Tuesday 21 May 2013

Dark Review - Straightheads

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Straightheads Review 

By Casey Douglass 


Directed and Written by : Dan Reed

Starring : Danny Dyer , Gillian AndersonAnthony Calf , Ralph Brown.

Straightheads is a revenge film, and would happily be filed in the “Revenge Film” section of the local rental store, if they had such a section, and if those stores still existed. However, it would be doing it a great disservice to label it as such and leave it at that. It is a revenge film done right. It isn’t the cheesy kind of 80s film which takes a shallow look at the victim-aggressor relationship and wraps it up in corny one liners. Rather, it revels in a surprising amount of depth and moral complexity, happy to occupy the grey areas of the moralistic compass, rather than live at the extremes.

Adam (Dyer) is a security guy hired by Alice (Anderson) to fit her stylish modern house with a security system that would not be amiss in a jewellery shop or some kind of bordello. She then invites him to the house-warming party of her boss, giving him a nice suit and a wry smile, seeing him as just another accessory to her outfit. On their way home from the party, after some nocturnal fumbling in a nearby woodland, they are attacked by a group of men. Adam is severely beaten and practically left for dead. Alice is dragged from the car and raped for the sport and merriment of the trio. This is the catalyst, the event that sets Adam and Alice on their path of revenge.

There are some interesting themes running through the film, alongside the self-evident revenge thread. One is the irony of having a security system fitted, and then spending the rest of the evening acting recklessly and taking risks whilst driving and debauching. Another lovely touch is the hand of fate or coincidence in causing the events to transpire in the way they do. Fate causes Adam and Alice to be stopped and vulnerable on a narrow country line, yet a short time later, fate also provides Alice with the means not only to track down one of the men responsible, but also gives her the means to accomplish it.

I really enjoyed how the main characters all occupy various grey areas in their morality, and yet changed as the film went on. Dyer plays the reluctant Adam with his usual guy-who-has-seven-shades-knocked-out-of-him bloody grimace and his attempts to cope with his physical injuries via booze and getting high. Alice is his opposite, played by Anderson as an outwardly calm independent person who sets out to get her revenge via any means necessary. There is in interesting scene half way through the film where she asks Adam to tell her what to do, and while at the time it felt odd, a little thought seems to suggest it was her way of making Adam part of the unfolding events, rather than be a moaning spectator. It was truly interesting to see how Alice and Adam interact with each other. I suspect that had the events of that night not happened, they would have just been two bodies up for a one night stand and then parted ways. They are thrown together by the awful event, but even that event is later explained by more moral shades of grey.

The film revels in tempting the characters to cross various “lines” and then, through their behaviour and sometimes erratic actions, it can be seen that they pay a very real price for pushing themselves on, possibly becoming like the very men they despised at the start. It is of great credit to Dyer and Anderson that they play this game of moral brinkmanship incredibly well. If you like surprising films acted very well, with a dash of bloody revenge and nudity, give Straightheads a try.

Rating : 5/5

The review can also be found on Generic Movie Blog Uk here.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Dark Review - Accidental Genius

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Accidental Genius by Mark Levy

Accidental Genius Book Review

By Casey Douglass

Accidental Genius by Mark Levy is a book that offers to give you the tools to unlock your creativity in any area that requires thought, which is almost everything. I purchased it with the hope that it might further my understanding of the "Free writing" technique that I had only formerly met during my Open University writing course. There, it was given maybe a page in the coursebook and that was that.

Free writing, at it's most basic, is writing uninhibitedly for a set amount of time. You are not meant to judge your output nor over think things. It should be stream of consciousness type stuff flowing freely from your brain and onto the page. What this book does however, is give you so many more ways to use the technique, subtle nuances that really didn't occur to me before. I bought the book hoping it would expand my understanding and it certainly has. I have used free writing in a wholly new way since reading this book and I advise anyone to give it a read. I have used it to help brainstorm ideas for stories, articles, and even to gain clarity with life situations. I think that if you are any kind of writer, it might be especially valuable to you, and it does contain a few chapters on using the technique for writing issues.

My only criticism isn't really a criticism. Mark uses some marketing/business examples for a lot of the techniques described which, although amply driving home his point, verged on sending me to sleep at times. However I did learn what I needed to learn, so it's a very minor and probably subjective negative in my opinion.

A big thumbs up from me!

Saturday 11 May 2013

Dark Pondering - Knightmare

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By Casey Douglass

It was a strange case of knowing something but continually forgetting. I knew that the Challenge channel showed the 80’s kids TV show Knightmare, but it's just something that my mind regularly pushed back into the storage room, with Teenage Mutant Turtle figures and Thundercats. Last night, due to some half asleep channel surfing, that storage room door was flung open and the horny (careful) helmet almost took my eye out.

Knightmare! The thing that I knew...then didn’t...then knew again, on my TV, right there! I was an eight year old again, enjoying the music and the tension and bemoaning those damned ad-breaks once more.

Of course, the effects and presentation have suffered horribly at the hands of time. The dwindling health animation of the helmet and skin flying away from a representation of the players face looked like something created in Deluxe Paint 4 on the Amiga. The kids too looked typical for the 80’s, their hairstyles and clothes. I can't really hold it against them of course.

The key elements of the show still enthralled me though. The instructions given by the dungeon master (Hugo Myatt) were immediately familiar, and the incidental characters in this particular episode all gave their performances with gusto. You knew that the people making the show enjoyed what they were doing and cared. Something that feels lacking in today’s kids TV.

I was a little disappointed not to see Hordriss (Clifford Norgate) as I did actually meet him once. He came to our local Jarrolds for a book signing. One day after school, in the deepening dark, we went into the well lit store, weaving through the perfumes and floaty attendants with their drawn on eyebrows, heading for the raised book area that had been earmarked for the meeting.

There he sat at a table, a big smile creeping out from under his beard. He then promptly got my firstname and surname wrong, but I forgive him for that. Maybe playing Hordriss the Confuser is just too hard to let go of?

I was going to say that it would be great if Knightmare was resurrected. Looking around the internet it looks like such a thing has almost happened a few times but the results look poor. I will revise my opinion to one that the format could at least be adopted. Directing a victim by teamwork through various perils, acting as their eyes or some other sense, it is certainly a more tense prospect than some of the alternatives today. I don’t want to rag on today’s kids TV too much, I know it is not meant for me, and I am not old enough to pull off the grumpy old git image just yet. I just can't help thinking that going back to some of the ideas and formats of old would be a worthwhile thought experiment, if nothing else.

What is your favourite classic kids TV programme? Comment below if you dare adventurer!

Thursday 9 May 2013

Dark Article - Natural Darkness

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Natural Darkness

By Casey Douglass

I recently had one of those evenings where you just don’t know what to do. You feel ill but restless, you feel depressed but distant from it, you feel like life is pretty meaningless and just aren’t sure how you feel about that thought. In other words, you are very much in your own head, and you don’t particularly like it. It was a pleasant evening weather-wise, the sun almost setting, so I thought I would have a walk into the nearby woodland and see if I could take some moody photos. I also thought it might be a giggle to see how spooky the woods became and how long I would stay there. Some Buddhist traditions embrace meditating in dark spaces as part of their advanced practices, so it did cross my mind that it might help my mood, or shatter my brain completely. I should probably add that I have meditated in various ways for many years, and am not someone who hears something and thinks it will be a quick fix, mainly because nothing ever is.

A short distance down the road, I was glad I had gotten out of the house. The sun was warm and bathing everything in a heavenly glow. Anyone who has played Bioshock Infinite will immediately get my meaning. Dust motes and bugs glinting near hedgerows as they danced in and out of the sun’s fading light. It was very beautiful.

I got to the woods and was just in time. The sun was close to disappearing behind the crest of the peaked hilltop, but it shone invitingly onto some of the trees, while leaving others in darkness. It almost had a hint of “Why are those trees being favoured? What makes them so special?” My gain either way as I took some interesting pictures.

I also had my trust digital recorder with me, hoping to capture some woodland sounds as the birds began to roost and the woodland night shift takes over. I had previously used an older kind that had two separate mics, but it was very fiddly to get them clipped in a pleasing way. I treated myself to a Zoom H1 a few weeks ago, so thought I would bring it along. Previous attempts had found that it was quite prone to wind noise, so I need to come up with some kind of windbreak or dead-cat cover to keep the wind out of my recordings. I still hadn’t procured one so I brought it with me on the off chance of recording something decent. I found a nice little depression to stand it on a mini tripod, mainly out of the wind. I then sat nearby, as motionless as possible, listening and watching to woodland go dark around me. 

The sunlit glade I was in made the darkness of the deeper wood even more stark, but I sat happily, occasionally looking around at the sound of the odd rustle, with a wave ready if anyone was dog walking in the distance. Wouldn’t want people to think I was upto no good. What would they think? “Who the hell does that guy think he is? Sitting there all quiet and motionless. Must be upto something!” I contented myself with listening to the wood pigeons flapping and watching the odd squirrel jump from one tree to another.

A slight itch drew my attention to my hand and I saw the long proboscis of a gnat piercing my skin. I flicked the unwanted guest away, failing first time as it still held on. It pestered me for the next ten minutes while I contemplated the slight prickling at the base of my hand. The bugger.

When I looked around again, the golden glow had vanished. When did that happen? It still wasn’t dark dark, but almost. I decided to change location and sit in the darkest place I could find. A moment later a large black dog ran ahead of me, but I did very well. Well, once I saw it was a lab, and not some kind of scary hell-hound. I then saw the young couple walking it and said good evening. It was nice to see people, even after half an hour sitting alone. Or maybe I was still just relieved not to have had my throat ripped out.

I found the next place to sit and setup my recorder again. It was very dark now, the sky in the distance still showing a hint of colour, but everything around me had faded to dark grey and black. I sat and listened. The wood pigeons were silent now, there were hardly any bird calls or any other sounds of life. The wind started to chill me as it found some added strength from somewhere, making the trees creak in a pleasant way. I closed my eyes and listened, feeling engrossed and at home. I wondered if that made me weird but realised I didn’t care. After being afraid of the dark from a young age, as most people are, and afraid of monsters, demons and other beasties, I was sure if I had told my young self that I would one day sit alone in a dark wood, I wouldn’t have believed it for one moment. Then I heard a chilling sound, and one that I instantly knew. It was just strangely out of place, which made it seem so strange and a little creepy. I heard the siren of an ambulance in the distance, slowly getting nearer along the road that was some distance away. I listened to it Doppler past and vanish again into the night, the birds roosting giving the odd flit and flutter at having been disturbed. A reminder of civilisation and mortality all rolled into one.

I pondered for awhile longer, and then having decided my bum was quite numb enough, I stood with my camera and decided to take some spooky self portraits. I did a couple with just the light of the sky behind me silhouetting, which was fine, as far as it goes. Then I had the bright (pun intended) idea of using the flash. Cue a burst of light that isn’t that easy to handle when you have been in a dark place for almost an hour. I think I swore, must remember to check the recordings to see. I also got startled by the roosting birds that the flash disturbed. I didn’t want to scare them again but decided on taking a few more. Yes that’s right. I’m bad.

I decided to head for home as it occurred to me I soon wouldn’t be able to see the path or the way out, and I had no torch except my camera flash. I could have done it that way I’m sure. Flashing in the woods! I was a few steps down the path when I heard a fox start to bark. It was eerie and mournful and I had a couple of attempts at recording it. It didn’t seem to be coming any nearer and slowly went further away. I’d had about enough by this point so I bid the woods a good night and made my way home.

The next morning I awoke to three lovely angry looking bites on my hand, a collection of interesting photos, and recordings suffering from wind noise as I feared they might. It was an experience though so I have no regrets in doing it.

I’d be interested to hear of anyone else’s visits to spooky or dark places, whether to sit and ponder or merely to test their own mettle. Please comment below if you have something to share.

Friday 3 May 2013

Dark Review - Space Terror

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My review of the iOS game Space Terror is now up on Geek Syndicate. The link is here if anyone fancies a read.