Thursday, May 27, 2010

Honking Box Review: Spartacus: Blood & Sand

The term "so bad it's good" is bandied about far too freely these days. It's term often used to excuse shows which are terminally uncool to like by those ashamed to like them. Still, you occasionally come across a show so unbelievably atrocious from the outset, it's fan-frickin-tastic, such as Bonekickers or the legendary Sunset Beach. And from time to time, you come across a show which leaves you wondering whether it's a benchmark in so-bad-it's-good ironic brilliance, or a disastrous attempt at serious, groundbreaking drama.

One such example is Spartacus: Blood & Sand, a US-produced retelling of the titular legend's battles. Made by cable network Starz – a sort of poor man’s HBO apparently, and previously boasting an exclamation mark at the end of its name – you get some idea of the production values early on. But it’s the content within which truly cements the absolute sparkling awfulness.

Where Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire takes the idiosyncracies of fantasy epics and creates an affectionate parody from them, Spartacus tears the entire genre a gaping new arsehole, inadvertedly spoofing to a level that makes the likes of the Scary/Date/Epic Movie franchise look like subtle, intellectual satire.

The tidal waves of blood (literally - tidal waves) that saturate every fight scene provide an amount of claret and gore which, on paper, would invoke squeamishness in the hardiest of viewers. Yet the absurd cartoonish indulgence quickly underlines that while the overall concept of the show truly stomach-turning, the blood 'n' guts aspect is most certainly not. Spartacus: Blood & Sand is effectively a live-action Itchy & Scratchy.

Meanwhile, the soft-focus sex scenes, which seem to clumsily pepper the narrative with all the subtlety of a foghorn and all the relevance of a Pixie Lott-branded chocolate kettle, make the series look less like Red Shoe Diaries with a bigger budget. But even then, we're only talking a few extra dollars - Spartacus abuses the concept of green-screen beyond comprehension, featuring CGI worthy of Series 2 Knightmare, with the quality of dialogue not far off either.

In fact, the scripts go to the greatest lengths possible to match the tone set by the sex and violence, with more shoehorned-in swear words than an entire series of late-night Hollyoaks. But this provides some of the funniest moments in Spartacus, with "in-bred shit-whores" a particular highlight from the first episode.

And that’s, bizarrely, what makes Spartacus: Blood & Sand work. The darker, the coarser and the grittier it goes, the more hilarious it actually gets. Further inspection will prove interesting, as it’s hard to see where the series can go from such a preposterous introduction. And whether it’s a knowingly-dreadful work of comedy genius is still undetermined, but regardless, it makes for something highly watchable, even if most of that is through your fingers. A thoroughly-entertaining pile of shit.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Single Reviews 10/05/10

We had planned to start this week’s Single Reviews with some sort of blurb about how there hadn’t been a definitive result for Single of the Week and make some sort of clumsy parallel to the whole hung Parliament mess, but frankly, we’re fucking sick of the whole thing. Proof that stuffy cunts in suits don’t achieve jack, and that Charlie Brooker should be in charge.

Mini Viva kick things off with the mash-up of atonal rapping and helium shrilling, One Touch. There’s also an arrogance on board which seems to stem from some rancid expectation that they’re due success solely because of their Xenomania link. And while it’s a vast improvement on the ghastly I Wish, there’s no disguising Mini Viva are little more than the Vengaboys minus the cowboy and sailor.

And showing Mini Viva how to pull off punchy, catchy dance-pop is Alexandra Burke. While there’s much clucking across the intarwebz that The Silence would’ve been a better release, All Night Long picks up nicely from where her previous two singles were headed, and a largely irrelevant contribution from Pitbull doesn’t detract from the carefree pop immediacy she’s become so good at.

And lastly, our Single of the Week is awarded to Keane ahead of their Night Train EP release. As the current Ash singles project has shown, a lack of album constraints mixed with a touch of experimentation can create extraordinary results. Stop For A Minute is no exception, employing the talents of Somali rapper K’naan for a remarkable, anthemic, hip-hop-laced treat that bodes incredibly well for the aforementioned EP.
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