Adventures in Nouvion, squealin' Italian wheels, and many a trip into the printed word are just some of what's been setting the tone of my June/July 2020, if you know what I mean and I think you do...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
'Allo 'Allo! Series 4 through 9 - after three series, two of the characters had to be written out as the actors moved onto other things, but two new ones took their place (undercover resistance fighter Mimi La Bonq and woman-chasing Captain Bertorelli). The fifth series, seeking to appeal to potential American broadcasters, upped the usual 6-8 episode count to a staggering 26 episodes with pacier running times. With the audience familiar with certain set-ups and catchphrases, it's fun to see the writers subvert or play with some of these for comedic effect. Series 6 signalled that the peak had come and gone, with fatigue from the extra-long series 5 evident and the death of Jack Haig (who played Roger LeClerc) hanging over proceedings. Series 7 saw Gavin Richards depart with his Captain Alberto Bertorelli recast with LeClerc's series 6 replacement also recast. The slide continued with co-creator David Croft leaving the show and the effect is quite clear. There's many working parts still at play, but the glue is missing (and numerous opportunities for better jokes are left on the table unused), even though a surprise return (for one episode only) of Sam Kelly's Captain Geering, who left the show in series 3, was a welcome spark of inspiration. Series 8 continued the bumpy ride, while Series 9 saw yet another re-casting: this time with perpetually thwarted Gestapo goon Herr Flick (but credit to David Janson for studying Richard Gibson's portrayal and giving it his best). Series 9 did see a slight uptick in quality, although it was still decidedly below the show's peak. However, because you enjoy the characters and the evolving story you hang in there despite fewer laughs.
In Search Of Darkness II - a second dive into the extremely varied horror movie landscape of 1980s cinema. Again, each film only gets a very brief bit of coverage, but the slightly deeper looks at other related topics in-between brighten things up. Fortunately, there's less of one aspect that routinely jarred viewers in the previous ISoD doc.
Creepshow: Season 2 - the first episode was excellent (including a segment that can be summed up as "Bob Ross vs The Evil Dead"), the second episode was solid, the third was pretty 'meh', while the fourth and fifth episodes were generally quite solid, even if the latter's story was slightly drawn-out with not quite enough pay-off. However, the grand level of nerdiness in episode five was quite entertaining, especially for fans of George A. Romero.
Intelligence: Series 2 - creator/writer/co-star Nick Mohammed's GCHQ-set comedy makes a welcome return with co-star David Schwimmer. The slick back and forth between the characters retains the same energy and rapid humour of the first series, and each episode moves forward with a great sense of momentum. A third series certainly wouldn't go amiss.
The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs - or more specifically the "Just Joe Bob" version of the show. I never grew up with horror late night movie hosts like Zacherle or Elvira or 'Chilly Billy' Cardille (it's generally an American thing anyway), so the notion of someone cutting into the movie to talk for several minutes never made sense to me. I just wanna watch the movie or I just wanna watch the host. Cannily, Shudder have now put up a version of the show where it's just the Joe Bob Briggs portions, which is handy for viewers like me, moreso when you're already familiar with the movies in question and just wanna check out Joe Bob's asides and commentary. It's all the more involving once you get into it and realise how genuine they are and how much they care about the fans. In a tangential vein, I have fond memories of the BBC2's MovieDrome or Channel 4's "Censored" weekend hosted by Alex Cox/Mark Cousins and Mark Kermode respectively.
Colt .38 Special Squad (Blu-Ray) - directed by Massimo Dallamano and starring Ivan Rassimov as a crime boss who holds the city of Turin to ransom with a series of bombs in order to secure a boffo batch of diamonds. The second act is a little baggy, but either side is jam packed with violent action. Indeed, the opening half hour is pretty damn relentless. Part of the 'Years of Lead' 3-disc box set from Arrow Video.
Highway Racer (Blu-Ray) - directed by Stelvio Massi and starring Maurizio Merli, what it lacks in violent gunplay it more than makes up for with high octane pedal-to-the-metal car chases (courtesy of frequent James Bond stunt coordinator Remy Julienne) and a surrogate father/son subplot to underpin the frequent tyre-squealing action. Amidst all the brazen zipping and crashing about on the streets, the film also features a rather stunning spectacle as two cars chase each other - before one goes toppling! - down some of the historic Spanish steps. Filmed at 5am, the crew must have scarpered quick to escape the wrath of any protectors of historical architecture! Part of the 'Years of Lead' 3-disc box set from Arrow Video.
Savage Three (Blu-Ray) - Vittorio Salerno's Eurocrime movie, co-written by Ernesto Gastaldi, about a quietly raging sociopath who is outwardly presentable until the mask begins to slip. Pulling in his two friends, the trio go on a rampage of randomly targeted violence. It's an impressively caustic and cynical movie with a sense of misanthropy that hasn't yet gone out of style. Part of the 'Years of Lead' 3-disc box set from Arrow Video.
Like Rabid Dogs (Blu-Ray) - Mario Imperoli's super cynical Eurocrime flick in which a trio of wealthy offspring indulge their criminal whims at the expense of 'lower people', their breeding and privilege as the perfect cover for their devilish actions. Riddled with a surprising amount of nudity (even for a 1970s Italian genre flick), and a litany of sociopathic acts of violence, it makes for simultaneously titillating and grim viewing. Part of the 'Years of Lead' 3-disc box set from Arrow Video.
Heathers (Blu-Ray) - written by Dan Waters, this high school satire from the late 1980s continues to remain relevant because high school clics never go away. Even though shifting fashions (shoulder pads have been gone for decades) and social changes (this movie was released over a decade before the Columbine massacre), the biting wit, sharp direction, and spot-on performances continually breathe fresh air into the movie's lungs.
The Exorcist III (Blu-Ray) - William Peter Blatty's 1990 sequel, sweeping aside the derided Exorist II: The Heretic, had a bumpy ride during and after production. However, coming to it for the first time three decades since its release, it turned out to be quite a good watch. Naturally, it's not a patch on the original film - it never was going to beat that - but the doom-laden tone of Blatty's film grips the viewer in a chilling vice. However, it should also be noted that Blatty allows himself too much free reign with the script, with a tendency to tell rather than show on occasion (the inverse of a foundation block of screenwriting) and indulge in longwinded asides that add little (e.g. the "carp" speech). Brad Dourif steals the movie as The Gemini Killer.
True Romance (Blu-Ray) - written by Quentin Tarantino, and directed by Tony Scott (who envisioned it more as a fairy tale), this 1994 crime-fuelled caper starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette feels as fresh and entertaining as it always has.
Fear Street: Part One 1994, Part Two 1978, Part Three 1666 - based on R.L. Stine's series of teen horror books, this Netflix movie trilogy is chock full o' style (dig the widescreen photography and colourful lighting) but feels light on suspense and tension building. The backstory of the two town's deadly history works well, but the over-reliance on needle drop music and pace-halting heart-to-hearts can grate as often as it slides on by nicely. 1978, in particular, continually grinds to a halt for said heartfelt talks, while the casting of the Pilgrims in 1666 proves to be distracting and confusing - are you just recycling cast members? Are they all supposed to be genetically linked or just some of them - and if so, why? Those who are well-versed in the horror genre will catch numerous references throughout, with key touchpoints being the likes of Scream, Carrie, and Friday the 13th. The series may sometimes labour certain points too forcefully, and each part could have benefitted from being 5 to 10 minutes shorter, but overall the Fear Street trilogy is a good ride with enjoyable characters and a satisfying climax.
M83 "Digital Shades Vol. 2" (album)
Perturbator "Lustful Sacraments" (album)
Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive" (Summer Remix) by DjfunkmasterG & Rafhy MXS
Moderat "The Mark (Interlude)"
Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow "The Beach" and "The Alien"
Deep Purple "Hush"
Los Bravos "Bring A Little Lovin'"
The Rolling Stones "Out of Time (Strings Version)"
DC Lacroix "Devil's Son"
John Brennan and the Bigfeet "Lonely Red Christmas"
Mick Gordon "The Only Thing They Fear Is You"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
"Hard To Be A God" by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky - the Russian sci-fi writers' 1964 novel about explorers from a future Earth who visit a similarly inhabited planet, but which is centuries behind their home world, enduring the tribulations of a Medieval struggle for power. As observers they shouldn't interfere with the events unfolding, but can they just stand idly by as the inevitable wheels of history turn and grind innocents into a pulp? It gets off to a slightly obtuse start, not helped by renaming certain characters and getting lost in world-building asides when a direction for the plot should be getting laid out, but gradually you get sucked in. Sometimes it really could use a smidge more clarity in the plotting and prose, but overall it's a good read.
Just Cause 4 (Xbox One) - the best part of the game is just going around the open world blowing shit up and advancing the Army of Chaos' front line. The worst part of the game are the missions, which feature some of the absolute worst examples of path finding that I've ever seen. So often you just have no idea what you're supposed to do or where you're supposed to find what you're looking for. Even the side missions can be filled with nuisances - such as NPCs who take forever to hop in your vehicle or shoot their targets. The last couple of Garland missions, though ... holy crap. The design of those missions (basically racing through checkpoints) is so poorly done that I was shocked. Gateways facing the wrong way, vehicles that are incapable of taking the jumps without flying off course (vehicles cannot handle any debris or terrain - APCs get sent flying by those little runway lights!!!), and checkpoints placed in idiotic positions so that you often going screaming past a sudden turn or miss your jump and then you've gotta reload. How can a job done that badly be allowed to go to market and then never be patched? Hmmm ... time to tether some fuel silos together and blow some more shit up to blow off steam. Naturally, it was only after I'd completed the main story that I discovered the wingsuit rocket pack modification, typical!
"Cinema Sewer: Volume 4" by Robin Bougie - more down 'n' dirty fringe cinema fanatacism. Some highlights include articles covering topics such as video store memories, how Ted Bundy duped an evangelical preacher hours before his execution, underground compilation videos, and the history of on-set film deaths.
#FWOAN - we're working away at this project, gradually making progress as a team with some great new additions. I've also recently returned to writing the last few scripts for it. One episode flowed out of me quite quickly, despite several months away (for obvious reasons, but also to work on other writing projects) and another episode has been a real bitch to try and drag onto the page, while another was came along in fits and starts. But it's coming along nicely.
Video Babes From Beyond - it's strange how the creative mind can work. One morning as I was getting ready for the day, still half in a sleepy stupor, a pretty fully formed idea suddenly injected itself into my mind. I rushed off and scribbled down some notes and put it aside. A week later, as I was just beginning to fall asleep, a new rush of ideas shot out of my subconscious like a bullet and insisted I turn the light back on and spend the best part of an hour hashing out the new details. This is shaping up to be ideal for a short one-off, or part of an anthology film. Having recently spent a lot of time in 'FWOAN mode', it was nice to divert elsewhere creatively for a little spell while a different muse had hold of me.
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" by Quentin Tarantino - the filmmaker's first novel provides an expanded telling of his hugely successful 9th film. Wisely, QT knows that his readers will have most likely seen the movie already, so not only is the film's ending referenced early on in the book, but many scenes in the book aren't in the movie and vice versa as he takes a different angle on the material. Quite often we get to read what happened before or after particular moments, or get an expanded or alternative version of certain scenes. I've rarely blasted through a book as quickly as this one, I enjoyed it that much.
"Animal Farm" by George Orwell - the author's penultimate book is a brief satire of the Russian revolution, which thrust the famous phrase "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others" into the mainstream. It's clear why this book has been taught in schools (and should continue to be), with many of its twisted events as relevant today as ever (very much like Orwell's final book "1984").
"The Man In The High Castle" by Philip K. Dick - having binge-watched the four season Amazon Prime TV adaptation, I thought I'd give the source material a read. Clearly, the show used the book as a basis and little more, as the book's story is far narrower in scope. However, you can see why it was so ripe for adaptation, and it's fun as a writer to spot the pieces that the TV show ran with and how they were adapted. Mind you, considering the vast scope of the central idea, it's honestly a bit underwhelming to find that Dick focused so much on small scale personal stories (e.g. far too much time is dedicated to the EdFrank jewellery business subplot when much larger pieces are at play).
"Savini: The Biography" by Tom Savini & Michael Aloisi - chock full of excellent images from the Splatter Master's life and work, and with some surprisingly candid and personal stories strewn throughout the better known chapters of his life, it's an informative and brisk read. Certain asides are a little too swiftly told (e.g. an eye-opening recollection of a kidnapping), and there is naturally some common ground between this and the excellent documentary film about Savini, which you can find it on Shudder. The text could have used some judicious editing here and there to improve the flow, tidy up some structural issues, and trim back a few 'TMI' passages from Savini's bedroom adventures during the Grindhouse shoot, but Savini fans will be thoroughly entertained.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) (Xbox One) - remember the good old days when you could buy a game, stick it in your console, and just play it? Activision sure as hell don't. EIGHT HOURS it took to install the game and download the raft of gargantuan updates (was there any point in releasing it on a physical disc in that case?!), and then came the total faff that was setting up a bloody 'Activision Account'. Now we have to set up accounts to even play a game?! I thought it was stupid enough having to do that with Doom Eternal, but is this now going to be a thing? I just want to insert the game and press play, alright? What's so hard about that?
Beyond the staggeringly stupid and infuriating processes above, once I finally got to get into the game I quite enjoyed it. The action is meaty, the stealthier moments are tense (e.g. the night vision raid on a London town house, or an enemy compound), and there are numerous moments which inject some sobering realism in this day and age of grey areas and no uniforms. Occasionally the chaos gets a little too frenetic and you lose track of where you're going, and for some reason the walk speed often times feels just a bit too slow and clunky, but the core gameplay is typically solid.