Wednesday 31 July 2013

Ten programmes we gave up on before the end

Ten programmes we (Mr and Mrs Theaker) gave up on before the end:
  1. Heroes
  2. Sliders
  3. Earth: Final Conflict
  4. Andromeda
  5. Xena: Warrior Princess
  6. Red Dwarf
  7. Bugs
  8. Star Trek: Deep Space 9
  9. Smallville
  10. V (2009)
Wednesday is list day. This is list #5.

Monday 29 July 2013

The Conjuring, reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

Scare Magician Wan Conjures Up another Haunted House Hit

Just before The Conjuring started, my wife said, “I dropped my wedding ring.” When the theater darkened, we still hadn’t found it. We decided to resume our search after the film. Unknowingly, we also challenged director James Wan (and writers Chad and Carey Hayes) to take our minds off our dilemma for a couple hours by cranking up the scares, like Insidious did.

In the early seventies, renowned demonologist/paranormal research duo Ed and Lorraine Warren confront their most frightening case. It starts when the financially strapped Perron couple and their daughters move into an old Rhode Island house. True to the haunted house formula, creepy things – Wan’s forté – start to happen. Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor of The Haunting) reaches out to the Warrens.

Insidious lead Patrick Wilson plays Ed, a refreshingly levelheaded ghost hunter who wants to heed his clairvoyant wife’s desire to help the Warrens, but also prevent her from slipping into madness. By steering clear of the “creepy eccentric” and “lovable goofball” ghost hunter tropes, Wilson adds believability to the story.

The Warrens pepper the Perron house with Catholic icons and ghost hunting paraphernalia to expose the intruders. Then it’s more of the typical haunted house fare: the house’s violent history unravels, dark entities get angrier, and characters grow more desperate. As with Insidious, Wan takes the finale a bit far, but we can forgive him. Haunted house film fans aren’t looking for a life-changing cinematic experience. Rather, they’re looking for the same thing that a good roller coaster delivers: thrills and chills. The Conjuring doesn’t disappoint.

I frequent a local restaurant. The meal is enjoyable, but it’s that iced tea that keeps me coming back. A James Wan haunted house film is a lot like that. The characters aren’t highly memorable and the storyline sometimes flirts with the ridiculous, but they do their job. What keeps me coming back to these films – Wan’s iced tea, so to speak – are the “scary man in the closet” scenes, which The Conjuring pours on. The film uses traditional, but by no means ineffective, scare strategies – mirrors, doors, wardrobes, dolls, basements – ranging from slasher film pop-outs to more chilling techniques that lead the viewer to wonder, “What’s in/behind/under/through there?” One memorable scene ratchets up the tension with a blindfolded version of hide-and-go-seek that requires those hiding to occasionally clap to indicate their location (though the preview spoiled this one a bit for me). Another scare tactic shows one sister able to see a dark entity, while another sister (and the audience) cannot.

It turns out that Wan did divert my wife and me from our missing ring, and that says something about The Conjuring. Fortunately, we found the ring after the film. And we do look forward to the next wave of the “magic Wan”.—Douglas J. Ogurek

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Ten programmes we watched from the beginning to the very end

Ten programmes we (Mr and Mrs Theaker) watched from the beginning to the very end:

  1. Babylon 5
  2. The X-Files
  3. Star Trek: Enterprise
  4. Fringe
  5. Alias
  6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  7. Battlestar Galactica (2004)
  8. Firefly
  9. Dollhouse
  10. Highlander

Wednesday is list day. This is list #4.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Fifteen albums I bought without hearing a single song by that artist, and whether I like them now

Fifteen albums I bought without hearing a single song by that artist, and whether I like them now:

  1. Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, M83 (yes)
  2. Digital Dump, The Jackofficers (no)
  3. Volume Two, Echoboy (no)
  4. Surfing on Sine Waves, Polygon Window (yes)
  5. Compilations 1995-2002, Hood (no)
  6. This Is the Day, This Is the Hour, This Is This! Pop Will Eat Itself (yes)
  7. Possessed, The Balanescu Quartet (yes)
  8. Alpha Centauri, Tangerine Dream (yes)
  9. Unreleased? Fire! with Jim O'Rourke (yes)
  10. 69 Love Songs, The Magnetic Fields (yes)
  11. Decade, Neil Young (yes)
  12. Avant Hard, Add N to (X) (yes)
  13. Endtroducing, DJ Shadow (yes)
  14. You Make Me Real, Brandt Brauer Brick (yes)
  15. The Noise Made By People, Broadcast (yes)

Wednesday is list day! This is list #3.

Saturday 13 July 2013

World War Z, reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

Zombies storm the box office, again. Last winter, romantic zomedy Warm Bodies reached number one at the box office. This summer, a different breed of zombie film clambered its way to the top.

Something threatens the fate of the world. Cities burn. Monuments crumble. In government control rooms, dumbed down charts and maps glow with death tolls and devastated regions. One man will make a difference. We’ve seen it with weather. We’ve seen it with disease. We’ve seen it with aliens. We’ve seen it with robots. But we haven’t seen such worldwide chaos with zombies. And, we haven’t seen it with Brad Pitt. Until World War Z (directed by Marc Forster). Or perhaps a more fitting title would be World War GQ.

Embraced by the general public and endured by critics, WWZ combines a more intense manifestation of the “fast zombies” popularized by 28 Days Later (2002) with the big budget action of War of the Worlds (2005).

The inciting scene relies on the “things go haywire while protagonist sits in traffic” cliché. Nevertheless, WWZ pulls it off. Cars crash. People scream and scramble. The camera cuts. Who’s human? Who’s zombie? Thus the viewer plunges into two hours of suspense, chases, attacks, and fashionable hair and scarves.

Gerry Lane (Pitt) has dropped his UN special ops gig to flip pancakes for his forgettable wife and daughters. As zombie attacks escalate, military leaders pressure Lane into accompanying a young doctor and a group of GIs on a mission to find a way to stop them.

Though Pitt’s practised calm seems a bit unlikely as zombies rip into their victims, he does manage to avoid the exaggerated cool that would have mauled the film with a less competent actor. Would a more ordinary protagonist work just as well? Perhaps an average-looking accountant instead of a GQ cover boy special agent? Maybe. Or how about another actor? Tom Cruise, Will Smith, or any big budget barnstormer could have pulled it off. But casting Pitt makes good economic sense, mainly because we haven’t seen him in this type of movie. Also, Cruise and Smith can’t pull off a scarf like that.

Pitt proves his versatility. He does the sociopath (Kalifornia (1993)). He does the rebellious youth (A River Runs Through It (1992)). He does the lunatic (Twelve Monkeys (1995)). And now, Pitt does the action hero.

Enough about acting. WWZ isn’t really about acting. It’s about evading a brutal death and dealing with the zombie problem. “Nature is a serial killer.” So says the part charming, part annoying doctor who is passionate about finding a solution to the pandemic. Thus, the film, like 28 Days Later, gives the zombie infestation a semi-scientific bent, and offers a plausible resolution.

WWZ also ups the ante on collective zombie terror with its ant colony-like portrayal of group attacks. Note how zombies pile on top of one another to reach new heights.

The film does not confine its scenes to large-scale urban attacks. For instance, in one scene Lane and comrades ride bicycles down a dark, rainy alley where zombies may just be lurking. And the climactic scene strays from the familiar explosions and gunfire by entering the quiet halls of a zombie-infested laboratory.

I harbored delusions that WWZ would be a testimony about technology’s potential to tear apart the nuclear family. There are no hidden themes in this film. The protagonist’s and antagonists’ objectives are as straightforward as those in a Scooby Doo episode. And despite some critics’ complaints about underdeveloped characters and generic scenes, WWZ entertains. Isn’t that why people see movies?

Do expect a sequel; what draws more people to the box office than the threat of their annihilation? – Douglas J. Ogurek

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Ten actors who might have played Dr Who on film had Peter Cushing regenerated

Ten actors who might have played Dr Who on film had Peter Cushing regenerated:
  1. Peter Sellers
  2. Jane Fonda
  3. Sean Connery
  4. Sigourney Weaver
  5. Gary Oldman
  6. Morgan Freeman
  7. Ewan MacGregor
  8. Johnny Depp
  9. Michael Sheen
  10. Gael Garcia Bernal
Wednesday is list day. This is list #2.

What contributors did next #3

John Greenwood, TQF co-editor, has begun to submit stories elsewhere. "Consumer Testing" appears in Bourbon Penn #7 and "Didcotts" appears in the forthcoming Rustblind and Silverbright, edited by David Rix and published by Eibonvale Press.

Bruce Hesselbach, who all the way back in 2007 contributed three stories to our magazine, has a new steampunk novel out from Cogwheel Press, Perpetual Motion.

The Not Yet by Moira Crone, which I reviewed for Interzone #240, reached the shortlist of the Philip K. Dick Award. Very interesting novel, well worth a look.

I have a review of Jad Smith's book John Brunner in Interzone #245, and the new Interzone #247 includes my review of Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe.

David Tallerman has a second Easie Damasco novel out, Crown Thief, with Prince Thief due this October.

Douglas Thompson has published Entanglement via Elsewhen Press.

While I'm here, apologies for the quietness on the blog this past month. I've been reading TQF cover artist Howard Watts' as yet unpublished (and very good) novel Master of Clouds and submissions for our next issue, so I haven't read much for review, while work and other responsibilities have kept me from blogging. But new reviews and a new issue are coming soon, so hang in there!

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Ten albums I bought as presents that I was chuffed to get via Amazon Auto-Rip

Ten albums I bought as presents for other people that I was chuffed to get an MP3 copy of via Amazon Auto-Rip:
  1. 5:55, Charlotte Gainsbourg
  2. Fever Ray, Fever Ray
  3. Has Been, William Shatner
  4. Mr. Machine, The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble
  5. Oracular Spectacular, MGMT
  6. Room on Fire, The Strokes
  7. Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Various Artists
  8. Total Life Forever, Foals
  9. Witchazel, Matt Berry
  10. You've Stolen My Heart, Kronos Quartet and Asha Bhosle
Wednesday is now list day on this blog! This is list #1.