Benny Views is here for all your film recommendation needs

I’m conscious this site has offered tumbleweed for a long time – sorry about that – but there has been progress elsewhere… I’m happy to have finally rebranded and launched a separate film site – Benny Views – the culmination and aggregation of at-a-glance movie reviews I’ve accumulated over about a decades worth of screen watching. You can filter by category, or use the easy site search in the navigation menu, or simply scroll to browse and find something that tickles your fancy. Hopefully it’ll help you discover the gems worth watching when algorithms are serving the same old guff over and over every time you log in to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and the like.

Let me know what you think, and please do share with your friends if you like it.

www.bennyviews.com

Horror at the cinema

It was with genuine excitement and anticipation that I attended a 9pm screening of Hereditary in Cardiff Cineworld this week. The film was almost universally praised by critics when it premiered at Sundance 2018 in January, and six months later it’s been massively hyped in nearly every media outlet, with frequent comparisons to horror classics, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, and reviews proclaiming it “a disorientating cocktail”, “nightmarish”, “a brilliant fear machine”, and “emotional agony…so raw” you will “see things you can never un-see and feel pain you can never un-feel”; acclaim that’s all the more impressive given it’s writer-director Ari Aster’s debut.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only cinema-goer intrigued by the promise of “pure evil”, and as I tapped away at the self-service screen to purchase tickets, I saw with dismay that the auditorium was nearly full. Even as I selected two seats near the front, they were snatched up before I could reach the checkout. This was concerning. I don’t hold a high opinion of the general public. I wouldn’t invite strangers into my lounge to watch a film, I wouldn’t gather with them around an iPad at a bus stop, and I’m no more keen to sit with them anywhere else. But I was here now, I would give viewers the benefit of the doubt, try a bit of trust in humanity.

Nonetheless, a few minutes later as I settled into my seat for the pre-film trailers, I was still anxious. I hoped the spirit of the genre would be honoured by its audience, that they would sit silently with phones off and allow the promised “crawling dread” to get under my skin. After all, the success and enjoyment of any good horror movie hinges on its “profoundly disturbing” atmosphere, on the audience’s suspension of disbelief, on a willingness to be absorbed, drawn in, and emotionally battered. If that’s spoiled, the film is spoiled.

This isn’t a review, but in truth, Hereditary was fairly horrifying (albeit not quite a “terrifying masterpiece”). Watching at the cinema though, I was reminded that the real horror is not dished out on screen. It’s in the crackle and crunch of wrappers during a moment of silent suspense, the inapt raucous laughter following a stomach-turning image, the distracting white blaze of phones in peripheral vision, the buzz of notifications, the endless masticating and whispering, the contagion of coughing and sniffing. It’s weak bladders, and late entries, and changing seats. It’s people with sledge hammers on their shoes and the dexterity of lego hands. On that note, do people become more clumsy at the cinema? Are they struggling to hold things in the dark? Why are they holding anything? And if they must, why can’t they put it down gently? Around an hour into the showing, somebody kicked a bottle over. Twenty minutes later there was a clatter as if someone had dropped a tray full of tools. The immediate disruption on both occasions was followed by cursing and giggling, as well as being seen as an opportunity to open new packets of munchies and unzip sweaty items of clothing with about as much subtlety and discretion as kids stomping bubblewrap or Gordon Ramsay berating his trainee chefs. But we’re not watching this in an effing kitchen! For some reason, people have paid money to sit in a specialised darkened room to do all this.

By the end, I’d concluded that the perfect cinema would ban phones outright. To identify social media addicts hoping to smuggle in contraband, spectators would be frisked while passing through a series of metal detectors with more vigorous inspections than Heathrow Airport. Entry would be prohibited after a missed start and tickets voided. Food and drink would not be sold on premises or permitted for consumption anywhere on site except by intravenous drip. Offenders would be expelled. Repeat offenders would be shot. People needing toilet breaks would have a choice to hold it in, leave and forfeit reentry, or use a urinary catheter or Shewee. A screening is 2-3 hours people, you can’t all be incontinent or diabetic!

Hereditary may be a “modern horror classic”. It may be the “most terrifying horror film in years”. I won’t know until I watch it again, in the perfect solitude of my living room, with the lights out and edibles banned. Sadly, this time it’ll be devoid of surprises and twists and its capacity to scare will be diluted. The cinematic experience it offers has been irrevocably neutered for me. Seconds into the film I knew it was ruined. I wanted to stand up and shout ‘Fine! I’ll wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it by myself!’ but much to my girlfriend’s relief, I didn’t.

I won’t watch horror at the cinema again, though, I’ll get my “pure emotional terrorism” at home. The sooner films go straight to Netflix and Amazon Prime, the better.

The North Korea Deep Dive

Just before Christmas I produced this programme about the North Korea situation for the BBC World Service on The Inquiry. Since then, there have of course been significant developments, but nonetheless, I think it’s a fascinating listen, with input from Siegfried Hecker, Melissa Hanham, Gleb Ivashentsov, Sue Mi Terry, Jean Lee and Yanmei Xie.

This is the link to listen back on BBC iPlayer

Are Video Games A Waste Of Time?

So a few months back, I independently created a sort of ‘fan made’ episode of BBC World Service’s award winning podcast, The Inquiry. It was driven by my love of the podcast format, the inviting question and four witness analysis, as well as my enthusiasm for esports, and the sense that this phenomenal movement is somehow being overlooked by the mainstream media.

The question I chose at that time was ‘How do you become a professional video gamer?’ – and I sought to use that as a peg to introduce a new audience to the concept of esports, as well as exploring and explaining the many different facets that are involved in creating a huge sporting scene from what is essentially ‘just’ video game playing.

I finished it with brilliant and, in my view, fascinating contributions from ‘witnesses’ across the esports scene, including ESL’s Richard Simms, Team Liquid’s Mike Milanov, 343 Industries’ Frank O’Connor, and Halo 4 Global Champion and Halo 5 pro-player Aaron ‘Ace’ Elam.

BBC World Service weren’t as interested in the esports angle as they were in the subject of video games more broadly, but they liked the brazen pitch I made, and invited me to join them in producing an episode discussing the value of video gaming to society – if indeed there is any.

And so, I present you with Take 2. This is my second (but importantly actually official) The Inquiry podcast. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csv1bv

The Verge presents you with Apple spin in the guise of journalism, and here’s how.

The following analysis was sparked by two particular pieces from The Verge’s coverage of Apple’s iPhone event, but their flagrant Apple fandom is arguably apparent with just a glance at their homepage. At the time of writing, 5 of the 7 headline items are Apple related, it looks like this:

Continue reading “The Verge presents you with Apple spin in the guise of journalism, and here’s how.”

Breaking a long silence because this was too important not to share

In an article entitled, Nobody Knows the Identities of the 150 People Killed by U.S. in Somalia, but Most Are Certain They Deserved It, The Intercept highlight the general, quite terrifying acceptance of government spin with regards to foreign policy. Greenwald writes (in part attributed to Murtaza Hussain):

The words “terrorist” and “militant” have no meaning other than: anyone who dies when my government drops bombs, or, at best, a “terrorist” is anyone my government tells me is a terrorist.

Think about that, and consider what counter-opinion and counter-fact you weigh up each time you absorb another news bulletin attaching the same loaded labels. How balanced is your information? Do you question or challenge the language in its delivery?

You should.

Why we shouldn’t condemn those taking selfies at Sydney Siege

Whilst millions sit glued to twitter feeds and live streams of events unfolding from the so-called Sydney Siege, there has been an enormous outcry on social media against onlookers outside the cafe in Martin Place apparently revelling in the action by taking selfies.

On the surface, this certainly seems like inappropriate, maybe even detestable behaviour. Of course, for the hostages, their loved-ones, and those involved in resolving the situation, the whole affair is a terrifying experience that they have been forced to endure, and sadly will no doubt continue to endure for a long time to come. This is a tragedy, and I say that in no uncertain terms. But I ask you, if we pause in our recriminations for a moment and reflect truthfully, are we not all revelling in the action? Objectively consider our own circumstances and our own interest in the event, and we might be inclined to reevaluate that quick condemnation of selfie-snapping onlookers. Continue reading “Why we shouldn’t condemn those taking selfies at Sydney Siege”

Liam Neeson’s ‘Non-Stop’ demonstrates the Rise of the Ageing Action Hero

Tomorrow sees Liam Neeson’s return as yet another antique action hero in Non-Stop [1], the story of an air marshall whose passenger flight is held hostage to the tune of $150m. Since 2008 hit Taken reminded audiences that the older gent can still kick ass and hold his own at the box office, Neeson, 61, has starred in a spate of action flicks including The A-Team, Unknown and Taken 2, and is showing no signs of slowing, with Taken 3 already announced [2] and lead roles in upcoming action thrillers A Walk Among The Tombstones (fall 2014) and Run All Night (2015). Whilst Neeson initially dismissed the possibility of reprising his character, Bryan Mills, in a third Taken movie, joking, “that’s just bad parenting,” he was reportedly enticed back to the role with a handsome $20 million cheque [3]. Nice work if you can get it, but the real question is: why can he get it? Why is Hollywood paying out sums of that scale for action stars in their twilight years? One thing is clear, Neeson is far from the only oldie picking up the gun; there are plenty of other stars clamouring to put the silver back in silverscreen…

Arnold Schwarzenegger, or affectionately, “Arnie”, 66, exploded back in to cinemas after his political hiatus in action ensemble blow-ups, The Expendables and The Expendables 2. He subsequently manned the minigun in The Last Stand and then again reunited with Sylvester Stallone, 67, for more high-octane action in last year’s Escape Plan. Not to be left out, The Expendables 3 will see Harrison Ford, 71, joining the current posse alongside Mel Gibson, 58, who, despite leading the excellent and criminally underrated prison thiller, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, a few years ago, isn’t exactly bankable these days. (In fact, given his chequered and controversial past, for many it’s a mystery his career has even survived this long. I, for one, thought The Beaver was his death knell.)

Continue reading “Liam Neeson’s ‘Non-Stop’ demonstrates the Rise of the Ageing Action Hero”

How to be one of the highest grossing actors in Hollywood

So you’ve seen the highest grossing actors list, dollar signs have fluttered like birds around your punch-drunk noggin, and you’ve realised that with your unique acting chops, winning charisma and burning lust for fame, you too could become a bona-fide Forbes listed gold magnet in Hollywood’s perpetually booming movie machine. Your parents always told you that anything was possible, and they were right, but here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you’re aiming to shoot for the stars:

Start out sporty and don’t ever give up on your six pack. Without a doubt, action heroes are the biggest money-makers, and revealing your innards like Thor doesn’t happen over night. Aside from vigorously hitting the gym, finding an exhilarating passion is probably a good idea: Chris Hemsworth has a lifetime love of surfing [1], Dwayne Johnson wrestled since childhood, rising to fame as WWE nutcase ‘The Rock’, and the late Paul Walker started every morning with a few hours of Brazilian jiu jitsu [2]. Even the oldies have athletic backgrounds; John Goodman won a football scholarship to university, Billy Crystal obsessed over baseball and Steve Carrell has always had a knack for ice hockey.

Continue reading “How to be one of the highest grossing actors in Hollywood”