Another Life Saved

ther3Terrifying news has broke that Netflix has ordered a second season of the frankly abominable sci-fi series Another Life. I’m gobsmacked, frankly. I watched the whole thing and it was possibly the worst sci-fi show I have ever had the misfortune to see. It would appear, however, that Netflix perceived my sticking with the full season as a sign I want more. Yikes.

Time I start ditching shows after two episodes then and to hell with giving them the benefit of the doubt, its clearly too dangerous. Two episodes then press the nuke button, its the only way to be sure.

(As an aside, I feel rather affronted by the knowledge that Netflix don’t seem at all concerned about the quality of the show, as long as people are watching it they just don’t care about whether it is any good or not. Numbers are everything then. I shouldn’t be surprised, but Another Life was clearly such a bad show. Nothing worked, it was terrible. But it gets renewed. Mad. The world is mad.)

The 2019 List: October

A quieter month, this past October. Haven’t watched very much at all, at least regards anything ‘new’ which would add to my 2019 list (but hey, as we’re keeping count- up to #137!) Other distractions, such as reading, took some toll, as did a turn towards re-watching older stuff like The Shining and Angel Heart. A respite perhaps before the lure of all the new programming on Netflix and Amazon Prime (and yes, a few disc releases) with all-new distractions. In all honesty, its been nice to return to older material, though- time is like a prism, it always offers a new perspective, and while some films etc can suffer from it (its always a shame when old faves suddenly aren’t that great anymore) some do just get better with age. The idea that all those discs on the shelves behind me might seem better or worse simply from the passing of years is a tantalising prospect.

Is it simply the time, all those years, and the comparison to films and tv shows released during them, or really just me having changed? Older, wiser, dumber? That sounds like the title of a whole new blog.

TV shows

133) Better Call Saul Season One

134) Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season Five


128) Avengement

129) The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot

130) Lady Bird

131) El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

132) Godzilla: King of the Monsters

135) In The Tall Grass

136) Special Correspondents

137) 47 Metres Down

Watching Watchmen: Episode Two

watch2.jpgHey, now. Hang on a minute. This was great. I mean, really, I thought the first episode was good but “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” , despite its absurdly extravagant title (originating from the painting hanging on Crawford’s wall that the camera finally lingers over), was a much better episode, cementing this series as a must-watch. I’m really excited by this series now and can I admit to being keen on an eventual 4K set on disc someday next year? The danger remains that the series will alienate and bore mainstream viewers unfamiliar with the comic or film, but for fans such as me, this is an early Christmas present, much better than I had expected.

Some of the parallels to the original comic are clearer to see- it would seem the narrative arc of the series will be the central mystery of who killed Police Chief Judd Crawford, mirroring the ‘who killed the Comedian?’ arc of the comic, the mystery no doubt unravelling into a much bigger conspiracy than one murder, just as what happened in the comic. I enjoyed the nods to the comic during Angela Abar’s search of Crawford’s home, with the secret compartment in the closet holding the Ku Klux Klan uniform (revealing Crawfords ‘true’ secret identity in just the same way Rorschach discovered the Comedian uniform hidden behind Edward Blake’s closet). Its clear the teasing hints at Adrian Veidt’s new scheme to ‘save the world’ parallel the slow reveal of that of the comic, and I’m pretty sure this will prove to be as deadly and horrible as his original effort that killed three million.

The glimpses of the American Hero Story television programme will function in a similar way to Tales of the Black Freighter in the comic and Watchmen movie, it seems (the background disclaimers and warnings from the ultra-liberal network airing the show were hilarious).

Indeed, its clear that Damon Lindelof has created a show that is really a Watchmen Remix. A labour of love, evidently but I suppose if it does leave the show open to criticism, in regards originality and perhaps at worst of being a disguised reboot. I suppose we need to see more episodes (possibly all nine if it builds to some great reveal) to see the ‘big picture’, so to speak, in just the same way as the Watchmen comic really works best when considered over its twelve chapters. Definitely looking very good so far though.

I’m not surprised, I’m actually shocked how good this is. Hope it keeps it up, but with Lindelof involved, a note of caution is required, even in the wake of The Leftovers.

Jin-Roh: Then & Now

Jin-Roh-2I haven’t written many posts this year regards disc purchases, but I couldn’t resist posting about this new release of the classic Japanese anime feature Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade on Blu-ray here in the UK from Anime Limited. If you’re reading this and have never heard of this film, you don’t know what you are missing. I think it was one of the first films to really show me what animation could do- that it wasn’t all just Disney musicals and ultra-violent anime. Jin-Roh is a film with soul, truly a work of genuine art.

Jin-Roh and I have a certain history, as it was one of my earliest DVD imports back when I was in my multi-region anime-collecting phase, and I used to be brave enough to try out anime recommendations from the Internet, sight unseen really (anime was low-profile here back then). Its funny, there were a few times I got burned, buying anime films or series that I watched only once, if not even all the way through, but sometimes I’d get to see something pretty special, like Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise or Neon Genesis Evangelion. Jin-Roh was just such a blind-buy but thank goodness I gave it at try; I instantly fell in love with it.

jin-roh1It must have been around 2002, when I used to import discs through a retailer in Canada. This special edition of Jin-Roh was a pretty nice-looking set, three discs (film, extras and a soundtrack CD) in a digipack with a booklet (I dread to think how much it must have cost me). Housed in a clear plastic slipcase that had the films logo and white lettering on (the digipack below just being artwork), I still have it now, having kept it on my shelf long after my multi-region player hit the scrapheap and practically all my DVDs replaced with Blu-rays. Its a special film, and one of my favourite films, period,  regardless of it being ‘just’ animation- this film was serious and profound and emotional. I was fortunate the special edition contained the soundtrack on CD as the music score is simply sublime.

Recently a South Korean live-action version was made called Illang: The Wolf Brigade, which has been available on Netflix for a few months now, but I haven’t been able to bring myself round to watching it yet. I’m curious about it but I’m also just a little afraid of it. Jin-Roh is a work of art, something quite unique, I feel, and I’d rather not sully it by comparisons to an inferior live-action remake.

So anyway, Anime Limited have just released this fine edition in a Blu-ray/DVD combo (I’m surprised after all these years that DVD still has such a foothold in anime) so I can not only watch the film again after many years but in HD too. I can hardly wait to sit down with this film again- expect a review sometime soon. As usual for Anime Limited collectors editions, the set is housed in a rigid cardboard box with a glossy 40+ page booklet that looks quite substantial (I just need a magnifying glass to read it, how my eyes are getting). Its nice that this film keeps getting such TLC with home releases. Back in the good old days there was some effort in packaging DVDs, especially in America, something pretty much lost now, so its nice to see such releases still happening today.

I just hope the film still holds up. I’m sure it will, but you know, its been several years since I was last able to watch it- in fact, it may be ten years or more since I last saw it, a fact that seems quite horrifying to me now. The added bonus of seeing it in HD, looking better than it ever did, is certainly an exciting prospect. Perhaps after watching this great film again, I will find courage to finally give that live-action version a go.

In the Tall Grass

tall1Here’s a film which is clearly one in which the creative team just lost control. It starts well enough and seems competently staged; decent cast, intriguing premise… everything seems to be in place for an effective and rewarding horror film, but at the midway point it just falls apart. Its weird, it takes this weird turn and you can see it unravelling before your very eyes, like the whole film just gradually collapses in front of you. By the time it ends, if you manage to stay with it that far, its an aimless mess of a film that makes absolutely no sense. Which had me scratching my head: at what point did this ‘people get lost in a maze’ film get so complicated and become such a messy genre mash-up that it ends with a dumb time travel paradox?*

The director, Vincenzo Natali also wrote the screenplay so likely deserves most of the blame. The film is based on a slim short story co-written by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill (slim in that it lasts about 60+ pages and possibly would have made a great thirty-minute short film),  Evidently in his attempt to enlarge the story into a full movie Natali  got into all sorts of trouble. I haven’t read the original short so have no idea what he took  from it and how much he thought up himself, but I find it difficult to believe King and Hill let themselves get twisted up in a tale of an ancient and very evil rock, wormholes, cults, time travel, religious symbolism, mystical creatures, unwanted pregnancies, obsessive brothers, reluctant boyfriends etc. Well, maybe they did, you never know these days, but certainly Natali throws everything including the kitchen sink into it… except, of course, for a lawnmower (Damn. I thought I’d managed to forget that bloody awful film The Lawnmower Man).

One of my issues with horror films (or films in general, I suppose) when they get all weird, spooky, obtuse and Lynchian, for want of a better word, is that they should still have some kind of internal logic. Being obtuse shouldn’t necessarily mean being confusing. In the Tall Grass has several leaps of logic being excused by cutting to spooky imagery and effects as if that strange imagery is explanation enough- which it isn’t, its just the director’s lazy sleight of hand, an awkward excuse for what happens next.

So its all something of a shame. I wanted to enjoy it, and did for awhile. Sometimes short stories or novellas can be great launchpads for movies, you know, great ideas to spin a great film out of. So many films based on Philip K Dick material became their ‘own thing’ after spinning off the base ideas of a short story- so much so that few of them actually properly resemble the story they are based on (Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepTotal Recall and We Can Remember it For You Wholesale). At the same time though, once they go off and do their own thing they can also fall apart (Minority report and the original The Minority Report story). I suspect this is a case in which the original story was pretty slim and by expanding it into a full movie, it all just fell apart. Perhaps only worth watching to see Patrick Wilson absolutely chewing up the scenery as if he’s convinced he’s in a horror film as good as The Shining and that he’s up to the task of emulating Jack Nicholson (answer: it isn’t and he isn’t).


*Spoilers: our pregnant heroine and brother are saved from the grassy horror, resetting back (and we’re just expected to go with it, its not explained how) to just prior to when they entered the field, and instead turn back and, er, go back home.  But it was because they disappeared that our heroine’s estranged boyfriend came out there looking for them and ultimately sacrificed himself to save them. If they don’t disappear, he won’t look for them, so he’ll be back home too. But if he stays home, he won’t have come out searching for them to save them, so they will perish in the field…. Its one of those causality loops that bugs me all the time, including Avengers: Endgame earlier this year. I know, I should just go with it. Its only a movie, as dear old John Brosnan used to say.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Art & Effects Book

stmpbook.jpgDue next May from Titan Books (although on the strength of how often their books slip back, I’d expect to see it maybe by next Autumn with a little luck) is this hopefully fantastic book about the art and visual effects of 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. On the one hand, if its a similar project, say, to the original Cinefex article way back when the film originally came out, then it could be really special. On the other hand, if its just one of those vacuous coffee-table art-books with lots of stills from the film and little else, it’ll be heartrendingly disappointing (albeit likely pretty).

Here’s hoping though. I’d love to see a really good decent-sized book, plenty of text with lots of images of the miniatures being  built and well-sized reproductions of the films matte paintings, the kind of behind the scenes stuff lost to us in this age of CGI workstations. Pre-production paintings, sketches, all that stuff. Say what you like about the merits of the film itself (and hey, I’ve always had a soft spot for it) the film certainly had a sense of scope and scale that remains quite refreshing to this day. This film was made back when stating ‘The Motion Picture’ really meant something, like it was a statement of intent, and certainly dates from a time when the difference between television and film was much more pronounced than it is today.

I think this book is a great idea and could be something very special if handled right. Having Jeff Bond’s name attached makes me cautiously optimistic on that front: Jeff is a Star Trek historian whose writing has graced several Trek soundtrack albums, notably the Star Trek The Original Series complete soundtracks boxset and the 3-disc Star Trek: The Motion Picture expansion.

The Wearisome Dead

wd10The tenth season of The Walking Dead recently commenced, and I felt duty-bound to watch the first episode. As I have remarked here before, after so many seasons of The Walking Dead, it has felt something of a chore carrying on (surely season six was the last time the show was decent), but really, stopping now makes all those years/seasons seem such a waste. So grit your teeth and bear it somehow seemed to be the only course of action, seeing it through to the bitter end. An end had to come, surely.

But there was an eighth season, a ninth, and now a tenth. Still no end in sight, either, if the truth is told. I think the show runners seem to believe this thing can run forever, or at least pay for some more swimming pools, summer houses or luxury cars. There certainly seems little other point to the ordeal, and ordeal is what it has become. Even the cast look interminably bored, or perhaps they are all just distracted by thoughts of swimming pools, summer houses or luxury cars themselves.

So anyway, I dutifully found the Walking Dead folder on my Tivo, which had already recorded three episodes of season ten before I finally got around to it (that’s a certain sign of how grim it has become, when after a long break a new season begins and I’m in no rush to watch it) and off I went in some vain hope of some fresh direction, some excitement, something new.

But no. Its the same bloody show. Its like they just don’t want to save it. The same characters going through the same old motions (except Negan is a gardener now, as if that’s what the show feels is progress/development). Open with some zombie action, a training exercise that, you know, is sure to go wrong but our heroes manage to survive. Various shots of zombies getting stabbed, sliced and diced. Christ, even the zombies look bored. How many ways can you depict a walking, shambling dead guy and how many ways can you stab, slice and dice one? Its not as if anybody is ever in any danger, and at this point the whole routine has become so tiresome the thing is becoming a parody of itself.

Mind, it was probably already that a few seasons ago. The Walking Dead is a show that was creatively dead a few years back, its just become a zombie itself, a tv show way past its termination date, shambling along. Its very title has become ironic.

I feel like a zombie myself, sitting here watching it. I think all the fans still watching it are zombies at this point, watching the show from some kind of habit, loyalty or stubbornness. I’m put to thinking of that scene in George Romero’s zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead, with all the zombies in the shopping mall, and a character reflects that the zombies are repeating the actions of their old lives, when the mall was an important place in their lives. That’s us, now, watching this show.

I remember when the zombies were interesting, when they were dangerous, when there was a sense of tension when encountered. That’s long gone, now, and when that happened the show lost its heart, its pulse. The show is a zombie going through the motions and so are we, watching it.

So this first episode ends, and I go back to the Tivo and the second episode is… oh shit, that’s it. Its a flashback episode. The hell with this shit, they are still cranking out that old routine of stretching plot-lines out forever. There’s a hint, just a hint, of something happening at the end of the first episode, and then they go abandon it for a flashback, making us wait for episode three or four for anything even approaching a development.

Well, the hell with that. I’m pulling the ripcord baby, I’m out. Delete episodes two and three and cancel that series link. I’m done. I tried, God knows I tried.

Watching Watchmen: Episode One

watch1Casting aside my misgivings regards yet another IP being rebooted, HBO’s Watchmen series certainly seems promising on the evidence of its first episode (“It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”). Set 34 years after the climactic events of the original comic (and the movie adaptation, to a degree) the world of Watchmen 2019 is quite different from what we might have been expecting, but also uncomfortably familiar.

Watchmen in all its guises takes place in an alternative reality- in a similar way to the ‘future’ of Blade Runner, or the 1960s America of The Man in the High Castle, the depicted reality is one altered by alternate historic events. The comic’s 1985 is an America that won the Vietnam War and in which Watergate never happened so still has Nixon as President . HBO’s 2019 has Robert Redford as President since 1992, pushing racial reforms at odds with white supremacists who are running amok (in the form of a terrorist group who call themselves the Seventh Cavalry and model themselves after the masked vigilante Rorschach, who died in 1985). A few years prior, masked members of the Seventh Cavalry attacked off-duty police officers and their families, so now the police keep their identities secret too, wearing masks whilst on duty. The law has adopted the manners of the once-outlawed masked vigilantes of old. Masked heroes. Masked villains.

watch2One of the biggest doubts about this new Watchmen is the fact that the show-runner is Damon Lindelof of Prometheus and Lost infamy. I’m prepared to cut him some slack mostly due to his earlier HBO show, The Leftovers, which was quite brilliant and a critical darling even if it failed to connect with a sizeable audience. The Leftovers was a poetic slow-burn and on the evidence of this first episode, Watchmen may follow suit. While it sets the mythology up of this alternate 2019 it does so slowly and doesn’t hand-hold the audience at all, which may intimidate some. It also seems to require some familiarity with either the 2009 Watchmen film (can’t believe its ten years already) or perhaps even more so, the original comic/graphic novel, which in particular may be a stretch. Jeremy Irons, for instance, turns up towards the end of the first episode and is clearly an aged Adrian Veidt, the man who masterminded a fake alien invasion that averted World War Three in the original Watchmen comic, but Joe Public unfamiliar with comic or film will be quite in the dark. Likewise lots of Watchmen Easter eggs are spread about for fans to note and feel clever about, but which will possibly leave many viewers bemused by some of the visuals.

Hopefully the mythology and premise will entice viewers to remain and stick with it. It seems very confident in being its own thing which does remind me of the sheer bloody-mindedness of the classic series The Prisoner. Its either a brave move or a reckless one, we’ll have to wait and see. Season One lasts nine episodes, and all being well I’ll be writing weekly reviews of each one.


The Last Skywalker?

Woke up this morning to some demented fool babbling hysterically about some new Star Wars trailer- someone who, it became clear minutes later, has never seen a Star Wars film. Well, that’s how researched and balanced British journalism is these days. One of her colleagues admitted to watching all the Star Wars films for the first time a few months ago over a weekend. “I should try that,” the first fool decided before waxing lyrical over how great this film looked.

Well there’s worse ways to wake up in a morning, certainly, but my mood was certainly darkened. Stifling the urge to throw the radio across the room I decided the ‘off’ button would be the smarter move, and then reached across for my phone, found a video link on YouTube and watched the trailer: best get it out of the way and done, I reasoned. Afterwards, surely, my day could only get better.

(It didn’t, as it turned out, because work was a bad day, but that’s another story…).

I watched the trailer. Sighed. The following video was one of those agonising Reaction Videos (‘watch us watching the new Star Wars Trailer!’). Its a wonder I bothered getting out of bed at all, the bloody world has gone mad. So we watch people watching film trailers now. “Its so EPIC!” some bearded moron gushed, his eyes lit up like a six year-old at Christmas. I switched it off. Turned out watching the trailer had been a mistake. Some mornings its best not to engage with the world, at least not until a strong coffee has been imbued and I can handle the insanity.

Don’t. Believe. The. Hype.

People have very short memories. May I point everyone towards Godzilla: KIng of the Monsters? Anyone care to remember that bloody brilliant trailer that looked like the film was going to be amazing, with a big operatic version of Clair de Lune playing over intensely impressive and emotive visuals? Anybody unfortunate enough to have seen that film (myself only recently, which is why I raise this as a pertinent example) will know the truth and appreciate that Hollywood knows all too well how to sell a turd.

Better Call Saul Season One

saul1All things in their own time. When I began subscribing to Netflix early last year, one of the shows I was keen to watch was Better Call Saul, as I’d spent several months of the year prior watching DVD box-sets of Breaking Bad. which was, per unanimous opinion, pretty great, and I was naturally interested in seeing the spin-off show. Never got around to it until now, though, and probably only now because the recent El Camino movie got me back on the Breaking Bad wagon. Oh well. All things in their own time, I guess, sums that up, and my perennial habit of being late to every party, but hey, ho.

Of course some things are worth waiting for, and Netflix now has four seasons of Better Call Saul for me to watch over this long dark Winter ahead. Like I did with Breaking Bad, I’m going to watch a season at a time taking breaks of perhaps a month or so in between.

So a plot synopsis feels largely redundant when there are already four seasons out there patiently waiting. After a moody prologue set in a post-Breaking Bad ‘future’ with Saul Goodman in hiding, the first season of the show takes place several years prior to the original show, with Jimmy McGill, a struggling lawyer armed with a law degree from an online school. Jimmy can’t get a break, constantly haunted (and tempted) by a shady con-artist past while struggling to prove himself to his older brother Chuck.

The funny thing about Better Call Saul is that its hard to seperate it from Breaking Bad, the shadow of which hangs over it in some of the familiar faces in the cast and many nods to the show. Its an element of nostalgia that perhaps makes it too easy to like, and makes one wonder ‘am I enjoying this because its so good, or just because its more Breaking Bad?‘ Saul Goodman, after all, was one of my favourite characters in Breaking Bad. I read somewhere that Goodman (played by Bob Odenkirk with remarkable charm and style that betrays the perfect casting) was only originally intended to feature in three episodes of Breaking Bad, and that the character was so good, and the casting clicked so well, that it seemed to demand more importance in the show and a recurring role, eventually becoming a major character. There’s something just irresistible about Saul and its proven again with him in his own show. I think I could watch him filling in a crossword- he’s plenty fun just hosting a game of Bingo.

Of course that Breaking Bad nostalgia is fed by a drip-feed of fan-service, with Saul’s back-story (and that of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), another character from Breaking Bad, here working as a parking attendant) just adding to the Breaking Bad mythology. Thankfully the series has a life and character of its own and I’m tempted to think it actually informs the original series. The first season ends with Jimmy’s attempts at a legit honest career in the toilet, having come to terms with his true leanings/talent and starting on the path to the shady (okay, criminal) career we are familiar with in Breaking Bad. Along the way there are some great moments, some lovely new characters and relationships and so much promise invested in those seasons to follow I’m having to fight the urge to race into season two.

Might this show actually be as good as Breaking Bad? Hmm. Maybe it could even be better.