Biting political satire, self-hating comedians, bullet-time, zombies, and a hefty amount of research - just some of the looks, sounds, vibes & flavours of my July 2016...
Click "READ MORE" below for what's been setting the tone of my month...
Veep: Seasons 3, 4, and 5 - savagely on-point political satire. I binge-watched all five seasons to catch up, and what a gem this show is! Uproariously funny, it's a well-crafted mix of improv and stories that are so real - and prescient, even. The fifth season, far from getting stale or falling into a routine, crafts a genuinely edge-of-your-seat season-long arc, in which Julia Louis Dreyfuss not only continues to brandish her comedic chops but also her dramatic heft. At times her character of Selina Meyer is almost Shakespearean in her trials and tribulations, with the season five finale packing a punch that takes you by surprise. Even the small details are perfectly crafted - spot-on moments that speak volumes. Then, as if that wasn't enough, the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. Personally, I love to see Kent, Ben, Mike, and Selina all firing back and forth at one another. I really can't say enough good things about this show. I wish I had got on board sooner, but when it started I had enough shows on the go as it was - not so much of late, so I figured I'd give it a shot, and it's been a hilarious two weeks catching up.
Murder In Successville: Series 2 - a welcome second series of BBC Three's semi-improvised hard-boiled-detective-murder-mystery-comedy *deep breath* ... yeah, it's kinda genre-defying, but its one of those strange little gems that comes out of the blue. For those not aware, each week a celebrity (e.g. Emma Bunton, Chris Kamara) plays the part of a 'rookie cop' paired up with D.I. Sleet, and invariably their first case turns out to be the murder of a local celebrity (real-life figures, but cast as misfits local to the city of 'Successville' and played by comedy actors doing impersonations). Over the course of the show they investigate three suspects and, considering clues from the initial crime scene, they have to figure out who the killer was in the final part of the episode. Some of the 'contestants', if you will, aren't what you'd call observant, mind you! Hopefully we'll see a third series.
Maron: Season 4 - Marc (WTF Podcast) Maron's semi-autobiographical comedy (with a hint of drama) returns for a welcome fourth season. This one skews further from Maron's own current life, but builds upon his own history of substance abuse. In this season, the TV incarnation of him has been on a year-long pain pill bender and has to endure rehab and a mid-life crisis. This is more of a niche show (it airs on IFC in America), but it deserves to be seen by more people. The blend of raw honesty, sardonic humour, and the absurdity of Los Angeles living is a winning combination.
The Matrix Trilogy - it's been a long time since I saw any of these films, although I'm quite familiar with all of them. I saw them all at the cinema, but have particularly fond memories of going to see the first film during the summer of 1999. That first film was THE film to see that year, up there with the likes of Jurassic Park (which was THE must-see film of 1993). The Matrix is a perfect film, balanced just right, and it holds up completely. The sequels ... now, I feel that both have been given a slightly too-harsh treatment in recent years because they're not as good as the first flick, but let's be honest here, they're still really good movies.
The Matrix Reloaded's main problem (which was repeated in Revolutions, but to a lesser degree) are most of the talky bits. They're loaded with exposition, oftentimes carry themselves in a po-faced manner, and sap the pacing up-front. The main culprit, though, is of course The Architect scene with its overly-complex dialogue and cringey fascination with the Thesaurus.
However, when Reloaded kicks into high gear (e.g. 'the Burly Brawl', and the Freeway sequence) it moves with confidence. Sure, some of the CGI looks a bit squiffy today (e.g the questionable textures and physicality of CG people during action sequences), but it's a strong outing. Of course, being the middle portion of a trilogy, it struggles by not having an end-game.
The same cannot be said of The Matrix Revolutions, however, which has an exceedingly clear goal in mind - to end the war between the humans and the machines. There's a few of those problematic 'talky bits' here, much like in Reloaded (and yet they worked, and still work, so well in the original film!), but there's a real thrust to proceedings. The 'Battle for Zion' is a rousing bullet-fest, something that gets the hairs standing on the back of your neck, as the life-and-death stakes of Neo & Co's quest become as vivid as they've ever been. Meanwhile, the big climax packs all the style and punch found in the original film. The sequels are flawed, yes, but they don't deserve to be dismissed as often as the trend seems to have dictated in recent years.
M83 "Slight Night Shiver" - from the album "Before The Dawn Heals Us", this quite atmospheric and dreamy interlude has swung around a few times on my playlist.
Nine Inch Nails "The Beginning of the End" - likewise, this second track from "Year Zero" has swung around a few times on my playlist this month.
Alice Cooper "Wake Me Gently" - one of those lesser-known, but utterly sublime Alice Cooper tracks (found on the "Goes To Hell" album). Majestic, achingly melancholy, and soaring in its beautiful delicacy all at once. Also see the likes of "Pass The Gun Around", "My God", and "I'm Going Home" for a similar vibe.
Godspeed You Black Emperor "Moya" - I first heard this in Adam Simon's landmark documentary "The American Nightmare", which focused on the extraordinarily turbulent 1960s and 1970s in American history and how it shaped the horror film landscape. It's one of those tracks that clings on to you, burrowing down into the chills that it inspires to run up and down your spine. Unsettling, in a good way, and deeply soulful at first, it gradually builds into an energetic charge to the finish line.
Alice Cooper "Welcome To My Nightmare", "Goes To Hell", "Lace and Whiskey", "From The Inside", "DaDa".
Travis "The Man Who" - talk about a flashback to 1999/2000. The melancholy Scots' second (breakthrough) album is filled with classic tracks. "Writing To Reach You", "As You Are", "Driftwood", "Turn", and perhaps their most well-known tune "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" I have an eclectic taste in music at times, whatever CD is in my Hi-Fi or whatever songs doing heavy rotation on my playlist depending on my mood (much like anyone else, I suppose). It's strange to think, really ... Travis is about as far away from Rob Zombie as you could get, and I'm a huge fan of Rob Zombie.
Then again, I like variety in my listening, much as I do in my viewing. I scan my shelves and see curious bedfellows - "Singin' in the Rain" is wedged between "Sin City" and "Slumber Party Massacre", "Touch of Evil" has "The Toolbox Murders" and "Training Day" for company, while "The Big Sleep" has "Battle Royale: Requiem" and "Big Trouble In Little China" for company. And then there's Pixar's heart-warming "Up", with the gore-splattered "Turbo Kid" to one side, and the debauched epic that is "The Wolf of Wall Street" to the other.
Guns n Roses "Appetite For Destruction" - you know, even though I've been listening to this album since my formative years (it blew my mind when I first listened to it), sometimes you forget just how great an album this truly is. Every single track is superb, legitimately great in their own right. What's more, sometimes you forget just how raw the album is - what a way to make an entrance!
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Book #5 Research Continued - the blitz of research continued for my next book. The task of 'world building' (or reconstructing, more like, being that the story is set in the past) has become a vast project - at the time of writing there's about 1,325 research files and more than 200 pages of initial hand-written notes (plus 30-odd typed). It's turning into a huge project, but at the same time this is a hell of a lot of fun. Plus, I'm already getting disparate chunks of action and dialogue written down (rough pre-first-draft stuff, of course) - so consider me energised! It's been a long slog, but the research period is done - now, though, I'll have a little time away from it to recharge my batteries, and then return for the stage of the process where I get stuck into building the story and characters.
Jamie Russell "Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema" - I've been picking away at this hefty book for the past year and a half, but finally I finished it. Covering everything in zombie film since the Voodoo origins were exposed in travelogue books more than a century ago, up to 2013 (e.g. World War Z, Warm Bodies), it makes for a well-informed analysis of the monster itself and everything it has spawned on the silver screen.
Comic-Con 2016 - still just experiencing it through the web, but with a host of trailers and panels it's always a fun time to get your nerd on. Trailer analysis for The Walking Dead's Season 7 trailer HERE. And while we're on the Comic-Con subject - the new trailer for season two of Ash vs Evil Dead looks great, and a big thumbs up for Starz putting the full 'AvED' panel up on their YouTube channel with no region restrictions so everyone can enjoy it (take note, AMC!).