Polite Kiwi paranormal activities, more alternative history, and some acrobatic aerial explosive chaos is just some of what has been setting the tone of my April and May 2021...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Wellington Paranormal: Seasons 1, 2, 3 - from the makers of What We Do In The Shadows, this spin-off docu-comedy paranormal riff on those 'traffic cop documentary' series has proved to be a hidden gem. With a year of Covid havoc and TV/film productions impacted greatly, broadcasters are evidently looking further afield for unseen content. I thought this was a brand new show when I saw a trailer for it on YouTube, but discovered there were three seasons. The first season is a bit patchy, taking some trial and error to find the right balance, but season two from the get-go not only has the vibe spot-on, but the budget to match its requirements. The subtle and ironic New Zealand humour can take a few episodes to tune into, but once you're in the mindset it's a real pleasure to be in the company of Officers Minogue and O'Leary, and Sergeant Maaka. I wasn't quite convinced in the first few episodes, but suddenly it all clicked - definitely worth checking out.
The Man In The High Castle: Seasons 3 & 4 - the first season was a slow burn and kept the viewer at a distance, but the second season was able to delve deeper into the emotional lives, sacrifices, and cracks widening beneath the surface of the main cast of characters. Similarly, the third and fourth seasons delved deeper and deeper into the conflicts (both external and internal) of the characters while also expanding the scope of the whole story, raising the stakes to tantalising levels. Season 4, wrapping the whole story up, also felt particularly brisk in its pacing (the previous seasons tended to have some scattered dawdling here and there). The only downside to the fourth season is the rather abrupt cutting of a main character (for scheduling conflict reasons), but the narrower focus injects a sense of urgency into proceedings as the generally satisfying (if somewhat suggestive/mysterious) climax draws near.
Invincible: Season 1 - based on Robert Kirkman's comic book series, and with an impressive voice cast, this superhero tale somehow manages to sidestep the sense of fatigue that is beginning to set-in with the whole superhero genre. The touchstone elements are evident, but they help the show simultaneously utilise genre familiarity while riffing on it with extreme violence.
Frank of Ireland: Series 1 - created by (sons of Brendan) Brian and Domhnall Gleeson, and Michael Moloney, this comedy centres around the titular Frank, a 30-something layabout and his assortment of similarly self-destructive friends and family (including occasional girlfriend Aine, and loyal BFF Doofus). Each episode takes nods of inspiration from different movies (e.g. Home Alone, 12 Angry Men) while combining it with overtly silly humour, which makes for an enjoyable watch over the course of its six episodes.
Dressed To Kill (Blu-Ray) - Brian De Palma's riff on the giallo film takes inspiration from Dario Argento and Alfred Hitchcock, but it's no mere copycat exercise and displays De Palma's gift for visual storytelling as large chunks of the movie features next-to-no dialogue.
The Shining (Blu-Ray) - the longer North American version. Having grown up watching the shorter International version, it's curious to watch this longer original cut of the film. Some sequences or shots add little of value, while other sequences provide information you get later in the movie anyway. There's a few portions that work quite nicely, and regardless of which version you're watching it's always going to be a Kubrick masterpiece, but it'll always be the shorter version that wins out for me.
The Sons of Sam - Netflix's four-part true crime documentary about the notorious 'Son of Sam / .44 Caliber Killer' murders in 1970s New York, and the obsessive journey of one investigative reporter by the name of Maury Terry, who was able to uncover a hidden story behind the flashy headlines that lead to even darker depths. While the conspiracy theories of the Hotel Cecil docu-series were total garbage, there's an awful lot of compelling theories laid out here in a labyrinthine narrative that spans decades of North American underground crime and cultism regardless of whether all the dots are linked up.
Land of the Dead (Blu-Ray) - the UK port of Scream Factory's 2017 two-disc release. The new retrospective interviews and the inclusion of Roy Frumkes' "Dream of the Dead" documentary build upon the solid (but over-edited) selection of extras from the original release fifteen years ago. I've always dug this movie, one that divided fans of Romero's zombie flicks, but I certainly feel that the intervening years have helped Land of the Dead settle in more with the previous three entries in his living dead saga.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (Blu-Ray)
'Allo 'Allo!: Series 1, 2, & 3 (DVD) - the themetune takes me right back to the 1990s, returning from the 'big family shop' at Tesco on a late Saturday afternoon. I'd scurry into the TV room to watch repeats of whatever was showing, such as old episodes of Dr Who, and it was about this time in the schedules that they would also run repeats of Jeremy Lloyd & David Croft's beloved war time sitcom. The style of writing and humour is - quite obviously - of its time, while the farcical plots, iconic characters, and memorable catchphrases still shine.
Army of the Dead - Zack Snyder's zombie action flick has impressive visuals, but utterly stumbles due to a script littered with sloppy plotting, surface-level characterisation, and a distinct lack of internal logic. A selection of cool moments (e.g. the tiger fight, mulching a zombie with a mounted .50 cal machine gun, the large scale zombie chaos of Las Vegas' fall) does not make a movie, though, as the story raises far too many questions with no logical in-world answers, while numerous characters make stupid and annoying decisions (think about the teen girl chasing after the dog in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead). Those sorts of flaws constantly get in the way of truly enjoying the movie even as a bit of dumb fun - even dumb fun should make sense in its own way. Snyder can make a great looking flick, but he needs to leave the screenplay (he was lead writer on this project) to other people who have been given enough time to write something properly, know what they're doing, and are willing to adhere to internal logic.
Rob Zombie "Hellbilly Deluxe", "The Sinister Urge" (albums)
Alice Cooper "Paranormal", "Detroit Stories" (albums)
Green Day "Father Of All..." (album)
Green Day "Pollyanna"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Just Cause 4 (Xbox One) - I was looking for a bit of open world run-and-gun-and-blow-shit-up action, so nabbed this on a sale. I played the previous game, which notoriously suffered from frame rate issues, but fortunately JC4 runs much smoother, even if the graphics sometimes look rather rough around the edges. Many of the missions are still clunky in their construction while NPC AI wavers between 'dopey' and 'kamikazee', but it's a lot of fun to swoop around the vast open environment via parachute or wingsuit before pinching an attack helicopter to do a bit of map clearing. Mind you: gun toting drones - they can fuck right off. Something else that bugs me: the game does a terrible job of telling the player what they're supposed to be doing and where they're supposed to be going within a mission. On-screen markers are thin light blue (which easily gets lost amidst the explosive action) and their placement is super vague at times leaving the player utterly baffled as to what they're supposed to be targeting. But you know what's really satisfying? Shooting off the ends of fuel tanks and sending them like rockets into the nearest explosive object.
"Permanently Suspended: The Rise and Fall ... and Rise Again of Radio's Most Notorious Shock Jock" by Anthony Cumia, Johnny Russo, and Brad Trackman - the autobiography of American 'shock jock' radio host Anthony Cumia, part of the beloved (and infamous) Opie & Anthony show.
"Cinema Sewer: Volume 3" by Robin Bougie - another deep dive into the scintillating and lurid delights of fringe cinema and various weirdness. I've already got the next three volumes parked up and ready to read in due course.