Flooring it in Mexico, the (sort of) end of an undead era, and the calamitous closure of a horror franchise is just some of what has been setting the tone of my October & November 2022...
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The Walking Dead: Season 11C - the final eight episodes. I do love this show, but at the same time it's prime has most certainly passed. It is disappointing that The Commonwealth wasn't introduced sooner with its various layers and mechanics explored more deeply over a longer period of time, and that the antagonists are too often one-note. You wonder how on earth such a large population centre could genuinely function with such nakedly evil sociopaths in charge. Considering how shows like House of the Dragon benefit from such complex 'grey area characters', it's a shame that TWD has been determined of late to go with moustache-twirlers.
Creeping towards the climax it's also concerning to feel that the show doesn't seem to be all that aware that the end is coming, and that it might be spending too much time trying to set up further spin-offs rather than provide a proper conclusion for the main show to stand on its own two feet. Hopefully the spin-offs to come will be a hell of a lot better than what we've had so far: the massively mixed bag of "Fear The Walking Dead" (sometimes quite good, sometimes shockingly awful, too often mediocre), "World Beyond" (so infuriating I couldn't stomach more than two episodes), and "Tales of The Walking Dead" (truly dreadful). Without spoiling it, the final episode doesn't fully satisfy in terms of closure, but it provided enough closure the juggle the balancing act of what's still to come and wrapping-up the parent show with a decent amount of gusto and some genuinely moving scenes that were wonderfully written and performed.
House of the Dragon: Season 1 - created by Ryan Condal and based on George R. R. Martin's "Fire & Blood", this has been a welcome return to Westeros after the controversial close to Game of Thrones. The choppy pacing, as a result of numerous time-jumps and re-casting of certain characters, does confuse matters throughout, but it's worth sticking with as there is much meat on the bone to dig one's teeth into as rivalries over the line of succession turn increasingly sour and bloody. The production is grand and lush, and even though it can sometimes feel in-need of a little more action there is always plenty going on in the story to keep the viewer invested.
Andor: Season 1 - created by Tony Gilroy. After the thoroughly mixed The Book Of Boba Fett and the utter disaster that was Obi-Wan Kenobi, my expectations were quite low for this latest Star Wars show, thrust into the 'content cacophony' by Disney, to the point that I was considering not even bothering with it. Amazingly, it's turned out to be a pretty solid and entertaining show. The pace is certainly in-need of sharpening up (I just don't see any real justification for it being 12 episodes, especially in this day-and-age), not helped by the week-to-week release schedule, but the grittier focus on smaller characters outside of the strictures of the Skywalker-orbit has gifted the show, much like Rogue One (to which this serves as a prequel), its own turf to play on within a familiar world. Perhaps the pacing works better in a binge-watch scenario, too. Very much recommended viewing and a glimmer of hope for the generally flagging Star Wars brand, which has too-often been mismanaged by Disney and its 'content overlords'.
Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes - Joe Berlinger's latest three-part true crime doc. If you were into the other entries on John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy then you'll know what to expect. Not sure if it was a good idea or not to place it so close to the series that went live just a few weeks earlier, but either way it was a well crafted and revealing examination of another one of mankind's dark corners.
Pam & Tommy - created by Robert Siegel and based on an article by Amanda Chicago Lewis, this eight-part mini-series explores the story behind the public release of the illegally-obtained 'sex tape' of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. Moving with a slick sense of pace, it makes for a fascinating story, even moreso when we delve into the various ways in which the tape's release affected the lives of those involved. It can occasionly drop the odd line of thunderously blunt dialogue, which only serves to make the already quite clear themes as subtle as cannon fire, but other than that this was a thoroughly enjoyable watch, which mixed drama and dark humour to great effect. Lily James steals the whole show as Pamela Anderson, sinking into the role and justifiably capturing the audience's sympathies.
Halloween Ends - an Endoscopy is a medical procedure where a camera is threaded down someone's throat to investigate their stomach while they're still conscious, their throat numbed with a spray (which leads to a most perturbing sensation). It's not a fun time, and yet Halloween Ends is less fun than that. Those who wrote the screenplay should be ashamed of themselves for screwing up the final film in the 'H40 saga' so completely, and Blumhouse need to look at themselves in the mirror for not only approving the script but paying for the film to be made.
Halloween is a franchise that has been rebooted and retconned so many times it's almost too hard to keep up, but here we are again once more needing a retcon to undo the total clusterfuck that is Halloween Ends. I was truly stunned by just how bad the movie turned out to be, with only a couple of interesting ideas thrown into the mix, all of which were pursued in the wrong way and undercut by terrible attempts at humour or quirky characterisation. Even in terms of kills it's a deadly dull afair with only one decent slaying in the entire movie. Utter garbage, and all the more frustrating considering how good the 2018 film was and how enjoyable Halloween Kills was (even with it's wobbles).
Archer: Season 13 - it took a couple of episodes to get heated up, but once it got rolling it was good fun. The show's peak is likely behind it, but not too far gone, the show having mostly got its mojo back after the iffy tenth season.
Gangs of London: Series 2 - created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery. This time around it seems as if Evans and Flannery have taken a step back in their involvement (they wrote and directed two of the episodes from series one, but none this time around), but the likes of Corin Hardy return (here directing half of the episodes). However, with a completely new staff of writers, the show does take a slightly different tack with its second outing. The gangster politics are as vibrant as ever, but certainly there is generally a little less action in series two. That's not to say there aren't jolly good blood-soaked, bullet-riddled smack-downs, because there is at least one meaty action set piece in each episode - but - none of them can reach the heights laid down in the first series: the pub brawl (1x01), the caravan park hit (1x02), and the astonishingly spectacular farm house assault (1x05). In some regards there is a tighter narrative focus and it's generally well-paced, there's even room for some emotionally devastating moments, the most searing of which belongs to Sope Dirisu as Elliot, who brings as much stripped-bare heart to his performance as punishing brawn. The conclusion works as either an end point or an open door for more, and either way I'd be left satisfied, but a third series would be most welcome.
Cabinet of Curiosities - created by Guillermo del Toro, this collection of horror tales is like Creepshow, but minus the overt comic book humour with a more serious tone and a splash of The Twilight Zone, not to mention a far healthier budget. Each episode has been good with their own strong points, but personal favourites include "Graveyard Rats" (a rather icky horror show about rats stealing bodies from grave robbers) and "The Outside", which is like Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Fly meets The Stuff, with a terrific central performance from Kate Micucci. Even episodes you're not so keen on personally still have something about them to leave a positive impression.
Big Mouth: Season 6 - I attempted the spin-off show "Human Resources", but barely made it through an episode before abandoning it. A portion of story from the spin-off has made it into the latest season of its parent show Big Mouth, but it mostly just gets on with its own thing. When it's firing on all cylinders it can be laugh out loud funny (Andrew and his family reliably elicit guffaws and outrageous humour), but when it sputters ... oh, boy, does it sputter. When it decides to afix its balled-up fists to its hips, Big Mouth can turn into a preachy mess of desperately forced 'look at how great we are' overtly progressive piousness, an approach that usually gets the show tangled up in Los Angeles hive-mind group-think contradictions and complications. And, as I seem to say with every season, such overtly preachy fart-sniffing moments are all the more curious considering how the sole 'neurodivergent' character on the show is still nothing more than a one-note charicature of autism, but now even less-seen on-screen than before. You'd forgive the show for that if it didn't spend as much time as it does shoving itself up its own 'right on' arse, such moments that clash with what is otherwise a simultaneously illuminating and gleefully gross-out comedy.
Maniac (Blu-Ray) - the recent 88 Films release of William Lustig's notorious, gritty and scrungy 1980 slasher flick. A boatload of extras, and the movie being uncut, make this a very nice step up from my previous Blue Underground DVD copy from twenty years ago.
Light & Magic - six-part documentary about the special visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic.
Two Doors Down: Series 6 - Simon Carlyle and Gregor Sharp's Scottish sitcom makes a welcome return, but this time with a slight change in the cast as Cathy has ditched Colin. On the one hand, to lose such a big character could present problems, but at the same time there was probably not much further one could go with Cathy, and her departure has provided some new material to play around with. Furthermore, new character Anne-Marie has brought a whole new range of loose-lipped weirdness to the table, while even the likes of the typically demure Beth have been given some added bite. The sitcom format has generally been in a poor state for quite a number of years now, but Two Doors Down is one of the few exceptions to prove the new rule. Excellent.
What We Do In The Shadows: Season 4 - Jermaine Clement's docu-comedy spin-off is back (albeit with a curious months-long delay compared to its American broadcast ... I mean, in this day-and-age, really?) Having previously been available on BBC2, the lumbering behemoth of Disney+ has snatched it up (much like they did with The Walking Dead on UK shores). It's maybe not quite as sharp as it was in the first couple of seasons, but certain plotlines add an extra zest to keep things moving and, all said and done, there's certainly more than enough blood left to feast upon.
Dead To Me: Season 3 - the final season of Liz Feldman's excellent 'tragicomedy' provides a satisfying and particularly emotional close.
Inside Job: Season 2 - Shion Takeuchi's conspiracy comedy animation feels a little more focused compared to its first season, which was two episodes longer.
The 69 Eyes "Devils" (album), "Angels" (album), "Wasting The Dawn " (album), "Back In Blood" (album), "X" (album), "Universal Monsters" (album)
John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies "Halloween Ends" soundtrack
Foo Fighters "Medicine At Midnight"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
"Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic" by Howard Berger & Marshall Julius
"Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents" by Stephen Thrower - having previously read the author's superb tome on Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci a few years back, I've now embarked on making my way through this similarly gargantuan coffee table book on the independently-funded exploitation movies made in America (primarily between 1970 and 1985). This weighty (literally) and authoritative exploration also boasts many pages of lushly coloured pictures, fully illustrating the sort of commercial ballyhoo that attempted to lure audiences into the cinema.
Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Series S) - for various reasons (including the worldwide shortage of consoles due to mining shortages during pandemic shut-downs, scumbag scalpers, and crypto gobblers) I've only just hopped on to the new console generation, which has no doubt got off to a slower start than usual for some of the same aforementioned reasons. Comparing the Series X and Series S, the more expensive console just didn't seem worth it. It's a shame to not have the disc drive any more, but with most of my recent gaming experiences having been bought on digital sales, it's just the way the tech is going. I kicked off the previous generation with Forza Horizon 3, so its fifth outing seemed a fitting start to this new era. You know what to expect, so it's more of what you want (and it's jolly good fun, with a thankfully less impactful seasonal system compared to the otherwise excellent Forza Horizon 4) - but why have they still not fixed the problem with clogging up the roads with spawning traffic every time you're trying to nail a superfast speed trap? Come on, guys!
Far Cry 6 (Xbox Series S) - more of the same, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as you know what to expect and you usually have so much fun that you fancy another jolt sooner or later. But does it feel as engaging as Far Cry 3, 4, or 5? Honestly? Not yet. In many ways Far Cry 5 nailed the formula, ironing out most of the foibles from previous entries. It's going to take a little more play time to figure out where Far Cry 6 situates itself, not helped by a changed weapons upgrade system that feels a bit clunky and unneccesary. And what's with taking away my single-handed grenade launcher, or locking it away at the very end of the upgrade tree? I wanna hop in a jeep, tear up some dirt roads, and blast enemy vehicles up into the air while I keep the accelerator planted, damn it! Are the team feeling a bit burned-out creatively? Has the franchise done all it can really do? Well, let's just see how it goes.
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