Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Flavours of the Month: October/November 2021...

Escapades into action adventure, a tonal tightrope act, and a shedload of synth is just some of what's been setting the tone of my October/November 2021...

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


Indiana Jones - I got the yearning to re-watch all four movies and would rank them thusly: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade pretty much tied in first, and then Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Temple of Doom in close contention for 2nd and 3rd. The trouble with Temple of Doom is that it feels like difficult second album syndrome mixed with a curious fascination with trying to gross-out the audience. Sure, the mine cart chase is great, but Willie's constant screeching is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, on the other hand, has a much better story by comparison and more resonance (new era, the return of Marrion Ravenwood, etc), but the look and feel of the film is its main flaw with a dreadful over-reliance on quite obvious CGI (e.g. the truck chase in the jungle). Temple has the look, but misses the vibe; Kingdom has the vibe but misses the look. It's been a while since I saw these flicks, and this was my first time seeing the original three in their correct aspect ratio, but it was surprising just how gory the original film was (skewered bodies, severed fingers, that 'triple header' finale).

The Billion Dollar Code - four-part German drama based on the true story of TerraVision was, seemingly, copied by Google. The core story is involving, although it does tend to labour certain points and it does feel a bit like a copy itself (of The Social Network).

Archer: Season 12 - the show has lost some of its spark since creator/writer Adam Reed stepped back from scripting duties, but even if it occasionally feels a bit long-in-the-tooth, Archer is still enjoyable. The death of Jessica Walter, who voiced Mallory Archer, is dealt with in a touching final moment that brings a lump to the throat. It'd be interesting to know how much of that was always intended and how much was reactionary.

Fast & Furious 9 (Blu-Ray) - screenwriter Chris Morgan has been one of those most responsible for the franchise becoming a giant international blockbuster, writing six of the movies, plus co-writing spin-off Hobbs & Shaw with Drew Pearce. Parts 5 through 8, in particular, consistently ramped-up the spectacle while maintaining a consistent feel. Despite the increasingly convoluted elements (Tokyo Drift's chronological placement, villains becoming allies), with Morgan as the sole credited writer there has been a reliability to the material that has kept it alive and entertaining - a consistent vision that has not been mangled by committee interference. It's a shame then, that the ninth entry in the franchise, was not written by Chris Morgan - and it all comes down to the script in the end of the day, and Daniel Casey and Justin Lin (better known as the talented director behind F&F 3 through 6) simply cannot reproduce Morgan's ability to orchestrate and justify the on-screen chaos. 'F9', while entertaining enough, is undoubtedly the weakest film in the franchise for quite some time and feels like it's running out of steam. Also, just because it makes for a funny joke, jumping the shark and putting two of the characters actually into space (in a car!) is cringe-as-hell. With F10 and F11 both on the cards, they'd do well to get better scripts and reign-in the silliness to focus on solid action and the connective tissue in-between which helps sell the madness. It seems that Chris Morgan will be busy working on the Hobbs & Shaw sequel.

The Movies That Made Us: Season 3 - they're still heavy-handed with recurring gags, and cinephiles will probably be well versed with the making of certain flicks (e.g. dedicated horror hounds won't find much new info from episodes on Halloween or Friday the 13th). However, because the show doesn't have to tread a political line like many official making-of docs found on DVDs and Blu-Rays, some of the darker truths and behind-the-scenes butting of heads can be revealed.

Hunters: Season 1 - the tonal mish-mash of this Nazi hunting yarn, partially inspired by true stories, can be a bit clumsy and this has proved to be the main criticism facing the show. Some films/shows can walk a precarious tightrope act with precision timing and tonal perfection, but Hunters is like watching someone flail about wildly, fall off, then get back up again. I'm a firm believer that serious subject matters can be dealt with inside popular genre frameworks, but there still needs to be a lot of attention paid to precisely what you do show as well as how you show it, and Hunters too often feels like it misses the mark as much as it hits the target. That said, despite some surface level characterisation dotted about, some characters really stand out and have a great impact upon the viewer in the later episodes. Trying to wade through similar waters as Inglourious Basterds and BlackKklansman, Hunters struggles to navigate its own choppy waters, but the journey is worthwhile. It'll be interesting to see if the show finds more confident footing in season two.

Inside Job: Season 1 - Netflix animated series about a group of workers at Cognito, a company which handles a litany of conspiracy theories that are in fact true. The show works best when it's digging deep into its USP (the episode where they visit an isolated town trapped in a chemical mind control experiment leaving them permanently 'in the 1980s' was my personal favourite), but the lure weakens when it focuses too hard on more generic elements like parent/child tensions. A bit patchy, but I'll be checking out season 2.

Locke & Key: Season 2 - the first season took about 7 episodes to finally hook me in, but this second season hit the ground running from the get-go and, for me at least, was superior to the first. Looking forward to season three.

Return To Return To Nuke 'Em High aka Volume 2 - the first volume was originally released in 2013, and this second volume was supposed to follow on soon thereafter, but a whole bundle of post-production and funding problems got in the way for several years. Despite a sloppy script, Vol. 1 shifted along at a brisk pace, but was inherently flawed as it was only half a movie, abandoning the viewer at what must have been the middle of Act II. I had to re-watch Vol. 1 to get back into the story, but even still, Vol. 2 was a disappointing mess. It felt like the brief running time was loaded up with after-thought filler content, while the deliberately cheesy CGI effects work stumbles as often as it soars. The over-reliance on flashbacks to the first movie, recycled footage, and 'Talking Tromaville' inserts places an anchor around the movie's neck and it can never manage to get up-to-speed, limping towards its conclusion. There was fun to be had, no doubt, but the extended wait hasn't helped one bit - even after all this time it's still not a particularly accessible movie (as in, to actually find it to watch it)! There's a really solid single movie in there somewhere, so hopefully a fan edit will come along that'll combine the best parts of both volumes and jettison the junk.

What We Do In The Shadows: Season 3 - the second season started out strong, but then felt like it kinda came apart a little bit (then again I was in a pretty turbulent place when I watched it, so it might've just been me). Season 3, though, felt more consistent throughout with a tighter overall story that left me satisified and wanting more.

Big Mouth: Season 5
- another round of Netflix's raunchy animated puberty-based comedy and it's more of what fans would expect. It's still odd that for all the show's 'progressive credentials' and honesty about tricky issues surrounding sex and sexuality, (not to mention the cringe-inducing 'joke' of naming a character 'Bernie Sanders'), the autistic character remains a one-note dead-eyed machine that spouts nothing but monotone literal interpretations of nearby dialogue and events.

Catching Killers - four-part Netflix true crime documentary series. Focusing on the actual 'catching' part of bringing serial killers to justice, the series does feel a bit like a collection of final episodes from the usual array of true crime murder docs. There's potential here, especially if a case doesn't really warrant a 4-6 episode deep dive, but I'm not sure if they've quite got the format worked out yet.

The Suicide Squad (Blu-Ray) - the original movie took a beating from critics, much like Batman V Superman, but both flicks went on to rake in north of 700-800 million dollars each at the box office. David Ayer's original Suicide Squad movie absolutely had some issues, from clunky exposition to one cliche needle drop after another to an underwhelming villain ... however, it was also good fun and felt like an actual comic book come to life. However, James Gunn's follow-up, which almost entirely ignores the previous film bar a few connections, is a truly great thrill ride filled with as many laughs as action. Upgraded to an R-Rating (still a 15 in the UK - ironically the same UK rating afforded to the far less graphic original movie), the violence and gore not only elicits gallows humour galore, but it also lets the concept off the leash. The original movie felt hampered by trying to not be too violent or disreputable, whereas Gunn's flick manages to make you care about these characters more deeply while also having them better live up to their so-called 'super villain' reputations. Bright, breezy, and sometimes quite surprising, the box office may have been scuppered by the pandemic (and the DCEU's rocky reputation - Wonder Woman 1984 and Joss Whedon's Justice League, anyone?), but this is undoubtedly a creative success. More of this kinda thing, please!

The Violent Professionals (Blu-Ray) - written by Ernesto Gastaldi and directed by Sergio Martino, this 1973 Italian crime flick packs in some aggressive car chases and some surprisingly shocking moments of violence. However, much like the similarly entertaining The Tough Ones, this flick struggles to express a coherent plot, leaving the audience often wondering how and why the protagonist has figured out where to go and what to do in order to facilitate their mission. This was released by 88 Films in a 'deluxe' package at the same time as The Tough Ones, although this time I was able to pick this one up for a much more reasonable price (£16.99 as opposed to £24.99). A re-release in normal packaging at the standard £14.99 price tag is incoming. The extra features help shed a little more light on precisely what's going on in the film as will, no doubt, a second viewing.

The Walking Dead: Season 10 (Blu-Ray) - a re-watch of Angela Kang's second season as showrunner. After the major upswing represented by season 9 (Kang's debut as showrunner), which was particularly surprising considering that that season saw the departure of Rick Grimes, season 10 comes as a bit of a downwards slide by comparison. In the first eight episodes there's not quite enough material to really fill the running time, and there was nowhere near enough to pad out the additional 6 Covid-compliant testing-ground episodes tacked onto the end mid-Pandemic. However, there is still some excellent material in the back-half of the original form of season 10 (episodes 9 through 16), with some all-time great episodes dotted about such as the one-two punch of 10x12 and 10x13 (which saw the departure of major characters, as well as an excellent 'what if' montage and a heartfelt glimmer of hope), and 10x22 (which detailed Negan's early days in the zombie apocalypse with Lucille). It's a shame, though, to see the distinct lack of extra features on the boxset. A handful of commentaries and an 'In Memoriam' montage is all we get after far healthier packages for all the previous seasons.


Travis "The Man Who" (album)

Airbourne "Breakin' Outta Hell" (album)

Halloween Kills OST (album)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch OST (album)

John Carpenter & Alan Howarth "The Shape Stalks Again"

John Carpenter "Chariots of Pumpkins (Andrioux Remix)"

John Carpenter "Assault on Precinct 13 (Code Elektro Remix)"

Green Day "Holy Toledo"

Kenny Loggins "I'm Free (Heaven Helps The Man)"

Quiet Riot "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)"

Scud Lightning "What's Goin' On At Nuke 'Em High"

The Black Angels "Death Song" (album)


New Script - having bashed out a character-based (yet still gore-soaked) slasher film script recently (it's great when the muse strikes with gusto and the ideas just flow like a torrent), I've turned to another idea I recently wrote (a short script called "Video Babes From Beyond") and am putting together a 'portmanteau' horror/comedy script featuring three tales and a wrap-around story (with the above-mentioned short script being one of the tales). In one way or another the stories all involve a primary location as well as a mix of blood-spurting grue and dark humour.

Friday The 13th: The Game (Xbox One) - it's a damn shame this game got scuppered by the (still ongoing!!!) lawsuit between Victor Miller (the original film's screenwriter) and Sean Cunningham (Producer, Horror Inc.), because there was so much more scope for this game in terms of maps and even gameplay tweaks. It's such a grind to level up in this game (and I'm only playing it in offline mode) so I've only just reached level 31 (which unlocks the Part 9 version of Jason). It's nice to dip back into it for a while, but the repetition soon rears its head. I'd love a Hitman-esque single player game where you play as Jason, a sandbox slasher movie game where you get to stage your own Friday the 13th movies. There was a glimpse of that, sort of, in the fairly rough 'Challenges' mode for single player.

FarCry: New Dawn (Xbox One) - I'm not keen on the 'too videogamey' system of having to rank up to better deal with stronger enemies, the first time such a thing has been employed in the franchise, and not being able to fully customise your weapons is annoying, but improved streamlining of in-game mechanics elsewhere is most welcome. It's been a while since I played FarCry 5, so returning to the same map (17 years on from the nuclear ending) feels fresher than if I'd dived in straight away. The twin villains are fairly anonymous and are really only there to justify the action (you need bad guys to fight, missions to complete, and outposts to liberate). Ironically, the lingering presence of the previous game's villain Joseph Seed carries far more weight. Overall it's more of the same, in what previously would have been called an 'add-on pack', but the solid formula remains successful even with the new and awkward inclusion of that 'ranked enemies' system.

"Cinema Sewer: Volume 7" by Robin Bougie - this marks seven volumes of sleazy fringe cinema mania crammed into the past twelve months for me, with Bougie's intelligence and wit drizzled on top like a knee-trembling gravy. The perpetually offended, as always, need not apply as it most definitely wouldn't be their cup of self-satisfied, scorched-Earth tea.

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