“Operation Staffhound,” by Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron (read by Eric Robert Nolan)

I’m happy today to be able to share The Bees Are Dead’s release of my audio recording of “Operation Staffhound,” by Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron.  This truly excellent poem is an excerpt from his 2014 dystopian novel in verse format, “The Pustoy.”  (I quite positively reviewed the book both here at the blog and over at Amazon, where it can be purchased — “Operation Staffhound” might be my favorite poem in the complete work.)

“The Pustoy” is a particularly dark science fiction epic that imagines a genocidal dictator, Lev Solokov, ruling a nightmarish future Britain.  The brutal “Staffhounds” are his fascist foot-soldiers in the streets.

I had great fun reading the poem.  I’m grateful to Philippe for allowing me to interpret it, and to The Bees Are Dead for sharing my recording with its audience:

Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron’s “Operation Staffhound” at The Bees Are Dead

 

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A review of Season 2 of “Black Mirror” (2013)

“Black Mirror” seems to me to be  the best science fiction show on television; I’d rate Season 2 (2013) a 9 out of 10.  (I’m never quite certain whether to group British shows by “season” or by “series,” as they do.  I’m also a little uncertain why the fourth and final episode here, “White Christmas,” is included in Season 2, as it aired nearly two years later as a 2014 holiday special.)

I commented to a friend of mine after seeing “White Christmas” the other night that the show was “brave” — it just isn’t afraid to alienate mainstream audiences by being too dark.  Not all of “Black Mirror’s”  episodes have “twists,” but they typically have an unexpected plot development, and their outcomes and implications are arguably depressing.

It’s just such a damned good show, though, in terms of its writing and acting.  My friend told me she wasn’t aware of anyone who had seen it and disliked it.

“White Christmas,” for example, was one of the best hours of science fiction television I’ve ever seen.  It consists of three blackly tragic vignettes seamlessly woven withing a wraparound story, and it employs a sci-fi plot device that is mind-bending and brutal.  I believe this is the first time I’ve seen its lead actor, Jon Hamm, and I was extremely impressed with his performance.

My only quibbles with the program are extremely minor.  As with the first season, I think that not every episode truly requires a 44-minute running length.  I thought two episodes  (“Be Right Back” and “The Waldo Moment”) seemed like they could have been tightened up into one, maybe with tighter writing allowing for shorter segments.

I’ve noticed another minor relative weakness with “Black Mirror” in general as well — the show does not always present the viewer with likable protagonists.  Occasionally, the various characters we’re asked to identify with are either slightly off-putting or even annoying.  Again, “Be Right Back” and “The Waldo Moment” spring to mind.  This wasn’t enough to greatly affect my enjoyment of the episodes, though.

What an incredible show.

 

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Season 1 of “Mr. Mercedes” (2017) was astonishingly good.

It amazes me how little fanfare that “Mr. Mercedes” is getting.  Season 1 was not only one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever, I think it has the rare distinction of being even better that its source material.  (I really liked 2014 novel, but I loved the show.) I might have a couple of minor quibbles about the ten-episode season, but they’re not enough to stop me from rating it a perfect 10.

I tend to think of this as more “mainstream King.”  As with the book, the story here is devoid of the supernatural elements that usually characterize King’s work.  It also doesn’t have any overt connection to King’s overarching, interconnected “Dark Tower” multiverse.  It’s a depressingly real-world story about a mass murderer whose weapon of choice is a stolen Mercedes.  (There is a plot-driving horror set-piece at the start of the pilot episode in which he mows down a crowd lined up for a job fair.)

What follows is a drama of surprising depth and authenticity.  We see the extended aftermath of slaughter, throughout the lives of people connected to it — including one victim’s family, the now-retired investigating detective (Brendan Gleeson), the young killer himself (Harry Treadway) and his alcoholic, incestuous mother (Kelly Lynch).  Gleeson was who first made me interested in the show, and his performance is outstanding.  Lynch is amazing and perfect in her role, and is even talented enough make her onerous character truly sympathetic.  But even they are outshined by Treadway’s frighteningly goddam perfect portrayal of the titular “Mr. Mercedes.”  The guy is incredible.

The script was nothing short of terrific.  There is certainly enough horror here — including one particularly cringe-inducing plot twist late in the game.  (It was so disturbingly presented that I almost had to switch the episode off — and I knew it was coming, as I’d already read the book.)  But the horror punctuates the unexpectedly touching drama among the story’s protagonists — and the sad relationship between the killer and his disordered mother.  There were also some great moments of humor, and the subtexts here dealing with friendship and loyalty were surprisingly moving.

The rest of the cast was quite good.  The directing shined as well — especially for a key sequence in Episode 7, “Willow Lake.”  Even the soundtrack was excellent.  Hell, they even referenced W. H. Auden in one episode.

My quibbles were minor.  One was the story’s pacing.  It’s actually quite slow for the first eight episodes — enough, I think to lose some viewers.  This didn’t bother me much — I took it as “slow-burn” horror, and it matched the very slow pace of the book.  Then the story seemed to move forward at a breakneck pace during episodes 9 and 10.  I can’t help but wonder if it could have been scripted differently, as that felt odd.

My second quibble lies with Mary-Louise Parker’s portrayal of Janey, the sister of one of the killer’s victims.  Parker is an excellent actress, but I found her version of the character to be remarkably detached for someone bereaved in such a horrifying fashion — to me, it seemed like a strange creative choice on the part of the actress.

I’d obviously recommend this; it’s currently the best horror show that I’m aware of.

 

 

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A few quick words on “The Rogue Cut” of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

If you are a die-hard “X-Men” fan, then I do recommend checking out Bryan Singer’s non-canonical “The Rogue Cut” of “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”  You might enjoy it just for its novelty — it actually is a very different version of the original movie.  It has a lot of scenes that are either entirely new or shot and edited quite differently.  (The most notable difference, obviously, is an entire subplot concerning the rescue of Anna Paquin’s Rogue, which was deleted from the 2014 theatrical release.)

I get the sense that this will come across as a better film to “X-Men” purists.  There is greater attention to a multitude of characters, far more character interaction, and greater detail about the apocalyptic future segments.  (I myself was happy to finally figure out why the dystopian mutants were housed in such a strange looking building.  It turns out they were hiding in a Chinese temple as part of an ongoing global evasion strategy.)  “The Rogue Cut” also has greater continuity with more of the prior films — it feels integral to the films’ ongoing mythos, and less like a standalone adventure.

But “The Rogue Cut” might not be better at pleasing general audiences.  It clocks in at just under two and a half hours, and the overall result did feel far slower to me.  There is a reason why movies are edited down — their unabridged versions have problems with pacing that really can affect the average viewer’s enjoyment.

I will also point out that this version of the film fails to rectify what I’ll reiterate is the theatrical version’s biggest story flaw — why would the shape-shifting Mystique be the key to developing the Sentinels power-stealing technology.  Why not the power-stealing Rogue herself?

Anyway … speaking of what is canon and what is not, there is a damned interesting fan theory floating around about the “X-Men” movies following this year’s release of “Logan.”  That movie stood out for many reasons, but two in particular are relevant here.  The first is the radical change in its tone and storytelling, which makes it feel like it takes place in “the real world.”  The second is its odd, apparently meta-fictional inclusion of the “X-Men” comics themselves within the story.  (Copies of the comic books are discussed by the characters, and even serve as an important plot element; Wolverine complains that they are horribly inaccurate.)

Many fans are having fun wondering if there has, in fact, been only one canonical “X-Men” movie — and that is “Logan” itself.  The brutal, subdued reality of “Logan” alone is “the real world” of the X-Men; all of the fantastical prior films (which occasionally contradict one another anyway) are merely the stories inside the last movie’s comic books.  I thought that was pretty damned clever.

 

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