them. Depressing, twisted, gorgeous.

(The original version of this blurb asserted Elly is a trans girl, and while that’s one valid reading, revisiting the film has me think Elly is intended as gender-fluid/non-binary.)

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4. Pontypool

A metaphor on cultural imperialism disguised cleverly as one very smart zombie movie. The crew of a remote Canadian radio station are beset by a deadly virus: the English language.

I promise it’s much scarier than I’m making it sound. The climax is really weak but most of everything to either side of that is pretty amazing.

…Except for the scene with the singers in brown face. That was not amazing.

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5. Silent House

Netflix hosts the American remake, though also has the original Uruguayan version (above) available as a disc rental. The main conceit of this film is that it is shot to look like one continuous take, watching a young woman be terrorized by extradimensional weirdness in real time. Of course, there’s A Twist, and I need to mention that this film (and the original) require a trigger warning for child sexual abuse.

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6. The Caller

A simple premise exquisitely executed: a woman moves into a new apartment and discovers her phone is connected to the same line several decades in the past, when the unit was occupied by a sinister old woman… who likes to call a lot and be generally menacing.

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7. House of the Devil

Ti West’s only good film? Maybe. I haven’t seen everything of his, but of everything I have seen, this is the only film of his I even remotely enjoy. The attraction of this film is the lengths it goes to to recreate a period feel right down to the grain of the film stock, and the results are fantastic, though it gets a bit conventional at the end.

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8. YellowBrickRoad

Now we get into the part of the list where the recommendations get a bit funky and idiosyncratic, either because they’re a slow burn or because they start off strong and crash headlong into a wall in the third act. This film is sort of both. It has an amazingly atmospheric build and some legitimately uncomfortable sound work that deserves some praise, but the ending is just dreadful, ugh, I don’t even want to think about it. Maybe just stop after it gets too weird, and pretend everyone here just died of exposure instead.

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9. Absentia

This is another slow burn without many scares but wins for sustained tension. The performances are well-drawn and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an indie horror with such pathos from its cast. Double points for drawing on slightly more unconventional source material.

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10. The Corridor

One of my favorites, honestly, even if I can’t really say why. Like Absentia the performances are very strong, at least in some places. In others… it gets really campy. BUT, it isn’t very often that I can get honestly interested in the feelings of sad white cis dudes and the sort of underlying coming-of-age narrative to this is really captivating, although it does so by way of a bit of ableism (sigh). Nevertheless, a few good scare moments and a very unconventional supernatural (extraterrestrial) conceit.

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11. The Blair Witch Project

Blair Witch did not invent found footage horror and it certainly isn’t the best example of the genre, especially 15 years after the hype’s worn off. However, there are still a couple clever touches in this to reward the attentive film nerd (especially while wearing headphones) such that I encourage you to give it a try, since it’s streaming anyway.

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12. The Bleeding House

A door-to-door salesman who is probably the devil shows up at a family’s house to methodically drain them all of blood. Not gore porn, very nice psychological bent to it, and probably of interest if you like the tone of Hannibal.

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13. Grave Encounters

Both the original and its sequel are currently streaming on Netflix in the US and they are both above-average found footage horror films. The first one is a fine example of the genre with a film crew being done in by their hubris (as is required by cosmic law), and the second one earns some points for film nerd geekery, although it breaks a few rules and is generally weaker over all. However, the opening to Grave Encounters 2 remains my favorite way to start a sequel pretty much ever and should be looked at in admiration.

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14. V/H/S

This and its sequel are great examples of horror anthologies done in a found footage style. Trigger warnings for sexual assault, rape, non-consensual videotaping of sex, and implied fetus harvesting. And Ti West warning for Ti West in the middle chapter.

The sequel is not as good, but has a couple choice chapters. It also doubles down on the misogynistic body horror, so uh, view with discretion.

(I wish more of these recommendations didn’t also come with these huge caveats.)

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15. Cabin in the Woods and Resolution

I rank Cabin in the Woods last here because it’s kind of a gimme, but if you haven’t seen it yet it’s at least worth a watch. Not a brilliant deconstruction of the genre and not above some sexist male gaze bullshit but the denouement deserves way more examination than it’s received.

I pair this with Resolution because all the critics did and because it’s sort of like Cabin‘s inverse: where Cabin was too transparent, Resolution is too opaque. Of the two, Resolution requires a bit more attention to parse and is a bit of a higher-order deconstruction in that it doesn’t ultimately seem interested in the viewer’s catharsis… which, ah, is part of the ‘monster’ embedded in the film. Like Blair Witch, Resolution s worth it for the film nerdery alone.

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Honorable Mention: The People Under the Stairs

I consider this squarely in the comedy category — not even dark comedy, just regular comedy using the trappings of the horror genre, a la Addams Family. However, this list is looking white as hell, and if this film portrays the horror of anything very well, it’s that there is nothing scarier than white people.

(Bonus points, of course, for casting Ed and Nadine Hurley as the villains in question. Wait, you have seen Twin Peaks, right? This was why Netflix was invented.)

Because if you can’t save yourself, how in the hell are you gonna save somebody else?

I’ve never been a big fan of male Commander Shepard for various reasons. He’s just not pretty enough! But if RuPaul’s Drag Race and Drag U have taught me anything, it’s there is no such thing as a face so homely a bit of contouring couldn’t help. You know what RuPaul would say to Mass Effect‘s character editor?

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And thus RuPaul Charles Shepard was born.

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Covergirl! Put that bass in your walk.

Covergirl! Put that bass in your walk.

If you want a RuPaul Shepard of your very own, here’s the Mass Effect 3 character ID: 111.17F.GGE.151.IHN.WBE.5H1.841.WH8.G98.223.6

So I’m watching Star Trek: First Contact and this turned up.

Crossovers are Magic

Me: To leave, they need to gather the seven Elements of Exploration.
Friend: On their mission to the Horsehead Nebula.
Me: Ambition! Authority! Empathy! Honor! Curiosity! Compassion! Geekiness!
Friend: There they will summon the Great Bird of the Galaxy, which will return them home safely.

I had the most curious dream.

Now– before you start clicking away, this isn’t your usual recounting of some bemusingly vivid decoupage of pop culture and personal psychology that usually accompanies someone’s desire to tell you their dream.

It’s more about a certain tendency I’ve noticed within media studies. Something that started itching in the back of my brain when I was writing my thesis in 2008, and which emerged from my head fully formed a couple weeks ago during my MA exams.

In the dream I was browsing through a website that was participating in yesterday’s SOPA/PIPA blackout web protests. The website had left up most of its text articles but taken down most of its multimedia, such as embedded video, replacing them with a brief encyclopedic description of their function, development history, and appearance. Each format was given a Latin name with genus and species.

It was the perfect illustration of an argument I had made repeatedly in my MA exams, which is that we have a tendency to imagine all the various media -especially new media, but any time texts speak about media “in transition”- as on its way to becoming some particular thing, as if we know its destiny. On the contrary, history is full of examples of divergent yet coexisting media “species,” each adapted to the specific habitat in which it developed.

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“Occupy Cinema” at USC

Some of my favorite lyrics in, really, any song ever seem to apply here:

“Our ambition will televise the revolution. And it’ll sell more fucking commercial spots than the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the World Series, and the tragedy du jour combined.”

In short:

The co-opting of a raw, real protest movement by students of an expensive private university is, at the very best, lacking in self-awareness, and at worst, pretty disgusting. Maybe these films will shine an amazing light on current social issues. This being USC? I’m not getting my hopes up.

I don’t want to hear defenses or speculations. Unless the entirety of this screening series is about dropping out and applying one’s talents to helping the real problems of the real disenfranchised, it’s a shallow grab at something edgy from a student body continuously and relentlessly sheltered from everything the movement is about. You aren’t occupying shit, far less cinema. Sagan, do masters students really come this pretentious?

Edit: And despite totally revising this rant, if I find out who came up with this title, I’m still eating your liver.

Heteronormal Activity

Tonight, on "Crap That Wasn't Actually in the Movie"...

So the Paranormal Activity franchise has suckered us into a third installment. This series has always offered an excess of low-hanging fruit by way of its presuppositions, scare style and contrivances, but after three films, I think we can effectively track its gender politics as well.

See if this scans for you.

  1. Men are technophiliac piles of pent-up machismo. In all three films, the male leads are electronics junkies whose spendthrift camera purchases afford us the “found footage” necessary to construct these cheap-ass narratives about devil-dealing (and devil-suffering) middle-class layabouts. Not only is masculinity expressed pretty much exclusively through the men’s monopolization of the tech in these movies (even when they go gallivanting off to challenge the intruding demon to a fistfight or whatever, they do so with camera at the ready), the cameras are also the grounds for the escalating pissing contests the men hold with all these menacing demonic spirits (who are also apparently pretty lazy, but that’s a whole other criticism).
  2. Women are hysterical technophobes who believe they can banish the bad ju-ju through willful ignorance.Let me reiterate: three films. In three films, we have seen women and girls depicted as skeptics, victims and hosts for the damned. The third one ups the creep factor considerably with [SPOILER] the whole child bride thing [/SPOILER]. But it still seems questionable that we should go three films without a woman as the primary agent. What, women aren’t interested in cameras or mysteries enough?

    But okay, I don’t need a heroine who makes ridiculous camera purchases to enjoy my Paranormal Activity films, but it’d be nice if the wives and girlfriends in these movies weren’t consistently shrill opponents to the central conceit of the series–we need to capture the paranormal stuff on TAPE!–and furthermore conflated the two processes (the haunting and the taping), believing if you just stopped the cameras everything would just go away. If that was ever the case (and I won’t deny that Micah especially was a baiting son-of-a-submarine who totally had it coming) it’s explicitly not the case by the second and especially this third film.

    That or this family is actually being haunted by foolhardy schmucks inordinately obsessed with hauling massive cameras on their shoulders, and the demons are just some kind of antibody response.

  3. Women are vessels for evil. This latest film does a lot to drive home that whole pre-pregnancy mentality that these women (and girls) are just waiting wombs for evil, even in their preadolescence.
  4. “Witch” is another word for “Satanist,” and “Satanist” means dark ritual sacrifices and demonic possessions, not, gee, an actual religion. Glad to see the screenwriter didn’t even do the perfunctory two seconds of googling required of the genre. It’s like someone dug up their old script from the 1990s and scribbled Paranormal Activity 3 on the cover page.

I do love found footage horror movies, possibly moreso than any other horror subgenre. (I don’t do gore porn. I like OH GOD WHAT WAS THAT IN THE CORNER SDKGJDSLK:SASF, not dyed corn syrup and pig intestines. Marble Hornets is good for this, when it isn’t too busy sucking.) But by the third film these movies are just painting in details on an already pretty well fleshed out tapestry. I hated how the second one just seemed clueless about how surveillance horror was supposed to work, but it at least did right by the premise of the film by upping the technological ante (even if the execution was anti-immersive as hell).

That’s what these films need to be. I don’t give a crap about this particular family and a deal with the devil some ancestor made. I want scary stuff caught on camera. My advice to the producers would be to lose the mythos and go back to coming up with cunning ways to seem plausible.

Another World is Possible (Or: Boldly Going Forward ‘Cause We Can’t Find Reverse)

I'll just leave this here.

Watching the original Star Trek series has been akin to uncovering a Rosetta Stone of pop and geek culture. Every tumorous cliche I thought had just developed gradually within fandom over the decades –sudden personality changes, mirror universe goatees, body swaps, “X is now a vampire,” et cetera– all can actually be found not only in the early fanzines, but the show itself.

In its defense, a lot of the rotten, silly, campy-as-hell writing in Star Trek, especially those episodes located in the early first season and most of the third season, is only perceived that way now because of how vastly influential (or at least widely imitated) it has become. It says a lot that I went into this show (or even the Abrams reboot, which I actually watched before any of the original episodes) knowing the names of the entire main cast and most of the gadgets and lingo. We fetishize the hell out of this series, so much so that even if you don’t know a thing about it, you know a lot about it. Especially if you’ve spent any amount of time in women-dominated fan circles. After spending my summer browsing through page after page of Sherlock fanfics about sudden telepathy, brainwashing, werewolves, age regressions, genderswaps and Western re-imaginings, the purple prose and awkward sex scenes, I looked askance at TOS and knew exactly where it all came from.

More to the point: it doesn’t matter what lens you use to study it; Star Trek is a goldmine. And as a lot of my recent study has focused on apparatuses of playful engagement and branded media, it seemed inevitable that I’d get out the leftist academic monocle for Trek eventually.

I had half the work done for me, thanks to one of Kirk/Spock’s most outspoken academic shippers, Henry Jenkins, being one of my professors this semester (we had a shipping conversation on the first day of class… sometimes, my life can be really cool). But far be it from Star Trek to remain the darling of fan studies– it’s also the position of several within otaku studies, namely Hiroki Azuma and (since I like to namedrop him here) my games studies professor William Huber, that Star Trek fandom shares a not-insignificant degree of kinship with otaku, via something that Kojeve calls “animalization.” And that’s what I ended up being drawn toward as a subject: Star Trek as a sociological artifact and my own inevitable relationship to it.

I’ll warn you in advance: this got long.

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‘Drag Race': Games, Competition, and the Failure Gambit

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

Okay, so this isn’t all that related to gaming. But if my senior editor at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams, can write about Dancing With the Stars, RuPaul’s Drag Race should be an acceptable subject. It is, after all, a competitive reality show emphasizing craftsmanship and performance, two skills we should find recognizable as players.

One of the more interesting, idiosyncratic features of Drag Race is the Lipsync For Your Life, in which each week’s bottom two contestants must present a choreographed lipsync routine to a designated song to avoid elimination. These routines can range from the sad and pitiful to the stunning and glorious, but none of them seem to compare to the elimination in Season 3’s “Jocks in Frocks” episode between Carmen Carrera and Raja.

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