A new era for a beloved franchise, televisual hits and misses, and a smoke-spewing screaming tear through the wasteland are just some of what's been setting the tone of my February and March 2022...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Peaky Blinders: Series 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 - created and written by Steven Knight, the show has gone through numerous directors and producers, but the consistency of Knight's top class screenwriting helps maintain the quality of the storytelling and characterisation. It perhaps works slightly less well the further the protagonists get from their start in Small Heath in season 5 and 6 specifically, but the broader canvas involving large conspiracies and political intrigue nevertheless affords opportunity for grand things. The long-awaited return with the sixth and final series certainly carries with it the weight of expectation and the gravity of Helen McCrory's death.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Blu-Ray) - the way that many people regard the original 1977 Star Wars, how it was a pivotal cultural cornerstone of their formative years, that's the way I feel about Ghostbusters. There was very little of value in the 2016 remake, and my opinion has only lowered since then, considering just how catastrophically misguided and mean-spirited that film was, combined with its thunderously unfunny 'toss a bunch of adlibs into the edit at random' approach to comedy (seemingly the go-to style in America for the last 15 years to exponentially lesser success). Anyway, enough about that, because Afterlife clearly comes from a place of respect for the source material but also, crucially, respect for the fans.
In recent years we've seen a lot of antagonism directed at the fanbases of various beloved franchises (or even potential fanbases for new IPs), but the tide is turning back as the money-minded suits realise there's not much cash in spitting on the audience and the stories they love. Afterlife, written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman (also the director), manages to walk a razor-thin tightrope, weaving numerous new elements and characters into existing narrative blocks and amazingly makes it all work and, importantly, makes it all feel like a natural next step in the franchise while never forgetting where it came from.
In the space of five days I watched it twice and, aside from one single line of cringey dialogue, there's nothing I'd change about it, not even the fact that the original 'Busters are only on-screen for a few minutes. You see, the fans didn't just want more of the same, they wanted something that respected the material and cared for it as much as they do. It's really that simple as a concept, but to execute something as successful as Ghostbusters Afterlife is quite the remarkable feat.
Disenchantment: Season 4 - it's never been as iconic as The Simpsons (during its heyday, that is), nor as inventively funny or moving as Futurama, but there's enough silliness to keep you interested while the animation and visual design is beautiful. It lacks the balls-out laughter of the aforementioned shows, but it's not without its giggles, backed up by a top notch cast of voice actors.
Catching Killers: Season 2 - four episodes, three true crime cases, all from the perspective of the homicide detectives charged with doing what it says on the tin. The cost to their home life, due to the toll of the hours spent on the case sifting through dead ends and failed theories, before the earth shattering relief of finally arresting the murderer, is palpable. Stylishly put together, a few wrinkles from the first season have been ironed out a bit. Dark, but brisk viewing.
High Rise (Blu-Ray) - directed by Ben Wheatley, written by Amy Jump. The novel, released in 1975, is set in a very near future, so it was canny of Jump to set the film in the 1970s in a retro-futurist setting with a sprinkling of David Cronenberg's "Shivers" thrown into the mix.
Nina Conti - I've been a fan of this British comedian/ventriloquist for quite a while (best known with her loose-lipped sidekick "Monkey"), and winded up tumbling down the YouTube rabbit hole of Nina Conti videos, which included a whole host of shorts on her YouTube channel (the lockdown bedtime ramblings and therapy sessions were particular favourites).
The Walking Dead: Season 11B - the second of three parts that constitute the final season of AMC's monster smash hit. As much as I love the show, there's been no excuse for anything more than 10 episodes (12 at a push) per season for years now in the TV landscape, and objectively the show's best years are behind it. However, after the uneven tenth season, the looming end does afford the eleventh season a degree of clarity and purpose with, at long last, our proper introduction to The Commonwealth. We'll see how it all shakes out in the end, and while I've adored the ride, it's certainly time for the journey to conclude.
Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father
Five Came Back - three-part documentary about the Hollywood filmmakers (John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens) who formed a team during World War II to explain to the audience why the USA needed to get involved in the battle while simultaneously documenting the extraordinary feats conducted in the face of facism. Stevens' work in particular proved to be of vital importance, as it was he and his team of cameramen who captured the horrifying reality of the Holocaust, footage that was used in evidence at the trials of Nazi war criminals.
Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two, Jackass 2.5, Jackass 3D, Jackass 3.5
Crossing Swords: Season 2
Formula 1: Drive To Survive: Season 4 - considering how epic the 2021 F1 season was, it's a little surprising that the fourth season of Netflix's particularly popular docu-series comes as a bit of a damp squib. Maybe it's down to people being much more aware of the events of the 2021 season, so as a result many of the storylines contain no tension: the viewer already knows how things end (who wins the championship, who transfers to which team etc). It's been said that with the fifth season there will be some changes, although quite what is unclear, but hopefully it'll address some of the valid criticisms laid at DTS' door, which has become known for a curiously relaxed approach to truth in a documentary.
Season 3's invented rivalry between Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz was quite egregious, moreso as season 4 then tries to erase that misrepresentation before launching into more twisted versions of events. Considering just how much drama unfurls over the course of a season in F1, there is simply no need to invent petty rivalries or move audio clips around to give them a different context. It's also incredible that the show has so many nominations for sound editing, considering how obvious the tweaks are to even casual ears. George Russell navigating the bus stop chicane at Spa, which is a 1st or 2nd gear corner, has the audio of his car in a much higher gear. That sort of stuff (including some strange clip choices during certain sequences) is very silly and easily pointed out by fans online, so why do it at all?
Structurally the show needs some tweaks as well. We don't want just a play-by-play recounting of the season (indeed, the behind the scenes glimpses of the stuff we DON'T see during the season is the best stuff), but there does need to be some sort of adjustment to the structuring of certain 'storylines'. Maybe seed them throughout the ten episodes, rather than cramming them into single episodes? Looking forward to season five, but hoping for some improvements.
Resident Alien: Season 2 - I never loved the first season, but I did quite like it. However, season two, which I ended up abandoning during episode five, has simply wrecked the show. The main plot is about an alien who crash lands on earth with the mission of wiping out humankind, only to find themselves getting to know the people and gradually changing their mind. Quite the story, so it's utterly baffling why it's been relegated to "B" or even "C" level importance in favour of promoting the unconnected, rather ordinary, and decidedly NOT science fiction stories of side characters and supporting players. The complete shift in storytelling priority witnessed in season two is beyond comprehension, made all the more galling by some dreadfully blunt screenwriting that breaks one of the core tenets of screenwriting: show don't tell. Side characters, who've got fuck all to do with an alien deciding on whether or not to kill all of humankind, lecturing the audience over issues of identity politics and other trending topics on Twitter does not make for good or enjoyable storytelling, it makes for thudding polemics at the expense of the entire narrative that supports the show's very existence. A real shame.
Peacemaker: Season 1 - with all eight episodes written by James Gunn (who also directs most of them for good measure), this is an immensely entertaining follow-up to Gunn's superb The Suicide Squad. A fun cast of characters, bursts of blood-soaked violence, 80s rock, a goofy dance number opening titles sequence, an eagle that can hug ... what's not to love?! Season two, please!
PJ Harvey "Red Right Hand"
Alan Parker & Bjorn Isfalt "What's Eating Gilbert Grape (Theme)"
Twisted Sister "The Kids Are Back"
Lois Lane "Amsterdamned"
Til Tuesday "Voices Carry"
Siouxsie & The Banshees "Cities In Dust"
Mariyln Manson & Tyler Bates "Stigmata"
Queen & David Bowie "Under Pressure"
Peter Schilling "Major Tom (Vollig Losgelost)"
Carpenter Brut "The Widow Maker (ft. Gunship)"
Dream Widow "Dream Widow" (album)
Wig Wam "Do Ya Wanna Taste It?"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
"High Rise" by J.G. Ballard - this 1975 novel was adapted into a film written by Amy Jump and directed by Ben Wheatley. Set in a forty-storey high rise, the floors split according to the three social classes, it follows middle class observer Laing, working class agitator Wilder, and upper class architect Royal as the newly completed building's 'teething problems' unravel the fabric of polite and ordered society and lead to a contained explosion of social anarchy. Great book, great film.
"The Blade Artist" by Irvine Welsh - the return of Francis Begbie, reborn post-prison as an artist in California, sees a middle-aged version of the character coming to terms with his past and his nature in the wake of a death in the family.
"Perfidia" by James Ellroy - it's been a while since I last read an Ellroy, 2019 I think (and a world away now), and I've had this one sitting waiting to be read since circa 2016, taunting me to catch up and get around to its gargantuan 787 pages. Grandiose fiction or not, there's no real reason that a book needs to be that long as far as I'm concerned, with Perfidia certainly proving to be unnecessarily long-winded. Still, I'm enjoying a return to the demon dog of crime fiction, this prequel 'second L.A. Quartet' beginning in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbour in a Los Angeles tearing full-steam-ahead towards war and internment. While Ellroy's clipped style of writing can waver in effectiveness at times, moreso in such an extended text, it's still impressive that he's able to make such a complex and intertwining narrative make sense.
Mad Max (Xbox One) - I wasn't sure about playing this, but when on sale at three quid? Why not? It took a bit of time to get over some less than intuitive control scheme choices ('aim weapon' with the left shoulder button, 'jump' with left trigger), as well as the lack of options to customise your input, like analogue stick sensitivity, but the wasteland has become a moreish home of car-based combat, scavenging, and map-clearing. There's some rough edges here and there, and the strange lag in steering input while driving is frustrating (especially in any vehicle other than your Magnus Opus), but it's certainly glorious to get your guzzoline going as you chase down a war party, picking them off one-by-one with your explosive 'thunderpoon' as your black-fingered mechanic pal Chumbucket joyously approves of your carnage.