Thursday 30 April 2020

Flavours of the Month: April 2020...

The wild and foul-mouthed west, hardcore synthwave, and undercover action on the rain-slick streets of Hong Kong are just some of what's been setting the tone of my April 2020...

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


Deadwood: Seasons 1-3 & Deadwood: The Movie - I first binge-watched HBO's western drama in 2012, and recently got a hankering to give it another spin in the wake of the belated film sequel that aired last year. I loved the show the first time around, but it's interesting to note just how good the writing is upon this second viewing. There are so many profoundly humorous lines dotted throughout the scripts, displaying a well-crafted sense of wit and context. However, the characterisation is where Deadwood shines most proudly. The distinct personalities of each character and their various dealings with each other masterfully set up a stew pot of complex intrigue and double/triple/quadruple dealings. All this helps make the town of Deadwood itself feel so alive and established, not just empty vessels piloting about in the background of shots.

The third season no doubt suffers from the odd sideplot that proves underwhelming, and some mid-way meandering, but the battling with Hearst boils the pot to an effective degree come the final episodes. It was also good to re-watch the 2019 movie follow-up, which proved much more satisfying when seen in the immediate wake of a fresh viewing of the original series (rather than coming to it cold after a seven year gap, as I had done previously). There are many small details which reward the viewer, while also providing a comforting glimpse at the developments of their respective lives in the intervening years. David Milch, his wonderful group of writers and directors, his cast and crew, all achieved something truly great with Deadwood, a show that will no doubt tempt another repeat viewing in time.

The Legendary Roast of the Legendariest Legend Rich Vos - featuring a veritable who's who of the New York comedy scene, this Roast really puts those big time celebrity roasts on Comedy Central (with their predictable 'safe insult' gags) to shame.

Middleditch & Schwartz Live - a series of three entirely improvised stand-up comedy specials on Netflix featuring Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz.

Extraction - a Netflix film starring Chris Hemsworth about a specialist who has to rescue the son of a Bangladeshi drug lord, while fending off a rival gang. For some reason I wasn't all that fussed by the trailer, but figured I'd give it a roll, only to find myself quite gripped by the actual movie itself, which boasts a shedload of brutal, crunchy, kinetic action sequences. It was never going to be about deep personal drama, but there's enough wrinkles to the plot to accompany the clearly drawn characters to keep you invested. But, again, the main point here is to kick mucho arse on the screen - and it does a hell of a job at that, even with a bit of a flabby start to the second half. Get your sofa-bound adrenaline fix right here.

Gangs of London - Gareth Huw Evans (director of The Raid movies) co-created this Sky Original blend of British gangster drama and East Asian action cinema violence with Matt Flannery. It is set within the elaborate underworld of the London crime scene, which is thrown into disarray after the murder of the top man in the Wallace family, who oversee every piece of criminal action in the city. Now, with Wallace's son out for vengeance, and a host of key players muddying the mix, violence is unleashed upon the capital's unseen corners. While those familiar with The Raid movies or the hyper-violence of the John Wick franchise will have seen action this brutal and bloody before, it's quite unusual for a British TV drama to feature not only this level of action but also this amount of gory goings on. At the time of writing I'm five episodes deep, and holy hell - episode five! It's like Straw Dogs meets John Wick! The squeamish will no doubt find themselves turning away, but those who can stomach the gritty urban horrors should find a quality piece of intense drama that grabs typical British TV by the scruff of the neck and stabs it repeatedly with a pub dart before whipping out the meat cleavers, assault rifles, and grenades.


Nine Inch Nails "Ghosts V" and "Ghosts VI" - two new instrumental albums, which the industrial rockers released for free online.

Jarvis Cocker "Black Magic"

Pulp "Common People" and "Disco 2000"

Garbage "Version 2.0" - a blast back in time to 1998. There's so many great tracks on this album, including: I Think I'm Paranoid, When I Grow Up, Push It, The Trick Is To Keep Breathing, and You Look So Fine.

M83 "Digital Shades Vol. 1", "DSVII"

Carpenter Brut "Anarchy Road", "Le Perv", "Maniac (Live)", "Obituary", "Leather Teeth" (album), "Blood Machines" (album)


Metro: Exodus (Xbox One) - having now finished the game, there are a few other quibbles that irritated (beyond the ones mentioned in last month's 'Flavours' entry). It's nice for the supporting characters to have a bit of personality, something to talk about, but do they really need to talk as much as they do? You can easily find yourself listening to a character ramble on for ten minutes as you, Artyom, sit in absolute silence. It's odd to have your character be silent while everyone else is running their mouths a mile a minute. My patience for the open world aspect was wearing thin with The Caspian area, where so many of the points of interest were just feckin' beast lairs, and it was an utter pain in the arse to traverse either on-foot or in a vehicle, the latter of which exhibited its fair share of bugs and conflicts with the world around it. However, The Taiga and The Dead City brought back a sense of focus that felt more like the previous game in the series. It was an interesting idea to experiment with the open world for a Metro game, but they often stand in conflict with narrative storytelling - however, The Taiga and The Dead City areas found a balance between the two. I also recall the 'karma system' from the previous game (Metro: Last Light) being a bit unfair and poorly defined (I got the middling ending to that game), but Metro Exodus makes that mechanic a little more clear cut (this time around I got the good ending). Despite some stilted dialogue and character animation, and the clumsy feel of traversing the game world (e.g. climbing ladders, uneven surfaces, and those damned row boats!), the setting and overall story hook you in.

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition (Xbox One) - I never got around to playing this Hong Kong set open world game in the last console generation, but spotted this version (with graphical upgrades and DLC included) on a digital sale. Okay, the inevitable gripes first: the camera is pretty much woeful. When it isn't trying to act against you in a fight, or even when you're just walking around (like some sort of tug of war effect), it makes reversing your vehicle almost impossible to navigate. The driving, similarly, is often sloppy. Motorbikes are dreadful when not firing in a straight line, although most cars handle better but are also not without issue.

Conversely, chase sequences work quite well, with the feverish parkour-driven excursions through the Hong Kong streets feeling lively and fun. The melee fight system (when it's not clashing with the piss poor camera and unfairly ganging up on you - early on, at least), is also generally good fun, especially when using environmental elements to dish out some extra damage. Similarly, there are a few really good vehicle action sequences dotted about, with the slow-mo ability to lean out of a window and shoot at pursuing baddies - all the more satisfying when you blow out their tyres and their vehicles pirouette into the air before exploding. Sleeping Dogs isn't always intuitive, indeed there's quite a few rough edges covering all aspects of the gameplay and design, and constantly having to guzzle soda and gobble pork buns to temporarily boost your damage and health recovery stats gets real old real quick (I despise repetitive 'busy work' in games), but in spite of its shortcomings there's a good game in there, especially when the rain is falling and you find yourself amidst the towering concrete skyscrapers of the neon-lit city.

Writing - it's hard to keep motivated during lockdown. We're all living in this bizarre scenario with a lot of uncertainty floating about, and even with the lure of streaming box sets or just sleeping in all day, I've managed to get some solid writing done on a particular project that I'm chipping away at and conducting some script read-throughs via the techno-magic of video chats.

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