Tech-savvy portmanteau tales, numerous shades of horror, and Hollywood tell-alls are just some of what's been setting the tone of my January 2018...
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Black Mirror: Series 4 - the return of Charlie Brooker's portmanteau series of technological nightmares and fantasies. The only 'weak' episode, in my opinion, was "Metalhead", and even then that's only 'weak' by the show's own extremely high standards, as glimpsed in episodes like "Arkangel", "U.S.S. Callister", and "Black Museum".
The Toolbox Murders (Blu-Ray) - the HD restoration as put out there by 88 Films. There's a couple of good interviews for the extras, plus a commentary and booklet. Meanwhile, the restoration strikes a good balance between film grain and cleaning away general decay and damage. The film itself is a curious beast, with the first half an hour bolting from the gates as a sleazy slasher flick, before the movie downshifts into an altogether different story, which allows Cameron Mitchell to shine. When I first saw the movie in the early days of the return of video nasties to UK shelves after the BBFC chilled-the-hell-out in 1999, I was pretty lukewarm about it, but I find more to like in the film now with age and a wider appreciation of exploitation cinema. Naturally, being that it was released in 1978, the slasher template hadn't been firmly established by the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th, otherwise this movie would have been a different thing. However, the fact that it isn't like a bunch of those slashers that deluged the silver screen from 1981 onwards makes it an interesting watch.
Feud: Bette and Joan - an eight-part mini-series co-created by Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) starring Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Alfred Molina, and Stanley Tucci. Absolutely flippin' excellent, a must-watch.
Sorcerer (Blu-Ray) - William Friedkin's lost classic from 1977 has been re-appraised in recent years after it originally failed miserably at the box office, suffering as it did in the colossal wake of Star Wars. The film is, however, curiously paced with the first hour taking too much time to setup the disparate members of the quartet who are ultimately tasked with transporting highly unstable dynamite through dense and dangerous jungle to an oil well fire. You have to play by the film's rules to begin with, but come the second half, you get much more of what you sign up for. The bridge crossing sequence alone is worth the price of admission. Before the days of CGI, if you wanted to show a large truck inching its way across a rickety old bridge during a storm you just went out and filmed exactly that - hair-raising stuff!
The Walking Dead: Season 7 (Blu-Ray) - a second spin for the show's most inconsistent outing since Season 3. Many gripes, as laid out HERE, still stand, but there are many great episodes throughout the seventh season and, over-the-piece, Season 7 deserves a little re-evaluation from its harshest critics. There are certainly problems there that needed fixing (some of which still need fixing as we make our way through Season 8), but hopefully new show runner Angela Kang will freshen things up, plug the logic gaps, and tighten the storytelling for Season 9.
The Slayer (Blu-Ray) - J.S. Cardone's gory horror flick set on Tybee Island in the state of Georgia. I've seen more thrilling horror flicks in my time, and the ghastly ghoul on the cover art is barely glimpses in the movie (although it makes quite an impression), but the grue-tastic set pieces work well (the pitchfork death sequence is a particular highlight, the effect cannily utilising the camera's lack of depth perception) and, with the four protagonists being 30-something adults, it takes on a different feel to the usual stalk 'n' slasher. The downside of that, though, is that randy teens alone in the woods are inherently more vulnerable than grown adults. That said, it delves into the idea of the horrors from your dreams entering the real world to kill - years before A Nightmare On Elm Street made a big, mainstream splash in that very arena. The pacing is a bit slow at times, especially early on, but Sarah Kendall's ethereal presence (those eyes!) lifts these slower moments. The film is a former video nasty, but suffered a muted release in 1982 before enduring three decades of scruffy (and usually censored) VHS and DVD releases until now, with another typically gorgeous HD restoration job from the good folks at Arrow Video. So, not a major classic, but a pretty good flick.
The Sixties - having previously watched CNN's documentary series "The Eighties" and then "The Seventies", it seemed like a good idea to explore this illuminating 10-part examination of one of America's most turbulent and transformative decades. Frankly, it shows up some of the 'social justice warriors' of today (you know the sort, getting all huffy on other peoples' behalf, usually over a comedian's joke or something desperately trivial). Back in the 60s it was literally death-defying to stand up for basic human rights that are taken for granted today. In the 2010s, it's so often just virtue signalling and flinging a hashtag from the comfort of your sofa, complaining about words ... meanwhile, problems the western world did away with decades ago persist in less fortunate nations around the globe where real people are genuinely being oppressed by actual problems. These series, albeit from a mostly American perspective, are really quite valuable presenting history as a story that you can follow with all the required context laid out, and the lessons of the past are vital knowledge for the present and the future.
George Deaton "The Toolbox Murders (Theme)" - the final shot of the movie, as the credits roll, is surprisingly effective as this haunting piece of the score plays us out.
Forestate "Play The Game" - indie synthwave goodness.
"Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Soundtrack" - a mix of old and new music from Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch, and other collaborators such as Chromatics.
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Sickness - the scratchy throat came along on Boxing Day and for two weeks thereafter it was a veritable shit show of shivers, roller coaster temperatures, muffled hearing, an agonisingly sore throat (to the excruciating point of barely being able to swallow), and an utter onslaught of nose-blowing that absolutely ravaged my sinuses. Suffice it to say, it put a real dampener on festive proceedings (but at least the day itself was untouched). The lingering cough, so common with these things, has been a pain in the arse as well, but a month on from that scratchy throat rearing its ugly head, it's almost all done and dusted.
Forza Motorsport 7 (Xbox One) - you have to tweak the steering settings to make the damn thing drivable (see how to adjust the 'Advanced Settings' numbers online), but once you get into the feel of it this is a cracking racer (more so if you've not played the previous entries). One major gripe though, is the sheer amount of tracks, cars, and special events which have to be downloaded after-the-fact (reportedly 50gb worth!). To be blunt, this is an absolute piss-take. Whack it on a second disc so all us chumps without superfast internet can get our mits on everything we paid for. It'd take days, or even weeks, for me to download that much data, so I've had to do without that content, which does get irritating after you race certain tracks for the umpteenth time. Can't they create a download model whereby you can just get the fixes on their own, and selectively download elements (e.g. just the tracks, or just the events)? The distribution of credits (with which you purchase cars in-game) is decidedly tight-fisted, as well. Gripes aside, it's a beautiful-looking game offering up solid and varied racing.
"Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B-Movie Actor" by Bruce Campbell with Craig Sanborn - the Evil Dead actor's second autobiography is perhaps not quite as gripping/fascinating as the first (which covered the making of the Evil Dead trilogy), but considering that I gorged on this over the course of a week, it's a must-read for fans. Once the man gets warmed up, we journey through topics such as his time on Burn Notice, making films in Bulgaria, and his journey filming My Name Is Bruce. The man's relaxed and sardonic sense of humour is a joy to read on the page.
How Mr Snuffles III and Others Met Their Maker - the idea of turning my devilishly dark black comedy novella into a screenplay has been bandying about my head for a while, and last month I decided to have a crack at it. After some initial prep last month it's been full speed ahead on this little adaptation before I return to Murder at the Grindhouse. The writing on this Snuffles adaptation went well and I bashed out the first draft by the end of the month.
"How I Slept My Way To The Middle" by Kevin Pollak - chock-full with anecdotes from film sets such as "A Few Good Men", "The Usual Suspects", "The Whole Nine Yards", and "Casino", Pollak's tales of rising up in the world of comedy and character actor gigs expose some of the weird, wonderful, and downright absurd elements that make up the business they call show. I found a copy online - a "used very good" hard back - for an astonishingly good price imported from America (£1.26, since you ask). Now, if Pollak ever read that he'd be fully justified in thinking "buy a new copy, you cheap bastard", however, it would have denied me a curious 'thrift store find'. Curiously enough, the copy is signed by Pollak himself - albeit made out to "Mark and Holly". Not only that, but inside the book were two ticket stubs from the Helium Comedy Club in Portland, Oregon where, on Saturday January 12th at 7:30pm Kevin Pollak was doing a stand-up gig (supported by "Holly Kelly"). Which year this took place, I don't know, 2012 or 2013 might be my guess. The other weird thing? The book arrived on my doorstep on January 12th. If you're a fan of the man, his work, or of the weirdness of Hollywood, it's well worth checking out.