Complicated comics, all-out action in middle America, and an elf named Elfo are just a few examples of what's been setting the tone of my August 2018...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Preacher: Season 3 - AMC's decision to inflate the second season order to thirteen episodes proved to be wrong-headed. In this day and age of so much choice, less is more, so a return to ten episodes for the third season was welcome news and the benefits show. The sheer volume of stalling that went on in season two is (mostly) nowhere to be seen, but the structure of this season's story does have downsides. The first half feels too confined to Angelville and Jesse Custer's twisted family, but mid-way through the scope opens up greatly and the full cast of characters (plus a few new entrants) inject so much warped entertainment and vigour. Roll on season four.
Better Call Saul: Season 4 - Gilligan & Gould's Breaking Bad spin-off has earned its rightful place beside that era-defining classic of television drama, and continues to mix stellar storytelling with considered filmmaking. Serious drama flirts with quiet absurdity for an expert tonal mix that keeps you hooked.
I'm Dying Up Here: Season 2 - the first season was a bit hit & miss to begin with, but once they started digging into the depths of the various characters the show came alive. With season two they've maybe overdone the drama a smidge, as there is a considerable focus on the characters' various dark back stories and struggles with early success. Now, this does offer up some juicy storytelling which keeps you invested in these people, but the humour could do with being pumped up a notch or two (these characters are comedians, after all), but just a slight adjustment is all that's needed. It's just that, on occasion, the show feels as if it's putting 2018 level ideas in the mouths of characters living in the 1970s. Sure, you have to find relevance to today's world, but it's a tightrope act to find the precise balance of then versus now. The second season certainly isn't lacking in story to tell, but a little more 1970s Los Angeles fun & freedom wouldn't go amiss. Good to see that the dreadfully dreary opening credits sequence of the first season has been dispatched, too. Bring on a third season!
Fear The Walking Dead: Season 4b - I've said it before and I'll say it again. Sixteen episodes is simply too many not only for Fear The Walking Dead, but the main show as well now. Twelve would be more than enough. Case-in-point: episode 4x10, which simply cannot sustain a two-hander. The filler-fuelled exploration of yet another creepy post-apocalypse zombie house (which we've seen plenty of in the TWD universe) speaks volumes about how much this episode was stretching out minimal content. At least 4x11 offered new mysteries (the 'take what you need' truck) and a weighty-enough character (Morgan) to lead proceedings. FearTWD has always struggled to find a true reason for being beyond 'TWD in dusty landscapes', but this fourth season has injected some much-needed lifeblood into the spin-off, but AMC's stubborn insistence on sixteen episode seasons for its zombie shows is strangling the writers, forcing them to consume zombie apocalypse story content at twice the speed. Season 4b has, so far, been patchy.
Disenchantment: Season 1 - Matt Groening's new show on Netflix. Set in an era of castles and magic, the ten-episode structure with a continuing story moves the makers of The Simpson's and Futurama into somewhat unfamiliar territory and, naturally, it takes them a while to adjust. Things get off to a shaky start, but mid-way through the season the show begins to find its stride and settle into its characters while finding a good balance between season-wide storytelling and smaller tales for individual episodes that form a piece of the whole. It still lacks the sheer comedic chops or invention of Groening's other shows, but by the end of Disenchantment's first season you find yourself hoping for a second.
Sharp Objects - HBO's superb eight-part mini-series adaptation of Gillian Flynn's dark southern drama about a self-harming journalist who returns to her rural home to cover the story of two murdered teens. Gripping from the get-go with an involving sense of style, the secrets and lies of these characters prove to be utterly arresting. Highly recommended viewing.
Chromatics "Black Walls", "Blue Girl"
Misfits "American Psycho", "Famous Monsters", "Project 1950", "Cuts From The Crypt"
Alice Cooper et al "Hollywood Vampires"
Led Zeppelin "In The Evening" - the final moments of HBO's "Sharp Objects" utilises the kick-off to this track to brilliant 'gotcha' effect.
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Holiday - a few days away in the South-East during this surprisingly long heat wave we've been experiencing in the UK. A trip to London involved a visit to the London Film Museum to see the rather groovy Bond In Motion exhibit (featuring a whole host of screen-used vehicles from the James Bond franchise), while a day in Hastings proved to be the perfect seaside day out (ice cream, an aquarium, a castle, a stroll along a pier etc).
"Deadpool: Too Soon?" by Joshua Corin & Todd Nauck - someone's targeting the funniest characters in the Marvel Universe from Squirrel Girl to Howard The Duck, and now the 'shoot first ask questions later' Merc With The Mouth is donning his detective hat to figure out who's lopping off heads and why. This four-part one-off, with Chynna Clugston Flores' "Gwenpool Holiday Special: Merry Mix-Up" tagged on as a bonus, is a breezy and fun romp that had me laughing out loud on a few occasions.
"The Little Book of Westerns" by Sophie Samuel - one of those little primer books, this one covering a range of Westerns, that I received as a gift. It's a breezy little book, although numerous instances of the author complaining that movies from the past don't hold up to the standards of the present (shock horror!) do tend to grate. It's unclear whether the instances of '21st Century preaching' are the author being a bit of a bore (the past isn't the present, deal with it), or a nervous byproduct of today's climate of weaponised identity politics (as if trying to forewarn hyper-sensitive potential viewers that films made in the 1950s exhibit different socio-political characteristics, lest the author experience some kind of misdirected Twitter backlash from a pissed off Offendotron). That irritating little aspect aside, it's a good little primer for someone with an interest in the genre and can appeal to newbies and more experienced cinephiles alike. Be warned, though, there are spoilers galore as the plot of each movie is laid out in detail.
"Deadpool: Volume 8 - All Good Things" by Posehn & Duggan
FarCry 5 (Xbox One) - Ubisoft's open world FPS adventure franchise gets transplanted to middle America as the player takes on an religious cult. Mercifully, certain worn out aspects of the franchise have been ditched - such as radio towers and incessantly hunting for a slightly bigger ammo bag - but the odd nuisance remains: the over-use of the "X" button, for example (reload, interact, swap-out weapons, and loot), which still leads to many frustrating moments when you swap your customised weapon for a stock pistol when you were trying to search a body (why not hold down "Y" to swap-out weapons?). The buddy system whereby NPC helpers can tag along is an interesting and sometimes quite useful addition, but Grace's loud-ass sniper rifle ruins any stealthy attempts to take down outposts, while Boomer tends to run into action and get killed an awful lot. And all of them talk way too damn much, so you'll find yourself hearing the same bits of dialogue repeated as many as five times in a single play session! Otherwise the game mechanics and open world exploration are all solid with a few tweaks to improve the well-worn formula, although driving with the left stick could use some finessing. However, there's few better places to go if you want to zipline your way into enemy territory while firing a grenade launcher, before unleashing a trained cougar while slinging dynamite and armour-piercing lead at panicking enemies.