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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Some Minor Changes!

Hi All,

I've tweaked the layout and look of my blog, just a little, for 2014, and hopefully made it a little more comfortable in the way it is read. The differences are relatively minor, but I felt they were necessary. I hope you like them.

The DEMONS Steelbook reviews will be arriving shortly... I promise!

In addition, I'm booked to go see the new Lars Von Trier epic NYMPHOMANIAC (2013) towards the end of February. The UK is getting the fully, uncut two-part movie, and I'll be reviewing it for my blog as well, and discussing the film and the controversy surrounding it in a future article, which you will be able to read shortly.

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, 18 January 2014



I swear that my DEMONS Steelbook reviews are coming next. It's just that a couple of other articles have taken precedence, but I promise the next one will be on the Steelbooks. Honest!
Once upon a time, it was a joy to discover a film, via simply browsing through the horror section at my local HMV, or checking-out titles in the New Releases rack of a DVD rental store or library. Now, it’s a chore. So much current horror output from the past few years, has been nothing more than one-dimensional effluent, that insults the viewer from the minute it starts, to the final frame.

Alas, I should have learnt my lesson. But each time, I pray that the next one might just actually genuinely surprise me, and offer me up some deliciously diabolical nasty, that makes me regain my faith in the genre...

...This is not that time.

Unlike my usual reviews, this one will contain massive spoilers. I apologise to those of you who may want to see this film, but this title is so awful, that I am not doing you a disservice by revealing certain plot-points. However, should you still wish to see this film, then please do NOT read the rest of my review. Watch the film first, then return back here to read on. You have been warned!

Right, so why am I writing yet another angry, opinionated dissection of a horror film. I do it, because I enjoy writing about aspects of Extreme Cinema, but I also write as catharsis. I enjoy the emotional release that typing-out my anger and venom on the page, and it gives me a satisfactory release. Not only that, but I find it refreshing to actually read genuinely well-written reviews (from other people), that don’t just consistently gush-over a particular title, whilst systematically fucking me over, convincing me that a film is the greatest piece of celluloid splatter since the last, when nothing could be further from the truth.

I prefer writers who aren’t afraid to be bold, brazen and even bolshie! I enjoy bad cinema as often as the next man, but there’s a time and a place for “bad” films, or even films that are so-bad-they’re-actually-really-really-good. However, this will not be one of those films. YOU’RE NEXT (2013, Adam Wingard) is just one more in a mammoth and prestigious line-up of movies so utterly banal, so completely soul-destroying, and so totally inept, that you have to wonder how on God’s green Earth they got financed.

As I’ve said in previous reviews, I honestly believe that American horror cinema has run out of ideas. I haven’t seen a single, decent, and original (or at least an original variation on a well-worn plot) in at least two years. The last original US horror I really rated, was EXCISION (2013, Richard Bates, Jnr.) which you can read about  here  which truly was an audacious, original piece of cinema that took a relatively well-worn theme (the alienated outsider) and subverted it, into one of the most stunning debut features I’ve seen in a very long time.

YOU’RE NEXT, is anything but original. A “home invasion” film, in which a bunch of spoilt, rich brats decide that they must have their eventual financial inheritance right now, and so they join together to kill the parents, in order to speed-up the inevitable. Alas, it’s as pedestrian as they come. The family arrive at a reclusive log cabin, in the arse-end of nowhere special, gather for a meal, and their celebrations are ruthlessly interrupted by a bunch of crazed wacko's with weapons.

It’s all very much horror paint-by-numbers, and to be frank, I’m getting exceedingly pissed-off having well-known (and what I thought were reasonably trustworthy) film publications, newspapers and film critics cite these films as being the best thing ever. If you go by the cover-art on YOU’RE NEXT, then Empire magazine gives it 4/5; as do The Guardian newspaper, and Digital Spy. Ain’t It Cool rates it as "terrifying”, and Den Of Geek cites it as being “The best slasher since SCREAM”! Not that I thought that much of SCREAM in the first place, but nonetheless...

So why is this film so awful? Well, firstly, it’s a paint-by-numbers pedestrian horror. A occurs, which results in B, which causes C to be required to be undertaken. Everything is sign-posted a mile-away, and almost every major (and most of the minor) plot point can be ticked-off in a giant checklist. You’ll know who is good, who is bad, who is pretending, who will kill who and when, within minutes. It’s really uninspiring stuff.

What’s worse, at least in my view, is that this is being rated as being innovative genre work. It isn’t! Not by a very long shot!

EXCISION was innovative!

THE ABC’S OF DEATH was original, even if anthology films aren't!

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE was daring, as it added a new twist on the "mad-doctor" theme!

YOU’RE NEXT is just the same-old, same-old. Yes, there are twists and shocks, but they’ve been done before, and been done better. Home-Invasion films aren’t anything new. Neither are slashers. (And how many of them have we all seen?) Slashers don’t need to be original to be innovative. They do, however, need to be entertaining, and at least attempt to do something that hasn’t been done before, or subvert it to a sufficient extent, that the viewer can be surprised. Simply killing people, is no longer smart or original. From "home invasion" classics like PSYCHO or STRAW DOGS, through to more modern attempts such as RINGU, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, or even THE OMEN, the genre has been done-to-death. In this film, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, try “animal masks” as their little pièce de résistance

Sadly, what they don’t do, is explain why animal masks are worn, other than to disguise the invaders, nor why the masks were relevant. And if they weren’t relevant, then why have them? They may well be distinct from the likes of Jason’s hockey mask in any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, or the plain-yet-ethereally-sinister HALLOWEEN mask worn by Michael Myers, but you could have given your characters any kinds of mask. Hell, even a balaclava is a kind of mask, but that appears in numerous crime films, as the go-to-disguise for bank robbers and the like, such as those in Michael Mann’s acclaimed crime-epic HEAT (1995).

So why give them animal masks? Was it to creep audiences out? Was it to inspire fear? Was it to give-off a threatening demeanour? If it was any of these, then it’s failed so prodigiously, because the masks do none of these. They are merely practical objects to disguise the invaders, who themselves, aren’t anything special. (It turns out that the invaders are merely friends of one of the family’s children, who have been asked to kill-off the rest of the family, for the aforementioned inheritance, but also to leave one of the girls unharmed.)

But, you ask, you haven’t really explained to us, why you dislike the film. Now, I shall.

This film, like GUTTERBALLS (see  here  ) or THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, is on a scale of stupidity, so incredulous, it defies all logic. At the start of the film, Erin (Sharni Vinson – a doppelganger for Ellen Byrnes from INSIDIOUS and TV’s DAMAGES – if ever I saw) is sent out by the mother of the family (Barbara Crampton, in a fun, but ultimately frivolous guest-starring role) to get some milk, from a neighbour’s house.

Erin goes to the house, knocks on the door, hears loud music playing, but no one responds. She goes back to the house she is staying at with her boyfriend, and his family, only to... Well, we never actually get told. That plot point is mysteriously ignored; forgotten about; left unsolved, and is never returned too. It may not be a necessary point, and I’m not suggesting that it needed to be completed, but to just leave audiences high-and-dry like that, does smack of lazy script-writing skills. If it was only that issue that was left, I’d not be so hard on it. But there are many more.

In one part of the film, the power is cut, by the home invaders, and the house is plunged into complete darkness. One of the family members asks where the circuit-breakers are, and is told they’re in the basement. Yet, no one is seen going down to the basement to check what’s happened, or to learn that – actually, no – the circuit-breakers haven’t failed, but that the power has been deliberately severed. Again, not a major issue, but it would have been nice, and more obviously, it would have made more narrative sense to explain it. However, when the power is suddenly shown as being back on, ten minutes later on in the film, and no one has explained why or even how they got the power back on, then I’m going to start questioning the film’s own internal logic, because you can’t cut the power of a house, and then not explain how the power comes back on. Viewers simply aren’t that stupid these days!

Likewise, Erin is a survivalist. Okay, that’s fair enough, and it explains why she can do so much of what she does. What the film doesn’t explain (or even make even the vaguest attempts of explaining even just for fun) is why she is so powerful and sensible, whilst the rest of the family’s grown-up children, are such complete tools!

The rest of the kids divide into one of two character tropes: petrified, screaming wrecks, freaking out right from the very start (and shouting the oh-so-cliched “We’re all going to die!” line) through to the gibbering wrecks who can’t even comprehend the most basic of survival skills, such as staying away from windows, when you are in a property that is under siege, or keeping your trap shut, or even – saints preserve us – keeping close to the floor, when moving from one location to another, rather than walking upright from location to location. The fact that these people are supposed to be relatively intelligent humans, albeit ones who are all “warped” (or maybe I should say “damaged”) in their own, unique ways, doesn’t help matters. It’s little things like this, that no one, except the most dunderheaded of morons, would follow. It defies logic, and it certainly defies film-logic, even by the most extreme of concepts! And this is supposed to be a logic, that we the viewers, are supposed to buy into, and thus, to enjoy the film.

Unfortunately, the film is so annoying, you will probably find yourselves shouting or cursing at the screen, just begging for someone, anyone, to get a brain cell, and stop acting like complete dunces. Your screams, however, will be wasted!

Look, I get that film-logic and real-world logic aren’t the same, or even in the same ballpark, but only a complete dickhead would not try to preserve their life, if they were genuinely under attack. There are certain things we humans would probably do, no matter if we were survivalists or mere mortals. The characters in YOU’RE NEXT are merely ciphers of the most idiotic kind, and part of me, thinks that them dying is actually a good thing. A Darwinian thinning of the herd. If you are on your own, you locate anything you can use as a weapon, and guard it with your life. If you’re in somewhere like a kitchen, don’t just take one weapon, take as many as you can carry. Basic things like that.

Whichever it is, it’s these kinds of idiotic decisions, that make you feel like the film cares little for logic, and is just trying to get-by, and drowning the further it continues onwards, to the inevitable trivial end.

Other aspects of the film grate too. Ti West has a cameo role as a documentary film-maker called Tariq. Guess who gets killed first? Yes: the only non-white, non-American character in the entire film! Should I be reading anything into this? I know ethnic characters in action films don’t tend to fare too well at the best of times, and I’m acutely aware of how bad Hollywood treats Arabic or Muslim characters in cinema, parading them off as the "evil other", but is horror now going to follow suit? I hope not. It’s not that I’m against it, per se, just that it seems a tad racist to do so? Just as always having a woman, who also happens to be young, sexually attractive, white and (often) blonde and blue-eyed be the last-one-standing also seems exceedingly cliched, it becomes boring.

And why get Ti West’s character to be called Tariq? Why not call him Tarquin, or Thomas, or Terry, or anything other than something “ethnic”?! Again, it’s not wrong to call him such a name, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have ethnic characters in horror films. What I am saying is, why give your character an ethnic (or ethnic-sounding) name, if you only then intend to have them played by a white, Westerner, and – maybe more importantly – have them killed off, only after you’ve given them a back story that might actually be worthy of viewer’s time? It’d be as bad as having Osama Bin Laden in ZERO DARK THIRTY played by Martin Scorsese, or Dame Judi Dench play an athletic twenty-year-old.

As films go, this is totally superficial entertainment, at best. There are a couple of fun moments: death-by-food-blender at the 1hr 20m mark was pretty good, as was most of Erin’s ballsy counterattacks on the invaders, but ultimately, nothing that can save the film from being completely pointless and irrelevant. Yes, for 90 minutes, this passes the time, but it’s like supermarket value-priced vanilla ice-cream. A minor treat, but completely forgettable, and something you horribly regret consuming afterwards, being as it is so deeply unfulfilling. If this turned-up on TV, I’d say it’s worth a watch. As a film to rent or even buy, then no, this is not deserving of your cash in any way, shape or form. The less successful this film is, the better. It’s simply not good for horror fans to be praising, or paying the director or the studio to reward them for this product. It’s shallow tosh, and forgettable tosh at that. Let it fall by the wayside, and give your time and cash to eminently more worthwhile titles. The American horror producers need to be told in no uncertain terms, that enough-is-enough. That this kind of turgid, half-baked crap will no longer be tolerated by decent horror film fans, and that the buck stops here! I will not continue to allow my intelligence, or that of my blog readers, to be constantly bombarded by Z-grade trash, that is insulting to everyone involved!

Take a stand! Leave YOU'RE NEXT well alone, if you see it in your local DVD rental outlet, or cinema. We all deserve better!

Next time... I swear on my life, the DEMONS Steelbook reviews will be published. (I'm so sorry to those of you who are clawing to read my view on these. I don't normally have this much stuff to be published, in such a short space of time.) Cheers for your patience!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Daily Fail Does It Again! The BBFC And Bad Language!

Hello Again, Everyone,

Yesterday, Tuesday 14th January 2014, the Daily Mail had the following article on its front page. The article by Paul Bentley and Laura Cox, was another in a long line of embarrassingly poor "articles", compiled by journo's who know nothing about what they talk of, and riddle the piece with lies and deception, to force their own blinkered view through to their readers.

As I have done on previous occasions, I'm going to type out the article in full (from the front-cover and Page 6 of the same day's issue), and then dissect it, in my own, inimitable style. As you will soon see, the article is a joke. My comments, are in italics surrounded with brackets.

Subheadline: Children can see films full of obscenities as censors relax rules.

Children as young as 15 are to be allowed to watch films filled with obscene language. (No, they can't do anything of the sort, and no, the censors aren't relaxing guidelines either. The BBFC is merely updating its guidelines on bad language in films, in line with new 2014 Guidelines, which have now been published  here  for everyone to see, AFTER public consultation, I might add. Secondly, at 15, children aren't young. They are teenagers - you know, not really children, not quite adults. Thirdly, a fair amount of swearing has been allowed in 15 certificate films for a long time now. It isn't something new, that the BBFC have suddenly decided to allow!)

Swear words are now so 'common-place' among teenagers that age ratings willl be relaxed, censors said yesterday. (Swearing isn't new. In fact, it's as old as time itself. Every teenager, for the past 50 to 75 years, has probably learnt language and/or words, that their parents disapproved of. It's known as colloquial language. Every generation has done it, and every generation will continue to do it. It's not something new. And again, the BBFC said nothing of the sort. What they did do, was announced revised quidelines on bad language in films, across the board from a U certificate, upto and including 18-rated films.)

The British Board of Film Classification claims parents accept it is 'game over' when protecting their children from bad language. (No, the BBFC didn't claim that at all. Parents have simply said that trying to stop children hearing bad language, is an almost impossible duty, because bad language is everywhere, in all mediums from TV and films, through to friends, family and people they see in the street. The BBFC Public Consultation Findings, which you can access  here  state that: "parents recognise that they face a challenge in terms of their ability to control what their children watch, from the age of 15".)

Under the new rules, even 12-year-olds could potentially be exposed to more profanities. (And the key words there, are "could" and "potentially".) Children's charities, parents groups and politicians reacted angrily to the move, which they said amounted to a free-for-all. "It is truly outrageous - parents and children are being let down by a regulator who is no longer interested in regulating" said Pippa Smith, of the charity Safermedia. (No, Daily Mail, children's charities, parents groups and politicians did NOT react angrily to the move. One individual spokesperson, for one specific pro-censorship lobbying-group, that the Daily Mail is actively supporting reacted angrily. The rest of the world, just got on with life, as per normal!)

Margaret Morrissey, of the family group Parents Outloud, asked: "If no standards are set by adults, what chance do our children have of being polite and decent grown-ups and parents?" (Yes, exactly. If parents don't parent their kids, and expect society and other outlets to parent their kids for them, then why should we expect kids not to turn-out badly behaved little shits?! So, in fact, what Margaret Morrissey is actually saying is "Parents: do your fucking job, and don't expect everyone else to do it for you, e.g. organisations like Ofcom, the BBFC, or Safermedia"! Hmmm... no wonder the Daily Mail print that translation in their article, as it doesn't chime with what they want you to believe!)

Updating its guidance for cinema films and DVD's, the BBFC said from February 24 it would be 'more flexible about allowing very strong language at 15'. (Yes, more flexible. That's not the same as the Daily Mail hearing "The BBFC are going to allow lots and lots and lots of very explicit language into 15-rated films for cinema and home-viewing!")

An accompanying report insisted there was evidence of a softening of attitudes towards the most offensive words, 'especially among younger respondants'. (That is true. Youngsters, and by youngsters, I mean 12-15 year olds, don't see swearing in the same way, that many adults do. Swearing to them, is just part of everyday, ordinary vernacular. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, however, is a different matter altogether, but the Daily Mail has deliberately blurred the two issues into one, and extrapolated the one meaning it wants you to believe, as being the one that was actually quoted - which isn't true, and reeks of lazy, tabloid hack journalism.)

The board's (subtle inferrance from the Daily Mail there, that the BBFC don't warrant being named by their proper title, with a capital letter "B", thus implying they are somehow unworthy of the reader's respect. Poor show, Daily Mail! Very poor show!) researchers sought the opinions of 10,000 people including, for the first time, 1040 children aged 13 to 18. (Thirteen-to-eighteen year olds are NOT children! Please learn this, Daily Mail! At 16, you can have sex, join the army, and get married with parental approval. At 18, you can go into armed combat, and fight for your country! These are not kids!)

Previously, films classified as suitable for 15-year-olds were not permitted to 'endorse discriminatory language or behaviour'. (That's not technically true. Discriminatory language and behaviour was allowed within 15-rated films, provided such language and behaviour was justified and contextualised. That is, it had to be under certain, very limited parameters, and had to be under certain situations that were age-appropriate. A good example, would be the current cinema release 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013, Steve McQueen), which deals with the slave trade and racism in Africa and America. That film contains discriminatory, racist language, but is contextualised for the scenario and storyline that it is about. Thus, it is justified, and can be given a 15-certificate, as it is an appropriate subject matter for a film, for 15-year olds and over, to be viewing!)

While strong language was banned, (no, it wasn't. It was merely restricted and had to be "contextualised and justified" to be passed at 15) 'aggressive or repeated use of the strongest language' was unlikely to be allowed. (Exactly! So, what's the problem here?)

Now, however, the guidance states that 'there may be racist, homophobic or other discriminatory themes and language'. (And again, the keyword there is "may" include such language. Which to my mind, is perfectly acceptable, under certain contexts, such as in films about homophobic bullying, the Slave Trade, or in World War II films such as SAVING PRIVATE RYAN or SCHINDLER'S LIST, which deal with historical events and people.) It adds that very strong language may be permitted depending on the context. (Which goes against the thrust of the article!)

It said: 'Reluctantly, parents were accepting that there have been shifts in language in recent years and awareness and use of the word f*** in particular, is almost commonplace, even for primary school children. (We can't print the word fuck, lest our readers get offended! As for parents reluctantly accepting anything, I would have thought that's par for the course. Language evolves. What was offensive 20 years ago, may seem very tame by modern-day standards. But isn't that the entire point? We evolve, and thus what was censored before, may no longer need to be? As for the whole assertion that the word "fuck" is used by primary-school children, that's highly unlikely, though not entirely implausible. However, as primary-school years are from children as young as 4 through to 11 year olds, I would expect to see children aged 9-11 years, having heard of the f-word. I certainly knew of it by that age!)

'Even if their own children are not using language at home, parents are aware that it has become an accepted part of young people's lives and its use in the school playground as well as with social media, mobile phones and the internet is widespread. It said that especially among young boys of 14 and 15 years (that's not a young boy!) the c-word was 'seen to be part of their vernacular'. (Certainly in Scotland, the word "cunt" can be used as a term of endearment, in some areas. It's very dependant on who uses it, at what time, and with whom. Ken Loach certainly knows about this issue, as his 2012 film THE ANGEL'S SHARE had its language reduced to gain the 15 certificate for cinemas, but was passed uncut with all the strong language intact, but at the higher 18-certificate classification, for home viewing.)

Films rated 12A - which can be viewed by younger children if accompanied by an adult (Not technically true. The under-12 person can view the film in a cinema, with parental accompaniment, not just any random adult who accompanies the minor! Most UK Cinemas do check this, and will - and have - tested the adult accompanying the child, to verify they are who they claim to be. If in doubt, many UK cinemas won't allow the under-12 patron into the film, if they aren't satisfied that the adult is the parent of that child!) have always allowed 'moderate language' and 'infrequent strong language'. (That is true, although strong language used to be no more than one use of the word "fuck", and the c-word was verboten. Nowadays, two or three uses of "fuck" is accepted, under certain very limited conditions, and the word cannot be used against another character, or in an aggressive manner. With that said, the words "motherfucker" or other derivatives of the f-word, are generally not acceptable in a 12A rated film, no matter what the circumstances or context. The only probably exception, would be if the film was a documentary, and/or the offensive language was the only problematic issue in the entire film, i.e. that there was no violence, sexual material, or other uses of bad language at all. Then, and only then, might one use of the word "motherfucker" be acceptable, but that is almost unheard of, as far as I am aware in the history of the BBFC and the 12A or 12 certificate classification usage.)

Now guidance states that 'strong language may be permitted' even if frequent, with certain conditions on whether it is justified by its context. (So, no, frequent use of strong language generally will NOT be permitted in films with a 12A rating, no matter what the Daily Mail would like you to believe!)

The research report accompanying the guidance states: 'By aged 15, most parents argued that it was "game over" and they could no longer control their child's viewing. (Well, actually, a good parent, would be able to have some control over what their teenagers watch, but that does depend on how well the parent does their job overall. However, in theory, yes, by the age of 15, most teenagers will generally get to see what they want, irrespective of what their parents may dictate. Certainly, these days, it's easeir for teenagers to see things that 10, 15, 20 years ago, would have been all but impossible, due to the access of the Internet. But then, if you are a parent who lets your child have total and unregulated access to the Internet, then you are really not doing you job in the first place, are you?!)

The shock value of bad language is felt to be diminishing with each generation. But last night Phillip Davies, a Tory MP (who is the Conservative MP for Shipley; is a serving member of the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee; and is a Parliamentary Spokesperson for the Campaign Against Political Correctness, I might add), said: 'This reflects the general decline in good behavioural standards'. (You mean, the good behavioural standards that so many British MP's follow, such as claiming for expenses, during the Expenses Scandal - see previous blog articles on this subject - or lying on video - see  here  - or perverting the course of justice, like Chris Huhne did, when he lied to try and get himself out of a speeding ticket - see here? You mean, those types of good behavioural standards?!)

'It makes children think it's perfectly normal and reasonable to use bad language. I would rather they weren't exposed to even worse levels of swearing. (Then you may want to have a look at rap music, from artists such as Eminem, or The RZA, or Dr Dre, and see what kids of today are exposed too, because - trust me - the lyrics make many 12A and 15 rated films seem like paragons-of-virtue by comparison.)

'They are still children at 15 (well, that's debateable) and are already exposed to things in films at a younger age that I would care for them to be exposed to. (So you'd prefer to keep kids wrapped-up in cotton-wool, forever, and then at 18, unleash them into the world, and see how far they got? That doesn't sound very sensible to me. Ultimately, this comes down to responsible and decent parenting. If you have children, they are your responsibility, not the rest of society's.) I would like them to think that people would want to bring up their children to know that that isn't acceptable. (Again, whether swearing is or is not acceptable, is another debate for another day.)

Mrs Smith added: 'Everyone except the BBFC and broadcast media knows children will copy the swearing they hear. Films make it cool. We dread to think what this latest announcement will mean for films deemed acceptable by the BBFC - an industry-funded body - for our children.' (The BBFC is not funded by film studios, but are ultimately funded through the fees they charge for classification. They are wholly independent from government and/or film studios, producers or film-makers, who have no sway over how the BBFC operate. If anything, the BBFC is one of the most accountable and open classification organisations in the world! As for Mrs Smith's assertion that children will copy swearing, again, that depends on parenting. I swear a lot, but I didn't copy it from my parents or siblings, who rarely swear at all.)

Vivienne Pattison of Mediawatch (an organisation who want more censorship on TV, and are a pro-censorship lobbying group anyway) said: 'Swearing is not tolerated anywhere else in life - kids can't do it at school, you can't do it in public. So it quite extraordinary that they're just saying "Well, it's a free-for-all in 15-rated films". There is this idea that you just have to accept obscene language because we've got an evolving contemporary society and that's just how it is. But, actually, no, we don't.' (Except society is constantly evolving, as I mentioned earlier on, and swearing is tolerated in many places - to varying degress, mind you. And no one is saying it's a "free-for-all" when it comes to swearing in 15-rated films, except you Ms Pattison, and the hacks at the Daily Mail.) Mrs Morrrissey said: 'Films and internet have done much to lower the tone and values of society. We must remember young adults are the next generation of young parents.' (But films haven't lowered the tone or values of society, nor has the internet. The only people who "lower the tone" are the people themselves. And that includes the people in charge of us, like government ministers, the police, heads of state, the Church, and other religious organisations - and to be frank - many of them are hardly embodiments of wholesome goodness!)

The new guidelines offer a subtle but significant shift - stating discriminatory language is 'unlikely' to be acceptable and that dangerous behaviour 'must be clearly disapproved' of, if shown. (Yet, the shift, is merely that: a tiny shifting of boundaries. It's not an absolute. It's not a definite shifting of the goalposts. The BBFC are merely saying things may change, not will change.)

There will be a crackdown, however, on words such as "crap" which parents complained about hearing in films, including the animated feature THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS! (2012, Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt). (That is true. There were some complaints, but then that is one, relatively minor rude word, in an 80-minute movie, that - to be fair to Aardman Animations who made the film - didn't exactly break any real taboos. They're not the first kids film to included minor bad language, or minor scenes of violence. You only need look at films like the animated ANIMAL FARM (1954, John Halas and Joy Batchelor) or WATERSHIP DOWN (1978, Martin Rosen), both of which are aimed at children, and contain scenes of animal-on-animal violence with blood, that is quite adult in nature.)

Greater attention will now be paid by censors to horror movies and the psychological impact they can have on children, and to the sexualisation of girls, the content of music videos, and the ease of accessibility of online porn. (Only the first of those items, is under BBFC jurisdiction. The rest, are resolutely not.)

David Cook, director of the BBFC, said: 'Regular public consultation is crucial to continued public trust in what we do. Our new classification guidelines reflect explicitly concerns raised by the public during the 2013 consultation and will, I believe, ensure that we continue to be in-step with what the public wants and expects, in order to make sensible and informed viewing decisions. (There is also room for continued improvement.' (At least that's one part of the Daily Mail article that is correct. The BBFC don't do these consultations for fun. They do it, to try and keep pace with members of the publics' views, and so when tides change, on issues like sex, violence or - as in this case - bad language, they are there to alter and modify their policy accordingly. If the public deems bad language to be less of an issue, than violent of sexual material, it is not for the likes of the Daily Mail to try and suggest otherwise.)

So there you have it. Another Daily Mail article debunked! If you go onto their website, you can have fun reading the comments from readers. Some of them, are spectacularly awful, for all the wrong reasons of course. You can access the original article  here  should you wish.

Next time, the DEMONS and DEMONS 2 Steelbook reviews, I promise! See you back here soon!

P.S. Many Thanks to Dave at the Melon-Farmers for linking to this article.

Monday, 13 January 2014

What Is Truth? Perception, Distortion, Reality And The Documentary - Part 2


And welcome back to the second and final part of this article. Ms Smith's article seems to come across quite angry at times, as if she were being missold something. Yet we all know, that a film trailer almost always distorts its source material, in order to get "bums on seats". (And by bums, I mean ticket sales, not the homeless/displaced or disadvantaged in society.)

To all intents-and-purposes, she was judging a book by its cover. Which, she is more than welcome to do, but it will probably end-up making her look extremely silly, as it has done. Unfortunately, she then saw the film, and made her second post  here  which continued on with her feeling cheated.

As I said in Part 1, I think BLACKFISH is a jaw-droppingly impressive and - at times - shocking documentary about how humans think they can control wild animals, for our own needs/enjoyment, and then when said wild animals turn against us, we wonder why. For those who haven't seen it, the film examines a so-called "Killer Whale" (actually, an Orca Whale) called Tilikum. Tilikum was captured by SeaWorld (or at least, people/organisations acting on SeaWorld's behalf) for their Orlando, Florida SeaWorld theme-park.

Now, despite the name "killer whale", whale's aren't generally killers. At least not in the literal-sense of the word. When they live in the wild, they rarely attack human beings, unless provoked. (Just as so many other animals generally wouldn't.) Killer whale's are actually called Orcinus Orca's, which is often shortened to "orca" or "orca's". So, when people talk of "killer whales" and/or "orca's", they're technically talking about the same animal. The reason the names often get interchanged, is probably due to the infamous exploitation film ORCA released in 1977, but rereleased in the USA as ORCA: KILLER WHALE, starring Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling. Like Spielberg's JAWS, it posited the story of one man's attempt to take on one of the animal kingdom's biggest creatures, and to tame or kill it. (You can easily guess which result occurred!)

Tilikum had a history of killing and/or attacking humans, which is indisputable, but this information was either deliberately ignored or covered-up, so that SeaWorld could make money from him. When Tilikum then went onto kill SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, questions began to be asked about Tilikum. What followed, was a seemingly lengthy cover-up by SeaWorld and its staff and other associates working for them/on behalf of them, stating that it was "trainer error" that was the cause, and not Tilikum, despite evidence to the contrary.

The film then discusses and examines the "truth" of who and what Tilikum was, and why a multi-billion dollar sea-park industry such as SeaWorld might decide to be less-than-truthful about the facts, which might bring them into disrepute and or raise public feelings of hatred towards them.

What follows will shock many, and even some of the most hard-hearted of viewers will be shedding tears by the film's powerful emotional sway, irrespective of where you stand on the issues of using animals for entertainment.

Melissa Smith's main criticism seems to be that SeaWorld wasn't allowed to give their side of events; to explain their viewpoint... Except that they were. Several times. And each time, SeaWorld declined to be interviewed, in-front of a camera, or for use as "voice-only extracts" in the documentary. The film explicitly mentions that SeaWorld declined to meet the film-maker on multiple occasions.

If that is the case, then what can a director do? No one can force SeaWorld, or any of its affiliates or representatives to participate. But if they refuse to do so, then they only have themselves to blame, if they feel that their "voice" isn't being heard. With that said, SeaWorld is hardly in a position to "cry wolf" here! The current value of SeaWorld Orlando alone, is valued at $2.5 Billion (US Dollars)! If they are worth even a fraction of that, they can easily hire a P.R. firm to make any announcement or mount a defence against BLACKFISH, should they wish to do so. (The film has grossed a paltry - by comparison - $2.5 Million dollars at the US Box Office. Not bad for a niche documentary, but small-fry against the might of SeaWorld.) And if SeaWorld is that scared by one documentary, potentially tainting their name, then they must be really scared!

Ms Smith goes on to say, that:
This ‘review’ of mine was met with flagrant opposition from most. Some commenters (sic), the minority, offered some valuable information about the subject which I will include here, but most of the replies to my article were declarations that I was ignorant and stupid for assessing a film that I haven’t seen. But here’s the thing—I was really providing my assessment of a mindset that is rapidly gaining momentum in our society. When I first viewed the trailer, I found it highly unsettling, and knew that many novices to the subject of animal behavior, animal welfare, and captive animal criticism would retain many unflattering, one-sided views of more than just the famed aquatic parks.
But your review, wasn't a review: it was a critique, and a poorly-written and sorry-excuse for a critique at that, because you focused your anger on a film trailer, not the film itself. To try and rescue your own neck, by saying that you weren't assessing a film at all, but were in fact assessing "a mindset" is quite frankly someone sounding very desperate.

I'll admit, I'm not that knowledgeable on animal behaviour. I don't know much about animals, other than that which I see on documentaries, or stuff that I read in books or learn from other animal lovers and veterinarians. So, I am by no means trying to make myself out to be more knowledgeable than Ms Smith says she is. However, you can't attack a film, based purely on a trailer. A trailer is, as I said in Part 1, a sales-tool. It is a promotional device, and deliberately aims to entice you, by showing select moments, often deliberately re-edited out-of-their-original-context to heighten the tension and excitement. So, to go after a film, based solely on the trailer, is both facile and very poor judgement. Which is probably why she received so many declarations that she was "ignorant and stupid"!

Ms Smith continues on:
Now that I have seen the film, did it haunt me, move me, or rub my nose in some truth unbeknownst to myself when I wrote my trailer review? No, I have seen at least 80% of the footage that Blackfish offers on Youtube. In fact, Blackfish even left a lot of things out.
So, here we have a claim, that because she's seen the footage on YouTube, that that automatically discounts BLACKFISH as being an unnecessary and worthless documentary? That's like citing Wikipedia as your primary source of knowledge! It's bad researching technique, and you should never rely on sources like that for anything factual, that is worth a damn! And just because Ms Smith had seen most of the footage, that doesn't mean that everyone else had. Ergo, it's essentially an erroneous and frivolous statement to make.

Moving on, she writes:
Was BLACKFISH a brilliant documentary? (No.) All biases aside, the movie seemed to me to be of average PBS TV documentary competency. The film mainly consisted of interviews and footage which, if not seen before or familiar with, may be ‘emotionally powerful’.
Ah, so you are being biased against the film then? And you claim that because you felt it was of average-quality, that that means it's irrelevant. Not only that, but you ridicule it by slating another well-known, and fairly-well acknowledged source of documentary film-making, via attacking the US TV network PBS. Something doesn't seem right here.

My first question to Miss Smith, would be to ask how many documentaries has she ever made? She doesn't need to have made any, to have the right to criticise them, but she does need some kind of background to be able to stand-on before critiquing that which you may not wholly understand. I've not made any films, but I've had a formal education in film history, written reviews for well-known horror film websites, and undertaken film education courses to various degree levels. My knowledge is therefore likely to be far more enlightened, than that of just an ordinary armchair critic, as I have a clear and evidentiary background that I use to backup my views. Anyone can praise or criticise something, but it takes brains and good linguistic skills to explain why you are praising or criticising something, that makes your review more valuable to others.

My next question to ask her, would be: "How did you arrive at your belief that BLACKFISH was an average, barely competent documentary"? From reading her blog article, it seems that because she has done what so many others do - seen something they vehemently disagree with, and then simply discounted it as being valueless, and thus taken-up a contrary position - that that counts as being a "valid" opinion. Well, yes, technically, that stance is acceptable. But it's a knee-jerk reaction to something. If you don't explain how you've arrived at your thoughts/beliefs, then you can't really claim to hold a more worthwhile or important view, than that of your fellow people. You have to justify your stance on issues, for others to be able to take you seriously. Right now, I can't do that with Ms Smith. Her article is merely lip-service riposte to something she doesn't like. There's limited articulation as to why she believes what she does, but justifies her own beliefs by simply slagging-off other views and other people. That's Armchair Criticism 101. It's something anyone can do. It's trivial, and meaningless, and valueless to society. It merits no worth, no attention, and no value being attributed to it.

She says:
Most people who would be inclined to watch this film are likely to have an emotional reaction to some of the footage presented alone. This is absolutely no testament to the filmmaker’s directional ability. Gabriela Cowperthwaite (the film’s director) picked a hot button and emotionally tolling subject that features universally adored ‘cute’ or ‘magnificent’ sea animals.
Again, more derision of the film, through slating the director. A really, really poor choice of words, demonstrates to me - as a reader of her work - that Ms Smith is merely mouthing-off at BLACKFISH, and that anything she says, is irrelevant. It's very much "I don't like it, therefore it's garbage" journalism! It's hackneyed at best, and laughably inept at worst. Ms Cowperthwaite chose a topic that interested her, and thought would make a good film. Documentarians know you can't choose one without the other. If a subject or issue interests you, that doesn't translate to that same subject becoming a good film. Likewise, you may make a great documentary, but if no one cares about the subject under discussion, your film has no merit to it. As for describing Orca's as "universally adored cute", I am staggered at her poor choice of words. "Cute" is not how I'd describe Tilikum, or any other whale. "Magnificent"? Yes, absolutely! "Incredible", "jaw-dropping", "sublime"? Yes, for-sure, but never "cute". A kitten or a puppy or a duckling is cute. A whale is fervently not!

We are now less than half-way through Ms Smith's article, and we now come to her (so-called) "evidence", that demonstrates why BLACKFISH is such a rotten film. Alas, her evidence is anything but.

Under the "misleading claims" section, she uses Exhibit A: that trainers do NOT have special connections to the animals they train. Except they do, in their own, weird and wonderful way.

Anyone who has ever owned a pet, will know that they have a "bond" with that animal. That "bond" is unique, and is demonstrable. The owner can call the pet, and the pet comes to them. The pet behaves well, so it gets a treat from the owner as a reward. When the pet does something bad, it is punished and it "cowers" as an apology. Okay, so this is a very simplified version of what the "bond" is, but it does exist, and can be easily proven. So, any human that had prolonged with one animal, and vice-versa, is almost certainly going to end-up "bonding" as one. That's human (and animal) nature. Everyone wants to be loved, to be endorsed, to be appreciated and cared for. I suspect Orca's are no different. If they can't find it within their own species, they'll look elsewhere. An animal in captivity, forced (trained) to perform tricks, to obtain sustenance, is going to eventually aquiesce. The animal won't intentionally go hungry and deprive itself of the one thing it needs to survive. Nor would a human. There's only so far the human and animal mind can survive without the basic needs of food/drink, warmth, shelter, and companionship, before it turns desperate, and will act-out. So, if doing tricks gets it food, then a whale will do that, even if that trick goes against its natural instinct. It's called self-preservation.

Secondly, according to Ms Smith, BLACKFISH:
makes a false claim about killer whales which, as a whole, are more leery of human presence and generally keep to themselves in natural conditions
Again, the claim isn't actually false or inaccurate. All creatures, animal or human, have a way of living. They all have cultures, a way of life, that is unique to them, and different species will have different "cultural" attributes. Most animals tend to prefer their own company. As do most humans. We make friends with those who are similar to us, either through hobbies and interests, romance, friendship and warmth, intellectual standings, or those who are similar to us in other ways, such as religions and faith, or skin colour, gender or other such links. Why should animals not do the same? Inter-species presence is going to initially seem a threat, because it's someone "not like you" invading your "space". Only when both species have clarified that they do not need to be wary or frightened of the other, will they either live together, or at least accept each other. Hence, why whales and dolphins swim together.

She then goes on to write:
BLACKFISH ultimately criticizes SeaWorld for lying to the public and denying the animal’s aggression when the attacks took place, perpetuating an image of a “cuddly toy” (a term used in the movie while SeaWorld's plush orca gift shop is shown). It's clear that the director, despite intensive research, his little understanding of animals.
Yes, the film does do that, but only at the end of it's 97-minute running time. All creatures can be aggressive. SeaWorld does perpetuate an image of the "cuddly" Orca, (and specifically targets that "image" to kids, and their cash-strapped parents), which is not an inherently true image. It absolutely does anthropomorphise Orca's, and sells this image to children, to adults, and to families, as something "cuddly" that you can take home, and "look after" yourself, when nothing could be further from the truth. Wild Orca's are likely to be magnificent creatures, who will not harm humans, providing humans do not interfere with them or their way of living. It's only us humans that love to interfere and intervene, thinking that we know best about what to do for animals, because we're the so-called "superior" species.

Thirdly, Ms Smith writes:
One of the interviewed trainers says: "In a reputable breeding program, rule number one is that you certainly would not breed an animal that has shown a history of aggression toward humans. Imagine if you had a pit bull who had killed…that animal would have likely been put down…”. To accompany this statement is an animated graphic along with some whimsical carnival music to suggest the bizarre absurdity of what SeaWorld was doing.
Yet, that statement is true. No animal breeder would knowingly and intentionally breed any animal of any species, that had a known history of "problems" or "issues". And Tilikum does have problems - even if those "problems" are mostly caused by SeaWorld keeping him in an under-sized, sensory-deprived sleeping "pod" that keeps him from any kind of social activity and stimulus, other than that of being trained to jump through hoops, for his food, like a glorifed aquatic sea-lion!

Basic Genetics teaches us this. The animated graphic may be simple in tone and it is, but it's an easy way to get the message across. Namely, that through sperm, "bad" genes can (though not necessarily will) be passed-on-down to children, and those "bad" genes stay in the animals family for generations. If Tilikum's sperm is being used to father other Orca's, then those Orca's are likely to feature some of his traits - both the good ones and the bad. You don't need to be a marine-biologist, or zookeeper to know this. It's relatively simple scientific fact!

By the end of Ms Smith's article, she has come to the (false) conclusion, that:
Blackfish expectedly ends with an interviewed person suggesting the callousness of families who obtain enjoyment from seeing animals up close in captivity
I don't know about you, but most people - scientists, biologists, or zookeepers or other animal caretakers - would argue that if you keep any sentient creature away from natural stimulus, in an artificial containment unit, for years at a time, that that creature is almost certainly going to start acting-out and go stir-crazy... sooner or later! Who (or what) wouldn't?! How stupid does Ms Smith think her readers are, to believe otherwise?!

SeaWorld's game is about making money. It does this, by using animals taken from their natural habitat, and made to perform acrobatic tricks and games that are anathema to it, for food and other rewards (love, warmth, attention). These are facts. Indisputable facts! You can cosy-it-up all you want, but that is what SeaWorld do, and we - the public at large - think this is great, and wonderful, and lovely. We are told by these same big, corporate organisations, that these animals are being well-treated, looked-after, and fed the same food they would get in the wild.

Absolute bullshit! No, they are not!

Any animal being kept in an enclosed, or even semi-enclosed space, having its needs tended too by humans, is not being kept in a natural state of affairs. We are anthropomorphising these animals, to make ourselves feel better, that what WE do, is good, so that we don't need to look at the ugly side of companies like SeaWorld, and can laugh-off any negative aspects about how these animals are being kept to entertain us, for our benefit, at their expense!

It's inhuman that we can, in 2013/14, still tell our children, that animals in zoo's and water-parks are being well looked after. That may be the case, in some instances. But for the most, it isn't. SeaWorld, zoo's, and all other similar animal-entertainment businesses are resolutely having to do more, with less money. Just as so many of us are these days, due to the world's economy. With less money, comes less staff, less food, and a (probable) decrease in the quality of upkeep of any animal being kept in these kind of institutions.

As BLACKFISH explicitly shows, Tilikum was deprived of food when he didn't perform to the attained standard SeaWorld staff expected of him. When he did perform, he could tell from the kind of fish he was being given, how much food was remaining. (Just as you can tell when you eat something, for example a packet of crisps, that you near the bottom of the pack, when the crisps start being smaller and in pieces!) What SeaWorld did (and continues to do) is unnatural! It is inhuman! It is against nature! You can justify and  vindicate, and assert all that you want, but it is still not how things are meant to be.

Quite why Ms Smith is so angry against BLACKFISH, I'm not sure. The only conclusion I can arrive at, is that the only reason she is angry, is because - like most things in life - the film didn't fit-in with her own, preconceived notions of what the documentary was supposed to be. If it had arrived at the same conclusions she had, or had explored the same beliefs she held, then she may well have loved it. But that's no justification for criticising something you disagree with. I disagree with Ms Smith, but not only because I think BLACKFISH opens the world's eyes to an international travesty that we don't like to think goes on, but that the film does so, in a way that leaves no doubt that the film-makers intentions were wholly noble. SeaWorld's main priority is not animal preservation and welfare. It's main priority is making money, and lots of it, by using wild animals for exploitation.

No one can justify that.

There is no definitive "truth", and there are no absolute "lies", when it comes to documenting real-world tragedy and horror. Merely, distortions of both. Everything we see, in films or in real-life, is going to be filtered, vetted, censored, questioned and confused by our own upbringing and life-experience. Our brains will confuse and confound us, so even if we are adamant that we think something is true, it may well not be. We will merely be confirming that what we remember is what we remember... which is not the same as what we remember being what actually happened at the time, just a version of the event, that sits well with us.

A documentary like BLACKFISH should absolutely shock and disturb its audience, and I for one, am very glad it did. As I said right back at the beginning of Part 1, sometimes horror film fans need to see (and be shocked by) real-world horror, to remind us, that beneath all the disturbing fictional violence we see, there is a real-world in which real horror regularly takes place. And sometimes, we need to be reminded of that, so that we never take fictional violence for granted.

We must never forget of man's own inhumanity to others.

And on that bleak note, I Thank You for taking time to read this two-part article.

In the next update, I will be bringing you a long-awaited review of the recently released Limited Editions of two of Italian horror's most entertaining cult horror's, namely DEMONS and DEMONS 2 (both by Lamberto Bava). I hope you will return later this month, to read my thoughts. Be seeing you!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

What Is Truth? Perception, Distortion, Reality And The Documentary - Part 1

Welcome Back, and a Happy New Year to you all!

My DEMONS and DEMONS 2 reviews will be making an appearance on this website soon, I promise, but I have decided to make my first article of 2014, be a little different, as through some research I was doing, an idea began germinating in my head, and this is the result. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Sometimes, to balance out our lives, and make us sit-up and think, we need to stop watching fictionalised horror, and focus on the real-world stuff that goes on. War, famine, medical disasters, political inequalities, etc, are every day occurrences in the world in which we all live. And sometimes, it's necessary to be horrified for real, to make us reevaluate ourselves and our place in the universe.

Just before Christmas, a documentary that I love very much, was shown on the BBC. It's the 2013 natural history doc BLACKFISH by Gabriella Cowperthwaite, about the life of Tilikum the Whale and SeaWorld, and Tilikum's capture and captivity by SeaWorld. It's part documentary, part legal-drama, and part environmental fable. It's a very impressive piece of cinema, and if you've not seen it, I heartily recommend it, as it's a very harrowing and moving portrayal of the way we humans mistreat animals, for our own ends. It will almost certainly shock and upset you, and so it should.

Now, no documentary will ever be 100% truthful. In fact, I would argue that there is no such thing as "irrefutable truth". Human memories, that we recall as being "the truth", because we believed them to have happened to us, are never the whole truth, because our brains will determine what we choose to remember, and that which we choose to ignore or forget. As such, the human mind is not a reliable or valuable source for reporting facts, the truth, and/or evidence. Alas, we have nothing better to use in court cases to rely upon, and that is why you will often see perverse decisions in legal cases. The Black's Law Dictionary describes "the truth" as being:
1. A fully accurate account of events, factuality.
2. Defamation.  An affirmative defense by which the defendant asserts that the alleged defamatory statement is substantially accurate.
Documentaries portray whatever the writer, editor or documentarian wants their work to say, and will create a work that is no more truthful than "truth" and "history" itself. But what counts as "a fully accurate account of events". Stage a fake car crash, with actors as the driver, passengers and onlookers in front of 10 people and then ask each of them "What just happened?" and you will get 10 very different, very divisive accounts of the event, as determined by those ten people: each response claiming to be "the truth". Start asking those people "Who stood where", or "Which person was driving the car, from the six faces shown in this Photographic Line-Up",and again, you'll probably get several people picking each face more than once, all convinced that it was "that person".

And so it is, with BLACKFISH. The documentary has come under an inordinate amount of criticism from detractors, SeaWorld employers and staff, and viewers, decrying the film as being "fraudulent", "a lie, for commercial gain" and "misleading, unoriginal and stupid".

Irrespective of what I say, my viewpoint is going to automtically coloured by the fact I liked this documentary. It worked for me, by opening my eyes to something I didn't know about, and which I now feel more knowledgeable of. It shocked and upset me that we humans can continue to mistreat animals in such a way, yet we do. And all to make a quick buck. So, anything I write in this article, is tainted, and can be argued to be a "lie", because I am showing favouritism towards it. However, I will try to remain as dispassionate as I possibly can.

During my short research for this article, I came upon this article  here  from a blogger called Melissa Smith, who has been blogging for the past couple of years on HubPages. I have never read any of her work before, and I have no knowledge of who she is, or why she wrote the article she did. However, I am going to use that article and one other  here  to form part of my own article. Both blog articles are quite long, but are interesting, if flawed, in my view.

As I said earlier, no documentary can or will ever be 100% truthful, unbiased and wholly accurate. It will be a distorted version of events, much like our own memories are. In BLACKFISH, the director asked SeaWorld to comment and/or be interviewed for the documentary, but they declined to respond. That is their choice. However, once the work was then released, SeaWorld started a backlash campaign of damage limitation - a well-known legal exercise - to try and prevent negative fallout against the company. This was done with the following methods, in order of relevance and date/time of occurrance:

The original SeaWorld response to BLACKFISH - here

An online poll conducted by the Orlando Business Journal - here. (Please note that the results have now changed to be accurate, and no longer distorted. See next link for why the distortion took place!)

Proof by The Huffington Post that the original poll had been rigged to favour SeaWorld - here

CNN asks "Did SeaWorld rig the poll?" - here

SeaWorld responds to the "rigged poll" accusation - here

SeaWorld tries to halt public backlash, due to BLACKFISH - here

And finally, SeaWorld starting to lose business, upon BLACKFISH's release - here

I've never been to a SeaWorld "resort park", so I had no knowledge of their track record and history with keeping whales and other sea mammals in captivity, for our entertainment. I should also stress, that - until I saw BLACKFISH - I held no feelings, either way, towards the company. As such, I was "neutral". When I saw the trailer to BLACKFISH, it looked like an interesting documentary, and so I saw it at my local arthouse cinema, one afternoon, last Summer. It was brilliant, and fascinating, and well-made, and articulately-structured. Hence, I recommended it to family and friends, who liked it and were shocked by it also.

Putting my liking for the film aside for one moment, I've never been a believer in documentaries giving us the "whole truth". Every piece of film and TV making, is going to be distorted in one way, or another. So, as a viewer, you have to accept right from the get-go, that you are being told only what the writer or director wants you to know, and only in the terms that they want you to know about. Ergo, it cannot be wholly accurate, and thusly, it is merely one person's representation or view of events. Once you remember that, then you learn to read into what all documentaries tell you. You learn to filter and be sceptical towards everything you are being fed, questioning it all, at every step. It doesn't stop documentaries (or news stories, or journalism in general) from being enjoyed, and believed, but it will make you look at things with a far more critical eye. As you should.

It's only after I started researching what others felt about it, that I discovered that many people were questioning its authenticity, and decrying it for not giving SeaWorld the chance to respond. And it is on that last point, that we come back to Melissa Smith, and her HubPages blog articles I mentioned earlier.

The first thing, that readers see, is the blog article title: "The Stupidity Of The Blackfish Trailer | Anti-SeaWorld Documentary". Immediately, it's going to get people's heckles up. You're rapidly setting an agenda that is incredibly biased, right from the get-go: the film is bad, the film is wrong, everything I say is right.

No! No! No!

In the first article she wrote, she decried the trailer for "lying" to her. What she seems to forget, is that a trailer is merely a sales tool. A device to be used to "sell" you a ticket, to go see the film it's promoting. It's a hook, to attract and tease you, into ponying-up money to watch the full work. From the start, it appears that she is vehemently against the film, as she says:
BLACKFISH is another entry in a growing line of anti-cetacean captivity fare such as 2009’s The Cove, and David Kirby’s book “Death at Seaworld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity”, released in 2012.
Immediately, the hairs on my neck stand to attention, and I immediately think that this writer has an axe to grind. She continues on...
The efforts are strategically placed to capture the attention of the mainstream media and the general public, with sensationalistic approaches that emphasize the danger of the animals moreso than animal welfare (except THE COVE).
When dealing with anything that is potentially inflammatory, you have to be really careful about what you say, and how you say it. I know this, from my own experience. Things I've said and written have gotten me into trouble, and/or I've had to rephrase or rewrite certain things. But even that is not an excuse, from trying to remain as neutral and unbiased as possible, especially when critcising or critiquing things. Wherever possible, I take my readers through things, step-by-step, so that they can see how I have reached the point that I have, and why I feel the way I do. That way, even if they completely disagree with everything that I've written, they can at least see how I've arrived at the viewpoint that I have, and so that my evidence cannot be contested by others.

Ms Smith unfortunately falls into the easily-avoidable trap of starting her article from a wholly biased viewpoint, and refusing to accept any other evidence. Her profile on HubPages states that she:
I am a [snip] person with a strong interest in exotic pet keeping. I offer balanced views on controversial animal-related subjects, with an emphasis on pet ownership. [snip]Topics I explore include but are not limited to exotic pets, zoos, Seaworld, alternative medicine, and animal rights vs. animal welfare. I receive criticism from BOTH sides of the ‘fence’, and you may not agree with everything I have to say on every subject, but I encourage you to approach my logic with an open mind.
Unfortunately, her "logic" isn't logical. Logic requires a natural progression from point A, to point B, to point C, and so-forth. As such, it isn't possible to approach her work with logic, because her work isn't logical. It's no different than a maths teacher saying to a student "Do this working here, get that result there, and that's how you do quadratic equations. See? It's easy!" If the student can't grasp how the working is worked-out, then no wonder they are left wondering what the hell to do, because nothing's making sense.

That paragraph I've just quoted above, is also quite telling. The final sentence sounds more like a plea for readers to side with her, even if they disagree with her. That's not how things work in the real world. People read blogs, mostly for fun. Some are read for research. Some to stimulate and expand upon an interest the reader has in a specific topic or subject. Mine is firmly aimed at the latter. My blog, as I've explained, is not meant to be about the latest developments in Extreme Cinema, nor interviews with famous faces. That's showbiz bullshit, and I don't subscribe to that theorem. It's crass, it's lazy, and it's a waste of my time!

I am here to educate, entertain and elucidate. The blog is as much for me, as it is for my readers. If you want tittle-tattle and gossip, there are other places you can frequent to get such material.

Ms Smith's blog article continues on, to breakdown each part of the US version of the BLACKFISH trailer. Her first bullet-point states:
Horror stories are now the name of the game. The movie is being billed as a ‘psychological thriller’, and I am very intrigued as to why this is so. While, of course, there are many people who are emotional over the idea of keeping ‘magnificent animals' in captivity and identify with their plight, I still don’t see how this is a horror movie for most people.
First things first: what have horror stories go to do with BLACKFISH? Answer: nothing whatsoever. However, it is a horror story, because the tale that BLACKFISH tells, will horrify most audiences. The story is shocking. It is horrific, so actually, Ms Smith is correct in asking her initial question. The problem, however, is that she doesn't logically get from point A to point B, but jumps about. Ms Smith is immediately striking an oppository stance.

Next: she claims the movie is being billed as a psychological thiraller, and then says "I still don't see how this is a horror movie for most people". Again, using connotation and denotation, the former being words that are linked to the meaning of something, whilst denotation is what something actually means. So, by describing BLACKFISH, the trailer-makers are suggesting (connotation) that the film will terrify, shock and repulse you, and hence this is why they are labelling it as a "horror movie", because "horror movies" are movies designed to terrify, repel and shock you. The inference being, that once you've seen the film, you will be shocked at what it has to tell you. (Which, if you've seen this documentary, is true!)

She then moves on to her second bullet-point, in which she states:
The trailer starts with an off-screen person saying “when you look into their eyes, you know somebody is home”, and another saying “they’re an animal that posses great spiritual power, not to be meddled with”. A little too religious for my taste…but OK.
Again, you have to ask yourself, why is she citing that quote as being "too religious". Is she anti-religion? More to the point, however, is what does religion have to do with this film or this trailer, and the simple answer - as before - is absolutely nothing. She is deliberately using that term to divide her readers into a "religion = wrong" stance, and subtly trying to coerce her readers into siding with her biased viewpoint, that religion has no place within this trailer. Well, religion isn't mentioned in the trailer, but she is inferring otherwise, and in my opinion, you are belittling your readers by telling them "You must think as I do. If you do, then that is good, but if you don't, then you are wrong and stupid." To me, that is deeply insensitive and crass. You are talking down to your audience, and patronising them. I don't want anyone to tell me how I should feel, or what I should think. I'm an adult, and perfectly capable of deciding for myself how I feel and what I am thinking, thanks very much!

She then progresses on and on, citing moments in the trailer as "silly", and belittling the way the film was being sold to her, because it doesn't fit into her own, narrow-minded, lofty viewpoint. Thus, when it doesn't fit into it, she can then dismiss it as frivolous and wasteful. And, ergo, the film can then be relinquished as garbage unworthy of her time.

All of this, because of one, single piece of advertising: promotional marketing aimed at getting people excited, interested, teased about seeing a new piece of movie-making. Ms Smith doth protest too much, in my view!

Then, when her readers criticise her for reading too much into the trailer, she goes on the defensive.

If she had made her argument more logical, then she couldn't be criticised for it. No one expects that everyone will like what you say or write. Your views are your views - irrespective of whether those views are full of perceived wisdom, or deeply flawed logic. You are entitled to hold your views, because they are what you believe, and no one has the right to tell you otherwise. However, there's one caveat to all of that. Your views should be able to withstand some testing. Don't use child-like logic. "I hate apples." "Why?" "Because they're red and green, and I don't like things that are red and green". That's the logic of a child. Understandable, as children don't always have the knowledge to explain why they hold certain views. But of a supposedly intelligent adult, then that begets major problems.

Your views, should be reinforced by knowledge, wisdom, experience. You can't just say "I believe" something, and then when questioned as to why you believe what you do, respond with "just because".

That's not an answer. That's an excuse. An excuse not to respond, because you can't justify your belief. And if you can't justify them, then the world-at-large may think that your beliefs are wrong, or worse, extremely ill-informed and ignorant. Sadly, Ms Smith's blog article tries to turn a spurious piece of thought (that the film isn't what it's claiming to be) into an absolute and valid opinion-piece, with nothing to back it up except her own, poorly-articulated views, that cannot be substantiated. I'd have had more respect for her article if she'd simply said "I don't like the way this trailer is promoting the film in the manner that it is". At least, that can be substantiated as being just her own viewpoint, to which she would be wholly entitled. That works.

Alas, she wrote this article before the film was officially released in the United States. (Sadly there is no date of writing on the article, so I can not state for certain when it was originally written. It was last "updated" on 25th October 2013, though.)

To all intents-and-purposes, she was judging a book by its cover.

I will continue this article and examine her main article on the film itself, in Part 2 of this discussion, which will go online shortly, followed by reviews of the two DEMONS Steelbook releases from Synapse a little while after. Apologies to those of you awaiting those reviews.