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A Hollywood horror: the video behind America’s latest mass shooting

25 May

America’s latest mass-shooting atrocity has to be the strangest yet, by virtue of the seven-minute video left behind by the killer, Elliot Rodger. In it, he complains of the pain of being 22 and never yet kissed.

“You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you have never been attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy… the supreme gentleman.”

Here’s a clue as to why: this “perfect guy” then went on a shooting spree that left seven dead, including himself. Which might just indicate that these girls have more taste and discernment than he realised.

There are so many strange things about all this, quite apart from the abject horror of his indiscriminate killing.

Foremost is Rodger’s laugh: several times in the clip he laughs in a very deliberate and stylised way, as though playing the part of a villain in a bad Hollywood movie. It is the most contrived and least honest-sounding cri de coeur I have heard. The only hint of real emotion comes at 1.30 mins, “it’s not fair”, though the emotion it conveys is petulance more than pain. [Update: it was announced more recently that he was diagnosed in childhood with Asperger’s, and he was being seen by “multiple professionals”.] His father, incidentally, is the Assistant Director of The Hunger Games, which gives a peculiarly Hollywood twist to the tragedy.

Second, Rodger is rather good-looking; not the usual image of the despised nerd or goth. Which, again, might indicate that the reason he struck out with the girls was less to do with looks than character. To reverse Mrs Merton, “What is it about this woman-hating spree-killing psycho that you find unattractive?”

Third is that he posted on PUAHate.com. This is a website devoted to people who have subscribed fruitlessly to an odious school of thought on how to pick up women using tricks such as “negging”, ie putting them down rather than complimenting them. Presumably Rodger was one its adherents, and we can only hope that this most spectacular and public failure of this peculiarly unpleasant discipline will put off other potential followers.

Other than that… I don’t much want to stray into another country’s politics, but surely, finally, yet again again again, America could listen to the heart-rending plea of Christopher Martinez, father of one of the dead, who in a highly emotional press conference blamed politicians and the NRA for the lack of gun control. “When will this insanity stop?” he raged. “We should say to ourselves, ‘not one more’.”

Footnote: Also on Saturday, it was announced that John Waszynski, from Connecticut, has been charged with murder after living for months with the rotting corpse of his strangled mother. Norman Bates, anyone?

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It’s Miller time! Sin Sity: A Dame To Kill For trailer

7 Mar

I am unreasonably excited by the new teaser trailer for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, which has just been released. The first film was a stone-cold, hard-boiled cult classic, echoing Frank Miller’s Expressionist (in film terms) art with amazing precision while still adding life to the book – it didn’t feel like a second-hand reproduction as Watchmen did. That they didn’t tone down the violence was something of a miracle, though not every viewer had the stomach for a Harry Potter lookalike getting his arms and legs eaten off by dogs while still alive.

A lot of people are no fans of Frank Miller, and in some ways he’s the anti-Alan Moore. Right-wing in sensibility where Moore is left-wing to the point of anarchy, he also despises realism in superhero comics, pushing for archetypal stories of violence, desire and redemption. Whatever you may think of his politics and view of women, I’ve interviewed him and found him eloquent, intelligent, mildly irascible and good company.

It’s Frank’s year: 300, the movie you’d think couldn’t possibly have a sequel, gets a second go-round with Rise of an Empire. I visited the studios in Bulgaria when they had just finished shooting, and the crew were agog at what a monumental production it was, using up every single one of their massive soundstages for green-screen work. But to me, it looks overwrought from the trailer. No fun; just brutal.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, in contrast, looks to be a visual feast, with a knock-out cast that reunites Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King, Powers Boothe, Mickey Rourke, and Bruce Willis, as well as adding Eva Green, Josh Brolin, Jamie Chung, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Juno Temple, Ray Liotta, Stacy Keach and, er, Lady Gaga. It’s been nine long years since the first film. Welcome back, big Marv.

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Merry Christmas from Laughin’ Lou Reed

25 Dec

In memory of Lou Reed, here is a charming Christmas-flavoured tale off the White Light/White Heat album, written by Lou in his college days, called The Gift. It’s longish at 8 mins, but repays careful listening to those who don’t already know it. Ho ho ho.

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Bad Grandpa: Borat meets the school of hard Knoxville

1 Aug

I’m pretty sure I’ve just seen the runaway comedy film of the autumn. Or rather, the trailer for it, which was released just a few hours ago. Bad Grandpa features Johnny Knoxville as 86-year-old Irving Zisman, on a far from heart-warming road trip across America to reunite his eight-year-old grandson with his father. Suddenly scheduled for release on Oct 25, it was filmed in great secrecy over the summer, in order to keep the reaction of the public, Borat-style, authentic.

As you’d expect from the makers of Jackass, the comedy is broader than the Amazon river. Knoxville/Zisman collapses into a tower of champagne glasses at a wedding; knocks over the open casket at a funeral; and, in a glorious homage to Little Miss Sunshine, his grandson dons a dress and blonde wig to enter a child pageant, and ends his routine dancing round a stripper’s pole as his granddad peels off dollar bills. This at least shows that the humour will occasionally strike a valid satirical target, rather than just disturbing innocent bystanders whose shock, anger and bewilderment are recorded by multiple hidden cameras.

As a commercial idea, it’s genius: like all the most popular YouTube clips of people falling over and fighting and freaking out put together. As comedy it looks, expel me now from the Critics’ Circle (um, not that I ever joined), hilarious. As art… hmm. We’ll see.

I have teenaged sons; the watching of Jackass was mandatory for a while. The best sequences were not the crazy hurtful stunts, I always felt, but the ones where they would bewilder members of the public. The Bad Grandpa sketches, such as the one where he sits outside with his grandson (older than in the film), passing back and forth a cigarette and bottle of hooch and picking a fight with the local hard-nut, were hilarious.

I smell a hit. If this doesn’t take $100 million I will, like Werner Herzog, eat my shoe.

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The Presence LDN: a Cosplay post-punk rockapocalypse

5 Jul

Sometimes, a critic must set subjective judgement aside, and just say: this is TOTALLY FREAKING AWESOME!

The video above, released just today, is one such time. It’s a compilation of Cosplay footage that will get any comic-book fan pressing the Replay button again and again, set to a two-minute hit-seeking missile of a song. It’s put together by the frontman of new band The Presence LDN, a man who seemingly now wants to be known as just “SWP”, though my personal nickname for him is “Occult Steve” due to his habit of… how else can I put it… materialising in unexpected places.

A former horror film director and composer whom I first met thanks to omniscient film critic Kim Newman, SWP has since manifested at three club events I attended as well as a Shoreditch street corner. Usually while I was thinking of him.

Ageless under a shock of white hair, resembling a much handsomer brother of Johnny Rotten (indeed, former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock played bass in his last band, King Mob), SWP and The Presence have even been immortalised on their website by cult comic artist Shaky Kane…

As I say, totally freaking awesome.

‘Like’ the band on Facebook here: http://on.fb.me/17SpmDo

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Here comes the son: Sam’s ‘Circus Freak’ short

20 Mar

Circus Freak by Sam Wells and Matt Hooks

Forgive me Blogfather, for I have sinned: it has been 23 days since my last post. I’ve been working literally day and night on a bunch of different journalistic assignments. Still am, for the next week. But I couldn’t not write about this.

My son Sam has directed and acted in his first short film, Circus Freak (above). Aww! But actually, if you watch it, you’ll see only two of those letters are correct. The response should be “Wow”.

Am I biased? You betcha. So see what you think. Once you’ve watched it, let me tell you a bit more about it:

As part of his AS Level Film Studies, Sam was told to make a 2.5 min short. No more. His initial script idea would, I worried, run to nearly five. That was pretty much my only input (that, and the pizza phone call joke). Everything else he and his collaborator Matt Hooks worked out themselves.

Eventually they stripped out the character of the annoyingly eager younger brother who makes the protagonist realise, at the end, that family is what really counts. It ate up valuable screen time, and never quite rang true. Instead they substituted a terrific visual ending which still makes me laugh every time I see Sam’s goofy grin.

sam circus freak 2

Is it a coruscating commentary on talent-show dreams of instant gratification? Or a paean to boundless optimism and the hope that springs eternal? I favour the latter, but either way it’s a great lesson in narrative economy.

Every second was pre-planned and storyboarded. Note the details: the shot from under the bed; the camera following the ball as it bounces along the pavement; the close up on the balls in the air before the long shot of Sam juggling; the tight shots on feet, hands, eyes and mouth when preparing for his public show. It’s nice to know that a lifetime of being shown film classics by myself and the estimable Frank Wynne (www.terribleman.com) has been put to good use.

The action is amazingly well edited to the music. This is how precise it is: Sam showed me a near-final cut in which the transition from initial voiceover/montage to live action seemed too abrupt. He thought that carrying the music over by two more notes would solve the problem. It did.

My final take-home from this? If a pair of 17-year-old kids can make a good-looking short with a digital camera and a laptop, so can we all. You don’t need a big budget. You don’t even need a big idea. You just need a tight script, a lot of planning – and boundless optimism. Get out and do it.

 

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Bullied to death: the last testament of Amanda Todd

12 Jan

amanda-toddI cry easily at movies. Not just Schindler’s List or the ending of Titanic, but Lord of the Rings or The Lion King. But I’ve never cried at a short, not until today. The story of Amanda Todd will break your heart in nine minutes flat.

Her death, and the video she made six weeks before her death, were reported three months ago, but they passed me by until I read about them just now on cult musician Amanda Palmer’s blog. The video is stark, and beautifully simple: a 15-year-old girl tells her story by holding up hand-written cue cards, in the manner of Bob Dylan on Subterranean Homesick Blues. Fixed camera, black and white, no frills. Yet it’s had 25 million views on YouTube.

She tells of the adult cyberstalker who duped her, aged 12, into flashing him in a video chat, and then blackmailed her with the pictures. Of how her whole school found out, and bullied and ostracised her for it. Of how, when she moved, the whole of her next school found out. And then…

Well. Watch the video. It’s even more heart-wrenching to know that it is effectively her suicide note. The opening cue-card reads, “Hello. I’ve decided to tell you about my never-ending story.” In fact her story ended six weeks later. (Blog continues under the video.)

The manner of filming is as powerful as the message. There is no distraction; the cards demand your concentration. Crucially, Amanda’s full face is never seen: only her mouth and her ringleted hair. By not putting a specific face on her suffering, she becomes the Everywoman of bullying victims. This story is not just hers, but that of anyone who has ever put on a brave face in public and cried alone.

It would be nice if Amanda became Malala, the Pakistani teenager who narrowly survived being shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to attend school; or the unnamed 23-year-old victim whose horrific rape and murder in Delhi has stirred India to action; or the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire to protest persecution in south Vietnam or the Chinese occupation of Tibet. It would be nice if her death were not wholly the futile, senseless, tragic waste that suicides are. It would be nice if something positive were to come of her suffering. If in death she had the power to change minds that in life she lacked.

We should all try to make it so.

Hatred can only survive without empathy, and it’s a hard heart who could not feel for this lonely, persecuted girl. And all the millions out there just like her.

Her mother has said, “I think the video should be shared and used as an anti-bullying tool. That is what my daughter would have wanted.” It should be required viewing for all teenagers, hard as it is to watch. And if in future they see someone being bullied, or reaching out in any way for help, I like to think they will not so easily turn aside.

There are, tragically, many other stories like Amanda Todd’s. Read my second blog on the subject here