Friday, 31 January 2014

Flavours of the Month: January 2014...


Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee Season 3 - Jerry Seinfeld's web show that does what it says on the tin in a pleasant, humorous, and laid back manner. A couple of the new episodes have been a bit 'meh', but if you don't know of/take to the comedian one week then that's inevitable, but most others have been great.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended Edition Blu-Ray) - 5 discs, 3 hours of movie, 9 hours of extra features, blimey! It took a couple of weeks to crack through it all, but it's a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes information (which also helps better define the thirteen dwarves). The Lord of the Rings was better, but you can't help but allow yourself to be consumed by the world of Middle Earth.

Shameless Screen Entertainment Sexploitation 'Triple Sinema Bill' Boxset - a triple dose of Euro-sauce in the forms of Love Goddess of the Cannibals, Satan's Baby Doll, and The Beast In Space; click the titles for full DVD reviews of each.

Click "READ MORE" below for more looks, sounds, vibes & flavours of my January 2014...

Lost Season 2 - I resumed my staggered re-visit to the mysterious island (after re-watching season one a few months back). I was always a big fan of the show, but there was absolutely no need for the first three seasons to be 25, 24, and 23 episodes respectively. There might be a large cast of characters, but the second season didn't need 24 episodes to tell this story - when you've got a side-plot in an episode where Hurley and Sawyer are tracking down a noisy frog, you know there's stuff that could have been cut at script stage. Re-watching Lost in it's early seasons has confirmed my belief that 12 or 13 episodes is the ideal length of a season (or 16 in the case of The Walking Dead with it's split-season format of two doses of eight episodes). It's addictive fun to go back and pick up on things I remember, and things I missed, and stitch everything together, but the first three seasons just didn't need to be as long as they were.

King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries (DVD) - going through that bumper 5-disc Blu-Ray for The Hobbit reminded me of this DVD. I was after it years ago, yet never got it - but I was able to snap it up dirt cheap online and got another helping of fascinating behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Air Force One - it's been years since I last watched this Harrison Ford flick on VHS, so it was nice to see it in the correct aspect ratio, for one, but it was cool to rediscover it as a very effective action thriller that routinely gets your fingernails digging into the sofa cushions. Somewhat curious to view it in this post-9/11 world, but even still it decidedly holds up.

End of Days - remember when Y2K fear was all the rage in 1999? That central plot element dates this Schwarzenegger action fest mixed with a generous dollop of good versus evil atmosphere, as does the relatively early CGI sequences. However, it's still a pretty solid flick - Arnie stretches himself into more emotional territory, Gabriel Byrne gives good 'embodiment of alluring evil', and Kevin Pollak delivers plenty of dead-pan humour to balance the tone. Tackling various crises of faith in a Schwarzenegger action vehicle? Looking back on it, the movie seems fairly bold for a Hollywood flick starring an action icon, and what's not to enjoy about Arnie blowing up Satan with a grenade launcher? The dark and brooding style is clearly indebted to David Fincher's Se7en, and speaks to a darker seam of thrillers that were dotted throughout the 1990s. Even in 2014, this made for an interesting revisit, particularly as the last time I saw it was on rental VHS from a video store ... remember those?

RoboCop (Blu-Ray) - the newly remastered Director's Cut of the 1987 action classic. Still holds up today, and with the added and alternative scenes of blood-splattered violence, the sheer brutality of the film is ramped up even further, and speaks even more directly to Verhoeven's darkly comic intentions. A full-on, hard-as-nails, wrecking ball of iconic cinema. It had been years since I last saw it, so making the upgrade from VHS to Blu-Ray was a nice jump. Solid and informative extra features (albeit mostly ported from prior DVD releases) and a clean, crisp picture. I remember when I first saw the movie on ITV in a form that was edited for television during the 1990s - all the swearing was hacked out ("FUN ME! FUN ME! FUN ME!") and significant portions of the violence was excised (the entire toxic melting man sequence was nowhere to be seen) ... so when I saw the 'uncut' version (MPAA rated R) my mind was decidedly blown. This fully uncut Director's Cut goes further still!


The Black Angels "Passover"

Death in Vegas

Deron Miller "Disengage the Simulator (Acoustified)"

CKY "Volume One", "Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild", "An Answer Can Be Found"

Marcello Giombini "The Beast In Space"

The Damned "Nasty"

Bruno Nicolai "All The Colours Of The Dark"

The Handsome Family "Far From Any Road"

Nico Catanese "La Bimba Di Satana"


Projects - with the Christmas season out of the way, and with the inevitable doom and gloom vibe you get in January, it's a good time to dive into a creative project. Editing resumed on "The Racket", which is advancing at a swift pace, and I've just started on a new writing project ... more on which in time.

Chuck Palahniuk "Doomed" - having now completed the book, I'd say that "Damned" (the first part of this wider story) was better and more efficient in its story telling. At times, Madison Spencer's verbal gymnastics get too flowery and stall progression - a few times I saw where the story was heading before Palahniuk's prose reached that same conclusion, so surprises were diminished in their power. Likewise, there's a portion of the book that tells of the main character's summer she spent out in the sticks with her grandparents. Not an awful lot happens in this segment of the book, although what does happen has significant plot and story implications. The problem with that portion of the book however, is that it takes too long to tell us about these events - you find yourself waiting, in the reading equivalent of twiddling your thumbs. It's beautifully written, but I don't see why the extra 80-ish pages of content (over "Damned") was really necessary to tell this story, particularly as a third part is suggested come the final chapter. That said, I always enjoy reading Palahniuk's work, and "Doomed" is no different by any means - but a more sprightly pace wouldn't have gone amiss.

BioShock Infinite - I got to this one late, and while it gets off to a slightly sluggish start, it's a wonderful piece of videogame craftsmanship. Compared to BioShock, the story, plot, and characterisation are better, and the gameplay is just as much fun (the inclusion of 'skylines' open up the battlefields). Graphically the game does falter in some instances - certain textures on smaller details look horribly plain, and the lack of range in the NPCs just feels creepy as soon as you linger to look at them. Furthermore, being limited to just two weapons discourages experimentation - I generally stuck to the shotgun or handgun combined with the machine gun or carbine rifle. Some of the other weapons were just rubbish, or inferior to the above, so why bother using them?

On the plus side of combat, the vigours were nicely crafted and you could combine their effects (somewhat, anyway). That said, you find ones you like best, and some of the weaker/less effective/tricky vigours are left mostly unused. Wider visuals - particularly the grand vistas of the floating city of Columbia - are astounding. The voice acting is impressive too - particularly for the two central characters of Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth, the latter of whom proves to be an effective ally in combat who can look after herself. Her abilty to open 'tears' to aid your combat - and further the narrative mysteries - is a nifty mechanic, even if it's not always as useful as it initially seems.

The intelligence of the script is also pleasing - so many other FPS games settle for a generic story about foreign baddies getting blitzed by handsome Americans but, like BioShock before it, Infinite is interested in far more complex issues to inspire and drive its narrative. Thematically it's fairly similar in tone to BioShock, but Infinite does feel like a more rounded and mature, even emotional, outing.

They could have done with improving one aspect though - wanting to search out every nook and cranny and find every collectible possible (I was frustratingly close to getting all infusions, sightseers, and voxophones), I spent an awful lot of time searching every desk, cabinet, bin, body and more. If they're empty you shouldn't be able to search them, and sometimes you can accidentally consume a bottle of 'salts' even though you're full-up on them (thus wasting a resource). Oh, and the one thing that pissed me off in the whole game was the detection of interactive elements - the things you press the "X" button for. Sometimes you've got to be incredibly precise in your positioning, while other times something is highlighted but then goes back to normal, so you jiggle around a bit until it's searchable again - it's a silly little inaccuracy that should have been fixed.

So a couple of minor issues, but BioShock Infinite is an overwhelmingly good game.

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