Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Retrospective: Atlas Shrugged Part III - Who Is John Galt? (2014)

Welcome back to the Atlas Shrugged retrospective! Today we'll be looking at the third and (mercifully) final entry in the franchise, Atlas Shrugged Part III - Who Is John Galt? After the dumpster fires that were the first two films in this series, Aglialoro and company were back with another entirely new cast and a smaller budget than ever! Could they see this series out on a high note? Read on to find out...

Oh, and as with the last 2 entries, be sure to check out my friend Matt's review at his blog, The M, as we both chose to suffer through this series together!



...I'm not sure if they could have gone with a more boring, non-descript and unrelated poster for this film. After several looks at the poster it appears to be a railroad, which is fair enough, but it would actually fit the first film better as there are barely any scenes on the tracks in this one. I also love how Hank gets to cameo in it in the little airplane in the corner, which unintentionally fits well into his purpose in this film.

PRODUCTION

After Aglialoro and his production team poured even more money and effort into marketing Part II, only to be met with resounding financial and critical failure, it looked questionable whether the final chapter of Atlas Shrugged would ever get off the ground. However, the filmmakers were true believers and were not going to be dissuaded. Aglialoro, along with fellow franchise producer Harmon Kaslow, set about seeing this project through and by late March 2013 it was announced that filming would begin in the fall. They were looking for a director, cast and crew at the time and Aglialoro said that "I don't care if I've got to fire five directors — that's fine. We're going to get it right." So, after a declaration like that, who did they ultimately hire? The answer is James Manera, who literally had one directing credit to his name on IMDb at the time, a single episode of Nash Bridges almost 20 years earlier (although he also had directed a couple small documentaries which don't appear there). Truly Aglialoro and company had to sort through the cream of the crop to see this film series through! Duncan Scott (who had co-written the screenplay for Part II) and Brian O'Toole (who had also written the screenplays for both previous films) were tapped to return to write the screenplay for Part III. While it was announced that both would be returning to write Part III, neither are credited in the final film. Instead, writing credits go to producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow, along with director James Manera. I wasn't able to find an answer regarding if Scott and O'Toole's original screenplay was heavily rewritten by the producers, or if the producers just wrote their own from scratch for (presumably) budgetary reasons, but the fact that they're the only ones who are credited in the finished product is rather interesting. Also, a fun tidbit - back before Part I was released, Aglialoro had toyed with the idea of having Part III suddenly be a musical, but this idea never got anywhere near the final product. It's just funny to see that Aglialoro had ideas that could have made this franchise's continuity even more baffling.

As for the obligatory recasting, the role of Dagny was filled by Laura Regan, probably best known for a short stint on Mad Men, some minor horror movie roles and a number of guest TV appearances. The esteemed role of John Galt went to Kristoffer Polaha, who was similarly best known for a short stint on Mad Men and a number of guest TV appearances (my first thoughts on seeing him in this film were that he looked like a Hallmark channel love interest and, lo and behold, he's been in 6 Hallmark channel movies since this film came out). Hank Rearden was played in this film by Rob Morrow, who had earned Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his roles in Northern Exposure and then had a successful run leading Numb3rs, making him probably the biggest name in the cast. The next biggest name in the cast was veteran character actor Joaquim de Almeida, known for big roles in Clear and Present Danger, Desperado and Fast Five among many, many others. De Almeida was cast to play Francisco D'Anconia. James Taggart was played by Greg Germann, who was probably best known for Ally McBeal, but seems to have been confined to minor roles ever since. Rounding out the notable recast characters was Peter Mackenzie as Head of State Thompson, who was a pretty decent character actor in his own right, but was never going to live up to Ray Wise's portrayal from the last film. Finally, Part III also introduces us to Ragnar Danneskj√∂ld, played by Eric Allan Kramer, who had some big roles in Robin Hood: Men in Tights and True Romance early in his career but had been confined to character roles and guest appearances ever since. Oh and it's also worth noting that, like Part II, Part III also features conservative celebrity cameos from the likes of Presidential candidate Ron Paul, along with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, all providing the "voice of reason" in the film.




While filming was intended to start in the fall of 2013, it did not actually begin until mid-January 2014. This was likely because the producers' fundraising came up shorter than they had expected (around $10 million split evenly between the filming and marketing budgets) and so they launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign on September 23, 2013! This Kickstarter makes for a very interesting relic to pour over for a retrospective. $446,907 was raised during the campaign by 3,554 backers... but if you look closer at how the numbers break down, at least $100,000 of this was raised by the 10 highest-donating backers! Another 12 contributed a further $65,000+ and then 65 more contributed another $65,000+, meaning that more than half of the funds were supplied by 87 people - a measly 2% of the total backers! Clearly there were lots of rich people who had nothing better to do with their money than to throw it at this film... and, funnily enough, we actually know who some of these people are because 16 people who donated a staggering $7,500 or more had their names very crudely carved into a piece of wood and appear prominently on screen (it's jarring and funny to see in the finished film though because these rough carvings are flanking carvings which were clearly done with some professional tools beforehand, so their names just look like they were done by angsty teens).


Of course, this Kickstarter ended up generating a number of justifiably snarky comments about how the filmmakers sure were relying on altruism from their libertarian audience to bring about this film after it failed so spectacularly on the free market. Anticipating this response, the Kickstarter featured not one, but two FAQs about how it was not against Ayn Rand's philosophy to ask people for money, even going so far as to dedicate a whole other article on this topic on The Atlas Society as well. Having learned more about Objectivism from this retrospectives series, I actually do understand their argument, which is summed up pretty well by the FAQ response:

"Kickstarter is not charity and we do not seek charity. We are offering a voluntary value-for-value exchange. If you see no value in any of the reward levels, you should not back the project. Regarding the idea of charity however, Ayn Rand had no problem with someone giving money to a cause they care about. If someone deems a cause worthy and wants to donate money, they should be free to do it. What Ayn Rand had a problem with is altruism for the sake of altruism as a moral duty, or being compelled, or forced, to 'give.'"
While I do understand their argument, it comes across as a fairly arbitrary distinction to me - whenever they ask for a handout, they're exonerated because they will say that it's a value exchange (although charging $7,500 to get your name crudely carved onto a piece of wood sounds closer to a "scam" to me, especially when the film had already been financed and was going to happen regardless). However, whenever anyone else asks for a handout, they'll characterize them as moochers and looters. Add in the fact that they ignore that even when they're "forced" to give, there's still value being created in having a society that functions properly, which would be even more valuable if they weren't such crusty bastards who hate the idea of other people living at a reasonable standard. So, yeah, I can see how they can justify this Kickstarter within their own philosophy, but it just feels like another convenience to allow Objectivists to do what they want while looking down on people with less means for doing the same.

Interestingly, Rand devotees and fans of the movie franchise were invited to an event at the Atlas Summit in order to help determine the final edit of the film. I wasn't able to determine how exactly this event went, how involved it was or how it might have affected the final film, but it's a really interesting detail which shows how the filmmakers were attempting to get directly involved with the public on this particular film. The film was released on September 12, 2014 to a much smaller opening of 242 screens, grossing a measly $851,690 against its $10 million filming and marketing budget. This means that, if you add together the marketing and production budgets of all three films (including the ~$15 million which was spent on Part I before it went into full production), the Atlas Shrugged franchise lost almost $45 million dollars!!! HOLY SHIT!!! Even if you just factor in the costs which went directly into these three films, that's still a huge, $30 million dollar loss that could have been prevented if the filmmakers weren't so proud or dogmatic that they insisted on pushing on, ballooning their losses with each misstep.



Start the video at 16:06, it conveys how this news makes me feel more clearly than my own words could.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Retrospective: Atlas Shrugged - Part II (2012)

Welcome back to part two of the Atlas Shrugged retrospective! In today's post we're going to be looking at the second entry in this "series", Atlas Shrugged: Part II. After a dull, cheap and morally-objectionable first chapter, could the producers finally get the quality adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel that they so desperately wanted? Read on to find out...

Oh, and like the last entry, if you're looking to read a review of the film from someone who has read the book, check out Matt's review at The M as well!

Certainly a more interesting poster than the first film, conveys a more epic and grandiose scale than the cute little clip art graphic the first one had.

PRODUCTION
After Atlas Shrugged: Part I's release, the producers went about planning Part II. However, the free market rejected the first Atlas Shrugged film and it failed to turn a profit, the producers were forced to find other avenues in order to finance a sequel. Funding took until the start of February of 2012, when a private debt sale was conducted which raised $16 million dollars for the film (presumably this was debt owned by John Aglialoro himself and perhaps other members of the production team). With financing complete, pre-production could wrap up and the film would begin shooting in April of 2012.

While the producers handwaved much of the criticism of the first film as being ideologically-motivated, they did acknowledge that the first film was not as good as they would have liked and proceeded to do a clean sweep of the cast and crew. Given the rushed production schedule of the first film, none of the cast had been negotiated to return for Part II anyway... which was probably the biggest break for Taylor Schilling ever, as she instead landed major roles in The Lucky One and freaking Argo, before going on to take the lead role in Orange is the New Black! Suffice to say, she dodged a bullet by not shackling herself to Atlas Shrugged sequels.

For the principal cast, veteran actress Samantha Mathis was cast as Dagny, former Scientologist Jason Beghe was cast as Hank Rearden, Timothy Olyphant look-alike Esai Morales was cast as Francisco d'Antonia and Patrick Fabian was cast as James Taggart (not a DOA vertan? Boooo!!!). Also worth noting is that Retrospectives veteran Ray Wise makes a cameo appearance as the freaking President of the United States! Once again, he's probably the best actor in the whole damn film, but considering that he's in this and God's Not Dead 2, it makes me seriously wonder what the man's political affiliations are. Unfortunately, The Atlas Society founder David Kelley admitted up-front that the producers were planning on once again recasting everyone in the film for Part III. This was an absolutely bone-headed idea in my opinion, since they had more time and money to negotiate with the actors this time around to prevent this from happening again. Kelley tried to play it off, saying that "in the end, the central character of the films is the world Rand created. In notes she made while writing the novel, she made the arresting assertion that the focus was to be about the world, not about the characters as individuals", which is just baffling when put in the context of the importance of individualism in Objectivist philosophy. The producers decided to gamble on the idea that the story of Atlas Shrugged would hold up even if the cast changed every time, and that the change of actors each time might even put more focus on the world.


The film was shot over the course of 31 days, slightly more than Part I. A number of activists in libertarian and right-wing bubbles made cameos in the film, including Sean Hannity. The production started taking on a evangelistic atmosphere, with the entire cast and crew being incentivized through a reward points system to read Rand's works, as if to turn them into disciples of Objectivism rather than just employees. The producers aimed to release the film in October of 2012, giving them up to five months of post-production and marketing. Their hope was that the film's release would have an effect on the 2012 presidential election between Obama and Mitt Romney, which was already being coloured by discussions of wealth disparity due to Occupy Wall Street and with the Great Recession still fresh in everyone's minds. These events felt very relevant to Aglialoro, who stated that "We've got generations of people on welfare. That's not because there weren't job opportunities, or education, or anything like that. We've got a problem of greed on the level of the entitlement class. Not the producers and the entrepreneurs that are creating the tax revenue. They're the 53 percent. If we get to the tipping point, 57, 58 percent, then you're going to see people saying: How do I go on strike?" ...yeah, Aglialoro believed that 47% of Americans were just unwilling to work. It shouldn't be too surprising considering that the man had spent almost 20 years trying to get this book onto screen, but Aglialoro clearly considers himself a Randian hero and shares their awful philosophies - he's the CEO of Cybex (a fitness equipment company), mayor of a tiny golf-course community in Tavistock, New Jersey, and now a wannabe screenwriter and movie producer who clearly isn't hurting as he was able to scrounge up a good deal of the $16 million which financed this movie himself. Poor John Aglialoro, he must be practically destitute from all the leechers who have robbed him of his fortunes...

Anyway, in hopes of not repeating the first film's box office failure, the marketing budget for Part II was significantly increased to $10 million. Approximately $1 million of this was raised by The Atlas Society as part of "The Atlas Campaign", which would promote the film trilogy and Objectivism in general through movie premieres and student outreach programs (blehhhhh), among other things. This was quite laughable as Rand famously hated altruism. Considering that the first film had failed to support itself, by the very philosophy they were promoting, they should have realized that they were being self-defeating by having to rely on donations to promote the film. Not that this has stopped the two major Objectivist organizations, The Atlas Society or The Ayn Rand Institute, both of which rely on donations in order to operate. The absolute best part is that The Atlas Campaign incentivized bigger donations with arbitrary "donation levels", so you could feel secure in your $5000 donation knowing that you were now officially "John Galt", hero of donations.

No, we're laughing with you. Also, there will be no refunds.

Part II was not screened for critics, as John Aglialoro questioned "the integrity of the critics" presumably because they didn't give it a fair shake and must have conspired to bring down Part I and bring about its failure. Part II was instead screened for conservative and libertarian groups before its wide release. The film opened on more than 1,000 screens, more than twice as many as the first film did. However, despite having a much wider release and more money put into marketing, the film only made $1.7 million on its opening weekend, barely surpassing Part I and earning it the distinction of having one of the worst wide-openings in recent memory. Its numbers then dropped precipitously, bringing in less than $3.5 million by the end of its theatrical run, even less than the first film did and on a larger budget too.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Retrospective: Atlas Shrugged - Part I (2011)

Hey it's the 4th of July people, so what better way to celebrate than with a retrospectives series! Last time we went through a fantastic slasher film and it's chaotic web of sequels, but I try to shake things up a bit every time. I could easily make every retrospective about laughably bad horror franchises or slasher flicks, but there has been another franchise that I've been wanting to dive into for years. That "franchise" would be the Atlas Shrugged trilogy, the production of which was notoriously troubled throughout. Will that make for entertaining viewing, writing and reading? Having not seen any of them at the time of writing this part, I sure as hell hope so!

Also, I'll be up-front going into this series: I haven't read any Ayn Rand works. Going into this series, most of my knowledge about her philosophy comes through light research, Bioshock, cultural osmosis and unpleasant encounters with libertarians. While I can't call myself an expert on Rand or Atlas Shrugged as a text, I can certainly still analyze this film trilogy based on its own merits (in fact, not knowing the book can reveal whether the film requires prior knowledge of it to maintain narrative coherency). That said, as I go on with each subsequent entry in this retrospective, I learn more about her philosophy through watching the films and subsequent research, so keep that in perspective. If you don't know anything about Objectivism, don't worry, I'll try to explain it succinctly as we go along. "Well if you don't know anything about Rand then how can you review Atlas Shrugged properly!" you may say - luckily for you, I convinced my good friend Matt at The M, who is more familiar with Rand's philosophy and has read the book, to watch these films with me and come to his own conclusions. Be sure to check out his reviews as well for some contrasting perspectives!

I don't really know what to say about this poster. It's fine, but it looks like something you'd see promoting some keynote speaker at a dinner conference rather than a theatrical movie release.

PRODUCTION
After years of modest success as a novelist and screenwriter, Russian-American authour Ayn Rand wrote and published her 1943 novel The Fountainhead to great success. To put it very simply, The Fountainhead dealt with themes of collective societal oppression and stagnation, which stifle creative minds and prevent progress from occurring. The Fountainhead's success helped spur philosophical debate about the novel's themes, providing an early core for Rand's ideas going forward. Rand herself began taking a greater interest in political activism, campaigning in favour of the free market and against communism. This growing philosophical interest and political activism coalesced in her next novel, 1957's Atlas Shrugged, a massive, nearly 1,200 page epic which was equal parts narrative and philosophical treatise. The novel explicitly lays out the foundations of Rand's philosophy which would become known as "Objectivism".

Before we go any further, it's important that we get an idea of what Objectivism means. According to the Atlas Society:
"Objectivism holds that there is no greater moral goal than achieving happiness. But one cannot achieve happiness by wish or whim. Fundamentally, it requires rational respect for the facts of reality, including the facts about our human nature and needs. Happiness requires that one live by objective principles, including moral integrity and respect for the rights of others. Politically, Objectivists advocate laissez-faire capitalism. Under capitalism, a strictly limited government protects each person's rights to life, liberty, and property and forbids that anyone initiate force against anyone else. The heroes of Objectivism are achievers who build businesses, invent technologies, and create art and ideas, depending on their own talents and on trade with other independent people to reach their goals."
Rand would further develop the philosophy of Objectivism for the rest of her writing career. Perhaps because of this philosophical focus, the novel was not received very well. This is possibly due to the notion that Objectivism can be boiled down to "excuses to continue to be an asshole". However, the novel found a receptive audience of those who agreed with Rand's philosophy and found it extremely compelling. The influence of Objectivism upon libertarian and American conservative movements can be felt to this day (even if they don't necessarily understand her). Naturally, the political and ideological importance that this novel has garnered after its publication would lead libertarians and Objectivist adherents to want to see a film adaptation.


There had been several attempts to adapt Atlas Shrugged into a film or television series, but none came to fruition for one reason or another (including an attempt by Ayn Rand herself, which ended when she died with only a third of the screenplay completed). The roots of the film which would eventually come about began when John Aglialoro bought the film rights for Atlas Shrugged from the Rand estate in 1992. He then started optioning the film to various studios. After a proposed four-hour miniseries with TNT fell through, the project was taken to Lions Gate to be turned into a two-part film series (which was eventually shaved down into one screenplay). Vadim Perelman was going to direct the film and various high-profile actresses were in negotiation for the film, including Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway (according to the Atlas Society, Jolie was likely going to be playing the female lead, Dagny Taggart). As interest in the film fizzled, Lions Gate then started work on a miniseries, but could not come up with an adequate script. After spending nearly $20 million on various Atlas Shrugged projects, Lions Gate scrapped the whole thing in March of 2010 and nothing came to fruition.

All of these false starts left John Aglialoro in a bind. After 18 years of nothing, his rights to the film were set to expire in June of 2010 if he was not filming an adaptation by then. So, in early April with barely two and a half months of pre-production time, Aglialoro and producer Harmon Kaslow threw a production company together, hastily wrote a script, hired the production team and crew, cast the film and got all of their locations sorted out. Many of the crew were fans of Rand's work and took pay cuts in order to be a part of the film. The cast were largely unknowns or D-list talent, including Taylor Schilling (who would get her big break right after this film by starring in Orange is the New Black) as Dagny Taggart, Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden and Matthew Marsden (from the DOA: Dead or Alive movie!!!) as James Taggart. Stephen Polk was initially hired to direct, but was fired and Paul Johansson was signed on as director just nine days before filming began. Filming began on June 13, just two days before the rights would have reverted to Rand's estate, and lasted for five weeks on a budget somewhere between $10-20 million dollars (although this number is debated; it might be including all of the costs of the false starts at Lions Gate, because I've seen estimates as low as $5 million). However, due to the rushed production, John Agliarloro and Harmon Kaslow weren't able to afford to negotiate and secure any of their actors to appear in the next two entries in the series, meaning that they would be forced to start fresh and recast when it came time to begin Part II. This rushed schedule may also have been why the film takes place in a near-future setting, despite maintaining the novel's 1950s trappings, in order to save on production costs.

The film's release date was set, symbolically, on "tax day", April 15, 2011 - only a year after production began. The film's marketing budget was low and promotion was largely done in an evangelizing manner, similar to Christian films. The film was promoted not only by Randian organizations, such as The Atlas Society, but also through political organizations, such as Fox News and the Tea Party movement and its affiliates, explicitly playing up the film's political status in order to draw interest. One of these affiliates, FreedomWorks, went so far as to try to get the film into more theatres and to promote it at the Conservative Political Action Conference. However, apparently none of this mattered because, despite playing in 465 theatres across the country, the film was a total bomb. It's opening weekend haul of $1,676,917 was good for the 14th highest gross of the weekend, and it ended up earning less than $5 million by the end of its theatrical run. For whatever reason, the film's political marketing campaign didn't translate to a ticket bump as it often does for Christian films.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Movie Review: Pokemon - Detective Pikachu

Hey guys, I saw Pokemon: Detective Pikachu a day before its wide release and did up a video review of it. I normally will be relegating Pokemon content to my Youtube channel rather than here, but there is a bit of cross-over here since I often do movie reviews on my blog so I figured I would post it here. Check it out (note: there are some very minor spoilers in the video, just so you know)!


A few additional notes that I have thought since I recorded this:
  • The opening scene feels like it was either added in reshoots or was all that remained of a longer opening act - it feels at odds with the rest of the film, introduces a character that we're never going to see again, and only really matters in that it introduces Cubone.
  • Having thought about it a bit more, the villain's plan is even stupider than I realized. In addition to the fact that he probably could have initiated it earlier than he does, it's also just extremely contrived writing.
  • The writing in general is easily the weakest aspect of the film. There's a big action set-piece near the end of the second act which doesn't really have any bearing on anything, it just happens and goes on longer than nearly any other action scene in the film. It's fun, but when you give it some critical thought it isn't particularly satisfying.
  • I geeked out at the soundtrack, there are some classic Pokemon music call-backs in here.
  • Where the hell are Jolteon and Chikorita? I saw an ad with Jolteon in it, but we don't see one in the flesh? 1/10, would not recommend.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Game of Thrones, Miguel Sapochnik and the Devolution of Battle Strategy

Last week Game of Thrones fans were finally treated to the battle which the series had been building towards since the very first episode, the biggest battle put to film, the most important battle in Westerosi history: "The Long Night"... and it was, um, something. The battle itself is undeniably a visual spectacle, with incredibly tense moments as our heroes get put in danger and an overwhelmingly bleak tone as all of their efforts to stop the horde of the dead are met with failure after failure. However, if you give the episode any sort of critical thought, the whole facade begins to quickly crumble, assuming that you could even see what was happening (for my part, I watched it on a 10" tablet with max brightness and could see well enough, but can still acknowledge that the lighting was too dark and lacked necessary contrast to be able to tell what's going on). The way that this battle was directed and written just makes absolutely no sense from the characters' perspectives and was obviously designed solely to elicit the reactions that the showrunners wanted at any particular moment. This kind of writing wouldn't be an issue if it was done well, in such a way that you won't notice and can justify it easily. "The Long Night" is not that kind of episode, unfortunately, and it really got me thinking about how Game of Thrones' battle sequences have nosedived since Season 6.

There are a couple elements which are key to the drop in quality of the writing and direction of Game of Thrones' battle sequences. First, and most obviously, the show caught up to and overtook the books in Season 5, meaning that showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff have been having to make up the rest of the story themselves ever since. Secondly, the directing duties on the show's big battles have been passed on from Neil Marshall, who helmed "Blackwater" and "The Watchers on the Wall", to Miguel Sapochnik, who helmed "Hardhome", "Battle of the Bastards" and "The Long Night" (among other, smaller episodes).

With this in mind, I want to take a look back at Sapochnik's battles, analyze the writing, the strategies of the characters and then compare them to Marshall's battles. Oh, and I really shouldn't have to specify this, but in case you've gotten this far without realizing, this article is going to contain SPOILERS!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Listening to Bands That Followed Me on Social Media

I love to follow my favourite bands on Twitter and Instagram, it's such a convenient way for me to stay in the loop on new music, nearby concerts and other goings-on in the band members' lives. However, I have also noticed a side effect to this: every time I follow a major band, I will get followed back by a couple other, smaller bands trying to make a name for themselves. It's a pretty clever strategy I must say - it's free advertising, it immediately gets them into your good graces and it lets you know that they're making music similar to the stuff you already love, so why not check them out? As a show of good faith and because I like to support independent artists, I keep a list of all the bands who have followed me and check them out when I get a chance. I've gotten enough piled up now that I thought that I would do a list of the bands that have followed me, listed from my least favourite to favourite. This is, of course, super subjective so I would recommend checking out all of the bands here regardless rather than just taking my word as final for how good any of their music is. Oh, and if more bands follow me in the future then I'll probably do a follow up article, so I hope that happens!

Honourable Mention: Brian "Head" Welch of Korn and Love & Death followed me at one point and even slid into my DMs with a message of encouragement (very much on-brand for him based on what I've read about the man). He has since unfollowed me, but that's probably because I have a real potty-mouth on Twitter since that's where I post my most passionate political opinions. Anyway, I don't really count him since he followed me in response to me following him rather than because he was trying to market himself, but I thought that it was worth a mention at the very least.


7) September Sky
Genre: Metal
Followed Me Because I Liked: Breaking Benjamin on Instagram
Favourite Track: "Fallacy"

Of all the bands that have followed me, September Sky have the biggest catalogue (2 EPs and 1 album) and longest history, having released their first EP back in 2011. They also have a pretty strong marketing push for the band, having followed me twice (!!) on Instagram in order to make sure I definitely noticed them and very promoter-friendly bios on their website and Spotify which make such claims as "In a sea of mediocre alternative metal, September Sky stands out not only with their magnetic twist of alternative grunge rock and thrash metal influences, but also their well-known empowering and inspiring vocals and refreshing guitar solos." They also claim that fans describe their sound as "Disturbed meets Tool and Alice In Chains". If that sounds like a strange mixture, well, September Sky doesn't really live up to it. Their first EP, Bright Sides to Dark Days, sounds very much like Tool but without the same level of craft and refinement. Tracks like "Ted" sound very much like "Aenima" or "Eulogy", to the point where it feels like their sound might be just a little too derivative. The only song which breaks out of the Tool mould is "Freakshow", a non-conformity song which is probably their only track which reminded me of Disturbed... and not in a good way at all. I really disliked "Freakshow", it felt like a black mark on an otherwise decent debut. Bright Sides to Dark Days might feel a little too familiar, but I was really digging tracks like "Disappearing Friend". There was some promise here and with time and maturity September Sky could carve out their own niche.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Love/Hate: PS4


Love
  • The Games - The PS4 has been a massive success and that mainly comes down to one thing: Sony have done an incredible job of cultivating high-profile exclusive games in a variety of genres. God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Gran Turismo, Until Dawn, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Ni No Kuni... I'm just barely scratching the surface, but that gives you an idea of the variety of games available to satisfy various tastes.
  • Social Features - The social features built into the PS4 are possibly my favourite PlayStation innovation of all time. Being able to automatically capture the last fifteen minutes of gameplay and then share videos and screenshots from it is a revelation and instantly made me regret buying an Elgato HD months before the PS4 came out (although I'll finally be putting it to use with the Switch soon enough when Pokemon comes out).
  • Rest Mode - I already loved rest mode on the PSP and PS Vita, but when it came to the PS4 it was better than ever. Not only can you suspend your progress in games, but the system will download updates while in rest mode, meaning that you no longer have to wait for lengthy updates when you turn on the console!
  • Controller Innovation - Finally, after the questionable PS3 controller, Sony really nailed the changes to the PS4's DualShock redesign. The sticks feel more precise, the touch pad is awesome, the triggers are great and the overall weight and feel is perfect. It's easily the best PlayStation controller and I hope that the PS5 only improves upon it.
  • My Favourite PS4 Games - As usual, here's my list of favourite games on the PS4: God of War, Bloodborne, Dark Souls III, Uncharted 4, Nioh, Metal Gear Solid V, Battlefield 4 and Rainbow Six Siege.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Love/Hate: PS Vita


Love
  • Amazing Hardware - The hardware of the PS Vita is, simply put, fantastic. In fact, I'd argue that hardware-wise it's probably the most perfect PlayStation product in terms of power, function and design. Power-wise, it's pretty comparable to the PS3, the screen looks fantastic (especially on the older, OLED models), the battery life is pretty decent and the interface works very well. Many people say that the PS Vita was basically the original Nintendo Switch and they aren't wrong. The system's hardware is certainly comparable and could have found similar success with better support.
  • Great Indie Machine - People have written off the PS Vita for years now, but even to this day, the system still gets releases from indie developers who have helped keep the system afloat. Having a PS+ membership carry over from the PS4 also helped with this, since it basically meant that you were getting a free game every month to try out. I actually got Gravity Rush and freaking Hotline Miami through this system and am even hoping that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night still comes to Vita because that's where I'm planning on playing it.
  • PSP Backwards Compatibility - The PS Vita basically ended up aping the PSP Go's functionality, because you can go back and play most of the PSP's digital library on the go. I actually ended up selling my PSP to a friend because of this, although I do have some regrets now since games like Metal Gear Ac!d aren't on the PSP online store. Some PS1 games are also available here, although the selection isn't as good as it was on PSP.
  • My Favourite PS Vita Games - As usual, not a comprehensive list, but I loved: Gravity Rush, Hotline Miami 1 & 2, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1 and 2 and Guacamelee!

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Love/Hate: PS3


Love

  • Trophies - Probably my favourite innovation that the PS3 brought was the advent of trophies (which, to be fair, were modelled after the Xbox's achievements system). These things are so addictive though. Basically, as soon as I start a game I head over to the Trophies section to see what trophies I could realistically go for and whether I actually want to bother going for the Platinum.
  • Blu-Ray Player - Like the PS2 and PS1 before it, the PS3 came with a new media format innovation, this time with a blu-ray player. Also similarly, the PS3 was cheaper and better than most blu-ray players at the time, which helped to tip the format war between blu-ray and HD-DVD into blu-ray's favour. Like DVD's, the PS3 was my first blu-ray player and was the reason I stopped buying DVDs and made the switch to HD media.
  • Free Online Play - While it was widely agreed that Xbox Live had the more robust and reliable online system, you did have to pay an annual subscription for it, whereas online play was free on PS3. There was an optional ability to get PS+ if players wanted additional perks, but leaving it free by default was honestly the better move, since there really isn't a good excuse that online play is a paid-for service on modern consoles.
  • Strong Hardware - While the PS3 was thought to be difficult to develop for early in the console's life-cycle, by the mid-to-late period of the PS3's stronger hardware was allowing the system to run games much easier and smoother than the comparatively underpowered Xbox 360. In addition, the PS3 did away with region locked games, meaning that you could play games from other regions out of the box (this was good for gamers who wanted to play Japanese-exclusive games, for example). When you consider that the PS3 also had a built-in wi-fi adapter and the blu-ray drive, whereas the Xbox 360 had to get a wi-fi adapter as an add-on, had only a DVD drive, and you had to pay an annual subscription for Xbox Live, the higher cost of the system was actually quite comparable.
  • My Favourite PS3 Games - Not a definitive list of the best games on the system, but my favourite games include: Uncharted 1 and 2, Dead Space 1 and 2, Battlefield Bad Company and 3, Bioshock, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Fallout 3 and Dark Souls.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Love/Hate: PSP


Love
  • Great Hardware - The PSP was a really great little handheld. It was very well-designed, felt great in your hand and had some great features, even outside of gaming. Having played only Gameboys up until this point, having a wi-fi capable system with an internet browser made this thing basically my first cell phone in terms of its functionality. It was also quite powerful, able to put out near-PS2 graphical levels in the palm of your hand. Compared to its competition, the Nintendo DS, the PSP won the hardware comparison, easily. I also loved that you could suspend games by putting the system into sleep mode, it was such a good feature.
  • Strong Support - People don't remember it very well, but the PSP had strong support from first and third party developers, and even outsold the Nintendo DS for years, until that system's cheaper price and stronger support ended up winning over in the end (the presence of Pokemon games certainly helped as well). Still, this allowed the PSP to have a very strong stable of games that you can look back on fondly.
  • PS1 Classics - One of the genius moves for the PSP was to allow you to play PS1 games on the go. Sony ended up releasing quite a few major titles for the system, including Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII (in fact, I had never played FF7 until I downloaded it on my PSP).
  • My Favourite PSP Games - The usual deal: this isn't a comprehensive list, but here are some of my favourite PSP games. These include Resistance: Retribution, Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Metal Gear Ac!d 1 and 2, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Patapon and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (mainly because, holy shit, a GTA game running on PSP hardware!?!).

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Love/Hate: PS2


Love
  • Built-in DVD Player - Having a CD player in the PS1 was a nice convenience, but the DVD player in the PS2 was huge. For many people (my family included), the PS2 was our first DVD player and was the reason that we jumped ship from VHS tapes. At the time, the PS2 was a very affordable DVD player and it was a key factor in the success and wide adoption of the format. Hell, my younger brother has a PS2 and still uses it as a DVD player, which says a lot about the importance of this feature.
  • Backwards Compatibility - Another major factor of the PS2's success is its backwards compatibility with both the hardware and software of the PS1. You could use PS1 controllers with no issues and PS1 memory cards could be used as well (although these memory cards only worked with PS1 games). The fact that you could carry over your collection to a new console generation made the transition more attractive and basically allowed the PS2 to immediately surpass its predecessor.
  • Huge Graphical Improvement - The graphical leap between the PS1 and PS2 era was one of the biggest improvements of any console generation. PS1 games were very blocky and low resolution, but PS2 games were able to smooth things out and start to approximate realistic graphics. Hell, stylized games like Okami and Sly Cooper still look quite good to this day.
  • 3D Gameplay Improvements - By the mid-to-late point in the PS2 era, developers were finally starting to get 3D gameplay under control. Camera issues still plagued a fair few games at the time, but gameplay was finally getting refined and control schemes were starting to become standardized in a manner familiar to the games that we play today. This, of course, makes PS2 games much more playable and easier to go back to today.
  • High-Profile Exclusives and New IPs - Exclusives and new-IPs ruled the roost during the PS2 era, perhaps to a greater degree than in any other era since, making it a truly exciting time to be a PlayStation owner. Games like Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, IcoShadow of the Colossus, God of War and Final Fantasy could only be played on the PS2, many of which were high-profile third party exclusives.
  • My Favourite PS2 Games - Again, this isn't a comprehensive list of the best PS2 games (not by a long shot), but my favourite games of the era include: Splinter Cell (especially Chaos Theory), Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Freedom Fighters, Star Wars: Battlefront I and II, Twisted Metal: Black, Shadow of the Colossus, Sly Cooper 1-3, Bully and James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Love/Hate: PS1

Hey, it's time for another Love/Hate series! This time we're going to be going through each of the generations of PlayStation consoles and handhelds! I've always been a PlayStation fanboy, having grown up along with each successive system. Hell, I even wrote a defense of the PS Vita when it was becoming a punchline and wrote my review of the notorious DOAX3 on the Vita version of the game for the 200th blog post celebration. So with that said, let's go back to the beginning and look at the original PlayStation console - what I love about it, what I hate, and everything in between!


Love
  • Genre-Defining Experiences - The original PlayStation was the most successful console of its era at a time when video games were literally entering a whole new dimension of possibilities. Considering the limitations of computing at the time and that 3D game design was basically uncharted territory, it's amazing how well a number of developers were able to make the transition and provide experiences which helped to establish genres as we know them today. For example, the 3D action platformer was established during this time with titles such as Tomb Raider, Ape Escape, Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and games in this genre have retained most of these foundational elements since. Racing games such as Gran Turismo also play nearly identically to racing games from the PS1 era, just with more glitz and polish. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was also responsible for establishing the skating game genre, which would be hugely popular well into the PS3 era. Survival horror was really established on the PS1 with Resident EvilDino Crisis and Silent Hill, providing an experience which is almost entirely exclusive to the PS1. These are just a few examples, but it just goes to show that the PS1 was a key foundation for gaming as we know it today.
  • CD-based Format - In a time when cartridges were the go-to method for game storage and when CD players weren't particularly common, the PS1 showed the value of multi-media storage formats. Having game's played on CDs was a huge benefit for a number of reasons: they were less bulky, cheaper and could store far more data than the competition and they allowed PS1-owners the freedom to use the system as a CD player when they weren't gaming.
  • The DualShock Controller is the Granddaddy of Modern Controllers - The title pretty much says it all. While the original, analogue-less PlayStation controller was basically just a refinement of controllers of its era, the DualShock set the new standard which has been replicated in all future controllers since (barring gimmicks like the Wii of course).
  • Easy to Pirate For - Sure, this wasn't exactly an intended feature, but with the cheap proliferation of CDs, the PS1 was notoriously easy to pirate games onto, a "feature" which has only gotten more valuable in the years since support for the console has died. It was also fairly easy to modify the system, such as replacing parts in order to circumvent the system's region locking features.
  • My Favourite PS1 Games - Obviously this isn't a comprehensive list of good PS1 games, but the games that I love and grew up on include Ape Escape, Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal 2, Vigilante 2: Second Offense, Future Cop: LAPD and Driver.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Pokemon Sword & Shield: 10 Speculations Based on the Trailer

Welcome back! As promised, I have a number of speculations based on the announcement trailer for Pokemon Sword and Shield. With that in mind, if you didn't read my hype piece or watch the reveal trailer, I would definitely recommend doing so before going forward. Got that? Okay, let's put on our tinfoil hats and dive in!

(Update: I have also made a video companion to this article with some of the more interesting theories. You can check it out below!)


10) Runes and Nazca Lines

Let's get the obvious speculation out of the way now, because this is clearly the most tantalizing detail that Game Freak has put into the trailer. In the town with the Grass-type gym, you can see a number of rocks with runes on them, a Stonehenge-like rock structure and a huge mural carved into the countryside which looks similar to real-life Nazca Lines. So what does this all mean? Well the runes remind me of the Unown from Gen 2, but I doubt that they're a direct link with a Pokemon like they were back then. More likely to me is that the runes are simply describing the events of the Nazca Lines that we see. The environmental art here seems to depict a giant dragon-like creature breathing fire or lightning. There really isn't a lot to go off of about what this Pokemon may be like, other than it's large, bipedal and spiky. The art also depicts people and cattle around this Pokemon's feet, but whether they are worshipping the creature or being killed by it is ambiguous (the fact that there is a person lying upside down to the far left of the mural has me thinking that it's likely that this ancient Pokemon was attacking people though).

(Edit: Fiore1300 from Discord has let me know that the Nazca lines as I called them here are called "Hill Figures" in Britain. That doesn't change the implications or the theory too much, but it's worth updating, thanks Fiore1300!)


It's worth taking into account the popular legends of Stonehenge and the Nazca Lines when analyzing the runes, Stonehenge-like structures and Nazca Lines in this trailer. In particular, these structures are commonly associated with aliens contacting ancient humanity in pseudo-science circles. This isn't an unprecedented idea for Pokemon either, as ever since the very first generation there have been several Pokemon which are confirmed to be aliens and others which come from other dimensions. So what could this mean for the game? Well, if this is related to the game's mascot legendary, then perhaps they will be summoned from space by the villains for the game's final confrontation, similar to Deoxys in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire or the emergence of Necrozma in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. This seems most likely to me - details like this have pointed towards legendary Pokemon in basically every generation, so the idea that this won't actually lead somewhere is incredibly unlikely.

9) The Themes of the Mascot Legendaries

Pokemon games always release with paired games, but I think pretty much everyone was caught off-guard by how unconventional Sword and Shield were. However, if history is anything to go by, then the titles of these games are going to be a hint at what we can expect out of the games. Since Gen 5, the titles of the games have always tied directly into the mascot legendaries and their themes in some manner - Black and White referred to the dragons Zekrom and Reshiram and their opposed ideals, X and Y were reflected in the names and designs of Xerneas and Yveltal, and Sun and Moon reflected the designs and aesthetic for Solgaleo and Lunala. Therefore, it stands to reason that Sword and Shield is going to describe something about the design and possibly themes of the mascot legendaries for this game. The most obvious speculation is that the Sword legendary will be hyper-offensive, whereas the Shield legendary will be incredibly bulky, which would be quite interesting to see. I think it's also likely that they will both reflect knighthood in some manner, since they are often associated with swords and shields (obviously).

The shared wolf's head in the title design also makes me curious about whether it's meant to be a hint about the legendaries' designs, especially considering how out of place the head is on that shield. Personally I'm thinking it's unlikely that we'd get a hint that obvious, but it is possible that this could signify that the mascot legendaries are a branching evolution like Lunala and Solgaleo were in Gen 7. Also, if the wolf's head is a hint about the mascot legendaries, then it is inconsistent with the dragon-like beast in the Nazca Lines, meaning that that might be another legendary Pokemon in the game. Perhaps the mascot legendaries fought back against the dragon-like Pokemon and kept it at bay? That would be consistent with the idea of knighthood which is inherent in their themes.

8) Could Beauty Contests Be Making a Return?

Okay, I'll admit that this is easily the most crackpot theory I've got here, but I find it incredibly intriguing. So, as we know, professionally-made trailers are always put together very deliberately. Therefore, I find it interesting how brazenly Game Freak put the above advertisement on display in the trailer. At first I just assumed that it was a bit of background decoration to make the world look more interesting, and it's definitely possible that that is all that this is meant to signify. However, if it was put in there as a hint, I decided to check out what each of the berries in the poster was for. I see a Cheri, Pecha, Wepear, Lum, Aspear and Chople berries for sure in that image, but there are also a couple curious details. For one thing, that pointy, red berry appears to be a Nomel berry, but those are usually coloured yellow, not red. Perhaps this is a new berry which is going to be added in the game? There is also a yellow, leafy berry which appears in the background of the image which appears to be a Pinap berry, which is also interesting because this berry has been mainly used recently in the Let's Go games and Pokemon Go in order to make Pokemon drop more candies and level up or evolve your Pokemon faster. However, Pinap berries were originally introduced to be used in the creation of Pokeblocks/Poffins, which were essential for the Pokemon Contests minigame in Gen 3 and 4. Also contributing to this is that the Wepear and Nomel berries which appear in the poster were also used exclusively for Pokeblocks and Poffins. The product that they're advertising also appears to be some sort of Pokeblock treat, which makes me wonder if perhaps this is a signifier that Pokemon Contests are going to be making their return in Pokemon Sword and Shield. Again, I could be looking into this waaaay too deeply, but I really have to wonder why Game Freak would put such a conspicuously Contest-related poster into this trailer if not to hint at something.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Pokemon Sword & Shield: 5 Confirmed Features that Have Me Hyped

The tonal whiplash is real: I just got off of a pretty dire warning about isolationism and white supremacy, and then we're straight into a hype piece about the next generation of Pokemon. That's just how we roll here at IC2S. I'm hoping to have more Pokemon content starting this year, with videos on Youtube and Twitch streaming by the time Pokemon Sword and Shield release. If you haven't seen the reveal trailer, you can do so below:


Suffice to say, I'm hyped for these games. After going through the trailer a few times now, I've noticed five details which have gotten me hyped that I want to point out. Tomorrow, I'll go over some of my speculations as well.

5) More Detailed Animations and Graphics

This is a bit of a given considering the move to the Nintendo Switch, but Pokemon Sword and Shield look gorgeous, easily the biggest leap in visual quality this series has seen since at least the 3rd generation, if not the biggest leap ever. It's one thing to see a screenshot and marvel at the detailed environments (more on those later), but it's another to actually see them in motion. The Pokemon themselves are also very vibrant and, thankfully, retain their cartoony look. I was maybe just a liiiittle worried that they might go the Detective Pikachu route and make them start looking more "realistic". The animations have also been improved as well, and we see a moment in the trailer where the player character walks down a set of stairs... such a mundane-sounding thing, but in motion it's actually quite remarkable. Seriously, if you still haven't watched the trailer, do it!

4) The Galar Region Looks Quite Diverse

Each Pokemon region always comes with its own distinct flavour, although some stand out a bit more than others. The Galar region is shaping up to have its own distinct flavour and plenty of diversity to its environments. In total, we see a grassy farming town which is presumably where our character begins their journey, an awesome-looking Zelda or Dark Souls-like misty forest, an urban environment which almost looks steampunk in terms of its aesthetic, a snowy mountain village which also appears to have an icy beachfront (what the hell...?), a stadium, an awesome-looking mine shaft and a laboratory. That's not all either, there is a map shown during the Nintendo Direct which shows that there even more environments that we haven't seen yet and strongly suggests that Galar is based on the United Kingdom. My only concern here is that the Galar region appears to be quite linear, so unless I am wrong the options for player exploration are going to be considerably limited during the main storyline. We'll have to see as the release date gets closer, but for now that's something to keep an eye on.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

The Cost of Isolationism

I recently watched Alt-Right: Age of Rage on Netflix. If you're not really familiar with the alt-right and their connections with white supremacists (and holy shit, it's 2019, you should be) then it's a good primer. There's a segment near the end though that has really gotten me thinking since I watched the documentary. During a montage there is a voice-over which goes on a conspiracy rant about how the alt-right is preparing society to accept mass genocides which are going to happen as a result of ecological and economic disasters. While I feel like the idea that this is the true intent of the alt-right, as if they're being controlled by some shadowy puppet master, is a bit much, there are elements of this notion that ring true.


With the rise in nationalist movements, xenophobia has become a serious wedge issue which politicians are keen to latch onto. Governments which try to take a stand in favour of immigration seem to be on the brink of political collapse as populist movements push back, surged by xenophobic fervour. While there are certainly reasonable levels immigration restrictions (no one wants dangerous criminals in their country after all), the degree of xenophobia and straight-up racism which dominates this conversation now is deplorable. Syrian refugees are fleeing war? They must be hiding terrorists amongst them, or they're going to become the majority and institute sharia law, so we can't afford to let any in. We need merit-based immigration, the kind which most of our existing citizens couldn't even qualify for! And hey, why can't we get more immigrants from white countries instead of shit-holes? Ugh... Don't even get me started on America's disgusting campaign against illegal immigration, Dreamers and asylum seekers. It's clear that the aim is to circle the wagons: keep the "right" people in the country and not let any more "others" in.

So what are these people so afraid of? How does it affect the average citizen at all for immigrants and refugees to get a slice of the American pie? Putting aside racism (which is a major factor), it comes down to the old parlance, "they're stealing our jobs!" There's this idea that if you let immigrants in, then they're going to vacuum up money which could have gone to "real" citizens (you always get some idiot chiming in with something along the lines of "why aren't you giving money to veterans instead of immigrants?"). Naturally, this ignores that immigrants are essential to a healthy economy, especially considering that our workforce is ageing and that the birth rate is declining. Regardless, there's a notion that immigrants are a drain on our resources, one which is fuelled by disingenuous anti-immigration propaganda farms on social media. I've talked about it many times in the past, but this is a perfect example of the dangers of voter ignorance, where political activists are manipulating people into a frenzy in order to get them to vote the way that they want.

Like this bullshit right here.

As bad as the xenophobic trend is now, you also have to factor in the effects that climate change is going to have in the coming years. Climate change will affect everyone, but it's going to be felt most keenly by poor people, especially in impoverished regions. This, in turn, is going to lead to even more refugees as time goes on and as people become displaced by rising sea levels and severe weather events. Make no mistake - this creates an environment in which people are going to be displaced and die en masse. Considering that industrialized nations have contributed to this environmental crisis and refuse to do anything serious to combat it, the notion that we can just wash our hands of the human impact of climate change is unacceptable. People will certainly die, but we can mitigate the death toll if we're willing to allow refugees into our countries. If we refuse to act due to racial prejudice, this will be essentially genocide against anyone who isn't one of "us".

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this to me is that evangelical Christians, the self-described "pro-life" types and the ones who believe that they are the moral bastion of society, are also the ones most likely to deny climate change and oppose immigration. This isolationist bent is, of course, in blatant opposition to The Bible that they claim to follow. Christians should be leading the charge to welcome refugees, to shelter Dreamers from ICE agents and denounce the disturbing trend towards fascism across the globe. Instead, I question whether they'll even have the self-awareness to say "I didn't know" when their apathy towards climate change and refusal to welcome immigrants leads to deaths across the globe.


Like I said at the start, I don't believe that white supremacy is being trotted out once again in order to prepare us for this depressing future. I do, however, believe that if racism and anti-immigration sentiment continues, we're not going to be able to do anything when there are people literally dying to find safety within our borders. Call me a bleeding-heart liberal, but we can't call ourselves moral people if we're going to stand by and allow people to suffer so that we can live just a little more comfortably.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Retrospective BONUS: Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988)

Surprise! You didn't think that I was totally chainsawed out, did you? While working through the Texas Chainsaw retrospective, I was reminded that Gunnar Hansen appeared in another chainsaw-based film - 1988's Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. I've been aware of this film for a long time, having frequented BadMovies.org as a high schooler. Naturally, the bonkers title and some hilarious plot points (including an ancient Egyptian chainsaw cult!) have always kept this film on my radar, so I figured what better time to watch it than now, especially considering that this is my 250th blog post? After all, this is probably a Texas Chainsaw parody, so might as well append it onto this retrospective series, right? Read on to find out...

Objectively, this is a pretty bad poster, with shots from the film badly cut and pasted in, lots of wasted space and the main characters are probably the smallest part of the whole image. But, for this kind of movie, it works well enough. Also, that is a really great tagline!

PRODUCTION
(Pretty much all of the info I have on the production of this film comes from this featurette on the making of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, I definitely recommend checking it out if you have the time!)

Fred Olen Ray had been working as director on low-budget films for a number of years in Hollywood, kind of like a cheaper, sleazier, less-successful Roger Corman. By 1985 he had begun working on several films per year, shooting as quickly and cheaply as possible. By the late 80s, Fred had struck a production deal with an adult video company called LA Video and their subsidiary, mainstream distribution company, Camp Motion Pictures. LA Video expressed interest in distributing a new film for Fred and it was here that he pitched his idea for Chainsaw Hookers. LA Video added "Hollywood" to the title to make it sound more like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Fred managed to rope Gunnar Hansen into the project. This was, of course, at the time when both Cannon Films and New Line Cinema weren't interesting in working with Gunnar Hansen since they didn't think he was a big enough star, so it just goes to show how much wiser Fred Olen Ray was than either company. With Hansen on board and $25,000 in hand from LA Video in exchange for the home video rights, Fred went about making his film, rewriting a script by T.L. Lankford.

In addition to snagging Gunnar Hansen to play the main villain, The Master, Fred Olen Ray managed to get Linnea Quigley to play the female lead. Qugiley is best known for being naked in a number of famous horror roles throughout the 80s, and by this point had already been in Silent Night, Deadly Night and Return of the Living Dead, so Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was more-or-less the perfect role for her. John Henry Richardson was also cast as the male lead, Detective Jack Chandler.

Naturally, this being a Fred Olen Ray film, he made it while working on other projects. While doing pick-ups on a low-budget movie called Moon in Scorpio, Fred agreed to take a lower pay cut in exchange for the use of Trans World Entertainment's studio space and film equipment during downtime, which he would use to film Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. As per the agreement, he had the equipment from Friday to Sunday, filmed the pick-ups for Moon in Scorpio Monday to Thursday and then finished Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers the next Friday to Sunday. All in all, he took about 5 1/2 days to shoot the film on a measly budget in the neighbourhood of $55,000. Naturally, the filming conditions were extremely sketchy - it was shot with no permits, on leftover sets from other films, with real chainsaws and even with real hookers on occasion! Even the film stock was as cheap as possible, using short ends which were left over from other films. The audio was all shot on set as well, so considering that there are chainsaws revving loudly on a number of occasions, you can't tell what the characters are saying at all sometimes because there was no budget for redubbing dialogue. The conditions were also potentially dangerous for the cast, particularly since they were using real chainsaws - in one notable instance, Linnea Quigley (who had already spent seven hours in makeup) was locked inside of a coffin with two running chainsaws so that she could preform the film's iconic virgin dance of the double chainsaws. Naturally, this meant that the coffin was quickly filled with chainsaw fumes and Quigley can be visibly seen stumbling out of the coffin because she could barely breathe.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers ended up being one of Fred Olen Ray's more successful films. That said, I want to just look at his career a little bit. He's been making mockbusters, sexploitation films and, most recently, freaking Hallmark Christmas movies in order to get by (I'm pretty sure I've even seen at lest one of those Christmas movies too, holy shit). He's like The Asylum before that studio cornered the mockbuster market. Most obviously, in 1994 we've got Dinosaur Island (riffing on Jurassic Park), in 1998, Mom Can I Keep Her? (Mighty Joe Young) and in 2011, Bikini Time Machine (Hot Tub Time Machine). Oh, and he's been releasing sleazy, borderline-softcore porno films throughout his whole career, although they seem to have picked up and become more pornographic since the 2000s. Just trolling through his directing credits, we've got such fantastic titles as Bikini Airways, Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold, Thirteen Erotic Ghosts (which must have the best IMDb description ever), Genie in a String Bikini, Super Ninja Bikini Babes (which sounds like an alternate title for Dead or Alive) and Tarzeena: Jiggle in the Jungle. Lately, he's been slumming it with shitty Christmas movies, having released 10 since 2007 (and 9 of those have been since 2012, bloody hell), and with cheap crime films, which should probably give you an idea of the cultural zeitgeist when these are the only profitable genres left.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Retrospective: Leatherface (2017)

Welcome back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective! We're coming to the conclusion of this retrospective today with 2017's Leatherface... not to be confused with Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III of course (and with that in mind, any time I've referred to "Leatherface" in previous posts, I was referring to Chainsaw III). After the relative success of Texas Chainsaw 3D, the filmmakers once again decided that a prequel was the way to go to continue the series - that's right, not only does this film have the same title as a sequel which it ignores, it also isn't even the only prequel in this franchise. Bloody hell, the Texas Chainsaw franchise continuity is just a mess at this point. Is Leatherface at least be more coherent than the continuity of its franchise? Read on to find out...

Considering that this film's trying to do its own thing, it's unfortunate that it's using basically the same poster design as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Suffice to say, it's a very "meh" poster.

PRODUCTION
After the relative success of Texas Chainsaw 3D, the various studios involved in its production began conceptualizing a follow-up. As early as January 2013, Texas Chainsaw 3D executive producers Christa Campbell and Lati Grobman came to Millenium Films chairman Avi Lerner with an idea for a project which was going to be called Texas Chainsaw 4 (for some inexplicable reason). However, this project was announced prematurely by Millenium, which irritated the rights-holders at Main Line Pictures. I'd recommend checking out this article from Bloody Disgusting which breaks down the minutia of who owned the rights to the film at this time and shows how the studios involved were squabbling amongst each other.

Screenwriter Seth M. Sherwood pitched the idea of a prequel, as he didn't like how inconsistent the franchise's continuity had become and wanted to do something completely different with the franchise. He decided that he wanted to give Leatherface a tragic backstory, where his identity and mental faculties are taken away from him by the time the original Chainsaw rolls around. The film would also tie into Texas Chainsaw 3D, forming a trilogy along with the original film. The studio liked the idea and moved forward with Sherwood's pitch. On October 31, 2014, French directing duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo were hired to direct the film. The pair had already received acclaim for their debut horror film Inside and were a very exciting choice for Leatherface. Maury and Bustillo then rewrote the film to better fit their vision for the project, including altering every death scene and changing the ending, which was original supposed to feature Leatherface going on a mass murder spree with a chainsaw (with over thirty victims, holy shit, he hasn't even killed that many people in this whole franchise!!!).

In spring of 2015, casting for the film began. The lead roles went to Sam Strike as Jackson, James Bloor as Isaac, Jessica Madsen as Clarice, Sam Coleman as Bud and Vanessa Grasse as Lizzy. As is typical for Chainsaw films, most of them were young actors with only a few credits to their name and no major roles to speak of. Stephen Dorff, best known for being a mofo always trying to ice-skate uphill, was cast as the film's main antagonist, Sheriff Hal Hartman. Angela Bettis was originally cast as Verna Carson-Sawyer, but had to drop out and was replaced by Lili Taylor, the mother from The Conjuring. Also worth mentioning was that Finn Jones (who was already well-known for playing Loras Tyrell in Game of Thrones and who would later play Danny Rand in Iron Fist) was cast in a relatively minor role as Deputy Sorells.


Filming began in late spring 2015 in Bulgaria. Apparently Millenium Films had a studio in Bulgaria and so it was the most economical location to shoot the film, marking one of the few times the franchise had been shot outside of Texas, and the only time it had been shot outside of the US. While many of the locations for the film do look quite close to a Texan setting, there are definitely moments that look like Bulgaria. Perhaps the most obvious example is during the film's final chase scene in a tangled forest which looks like something from a werewolf movie or a dark fantasy setting. Filming took twenty seven days to complete. Christa Campbell and Lati Grobman stated that they wanted the violence in Leatherface to be a more graphic, as apparently fans had complained that Texas Chainsaw 3D lacked in that department. I'm not sure what they were talking about, as that film had some of the most explicit gore in the entire franchise, although perhaps they thought that it didn't come frequently enough? In any case, the brutality was ratcheted back up in Leatherface.

The film went into post-production in early 2016 and it seemed like it would be released sometime that year. However, Lionsgate inexplicably sat on the finished film and once again we had a Chainsaw being buried by its own distributor. However, unlike The Next Generation's cut-and-dry reasons for delay, I haven't been able to find a clear motive for Lionsgate to do this. I've seen speculation that they thought that the film was no good and didn't want to release it. Scott Sherwood believed that Lionsgate were afraid of the film underperforming if they invested in a wide release. I personally wonder if the squabbling between Millenium, Main Line and Lionsgate that I mentioned at the start of the production section might have had some influence on this film's delay. Perhaps it was a combination of all of these reasons, but whatever the case, there was no news about the film until spring of 2017, when it was announced that the film would finally be released in October in a limited theatrical release and through VOD services. However, in December 2017, Christa Campbell announced that due to the time it had taken to release Leatherface, the rights had reverted back to Kim Henkel and Bob Kuhn, scuppering Millenium and Lionsgate's plans for their own Texas Chainsaw franchise.