Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 - Netflix's three-part docu-series about the utterly disastrous music festival. The series wisely takes the decision to not sidestep the more visceral parts of the footage in order to tell the story accurately, even if some may find that shocking ... but that's the correct reaction. You should be shocked by what you see. They're not showing it to you to make you feel good or be impressed, for fuck sake. To see how the various failings that ultimately led to the attendee's descent into madness is stunning, from the staggering corporate greed to the disgusting lack of waste management, it's no surprise that under pressure-cooking circumstances that such a debased and lawless mob mentality kicked-in.
As revealing as it is horrifying, the complete refusal to accept any degree of responsibility on the part of the festival's head organisers is sickening. Either they're delusional to a Comical Ali degree, or they don't care one bit. There was one glaring mistake, though: at one point an interview seemingly blames, in part, the movie culture of the time, taking aim at American Pie (for sexuality) and Fight Club (for "toxic masculinity"). However, Fight Club, as pointed out by the author of the book, wasn't released in cinemas until after Woodstock '99, where it promptly did very little box office (it was a huge hit once discovered on DVD in the next few years). It should also be noted that, to anyone with a couple of brain cells to rub together, that Fight Club is not a celebration of so-called "toxic masculinity", and anyone who thinks so is either a moron or so blinded by the ideology of identity politics that they have lost all power in their critical thinking department. It shouldn't need to be said, but in this day and age it evidently does: art does not influence life, art merely reflects life as-it-is back at us.
Beavis & Butthead: Season 9 - the new season of Mike Judge's MTV classic from the 1990s, following-on from the kinda patchy made-for-streaming movie sequel Beavis & Butthead Do The Universe. The inclusion of 'Old Beavis & Butthead' stories proves to be a mixed-bag, sometimes funny and sometimes depressing. Overall it's far better than Do The Universe, with some stories proving to be sublimely stupid.
Better Call Saul: Season 6B - the final episodes in the final season of the Breaking Bad spin-off. The pacing of certain sequences can sometimes be a smidge too deliberate (particularly those visual stories that tend to open episodes), but only slightly. It was fascinating to see Jimmy McGill become Saul Goodman, the foundations of Breaking Bad be meticulously constructed, and it all wrapped up in a satisfying manner. It's foolish to say Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad is better than the other as they are two different shows, albeit sharing the same world and (some) characters, and they each have different goals in-mind, but it can certainly be said that there are few (if any) prequel/sequel shows that have been better.
Locke & Key: Season 3 - the final season. Brisk and breezy, it doesn't hang about and gets the job done, satisfyingly drawing to a close a tightly told story. If you've not seen the show, it's worth checking out.
Sprung: Season 1 - what is the point in FreeVee? Seemingly, in order to access it, you have to have Amazon Prime, which is a pay subscription, but FreeVee is 'free' viewing with adverts inserted (sometimes rather clumsily and abruptly). It's also owned by Amazon and many of the adverts are either for Audible (another Amazon-owned company) or, incredibly, for FreeVee itself! Just put this stuff on Prime, what gives?! Anyway - Greg Garcia's new show has brought some welcome humour at an otherwise dark time, amazingly managing to take a Pandemic setting and find stuff to take the piss out of. Another great line up of fringe society characters keeps the comedy fresh while never losing sight of a sense of heart. Very good indeed. Interestingly, this season actually wraps up quite nicely at the end (something Garcia was never able to do with his previous shows My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope, both of which were cancelled before their time), but a second season would be most welcome if a suitable premise can be dreamt up to facilitate that.
High Crime (Blu-Ray) - directed by Enzo G. Castellari and starring Franco Nero, this poliziottescho gets off to a rollicking start and gradually gets more grim as the story proceeds, but the rather sudden and muted climax to the film leaves the viewer unusually blindsided and left somewhat underwhelmed. Perhaps it was intended to leave the viewer unsatisfied, much like a copper who still can't bring the criminal to justice, but even still the film seems to end before its finished ... if that makes sense?
Cobra Kai: Season 5 - arguably the weakest season of the show, but still good fun. Mind you, the meme of 'two Dads going through a mid-life crisis start a gang war' has never been more apt. A pleasing aspect of the show has been its open-ness to second chances and rehabilitation of troubled characters (especially at a time when such a thing seems more absent than ever in real-life society), but it does mean some of the vitality of the story and character conflict complications are lost. I'd certainly watch more, but you can't help but feel it's time to wrap things up and bow out while still in fighting shape.
Creepshow: Season 3 - the first and second seasons were patchy affairs, but were on the 'right side' of 'patchy'. Unfortunately, season three tips in the other direction. Too many of the stories suffer from being extraordinarily predictable, clobbered with thudding dialogue, and/or carelessly plotted. The tight budget is also an issue at times, clearly forcing limitations on coverage and cinematography (some episodes look far too 'plain' for a Creepshow tale). However, despite the general disappointment of this season, there were some stories I particularly enjoyed: "Skeletons In The Cloest" (3x02) was filled with horror genre fan service, worked well with its contained setting, and had a plot that joyfully dug into one of the darker facts of film-making.
"The Things In Oakwood's Past" (3x05) is the sole animated entry (clearly for budgetary reasons), but had a decent story behind it and sense of pacing. Finally, there was the entirety of 3x06, with both stories proving to be well made and entertaining: "Drug Traffic", despite a couple of forced lines of dialogue, was sufficiently gruesome and had some meat on the bones of the characters (those played by Reid Scott and Michael Rooker chief among them). Finally "A Dead Girl Named Sue" was a particularly fun story, set on the same night as depicted in Night of the Living Dead (the TV and radio broadcasts are interspersed throughout). The black and white noir-ish style works nicely, while the clash of a crumbling society and the thirst for vigilante justice keeps you hooked.
Behind The Monsters: Season 1 - covering Michael Myers, Candyman, Chucky, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Pinhead, this Shudder series is an enjoyable look behind the scenes at the creation and enduring appeal of horror cinema's greatest icons. Some episodes feature the odd bout of needlessly po-faced commentary, or jarringly goofy takes, but for the most part it's an entertaining and informative watch.
Dahmer: Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story - created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, this mini-series traces the story of the "Milwaukee Cannibal" serial killer, as performed here by Evan Peters in a chilling embodiment running the gamut from horrifying to pitiable to insidious. The series spends just as much time with some other players in the whole gruesome tale, including Dahmer's next door neighbour, as played by Niecy Nash, and Dahmer's father Lionel. In the latter instance, Richard Jenkins steals every scene he's in with a hugely complex character who is torn in multiple directions by anger, frustration, repulsion, love, guilt, and regret. The show also wisely explores some of Dahmer's victims in greater detail, giving humanity to his victims overall by focusing on certain individuals to tell the wider story.
I was concerned initially, hearing that it was a Ryan Murphy show, that the tone could possibly get out of control or the writing might get a bit sloppy, but Murphy and Brennan have shepherded a well-paced and gripping true crime tale that manages to navigate the tricky waters, not shying away from the horrors while not exploiting them for shock value either. The show also delves into various issues, such as the systemic failures of the Milwaukee police, compounded by racism and homophobia. Too often these topics can be handled in a clunky and rather blunt manner, but this show manages to nestle them specifically within the context of the time, the events entirely justifying such scenes, which manage to point out the shocking failures by simply presenting them to the audience with minimal and generally well-judged comment to accompany them; the failures speak strongly enough for themselves. Shot-through with tragedy concerning all involved, it doesn't leave you feeling sorry for Dahmer, but it does highlight some of the possible reasons that such a disturbed individual ended up where he did - the many red flags that were missed, the societal blinkers that were in-place at the time, the unchecked addiction, the rampant mental health problems that were routinely ignored and so on. Highly recommended viewing.
Chromatics "Closer To Grey"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
"A Decent Ride" by Irvine Welsh - focusing on the characters of 'Juice Terry' (a taxi driver who deals coke and performs in 'scud films' on-the-side) and 'Jonty MacKay' (a sweet simpleton of a decorator), Welsh's novel isn't for the faint of heart and certainly not for the perpetually-offended brigade, riddled as it is with 'offensive' content. Grotesquely funny and pockmarked by splashes of surprising violence and sexuality, it's fascinating how Welsh manages to draw the reader into his characters and emotionally invest in them amidst such extremes.
"Happy Endings: The Tales of A Meaty-Breasted Zilch" by Jim Norton - a collection of lewd, crude, and altogether grotesquely entertaining stories from the life of the American comedian, best known (or most notorious) for his years on the Opie & Anthony radio show. Certainly not for the easily offended, or for 'decent society' in general, which is part of the reason why it's so damn funny.
"Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic" by Howard Berger & Marshall Julius - a lushly illustrated coffee table book about the practical effects work in movie making across the decades, featuring bitesize interviews (organised into different chapters about separate topics) from those who have helped define the industry.