TV Review: The Benefits Estate

We’ve got a little bit of a liberal bent here at Think Outside the Box. Nothing too extreme of course, just a general opinion that the poor, disabled people or anyone who may fall under the umbrella of ‘a bit foreign’, shouldn’t be blamed for every problem in the country, so imagine our delight when we stumbled across The Benefits Estate (Channel 5, Tuesday 9 pm), a documentary sure to cast a spotlight on the hardship faced by one of the most disadvantaged groups in society.

Benefit’s Street did a pretty good job of rousing the mob in all its visceral, finger-pointing and fist-waving ignorance, but then that level of mouth-frothing anger can’t be sustained by one street alone. I mean, it’s enough to make you think that maybe that programme WASN’T representative of a significant section of society.

“There are loads of streets in the UK,” a flaming pitchfork-wielding member of the baying mob might say.

“There are five in my village – as well as that one where the vicar lives and where we hold the summer fetes –  and I can name at least three more, so what does one dodgy one really matter?”

By way of an answer, Channel 5 brings us this veritable orgy of Poverty Porn that seeks to remind us just how awful this part of society really is.

Good news though! This is Dublin, so it’s Irish tax payers footing the bill for such extravagances as packets of crisps and clothes. Too bad Channel 5, you’re not going to get any feral Twitter buzz with this one…

Benefits Estate Tweet 2Benefits Estate Tweet 3Benefits Estate Tweet 4

If you had the displeasure of watching The Benefits Estate you too, surely, would feel such guttural outpourings of rage, with the local community living in such opulence that it’s any wonder why City of London bankers don’t just upsticks to their nearest council estate.

Look at them with their bloody leather sofas and obesity and carpet – our flooring’s all laminate, we don’t have any carpet. And look at all that rubbish piling up! They must’ve bought loads of stuff and just thrown it away, the ungrateful proles. Such decadent lifestyles should only be reserved for Victorian peasants, paedophiles and goats.

Poor Person

Poor People – Eating your bit of old food.

But perhaps we’re being unfair. Does it trigger the sort of Twitter reaction that makes you sometimes wish Ebola had reached the UK? Sure, but maybe that’s a more habitual feeling that has been perpetuated elsewhere.

Tonally, The Benefits Estate isn’t particularly sneering, and the narrator even sounds somewhat empathetic to the programme’s various unfortunate protagonists, but the reasons for the ingrained social problems in this particular community aren’t explored in anything beyond surface detail. The briefest mention of mental health issues and sound bites like “running a household on benefits is a constant struggle” feel planted to trigger an incredulous reaction; easy to pass off as nothing more than excuses for doing fuck all.

It’s certainly not as hateful as Benefits Street, and it makes a noticeable shift in the second half hour to something much more compassionate – a change that was duly acknowledged by a shift in social media sentiment – but the motivations for making The Benefits Estate are still questionable.

There is a programme to be made about the true face of Benefits Britain – but this isn’t it.

REVIEW: It Follows

For as long as anyone can remember, horror movies have been punishing young people who have sex. If Christian Evangelicals want teenagers to abstain from it altogether until they’re married – shirts on, lights off and with as little enjoyment as possible – then they should consider signing up Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees rather than hand out pamphlets decrying intercourse as a gateway drug to crystal meth and suicide.

After hearing a brief description of the plot of It Follows you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was yet another clichéd teen slasher, where scantily-clad college girls and buff, shirtless jocks get hacked up by a sexually frustrated ghost for having the audacity to get it on, pick on a fat kid or drink a beer.

As STIs go, being plagued by a voiceless demon is probably one of the trickier ones to explain at the GUI clinic, but that is exactly what 19-year old Jay (Maika Monroe) has to deal with after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter with the slightly mysterious Hugh (Jake Weary).

After drugging and tying her to a wheelchair in an abandoned building it’s exposition o’clock, with Hugh explaining that he’s passed something on to Jay, something that will be walking towards her wherever she is until it catches up with and kills her. Unless she passes it on.

It Follows 2015

Yeah.. maybe we’ll just cuddle.

It sounds like the recipe for a by-numbers exploitation horror, which is why it was so refreshing to find that, rather than descend into a cliché and jump-scares, It Follows is one of the most interesting and original horror movies in recent years.

Starting strongly and building on it for the entirety of the 100 minute running time, the film delivers a level of tension and dread that is as relentless as the demon that stalks its main protagonist. Although ostensibly set in the present day – evidenced by the early sight of one of Jay’s friends using an e-reader – It Follows feels as though it is based in the 1970s in every other respect. From the classic cars owned by the main characters (there are modern vehicles occasionally visible in the background), to the black and white Sci-Fi B-movies the teenagers watch on old analogue television sets, the film suggests inspiration from Charles Burns’ graphic novel Black Hole – a similar exploration of teenage sex and relationships with more than a little monstrousness thrown in – rather than Halloween, Friday the 13th or any other Hollywood horror flick you’d care to mention. The performances are perfectly pitched too, with Maika Monroe in the lead role and Keir Gilchrist as Jay’s long-term admirer-from-afar Paul particularly good, both eluding to that very private but eminently relatable teenage suffering everyone goes through to some degree.

Like the sexual tension and anxiety between the young characters that is present in almost every scene, Rich Vreeland’s (aka Disasterpeace) original score hangs in the air throughout, dictating the mood and, in the same way as the soundtrack for Nicholas Refn’s Drive, does just as good a job of emphasising the suggested era of the film as it does the building of that perennial sense of dread.

Eerie, angsty and frequently terrifying, It Follows looks set to become a contemporary horror classic.

TRAILER TRASH: Jurassic World Special

Just like the syringe that penetrated that droplet of tree sap and brought the dinosaurs back to life over 20 years ago, Universal are resurrecting the Jurassic Park franchise with what is sure to be next summer’s biggest blockbuster.

The original inspired a sense of awe and wonder in an entire generation, and so it is unsurprising that the world took a collective shit when the trailer for Jurassic World dropped this week, but TOTB can’t help feel that the hysteria-excrement will just end up on all of our childhoods.

So why such cynicism based on a 2 minute trailer?

Part of the problem from the off – and this is in fact not the fault of the film itself – is that modern CGI has rendered seeing incredible things on the big screen no longer that incredible. Jurassic Park was released in a pre-Marvel world, before the special effects movie boom of the late 90s (think Armageddon, Deep Impact, Godzilla and Independence Day) made witnessing big stuff getting blown up routine, while the pseudo-science within the narrative actually had you thinking – if you were young, or stupid, enough – that it could really happen. Jurassic World will not have this in its favour.

Still, Guardians of the Galaxy was a feast of visual effects and that was bloody great fun. And look, there’s Chris Pratt playing the same sort of loveable rogue that we loved in Marvel’s surprise hit this summer.

Of course one of the best things about the original was that the ground-breaking CGI was actually used quite sparingly, and one of the early criticisms of the new trailer is that they seem to have gone in the opposite direction. Director Colin Trevorrow has come out and defended the film claiming that some of the scenes were created especially for the trailer, but then even if the effects prove to be solid, there’s something about the plot itself that just feels a little bit late-night Sci-Fi channel.

John Hammond

John Hammond: misses Jeff Goldblum

Everything appears to be going just splendidly at Jurassic World, with all kinds of entertainment for the whole family including driving around in glass spheres right underneath the enormous feet of brachiosaurs and watching, what we can only assume are big whales, eating dead sharks.

Frankly their insurance premiums must be ridiculous – and why? Because dinosaurs are fucking dangerous. They’re fucking dinosaurs. So why oh why did Trevorrow and Derek Connolly (screenwriter) feel the need to make the main prehistoric antagonist a ‘genetically modified hybrid’? Aren’t velociraptors – such terrifying enemies in the original – and Tyrannosaurus Rex, menace to cups of water everywhere, not enough?

Apparently “she’ll kill anything that moves”, which is the sort of generic monster movie trope that you’d expect from Zombie Shark versus Ghost Baboon, not a reboot of one of the world’s favourite science fiction franchises. June 12 is when we’ll find out whether the DNA of Jurassic Park should’ve been left in the sap.


 

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

As a general rule, money and greed pretty much fuck up everything society holds dear. Marriage, democracy, Space Raiders going up to 15p – and cinema is no exception.

Hell Michael Bay is allowed to create his risible, putrid film output as much as he wants, all because they rake in a shit load of cash at the Box Office – regardless of to what extent they poison our collective consciousness.

It is the motivation of money that leads movie studios to take decisions such as splitting The Hobbit – a book of 300-odd pages – into a trilogy of three hour films, or, as we’re about to discuss, the final Hunger Games book into two parts.

With this in mind you’d be forgiven for expecting The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 to be somewhat inconsequential and frustrating, like indulging in some foreplay before your partner turns to you and says, “Okay that was great, we’ll reconvene next Christmas”. So how does THG:MP1 – that acronym is sure to catch on – get away with it?

We pick up the story with Katniss Everdeen not looking very happy at all, and why would she? After all, we have all just seen her boobs. She was of course rescued from the Games’ arena by the District 13-based rebels, although the mental scars of battle have left her not so much surly and aloof like before, but rather surly and kind of sad. Just wait until she realises her home, District 12, has been transformed into an episode of Time Team. That’s a combination of rubble and skeletons, non-archaeology fans.

As the first half of a greater narrative it goes without saying that the story doesn’t progress massively, and in terms of ‘stuff happening’ it doesn’t match either of the previous two installments, however it is in creating a general dystopic feeling of dread and tension that it really excels.

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Jennifer Lawrence’s face oscillates between kind of upset to really quite upset.

 

The overall tone of Mockingjay Part 1 is incredibly dark for a 12A, and it is any wonder they managed to retain the certificate with such constant levels of distress and threat, as well as the odd grisly moment. It’s refreshing to see a big budget movie realise that excitement doesn’t equate to blowing the shit out of everything in sight for 45 minutes, a la the likes of Man of Steel or many of the Marvel franchise.

There’s strong performances across the board too, with Jennifer Lawrence delivering a boat load of tumultuous emotion, the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman effortlessly cool as usual, and even the previously whiny Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) suddenly becomes a far more interesting protagonist. Julianne Moore’s somewhat staid performance belies her character’s presidential title, although she does spend the entire film alongside Hoffman.

If Mockingjay does a great job of developing an atmosphere, it perhaps doesn’t expand on the Panem world to a great extent, with the hinted at civil disobedience and acts of rebellion that occur outside of District 13 merely depicted with a couple of brief action set pieces. This may be a consequence of the fact that the final book is written solely from Katniss’ perspective, however if they weren’t going to stick with this dynamic religiously throughout the film anyway, the uprising could’ve been developed further. The District 13 rebels spend much of the movie filming propaganda material, although at times you can’t help wondering if anyone’s actually watching it.

It’s a minor issue really in what is an otherwise satisfying sequel. The caveat however is that, although Mockingjay Part 1 may very well be an enjoyable 2 hours that does an excellent job of setting up next year’s finale, we can’t help thinking that it could have made for an altogether better film experience had it never been split up in the first place.


 

Think Outside the News: Michael Bay to direct 3D Super Ted reboot

Continuing his efforts to rape your childhood and impregnate it with misogyny and explosions, Michael Bay is to shoot a big screen re-imagining of Super Ted, Think Outside the News can exclusively reveal.

Following the success of the Transformers franchise and the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, both of which managed to turn cherished childhood memories into nothing but vapid amoral husks, Bay is hoping to do the same with Britain’s favourite super hero teddy bear.

Super Ted logo

Kids’ animation Super Ted – having its soul removed and replaced by product placement and tits.

It is anticipated that the plot will see Super Ted and his alien sidekick Spotty trying to thwart an attack on the Victoria Secret catwalk show by an alien race of fire-breathing robot dinosaurs, lizards, or possibly a combination of the two.

“What I think I like most about Michael Bay’s movies is that they don’t bother trying to engage with you on any sort of emotional or intellectual level,” said Rob Vicars, who isn’t anyone in particular.

“The baddies are bad, the goodies are good and the women are nothing more than hyper-sexualised window dressing. It’s how cinema would be if it was produced by Zoo or Nuts magazine, which happen to be my favourite books.”

“Fnnnnaaaaaaraaghh”, spluttered Bay incoherently while he banged a plastic bucket with a wooden spoon.

It has been rumoured that Michael Bay will also be helming the forthcoming ‘In the Night Garden: Clusterfuck of Revenge’.

REVIEW: Interstellar

Science-fiction, at it’s best, deals with some of humanity’s biggest questions.

Can our species have a future on a world of limited resources? Will we ever be able to live beyond our own planet?

They’re the sort of issues that can only be addressed by man’s best and brightest; pioneers and explorers; or, well, the first guy to stumble out of the dark. It just so happens that guy is Cooper (Matthew McConaughy), a rough around the edges engineer-cum-farmer who dreams of being all surly and melancholic out among the stars.

The planet Earth of Interstellar is one of a dwindling human population and an even more dwindling food supply. Set somewhere generically dusty in the USA, humanity has regressed to an agrarian society where all ideas of spending money on technology – let alone space travel – have been unceremoniously thrown out of the window. Show them an iPhone 6 and they’ll jab you in the eye with a carrot.

Fortunately Michael Caine and NASA are on the case – the space agency now reduced to little more than a table of men who ‘were in that thing – wait, what’s his name?’ Our hero Cooper has stumbled upon ‘the best kept secret on planet Earth’, though apparently not so secret that he can’t have every element of their work explained to him within a 20 minute montage of exposition and unnecessary organ music.

Cooper realises that, due to time dilation, he's going to miss the rest of Games of Thrones.

Cooper realises that, due to time dilation, he’s going to miss the rest of Games of Thrones.

Professor Brand (Caine) invites Cooper to lead the crew of Endurance (including Brand’s daughter played by Anne Hathaway) on a journey through a wormhole to discover if one of three potential habitable worlds are capable of becoming man’s new home.

It’s the mission that he was trained for before an unfortunate crash put paid to his astronaut career, and he makes the tough decision to set out to find humanity’s new home and leave his two children behind… immediately. He doesn’t even briefly consider it, and even finds the prospect of returning home to find his daughter Murph decades older – while he remains the same age – really quite amusing.

But it is the presence of time and gravity as antagonists rather than simply narrative devices that sets Interstellar apart from so many science-fiction movies. An unexpected turn of events during a trip down to the surface of a planet where one hour is equivalent to seven Earth years results in the team losing nearly three decades – and the realisation for Cooper that he has missed his children growing into adults.

The film really ups its game during the second half once the story moves beyond the confines of Earth, with the combination of incredible visuals and intelligent use of sound creating a stunning and effecting sense of isolation among the vast expanse of nothingness.

Interstellar is a film of big ideas; a film of admirable scale and ambition that is hard to satisfactorily summarize in a review, and you could discuss the concepts, both scientific and philosophical, for hours. It is light years away from flawless, while the last 20 minutes stretched incredulity to breaking point, but it gets away with it – particularly if you’re a Sci-Fi fan who can appreciate what Nolan is trying to achieve.

At times beautiful, frequently ridiculous but constantly awe-inspiring, Intersteller is an impressive feat of film-making – and a must-see for any serious science fiction aficionados.


 

Think Outside the News: John Lewis to offer salty human tears to Cthulhu

National retailer of clothing, home wares and saccharine festive sentiment John Lewis plans to offer up the tears of men, women and children to an evil alien deity who is part-man, part-dragon and part-octopus.

The unveiling of John Lewis’ latest Christmas advertising campaign – telling the story of a little boy and his pet penguin Monty – triggered a national outpouring of emotion that hasn’t been seen since Woolworth’s went bust.

However a company insider has revealed that the advert will be used by John Lewis to siphon off the tears of British people in a bid to appease Cthulhu, the demonic God who continues to prop up the retail giant.

“No one can afford to pay £120 for a lamp anymore, but our profits soared by 62% this year, and that was all down to last year’s Christmas ad with the Hare and the Bear. That generated gallons of human tears for Cthulhu,” explained the insider.

“Unfortunately the 2012 campaign didn’t do as well and so we had to feed him Katie Melua, but we’re really confident that this year we’ve got an advert that is going to create enough emotional energy to sate Cthulhu’s appetite for the whole of 2015.”

Early reaction to the advert from the British public has been encouraging for John Lewis, with many commenting on how the optimal combination of children, animals and soft-focus cinematography has reduced them to a babbling wreck.

“It just evokes so many emotions it’s hard to watch it and then continue to function as a rational, reasonable human being without collapsing into hysterics and guttural moans” said Tom McShane, Professor of Potato and Parsnip studies at Nuneaten Community College.

“What I like about the John Lewis adverts most is that they remind you of what Christmas is all about: family, love and generosity; rather than rampant commercialism and spending hundreds of pounds you can’t afford on over-priced, pretentious products.”

It has been rumoured that John Lewis’ 2015 Christmas advert will feature an African village taught how to love each other by a recovering meth addict and his stuffed elephant.