Rogue cops, dessicated ghouls, beautifully restored horrors, and wandering the wasteland - some of what has set the tone of my October 2017.
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Tin Star - this 10-episode, Canadian-set drama has been one of the telly highlights of 2017, combining style with substance with a sense of international appeal that's often beyond many British-born projects. Wonderful performances and writing set the tone, although a certain choice by a certain character towards the end proved to be (for me at least) the only stumbling block in the whole thing. To try and allude to it without spoilers, I'll say that it felt incredible that one person would overlook a very specific action of another person, just because a third person was revealed to have been less-than-valorous. That one element aside, Tin Star is highly recommended viewing.
Burial Ground (Blu-Ray) - 88 Films' "Italian Collection" release of Andrea (Strip Nude For Your Killer) Bianchi's perversely entertaining Etruscan zombie flick from 1981. A group of bourgeois holidaymakers visit a grand mansion in the isolated countryside for as much rumpy-pumpy as they can get their mits on. However, when the crumbling corpses rise from their tomb, it's only a matter of time before they're all wishing they'd sodded off to Butlins instead. Tension is low on the list of priorities as we're dunked almost immediately into the dead attacking, and it never lets up from there. Characterisation? You should be so lucky. A coherent plot with protagonists who do the sensible thing and drive away? As if! Sloppily put together, Burial Ground is one of those 'bad but good' movies with a particular charm. The Blu-Ray features a commentary, alternative 'grindhouse' version of the print (still in HD, but with all the print damage left in), and a rather entertaining (and informative) assessment of Bianchi's career with Mikel Coven. I bought this film on DVD (under the title "The Zombie Dead") a long time ago, but never got around to watching it, but - at long last - I've seen it.
Rabid (Blu-Ray) - David Cronenberg's second full-blown feature film continues the 'sexual virus' and 'science gone awry' themes found in Shivers, and ups the scale. Arrow Video's HD release contains an informative host of extras (some plucked from other sources).
Wonder Woman (Blu-Ray) - thoughts on it here.
Fast and Furious 8 (Blu-Ray) - thoughts on it here.
The Burning (Blu-Ray) - Tony Maylem's notorious slasher movie, formerly a "video nasty" in the UK. Arrow Video's 2016 release brings a slick new HD restoration to UK shores with a host of extra features (many ported over from the USA and prior releases). While the film didn't do especially well when it was originally released, it has since gone on to be considered a classic in the subgenre - and the characters are a particular highlight. Unlike many slasher flicks, the characters are not only more than one-dimensional cannon fodder, but they're also pretty cool people you'd want to hang around with. The film is also a surprising glimpse of the early careers of future big names - Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, and Holly Hunter are just three of several actors from the film who went on to have major careers. One thing, though, with recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein, the film takes on a collar-tugging awkwardness when the credits roll. Weinstein originated the idea (while his brother Bob co-wrote the screenplay), but considering how Weinstein's M.O. and personality have been exposed, the unusual credit of "Created and Produced By" (and that he was at pains, upon the film's release, to clarify that the treatment was written before the theatrical release of Friday the 13th) speaks volumes about the man's apparent ego maniacal hunger for power, control, and dominance.
The Walking Dead: Season 8 - after a rocky seventh season, the zombie fest returns and kicks off "All Out War". Some whinged about the premiere episode (the 100th TWD episode, to boot) in that it didn't have a major character death in it but, much like Rick confirming that the act of going to war with Negan wasn't all about himself, TWD's 100th episode didn't try to do anything specific for a quick gimmick and, rightly, focused on kicking off the big story at hand with plenty of action. The second episode climaxed with a big surprise for fans of the show who have been around since the beginning, while packing some considerably rich and dark thematic moments as Rick's quest for victory reveals that war is often a stormy sea of grey areas.
Some complained about the flashbacks/forwards in the opening episode, although I was a fan of them. They provide intrigue and are there to be peeled back gradually over several episodes. Dramatic tension and mystery aren't resolved in a few minutes, or inside a single episode. Novels aren't wrapped up inside ten pages, the killer doesn't get caught in the first act, yearning makes the heart grow fonder, and so on. With bumpy 'first live showing' ratings (which don't include rather healthy time shift numbers), there also seems to be a 'media narrative' developing as predictable as the one that traced through Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and then climaxed with Wonder Woman ... it's all about that clickbait, isn't it, and trying to be so terribly cool and hip? Time to tear down the 'popular kid' for little reason better than "just because", it seems.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Season 7 suffered from a few costly mistakes (although the horrific events of the premiere weren't one of them) and some very problematic pacing which (according to Gimple, Nicotero, and the first two episodes) have been resolved. I'll also say that, as a general rule, the show would benefit from fewer episodes per season (I've also said the same thing about Preacher). Twelve would be more than enough for TWD, and it'd be wise to do the same with Fear The Walking Dead (and while we're at it, shunt Fear's broadcast well away from TWD so you don't sate the audience's zombie hunger before the main event gets going!)
The Thing (Blu-Ray) - Arrow Video's limited edition version (which sold out long before street date) of John Carpenter's landmark sci-fi horror. It's a brand new HD restoration of the film (supervised by the Director and the Cinematographer) which, unlike other recent restorations, goes back to the original elements. A host of extras (some ported from previous releases) round out the goodies in addition to deluxe packaging that includes a double-sided poster, booklet, and lobby cards all printed on high quality stock. One of the special features titled "1982: One Amazing Summer" is a really fun look into the other movies that came out around about the time of The Thing's theatrical release. Produced by Ballyhoo, it's an entertaining (and interesting!) piece that places the film within a wider cinema context.
Chromatics "Saturday" - the instrumental version, as featured in season 3 of "Twin Peaks".
Foo Fighters "Wasting Light", "Concrete & Gold"
Curtis Mayfield "(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All Going To Go (Single Edit)" - the opening theme for HBO's "The Deuce". This track gets you right into the vibe and hyped up for the episode. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, it's the complete opposite of the dreadfully dull slow jazz hype-sucking theme for "I'm Dying Up Here".
Lafayette Gilchrist "Assume the Position" - the closing track for HBO's "The Deuce". Dig that bassline!
IAMX "I Salute You Christopher" - as featured in an episode of "Tin Star", this left field track exemplified the hauntingly unique feel of the show.
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard et al "The Walking Dead: Volume 28 'A Certain Doom'" - certain aspects of the plot could have been given more depth (such as Sherri's gripe with the network of communities), but two key elements revolving around Rick (him fighting side-by-side with a villain, and the loss of a major character) work very well indeed, while a climactic speech from an unexpected mouth provides an intriguing twist. Is a Damascene conversion in the offing? The franchise is perhaps getting a bit long in the tooth, and the Whisperers storyline has been rather mixed, but the cover art for an upcoming issue suggests a potential game-changing element is about to be introduced.
Fallout 4 (Xbox One) - yep, two years late to this one, but having played Fallout 3 several years ago I fancied getting back into the wasteland. As expected, the world-building is as detailed and chilling as ever, even if the avalanche of side quests utterly distracts you from the main story. Some mechanics are needlessly complicated, and the fact that you have to micromanage every aspect of your settlements is stupid (can't these people do anything for themselves?!). The game is also a lesson in how NOT to do a sidekick NPC: your canine companion Dogmeat continually gets in your way (blocking your path in tight spaces, walking through your line of sight as you loot bodies etc) and charges into battle like a Lemming. How should sidekick NPCs be done? Elizabeth in "BioShock: Infinite" is how. She never got in your way, always brought you useful items, and provided contextual storytelling detail. Despite it's flaws (inconsistent graphical quality and frame rate, too many useless upgrades, lack of focus, repeated community defence side quests etc), Fallout 4 is nonetheless addictive as you explore the innumerable nooks and crannies of the wasteland.