THE SOUNDBOARD STEREO: Born-Again Barbarians

Film poster for Barbarian

Barbarian (2022)

Dir. by Zach Cregger

For those who haven’t seen Barbarian yet, scroll on. The less you know about its plot, cast, or structure the better; it’s a film that completely takes you on a ride, ending up miles away from the almost rom-com its trailer sets up. The initial premise could be the set up for romance too, with Tess booking an AirBnb to find a stranger, Keith, already staying there. We see this situation from Tess’ perspective, her caution towards the double booking and mistrust of Keith extended to the viewer. She openly speaks of how women have to see things through a different lens for their own safety; even though Keith’s suggestion to open a bottle of wine or to sleep on the couch and give Tess the bed are later revealed to be perfectly good-natured, the viewer can’t shake tension or ideas of ulterior motives. It also doesn’t help on a meta level that Keith is played by Bill Skarsgård (mega-villain Pennywise himself), so it’s perfectly plausible for him to be playing an evil character. Later, the ante is upped in not one, but two ways. The thriller vibes shift to full-on horror as the true evil of Frank, the house’s previous tenant, and the creature that lives in its secret basement are revealed, and the covert discussions around the danger that men present become central, both with the late-stage reveals of both Frank and Justin Long’s AJ. AJ is an actor with rape allegations made against him, and while he’s a caricature often played for laughs, he’s also a close-to-home representation of the ‘bro’ who is able to justify his own actions and plead innocence. While being a uniquely well-crafted horror film at its core, Barbarian also raises discussions on the threat men pose to women (both when they try and when they don’t) that is wholly necessary today. • GJ

Artwork for Daredevil: Born Again

Daredevil: Born Again

Written by Frank Miller; art by David Mazzucchelli

It’s pretty widely regarded that, within the long history and lineage of Daredevil—a character nearly at his 60th birthday now—Born Again is about as good as it gets. Definitely in terms of the street-level grit and attrition that writer Frank Miller would give Sin City a few years later, it’s a good fit for the character definitely. It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of inspiration came from this particular run for the third season of the Daredevil Netflix series, though the comic run itself is much more refined. For one, it’s got the benefit of David Mazzucchelli’s art, with a lot of the eye-catching visual flair that you’d expect from a lot of superhero flair, but never overshadowing some fair brutality within it. It’s a fairly brutal story after all, chronicling Matt Murdock’s systematic exposure as Daredevil and the beating-down that accompanies it, followed by his rise back to strength in extensive detail. The side characters really do make this, though; Ben Urich and Karen Page feel particularly fleshed-out and tightly interwoven within the grit of the story, and the introduction of the villain Nuke paints the sort of volatile loose-cannon of a character that makes for a rather satisfying finale. (If nothing else, it’s exponentially better than what they did with the ‘interpretation’ of him for the Jessica Jones series.) There are minor things that, in almost 40 years since its publishing, have wrinkled all the more—Foggy Nelson’s dialogue has some of the “gee whiz!” chintz of a character from at least a couple of decades prior—but it’s not hard to see where Born Again’s reputation comes from. It really is that strong of a run. • LN

Film poster for Seeing Double

Seeing Double (2003)

Dir. by Nigel Dick

You’ll probably have read the heading above and thought “why is a 20-year-old film about legendary 2000s pop band S Club being covered on this very current, fairly credible website?”. That’s because a recent, nostalgia-purposes rewatch has uncovered what an insane, borderline nightmarish relic it is, giving the montage-heavy pop-band-jolly framework of Spice World a dark sci-fi twist with a cloning experiment at the centre of the plot. How are S Club cloned, you ask? With their own underwear, bought on the internet by a mad scientist. There are plenty of silly questionable things in this film, be it the ‘S Clones’ eating two cubes of jelly at meal times and being prepared to kill if necessary or the baffling placements of the musical numbers (a tactical Don’t Stop Movin’ to break the band out of jail or Never Had A Dream Come True soundtracking some of the clones gorging on hot dogs and fizzy drinks for the first time). There’s also a weird sleaziness to the humour, especially considering its PG rating, where the clones have to shower naked together twice a day, the band’s assistant reveals her love egg accidentally and the treatment of Rachel Stevens in general, her role as the hot, ditzy one immediately sobering when she’s groped by a stranger in the film’s first five minutes. It’s the melding together of sci-fi and (very 2000s) comedy in the framework of a cash-grab pop-artist film that makes Seeing Double such a jarring time capsule, and it’s a hilarious 90 minutes that needs to be seen to be believed. • GJ

Artwork for De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High And Rising’

De La Soul

3 Feet High And Rising

It’s almost unthinkable that there’s some music not available to readily stream (by legitimate means, anyway), but that was the bulk of De La Soul’s catalogue for the longest time. Double that unthinkability when this is one of the most lauded rap groups of all time, with this debut album regular cited as one of the greatest albums ever made—not just in hip-hop; overall. But now, here’s 3 Feet High And Rising, ready to find a brand new audience, and yeah, it’s still incredible. The heavy use of sampling is really where the meat is, something that easily defines De La Soul particularly on this album, with a lot of warm, crackling lifts from soul and R&B pitted against a trio who are all so incredibly likable. This is often seen as one of the quintessential alt-rap albums and it’s not hard to see why, even for a release from the ‘80s that carried a lot of the genre’s earlier hallmarks in its flows, but still feels so distinct in its expressiveness and richness of texture. Maybe it’s a bit too bogged-down with skits, but again, the radiant charm exuded by De La Soul make them more tolerable than most; even at 23 songs and clocking in north of an hour, it still feels nowhere near as waterlogged as rap albums in those shoes frequently do today. And that’s really the magic of De La Soul in full effect, a hip-hop group eschewing most of what that will typically invoke, in favour of a colourful, psychedelic, easygoing listen overflowing with character. If you’ve never heard this before, there’s literally no reason not to anymore. • LN

Promo art for Professor Layton And The Lost Future

Professor Layton And The Lost Future

Nintendo DS

In yet another blast-from-the-past entry in this month’s Stereo, we’re using this space to champion the iconic Professor Layton game series. A quaint, homely premise of the gentlemanly professor and his young apprentice Luke, the games fire puzzles at the player that are just the right level of challenging; never hard enough to suck the fun out of playing. Lost Future (or Unwound Future stateside), the third game in the series, feels like the sweet spot of both plot and gameplay. First installment Curious Village was confined to one town and very much finding its feet with the game’s design, then while follow-up Pandora’s Box widened the scope by taking place on a train journey spanning multiple towns, the narrative (sweet as it may be), is easy to poke holes in. Lost Future’s time-travelling narrative which sees the Professor and Luke flit between present day and future London, very much upping the ante from anything seen before, plus the game’s characteristic emotion is firing on all cylinders with the storyline involving Layton’s lost love Claire. Lost Future feels like the apex of classic Layton, remaining the standard for as long as games were being released. If a Nintendo DS is still in your possession, Professor Layton is the perfect chill-time game, and Lost Future remains the crown jewel. • GJ

Promo image for Arrested Development

Arrested Development (S1-3) (2003-2006)

It’s kind of amazing that there’s never been another sitcom like Arrested Development since. By which, of course, we mean the sort that packs as much as it does into even just a standard-length episode, and sticks the landing on basically all of it. Even that does have its limit though, hence why we’re only taking into account the first three seasons, a) because the season three finale serves as a perfectly fine endpoint on its own, b) because the entire run is legitimately where the show is at its best, and c) the subsequent two Netflix seasons are basically unwatchable. Granted, you could say that about any of it if you’re just dipping in. That’s not really the show’s fault though; for a single-camera sitcom from 2003 (yes, predating The Office), it pushed the envelope fairly far with how largely serialised it is, even down to running jokes and references that aren’t just flippant inclusions. And of course, the cast is phenomenal, as should be common knowledge given how much the vast majority have done since. Will Arnett’s Gob and David Cross’ Tobias are always highlights, but Jason Bateman as the de facto lead pretty much does everything you’d want from a straight man in a comedic ensemble like this. Even with the occasional far-fetched story beat (the Mr F plotline comes to mind), there’s just something about the wit and energy to it all that keeps it barrelling forward, to where it’s really no wonder the revival was commissioned, even despite some low initial figures. But again, we don’t need to talk about those seasons; the original run stands as a near-perfect cult classic comedy all on its own. • LN

Words by Georgia Jackson (GJ) and Luke Nuttall (LN)

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