Slightly off-their-peak television shows, 19th Century assassins, and creasy bits are just some of what's been setting the tone of my June 2017...
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The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Blu-Ray) - full review here.
Evil Ed (Blu-Ray) - full review here.
The X-Files: Season 10 (Blu-Ray) - a second spin and still as good as the first time around. There's an excellent compliment of in-depth extra features, too!
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Blu-Ray)
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7 & 8 - finally the last two seasons (well, until Season 9 comes along) hit Sky Atlantic. When the channel started they leaped into re-showing CYE, so it was the perfect time to catch up. Two episodes a week - ideal - until they started having longer and longer lags between seasons. It's been years of waiting since Season 6 aired for the 7th and 8th seasons to hit the channel. Finally, though, they have - and ain't they grand?
John Wick: Chapter 2 (Blu-Ray)
Veep: Season 6 - probably the weakest season of the bunch, but still thoroughly funny and biting in its satire. Considering the closing events of the previous season it's understandable why this season plays out as it does, but being outside of the hubbub of the Washington D.C. political bubble ultimately works to the detriment of the sixth season. However - it looks like season 7 will move us back into that chaotic swirl of absurdity.
Silicon Valley: Season 4 - similarly, this was the weakest season of the bunch, but it still has the power to make you laugh out loud. We do need to move the Pied Piper crew forward in their road to success. We're going around in circles now: they gain a little power and it all crumbles, but they use a remnant to spin off into a new project, but that too inevitably collapses with a cycle of self-involved tech giants getting in their way. The show now seriously needs to move the group forward, to get them out of Erlich's bungalow and dunk them headfirst into the big leagues because we've had plenty of them desperately scratching around in the dirt now.
Fargo: Season 3 - the weakest of an extraordinary bunch ... I seem to be repeating myself here, but nevertheless that's how I felt. Various aspects of the story were suitably arresting, with some of the protagonists proving to be fascinating character studies, but over all it didn't quite come together as successfully as the previous two entries for me. Still looking forward to a fourth season, mind you.
Twin Peaks: Season 3 - David Lynch has clearly been afforded a huge amount of creative freedom on this project by Showtime, and perhaps even by co-writer Mark Frost. We're on the brink of being half-way through the 18-episode run, but it does feel like it's going just a smidge too slow at times. Certain sequences are needlessly over-long in their execution (you understand the purpose of them long before they finish), while other moments feel disjointed. There's not enough material set inside the titular town (e.g. James appears at the end of episode two with an intriguing back story, but hasn't been seen since, while some other familiar faces seem to be getting very little of consequence to do), and the Dougie/Cooper thread feels too drawn out (three episodes of him bumbling about barely capable of uttering a word, really?).
However, the strong visual nightmares and atmospheric weirdness of the eighth episode - which went some way to suggest how Bob (and Laura Palmer's soul) came to be - was an unforgettable trip inside Lynch's curious mind. There is much to explore and many mysteries to peel back the layers on, so hopefully the back half of the season cranks up the pacing a few notches, gives us more of the town itself, and gives us back Cooper in enough time for him to solve a few riddles. This all said, it's a sheer delight to have Twin Peaks back, and you must understand all that Lynch has done in-between the second and third seasons of the show - the likes of his experimental shorts, as well as the likes of "Lost Highway" and "Inland Empire" have made an impact on these new episodes. It'd be nice to get my hands on the deleted scenes from "Fire Walk With Me" and give the whole third season a second viewing in a binge watch fashion to unveil new answers and expose the ties that bind together all the disparate details.
Bruno Nicolai "Servizio Fotografico" - the title theme from Emilio P. Miraglia's "The Red Queen Kills Seven Times".
Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" Soundtrack
Lykke Li "Just Like A Dream"
E-Type "Doughnut Lady" - this is a kind of obscure track, and I'm not entirely sure that's the artists' name, but this song is featured in the credits of "Evil Ed". Insanely catchy and, strangely enough, I have had - for some reason - a weird non-existent remix of this song running through my head that splices-in the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right". Anyway, as you were...
Le Castle Vania "The Red Circle" and "John Wick Mode"
Tyler Bates (ft. Ciscandra Nostalghia) "Plastic Heart"
Alice Cooper "Paranoiac Personality" - the single from AC's upcoming new album (coming six years after "Welcome 2 My Nightmare"), which will see a return of Bob Ezrin and the original Alice Cooper band members for new material!
Foo Fighters "Run"
Nine Inch Nails "Not The Actual Events" - the industrial metaller's 2016 EP. The song "She's Gone Away" appeared in the eighth episode of Twin Peaks.
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate (Xbox One) - it's amazing how UbiSoft can achieve so much, and yet completely ignore so many small annoyances (year after year after year). The parkour system has, on too many occasions, left me leaping somewhere I'd never intended (although the 'run down/up' control has stopped accidental plummets to the death, at least) or finding myself stumbling over dying NPCs or getting stuck against obscure obstacles. Similarly, while the grappling hook is a nifty way to traverse large distances, it so regularly wouldn't lock on to what I was looking at. The necessity to keep going back to your train to collect cash from your pokey little safe proved to be needless busy work that got in the way, and the idea that you can carry around thousands of pounds in your pockets, but your train safe (aboard an entire train replete with a bedroom and bar) can't hold more than ten grand is idiotic in the extreme.
There were a few glitches (NPCs that are invisible or just can't navigate their way around you, a rare crash or two), but considering the utter calamity that was the bugged-out release of "Unity" (and the hefty patches that followed), "Syndicate" is a fairly solid affair (numerous relatively minor annoyances aside). I patched the game and was stunned to find it was only about 700mb. I triple checked for more patches, but it was only one. Considering the patch for "Watch Dogs 2" was north of 10 gigabytes, I was rather surprised. Either the game was properly built (relatively speaking) before shipping, or they figured out how to provide an efficiently-sized patch so gamers don't have to download entire blocks of data when more targeted fixes would be far better for the end user.
The setting of 19th Century London is well realised, but the constantly repeating NPC dialogue quickly became irritating (yes, Evie's STILL "in the running"!), and the clogged streets made horse & carriage races frustrating. Similarly, the amount of loading just to get into the game is a continual - and growing - irritant. You boot up your Xbox, then enter the game: a title screen loads (after a series of interminable warnings, messages, and logos), then you need to load the main menu (which has to load again before you press A to load the ACTUAL game world), and ... eventually ... you get in to play! The biggest problem UbiSoft has, though, is lack of originality - their games are too formulaic - and features/gameplay recur across instalments and different franchises. How many towers must we climb to reveal areas of the map? How many treasure chests must we unlock? How many pointless weapons and upgrades that we'll never use do we need to wade through to perfect our loadout? How many 'go here and kill everyone' missions - based on a limited set of variations - can we be charged with completing? It's been three years since I last played an AC game ("Black Flag") and it's still all far too familiar.
Most of it works well, but I've long since abandoned all hope of following the beyond-expansive scope of the confusing story that's been unfolding for a decade now, and generally it feels a bit too rough around the edges. At numerous points I encountered sloppiness during missions - such as my own 'Rooks' randomly deciding, just as I pulled a captive out of my carriage, that now would be the perfect time to run us both over and fail the mission! There's so much detail that you can't help but be impressed, but as soon as you pay attention to the smaller details the more you find yourself taken out of the experience through repetition and frustration. The game frequently wrestles control of the camera away from you during parkour, so you often end up see-sawing your view of the world up and down ... and the input lag, geez! Here I am hammering the B button to drop off a ledge and Jacob's still climbing, or punching when he should be breaking a block! This even happens with numerous character animations throughout the game - the transition from one action or movement to another regularly has a weird, irritating pause wedged between them - and even the parkour seems a bit stumbly (e.g. when running over uneven rooftop terrain). This is the fifth Assassin's Creed game that I've played, but I think it'll be my last.
Anthony Bianco "Ghosts of 42nd Street: A History of America's Most Infamous Block" - some further research in advance of embarking on the first round of polishing for "Murder at the Grindhouse", with the aim of cross-referencing what I've already written, and to glean any other historical factoids that could help add a bit of extra juice here and there - the sort of things that help inform a character's opinion of a topic, for instance, and historical details which can be peppered through the dialogue. I do have a bug bear with this book, though: the cover image isn't of 42nd Street - it's of Times Square!
"For Want Of A Nail" - further progress on this project, which I promise I'll be able to talk much more about in a short while. Suffice it to say, very exciting things are afoot with the help of creatively gifted people whose dedication to the project warms my heart. This won't make any sense to you, but "Where's your creasy bits?" was the phrase of the day and had us all giggling.