Crazy island-based goings on, returning to E-Corp, and Maurizio Merli's flyin' fists are just some of what's been setting the tone of my August/September 2021...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Mr. Robot: Season 3 & 4 - after watching the first two seasons about four years ago on the now defunct Universal channel on Sky, the show became an Amazon Prime exclusive in the UK. Now though, I've been able to pick up where I left off with Sam Esmail's techo-thriller. The first season was spot-on, and while I enjoyed season two, it did feel a little bit like 'difficult second album syndrome'. Season three, however, rediscovered a sure footing and managed to find the sweet spot for the stylistic choices (e.g. not going as far as the jarring '90s sitcom' episode from season two). It also goes to show the benefit of allowing the key creative to have a considerable amount of control as Esmail writes and/or directs the majority of the episodes. As a result, the seasons have a consistent vision, sense of pace and tone, and the story flows perfectly. Season 4 does slow down a bit at times, but 'binge watching' it manages to paper over any real lulls in the pacing.
Friday the 13th Parts 1, 2, & 4 - there was an actual Friday on the 13th in August, so why not? I love the look and feel of the first two movies, not only in terms of the cinematography and music, but in terms of the East coast vibe. From part three onwards they shot on the West coast while pretending it was on the East side of North America. The most egregious example of this came with the 2009 remake, which was blatantly shot in Texas.
The Walking Dead: Season 11-A - after the mostly underwhelming additional six episodes tacked onto the end of season 10 (at least they gave the production a chance to figure out how to work in a Covid-compliant way), TWD is back on track. The general focus on telling multiple stories in different locations has injected a nice sense of pace and variety (something which has been inconsistent since the latter half of the Scott Gimple era of the show), and there is a sense that, with a specific number of episodes remaining, TWD's direction and sights have been realigned. There's also a notable focus on out-right horror elements at times, with some particularly grotesque stories plucked from the depths of depravity in the zombie apocalypse, a perfect counterbalance to the old world nature of the Commonwealth safe zone.
Jack Ryan: Season 1 & 2 - Amazon Prime's lavishly produced CIA thriller stars John Krasinski as the titular hero, updated for the current era (as opposed to when the character was originally written, swept up in Cold War paranoia). It can occasionally feel a bit too talky at times, as if it's having to save some cash for the action to come, and the odd subplot feels underdeveloped (e.g. Ryan's romantic relationship in season one), but it's a good quality show and well worth checking out.
T2: Trainspotting (Blu-Ray) - having read my first Irvine Welsh novel, which happened to be his follow-up to Trainspotting (titled "Porno"), it was interesting to see what was kept from the original novel and what was ditched in favour of building upon elements from the first movie. Considering the time period and plot of "Porno" it makes absolute sense that they went in a different direction and ended up with something deeper and more emotionally resonant (not that "Porno" wasn't grotesquely enjoyable). Changes aside, there's still an awful lot of elements from the source novel that have been carried over.
Locke & Key: Season 1 - it took me a few episodes to get into it, especially with one or two characters being quite irritating around the mid-point, but when a few realisations kick-in the show takes an uptick and I found myself looking forward to the second season, which will hopefully find a more even balance between the teen drama and horror fantasy elements.
Invasion USA (Blu-Ray) - I hadn't seen a Chuck Norris movie before (The Expendables 2 notwithstanding), until now, and this was a great place to start, hitting out from they heyday of Cannon Films. Pretty friggin' awesome!
The Tough Ones (Blu-Ray) - aka Brutal Justice, aka Rome Armed To The Teeth (surely the superior title?), this Eurocrime flick is directed by Umberto Lenzi, written by Dardano Sacchetti, and stars Maurizio Merli (five minutes deep and he's already punching crims like he does best!) and Tomas Milian (unpredictable and always watchable). The plotting leaves something to be desired as too many elements feel disconnected with events just kinda happening, but the energetic action sequences and the captivating performances of Merli and Milian make-up for the script problems. 88 Films are upping their game, but did this really require deluxe packaging? The accompanying booklet isn't up to much content wise and £24.99 feels a bit rich. While there's a broad selection of extras (generally a big step up from some of 88 Films' earlier releases where such things were thin on the ground), I still don't quite see the justification for a price point equal to Arrow Video's deluxe releases of The Thing or Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas or Tremors, which really did earn that higher price. There seems to be a worrying trend of other niche market distributors looking to cash-in on the dedicated fanbase for cult movies without going the full distance to truly justify it.
Turning Point: 9/11 and The War On Terror - an in-depth and informative exploration of what came before and after the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001. Well worth seeing, especially as it clearly makes the point of just how necessary it is to learn from past mistakes, a rare thing indeed.
Island of Death (Blu-Ray) - Nico Mastorakis' sordid film is part travelogue (it's set on the Greek island of Mykonos) and part Video Nasty (it ended up on the Director of Public Prosecutions list of 72 films deemed capable of corrupting the minds of Britons - and their dogs! - in the 1980s). A seemingly normal young couple arrive on the beautiful island, but their holiday is swiftly revealed to be an escape from the law. The crime wave that ensues involves incest, humiliation, goat shagging, rape (of men and women), decapitation by bulldozer and other methods of murder (including death by bucket of paint!) - all perpetrated by the couple under the curious guise of 'rooting out' anyone they deem to be perverse. It's a bit overlong at 106 minutes, but it's a wild mish-mash of grotesque behaviour and a gorgeous setting.
Brand New Cherry Flavour - eight-part Netflix limited series about a filmmaker who goes to Los Angeles in the early 1990s to start her feature film career as a director, only to stumble into betrayal and decidedly bizarre weirdness, which starts out with her barfing up a kitten. Indeed! By the end of the story it does leave certain plot threads somewhat dangling while also seemingly wrapping up the tale, so the viewer is left with numerous questions, but over-the-piece the David Lynch/David Cronenberg mash-up of Hollywood weirdness and body horror freakiness keeps you watching, even though it does tend to meander on occasion.
The Cleaner - written by and starring Greg Davies, the titular character is a crime scene cleaner. Each episode features a different home where a death has occurred, and The Cleaner's interactions with the remaining occupants. The first episode finds a murder scene with Helena Bonham Carter playing The Widow. The humour has that British lowkey vibe to it with intermittent moments of breakout weirdness. For example: a musical duet where one half is sat on the toilet going number two!
Midnight Mass - seven-part Netflix series created by Mike Flanagan of "The Haunting of Bly Manor" and "Doctor Sleep" fame, in which the residents of a fishing village on a remote island descend into religious hysteria as seemingly miraculous events begin to transpire. Once again, Flanagan's work boasts richly drawn characters with slow-burn storytelling that rewards patient viewers, even if there is a propensity for long-winded monologues and speeches-a-plenty. More a drama mixed with psychological paranoia, there are outright horror elements littered throughout, erupting in a final episode that nods most keenly towards John Carpenter's "The Thing". Funnily enough, though, the obvious horror elements are far from the scariest or most chilling aspects of this show: the religious doctrine and the self-righteousness of characters like Bev are what's really terrifying. The gradual pacing can be a bit too gradual at times, but it all builds towards a satisfying climax. Well worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of Flanagan's ouevre.
Rob Zombie "The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy" (album)
Ringo Deathstarr (the 2020 album)
CKY "The Phoenix" (album)
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts "I Hate Myself For Loving You"
M83 "Saturdays = Youth"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
"Cinema Sewer Vol. 5 & Vol. 6" by Robin Bougie - another couple of doses of the Canadian's wild and weird dives into the fringes of cinema and sin. Always interesting, always eye opening, always honest and true to its creator's vision.
"Porno" by Irvine Welsh - a very different version of this story, albeit one that retained all the essentials of the novel, came to pass in T2: Trainspotting. It's been interesting to compare and contrast Welsh's original sequel, which takes place at the turn of the millennium - and in a very different world to what we live in today - with what was kept, what was adapted, and what was ditched for the aforementioned film version. The novel itself does feel overlong, dipping into too much minutiae at times, but underneath all the vulgarity and harshness there are characters that you come to feel close to, chief among them being the embattled Spud.
"Once Upon A Time ... in the Valley" - a 12-part 'real-life noir' podcast series by Lili Anolik and Ashley West (of the Rialto Report podcast) covering the life and fallout of Traci Lords, whose notorious career nearly destroyed the adult industry in North America. Occasionally it can feel a bit too 'professional' and 'performed', Anolik in particular plays to the microphone a tad too much, but her studying and structuring of the Traci Lords story, along with West, is spot on. The viewer's opinion of Lords shifts continuously as the perspectives change, revealing a deeply complicated story with victims and perpetrators simultaneously being the other as well during the unfolding story. A fascinating exploration of a notorious public figure, the truth about whom cannot be gleaned from one perspective, and can never be as clean-cut as some might expect or wish.
Writing - looking to write something different to take a break from all things FWOAN-related, I dug up an old idea I had from a while back and immediately the muse struck with numerous scenes and character notions flooding in. I mapped out the story (good old pen and paper and record cards) and then, with the muse very much with me and not wanting to plan it to death (and lose my mojo before getting anything actually written), I set about hammering the keyboard and making tweaks, rearranging some story cards and so on as I wrote. The first draft came together over a period of three weeks. It's a clear horror genre piece, a feature, with an ensemble cast set in and around primarily one location.