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by Nikki Tranter

19 May 2008

I used to agree with the San Francisco Examiner that Chuck Palahniuk was the New Millennium’s answer to Kurt Vonnegut. Ten years ago, I would have scragged to the death anyone who didn’t think Fight Club was best book ever, and that Palahniuk was the first writer since Martin Amis to really understand what we Young Folks were all about. IKEA-shmikea!

But then, a few books on, I was starting to feel like I’d read it all before. Yeah, Survivor was all right. And, yeah, so I made my mum read Invisible Monsters because it was just so weird and cool. But after Choke and Lullaby, I lost interest. Piss and vomit went back to being turn-offs, and I became tired of reading the cynical points of view of so many Tyler Durden re-treads. The Amazon reader reviews of Diary were enough to keep me away from that one, and I haven’t cared to pick up a Chuck book since.

Why, then, am I now suddenly interested in Snuff? The book jacket features what appears to be the mouth of a giant blow-up doll, and the plot revolves around a porn star undertaking a 600-player gangbang before exiting the sex industry. Skeevy more than titillating, but I think this could be the book I pick up to find out once and for all if Chuck Palahniuk is actually a big fraud with only one voice in his head dished out to an array of pitiable characters.

I can’t figure it—this is not going to be any different to any other Palahniuk rant, but I’m drawn. Maybe in the same way I was drawn to that Annabel Chong movie? Maybe Chuck has me pegged, after all?

Palahniuk is all over the place this week, with the book about to hit shelves. Here he talks to Los Angeles Times about his influences, his style, and his passion for short fiction:

Punk songs all sounded alike ... They started really intense, for 2 1/2 minutes, and then ended abruptly. And I found that really colored my taste in short stories. I wanted a story to enter midstream, and then go for several pages, and then end on these rushed, clunky notes.

Cherie Parker at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reviews the book rather positively here.

And then there’s this piece in Black Book—the one article that might truly have sealed the deal and forced me into buying Snuff. Just check out this intro:

It’s about time Chuck Palahniuk did porn. The author—cult hero to millions—has scribbled his acid ink all over the grotesqueries of contemporary American society. But never has he twisted a tale around the adult entertainment industry. Maybe it just spoke for itself. Well, now that Palahniuk is finally doing porn, he’s not wearing any protection.

Yep—I’m so buying it.

by Vijith Assar

19 May 2008

The most remarkable thing about “Ringer” is its E Pluribus Unum factor. Probably more than anything else in recent memory, the title track from the latest Four Tet EP weaves itself together from forgotten bits and blips and and pieces and plunks, any one of which seems like it might have fallen off a cheap Nokia if taken in isolation. But digital wunderkind Kieran Hebden’s aesthetic sensibility had him working on officially sanctioned Radiohead remixes by his early 20s, and here it weld the disparate blobs together into a whole that makes you forget the fact that you’ve been listening to the same three notes in the soprano line all along. At ten minutes long, it’s obviously guilty of the cardinal DJ sin of stating every last phrase in powers of four, but right when I’m about to lose interest for good those drums kick in and carry it through the last two minutes. After spending several excruciating years with a cell phone more or less strapped to my face, I’m finally thinking about changing my ringtone.

by Mike Schiller

19 May 2008

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I never thought I’d see the day.

When is the last time this happened?

Somehow, some way, the Nintendo DS is without a single release this week.  Keep in mind, there were over 50 things released for the DS last November.  50, in a single month, and even since then, the DS has always been a reliable source of new releases; in weeks where it seems as though nothing worthwhile is coming out for the consoles, we always had the DS to look to for a new IP, or at least some imaginative use of the stylus.  As recently as last week, the DS has saved us from the banal, so to look at it, so lonely, with nothing new to offer for the week, well…it’s a little bit sad is all.  (sniff.)

(give me a moment to compose myself.)

The Japanese box art for Wii Fit

The Japanese box art for Wii Fit

(deep breath.) Okay.  So who’s to blame for the orphaning of the little portable that could?  Likely, none other than the parents of that portable themselves, those unfeeling, heartless vessels at Nintendo.  Why would they do such a thing to their adorable little two-screen?  Well, Wii Fit is coming this week.  Wii Fit is, of course, poised to be the biggest thing out there since, well, since GTA IV, though I imagine that for most of the people who would actually be interested in Wii Fit, it will be the biggest thing since Wii Sports.  You can’t fake-bowl forever, I suppose.

In any case, Wii Fit looks to be the piece of software (one hesitates to even call it a “game”, really) that will allow the success that the DS has had in the self-help arena (see: Brain Age, Flash Focus, Let’s Yoga!) to be transferred to the console.  Its success will hinge entirely on how willing people will be to shell out $90 for a “balance board” and the software for that balance board, but despite some of the bad press that’s been thrown its way in pre-release, early indications lean toward the Wii-buying population being very willing.



Other than Wii Fit, UEFA EURO 2008 is dominating the release list, with versions coming out for pretty much every platform that’s not the DS.  Soccer/football fans will undoubtedly be delighted.  The oft-delayed Haze, Ubisoft’s yellow-tinted shooter with the awesome website and the silly Korn tie-in, is out tomorrow as well, just in case the FPS crowd is out of things to do.  And then, on wednesday, the increasingly reliable Xbox Live Arcade will see the release of the first episode in the Penny Arcade Adventures series, with the unwieldy and vaguely hilarious subtitle of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.  Fans of Gabe and Tycho had best have their download fingers ready.

The rest of the releases (and really, there aren’t very many) and a trailer for Wii Fit are after the jump:

by Bill Gibron

19 May 2008

Critics aren’t perfect. They can get it wrong sometimes, even before they’ve seen a film. Case in point - Armand Mastroianni’s The Killing Hour (aka The Clairvoyant). From the name on the credits, and the movie marquee artwork, this looks like your standard Italian giallo, murder mystery tinged with just enough gore to give Argento and Fulci a run for the redrum money. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s merely an American whodunit, the efforts of a filmmaker best known for featuring Tom Hanks in one of his first roles. That film was the sloppy slasher saga Blood Wedding, later retitled He Knows You’re Alone, and its tagalong success led Mastroianni to take his talent to a much larger creative canvas. Unfortunately, he’s only able to fill a tiny fraction of the frame.

It’s 1982, and Manhattan is overrun with unsolved killings. More importantly, the murder’s MO is the same - he handcuffs his victims before doing them in. As the police search for clues, local TV reporter Paul “Mac” McCormack believes he’s found the mother lode. Taking his morning talk show in a more tabloid direction, he feeds the public a daily dose of fear and foreboding. While Detective Weeks works all the angles, McCormick does his own vigilante legwork. Both men are drawn to the claims of a young woman named Virna Nightbourne. Gifted with psychic ability, she believes she is sketching out the deaths before they happen. Naturally, once she goes public with her visions, she becomes a prime target for the fiend - who may be much closer than she thinks.

Overlong at 97 minutes and burdened with a lame stand-up comedy subplot, The Killing Hour (recently reissued on DVD by Blue Underground) is actually a pretty good serial killer caper. We get the mandatory slayings, some decent red herrings, a couple of deductive dead ends, and a resolution that tries to tie everything up in a neat, knockout denouement. The acting is universally good, with Mastroianni making excellent use of then unknowns Jon Polito, Joe Morton, Norman Parker, and established stars Kenneth McMillan and Perry King. If there is a weak link among the cast, it’s Elizabeth Kemp as Ms. Nightbourne. Aside from never convincingly delivering her own name (there seems to be a buried chuckle every time she utters it), her character is more schizophrenic than gifted with second sight. One moment she’s a mess, the next she’s flirting mercilessly with her main male leads.

Indeed, one of The Killing Hour‘s biggest flaws is our lack of sympathy for this heroine. We are supposed to see Virna as an inadvertent victim, sometimes plagued by images of death and innocent indirect knowledge. But she often comes across as a whiny waste, needy without indicating why she should be so cared for. Mastroianni never gives her a moment to shine, to stand up and show courage or consideration. She’s either sketching in some wild, automaton manner, or looking wistfully at the camera. There’s no variance here, no sequences of searing dramatics. It’s the same for the rest of the actors - these are some passive aggressive policemen to say the least - but the men manage some solid New York authenticity.

Another major misstep comes in the lack of legitimate scares. There is no real suspense here, Mastroianni simply leaps into the first three murders without any set up or sense of pace. Virna’s head games provide a few more slayings, but they convey nothing that fans of either fright or bloodshed can really appreciate. There are times when this all feels like a tepid TV movie, and it’s no wonder that this director would go on to excel in the broadcast medium. The Killing Hour is like a ‘70s era sweeps week special, down to the minor amounts of nudity and absent arterial spray. His European counterparts understand that this kind of genre junk just won’t work without ample gore. Mastroianni wants to get by on plotting and performances alone. He can’t, especially when one of our macho men is moonlighting as the world’s worst impressionist (these scenes are just horrid).

Oddly enough, this filmmaker does find more ways to succeed than stumble. There is a wonderful atmosphere present, a tone derived directly from the all New York shoot. This feels like the Big Apple in all its early ‘80s growing pains. Porn is still prevalent, as is a street level sense of sleaze. When Mastroianni shows a dimly lit dive bar, you can almost smell the urine-soaked musk permeating the room. Even better, the crime scenes play as real places in the bullet-riddled, body-strewn history of the city. When a corpse is pulled from the Hudson River, or a potential victim enters a midtown manhole, we experience the urban angst of every famed criminal case. For this reason alone, The Killing Hour is worth a look. Along with acting, it’s the film’s strongest point.

As for the DVD, Blue Underground does very little with this presentation except give Mastroianni a chance to defend himself. With company founder and fellow filmmaker William Lustig along to guide the discussion, we discover that this is one director who has forgotten quite a bit about the movie he’s made. There is lots of dead air in the conversation, Lustig trying and Mastroianni coming up short. There are some deleted scenes, none of them mandatory to the narrative, and the trailer is nothing more than the standard Madison Avenue pitch. Add in the filmmaker overview (some good information on Mastroianni’s later career) and you’ve got some unexceptional extras.

Unlike the Italian crime masters his name mimics, Armand Mastroianni is no Dario. He’s barely even a Lucio. In fact, it’s safe to say that there is very little of the Mediterranean in this wholly American moviemaker. The Killing Hour is loaded with ambition and does everything in its limited creative power to obtain those elusive aesthetic goals. While it’s well made and never totally dull, this is the kind of suspense thriller that could have used a few more trips through the typewriter before seeing celluloid. They say it’s never fair to judge a book by its cover. In the case of this DVD, the expectations brought about by the filmmaker’s name makes the eventual realization all the more unsettling.



by Lara Killian

18 May 2008


This weekend I finished Clare B. Dunkle’s By These Ten Bones (2005), which was nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher award in 2007. I usually leave a book near where I keep my snacks at the library so I have something to peruse while I consume some late-morning energy. Although this selection is usually made from freshly returned books whenever I need something new, as often as not I don’t finish the novel at hand because it fails to sustain my interest. Last time I went looking for something new, a patron was good enough to return this gem.

Dunkle’s tale, set in northern Scotland perhaps several hundred years ago, when communities were sparse on the ground and pagan customs and superstitions coexisted with budding Christianity, is enthralling. A tiny close knit community is forced to face a shadowy evil in its midst, and the bravery of Maddie, a young girl with more of an open mind than most of her fellows, is crucial to saving the lives of her family and those she loves most.

A page turning story with vengeful witches, cures for a werewolf, a demon said to live in the nearby loch, and dense rolling fog to hide the true doings of the lot (if they really exist) – this little book has something for everyone. The tale is tight enough to hold the interest of anyone who enjoys young adult fiction with a gothic tendency, while any middle school student with an interest in bumps-in-the-night or even (gasp!) love will keep reading as well.

Have you been known to visit the library and take a look at recent returns in order to discover something you might otherwise have missed?

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article