Film Review: Deathgasm

Deathgasm
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One of the more prominent scenes in Deathgasm involves a fight scene between the protagonists and a couple who are possessed by demons. Loud metal music (Beastwars and 8 Foot Sativa) plays in the background and our heroes need to resort to using sex toys as weapons to defend themselves against their attackers.

This is probably enough information for you to decide whether Deathgasm will suit your taste or not.

The film begins with lead character Brodie moving to a small backwater town to after his mum was institutionalised due to a wild meth-fueled bender. His relatives don’t approve of his bogan music tastes, and he and his friends are ruthlessly picked on by his cousin, the school bully.

After a run in with an infamous long-lost frontman of a metal band he adores, Brodie acquires sheet music that summons a demon when it is played – think the musical equivalent of Evil Dead’s Book of the Dead. And of course, once this happens Brodie and his bogan buddies need to figure out a way to fight what they’ve unleashed.

Black Sabbath, the original metal pioneers, invented their new sound after inspiration from watching horror movies, so it’s only natural that the horror and metal genres marry so perfectly. And New Zealand is such a bogan nation that it’s impossible not to relate to the humour of it all. Tenacious D’s The Pick of Destiny, or the Bill and Ted movies are similar in some ways, but Deathgasm manages to do funny without being as lame. Ridiculous, sure, but not desperate.

It’s the realism that is key here. Lei Howden admits that most of the characters – awkward, violent, heavy metal loving youths – are based on himself in some way or another. They’re crass, but they’re also believable.

Mind you, this is only the characters. The guy who loves his Holden more than his friends is believable. The nerds who play role-playing games during lunch are believable. They’re funny, too. But it’s the insanely unbelievable splatter and gore that pushes the humour to the next level, like in Peter Jackson’s early films Braindead and Bad Taste.

Blood and guts and chainsaws and axes all feature by the bucketful. Lei Howden’s background is in visual effects so expect plenty of gratuitous fluids onscreen. The combination of horror and comedy can be pretty risky, but producer Ant Timpson was at the helm, and the end result works brilliantly, like other films he’s worked on such as Housebound and another current NZIFF film Turbo Kid.

Your mum will probably hate this film. But then again, she probably hates heavy metal too. And isn’t that half the point of listening to it?

Deathgasm is an extremely inappropriate assault on the senses. But if you enjoy over-the-top horror films and identify as a metal head then I doubt you’ll mind.

 

Joseph James

 

Film Review: Terminator Genisys

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The original Terminator – along with the 1991 sequel – has a special place in the hearts of sci-fi fans. The successive third and fourth movies were worth forgetting, but The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series proved that the Terminator universe could still be added to, when done properly..

Fifth installment, Genisys, is both a sequel and a reboot of the franchise. Like in the latest Xmen film, time travel is used to create a new story arc whilst still paying respect to the original.

There are still nods to the past, with lines like “I’ll be back”, and “Come with me if you want to live” inevitably included. It’s still the same story even – the machines try to kill off the Connor family, while the Connors try to prevent Skynet from being created – but there are enough twists and turns to keep the story fresh.

Interestingly enough, none of the key cast are American.

Emilia Clarke replaces her Game of Thrones co-star Lana Headey as Sarah Connor. And we already know that Clarke  can handle the tough-girl role, playing the mother of John Connor, because we’ve seen her play the Mother of Dragons. She’s fiery and confused, feeling victimised because she has little choice but to play her destined role, and wondering if there is a way to escape her dictated fate.

Arnie, The Governator, reprises possibly his most iconic role as an old – but not yet obsolete – terminator. Arnie is getting old now, but the writers have factored this in. Terminators can age because they are made out of living tissue encasing a robot body, giving explanation to the clear wrinkles and grey hair. His robotic nature and inability to empathise with the humans often provides comic relief, but he’s still the same gun-toting badass that we’re used to.

I don’t love Jai Courtney, who plays Kyle Reese. Maybe it’s because I associate him with his jerk character from Divergentor maybe he just isn’t that likable. I’m not sure, but he does OK. And John Connor is played by Jason Clarke, the wildcard who keeps everyone on their toes.

Genisys has managed to update the franchise while still remaining true to the series. The characters are the same, yet different due to the time travel. There are more terminators this time, but we don’t know which one can be trusted, or even which people are terminators in disguise. The film is brought forward into the 21st century, and not just in the apocalyptic post-Judgement Day wasteland way, but in a touch screens are inescapable kind of way. We need to flip some established preconceptions on their head, like in T2, when viewers had to challenge the ideas that all terminators are bad.

James Cameron has voiced his support of this fifth film, and I agree with him. With Genisys we have more terminators, more time travel, more action. There are car chases on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge that remind me of the recent Planet of the Apes films, and helicopter pursuits through the skies. There are shoot outs in alleyways and fight scenes in factories. A few plot holes go unexplained, but none are glaringly major enough annoy. Most importantly, Genisys does justice to the franchise, and wipes clean the blight of the third and fourth films.

Joseph James

Film Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road
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My friend was trying to describe this film to his girlfriend over the phone just after we’d left the cinema. I think he did a good job of summing it up: “A guy get’s captured. Then he escapes. Uh…. It’s just mindless destruction really!” It’s safe to say that Mad Max is a bit more intense than the last movie that revolved around Tom Hardy driving a long way.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth installment in the series, with Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson as the lead. It’s a high-octane, intense ride the entire way.

This is not to say that the movie only comprises of explosions. There is more to it than that. But not a great deal more.

According to some, Mad Max a feminist triumph. It’s a post-apocalyptic depiction of the frailty of humanity. A story of struggle and of survival. And did I mention that there’s plenty of action and explosions? And though the plot isn’t a masterpiece, it is well paced(from throttling, to break-neck, to overdrive).

The acting is great. The characters are tough and gritty, all with a differing degree of madness. The corrupt warlords are hellbent on retaining their power, no matter the cost. Their minions, the brainwashed War Boys, help the kings with their atrocities, believing that dying in the line of duty will earn them glory in the afterlife of Valhalla. The War Boys outlandishly twisted and cartoonish nature, along with their love for ultra-violence, reminds me of the droogs from Clockwork Orange. Our two protagonists, Max (Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Threron), are both hardened anti-heroes, trying to seek redemption from past sins in their own way.

The viewer gets fully immersed in this new hellish world. The details are stunning, from the vast deserts that the action takes place in, to the almost steampunk vehicles of war. This is a world where you need to be mobile and violent in order to survive. I’m surprised that the rock band Kiss didn’t make a cameo appearance, with all the pyrotechnics and heavy music.

This is what a blockbuster should be. When I pay good money to see a movie such as this, it’s fair to want to leave afterwards feeling blown away. And I was.

If you like your movies action-packed and filled with adrenaline, then do yourself a favour and go watch Mad Max.

Joseph James

Film Review: Insurgent

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I fell in love with the dystopia genre in 6th form English class, when we read Aldous Huxley’s futuristic novel, Brave New World. The marriage of science-fiction and social commentary captivated me. Not only was the story interesting, but it contained an underlying message that fascinated me. Here was a novel written way back in 1931, that had accurately predicted societal functions 80 years in the future.

It makes sense then, that I enjoyed watching Divergent last year. Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, Divergent, follows on from some of the same themes found in Brave New World. The setting is a familiar sci-fi scenario – a post-apocalyptic city containing the last of civilization. The world has been ravaged by war, so the last of the Earth’s population have created for themselves a city contained within a wall, the last refuge for humanity. In an attempt to maintain peace and preserve what they have left, the leaders have elected to split themselves into different factions based on temperament.

To steal from Wikipedia, the factions are: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intellectual

This system would be fine for maintaining peace, were it not for divergents – those whose temperaments are split, meaning that they do not fit within any one faction. Divergents are not tolerated, being considered threats to the system. The film follows one divergent, Triss, and how she tries to fit in as a square peg in a volatile world of round holes

Insurgent picks up a few days after the conclusion of the first film. Protagonists Triss and Four, along with a handful of others, are fugitives after having thwarted an uprising of one of the factions. They have to fight for their survival, either by hiding from those hunting them, or by going on the offensive and leading a war.

The romantic chemistry between the two lead characters is odd – certainly not what I would consider obviously affectionate. I was thinking that the producers had tried to tone down the PDA to get a suitable rating for their ‘tweenage’ audience, until an awkward gratuitous sex scene came up mid-film.

This is not to say that the acting is bad. At many times Shailene Woodley (Triss) seems quite plain (the Oatmeal has an interesting commentary about Twilight that could apply here also), but during the fighting and action scenes she holds her own. Her star moments though, are when she is stricken by grief and has to confess a guilty secret to her friends. Her tears and anguish shine through, really tugging on the viewers heartstrings.

The scenery and the sets are brilliant. Ruined skyscrapers dominate the landscape in a post war-torn Chicago. Plenty of thought has been put into the stark contrast between the different homes of each faction. The characters live in dingy underground tunnel systems, fight on streets of rubble, farm lush fields and calculate in sterile cities, all connected by a large train circuit. CGI has been used to generate holograms and ‘sims’, dream worlds that characters can plug into. Watching the film in 3D did detract from the visuals at times (like when the background was blurred out of focus to make the foreground ‘pop’), but nothing ever appeared cheap or poorly done.

The plot is fairly predictable, but there are enough double crosses and surprise fight scenes to keep the viewer alert. The action sequences are scattered throughout. Be warned that some of the violence, though not explicit, could certainly upset the viewer.

It’s all too easy to draw comparisons with The Hunger Games. Both series are blockbuster movies based on novels. And in both are set in a dystopian future in which society insists on an unjust system to “maintain the peace”. Things slowly begin to unravel, and a strong female leads the underdogs to fight for a more just world.

I see these two trilogies as a positive thing. The series are largely marketed at the ‘tweenage’ demographic, but are enjoyable enough for all audiences. I think widely influencing films such as these are beneficial because they get the viewers thinking: What would I do if I lived in a world like that? Where would I fit in? Would I challenge the status quo? It is also nice to finally see some gutsy female lead roles in a movie industry currently dominated by macho superheroes.

Dystopian stories and films of allegorical nature are becoming increasingly relevant. The factions could be viewed as a feudal class system, something that has potential to happen in the future, with the ever-widening gap between the wealthy and the destitute. The once outlandish and unthinkable ideas found within Brave New World and Georg Orwells’s 1984 are becoming reality. The New Zealand government is selling off citizens rights to multinational corporations and choosing to support unjust wars against the will of their people. The extent of control held by those wielding power needs to be questioned.

The story line of Insurgent wasn’t as good as it’s predecessor, but I still recommend both films, and intend to watch the final installment in the trilogy. Not only because I enjoyed watching them, but because I think that they contain important questions that have the potential to engage many people.

 

Joseph James

The best of 2014

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It’s time to look back and remember some of the highlights on the year just been. Here are some of the best concerts, albums and films I saw/heard in 2014.

The year went by so fast. I was pretty busy with university assignments so didn’t always have time to write reviews. I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads of things that deserve mentioning, but here is what I do remember.


 

Live

Although it wasn’t technically 2014, it was a year ago that my friend Sam and I flew to Sydney to see The Roots play at the Horden Pavilion. I was disappointed that Questlove hid his glorious afro underneath a beanie, but the show was still awesome. “Captain” Kirk, the guitarist, threw his sweaty towel into the crowd. I caught it and gave it to Sam. He keeps it as a treasured memento to remind him of the gig. We also went to the Broadway show of the Lion King and it was too good for words. I bought a CD of the songs of the show. The Australian cast I saw live were better than the recorded version, but I still listen to the CD more than anything else.

I was fortunate enough to tick three bands off my bucket list this year. I saw Nine Inch Nails in Christchurch co-headlining with Queens of the Stoneage. They were incredible. I even got to chat to Trent Reznor at the airport the following day. It was also great to catch up with school friends in Christchurch that I don’t get to see often.

I finally got to see Biffy Clyro live at the Powerstation. I was buzzing for days afterwards. I managed to get a guitar pick and an annotated copy of the set list as well. I also saw Jimmy Eat World at the same venue. I was considering going to Soundwave in Australia to see these two bands at the beginning of the year but couldn’t afford it, so I was rapt when they each got announced to play in NZ.

The Beards were a comedy band that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was nice catching up with my friend Jason from Melbourne, who was working as their follically gifted merch guy. Another funny gig was internet sensation and rapper Ur Boy Bangs, with local hardcore band Declaration AD opening. It was pretty hilarious, but surprisingly fun.

Other live acts that stood out this year include post-rock masters Jakob, pop starlet Ellie Goulding, and modern hardcore band La Dispute.

I’m seeing Shihad in a few days and I’m sure that will also be worthy of this list. I’ve seen them at least ten times in the past and they’ve never disappointed. I’m looking forward to seeing them play material from the new album, FVEY

The gigs that I’m looking most forward to in 2015 so far include Frank Turner, Gary Clark Jr, and Foo Fighters.


 

Albums and EPs

There have been some great new music releases this year. Here’s some that stood out for me, categorised by genre but not in any particular order.

Hip-hop

  • Run The Jewels – RTJ2

El-P and Killer Mike stole the show at the hip-hop triple bill at the beginning of the year, and then proceeded to release an even better second album less than a year after their first.

  • Sage Francis – Copper Gone

Sage Francis continues as a veteran wordsmith wizard. Copper Gone in entertaining and thought-provoking, with great music and clever lyrics. His Wellington show was great as well.

Keith Stanfield caught my attention as a talented actor, and proved himself as a capable rapper too. A dark, tormented début EP.

Post-rock

Of course this album was inevitably excellent. Composer Rhian Sheehan helped to add masterful extra touches to help the Napier trio surpass perfection.

The latest release from one of my fave post-rock bands shows a softer side with great results.

Rock

A new sound, new direction and new name for Solemn Sun helped them create an alt-rock EP that leaves me eagerly awaiting their next album.

I’ve listened to it at least once every day since it arrived in the post. Sublime electro-prog-rock  arisen from the ashes of Cog.

  • Biffy Clyro – Similarities (B-sides album)

It goes without saying that any release from my fave band will get a mention.

 

Queens of the Stoneage – … Like Clockwork and Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways were both major disappointments. Both bands are of high calibre and had lots of hype around the new albums, but the music just wasn’t good enough to make me want to listen to the albums more than once.


 

Films

I only wrote two film reviews this year, but I saw plenty of great movies that deserve a mention

Housebound was by far the stand out film of the year for me. A Kiwi comedy/horror that strikes the perfect balance. The Dark Horse was another NZ film that impressed. Forget The Hobbit, New Zealand can produce some quality films without the need to sell out to Hollywood.

The follow-up to one of my fave movies came out in July. The Raid 2 was just as violent and intense as its predecessor, but with more varied and imaginative fight scenes. The sequel was pretty long, with a more complex plot. Fingers crossed for The Raid 3 in years to come!

The trailer was bad enough to put me off wanting to watch it, but Gone Girl was gripping, albeit unsettling. This was one that surpassed expectations. It also featured a soundtrack written by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, which earns it bonus marks in my book.

2013’s The Wolverine, was abysmal, but the X-Men franchise redeemed themselves with Days Of The Future Past. I was left with plenty of unanswered questions, but it was a clever way to tie in the two timelines.

Another sci-fi that I enjoyed was Snowpiercer, a futuristic dystopian film set on a train that contains the last of earth’s population. It was incredible right until the end, when it lost momentum in the last scene.

I enjoyed Frozen, although as a trainee early childhood teacher went a bit insane because of children singing “Let It Go” non-stop. Lego Movie was fun as well, but Big Hero 6 was my favourite children’s animated film.

The major let down was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. It was long. It was grand. But it didn’t come together in a satisfying way. I fail to understand why people rated it so highly.


I’ve been blessed to have such a good year. Since launching Will Not Fade earlier this year I’ve had people from all over the world read my reviews. One review featured at Stereofox.com. I’ve had bands ask me to review their music and I’ve gained media passes to attend events. I really enjoy doing this and I plan to continue what I’m doing.

Please let me know what you think. What did you enjoy reading? Are there bands or films you want to see me write about? Did I inspire you to listen to a new band, or watch another film? Do you have any other suggestions?

Thanks for reading. All the best for 2015!

 

Joseph James