Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Flavours of the Month: December 2019...

A trip in time to sixty-nine, the deadliest of confessions, and touring the weirder side of life are just some of what's been setting the tone of my December 2019...

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

LOOKS:

The Movies That Made Us: Season 1 - from the folks that produced The Toys That Made Us comes this four-part look at some classic films. Covered in this selection are: Dirty Dancing, Home Alone, Ghostbusters, and Die Hard. While I wasn't personally interested in the first one, the others are all keen favourites of mine and, even as a clued-up movie fan, there was still plenty of information that I didn't previously know about the actual making of these flicks. The only real downside of the show itself is the aggressive editing style, with that 'keep repeating something an interviewee said in a quippy fashion' proving to be particularly grating.

South Park: Season 23
- the trend in recent seasons to tell an evolving story over multiple episodes has been a double-edged sword. It has offered the chance to explore certain topics and characters in greater depth, rather than trying to cram everything into 22 minutes, but on the other hand when a wider story isn't quite as compelling as hoped then it makes for a slightly underwhelming result. This season initially focused on Randy Marsh and his 'Tegridy Weed' farm, but the negative aspects of Randy's character (similar to Eric Cartman) were allowed to 'take over' to the point of becoming annoying rather than entertaining. However, when the show moved onto other hot button topics and familiar faces from its supporting cast of characters, the season found a better balance between 'continuing story elements' and 'single weekly stories'.

The Confession Killer
- a five-part true crime documentary from Netflix about the notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who infamously confessed to hundreds upon hundreds of homicides all over the United States only to be exposed as a pathological liar. He was undoubtedly a murderer, and does fit the classification of "serial killer", but it is evident that numerous law enforcement agencies were quite happy to take a confession with no physical evidence in order to get an unsolved case off their books. The fascinating tale unfolds from the point at which Lucas was brought into custody, so anything that comes before (including his time with fellow murderer Ottis Toole) is vague at best. Indeed, with a spiralling conspiracy of incompetence, silence, or nefarious political expediency (or all three and then some), the intertwining stories encircling Henry Lee Lucas can at times swoop in and drop a bombshell only for it to be swept aside quickly, leaving the viewer wondering 'what happened next with that?' on several occasions. There's only so much truth that can be learnt from the wreckage left in the wake of a long-dead serial liar and the failings of law enforcement who are seeking to protect themselves, so naturally a sense of closure is elusive, but nonetheless this is a bizarre and gripping true crime story.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (Blu-Ray) - Quentin Tarantino's 9th film is, most accurately, a love letter to Hollywood at a time when the old system was fading out and 'The New Hollywood' that would define 1970s cinema was breaking down the door. It is a film driven by story, but not plot. The difference? Story is everything that surrounds your characters and the events that take place while including all of the things that have happened to each character leading up to that point throughout their entire lives. Plot, on the other hand, is what takes place on-screen between the time the movie starts and the movie ends, and in the case of QT's latest there's isn't a huge amount of plot. The majority of the movie takes place over a couple of days and reflects upon the lives of its main players - a western TV star whose career is on the wane, his lowly stunt double/dogsbody, and their next door neighbour who just so happens to be rising movie icon Sharon Tate.

As such, the film unfolds at a leisurely and meandering pace - it could be argued that this is, essentially, a 'hang out movie' where we follow a collection of characters for a little while and then part ways when the credits roll. The attention to detail of the era, specifically of the film industry and the look of Hollywood at the time (costumes, cars, music, production design), is all quite impressive and shines with QT's adoration of the period. However, a love letter can only go so far, and the general lack of a propulsive plot does leave the viewer yearning for a bit more meat on their plate. Although, it could be said that the entire point of this film is to immerse the viewer in an ambiance rather than tell a clearly defined tale with traditional plot points glimpsed along the way. Further to that, being that Tarantino is a Los Angeles native who experienced his early formative years during the 1960s and 1970s, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood proves to be the filmmaker's most personal outing, even his most emotional one - the 'bromance' (excuse the insertion of 21st parlance into the context) between Leondaro DiCaprio's Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth oozes cool charm and classical manhood, while Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate is an exuberant and loving ball of fresh-on-the-scene energy.

Despite the meandering pace, the film isn't without tension, as illustrated by a visit to Spahn's Movie Ranch when stuntman Cliff ventures alone into the cloister of Charlie Manson's eerily off-kilter followers. QT is also known for his explosive moments of violence and, while the bulk of the film is a touch light on that front when compared to bloodier works like Kill Bill or Django Unchained, a history tweaking climax bursts forth with sheer, unbridled, blunt force brutality. There's much about the film that is mightily impressive, from the bulging cast of multiple generations of Hollywood royalty to the loving recreation of Los Angeles in 1969 as well as numerous entertaining digressions scattered along the way, although at the same time Once Upon A Time In Hollywood lacks a certain sense of direction that can prove intermittently frustrating. It exhibits QT's greatest strengths as well as his fondness of luxuriating in his scenes, but there is no doubting how the film sticks in the mind and invites further viewings to pick through the layers and appreciate, if not the sparse plot, then the expansive story - indeed, I've already re-watched it.

Dark Tourist - a Netflix documentary series in which a journalist from New Zealand goes around the world visiting alternative tourism hot spots, those which are associated with the darker side of humanity. From abandoned cities to sights of assassination, collections of disturbing memorabilia to extreme survival experiences, this is a bizarre journey into a very different kind of sight seeing.

Friday The 13th: Parts 1-8 (Blu-Ray) - a collection of the first eight movies (which were distributed by Paramount before the franchise rights beyond that point was sold to New Line Cinema). While the A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise was always quite inventive with its 'killer dreams' angle, it nonetheless fell into total parody and farce in the later sequels with Freddy losing all of his threat. Halloween, meanwhile, went totally off-the-rails for the most part, with the majority of the sequels being duds; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is all over the shop to an even greater degree. Friday the 13th, on the other hand, might not mix up the formula too much but is a far more consistent and dependable franchise, with each entry having its own vibe and aspects to recommend them.

Kevin Hart: Don't F**k This Up - Netflix documentary series following the comedian, giving an up close and personal look into his life and some of the controversies and scandals that swirled about him in recent years. At times the series can skew into self-aggrandisement, but more often than not there is a display of honesty and humility that is rare to be seen in the world of rich and famous celebrities. In the final episode they come around to the controversy that surrounded old Tweets and saw Hart ejected from Oscars hosting duty. It's unusual to get to see such a scandal 'from the inside', to see how it reverberated through his production company, his staff, his friends, his family, the man himself, and how the fervent clamour to extract a pound of flesh impeded an actual open and honest conversation with true understanding from all sides for several months.

There's a lesson to be learnt from how the predictable explosion of social media fury and the voraciousness of the 24/7 news cycle blocked the opportunity for anyone at all to be heard properly or be able to express themselves and, in-turn, be listened to. Months of turmoil that affected a great number of people and all because we as a society seem utterly incapable of dealing with the reality of imperfection, of making mistakes, of seeking self-improvement and change. It's no wonder that fervour begets fervour, so easily is it spread in today's aggressive socio-political climate. How about some moderate conversation instead? Fat chance, but one can hope.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (Blu-Ray) - Peter Parker on a school trip to Europe, what could possibly go wrong? While just a tiny fraction 'less good' than Homecoming, Far From Home is still hugely entertaining with it's action spectacle and tip-top cast. There's the odd line of dialogue here or there that feels a bit 'crowbarred in', and MJ's characterisation could use just a slight tweak to tone down the 'right-on edginess', which tends to feel more awkward than endearing, but other than that it's damn solid, bolstered as it is by a story that takes inspiration from the era of 'fake news' without ever brandishing it to make some eye-rolling pious point of order. Mixing down-to-earth High School neuroses with a call to power in the wake of Avengers Endgame's devastating fallout (the way the after effects linger subtly in the background adds considerable emotional weight), Far From Home leaves the viewer wanting more, so bring on a sequel!


SOUNDS:

Megadeth "Angry Again"

Tesla "Last Action Hero"

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross "Life On Mars"

Mick Gordon & Martin Stig Andersen "Wolfenstein II Main Theme"

The Black Angels "Death Song"

Travis "The Man Who"

Lindsey Buckingham "Holiday Road"

Mavis Staples "Christmas Vacation"

Riz Ortolani "Il Corpo di Linda"



VIBES & FLAVOURS:

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Xbox One) - after reducing the horizontal aim sensitivity significantly, the feel of the gunplay improved (although why the default setting was so poorly calibrated in the first place is anyone's guess), although the mixed bag nature of the weapons still persisted. Some feel 'weak' with less-than impressive sounds, while others (such as the fully upgraded shotgun, or the big brute chaingun) do pack the expected punch. The game got off to an iffy start (an irradiated New York City was just fifty shades of sludgy brown rubble), but then after that the game started to shake itself up - first with a trip to New Mexico, then a series of levels in New Orleans (including the highlight of riding a flame-spewing Panzerhund to devastating effect!), and then even a trip to Venus.

There is one glaring graphical bug in the game, however, and it occurs at random - getting blinded by a bright flash of white light. Once it goes away it can repeat multiple times as, so it appears, the 'empty white volume' of space beyond the geometry of the actual level 'leaks' through. It's a bizarre glitch and one that has occurred so many times that it's amazing it was never fixed. All said and done, despite a couple of frustrating flaws, I quite enjoyed Wolfenstein II and increasingly warmed up to it the more I played, boosted in-part by the characters and the nice balance of quiet moments at home aboard the submarine HQ versus the big shooty stuff. I was considering a go at the next game (Youngblood), but having read some downright scathing reviews and a lot of mediocre ones to boot, I think I'll steer well clear.

Xmas - well, doi. Part of the usual festivities is, naturally, some Christmas movies (no matter how tenuously linked they may be). Some festive flicks viewed this year have been National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (an annual tradition), The Muppets' Christmas Carol, Black Christmas (1974, of course), Inside No.9 "The Devil of Christmas", Gremlins, Home Alone, the Tell 'Em Steve-Dave Xmas specials, the Married With Children Christmas episodes, and Die Hard.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (Xbox One) - immediately upon diving into the action, the feel of the gameplay is better than that of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. The gunplay, the sound of the weapons, their impact, the level design, it all feels much more solid. This is essentially what would have been called an 'add on pack' back in the day, a short campaign set during 1946 with B.J. blasting his way through a village and castle prison set atop a snow-capped mountain. The gameplay is clear and crisp for the most part, making you wonder why Wolfenstein II ended up feeling so loose by comparison.

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