Friday 30 June 2023

Flavours of the Month: May & June 2023...

Ghoulish horrors, gritty criminal cases, and a spine-tingling trip into the woods are some of what's been setting the tone of my May & June 2023...

Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...


Florida Man - crime caper limited series created by Donald Todd. I enjoyed it well enough, even though it perhaps doesn't quite grab audience expectations of a title like that with gusto. It took a little bit of getting into, but there was plenty to entertain along the way.

Crime: Series 1 - based on Irvine Welsh's novel of the same name, the Scottish author co-writes this television adaptation for ITVX with Dean Cavanagh. It treads familiar ground to other gritty crime dramas, but Welsh's writing style brings some freshness with it, as well as moments of caustic wit to balance out the grimmest depths of the story. Dougray Scott plays a battered and beleaguered DI Ray Lennox alongside his more wide-eyed partner DS Amanda Drummond. I thoroughly enjoyed it (as much as you can 'enjoy' something so dark, that is), and will be looking forward to the forthcoming second series, which was filmed last year.

James May: Oh Cook!: Series 2 - a welcome return for this quirky cookery show. I have no interest in cooking, nor cooking shows, but being a big fan of Top Gear and The Grand Tour, as well as many of James Mays solo shows (including his excellent travel series, also on Prime), this was a fun watch. May's style of puncturing the fourth wall of television production adds a splash of uniqueness, that rumpled sense of British levity, while his gentle deployment of myriad facts on any given subject make for great viewing.

I Think You Should Leave: Season 3 - perhaps not quite as fresh as the previous two seasons, but the return of Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin's 'cringe sketch comedy' series is still very much welcome.

White House Plumbers - political satire mini-series created by Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck, starring Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux as E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy respectively, the two main players in the Watergate scandal that lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Showing that calamitous cock-ups nestle comfortably alongside deliberate conspiracy, it makes for a breezy watch that often leaves you stunned by some of the nonsense that went on behind the true story.

Don't Go In The House (Blu-Ray) - the limited edition Arrow Video Blu-Ray of this 1980 psychological horror movie, which can be summed up as 'Psycho with a flamethrower'. Written by Ellen Hammill, Joe Masefield, and Jospeh Ellison (who was also the director), it dives into dark themes with a gritty presentation. The first time I saw it I was a little bit disappointed, but to be fair I was expecting something a bit different - not a typical slasher, but perhaps something more along the lines of Maniac (also 1980, also a controversial and dark psychological horror film - but considerably more gruesome). However, after reading about the film in Stephen Thrower's "Nightmare USA" book, I fancied giving the film another shot and, going into it more prepared, I found a much better film than I did the first time around - a justified classic of the horror genre and video nasty era.

Colour Out Of Space (Blu-Ray) - directed by Richard Stanley, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scarlett Amaris, this gooey and unsettling doom-laden sci-fi horror is based on H.P. Lovecraft's story of the same name.

Piranha 3DD (Blu-Ray) - a cheap and cheerful load of old schlock and sleaze in this gory monster fish sequel. The 2010 movie is obviously far better, but as low budget quick-turnaround sequels go, it's still an awful lot of fun.

Dracula (Blu-Ray)
- I picked up a boxset of eight Universal Monster movies, which I've not seen since a slew of them were shown on late night TV (BBC2, if I remember correctly) back in the 1990s. Dracula is obviously a classic, but it is somewhat stagey and clunky, especially after the great opening twenty minutes, while the jarring lack of sound and music throughout so much of the film saps some of its potential energy and atmosphere. Interestingly, while I've only seen a few clips of it thus far, the simultaneously-shot Spanish language version seems to be a much more impressive production, even if it simply cannot match Bela Lugosi's performance as the titular blood sucker.

Frankenstein (Blu-Ray) - produced just a few months on from Dracula, James Whale's film is still a hugely impressive thing to behold, with gorgeous set design, an audio track filled with crashing storms, zip-zapping scientific equipment, and furious townsfolk calling for blood. Beautifully shot, and with a delicious sense of humour, this blows Dracula out of the water as far as I'm concerned.

The Mummy (Blu-Ray) - kind of repeating many of the same beats as Dracula, this one is honestly quite disappointing. I remember not being all that fussed by it when I originally saw it and the feeling remains the same. The classic image of Karloff as the title character is only seen very briefly and, after the first ten minutes or so, the film becomes a bit of a plodding affair.

The Invisible Man (Blu-Ray) - the first time I saw this one it made a big impression and still, all these years later, the power remains. Once again with James Whale directing, this one is a properly good film, boasting a surprisingly amount of bite for a film of its vintage (balanced out with some even more delicious humour). Great effects for the time, too!

Black Mirror: Season 6 - a four-year break has give the show a boost, allowing some time for new developments in technology to inspire some twisted new tales in Charlie Brooker's Netflix series (formerly of Channel 4). "Joan Is Awful" is a clash of corporate abandonment of creative artists in favour of AI technology, cancel culture, and public shaming for a multi-layered and darkly humorous story that is jam-packed with myriad ideas. "Loch Henry" takes a spin on the true crime documentary and was one of my favourites from this latest batch of episodes. "Beyond The Sea" is over-long, but the alternative 1969 space mission and use of 'machine clones' provides typically juicy Black Mirror ground from which to dig up a tasty and twisted tale. "Mazey Day" is, for me, the weak link of the five new episodes. It has little new or interesting to say about the paparazzi and celebrity culture, and the twist similarly adds little to proceedings. "Demon 79" rounds things out with another long episode, but this time better-paced than the third story, dusting a bit of Hammer Horror with British humour and social commentary. I'm not so sure how it really fits in with the ouvre of Black Mirror, but technically it is part of something possibly new called 'Red Mirror' (a horror brand off-shoot to tell different stories?) and nonetheless the episode works a treat.

John Wick 4 (Blu-Ray) - on the franchise's own scale, the fourth entry is the least of them, however by any other scale that means it's one of the best films of the year, or past several years. I remember saying something similar about the third movie, with the sequels all becoming increasingly elaborate and grandiose in scale, slipping further and further away from the stripped-down simplicity of the original film. Further exploration of the stunningly architectural 'Wickverse' is welcome, of course, but did this film really need to be pushing three hours long? Similarly, the blind assassin angle is simultaneously awesome and too silly, while the notion of bullet proof three-piece suits is somewhat like painting yourself into a corner. Caveats aside, though, there's still plenty to really enjoy. Two main highlights for me was the absolute slog up the steps towards the Sacré-Coeur and, most of all, the 'Hotline Miami' style top-down action sequence as Wick blasts through a building with dragon's breath shotgun shells - and that's on top of the huge dust-up at the Osaka Continental and the rough-and-tumble of the Arc de Triumph sequence. Epic stuff, alright.

Avatar: The Way of Water (Blu-Ray) - fixing some of the storytelling issues with the original movie, and making the already convincing world of Pandora even more jaw-dropping, James Cameron's long-awaited return won't win over those who didn't like the original movie, but will give more of what fans want. It's over-long at north of three hours, mind you, but it must also be said that the film is a remarkable technical achievement (digging into the extra features, your mind boggles at the complexity and artistry of it all).

Catching Killers: Season 3


M83 "Fantasy" (album)

Foo Fighters "But Here We Are" (album)


"This Storm" by James Ellroy - the second part of the crime author's second 'L.A. Quartet'. Ellroy has spoken of how he wants to write "grandiose" fiction, and This Storm certainly is that. However, the problem that This Storm endures is an over-complicated plot and an abundance of criss-crossing characters with the book is told from the perspectives of five key individuals. The story is so entangled with innumerable players, many of whom have murky dealings with friends and enemies alike (and often espouse contradictory political machinations simultaneously), that Ellroy has to continually remind the reader of the main beats of the story (much better that he does, than doesn't, of course), but its indicative of the over-complexity and the sometimes too-gradual progression of the plot. Grandiose for grandiosity's sake is easily troublesome.

Despite it's gargantuan length, Perfidia (the opening, and preceding, portion of the second L.A. quartet) kept a slightly more focused story and brutally whisked the reader through its sprawling narrative. This Storm, on the other hand, too often gets lost in its underworld of clashing extremist politics as North America enters World War II, criss-crossing US/Mexico criminal conspiracies, exiled musicians, a years-old gold heist mystery, and a multiple-murder. Combined with Ellroy's long-established stacato style of writing in clipped sentences, the onslaught of information is simultaneously brief and overwhelming. However, issues aside, when the story is firing on all cylinders, fans of Ellroy's work will still get what they're seeking - but it'd be advisable to bring along a machete to hack through the undergrowth, and perhaps make notes, breadcrumbs style, in order to keep track of the story.

Blair Witch (Xbox Series S) - using some of the world-expanding ideas put forth in the 2016 sequel film, the game proves to be a tense and claustrophobic experience. The frame rate is inconsistent at times (particularly in the part leading towards the Saw Mill section), but the disorientation gets your palms sweating, while the climactic chapter in the infamous house proves to be a real spine chiller. The requirements for the 'good ending' are a bit restrictive, and it's highly likely you'll get the 'bad ending' on your first play through, but other than that (and the occasional framerate issues) it's well worth checking out for fans of the found footage horror series.

"Diddly Squat: 'Til The Cows Come Home" by Jeremy Clarkson - being a big fan of the series on Prime (as well as the previous book), this second book was simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and illuminating on the embattled state of British farming thanks to, among other things, Brexit and completely useless government policy (or even total lack thereof).

"Spider-Man/Deadpool: Omnibus Vol. 1" - a couple of the issues in this collection land like a dead seagull, with some desperately cringeworthy 2016-era political commentary that's aged as well as a fart in a lift, but over-the-piece I enjoyed it even though I'm not much of a comics reader.

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