Sunday 31 May 2020

Flavours of the Month: May 2020...

While I have back-dated this blog post, you may have noticed my absence from the blog in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, we have encountered a family health emergency, which has turned all of our lives upside down and so, naturally, our focuses in our day-to-day lives have shifted. It happened in the last few days of May and since then we've been dealing with a lot of stuff, getting our heads around new things, and just trying to get things in order as well as take care of ourselves, too.

Expect blogging to be light and sporadic for the time being and we'll see how things go when stuff settles down, but for now here's some various flavours of my May 2020 before everything went upside down...

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


Top Gear: Series 11, 12, 13, 14 - what with the global lockdown, the telly schedules have been thrown into disarray as any show that can't be done through Zoom/Skype/etc, so it was an ideal time to revisit some old episodes of Top Gear I hadn't seen in a long time. These series date back to 2008 and 2009, and so there's an odd new layer to these old episodes as they reference current events from the time.

The Crazies (Blu-Ray) - even with the time capsule references to the times in which it was made (the early 1970s), George A. Romero's infection movie is still as relevant as ever, especially in the context of Covid-19. Bureaucratic failings, miscommunication, and public resistance, it all lends towards the endurance of the film's contemporary feel. Romero's film comes out of the gates in a frenzy that keeps on rolling with a sweaty sense of panic for the first 30-40 minutes, before settling down into a smaller scale game of cat and mouse as the protagonists attempt to escape the quarantine zone, and then it all escalates once more as frayed nerves and spreading infection send the events of the film - and even humanity's chances - up in the air like a bum set of cards thrown in frustration by a dejected gambler.

DC's Harley Quinn - an animated series following The Joker's ex-girlfriend Harley Quinn (voiced by Kaley Cuoco), which combines a style somewhat reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series from the 1990s with grown-up swearing and bouts of bloody violence.

Dead To Me: Season 2 - the first season was akin to a murder mystery, and therefore was chock full of delicious twists and cliffhangers that kept you hooked and hungry to find out what happened next. The second season, on the other hand, takes a slightly different tack, as it focuses more on the main characters having to hide their deeds and what that causes in terms of immediate calamity and longer term guilt. The second season has a few cliffhangers thrown in for good measure, but they do tend to get answered almost immediately in the next episode, sapping the story of some of the drama that was found in season one. Still, though, the central performances are all excellent, and the writing and directing is likewise very, very good, save for the very occasional clunky mis-step whenever the jargon of the Twittersphere (e.g. "mansplaining", "gaslighting") clumsily tumbles into the otherwise bitingly sharp dialogue.

Atlanta's Missing & Murdered: The Lost Children - in recent years there has been an explosion in true crime documentaries, with the likes of Making A Murderer pushing for more cinematic and forensic tellings. This HBO mini series documentary, about a succession of missing and murdered children cases in Atlanta at the turn of the 1980s, provides a lot of wider socio-political context to the case (which was also seen in a narrative context in the second season of Mindhunter). However, it does at times feel a bit rushed. Certain elements get their due coverage, but as the series unfolds you find more and more instances where people introduce theories based on little more than feelings or assumptions, rather than evidence, and the show rarely bothers to challenge or investigate further. However, considering how much evidence was no doubt lost (clues never gathered, interviews never conducted etc) during what appears to be a bungled case that was too inconvenient at a time when Atlanta was pushing itself as a major destination for new business and tourism, it's little wonder that such a cornucopia of theories and contradictory scraps of evidence exist. I wasn't convinced that the man convicted was totally innocent (he was only charged on two counts), as some interviewees theorise, but at the same time it would appear that not all of these cases are linked to a single killer for a single motive. This series does show how contentious this case was and continues to be, and even how entrenched different sides may have become in their opinion on the case. Will the full truth ever really be known, or even just a little?

South Park: Season 22 - weirdly, I had kind of forgotten about this season until it sprung up on Netflix. I had seen it when it originally aired, but somehow it got lost in the ether of my mind. It's a pretty solid season all-round, even if a the odd idea gets stretched a little bit thin, but there are also some particularly delicious satirical swipes dispensed throughout.

The Haunting of Hill House - Netflix's slow-burn spookshow, adapted from the book and created by Mike Flanagan (who adapted and directed Doctor Sleep), which I've been meaning to get to for quite a while now. It takes a while to get going, but the gradual drip-drip-drip reveals, twists, and flashbacks slowly pull the viewer in to the broader character drama, which is performed by an excellent cast. As a hardened horror genre fan, it never scared me, but it was nonetheless involving on a narrative and emotional level while also being sufficiently creepy throughout.


Hans Zimmer "Tears In The Rain" - as heard in Blade Runner 2049, a version of one of the most memorable pieces of music from the original 1982 film.

Ludwig Goransson "The Mandalorian (Main Theme)"


Sleeping Dogs: "Nightmare In North Point" and "Year of the Snake" (Xbox One) - the DLCs for Sleeping Dogs. One nuisance is that they are essentially self-contained, so certain bits of progress don't carry over from the main game (and why-oh-why are pork buns now so ineffective?). "Nightmare In North Point" is, essentially, the typical 'shove some zombies in it' idea that we've seen invade the DLC of many games. However, taking inspiration from Chinese spiritual beliefs, there's a unique look and feel to the ghosts of the afterlife returning to cause trouble. Mercifully, it's a brief play-through (98 minutes was my time), because the gameplay gets very repetitive quite quickly and the annoying sense of being 'ganged up on' returns from the main game. However, Northpoint being doused in murky darkness and fog does blend quite nicely with the rain-slick streets, narrow alleyways, and bright neon lights. "Year of the Snake", meanwhile, reverts to more cop work for Wei Shen as he faces off with a doomsday cult who are fixated on bombs and the the Chinese New Year. The nuisances felt in the main game and the other DLC, of course, return, as well as the odd new irritating bug (why doesn't the GPS work when I need to guide myself to the waterside to dump a car with a ticking bomb inside?) One mission was particularly annoying, as it involved another 'pile on' fight - but this time in a small room with frozen fish hanging everywhere so you couldn't see a damn thing. Such sloppiness has randomly reared its ugly head throughout my time playing Sleeping Dogs, causing a disproportionate amount of aggravation, but nevertheless I did enjoy the game and would welcome a sequel - but only after some serious polishing.

"Driven: The Men Who Made Formula One" by Kevin Eason - an informative but enjoyably breezy overview of the motor racing series, from its inception all the way through its development and expansion until the recent years of the sport. It doesn't skimp on the various controversies and scandals that have, on occasion, engulfed Formula One, but manages to detail these events with an even hand that never tips the reader into sleazy gossip. There are myriad books out there covering all aspects and eras of Formula One, but this is a good all-rounder, especially if you're looking to get a better general view of the sport's history on-and-off track.

Yakuza 0 (Xbox One) - I was only slightly aware of Sega's series of Yakuza games, although, being that it hasn't travelled all that far in English-speaking territories, that's hardly surprising. Touring through the Xbox Store, on the hunt for any good deals or hidden gems, I stumbled upon this 1980s-set prequel to the franchise. Having just played Sleeping Dogs, I was still in the mood for some East Asian open world punch 'em up action and had heard good things about this one. It gets off to an incredibly slow-burn start in the first couple of hours play time, dominated as it is by lengthy cutscenes while your controller sits there untouched on your knee, but once you can freely explore the open world and enjoy all of its distractions you are rewarded. There's a little bit of adjustment to switch your head from 'Western gamer' to 'Eastern gamer' in terms of the presentation and various idiosyncracies and, thus far, the only complaint is there's far too much text-based dialogue. There's an awful long way to go in the story yet (I'm only a handful of hours into it so far), but so far I'm enjoying it.

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