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Upload: Season 2 - a welcome return, albeit with fewer episodes (likely due to Covid-related production pressures), of Greg Daniels' comedy drama set in the near future where a digital afterlife exists. Season 2 somewhat struggles to really grapple with the newest developments in its ongoing story, leaving some threads dangling too often, but the show does a good job with making sure its characters are pretty well rounded and not just a bunch of one dimensional cliches.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (Blu-Ray) - the CGI can get a bit overwhelming at times, leaving you wondering if there's anything at all that's 'real' within the frame, but the 'multiverse' storyline is rewarding both emotionally and in fandom terms. With little to really grab the attention during Marvel's 'Phase 4' of the MCU, No Way Home comes as an entertaining counter to the cynical 'content factory' nature of Marvel's recent output.
Wellington Paranormal: Season 4 - the final season, unfortunately, for this New Zealand-made docu-comedy from Jemaine Clement and Paul Yates. The third and fourth episodes fell a bit flat for me, but the remainder were all good. Perhaps there were some budget constraints, or diminishing ideas for stories, but the second and third seasons were the high point for the show.
Critters: A New Binge - released on Shudder in a series of bite-sized episodes, this was one of two competing Critters projects (the other being the underwhelming Critters Attack!), and while this one certainly has more Krite-related action and humour going on, it also ultimately stumbles due to ideas that don't really work and a meagre budget. Is it really so hard to make a good go of resurrecting the Critters franchise? I wouldn't half mind a stab at it myself.
Squid Game: Season 1 - when it was originally released on Netflix I was more interested in the latest haunted drama from Mike Flanagan (Midnight Mass), and a couple of other shows I had on-the-go at the time. Then I was actually put off watching it because of the sheer amount of attention it was getting, the vast amount of zeitgeisty references that were being crowbarred into every damn thing. However, several months after the fever has died down, I finally got around to it and quite enjoyed Hwang Dong-hyuk's show. Some parts even struck me surprisingly hard. It could quite easily stand on its own, but a second season would be welcome as long as it doesn't cock the whole thing up (i.e. not getting shoved up its own arse, needlessly elongating the series under the false pretense that episode length equals prestige etc). Stick to the core of what made it work, expand where necessary to develop the story and world like, by way of random example, The Raid 2.
Fear The Walking Dead: Season 7B - I've rarely seen a show be as inconsistent as this one, which perpetually seems to stumble through its seasons, never assured of its footing. Oddly, I've seen too many seasons now to just pack it in as it'll seem like a waste, but had I known in advance just how woeful this show can be at times I don't think I would have bothered (indeed, I packed in TWD's other spin-off show "World Beyond" after two dreadful episodes). There's ideas and characters and moments of gruesome inventiveness that do enough to keep you hanging around, but when it's bad it's awful. Too often the story feels like it's either spinning its wheels or is meandering in search of purpose, while the characterisation can be extremely inconsistent. Indeed, the large ensemble cast is often wasted, ignored for multiple episodes at a time while new faces get introduced at great length only to be dispatched by the end of their introductory episode, wasting everyone's time. Extraordinarily inconsistent.
Cobra Kai: Seasons 1, 2, 3, & 4 - coming to the show late, but I'd only ever heard good things about it. The second season got a little too deep into the 'teen romance drama' stuff, but other than that it's been a really enjoyable series and I'm looking forward to the forthcoming season five. One of the stand-out aspects of this show is its philosophy, that of second chances, the possibility for redemption, and finding a middle path towards self-betterment. That's certainly something that's sorely lacking in the world today and, unfortunately, many mainstream television shows and films, which seem to be hellbent on forceful messaging, passing-the-buck, belittlement, and cheap political point scoring over satisfyingly complex characterisation and storytelling.
Indeed, one of the most gripping aspects of Cobra Kai is its ability to continually keep the characters and storylines on shifting sands. Allegiances move, friends can become enemies (and vice versa), and all without feeling trite or silly. The sense of humour, the needle-drop soundtrack, the reunion of old favourites combined with new characters you actually enjoy spending time with and so much more, make this a real cracker of a show. Josh Heald, Jon Jurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and their team have really hit the nail square on the head with this one - excellent.
Jackass Forever (Blu-Ray) - there's no getting around it, there are two giant-sized holes in this: Ryan Dunn (who was killed in a car wreck more than a decade ago) and Bam Margera (who has sadly fallen into a series of personal problems in recent years, but is making strides to tackle his demons). Indeed, Margera's absence could possibly explain the general lack of creative ingenuity present in some of the stunt scenarios on-screen, not to mention some Covid-related restrictions as the pandemic hit early during production. The new cast members are a mixed bag, and almost all suffer from the same issue - we don't know who they are really, and they naturally struggle to comfortably fit into the original cast members' decades-long group dynamic and slick sense of banter. Some of the new folk either appear so little that you wonder why they're in it at all, or feel a little too star-struck.
There's some good moments with them scattered about, but the gap in the two groups' banter and generations is always present. Similarly, while there's a variety of entertaining skits (e.g. the triple wedgie, the dickosaurus, 'cup' testing), the movie rarely feels like it can muster the creative heights and balls-out guffaws in the series' high-point of Jackass 3D. Having heard so many good reviews, it is possible that my expectations were unfairly heightened. We'll see what a re-watch some time in the future will bring. Not without a decent collection of yucks, but there's no escaping the stumbles.
Meltdown: Three Mile Island - three-part Netflix documentary about the titular nuclear power plant accident. Revealing and compelling.
The Pentaverate: Season 1 - some of the jokes world wonderfully well (e.g. the Jeremy Irons introductions, the conspiracy loon, the 'Netflix editing') while others land a bit awkwardly. The central conceit of a secret society that is nice, combined with a lovely old/new mish-mash style, works well. The first half probably works better than the second half, which is not helped by a rather inconsistent and occasionally dreadfully clumsy final episode. A mixed bag all said and done, but when it's working well, Mike Myers' conspiracy-clouded comedy is well worth watching.
The Big Racket (Blu-Ray) - directed by Enzo G. Castellari with Fabio Testi in the lead role, this 1976 Italian crime film moves at a slick pace, telling the story of a policeman (Testi) trying to snuff out a vicious gang running an ever-expanding protection racket. Riddled with bullets and uncompromising violence, there's plenty of gritty style and teeth-gnashing bravado to go along with the poliziotteschi's fascination with tough cops fighting a corrupt system that continually ham-strings their every attempt to restore justice to a troubled world. At the time of its release sniffy critics dismissed it as 'fascist' and 'reactionary' twaddle, but such bitter misrepresentations of genre pictures has been common the world over since the advent of cinema.
Love, Death, + Robots: Volume 3 - as with previous volumes, it's a case of 'each to their own' across the nine new shorts. Personally, the follow-up to "Three Robots" (despite being a little heavy handed in its commentary), but especially "Night of the Mini Dead" and "Mason's Rats" were my favourites. Some critics have turned their nose up at the increased use of gore compared to volume two, seemingly forgetting that the first volume boasted its fair share of violence and nudity, but volume three shows an overall better mix of genre styles as well as 'high and low elements'. Shorts such as "Kill Team Kill", which is like a blood-soaked adult version of a G.I. Joe cartoon, won't appeal to the aforementioned fart-sniffers amongst the commentariat, but not every short needs to 'have a point' and the series can cater for multiple tastes, said tastes even existing within a single viewer. Imagine that!
Stranger Things: Season 4 - the welcome and long-awaited return of the hit Netflix series. The decision to move towards longer episodes (most of them clock in at 75 minutes) comes with mixed results, sometimes offering a little extra space to explore certain paths while unnecessarily adding extra steps to other subplots. Another season of just keeping the action confined to Hawkins wouldn't have worked, but expanding the story beyond the small town's borders has its own inherent flaws: the biggest being that your cast gets split up and the same befalls your varoius plot threads. Some stories benefit from having the added room to breathe, while others (particularly the Nina Project subplot) feel drawn out. There's certainly humour and fun to be had, but Season 4 lacks the brisk feeling of Season 3, which was better able to balance levity with darkness (the closing section of that season packed a real punch). Perhaps, after such a long wait, expectations play a part, but certainly the show's shift in structure has had an impact as well. A welcome return, most certainly, with some particularly memorable moments, but hopefully the show will once again draw everyone back together again soon.
The Karate Kid & The Karate Kid Part II (Blu-Ray)
Foo Fighters "There Is Nothing Left To Lose", "One By One", and "In Your Honour" (albums)
Carpenter Brut "Leather Terror" (album)
Rammstein "Zeit", "Mutter", "Reise Reise" (albums)
Rage Against The Machine "The Battle of Los Angeles", "Renegades" (albums)
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Sleaze Fiend Magazine: Issue 5
"The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead" by Tony Williams - this 2003 study is part of the "Director's Cut" series. It's an academic text, so it's no surprise that it can be a bit dry and regularly gets a bit too high falutin' in its analysis of Romero's work, with certain themes/readings pushed too far at times. Furthermore, the author repeatedly boasts the connections of 19th Century author Zola, only to at the end of the book admit that Romero had never even read Zola's work! I bought this book back in 2005 and only partly read it, but now between books I got a bug up my butt about giving it another looksee. A great deal of the text recounts large swathes of the films' plots in a formulaic manner, so I've been skipping a fair bit of that as I'm quite familiar with Romero's work. This book only briefly covers Bruiser and was written before Land/Diary/Survival of the Dead.
"George A. Romero: The Pocket Essential" by Tom Fallows and Curtis Owen - published in 2008, this accessible overview of the filmmaker's career includes all but one of his films (2009's Survival of the Dead). Each film is covered in digestible chunks covering various aspects of the films in a structure that continues throughout the book with each film. Brisk and breezy, albeit better suited to film fans just beginning to get into Romero's ouvre.
"Dawn of the Dead" by George A. Romero & Susanna Sparrow - being so familiar with the film, it's interesting to find some of the subtle differences in the novelisation (possibly adapted from an earlier draft of the screenplay). Further shading to some of the characters' backgrounds adds further depth to the experience, even though the book does feel a little bit rushed towards the end.
"Escape From New York: The Official Story of the Film" by John Walsh - a glossy hardcover book about the making of the movie, adorned with glorious photographs, some of which will be familiar to anyone who's read Kim Gottlieb-Walker's book "On Set With John Carpenter". It's not a particularly deep read and could have easily gone further to explore the making of the actual film, offering the reader a bit more bang for their buck, but it's enjoyable enough still.