Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Flavours of the Month: July 2018...

Crash by way of Ballard and Cronenberg, the 1970s and 1980s through Netflix's eyes, and trashy horror flicks are just some of what's been setting the tone of my July 2018...

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


GLOW: Season 2 - combining gleefully kitsch 80s nostalgia with very effective character drama, GLOW's second season lives up to the strengths of the first while also diving deeper into the characters. The writing is superb, too, managing to twist the audience's perception of a character multiple times within a single episode. These women aren't simplistic power fantasies, they're complex people who screw up as much as anyone else, but even in their weakest (or even downright despicable) moments, the reasons for their actions are justified. Indeed, any budding writers wanting to know how to write deep and complex female characters need look no further than GLOW, which affords all their characters - female and male - with multiple layers that subvert and evade audience expectations.

It's also good to see that the show doesn't demonise men, which in itself would be simplistic and untrue. Just like the female characters, the supporting male players in the show are multi-layered and some can even be seen as positive role models (somewhat rare in these times of villains and fools). Pitch perfect throughout, the show even manages to navigate 'casting couch/private meeting' waters with poise, walking a tightrope that neither overplays the hand nor hides the ugliness. Even the reaction of certain characters to this event subverts expectations, showing once again how canny the writers and showrunners are, something which is witnessed throughout the season as intriguing character combinations throw forth new story telling opportunities. Utterly excellent.

Wet Hot American Summer - namely, the 2001 cult comedy and the two spin-off series: 2015's "First Day of Camp" and 2017's "Ten Years Later". The humour is scattershot and utterly random at times (a talking can of vegetables dispensing a pep talk to a Vietnam veteran/summer camp cook), so each viewer's mileage will vary as well as which jokes they find full-bore hilarious. The prequel series feels stretched a little thin with certain plot threads, but the same random bursts of humour continue to jump out of nowhere and roundhouse your funny bone. The sequel series (set in 1991) feels a little more settled-in to the eight-episode format and, even for something as weird as this show, invests a bit more into characterisation, but that's not to say we're left without scenes where President Reagan bullies President Bush Sr into dropping a deuce on a model of Camp Firewood ... because that bonkers stuff is still present and correct!

Street Trash (Blu-Ray) - the 1986 splatter comedy from James Muro and Roy Frumkes in which a poisonous batch of liquor sends the homeless denizens of a scrap yard into literal meltdown. The story could use more focus and structure: there's a large portion without any meltdowns at all, then three come along at once near the end, and certain strands of the plot are only tangentially linked, leading to a somewhat meandering plot filled with scattered ideas. Narrative cohesion also isn't helped by various cuts made in the editing room to get it down to a reasonable running time, but nevertheless there's a scrappy charm to the cast of ne'erdowells amidst all the eyebrow-raising gore (as well as a few other things).

The film looks great (not just because of the HD restoration that's been afforded this gritty little epic) due to the frequent use of a steadicam and a strong visual style that makes the most of the grimy real-life locations. The Blu-Ray is packed with extras, including a two-hour making-of that extensively covers the entire process of bringing Street Trash to the world. One of the more interesting tidbits of behind-the-scenes info was that Bryan Singer (yes, the director of X-Men) was a production assistant on the flick.

F Is For Family: Season 1 & 2 - co-created by the comedian Bill Burr (who stars as the patriarch of a 1970s nuclear family), this animated series is a little gem that's worth seeking out. Clearly stories from Burr's childhood have filtered their way into this show as the representation of 1970s American family life feels utterly authentic, from the blue collar strife of a working man to neighbourhood kids roaming free and getting into all kinds of unsupervised danger. There's a coarse streak to the humour, but it feels entirely justified by the time period, rather than being coarse for coarse's sake (e.g. Brickleberry).

The protagonists bicker and scream at each other, but they're also fully rounded characters with their own range of challenges in life - so you actually care about these people - something which then adds to the show's surprisingly incisive moments of satire and social commentary. There's a searing irony to the "I am woman, hear me roar" sequence in episode 2x02, while the cold reality of being out of work is seen from the perspectives of the parents as well as the children. Boasting an impressive cast (including Laura Dern, Justin Long, and Sam Rockwell), the third season comes out towards the end of 2018, and I'm rather looking forward to it already.

Crash - David Cronenberg's 1996 film adaptation of J.G. Ballards controversial 1973 novel. I remember when this was originally released, because the movie caused a hell of a stink in the tabloids who decried it as all kinds of sick and in-need of banning. I saw it once, many years ago (likely at the tail of the 1990s on Channel 4), and having just read the book I tracked down a copy of the film on DVD - a 19 year old DVD (!!!). It seems the film has kind of disappeared into the ether, never appearing on television while the aforementioned DVD is long out-of-print. The film is quite respectful to the book, with most of the changes or omissions coming down to changing times (e.g. the Elizabeth Taylor subplot is removed, but exchanged for a sequence that morphs the Road Research Laboratory aspect from the book with a new-but-related part concerning the vehicular death of James Dean).

Naturally, the film has to have a full arc so it's interesting to see the film go a little bit further than the book, in a way, although the two climactic car crashes do feel a bit limp in their execution. It's interesting to look back on the film now while still considering the controversy it once caused, because the book is far more graphic with all it's descriptions of human secretions and injured body parts, and as a result Vaughn, the 'nightmare angel of the expressway', even feels a little smoothed off around the edges compared to his counterpart in the novel.

Doom Asylum - a direct-to-video movie from the 1980s, which was filmed on a meagre five-figure budget over the course of 8-12 days, and written by someone who bashed out the best part of a dozen scripts that very year. This, and more, does not a quality film make. The flaws are numerous, from the 79-minute running time padded by frequent and interminable interludes in which the killer watches movies from the 1930s, to a succession of jokes which tend to land with the grace of a belly flop. The scrappy narrative sees a champagne-swilling lawyer getting into a car wreck that kills his bimbo girlfriend, before being mistaken for dead on a morgue table and mutilated.

Fast forward ten years and, apparently, he's been lurking in the bowels of the hospital (now abandoned and condemned). A disparate gang of over-acting teens - including Patty "Frakenhooker" Mullen's dimwitted blonde (and daughter of the bimbo in the opening scene) and Kristen "Sex and the City" Davis' snarky psychotherapist-in-waiting - rock up and get picked off. The end. It looked much better from the trailers (and cover art), and despite some fun along the way (such as the make-up effects and a few glimpses of the better film it could have been), I don't recommend this as a full-price purchase. Wait for a sale on this one, and even then be forewarned that it's decidedly flawed.

The Boneyard (Blu-Ray) - who would have thought a film featuring a giant zombie poodle and Phylis Diller turning into a huge monster would plod so much through its 93 minute running time? The tone at the start of the movie is so sombre and serious that the final act descent into over-the-top monster mayhem comes as a whack out of the blue. The creature effects are good fun, but the film is weighed down by big, brake-pumping slabs of exposition as well as a generally slow pace (line delivery, actors working the space within a scene etc) that it really is a bit of a mess. Characterisation is pretty weak for almost all of the characters, and what plot there is never really goes anywhere with any gusto. Sporadically entertaining, but ultimately it's a disappointing flick.


Misfits "Collection I" - a compilation album from 1986, which was released a few years after the original incarnation of the band broke up.

Rob Zombie & Marilyn Manson "Helter Skelter" - cover version released in advance of their 'Twins of Evil' tour.

Pseudo Echo "His Eyes" - featured in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning.

LCD Soundsystem "Black Screen" - featured in the end credits for episode 1x02 of Sharp Objects.

Chromatics "Kill For Love" - dreamy vibes and high style. The packaging of the album is piss poor, though: a simple cardboard sleeve (like you'd find holding any old freebie CD or DVD taped to a magazine, or posted through your door in the 1990s offering free access to the new fangled thing called the World Wide Web) with no track listing at all. None. An album featuring 17 tracks and there's no track listing. WTF? Excellent music, shame about the crappy packaging.


"Crash" by J.G. Ballard - on the recommendation of a friend I figured this was as good as any place to go for my first Ballard novel experience (despite being familiar with cinematic adaptations like "High Rise" and David Cronenberg's notorious adaptation of this very book). Fascinated with sexual perversion and the fetishising of vehicular collisions in all their violent detail, the book is riddled with queasily microscopic descriptions of various bodily fluids and orifices. Indeed, the book's grim and bluntly honest clash of the human body in all of its frailty with the harsh assembly of components of the protagonist's car still pack a punch nearly 50 years on.

Heat Wave - we're not really cut out for day after day, week after week of searing sunshine and rising temperatures here in the UK, but most summers feature a sharp blast from God's oven and we all end up sweltering in bed at night. Out here in the sticks there's the added issue of the smell as it seems as if the various farms coordinate to spread muck and clean out chicken sheds one-after-the-other, so just when some cool air is finally creeping through the windows as night sets in, a heinous stench comes in. Your choice is to either slowly boil in a steamy bedroom all night (and not steamy in the fun way!), or get a meagre waft of coolth accompanied by a foul and pervasive odour. At least this time around we've mostly had a breeze to help stop the air from getting too claggy, and some intermittent days of cloud cover have given a little bit of room to breathe.

Quantum Break (Xbox One) - a second spin for Remedy's story-driven third person shooter about the very fabric of time fracturing. It's a good thing I'm now on a super fast connection because the most recent update was 40gb which almost entirely just replaced the existing install files ... what on earth was that needed for?! Anyway, this time I chose the alternative options at the junction points and gathered up all the missing collectibles. The choices you make don't tend to alter the gameplay too much, although a few choices do have bigger impacts with entirely different scenes taking place in the accompanying four-part TV show.

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