Holistic investigations, comic book anti-heroes, and a trip to an alternative 1961 are just some of what's been setting the tone of my November 2019...
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Watchmen: Season 1 - needless to say, the reaction to HBO's follow-up to Alan Moore's landmark graphic novel has been mixed. Moore, naturally, is no fan (but then he seems to hate any adaptation of his work), while the critics have lavished praise, bestowing upon it a glowing score on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience, though? While there will no doubt be an element of "review bombing" in reaction to the show's focus on America's persistent racial problems, HBO's Watchmen is deserving of some genuine criticism on other issues. It's certainly no one-star flop, but it's no five-star bonanza either. The political commentary can feel quite blunt at times, but can also be absurdly dark in its humour (e.g. the cop having to request permission to unlock their gun). At its worst, the show can betray a whiff that it was constructed in the white hot furnace of Trump's election, but now with three years of "you're wrong, I'm right, fuck you and die" nonsense and endless political talk - which has seen the incessantly jabbering sections of the left and right skew further and further to their extreme ends - a blunt handling of anything political can leave a viewer feeling weary and irritable.
The third and fifth episodes felt closer to what I was expecting/hoping for, but thus far the show does have a habit of keeping its audience at a distance and/or taking too long to give them answers to grab on to and carry them along for the ride. Indeed, the pacing is a also a problem, with discrete packages of the story doled out in such a manner that leaves the viewer feeling emotionally disconnected. When you've gone several episodes and not really learned an awful lot, or moved all that far down a character's path, you can't help but feel a bit left out in the cold. As such, I've found myself struggling to care about many of the characters, who are too often reduced to binary flips of expectation or empty vessels to deliver dialogue, and the coy storytelling frustrates more than it intrigues (mystery for mystery's sake isn't all that mysterious or compelling). Sometimes it feels as if we learn very little new information with each episode, while important backstory (such as how Rorshach's journal turned into a guidebook for a new breed of racists) is left pointedly vague at best. It looks slick and the Reznor/Ross score gets the senses tingling, and the calibre of actors involved is high, but you can't escape a feeling of disappointment. Not as heinous as the angriest of detractors would have you believe, but also not as grand and gleaming as the professional critics want you to think. A mixed bag, most certainly.
The Punisher: Season 2 - yep, coming to this one late, but after enjoying season one (even though 13 episodes instead of a nice round 10 led to too much talky-talk early on), it was time to roll onto the second season. Things get off to a mixed start. On the one hand the propulsive action, that really came to the fore in the back half of the first season, is there from the get-go (although in the mid-season it becomes scarce once again), and on the other hand there's the character of Rachel/Amy. Eight episodes deep and, to be perfectly honest, I just don't like her. She's been through some stuff, sure (although nowhere near as much as Frank Castle!), but she also has so many negative personality traits that you find yourself not willing to care about her - the complete opposite of, say, Madani, or - incredibly - Billy Russo. Rachel/Amy's collection of unwieldy chips on her shoulder, the continual lying, the casual theft from good people (e.g. Madani's credit card), the staggering lack of awareness of anyone or anything outside of her own raging self-involvement, and other such aspects simply grate and make her not worth the trouble. It's all the more galling as she is rarely pulled up on such things, and when she is the admonishment is either ineffective or ignored. Still, the other characters don't let the side down, but thus far the first season was better overall.
Let It Snow - I'm 10-15 years outside of the key demographic on this Christmas Eve-set coming-of-age comedy drama, but it's an enjoyable and positive feeling ninety minutes. It's a bit cheesy from time-to-time, and sometimes stretches a smidge too far in order to achieve epiphany or sincerity, but it's got some nice fuzzy festive feels going on.
Rick and Morty: Season 4 - a meagre five episodes is a double-edged sword. On the one hand you get some episodes sooner than, potentially, very much later, but on the other hand it's a kind of hot/cold/hot/cold way to release episodes. The first episode of this latest batch felt lacking, but exactly why that was is hard to pin down. However, episodes two and three felt much more assured with the latter diving into a gleefully absurd multi-layered heist story that favours nonsense over explicit logic.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Season 1 & 2 - starring Samuel Barnett and Elijah Wood, and based on the books by Douglas Adams, this bizarre mish-mash of genres (comedy, action, drama, horror) and utter weirdness begins quite deliriously by throwing a whole host of seemingly random events and sub-plots at the viewer, but over the course of the 'case' being investigated, it all comes together beautifully. The supporting players are excellent, too, with the likes of Fiona Dourif standing out as a 'Holistic Assassin'. The second season's story delves into an actual fantasy land which, while obviously closely connected with the story, nonetheless feels a bit disjointed and alienating. However, even though I prefer the first season over the second, the latter does again feature a great cast of supporting actors including one of my personal favourites: Tyler Labine, as an amiable small town Sheriff. Despite the slightly uneven and slightly too-long second season, it's a shame that the show was cancelled because a third season would have been welcome.
The Sisters Of Mercy "A Slight Case of Overbombing"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
"Day Care for Perverts at The World's Greatest Show Place" - for the upcoming 4th issue of Sleaze Fiend Magazine, and in addition to an article called "87/88: Two Sleazy Years", I've been writing a short story set in New York City's Times Square area of 1981. It also features some of the cast of side characters found in my novel "Murder at the Grindhouse" (for which I am, at the time of writing, seeking representation). Crude and lewd, this short story is an absurd 'day in the life' from an unusual point of view.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Xbox One) - for a first person shooter, it's staggering that the actual feel of the gunplay in the game is as naff as it is. The player feels utterly disconnected from the weapons, which lack any real punch, have shoddy aim, and sound pretty weak. The total opposite of the last FPS that I played (Rage 2). However, once I reduced the horizontal sensitivity from 50 to 35 it felt better (but still far from ideal). That glaring fault aside, the characterisation is good and the cinematics are well directed and performed. The hunt for collectibles does tend to interrupt the pacing of the game, while the general gameplay when in combat, again, too often feels a bit lacking. It's a real shame that the strong story is let down by the 'spray and pray' shooting. However, the wider story and the chance to explore the world and interact with characters (particularly your cohorts aboard your submarine) does a lot of good in making the player invest emotionally (a visit to BJ's family farm is another emotional highlight). Being able to play a version of the original Wolfenstein 3D game (in the submarine's games room) is a nice touch, too.
"Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci" by Stephen Thrower - I returned to this gargantuan and definitive tome on the Italian director's career to pick through the remainder of his screed of 1960s comedies, his four giallo films of the 1970s, before skipping ahead to read about the particularly mixed bag that was his time working with Fulvia Film with highs such as The New York Ripper and lows like Zombi 3.