Rogue coppers, killer puppets, and off-colour tales are some of what has been setting the tone of my January 2019...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Luther: Series 5 - Idris Elba in search of another brutal serial killer in and around the dingier parts of London. There's only so many times you can take a trip on the (not so) merry go-round, and this fifth series does have a sense of looking to push things towards a conclusion ... although you can't help but feel, should a story present itself, this isn't the last we'll see of the rogue copper/retro Volvo enthusiast.
Bob's Burgers: Season 4
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - 'choose your own adventure' television drama, now there's something. Choices range from minor (e.g. which music a character listens to on a bus journey) to the major (life and death decisions), as you help a games designer from the 1980s navigate the making of an elaborate 'choose your own adventure' game, his mental illness, and the secrets & lies of his entire life. As ever, it's fascinating stuff from Charlie Brooker and his team, mixing huge sci-fi ideas with intimate characterisation: the potent mix which has seen Black Mirror storm to international success on Netflix over the last few years.
Two Doors Down: Series 4
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (Blu-Ray) - Cassandra Peterson's vivacious horror host hit the big screen in 1988 having started out as a local TV personality in Los Angeles where she'd host late night horror flicks. Arrow Video's 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray boasts a lovely restoration (as per usual) and a meaty host of extras: a 97 minute making-of, a 22 minute featurette all about the 'Pot Monster', three audio commentaries, trailers, and a bunch of image galleries, plus the usual booklet and reversible sleeve combo. It's a super fun, campy romp rife with saucy double entendres and genre send-ups as Elvira finds herself amidst the ultra conservative small town of Fallwell (the name itself a poke-in-the-eye to the censorious American religious right) to collect her inheritance from her Great Aunt. Goofball shenanigans, a whole host of "Oh, it's them!" familiar faces, and a devilishly fun roster of characters (including "Chastity Pariah") make this a heck of a good time.
X-Files: Season 11 (Blu-Ray) - as a huge fan of the show it's sad to see it end, but this is a solid selection of episodes to bow out with. The extra features are excellent, too, with a welcome focus on how the show is written (something that tends to get overlooked on other box sets where the actual on-set production usually steals all the focus).
True Detective: Season 3 - judging by the first four episodes this is a return to form for Nic Pizzolato's atmospheric detective series. The second season was maligned in the press to an unfair degree (and the 'return to form' narrative greeting the third season is hardly surprising), however it is fair to say that season two faltered. A rushed writing schedule, too many lead characters (four compared to two), and a convoluted plot which saw storylines and character combos criss-crossing the labyrinthine narrative, caused season two to falter. Season three, meanwhile, has scaled things back to a manageable size without losing the epic sense of scale (three time periods). There's even a touch more humour this time around - but just a touch - which helps sweep aside the slightly po-faced vibe of season two. Still, faults aside, the second season had much to be commended for with the haunting music of Lera Lynn setting the tone, and by the finale I was deeply invested in the characters played by Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams. Back to season three, though, and it's right up there with season one.
The Church (DVD) - Michele Soavi's 1989 fantasy horror was originally intended to be Demons 3, but producer and co-writer Dario Argento took it in a different direction. You can still some some of the Demons DNA embedded within the film, but it stands on its own as a flawed - yet remarkable - piece of filmmaking. Few of the characters in the movie get enough characterisation, and there are certain clumsy moments (e.g. the part when someone is slain in the church in front of dozens of people, but then in the next scene nobody seems all that fussed). However, while the film suffers from some structural and character issues, Soavi's extraordinary visual flair spirits the film along from the opening sequence (the decimation of a medieval village) to the final act (shock moments like the subway train kill, or the squirming mass of bodies regurgitated from the depths by evil itself). The soundtrack, too, further powers the most exceptional moments in Soavi's film, which uses a combination of talents: Goblin, Keith Emerson, and Philip Glass (one of whose tracks, performed by Martin Goldray, proves to be utterly transcendent in context).
I had originally seen a trailer for The Church appearing on many VHS rental tapes in the mid-1990s, and the poster art graced many issues of the video rental magazine, so the haunting imagery of Soavi's film became a lingering mystery that I have finally answered a quarter of a century later.
Puppetmaster I, II, and III (DVD/Blu-Ray) - the Puppet Master series of films (there's a lot of them!) is the flagship franchise for Charles Band's Full Moon Pictures. These first three form their own little trilogy of sorts and contrary to common logic they actually get better. The first movie was good fun, but didn't have enough puppet action. The second movie had lots more puppet action, began to grow a mythology, and introduced my main dude Torch. The third movie has the best script and scale of the three and does plenty to satisfy genre fans. One of the most intriguing aspects of the films is the apparent malleability of the characters. The titular master of puppets himself, Andre Toulon, goes from a bit-part in #1 to a villain in #2 and then, as we rewind back to World War 2 in #3, he becomes a hero again. The puppets, too, start out as nefarious little creations - almost like unruly children getting up to no good when their master isn't watching - but in #2 they become quite lovable (even when they're killing, albeit for a reason) and then by the third movie they're slaying The Third Reich!
Tin Star: Series 2 - Rowan Joffe's Canadian-set crime drama returns and viewers had best temper their expectations. With all episodes made available on the 24th, I spent a few days binge-watching all nine episodes, and all said and done the second series is a decidedly mixed bag. The first series managed to wrangle its heightened tone well enough that it was believable, but this time around Jack commits so many crimes (grand theft auto, breaking and entering, discharging a firearm, theft, assault, and even murder) in such a casual fashion that you can't help but be distracted by one thing: how on earth is he getting away with it all?
Similarly, the warm sense of humour that is key to the show's unique tone returns, but this too is allowed to go uncontrolled at times. Roth's laid back wit shines, but moments of misplaced flippancy feel cheap and silly. Furthermore, the pacing is all over the shop. Some sections charge while others needlessly drag and overall the second series feels two episodes too long, while also suffering from not possessing the clarity of the first series' revenge-powered story. Supporting characters are also treated with a similar lack of focus as some of them get juicy scenes while others are scattered into the wind in a manner that feels like a few script pages drifted off on that very same breeze.
The presentation is strong and stylish, and the superb cast keep the viewer engaged even when the scripts veer out of control every now and then, but with a third series "in active development" according to Roth & Co, the Tin Star team need to re-up their game.
The Grand Tour: Series 3
"Windswept" - essentially a Chromatics/Johnny Jewel album, from which a few tracks appeared on the soundtrack to the third season of Twin Peaks (e.g. the title track and "Saturday", which was heard as a dreamy instrumental at Twin Peaks' Bang Bang Bar). For the most part this is an instrumental album and you can feel the blurring of lines as the Lynchian vibe melds with Johnny Jewel's synth-inflected 'Italian genre film' sound.
HIM "Razorblade Romance", "Deep Shadows & Brilliant Highlights", "Dark Light"
Fabio Pignatelli "La Chiesa"
Philip Glass "Floe" (Performed by Martin Goldray)
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One) - the inclusion of 'emotes', avatar clothing, and innumerable types of car horns doesn't half make the wheelspins frustrating as you so often see them wasted on the aforementioned junk that's of no real use. You can't race with a pair of jeggings, can you? Similarly, the preposterous cost of in-game property (which act like your personal garages for you to stop-in and customise vehicles etc) cynically leans in to the bullshit that are microtransactions, some of which aren't what you'd call "micro". £2.49 for a single vehicle? £23.99 for forty? No matter the price, microtransactions can jog on. As such, it's all the more galling when a wheelspin skims past a useful vehicle or 250,000 credits in favour of a sodding emote/horn/piece of slightly different-looking clothing! Even some seasonal championships are restrictive - oh, you upgraded the vehicle? Sod you, you can't use it in the championship any more. Oh, you need to splash in-game credits on a car, but they're all between 500,000 and 2,000,000 credits each and you've only got 300,000 credits to your name ... ah, yes, there is a car for 25,000 credits, but for some arbitrary reason you can only buy it with real-world cash. Get tae fuck!
That utter nonsense aside, it's still a fun open world racer with a little more scale than the previous game - and yet there are never enough 'showcase' events! The inclusion of changing seasons gives the world a different look on a week-by-week rota ... although hanging around for winter season (with it's slippery roads rendering many cars useless/not fun to drive) to change is a bit annoying when you fancy a bit of sunshine and greenery to accompany your pedel-to-the-metal action.
"Bait: Off-Colours Stories For You To Colour" by Chuck Palahniuk - a 2016 collection of eight short stories from the Fight Club author replete with a selection of complimentary drawings for the reader to colour in. Particular highlights include "Let's See What Happens" (two liberal parents' attempt to scare religion out of their child takes a bizarre turn), "Nonsense" (a woman searches for a husband at a secret club where willing white 'slaves' dressed as historical American figures are auctioned off to non-white buyers), "Bait" (a who-dunnit starring a Goldfish), and "Mud Slinger" (gleefully low brow celebrity satire).
"Legacy: An Off-Colour Novella For You To Colour" by Chuck Palahniuk - a classic story as old as time: a corporate reject finds himself at the heart of a violent conspiracy which surrounds a bonzai tree that can grant immortality when it bears fruit, and his only ally is a flame-retardant stripper!