Diana (DVD Review)

12 – 108mins – 2013



A few years ago, before I had watched The Queen, Stephen Frears’ Academy Award-winning film about the monarchy’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana, I tried to blag my way through a discussion about it with an acquaintance who I knew had a high-brow taste in films. “It’s a serviceable drama,” I blagged, “but it plays like a TV movie.” This fabricated nugget came from my vague memory of hearing a critic make a similar derogatory comment. Plus, I knew the Peter Morgan-scripted piece of speculative fiction was produced by Granada (A.K.A. ITV). “And what’s so wrong with a TV movie?” my acquaintance shot back. I was stumped; ruse unravelled.

… Keep Scuttling!

Gothic (DVD Review)

18 – 87mins – 1986



“As long as you are a guest in my house, you will play my games…”

Embellished with his signature idiosyncratic fusion of grotesque surrealism and indulgent eroticism, acclaimed-but-controversial visionary British director Ken Russell (Altered States) turns his fevered eye toward the fateful night in 1816 upon which young Romantic artists Shelley (Julian Sands), Mary Godwin (Natasha Richardson), her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Miriam Cyr) and the doctor Polidori (Timothy Spall) gathered at the menagerie-esque madhouse of Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) to tell ghost stories – with the future Mrs. Shelley’s classic horror novel Frankenstein being the enduring outcome.

Enhanced by the eerie tones of a pheramin-lead score, and with thunder and lightening clashing outside, the dark and largely empty rooms of Byron’s uninviting Swiss sanctuary is chock-full of eccentric ambiguities and stock genre tropes – from cobwebs, rats, candles and ornamental skulls to bell jars, clockwork mannequins, suits of armour and all the ingredients to conduct a séance! Its an eclectic cluster which in the wrong hands could have appeared too busy, but Russell successfully manages to juggle all the elements into an elusive and evocative almost poetic fever dream.

The hired help merely roll their eyes at the surreal circus parading around them, but there is a frightening heightened intensity to even the artist’s frivolity, with their virtuous tempers giving way to an almost rabid frothing obscenity the longer the night goes on. There is a fine line between genius and madness and I do believe that Gothic sits pretty atop that very line!

Sex, drugs and creativity clash violently with perverse and wanton abandon in this trippy and stirring madhouse. “I never plan anything” Byron cries – and never a truer word spoken as Gothic is often maddeningly confusing (a severed pig’s head lies on a bedroom floor, a goblin-like creature watches the girls as they sleep fraught dreams, and just what was that alien-like head in the barn?!), but never anything less than gripping and evocative.

As the night races towards day, the imagery takes on even deeper metaphoric meaning, the fears and anxieties of the decadent author’s each contributing to the jigsaw-like monster they have created (“our creature”). The elements which run through Frankenstein are cleverly planted throughout this uneasy viewing experience which often leaves you – like the characters – feeling like you are “trapped like a dream in human form.” But unlike the characters we know we can escape simply by pressing “pause” – except we are so enraptured by the lavishly grotesque delights dancing before our eyes that we don’t want to.

Gothic [DVD]Indecent, erotic and eerily surreal, Ken Russell’s historically inaccurate Gothic won’t be to everyone’s taste, but those looking for an orgasmic sensory overload need look no further. Come the end credits you’ll be sweating, shivering – more than likely confounded – but ultimately satisfied by this lavish macabre mindfuck.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

Xscape Origins (Book Review)

Written by: Damien Shields
Published by: Modegy, 2015.
141 pages.
damienshields.com         xscapeorgins.com



Reaching #1 around the world, receiving healthy reviews, regular radio spins and music channel plays and introducing a new generation to the genius that is Michael Jackson, it is fair to say that Sony’s second major posthumous album, 2014’s Xscape, was a sizable hit. But for all its critical and commercial success, the album left a sour taste in the mouth of some long-term supporters.

Motivated by his dissatisfaction that the King of Pop’s “unpolished gems” were relegated to deluxe edition bonus tracks in lieu of what were essentially newly produced remixes by big name producers du jour (Timbaland, StarGate, J-Roc), lifelong Australian mega-fan Damien Shields began to research and compile a book through which he could shine a light on the work, energy and passion which his idol put into perfecting the original unreleased tracks and demo versions.

“A perfectionist has to take his time…. He shapes and he moulds and he sculpts that thing until it’s perfect. He can’t let it go before he’s satisfied; he can’t.”

Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (to give its full, synopsis-encompassing title) is that book, stitching myriad collaborator interviews, studio anecdotes, hard facts and song trivia into an easily accessible and moreish read. Shields self-deprecatingly reduces his input to that of “storyteller” in his ‘Introduction’, but he should be commended for his journalist talent in conveying what could be a deluge of baffling and boring details in a light and enlightening document. The fact that the book concludes with FIFTEEN pages of ‘Sources’ and ‘Acknowledgements’ cements the author’s exhaustive commitment to this defiant passion project.

Taking the album’s eight tracks chapter-by-chapter, Origin’s economic length is constricted by the source material’s skimpy duration. But within each chapter a wealth of knowledge is imparted – some of which I, as a diehard fan since the age of 7, was shocked to learn and surprised I had never heard before. That Shields was able to bag exclusive interviews with such A-list musicians and engineers as Michael Prince, Brad Buxer, Cory Rooney, Dr. Freeze and Rodney Jerkins (to name but a few) is a major coup – and shows how much their time writing and recording with Michael Jackson resonates even with industry professionals.

It’s just a pity that due to its antagonistic, record company and Estate-needling nature Xscape Origins will only ever be an unofficial fan-made curio, as the prose content is breathtakingly insightful. Sadly prose is all it consists of, where some photographs and pictorial documentation (of studio sessions, handwritten lyrics, etcetera) would undoubtedly have elevated this slim paperback into an even more compelling and well-rounded glimpse into the creative process of one of music’s most inspirational and enigmatic legends.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars