Dark, brooding dramas, local familiarity, and the foibles of Yara are just some of what's been setting the tone of my December 2022 and January 2023...
Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...
Chucky: Season 2 - I never really warmed to some of the characters in this show, created by Don Mancini, who weren't legacy characters, and that lukewarmness continues with the second season, but there's plenty of Chucky chaos to keep things lively. Overall the season probably works better than the first, although the sometimes convoluted nature of the franchise's story can lead to some confusing moments (at least for me - I've seen all the movies, but few of them more than once). Certain moments are a bit clunky and blunt, but there's a considerable amount of fun to be had, quite often whenever Jennifer Tilly is on-screen and gleefully tearing her way through the story.
The Terminal List: Season 1 - I'm not sure why the 'professional media critics' hated on this so much. Indeed, when it first came out I almost shit-canned the idea of ever watching it because of the apparently across-the-board consensus that it was shite. This isn't an impossibility, either, as there's been quite a lot of movies and shows released in the last several years that have been utter garbage ... however, when I saw just how positive the viewer response was to David DiGilio's show, it was clear something was rotten in criticdom. Now, it has taken me a while to get around to viewing it, but I finally sat down and bashed it out over two weekends with Dad and we both thoroughly enjoyed it, even though certain elements struck unfortunately and uncomfortably close to home. The expected functions of the revenge, conspiracy, and military genres are in-place, but that's not to say there aren't surprises in-store. What's more, the attention to detail really gives a new layer of intensity to the combat scenes rarely seen before, with Pratt's performance (and evident commitment to his screen training) sitting comfortably alongside other dedicated action stars such as Keanu Reeves in the, albeit much more fantastical, John Wick franchise. If there was to be another season, I'd certainly watch it.
Only Murders In The Building: Seasons 1 & 2 - created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman, starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. This comedy drama, available through Disney+, is a real gem that combines genuinely intriguing crime mystery with shades of both subtle and broad humour. The second season gets off to a shaky start in the first two episodes, not helped by a couple of side stories that literally go nowhere after the second or third episode, but after that it rediscovers its groove and overcomes 'difficult second album syndrome' quite capably. Good news is that a third season is coming.
Jack Ryan: Season 3 - based on characters by Tom Clancy, the Amazon Prime TV adaptation created by Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland. Quite possibly the best of all three seasons thus far, and certainly a more honed and confident outing compared to the slightly uneven second season. With an uncomfortable closeness to certain real-world events, it feels vital while also maintaining good old classic Clancy-styled political intrigue and covert operations. Breezed through it in three days over the Christmas period and got completely sucked into it.
Clark - Jonas Akerlund's brash six-part crime drama based on the life and misdeeds of Clark Olofsson, most notorious for the Norrmalmstorg bank robbery that introduced the world to the term "Stockholm Syndrome". There's plenty of style and crazed flair to the presentation, but being that the whole story is told from the perspective of a psychopathic narcicist, Clark's repeating cycle of criminal and selfish behaviour grows old and stale in the second half. A broader perspective on the subject matter would have helped keep things fresh throughout its six episode run, which actually feels a bit over-long for how this story has specifically been told. The series does minimal work to really challenge Clark's own mythical narrative, with an admonishment in the closing minutes coming too-little too-late. If the show had sought to tell at least some of the story from the perspectives of those swept-up in Clark's self-involved orbit, then the constant cycle of criminal behaviour might not have become so repetitive in the back-half. Over all, though, flaws aside, I did enjoy it.
Hunters: Season 2 - the final season of David Weil's pulpy revenge thriller, set in the 1970s, about a group of Nazi hunters makes a welcome return with a generally more confident sense of tone compared to the uneven first few episodes of the original season. There's the odd questionable moment here or there (like why would one Nazi hunter who had learned to keep hidden in the shadows brazenly display the extracted eyeballs of their latest quarry in full view of the public?), but overall this proves to be a strong outing that combines the tensions of secrets, lies, and vengeance-fuelled espionage with moments of wry character-based humour and bloody thrills, all the while keeping its dark subject in close contact. Where is the line between justice and revenge, and are the two mutually exclusive?
The Rig: Season 1 - created by David Macpherson, combines ecological sci-fi horror with elements of John Carpenter's "The Fog" as well as "The Thing". Riddled with mysterious goings-on, an isolated location, and characters fighting over secrets and differences in a confined space, it's a good watch. Hopefully it'll get a second season as it does end on a sizeable cliffhanger.
Richard Hammond's Workshop: Season 1 & 2 - literally the only thing of interest to me on the Discovery+ streaming platform. Following the Top Gear and Grand Tour presenter as he attempts to kickstart a classic car restoration business, it proves to be a very enjoyable show, even moreso when Hammond and the restoration guys (Neil, Anthony, and Andrew Greenhouse) relax into the banter while also showing off their impressive skills. There's another layer of enjoyment for me with my familiarity for the county in which the show is made, particularly when you recognise the illogical editing of numerous cutaways (roads that are as much as half-an-hour apart from one shot to another, or heading in conflicting directions, for instance), or when the affable chap who painted your house suddenly appears on-screen to get his car mended.
The Last Of Us: Season 1 - created by Craig Mazin (the man behind the utterly superb 2019 mini-series Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (co-director and writer of the original Playstation videogame). Being an Xbox gamer, I've never played either of The Last Of Us videogames, and the only pieces of it that I am aware of have been through general cultural osmosis so, for me, I'm coming to this quite fresh and unawares. The first two episodes make for a strong start, and from what I can tell there's been a keen-ness, at least on Mazin's part, to stick close to the source material and respect it, which is very good to see, considering how such respect is routinely lacking from almost all videogame-to-TV/film adaptations, and something which is now frequently absent from numerous comic book, anime, and other pop culture adaptations like The Rings of Power, The Witcher, and Cowboy Bebop to name just three. There's the odd element or casting choice I'm not quite sold on (yet, at least), but so far I'm digging it. Now - having just watched the third episode - consider me fully pulled-in, with what turned out to be a beautifully written and devastatingly emotional tale.
Misfits "Walk Among Us" (album), "Earth A.D." (album), "Static Age" (album), "American Psycho" (album)
VV "Neon Noir" (album)
M83 "Oceans Niagara"
Bruce Springsteen "Dancing in the Dark", "Born to Run"
The Skirts "Santa Monica Blvd Boy"
Green Day "Father Of All..." (album)
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
"Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents" by Stephen Thrower
Far Cry 6 (Xbox Series S) - getting into it more, but there's no doubt it feels tired compared to previous entries. I like being able to select any weapon from your collection instead of having to tool-up at specific locations, but doing so from the weapon wheel instead of the menu would be nicer. Unfortunately, the weapons and character upgrade systems have been needlessly overhauled, making them too fiddly and overcomplicated, which is a real shame. I've also no idea why, after several games of being able to equip an M-79 grenade launcher in your 'single handed weapon slot' you no longer can. They were extremely useful for shooting from a moving vehicle, but now you'd have to lose one of your three main weapons to do it, all of which have a specific purpose already (silenced sniper rifle, silenced mid-range rifle, and an LMG for when things get loud).
Indeed, the game suffers from having far too many weapons that you never bother using, and even some of the vehicles are extremely frustrating to drive (the ATV, for instance). A more streamlined selection of truly different weapons would've been the way to go, not a whole pile of mostly indistinguishable lead-flingers, especially when you quite quickly find your choice weaponry early on and stick with it.
Another idiotic change is related to your skills, which were previously handled with an upgrade tree that allowed you a lot of free reign. Now, though, you are extremely limited by having to wear specific clothing for specific skills and upgrades (including how much ammo you can carry!), meaning you have to choose between multiple very useful skills you'd like to have access to all of the time. There was no need to make a change like this and it only serves to frustrate the player and massively over-complicate things.
It's also funny how little I have found myself using other things in the game, such as your Amigos - I don't use them at all. Comparatively, I used them all the time in Far Cry 5 (where a guy in a plane dropping bombs or a sniper were very useful tactically, or a crazy redneck with an explosives fetish or a loveable canine sidekick were just fun to have by your side), but here in Far Cry 6 I've not bothered with them one little bit and can handle every encounter on my own just fine, if not easier. Similarly, I routinely forget I have a friggin' rocket launcher on my back, another sign of over-complication in the weapons system. Hey, Ubisoft, just revert to the systems in Far Cry 5; you pretty much nailed it with those, so what on Earth were you thinking with these changes?
It's also frustrating to see the quality of the mission design has slid backwards considerably. On numerous occasions I've found myself unsure of what I'm supposed to be doing or where I'm going, while supposed action set pieces turn into confused, directionless clusterfucks. Furthermore, it's inexcusable, this long after release, for there to still be a game-breaking bug during a major story mission ("Harpoon"), which required multiple attempts to luck my way past.
Speaking of story, it's weak and features too many one-note cliche characters. A handful of the cast, such as the villainous dictator Antón Castillo (Giancarlo Esposito), his son Diego (Anthony Gonzalez), and revolutionaries Juan Cortez (Alex Fernandez) and Philly Barzaga (Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz), prove engaging, but the rest of the cast is either interchangeable, dull, or eye-rollingly cliched (or all three). The structure of the storytelling is inherently flawed, too, thanks to the game just throwing the entire open world - and all its open world map-clearing activities - at the player from the outset. It's very easy to just roam the world, taking down Outposts and Checkpoints for tens of hours and completely lose sight of the story and characters, whose plight (when you do get around to it) feels predictable and stock, hampered by various moments of political messaging that has all the nuance of a toddler throwing a tantrum. There is fun to be had, but almost all of the changes have made the game worse instead of better (even Far Cry: New Dawn was beginning to whiff a bit), while the overall execution feels disappointingly uninspired. The high watermark of Far Cry 5 feels increasingly distant as you notice more of this game's flaws.
Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Series S) - similarly, getting into it much more with time. Some quirky nuisances still remain from previous entries, like not being able to re-list a failed auction item with one button (you have to 'reclaim' it, then re-list it all over again). There's also the continued nasty habit of other 'drivatars' crashing into you recklessly, causing you to lose your XP combo, while the basic NPC road traffic also mindlessly changes lanes at the worst times in conjunction with weird bottlenecks of spawned drivatars (which often happens at important bends in the road just when you're trying to 3-star a speed trap).
Seasonal race series also seem to be stuck on 'Highly Skilled' difficulty with no option to change it to suit, which is hardly what you'd call 'skill inclusive' (particularly frustrating for seasonal PR Stunts, which are now rendered almost impossible to achieve most of the time). 'Highly Skilled' race series seem quite variable at times, too, although the best route to success seems to be to use a car with great launch and acceleration stats and then aggressively barge your way to the front as quick as possible to put the others in their place. Still absolutely love the game, but silly little faults like the above should have been ironed out by now, especially as the game gets so much so right.
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