Sunday 30 September 2018

Flavours of the Month: September 2018...

Sixties intrigue, searing telly drama, and a Blu-Ray bonanza are just some of what's been setting the tone of my September 2018...

Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...


Avengers: Infinity War (Blu-Ray) - I didn't get to see this at the cinema (I go so rarely these days) and managed to avoid almost all the spoilers, and there's little to really say about it that hasn't already been said. This is a stunning achievement in blockbuster filmmaking, and it makes me bow down in awe to all the production staff who had to organise this titanic effort from scheduling the huge cast to the logistics of pulling off the whole show just on a practical level alone. Jesus, I don't even want to imagine what the script supervisor's copy of the screenplay looked like! Ten years in the making, and as a result of all that ground work and set up, Marvel pulls it off with gusto.

Fear The Walking Dead: Season 4b - I've said it before and I'll say it again. Too many damn episodes. Both of AMC's zombie shows would decidedly benefit from an episode drop from 16 down to 10 (shown in a single run rather than split in two). Indeed, it would mean less filler, it would mean the writers not chomping through story so ravenously, and it would help provide a better work/life balance for all involved (one of the key reasons Andrew Lincoln is, sadly, leaving the show is because he doesn't get enough time with his family). There are real concerns out there amongst the fanbase that AMC is beating a dying (or dead) horse, draining every drop of blood out of Kirkman's zombie apocalypse. Story and production sustainability, as well as audience fatigue don't seem to be high priorities. That all said, the back-half of FearTWD's fourth season has been a bumpy affair - some good stuff, some iffy stuff - but how much life is there really left in the spin-off show now?

The Deuce: Season 2 - the new intro music, presumably chosen to coincide with the 5-year time jump, doesn't quite gel with the opening visuals (Curtis Mayfield's "If There's A Hell Below We're All Going To Go" was a much better fit), but the second season is off to a good start. The explosion in adult entertainment is writ large on the screen with smut films now rendered mainstream and even aspirational (there's a great scene where a young woman fresh off the bus flips the script on a waiting pimp), meanwhile the harsher side of life on the street gets just as much attention creating a neat narrative dynamic. There's been a little more cash splashed on resurrecting the look of the Times Square area of the time, although I'm still waiting for a really big money shot of 42nd Street with all its marquees blazing in the night. We're also getting to dig deeper into the characters with the females getting particular attention (to the extent that, to be honest, a few of the males ironically feel a bit one-note). This is one of my favourite new shows and I'd highly recommend it.

Deadpool 2 (Blu-Ray) - it's bizarre when some people complain that a sequel is "more of the same" ... well, what on earth were you expecting?! That very reaction plagued Sin City 2 quite unfairly, but at least in DP2's case the negative effects of losing that initial surprise (something you can never recapture) have been minimal. It's not easy to get me laughing out loud, but DP2 had me wheezing from the get-go, and it was good to see the darker and more emotionally vulnerable side of the character get explored; that sense of loss that is so key to the Merc with the Mouth.

Bodyguard: Series 1 - the BBC's most talked-about drama of recent times, written by Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty). It stars Keeley Hawes (Ashes To Ashes) and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones). Now, some of the BBC's dramas have a tendency to ... well, plod a bit, what with not having to worry about advert breaks. However, that cannot be said of Bodyguard, which remembers to have something big happen in every episode while remembering to take risks (*ahem* episode four) such as the opening twenty minutes of the entire series which deftly introduces the titular character while expertly ratcheting up the tension. The last episode boasted an astonishing level of tension which made an hour fly by in what seemed like minutes. Highly recommended viewing!

Ed Wood (Blu-Ray) - if there was a list of films about the love of filmmaking, this would surely be high up on it. I wonder how much of a task it was to get a big studio to sign off on making a black and white movie back in 1994, but then again Tim Burton was at the height of his powers. The well-balanced sense of tone - from goofy comedy to heartfelt drama - is mightily impressive, while the attention to the low budget B-Movie filmmaking aesthetic gets the film fan hairs standing on edge.

Hitch-hike (Blu-Ray) - starring Franco Nero (Django), Corinne Clery (Moonraker), and David Hess (The Last House on the Left). Hess' escaped criminal hitches a ride with Nero's Italian news reporter and Clery's rich wife. The bulk of the film rests on the back-and-forth between Nero's boozing journo (who has a curious sexual relationship with his wife) and Hess' psychotic robber, but there's an intriguing third act twist which boosts the film's ultimately misanthropic tone. Hess was better known for his other sadistic antagonists seen in "The Last House on the Left" and "The House on the Edge of the Park", but this one is well worth checking out for fans of Hess, Nero, or the wider Italian exploitation cinema era.

The Driller Killer (Blu-Ray) - Abel Ferrara's first 'legitimate' feature film (a couple of years prior he directed an adult movie) found itself as one of the poster children of the Video Nasties era in the UK (mostly due to that indelible cover art). This was a big upgrade from my previous copy - a fourth generation VHS dub of a friend's own dubbed copy - and this time I enjoyed it much more than when I first saw it way back circa 2000. Made at the height of the New York punk music scene, the film itself is equally rough and scrappy as it toils amidst real-life derelicts, dank streets, and music clubs. There's some nice little details strewn throughout when you have a bit more appreciation for the time and place, for instance: a newspaper headline that addresses mental patients being slung out onto the streets because of New York's financial woes at the time.


The Corrs "Unconditional"

HIM "Tears On Tape", "Screamworks: Love In Theory and Practice, Chapters 1-13"

Clint Mansell & Lorne Balfe "Ghost in the Shell (2017)" Soundtrack

Misfits "Bloodfeast"

Alice Cooper "Paranormal"


"The Cold Six Thousand" by James Ellroy - the second part in the 'Underworld USA' trilogy picks up where "American Tabloid" left off: in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of JFK in 1963. The book then expands to examine the next five years to lead towards the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy, stopping along the way to explore the civil rights movement, the weakening of J. Edgar Hoover's grasp at the FBI, Howard Hughes, Las Vegas, the mob, the CIA, Cuba, Vietnam, and heroin (amongst other things). Told through the perspectives of three protagonists, this is an epic tome with a deeply complex narrative - but the book still makes sense of so many disparate-yet-interconnected threads of history in a way that is entertaining, shocking, and entirely convincing as the line between fact and fiction blurs with Ellroy's stacato-poet writing style.

"The Walking Dead: Volume 30" by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard - there's a wider theme of civilisation that's been developing in this series for a while now. When some folks complained that All Out War was 'just more of the same' I roundly disagreed as prior conflicts had been isolated skirmishes, whereas AOW was essentially a World War with multiple communities joining forces to fight a great evil with all the survivors having to live together afterwards (not to mention a move towards more traditional law & order).

The latest trade paperback takes this further again by introducing, ostensibly, a return to a form of government. It's the end of the American wild west all over again and public sector organisation is encroaching once more. The interesting twist here, though, is that some of the flaws of the past are being consciously brought back - it's what many people would most easily understand when re-establishing a large civilisation in the zombie apocalypse (it's why the use of pre-apocalypse money made so much sense in George A. Romero's "Land of the Dead"). Certain storytelling problems, like knowing who everyone is, continue, but Kirkman has introduced an interesting new step in his long-running zombie comic series. That said, the comic - like the show - feels like it needs to be enacting an end game sooner rather than later.

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