Despite the plethora of TV comedy out there, it isn’t actually all that often that I find myself truly and consistently tickled by a TV show. Luckily for me, Adult Swim exists. And whilst I find most of what I’ve seen from them very, very funny there is one show in particular that rises above their own very high standard and deserves far more attention and accolade than it receives. That show is The Venture Bros. Having waited for what seems like an eternity to an avid fan, Season 4 Part 1 is now available to purchase on DVD in Australia thanks to Madman Entertainment. And it’s every bit as absolutely awesome as the three incredible seasons that precede it.

At the end of Season 3 viewers were left wondering not only where the line between “good” and “evil” lay with relation to key characters but also who exactly would make it back alive for Season 4. Well, I’m not going to spoil things by answering those rather excellent questions but what I will say is that you needn’t worry because – one way or another – all your favourites will be returning and, as has been the case all along, the “plot” (I think we can just about call it that) thickens. There are important updates afoot with regard to The Guild of Calamitous Intent, The Sovereign, budding romances between certain young characters, the mental health of various other characters and of course, the very complicated, legal minefield that applies to the world of Arching.

If everything I wrote in the last paragraph means absolutely nothing to you then I suspect you are unfamiliar with the best cartoon ever made, in which case, you really ought to start with Season 1 and catch yourself up. Don’t worry, this recommendation is about as iron clad as anyone’s sanity, so if you have a sense of humour (and particularly if things that are a little bit not quite right so happen to tickle your fancy) go buy Seasons 1-4 NOW.

The only negative thing to be said about this DVD is that once you’ve finished watching the eight wonderful episodes it boasts, you’ll no doubt wish you had the next eight at the ready (sadly, they are not yet available over here). But, on the up side, you can go back and watch those eight episodes all over again which, so far as I’m concerned, is actually pretty bloody exciting because if Seasons 1-3 taught me anything, it’s that The Venture Bros. only gets better with repeat viewings.

The Venture Bros. Season 4 Part 1 was released on DVD on Thursday February 16 through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

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Splice Giveaway

December 7, 2010

Thanks to the wonderfully good people at Madman Entertainment I’ve got a pre-Christmas giveaway for readers of Liminal Vision. As regular visitors to this site will know, my interest in film is centred mainly around its ability to communicate theoretical, philosophical, psychoanalytical and/or ethical contemplations through visual content. And in a film about splicing together human and animal DNA, I’d say there’s more than just a little ethical questioning taking place, not to mention the one or two decidedly Freudian going-ons, and, of course, I do also happen to have something of a soft spot for wonderfully entertaining B-grade horror-schlock when it’s done just right. SO, to celebrate the December 15 DVD & Blu-ray release of Vincenzo Natali’s Splice (2009) I’ll be giving four lucky readers a Christmas gift of gloriously gory proportions!

Below is an excerpt from my MIFF review of Splice (you can access the full review here.)

“Two young, top of their game, and very much in love scientists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), ignore the forbidding from their superiors and the “moral implications” of it all, and go ahead and splice together human and animal DNA. But motivated by more than just the science of the thing, the resultant spawn, Dren (Delphine Chaneac) becomes more like a deformed daughter to them than the subject of a scientific experiment, culminating in a whole lot more than they bargained for during her “coming of age” style awakening…. At its best a form of flattery for the likes of Peter Jackson and David Cronenberg in its comic gross-out moments … Splice (2009) is a successfully commercial, fun horror-schlock flick.”

To win one of 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays of this film please send an email naming your favourite David Cronenberg film to midnightmovies@live.co.uk with your full name and postal address and the word ‘Splice’ in the subject header – don’t forget to please also indicate whether you would prefer DVD or Blu-ray. Winners will be picked at random, at the author of this blog’s discretion and all decisions are final.

DVD Special features include; “The Making of Splice”, “The Director’s Playground” and an interview with acclaimed director Vincenzo Natali.

Splice will be available 15 December 2010 (on DVD $29.95RRP and Blu-ray $39.95RRP) through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Monsters

November 22, 2010

One could be forgiven for thinking, especially considering its title, that Monsters (2010) is a film full of the aforementioned, or even that it might belong, generically speaking, to action/adventure or horror/thriller. But aside from a little subtle metaphoring and the occasional ounce of social commentary, Monsters is, for the most part (IMHO) a straight-forward romance film.

Serving more as a backdrop than a narrative (in this sense the film is post-classical as it relies on characters rather than events for causal motivation), our two protagonists – newspaper photographer Andrew Kaulder (the adorable Scoot McNairy whose performance in 2007’s In Search of a Midnight Kiss remains one of the most honest I’ve seen in recent years) and Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) – must make a physical journey back to the US across the “Infected Zone”; an area that covers almost half of Mexico following the crash of a NASA probe carrying samples of recently discovered alien life forms from within Earth’s solar system.

From here the film follows a typical romantic arc as the emotional interaction and connection between our unlikely duo deepens in accordance with the progression of their physical journey. And whilst it may be true that the backdrop of South America speaks to social/racial issues these are merely indicated rather than fully explored in the film. Furthermore, Samantha’s repeated question, “Do you feel safe here?” has less to do with infection, quarantine, social, racial or political difference than it does their relationship. That is to say that Sam, who asks the question of Andrew more than once, feels unsafe because has entered a liminal space between being on her own (as she was in Mexico) and returning home to her supposedly contented life and fiancé.

But that’s not to say that this film isn’t interesting or engaging, on the contrary, it absolutely is. The landscape itself, set up to enhance the atmosphere and heighten tensions in their relationship is also curiously sublime, and here I’m referring to Jean-François Lyotard’s interpretation and analysis of the Kantian sublime (for more information see Lyotard’s excellent Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime.) For Lyotard there is something within the Kantian sublime that defies cognitive comprehension insofar as the aesthetics of the represented thing are able to produce an indescribable, incomprehensible feeling. This thought within itself is self-reflexively sublime for it is a simultaneously beautiful and terrifying realisation. Moreover, Lyotard finds something sublime in the feeling of suspension that such imagery can invoke; the incognisable explication of waiting for “it” to happen, whilst not knowing or being able to explain exactly what “it” is.

Whilst not all viewers will find the backdrop for Monsters so sublime themselves it is clear that this is how our protagonists experience their own setting and is, furthermore, why at the film’s end our couple are left so entirely devastated. Theoretically jumping from aesthetics to psychoanalysis now, their sublime experience is so intense and affecting that it is akin to the experience of one’s greatest desires, an experience that Lacan tells us results only in severe trauma and a break with the Real.

Returning somewhat abrasively to that Real, Sam and Andrew are thrust back into the world of consumerism, convenience and sustainability. Having seen alien life forms in the infected zone live because of their connection to the natural world (they “grow”, for want of a better word, on the side of trees) the Real world – destroyed as it may be – sees this motif quite literally outgrown and the “monsters” (we humans) draw on unsustainable sources such as electricity in order to continue to flourish.

Likely proving either strangely compelling or overly sentimental, Monsters is a film that will divide opinions dependent upon individual sensibilities. Well rendered if a little reliant upon emotive response, it is perhaps best described as a humanist film in the first instance.

Monsters is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday November 25 through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

As some of you may already know, when I’m not updating this here blog I am often writing reviews for Melbourne’s grand old Astor Theatre. Although I usually only publish here original content written specifically for Liminal Vision, I am on this occasion reproducing my critical analysis of Blade Runner: Director’s Cut as written for the Astor Theatre’s E-Newsletter (which, by the way, I recommend subscribing to), week beginning Sunday September 26th.

Blade Runner: Director’s Cut will run at the Astor Theatre from Thursday September 30 – Sunday October 3 2010.

Blade Runner: Director’s Cut simply refuses to fade into the vast catalogue of forgotten film history. Its persistence as film’s pedestal sci-fi owing to its innovative and intelligent contemplation over ontological questions of authenticity and artificiality as they pertain to a rapidly, and terrifyingly, techno-advanced, mechanized, global future society.

Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, Blade Runner depicts, through its neo-noir aesthetic, a dystopian future where humans have created their own robotic slave-race known as Replicants. In one sense the Replicants act as soldiers, in a time of hyper-universality on “Off-world” human colonies of other planets. Four dangerous Replicants have returned to earth in the hope of confronting the corporation responsible for their very questionable existence: Tyrrell Corporation. Alerted to their illegal activities in a hyper-modern police state, Blade Runner Unit enlist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to find and “retire” (kill) the four who are merely desperate to prolong what they think are their “lives”.

That the film is set in Los Angeles is far from incidental. Although New York is America’s foremost “global” city with regards to economic and cultural growth/wealth, LA is its “expansive” counterpart in that its spatial development and the sheer scale of its urban planning exemplifies the artificial “constructedness” that the film is concerned with in the first instance. As such, the dark, seemingly boundless sprawl of the dystopian LA landscape operates in the film as a psychogeographical reflection of the labyrinthine, almost indistinguishable cerebrally sound constructs of the Replicants’ cognitive minds.

Beyond their declared “at least equal intelligence to the genetic engineers who created them”, the Replicants, also described as “virtually identical” to humans, are suggestively “evolved” rather than “constructed” beings. The implication of their proverbial “evolution” affords the Replicants with organic rather than robotic capabilities, creating from the outset a distinct atmosphere of ambiguity; blurring the boundaries between the human/non-human attributes they are imbued with, rendering them, in some advanced cases, as liminal beings even unto themselves. Furthermore, following the “bloody mutiny” on Off-world colonies, Replicants have been “declared illegal on earth, under penalty of death”. In light of a Derridean comprehension of binary oppositions the very notion of “death” here suggests “life”, providing further substance to the idea that the Replicants are “living” beings. Moreover, the final two sentences of the prologue to the film read; “This was not called execution. It was called retirement.” The two sentences appear onscreen isolated from one another and from the paragraphs that came before. In using “called” twice in such close proximity Scott emphasizes the semiotic construction of a concept based upon two otherwise abstract things. That is to say that we (human viewers) comprehend the action as one thing and not another through a system of signifiers and signifieds that links the action to its name. This subtle note at the outset is designed to make the viewer think through the implications of the Symbolic Order itself, and therefore the constructedness of everything human, including something that mistakenly considered natural: language. The reminder so early on that almost everything is constructed and/or performed already alludes to Scott’s overarching provocative contention.

But what exactly does it mean to be “living” and where does that leave the boundary between legitimate “born” human beings and illegal “created” Replicants? For the purposes of distinguishing between the two (primarily so as not to accidentally “retire” a human), the Blade Runner Unit have created a test that is “designed to provoke emotional response” from its recipients, measuring their levels of empathy through indicators such as response time and pupil dilation. The only obstacle here being the fear that after a few years they would – in line with the aforementioned process of evolution – “develop their own emotional responses” and it is, for this reason, that their life-span is restricted to a short four years. Moreover, the more advanced and indeed “experiment” Replicants of which Rachael (Sean Young) is one, are given greater access to the concept of humanity through programmed memories which act as a “cushion” for their own subjectivity helping them to believe they are human. It is at this moment in the film that the true nature of every character, including Deckard himself, is brought into question.

Ignoring the extensive implications of this revelation, Deckard denies Rachael’s inference when she asks him if he has ever taken the test himself. Clearly hurt by the determination that she is a Replicant, implanted with memories from Tyrrell’s niece and believing them to be her own, Rachael sheds a solitary tear, displaying clear and unmistakable human emotion. Following this display the two become romantically involved which, if he is human and she is a not is dodgy ethical ground at best, but, if (as Scott certainly intended it to be) they are both Replicants who merely believe themselves to be human is an equally consensual union. The inclusion of this scene operates as reiterative of the Replicants’ ability to experience human desire and also to provide a strong ethical questioning of the resultant actions of a Replicant who considers him/herself to be human.

Like Deckard and Rachael, Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah) are “coupled” Replicants, only in this case they know themselves to be so. The difference here is that along with their knowledge of what they truly are comes another human desire: the will to live. Their mission is to have their lives extended at any cost, their fear of death very human indeed. But it is Roy who goes to see Dr Tyrrell, leaving Pris to defend their newly acquired “home”. His presence at Tyrrell Corporation is met with a combination of kindness and cruelty as Dr Tyrrell lovingly refers to him as the Prodigal Son returned. At this moment Roy becomes Jesus to Dr Tyrrell’s God and Roy’s anger towards his maker results in a murderous crime of passion – yet another decidedly human action. Dissatisfied and disillusioned with the God who created him, Roy returns home to find Pris has bled to death, and Scott lingers on her blood to reiterate yet again the very human qualities of the Replicants.

In the final showdown between Roy and Deckard, Roy makes an ultimate sacrifice of himself, accepting the inevitability of his life cycle. Mirroring his surroundings, like the rain that gushes into the house, Roy is in many ways an organic being trapped into a constructed environment. As he forces a nail through his hand and then his own head through a tiled wall, he further blurs the boundaries between natural and unnatural, removing the confines and limitations that one necessarily holds over the other. In this way the final scenes of the film move towards breaking down Derridean binary oppositions, suggesting that there are grey areas and ultimately that humans are the result of both organic evolution and the extraneous influences and input that are responsible, at least in part, for their existence.

The Directors’ Cut in particular, is the version of this film that led to the discussion surrounding whether or not Deckard was human or Replicant. Ridley Scott has himself professed that Deckard is a Replicant and if we take this reading at its word then he is, by his own admittance, justified by the system: “Replicants are like any other machine: they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” Ultimately serving the system and its self-perpetuating myth surrounding the significance of authenticity versus the threat of artificiality, Deckard is the exemplary product of a well governed police state; unwittingly serving its needs to his own detriment; ignorant of its ideology and only able to see through its constructedness so far as it allows him to. If we however, do not take Scott at his word and allow Deckard to remain ambiguously human then the film does not fail, it merely suspends itself and its determination in the liminal space that it so brilliantly creates.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre E-Newsletter; reproduced for Liminal Vision.