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by Lara Killian

19 Jun 2009

On a recent drizzly Saturday morning I was browsing in a local newsagent’s shop, pondering whether my latest paycheck’s remains would cover some fresh reading materials. This particular newsagent’s shop possessing an outstanding selection, it took some time before I sifted through enough weekly news magazines, daily newspapers, and monthly hobby glossies to decide on a no-longer-so-impulsive purchase.

The spring 2009 issue of Granta, “Lost and Found”, grabbed my attention, even relegated as it was to a dusty bottom shelf. More than a few of my favorite fiction writers (Martin Amis, Jeanette Winterson and Salman Rushdie, for a start) received some early-career support from that venerated literary magazine, and I sprung for a copy.

Back at home with coffee in hand I put Granta down in favor of my RSS reader, and discovered in short order that the staff list on the second page was already out of date, a recent shakeup in the editorship of the magazine having recently taken place.

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Alex Clark, the first female editor of the magazine in its 120 year history, stepped down recently after serving for only a year as the editor. John Freeman, previously the editor of the American edition, has stepped up to fill the shoes of the departing Clark as acting editor. Granta has had four editors in a year and a half.

The sense of drama I gained from looking at press releases made me wish I’d been a subscriber to Granta since I became aware of the magazine as an undergraduate English major some ten years ago. In an interview last week posted to the Granta’s website, Freeman comments,

The chance to do this now is also a great privilege. I don’t believe there’s a lack of good writing in our world, but rather a shrinking number of places where it can be published imaginatively, to a wide audience willing to submit themselves to the pleasures and guidance of serious literature, of what it can show them and where it can take them. As an international literary magazine,Granta is in a unique position to tell readers important stories, to make people think. It’s what our readers expect of us.

Another great thing about Granta is looking at the table of contents and wondering which of these currently unknown names will achieve continuing success tomorrow. I’ll enjoy my issue and you can think about picking up the even newer special summer fiction issue, with a preview available here. Do you make a habit of perusing literary magazines?

by Bill Gibron

19 Jun 2009

Certain concepts give film fans a chance to get their genre geek groove on - as long as they are done properly. Title something ‘Ninja Strippers’ and you better be ready to show swordplay and skin. Call your latest epic ‘Cannibal Lesbian Vampires’ and the mind’s eye screenplay tends to write itself. It’s the same with subject matter. Offer up something as sublimely sinister (and silly) as ‘Nazi Zombies’ - or perhaps, zombified Nazis? - and you tweak the horror lover’s inner nerd. The very notion of history’s ultimate villains vanquished and then reanimated as the most unstoppable of undead fiends could fuel a thousand nasty nightmares. This is clearly what Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola was hoping for when he created Dead Snow. Borrowing liberally from the Western macabre machine, he creates a winning slice of surreal arterial spray.

Three couples - all medical students - are traveling up to a remote mountain cabin in order to celebrate Easter break. They include an ex-solider, a film fan, a party animal, and a wannabe doc who’s actually afraid of blood. The gals don’t mind their bumbling boyfriends, even when they act like idiots. What does concern them is Sara. She left before the group, wanting to ski her way to the campsite. When she fails to turn up, everyone grows concerned. Things get worse when a random traveler invites himself in and tells a horrific tale of murderous Nazis who used to torture and abuse the locals some 60 years before. While skeptical of his story, two things help change their mind. One - they find a box under the cabin’s floorboards filled with gold and jewelry that the Germans were supposedly hiding. And two - they begin to hear strange noises in the surrounding forest. Sure enough, jackbooted zombies make an appearance, undead members of the Fuhrer’s army led by a decomposing Colonel Herzog. Their aim is simple - kill everyone. And that’s exactly what they intend to do. 

Told in three completely different acts and styles, Dead Snow is like a primer of how the last 30 years of Hollywood horror has redefined the international scary movie landscape. Part one plays on every slasher film ever conceived, giving us a group of “should know better” victims prepping for a party hardy weekend of drink and debauchery. Naturally, some menacing old fart shows up to criticize the coffee and warn them of the area’s haunted past. Once a couple of kids are killed, we run smack dab into Evil Dead territory. It’s hard not to see Part two’s plan since the entire remote cabin/within the woods dynamic is repeated over and over. By the time the threat becomes all too real, we have swung over into the domain of efforts like the Dawn of the Dead remake. Nothing says splatter like a thousand cannibal goose-steppers, a corpse-like Colonel, and a band of desperate young people armed with sledgehammers and chainsaws.

Indeed, the gore factor here keeps Dead Snow from being a complete snore. This is not to say that Wirkola couldn’t get a way with more subtle scares. The gorgeous and desolate Norwegian backdrop could fuel an infinite amount of isolated dread. But without the blood and guts, without the constant chaos of machinery mangling flesh, we’d wind up with a homage that’s only half-baked. It’s clear that filmmakers like George Romero, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hopper, and more recently, Zack Snyder, have influenced the world of terror, and within said status is both good and bad elements. Sadly. Wirkola works within a few of those flawed arenas, assuming we will care about characters barely explained, or sit back happily while the whole “how and why” of the Third Reich rippers is left unexplained. Indeed, the most unsatisfying part of Dead Snow is that lack of motive. A desire for Nazi gold is one thing (just ask Uwe Boll). Making it the reason that monsters go nutzoid is another oddball aspect completely.

Of course, there is always cultural subtext, and Dead Snow could be seen as a massive mea culpa for whatever part Scandinavia and Norway specifically played in Hitler’s rise to power. At first, the students want to share in the ill gotten gains of six decades before. But when cooler heads prevail, they are prepared to defend the history contained in the box of ancient treasure. By the time they are down to a couple of desperate members, however, it’s time to turn from aggressor to accomplice. It’s amazing how spineless someone with a power tool can be when confronted with five times as many targets to contemplate. Similarly, our so-called heroes are more than happy to sacrifice others in the name of their own survival. While not pertinent to an American viewer, such an illustration of Norwegian chutzpah (or lack thereof) must give Wirkola’s countrymen fits.

Which leads us back to the bile. There are kills in Dead Snow that will surely redefine what a gorehound will find offensive. One head wound in particular is so unreal it will literally shock any seasoned splatter-phile. There are also moments of true “intestinal” fortitude, though one assumes that guts make for lousy life saving devices in reality. Toward the end, when the remaining kids are carving away with wild abandon, we wonder how Wirkola will top himself. Oddly, it doesn’t come with a splash of vein gravy or a dozen decapitated heads. Instead, it’s with a potent reveal, a last gasp illustration of just what our humans are up against. It’s incredibly potent, and promises something that, sadly, Dead Snow is not quite ready to revel in. Indeed, beyond the sluice-laden special effects and the constant foot races, this film doesn’t delve into areas that deep.

Still, for someone whose knowledge of horror extends from the Universal classics up and through Hammer, the drive-in, ‘80s direct-to-video, and recent Asian and torture porn, Dead Snow will seem like a lilting love letter to everything that’s groovy and gross. Wirkola may still be borrowing too openly from the masters of the past (including eccentric nods to such non-fright faithful as Tarantino and Ritchie), but he has a way with composition and framing that offers glimpses into his own possible future. And as with many foreign versions of familiar frights, the cultural differences and debts are incredibly fun to watch. As a rule, one should always be wary of anyone promising infant werewolves, flesh-eating whores, or demonic break dancers. Sometimes, assurances don’t meet expectations. Luckily, Dead Snow manages to meet most of our horror hopes. 

by PopMatters Staff

19 Jun 2009

“Impossible Germany”

by Kirstie Shanley

19 Jun 2009

Dylan Moran

Dylan Moran

Featuring three of the best and brightest comedians and actors in Ireland, The Fellas Live! brought these minds together for a hilarious night of stand up. The trio’s individual themes were often similar, uniting the evening with a sense of cohesiveness as they explored ideas of religion, relationships, and the Irish in America. The delivery and personality of each comedian, however, differed greatly and made for a lively sense of variety.

Ardal O\'Hanlon

Ardal O\‘Hanlon

Ardal O’Hanlon, who has starred in British sit-coms Father Ted and My Hero, opened up the evening. From his jokes about being a father and letting his children win at Connect 4 until they felt sorry for him and patronized him by letting him win to his remark about going to a restaurant to have an argument, one sensed the way he experiences daily life. He also talked more seriously as well, about the failing economy and religion, talking about a Sikh in Ireland who wanted to join the police force. Global warming, flu epidemics, and fear in general were other featured topics as O’Hanlon quipped wittily: “What’s next? We’re going to hear the Vikings have reformed!”

Ardal O\'Hanlon

Ardal O\‘Hanlon

Of course, some of his jokes about Ireland were classics. He jested that the Irish were comprised of 90% rain and 10% resentment, for example, and how their chief contribution to the world was freckles. Perhaps his best line of the night, however, was an unrelated remark about cigarettes and the smoking ban, “I’m not a smoker myself,” he revealed, “but I’ve always loved coughing.”

Dylan Moran

Dylan Moran

Anyone even remotely familiar with the brilliant British television comedy, Black Books would undoubtedly appreciate Dylan Moran’s stand up routine. Similar to his sit-com character Bernard Black (complete with his full wine glass), Moran came across as a jaded intellectual misanthrope. Though Moran’s projects have also included films, most notably Shaun of the Dead and Run Fat Boy Run, his stand up personality comes closer to Bernard Black than any other character he has played.

Dylan Moran

Dylan Moran

While one can easily picture Ardal O’Hanlon and Tommy Tiernan preparing with practice and notes, Dylan Moran appears to do just the opposite. His routine seemed effortless and completely off the cuff, as if he had written down maybe four general topics and rambled the rest of his way through it. In other words, he’s a natural talent and his sense of unpredictability heightened the hilarity of his wit. 

Rampaging against machines, particularly cameras, was his first target. As if adeptly commanding a derailing train, he ventured headlong into human dependence on these electronics then somehow segued into how we flock to religion and politics. Finally, he delved into the human need for relationships. While talking about people believing in each other, he suggested everyone comes to a decision in their lives when he/she must decide: “Sane or not lonely?” 

Dylan Moran

Dylan Moran

Not surprisingly, Moran had some funny remarks about relationships in particular. He described a shopping incident where a man accompanies a woman who is looking for curtains and all the details she looks for in the many varieties while the man thinks, “I didn’t even know we had windows.” He also spoke about women being more aware of babies from an early age in a way men aren’t, adding color with an absurdist description of a woman who says how lovely a tree is and how you could put a baby up there. Perhaps his funniest and most bitter moment came when speaking about how men are afraid of women partly because of biology, but also because women have memories.

Tommy Tiernan

Tommy Tiernan

Finishing off the evening, Tommy Tiernan appeared with a more physical routine and an apt sense of gesture and movement. Without the confines of a center standard microphone setup, he was free to move around and imitate everything from dinosaurs to chickens in his critical wonder of evolution and the creator of such preposterous things. Though Tiernan has appeared on radio and television, his main achievements seem more connected to stand up comedy and it was easy to tell that this is definitely his forte.

Right away, Tiernan remarked about how he enjoyed Chicago as a “crooked city for crooked people” and how he found the American flag at Macy’s amusing as if people would forget what country they were in while shopping there. His most common topics, however, were aging and foreplay, and the differences in his perceptions of how to get it right as time has gone on. This made for a routine that may have been just as awkward as it was humorous for some audience members. 

Tommy Tiernan

Tommy Tiernan

by Tommy Marx

18 Jun 2009

In 1981, five gay men in Los Angeles suffered from an unknown disease that the press labeled GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention referred to as the “4H Disease” because it seemed to target Haitians, hemophiliacs, homosexuals and heroin users.

By May 3, 1986, the disease had long since become known as AIDS, but was still the subject of much controversy and even more misconceptions. It would be another year before Ronald Reagan would even publicly acknowledge the disease (even though by May 31, 1987, more than 20,000 Americans had died from AIDS).

It’s interesting that a pop-rock group from England would decide to release a single pointedly attacking the anti-gay hatred fueled by the disease, but even more intriguing that the song became a major hit.

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Supernatural: Season 11, Episode 19 - "The Chitters"

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