Monday, 31 July 2017

Flavours of the Month: July 2017...

Wrestling 80s style, "something weird and strange", southern hostility, and murderous molluscs - just some of what's been flavouring my July 2017...

Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...


Preacher: Season 2 - I had some trouble with the first season. I knew it would be my kind of show, but the disjointed storytelling proved to be more confusing than intriguing, and it's hard to emotionally connect with the characters if you're only confused about what the hell is going on. About mid-way through the first season I was on the brink of giving up on it, but then many of the disjointed subplots began to make sense and link together, and as a viewer you were able to find your footing and begin investing in some of the characters.

The show runners have listened to the viewers who struggled with the first season, which was a prequel of sorts to the events of the comic (which is where Season 2 comes in). So far it's off to a pretty good start: for one thing you can understand what the hell is going on, you're emotionally invested in the characters, and the inventive eruptions of chaotic violence produce a hell of an impact ... although the extended episode order is giving off a whiff of 'playing for time' (seriously, AMC, ten episodes was ideal!) It's weird, darkly comedic, and regularly out-there. If you wobbled with the first season I'd recommend giving the show another shot.

Glow: Season 1 - much has been made of the female aspect of this production, and understandably so: created by two women, the show is mostly written and directed by women and features a cast which is mostly made up of women, but ultimately it's just a bloody good show. Taking place in the mid-1980s and starring Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) and Marc Maron (WTF Podcast, IFC's Maron), it centres around the creation of "GLOW" (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) - a privately funded, low budget cable TV wrestling show that really did air on American TV. The first episode is a strong case study for screenwriters as it sets up the main character and the driving force behind many of the characters, and not only that, but by the end of the episode your opinion of a key player flips 180 degrees. Quickly you become invested in the array of characters (struggling actresses, fringe players, and oddballs) as they gradually realise the opportunity in their hands while Marc Maron's coke-addled B-Movie film director struggles to keep everything on-track while bumbling about with his brazen rich kid financier. All ten episodes are available now through Netflix and the reaction has been quite positive, so here's hoping for a second season. Highly recommended - check it out!

Twin Peaks: Season 3 - we're two-thirds deep into the 18-episode event series that was originally going to be half that length, and I almost get the impression that a lot of the extra material is wedged into the earlier episodes. Now some of the supporting players in the titular town are getting some solid screen time (e.g. Bobby and Shelly) and their own subplots are beginning to bear fruit. The original seasons in the 1990s weren't an example of breakneck pacing, but this third season is at times interminably slow regarding certain elements: chiefly the Dougie/Cooper arc, which can only be described as painstaking in its dedication to the true meaning of the word "gradual". To be honest, we've had more than enough screen time dedicated to 'Good Cooper Inside Dougie's Body' slowly (oh so slowly) picking up pieces of Cooper's character (coffee, cherry pie, an attraction to law enforcement), but with only a third of the season remaining it does seem as if patient viewers are gradually (there's that word again) being rewarded.

There's been some clickbaity articles hitting the blogosphere about the show's depiction of violence against women on the show, but here's a counter: the perpetrators are male as a matter of routine and are never once seen as anything but evil scum who deserve punishment. Let's not forget various male victims of violence (sometimes alongside female victims, sometimes on their own) - as well as trauma inflicted upon innocent bystanders (e.g. child characters seeing horrific sights sure to scar their psyche forever). Let's also not forget that many of the women on the show are painted in a sympathetic light (their pain is absolutely unjust, and that's exactly how we're meant to feel) ... hell, Laura Palmer (female) is literally the holy antithesis to the incarnation of pure evil that is Bob (male). However, let's also not forget all the sweet things that happen - Andy and Lucy's twee domestic quarrel over which chair to buy, or Shelly's caring defence of James after her friends dismiss him as weird, for example. Twin Peaks hasn't suddenly become a dark nightmare - it always was - you can just be a little more honest on-screen these days, more so on a pay-cable channel as opposed to a mainstream big network. Did any of these complainers watch 1992's prequel film "Fire Walk With Me"?! Lynch's work has always been dark and challenging ("Blue Velvet", anyone?), but it has also possessed a great deal of light which exposes exactly who the villains and the saints are.

Slugs (Blu-Ray) - those pesky, slimy blobs have grown weary of bothering your vegetable patch and, thanks to nuclear waste, super-sized themselves (a bit) and gained an appetite for human flesh! Some ropey dialogue and overacting aside, it's actually a pretty solid and fun B-Movie. Amongst all the gloopy gore (exploding body cavities, slugs swarming over naked flesh, and such like) there's an underlying message relating to alcoholism. The first victim is a drunkard, a young stud loses his stamina in the sack and resorts to a nearby bottle of whiskey, and at various other times drinking either prefigures marital stress or gore-ific disaster. From the director of the slasher movie "Pieces", there's some pretty nifty special effects strewn throughout the gore (such as an exploding 'bigature' photographed at just the right angle to convincingly portray a full-size house). The Arrow Video disc isn't swimming in extras, but there's a good little compliment of them to dig into. It initially sounds like a really silly movie, but it's jolly good B-Movie fun. Give it a watch some time, why don't you?

The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave (Blu-Ray) - full review here.

Comic-Con 2017 - another year, another 'Con-by-proxy' via numerous YouTube videos (trailers and panels and the like). Naturally, this meant another trailer analysis for The Walking Dead was in order. Check it out here.

Californication: Season 1, 2, & 3 - so begins another "it's summer and there's bugger all on telly" binge-watch-a-thon. Last year it was five seasons of Veep, this year it's shaping up to be all seven seasons of Californication. There's something strangely alluring about the idea of being a bumbling writer with a vague dependency on alcohol and a propensity to get into all kinds of social trouble all in the name of a good woman with a pair of incredible eyes ... you know, in a rose-tinted glasses kind of way. More than that, though, Tom Kapinos' selection of characters bound to the weird world of Los Angeles are funny, faulting, and captivating.


Misfits "Collection II" - a compilation of Danzig-era Misfits tracks from 1995, but with a few unheard tracks and alternative recordings thrown in for good measure that sit comfortably beside such blazing tunes as "We Are 138", "Last Caress", and "Blood Feast".

Foo Fighters "The Colour and The Shape"

Magic Sword "In The Face Of Evil"
- the synthwave movement just gets bigger and bigger as you discover new tracks. This particular piece is featured in the second trailer for "Thor: Ragnarok".

Mega Drive "Maniac"

Mick Gordon "BFG Division"
- from the thunderous soundtrack to Doom (2016).

M83 "Digital Shades Vol. 1"


Mafia 3 (Xbox One) - I recently wrote about playing "Assassin's Creed: Syndicate" and how the repetition became too frustrating. To be fair, I think part of that was down to it being my fifth AC game that I'd played. "Mafia 3" on the other hand is only my second game in this franchise. "Mafia II" never utilised its open world setting, but it had a strong and focused story with interesting characters (one of whom, Vito, returns in a supporting role in Mafia 3). This third game in the franchise suffered a duff launch last year - rushed to market with innumerable bugs, glitches, and game-breaking slip-ups - but it has since been patched considerably (the best part of 10 gigabytes, and we all know how much I dislike hefty updates!).

There's a fair bit of repetition here when it comes to the gameplay as you take down the Sal Marcano crime empire in the fictional city of New Bordeaux (essentially New Orleans). However, being that someone probably would work their way up the pyramid like that, it makes sense. Still, though, the mechanics become obvious quite quickly. Cause trouble, take over a racket, cause more trouble and take over a second racket, then do a mini-boss ... this gives you the district (and a bigger boss mission), which you then assign to one of your three lieutenants (Cassandra, Vito, or Burke). The illusion of 'management' is pretty hollow as you can assign three to each quite easily while keeping everyone happy, but this does give you various upgrades.

Initially the driving mechanics are a bit iffy, but identifying faster cars and gaining certain upgrades through favours from your lieutenants freshen things up. The same can be said of the shooting. One of the most interesting aspects of the game, though, is the detailed story filled with various colourful characters. You play as Lincoln Clay, an African American who returns from the Vietnam war and soon sets out on a bloody revenge mission against the Italian mob, and being that this is set in the deep south in 1968, you regularly encounter the ugly side of 'Southern Hospitality'. It's interesting to place the player in the shoes of a victim of racism - the police give you shifty glances, rich whites in fancy areas scorn you under their breath or tell you to get the hell away from them, and numerous establishments (as was the case at the time) won't allow you to enter because of your skin colour. Furthermore, there's one side story involving the 'Southern Union' who you get to take down while uncovering their extremely sinister dealings behind closed doors (modern day slave auctions and the like). Indeed, with the racist ramblings of a radio host and numerous stories of racially-motivated violence (you even witness a burning cross rally), "Mafia 3" is certainly honest about the disgusting face of racism while giving the player a power fantasy as you take down the bad guys.

Despite all these moral history lessons, the ethics of the game are somewhat confused. You take down mob rackets (drugs, prostitution, etc) only to assume control yourself, but close allies do flag up the dangerous side effects of your actions as a race war brews in the background. For such a delicate subject it's hardly surprising that it doesn't always get dealt with smoothly within the framework of an action/crime shooter, but it goes to show that complicated issues can be examined within different mediums and - to a small degree at least - put the player in someone else's shoes. To be fair, though, you get to make a key moral choice at the end and the ramifications laid out in the closing cinematics reaffirm the game's commitment to conflicted moralities and characters who dwell in the murky grey areas. You actually come to care about these characters - so hats off to the writers. Be sure to check out the alternative choices on YouTube, and let the credits play to see a tasty reveal mid-flow.

"Mafia 3" certainly isn't without a few faults (a few minor bugs, you can only carry two weapons, so many NPCs have a bizarre habit of leaping into the path of your oncoming vehicle!), but it's a solid game all around. The main let down, though, is the graphics. At times the game looks quite good, but at other times it looks downright shoddy. The amount of pop-in is ludicrous on occasion, and the quality of the textures and lighting is inconsistent to say the least. For a next-gen title it's disappointing on the looks front, especially when you consider how well-realised the world of Los Santos was in GTA V on the previous generation of consoles! Mind you, when it comes to collectibles, the game offers up things you actually want to find: namely Playboy magazines and Vargas paintings - but it's not just smut: numerous articles are included (such as an interview with Stanley Kubrick from the 1960s), as well as album covers, Hot Rod magazines, and more. The soundtrack's pretty damn good too with many familiar tunes swinging by on the radio. So over all it's a solid effort, but be prepared for a hefty patch, iffy graphics, and a repetitive structure. That all said, I've had a hell of a lot of fun with it - I mean, how can you not enjoy lacing wine with LSD at the funeral of an absolute scumbag?

James Ellroy/David Fincher/Matz/Miles Hyman "The Black Dahlia" - the graphic novel adaptation of Ellroy's first book in the 'L.A. Quartet' series. The artwork is good, although I found many of the characters looked too similar, so you had to rely on small details (the cut of someone's hair, a pencil moustache etc) to decipher who-was-who at times. It does a pretty good job of boiling down Ellroy's iconic novel to just the basics while still maintaining the thrust of the story - so, far more successful than Brian DePalma's rather flawed film version. Fans of graphic novels and Ellroy's work should give it a go, and this might be a good introduction to Ellroy's work for newbies. Indeed, my access point to the man's work was the novel, and I've since gone on to read fifteen more of his books since (I've still got the 'Underworld USA Trilogy' and "Perfidia" to tackle at a convenient time).

"We Should Eat Ice Cream Too" - this was a short story I wrote a couple of years ago that's been sitting around for a while and this month I decided to hop back to it for a little bit more polishing. I wasn't doing anything with it, so I'm going to post it here on the blog in August. Through Pixabay I've found a collection of images (from a handful of photographers who have uploaded them for royalty-free use) that relate to the story; they'll give it a nice visual boost on the (web)page. So keep an eye out for it, give it a read.

No comments: