Sunday, 31 December 2017

Flavours of the Month: December 2017...

Joe D'Amato goes Beyond The Darkness, room for improvement for The Walking Dead, and second chances are just some of what's been setting the tone of my December 2017...

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


Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (DVD) - full review HERE.

The Cynic, The Rat, and The Fist (DVD) - Umberto Lenzi's polizioteschi crime thriller features Maurizio Merli (Rome Armed To The Teeth), John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Cannibal Apocalypse), and Tomas Milian (Almost Human). It's unclear which actor is playing which part of the title's Leone-inspired selection, but Merli is likely 'The Fist' considering how much rough-housing he does throughout the film, ready and eager to throw a punch at the drop of a hat. The 'warring crime lords' plot line between Saxon and Milian isn't always clear, and it'll take a second viewing to help piece together the story (screenplay by Ernesto Gastaldi, Umberto Lenzi, Dardano Sacchetti, and Sauro Scavolini), but the pace rarely flags. While not as frenzied or gleefully fun as "Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man", Lenzi's flick is still well worth seeing for fans of this kind of cinema.

Beyond The Darkness (Blu-Ray) - Joe D'Amato made a name for himself with Italian exploitation flicks such as Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals and the utterly notorious 'video nasty' Anthropophagous, but narrative depth and fine craftsmanship weren't exactly qualities you'd tend to associate with the filmmaker's repertoire. However, Beyond The Darkness is arguably his masterpiece (albeit a relative term), and actually proves to be a thoroughly enjoyable and exceedingly twisted film. Ottavio Fabbri and Giacomo Guerrini's script is littered with allusions to incest and necrophilia, as well as a few nods and winks to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". D'Amato, meanwhile, conjures up genuine tension from several key set pieces where shocking secrets come perilously close to exposure and vulnerable lives inch closer to oblivion. Indeed, the film is further strengthened by a typically excellent score by Goblin, and a sadistic obsession with dark subject matter, with some truly grotesque moments strewn throughout the running time. Well-paced and rich with perverted subtext, if there's one D'Amato film to watch (other than Anthropophagous) then it's this.

88 Films' Blu-Ray features a locations tour, which is somewhat dry and overlong and would have benefited from side-by-side comparisons, and - quite alluringly - a feature length D'Amato retrospective documentary. However, the 68 minute doc is, unfortunately, visually quite flat (a procession of talking heads for 95% of it) and somewhat meanders, lacking the brash energy and taboo-busting vibrancy of D'Amato's work. There's some interesting background info to be gleaned from it, but the dull presentation pushes it towards 'missed opportunity' territory. Otherwise there's a trailer, Italian language credit sequences, and a particularly informative booklet by Adrian Smith, which illuminates the censorship history of several of D'Amato's films at the hands of the BBFC.

The Walking Dead: Season 8A - a mixed bag. Some great stuff, some good stuff, but also some dodgy bits and slip-ups that need to be weeded out entirely. I put some thoughts together on how The Walking Dead currently stands, pointing out good and bad points, while also making some suggestions on where there is room for improvement: you can read them HERE.

Mad Dog Killer - Sergio Grieco's 1977 Italian crime thriller starring Helmut Berger and Marisa Mell occasionally drags its feet during its 91 minutes, but for the most part is a stylish (dig that Umberto Smaila score rising during enigmatic slow-mo walks) and aggressively violent flick (the beating and live burial of a snitch sums up Nanni Vitali's sadism in a chilling nutshell). The film has been resurrected from quite damaged film elements, and as such there are some distracting abnormalities on-screen (e.g. an elliptical shape that appears lighter than the surrounding image, for a good 20 to 30 minutes), but the sole extra (a restoration featurette) explains the situation, albeit in a quite uninspired way that shoves all the technical info upfront and not once utilises 'side-by-side' comparison, and focuses on simply repeating several minutes of the movie you just watched as-is. A solid 'eurocrime' movie that was featured in Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown".

The Royle Family - the Christmas specials have been getting repeated on Xmas Gold this month. A bit of alternative Christmas fun.

Twin Peaks: Season 3 (Blu-Ray) - specifically the hours and hours of special features on the 8-disc box set. David Lynch is well known for not explaining his work, and it's rare that we even get a glimpse inside his creative world (even with intriguing documentaries like Lynch (One) or David Lynch: Art Life). This box set, however, presents the most intimate portrayal of how the man works, most specifically with his actors. Inside jokes, film set family atmosphere, and even a few sparkier moments of overspilling frustration are all there for Lynch fanatics to dig into. One thing I wasn't so keen on: the kind of pretentious narration that accompanies the stunning drone shot intervals, as it feels like a poor man's immitation of Werner Herzog. That rather tiny irritation aside, this is a must-own set for Peaks freaks.

Black Christmas (Blu-Ray) - the lesser known label 101 Films seems to have been the portal for getting the Region A Scream Factory HD release over here on Region B shores. Some, but not all, of the extras have made the transition from previous editions (although a raft of commentaries are conspicuously missing). The transfer is changeable at times, with the celluloid grain getting a bit out of control, but perhaps it just comes down to the original elements. Bob Clark's iconic proto-slasher from 1974 was a key inspiration for John Carpenter's "Halloween", which followed four years later, and goes for kills and chills in a more psychological manner. The grue is scarce, but the creeping dread and disturbing sense of reality makes this a classic. The mix of humour (the 'new phone extension' fiasco) and drama (a father searching for his missing daughter - whose body, rather tragically, is never far away from them in the attic of the sorority house) make for a genuinely haunting film populated with multi-dimensional characters. Skip the remake and head back to this bonafide landmark in slasher movie history. Shame about the uninspiring cover art on this release, mind you - but the reversible cover helps.


Airbourne "No Guts, No Glory"

Alice Cooper "Paranormal"

Fabio Frizzi "Apoteosi Del Mistero", "Voci dal Nulla"

Walter Rizzati "I Remember"

Goblin "Main Title (Buio Omega)"

Umberto Smaila "Mad Dog Killer"


Bryan Lee O'Malley "Seconds" - what the Scott Pilgrim author did next. Centering on Katie, a 29 year-old chef whose crumbling personal and professional lives are thrown into a chaotic spin by the appearance of a 'house spirit' who offers her a 'decision altering' opportunity she cannot refuse and, inevitably, abuses. Beautifully realised on the page, it's a more grown up affair than Scott Pilgrim, naturally reflecting the author's own maturation as a person and artist. It doesn't have the upfront comedy and action of O'Malley's most famous work, but it's an entirely different thing that deserves exploration.

Fallout 4 (Xbox One) - I've certainly got my money's worth out of it, but inevitably when you put a lot of time into a game over a long period of time, you're going to notice various failings and faults. I've talked about some previously, such as the next-to-useless Dogmeat and the so-called 'militia' of the Minute Men consisting of just the player having to take care of every damn thing for a bunch of ineffective NPCs who couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery. The 'settlement' building mechanics need a lot of work, too. Uneven terrain and junk fences (or practically anything) don't blend well and the whole operation needs to be far more efficient. Members of settlements should be able to gather resources for you, organise defences and so on once you put a leader in charge of each category of running the settlement (food & water, defence, and resources). Furthermore, any settlement you gain should automatically be linked to the pool of resources, so you wouldn't have to bother assigning "provisioners". Speaking of provisioners, on a few occasions I've ended up with the provisioner being the same person who is to give me some irritating rinse & repeat Minutemen busy task, and as such I have to chase them all over the map to receive the quest (and usually miss them and fail the quest).

There's also too many weapons and ammo types that you just never get around to using, and a few building options seem utterly pointless (e.g. so many wall types, but only one entrance type). Circling back to the building mechanics, so many pieces don't fit together unless you're in a very exact position (or have just enough room), and you should also have the option to repair existing structures (Coastal Cottage was the most idiotic location for a settlement). Clutter is a general theme of the game, from so much junk that you have to pick up to build everything (do you really need so many wrenches, clipboards, pencils, and so on lying around?), to far too many types of consumables (foods renedered pointless because of Stimpaks, or the sheer volume of Drugs you rarely bother with) to your miscellaneous menu in the PipBoy being chock full of old bits and pieces even after you've cleared out that section of your inventory.

More generally, the game failed on the quality of its missions. The sandbox environment was good with lots of variety and places to explore, and the combat was pretty solid, but the missions lack variety consisting almost entirely of 'go here/get this' or 'go here/kill everything'. The story was kind of mediocre, never quite clicking, and I had more fun just roaming around exploring or finding 'environmental stories' (like the nuclear bunker at the junkyard which accidentally became completely air tight) than pursuing the main quest lines. Graphically it was a mixed bag with certain areas of design appearing quite impressive, while other details were quite lacklustre.

Ultimately I've quite enjoyed it, but it has not been without frustrations (Dogmeat forever under my feet) or faults ('meh' story, various unpolished mechanics). For a AAA title this really needed more polish, and certainly more focus paid to the workings of its constituent parts, but with such scale on offer you're bound to find more to enjoy than curse.

Snow! - the last few winters have generally been wet or just frosty without any real snowfall, so this month's blanketing of Britain with the white stuff came as a pleasant surprise on a Sunday before, as per usual, turning into the usual delays, chaos, and uncleared roads/pavements despite all the money people pay in to the local councils. Still, it looked lovely for a couple of days and got you feeling festive.

"Deadpool: Vol 3: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" Posehn/Duggan

- and we all know how that goes. We drank, we ate, and we were merry. Unfortunately I did get lumbered with a dreadful cold that started to hit on Boxing Day, which boasted the worst sore throat I've ever experienced (sore to the point of barely being able to swallow), as well as the requisite cornucopia of multi-coloured gunge that wouldn't be all that surprising to find in Greg Nicotero's bin after a long day of shooting the gooiest zombies ever seen on screen.

"Here's Negan!" Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard - the back story of how The Walking Dead's biggest bad came to be in the early days of the zombie apocalypse. It's a sparsely told tale, with a few bits of iffy dialogue, but it's a revealing mini-tome that actually gives a lot of credence to the idea of 'if we had followed Negan from the beginning, rather than Rick, then Team Rick would appear to be the bad guys' that has been pushed by the folks behind the TV adaptation. They haven't made a convincing enough case for it on the show, but perhaps a direct translation of this graphic novella would have been the ideal way to make that argument ... although it's a bit late for it now considering much of this tale has been conveyed via dialogue between Negan and Father Gabriel.

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