Saturday 31 August 2019

Flavours of the Month: August 2019...

Deadly psychology, the end of an undead era, and micromanaging through a nuclear apocalypse are just some of what's been setting the tone of my August 2019...

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


Archer: Season 10 - originally this was going to be the final season, but a surprise eleventh season was announced at Comic-Con 2019, which will return to the main plot line that was left behind at the end of season seven. For now, though, season 10 aka "Archer 1999" takes on sci-fi in the latest 'coma story' (Archer is in a coma and has been dreaming different scenarios for the past few seasons). The design is cool, taking inspiration from Alien and various 'retro future' visions like Space 1999, but sci-fi feels like an awkward fit for Archer, which started out as a spoof of 1960s spy movies by way of Mad Men office politics. Even the previous 'coma stories' have managed to fit into the aesthetic of the past, with 1940s noir and 1930s serial adventures respectively. So to now hop into sci-fi feels quite jarring. I can totally see why they made that choice but, for me at least, it doesn't quite land. Still, there is fun to be had (a nerd-tastic joke referencing the Director's Cut of Aliens, "Space phrasing!" etc), and the decision to show a little bit more motherly love towards Archer (especially in the final scene of the season) adds a welcome bit of heart to the usual bickering and group dysfunction. Bring on season 11.

The Boys: Season 1 - Garth Ennis' comic book series is translated to the screen for Amazon Studios by the folks behind Preacher. Detailing a world where superheroes aren't so super, we follow a ragtag group who are on a clandestine mission to bring down the 'supes' and their corporate overlords Vought. Occasionally the show can go a little heavy handed on the odd 'hot topic', but by the end of the season it has usually dug a little deeper and unveiled some more grey areas. The casting is on-point, particularly for characters like Homelander, and the show keeps reeling you in over the course of its eight hour-long episodes.

GLOW: Season 3 - one of the aspects that has greatly impressed me about this show since its first season is the quality of the writing. Not just the depth, but also the dexterity with which is handles myriad issues. Indeed, quite often these issues expose hidden corners of the (mostly quite consistent) characters involved with few simple answers proposed for easy catharsis. However, this season, the exception would arguably have to be episode six, which attempts to address an overwhelming number of issues inside 40 minutes, resorting to a blunt force on-the-nose 'say what you feel' approach, which falls short of the usual deftness with which the show explores stories surrounding identity.

Fortunately, that episode proves to be an outlier, but it decidedly breaks a cardinal rule of screenwriting: "show, don't tell". It's like the difference between someone literally saying what is happening (e.g. "I am sad and this is exactly why...") and someone acting out their problems through indicative behaviour (e.g. a depressive mood, excessive drinking, irritability, a sense of hopelessness, pushing people aside etc). Episode six is weighed down with 'telling' rather than 'showing'. Some restraint in the dialogue would have had more of an impact, as proven in other episodes in the season where a single loaded look with not a word spoken expresses volumes without ever putting "the issue" in the way of the actual storytelling.

Dripping with a sense of glee over all things 1980s, from the culture to the style, it's also interesting to note that GLOW is not shy of the naked form (male or female) in both sexual and non-sexual contexts, and also affords its male characters good material to work with (unlike, say, the second season of The Deuce). By stripping away basic cliches in favour of more realistic character interaction, the men are allowed to feel as much as the women and express that through light-touch writing and subtly drawn emotional performances. In-turn, the women are allowed to express themselves freely and kick butt in the wrestling ring while juggling the pressures of relationships and motherhood in trying circumstances. It'd be nice to see the actors get stuck into a little more action inside the wrestling ring (not just in two-out-of-ten episodes), but that's only a minor quibble. A fourth season would be most welcome.

Mindhunter: Season 2 - the welcome return of Joe Penhall and David Fincher's psychological crime drama about the Behavioural Science Unit at the FBI, who investigated cases of serial murder to establish a documented pattern of behaviour by which to help classify and even predict active cases, leading to earlier arrests. It's interesting to see how "Mindhunter" has handled certain issues compared to "GLOW" this season. Mindhunter plays things subtle, but honest, while also illustrating aspects like Wendy's sexuality according to the rules of the 1970s when it is set (and not the 2010s when it has been made). In her personal life when navigating the dating scene she has to do it clandestinely, and figures 'better safe than sorry' by keeping it secret from her colleagues at work. Indeed, playing it truthful to the time - and doing so with a light touch and keen moments of incisiveness - provides room for the viewers to empathise, rather than proffering an out-of-era and very specific speech. Hopefully we'll get to see Tench, Ford, and Carr again in a third season (and not have to wait two years).

Our Planet - Netflix wildlife documentary series narrated by David Attenborough. Basically it's more of the same sort of stuff we've seen in various series like Planet Earth, Life, Blue Planet, and the rest, so a few segments feel a bit familiar. The main difference compared to the other shows (all produced for the BBC) is that "Our Planet" adds an extra layer of awareness about the environment. Initially it's a slightly jarring addition, particularly as the tone seems so bleak at first, but in later episodes a more inspiring balance is found where environmental disasters (e.g. swathes of deep sea coral being decimated by the fishing industry) are presented on one hand, while on the other you see rising numbers of humpback whales due to international agreements.

The Cat O'Nine Tails - Dario Argento's second film, which followed on from the iconic giallo "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage". This tale of a mystery surrounding scientific espionage and a raft of murders has some great stand-out moments (the train kill, the elevator shaft, losing the police tail), but it can also feel rather slow at times when the pace slackens and Argento's usual brio fades into the background. However, in spite of the flaws of this over-long film, there are some cracking performances to go along with the narrative high points. The first time I saw it I was expecting something grislier and more spectacular, but second time around I have enjoyed it more.


Luciano Michelini "The Suspicious Death of a Minor (Main Theme)"

Tool "Fear Inoculum"

CKY "The Phoenix"


Fallout: Shelter (Xbox One) - sure, it's free to play, but that doesn't mean it could use a little polishing, for as often as it can be an enjoyable game to play, it can be aggravating. Five disasters (raider attack, mole rat invasion, rad roach invasion, and two fires) inside 25 minutes with four of them occurring just after I'd sent away my strongest fighters? Get tae fuck. And since when was 29% risk of failure a sure thing? There also needs to be two save options - auto and manual - so if/when you screw something up you then have the option to exit and reload from your last manual save.

The camera is also a bit awkward. While you can adjust it with the right stick, you so often find the game lurching you about the place and locking you onto things you don't intend, which is especially the case when your Vault becomes much larger and you're frantically trying to track down The Stranger for some free caps or, as previously mentioned, trying to deal with persistent disasters in multiple rooms simultaneously. And why on earth doesn't everyone with a gun automatically run to lend a hand when there's a Raider or Rad Roach attack, or chip in to extinguish a fire? Why not allow players to install weapon turrets outside and inside the vault? Why not provide the chance to upgrade the strength of floors to prevent mutant infestations? Why not let the gamer install a sprinkler system to tackle fires - especially when they keep starting in empty storage rooms (where dwellers aren't required for their operation!)

Then again, it seems in the Fallout universe that NPCs are utterly helpless, as anyone who has played Fallout 4 and encountered the Minute Men (a grand militia that relies on you to do absolutely everything for them!) will attest. I can't imagine trying to play this on a mobile phone, or even a tablet (it's fussy enough with a controller and 37" screen!), but small issues (with big impacts) aside, when it's working it's fun ... even if the caps requirements for so many things is astronomical. When the game plays fair, it's good - but when it decides to screw you over (which it will at regular intervals), it really likes to kick hard, something which is not helped by certain mechanics and design choices as you, the player, attempt to micromanage every single damn thing. Is this part of Bethesda's actual design philosophy, or just taking the piss?

"Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci" by Stephen Thrower - a titanic tome dedicated to the Italian goremeister, who was most widely known for his film "Zombie Flesh Eaters" (aka Zombi 2, Zombie, et al). This extensive look over the man's entire career - from his beginnings in Italian comedy capers in the 1960s, to giallo thrillers in the 1970s, and splatter horror in the 1980s (and everything else in-between) - is stunningly extensive in its research, informative nature, and frequent use of imagery to balance out the vast amount of text. Absolutely definitive.

The Walking Dead: Volume 32 "Rest In Peace" - the last volume of Robert Kirkman's famous comic book series, which had been running for sixteen years. A major twist happens in Issue 192 (what transpired to be the penultimate issue) and divided fans. I don't mind what happened, as I always figured it would, but my problem was with the how of it, and how the person involved, contrary to their entire characterisation, didn't put up more of a fight. Issue 193, an epic flash forward in time (20 to 30 years), was an impressive wrap-up to the whole thing and mostly pleased, all except one particular character: Hershel Rhee. A far more interesting plot, for me, would have involved Hershel - son of Glenn Rhee - discovering that the killer of his father (Negan) was still alive and was being sustained by those he calls friends.

While it might have tread into some similar territory as the face-off between Maggie and Negan a few volumes back, it would have been richer territory than having Hershel appear somewhat spoiled/bratty and the head of a travelling sideshow (the law protecting it also smacked as utterly non-sensical). The idea of new generations taking for granted what our heroes fought so hard for could still be played out, but how that particular thread was dealt with in #193 felt too silly and that it missed richer material. Still, though, despite a couple of particular problems I had with it (more the execution of certain plot points, rather than the plot points themselves), it's good to see TWD wrapped up without descending into unnecessary fodder. It was starting to feel a bit long-in-the-tooth and in need of a conclusion, so to finally have that allows it to go out on a strong note and a solid ending. Hopefully the TV show (which is still one of my most favourite shows) will also be concluded in the not-too-distant future (and handle the big event of #192 far better).

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