Monday, 30 November 2020

Flavours of the Month: October & November 2020...

Struggles continue to be endured, but we're still standing and putting one foot in front of the other. Anyway, spooky doings, a Russian snail, and an exceedingly colourful 1947 are just some of what's been setting the tone of my October & November 2020...

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


Race To Perfection - this seven-part documentary series about Formula 1 does on occasion repeat itself, while some episodes fail to give a broad enough view on certain topics. However, it's a solid overview of the sport's 70-year history.

The Comey Rule - a four-part drama based on the real story of FBI Director James Comey, the 2016 US election, and the chaos of Trump's initial time in the white house that lead up to Comey's very public firing from the job. Painting Comey as a man besieged from both sides of the political spectrum and desperately trying to weave a truthful line down the middle of a swamp of lies, you can't help but simultaneously feel sorry for the guy and find respect for his apparent pursuit of honesty in a seriously dishonest world.

South Park: Season 23 - a second spin of this season in a binge-viewing manner helps ride out the week-by-week sense of repetition that befell the first six episodes, which focused entirely too much on Randy Marsh and his Tegridy Weed venture. It's a good storyline and he's a character with plenty to mine, but it/he are best mined in more modest doses, as evidenced by the much more varied stories of the last four episodes of the season.

The Walking Dead: Season 9 (Blu-Ray) - a second viewing of Angela Kang's first season as show runner once again confirms just how damn good Season 9 was.

The Cabin with Bert Kreischer - despite the kind of clumsy/out-of-place second episode (feeling more like a get out of jail free card so that the remainder of the episodes can be pleasingly near-the-knuckle), this is a fun distraction from the drudgery of 2020. One's mileage will vary from episode-to-episode, depending on your familiarity with those appearing on-screen, and there's no hiding that certain sequences feel staged to a degree that leaves the viewer feeling disjointed from the rest of Bert & Co's shenanegans.

The Haunting of Bly Manor - great writing and characters, supported by a top notch cast (some returning, in new roles, from The Haunting of Hill House), and considerable behind-the-camera skill, makes this Gothic romance/ghost story mix a compelling watch. Gradually-paced, it may lack some of the chills and thrills of Hill House, but the focus on rich characterisation once again succeeds in sucking the viewer into the story as the layers are slowly peeled back to reveal heart-wrenching truths. Superb. A third Haunting, please!

The Alienist: Season 2 - based on Caleb Carr's second novel in the series, The Angel of Darkness, this eight-episode season moves at a swift pace, keeping you hooked with dark twists and rich characterisation. The central cast is superb, breathing life into their characters and mining subtle depths for emotional hooks to get the audience invested. The odd sub-plot gets sidelined here or there, such as Kreizler's guardianship of one of his patients (a boy intrigued by magic) or, again relating to Kreizler (but to a lesser degree by comparison to the former), his burgeoning relationship with a fellow doctor of the mind. On rare occasions the season does inject a little too much 2020 into its 1897, but the actual meat of the scripts themselves fortunately manage to skirt away from any feeling that they may be pandering too hard. The twisted cruelties and social ways of 1897 New York still makes for grim viewing at times, but it nonetheless remains arresting viewing. Hopefully a third season will be on the cards, but just remember to inject a little more Laslo this time ... he is the title character, after all!

The Sect (DVD) - Michele Soavi's 1991 horror fantasy film in which Kelly Curtis' mild-mannered teacher is drawn into a strange plot revolving around a demonic cult. Needlessly drawn-out to almost two hours, the film lacks propulsion in the first half (which feels about 15 minutes behind schedule come the 45 minute mark), but Soavi's particular visual flair keeps you interested as the multitude of weird and wonderful sights are drip-fed throughout. It's not a patch on his 1989 film The Church, which filled it's shorter running time with much more meat and a sublime use of music, but The Sect is still worth checking out for Soavi/Italian genre film fans.

Truth Seekers: Season 1 - co-starring Nick Frost, who is one of the show's creators (along with the likes of Simon Pegg, who also has a supporting role), this paranormal comedy from Amazon Studios gets off to a slightly slow start, but soon begins to find its footing to become an enjoyable watch (a second season would be quite welcome). Malcom McDowell also appears in a supporting role, full of acerbic wit as Frost's grumpy Dad.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (Blu-Ray) - this 1984 Christmas-set slasher movie caused a furore in America upon its initial release, supposedly destroying the sanctity of the holiday season, but has since gone on to be a genre favourite amongst horror fans. Laced with a dark sense of humour, and a clear distaste for the strictures of Catholicism, it also features one of the genre's most iconic death scenes - involving Scream Queen Linnea Quigley and a mounted deer head. The film was loosely remade a few years back as Silent Night, which was less sleazy and gritty, but quite stylish and with superior characterisation.

Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story (Blu-Ray) - a late entry in the Italian 'Cannibal' sub-genre, but one that doesn't really feature any cannibalism to speak of at all. Another such film from 1985, Massacre In Dinosaur Valley, helped continue the 'jungle adventure' trend in Italian exploitation cinema, by combining the huge success of Cannibal Ferox/Make Them Die Slowly on New York's 42nd Street with the popular adventure film Romancing The Stone. The blatantly false 'true story' that forms the basis for the film's plot is more of a dark 'gone native' tale and has more in common with 1972's Man From Deep River. It's entertaining enough for followers of Italian genre movies from back-in-the-day, but any folks expecting something like Cannibal Holocaust will be bitterly disappointed, despite there being plenty of exploitation elements at play.

Dawn of the Dead (Blu-Ray) - the much-anticipated Second Sight release, a seven-disc doorstopper featuring brand new HD restorations of the three main cuts of the film, a raft of new & existing extras, three soundtrack CDs, a hardback book of film appreciation and info, as well as the novelisation in paperback.

Ratched: Season 1 - loosely inspired by the character of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, this Netflix series was created by Evan Romansky and developed by Ryan Murphy, with Romanksy writing alongside Ian Brennan and Jennifer Salt. Lavishly produced and doused in bold colours, the look of the show is lush - from the costumes and sets to the vehicles and Bernard Hermann-esque music. The story itself, though, is surprisingly pulpy for such a glitzy-looking show, with sudden splashes of blood-gushing violence storming in every once in a while. In terms of characterisation, too often the show strays into broad brush technique, but fortunately not so much when it comes to the likes of Ratched herself, and other key players such as Head Nurse Betsy Bucket. It occasionally stumbles into the odd plothole, or drips a little too much 2020 into 1947, but over-the-piece it makes for an entertaining ride over the course of eight episodes.

The Comedy Store - five-part Showtime documentary series about the famous Los Angeles landmark, through which every big name in American stand-up comedy has passed through for the last several decades. Brisk yet informative, it charts the whole history of The Comedy Store by combining nostalgia and raw honesty.

James May: Oh, Cook! - I'm not watching it for the cookery aspect, to be honest, just for the James May aspect. I find his affable presenting style and inclusion of bugger ups, arse-ing about, and breaking the 4th wall of whatever programme format he's working in to be quite entertaining.


Ringo Deathstarr (the self-titled 2020 album)

Bleachers "Let's Get Married", "Wild Heart"

Chromatics "Closer To Grey" (album)

Blink182 "Take Off Your Pants and Jacket" (album)

Rob Zombie "The Triumph of King Freak (A Crypt of Preservation and Superstition)"

Robert Palmer "Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)"


"The Invention of Sound" by Chuck Palahniuk - the Fight Club author's latest novel is a brisk and breezy dive into the underworld of Hollywood sound design, as the story of a foley artist's terrifyingly real recordings of screams for movies dovetails with that of a man searching for his missing daughter. On occasion, those familiar with Palahniuk's work, may see where certain plot points are heading before they are revealed, but the swift pace of the storytelling helps avoid any unnecessary drawing out of the prose (as seen in Doomed, the sequel to the much swifter Damned). Palahniuk's gift for extracting dark humour from absurd situations continues, a highlight being a kidnapping with a twist.

"The Snail on the Slope" by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky - the Russian Sci-Fi writers' 1968 novel features a dual narrative, focusing on Peretz and Candide. Peretz lives in "The Administration", a beaurocratic city sat atop a cliff that overlooks "The Forest", and he desperately wants to leave so he can explore the mysterious Forest world below. Candide, meanwhile, lives in The Forest but wants to return to The Administration from whence he came. Each character is frustrated in their efforts to leave their respective locales to try and reach the other. Being that this is a Russian SF novel, there is a tendency for over-written dialogue and a meandering pace, but the seams of absurdist humour and sci-fi mystery woven throughout the story maintains your intrigue. Still, come the end, you might be left scratching your head somewhat - but Boris' afterward does at least shed some light on their narrative intentions. The Strugatsky's best-known novel is 1972's Roadside Picnic, which was adapted by Andrei Tarkovsky for his film Stalker.

"The Penultimate Truth" by Philip K. Dick - set in a world where World War 3 rages above ground and workers toil underground in nuclear bunkers, their heads filled with the ravages of the surface, the reality might not be quite what they've been told. Dick's prose takes a little getting into here (sentences within sentences, commas flying about all over the place), but it's a good read.

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