Dark cinematic delights, the funny side of the apocalypse, and the jewel in the Formula 1 crown are some of what's been setting the tone of my May 2017...
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The Last Man On Earth: Season 3 - this time around I opted to save all the episodes up until it had finished airing. How on earth anyone in America manages to watch anything appearing on the major networks, with all those gaps in the schedule, is beyond me. No wonder viewing figures suffer, because your audience will never know when the episode is on. If you can't commit to a regular and consistent broadcast for your show then don't expect the audience to be able to keep tabs on where and when your show is on! Anyway, even with a slightly too-long season of 18 episodes (the 13 of Season 1 was much more suitable), The Last Man On Earth still finds ways to mix things up while successfully blending comedy with drama. How many shows are capable of juggling the sight of a grown man with no eyebrows riding around on a go-kart dressed as a T-Rex with mental breakdown, grief, and the danger of nuclear fallout? Bring on a fourth season, please!
Futurama: Season 8 - a second time around, Futurama's final season (four years on there's still no real signs of another resurrection, unfortunately) is stronger than I remember it. There's still a handful of iffy episodes, but the majority are solid-to-great, the odd one still capable of tugging at your heart strings. In a time when The Simpsons is, let's be honest, long past its prime but still on the air for it's 28th Season, it's a damn shame that one of the smartest, strangest, funniest animated shows out there has been snuffed out.
Nightmare City (Blu-Ray) - Arrow Video's 2015 release is somewhat light on extras: there's an interview with director Umberto Lenzi, as well as one with star Maria Rosaria Omaggio, an audio commentary, a fired-up sit-down with Eli Roth waxing lyrical about Lenzi's career highlights, and the ubiquitous booklet (although the author's insistence on cramming in blunt political sideswipes makes for an unnecessary dose of self-indulgence). There's also a comparison of the two different prints of the film that can be viewed on the disc explaining how and why there are two different restorations. Personally, I watched the crisper Arrow restoration sourced from the original camera negative - the one that features some moments of noticeable chemical damage to the celluloid. A solid presentation for one of Lenzi's most brash and full-on films, sitting alongside the likes of Cannibal Ferox, with its ability to continually match the chaos of earlier scenes right up to the climax.
Eaten Alive (Blu-Ray) - If you've never seen this film, what Tobe Hooper did as his first foray into Hollywood in the wake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then it's well worth seeing. Combining grindhouse sleaze (shlock, gore, and boobs-a-plenty), with layers of oddball sexual politics behind the crazed characters, the film proves to be an extraordinarily colourful film both literally and figuratively. For more of Hooper's attraction to businessmen on the fringe (Neville Brand plays psychopathic hotel owner Judd, here) then check out "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" and "The Funhouse".
Arrow Video's 2015 Blu-Ray is crammed full with extras. There's a good selection of new and archive interviews with Tobe Hooper, Robert Englund, Marilyn Burns, Janus Blythe, and (make-up artist) Craig Reardon that offer up numerous intriguing insights into the making of the movie as well as their respective careers. Add in an audio commentary, a booklet, a featurette about 'The Butcher of Elmendorf', three picture galleries (the behind the scenes photos and preview audience comment cards are both fascinating), and a host of promotional material that shows numerous ways in which the film was advertised under a few of its alternative titles (Death Trap, Starlight Slaughter, and Horror Hotel). Picture quality is excellent - albeit a bit too dark at times (e.g. the Starlight Hotel sign is barely visible in an early establishing shot), and the audio is nice and clean.
The 'Burbs (Blu-Ray) - Arrow Video's 2014 Blu-Ray includes a commentary with the writer, the alternate ending in high definition, an entertaining and in-depth 67 minute making-of documentary that covers various aspects of the film's creation and legacy, and the original workprint version of the film. The workprint is a slightly longer version of the film with various alternative and extended scenes throughout, the bulk of which are detailed in a handy comparison featurette (with optional commentary by Joe Dante). The disc is Region B locked, but it's a must-get for any self-respecting fan of The 'Burbs. Just make sure you don't get the bare bones 2015 release by mistake.
Bride of Re-Animator (Blu-Ray) - full review here.
Shivers (Blu-Ray) - some good behind the scenes extras here (new and archive) with interviews with the key players, including examinations of David Cronenberg's early years in film making and how his career developed in the early years leading up to Videodrome. Some ground gets retread, but there's some quite revealing tidbits along the way. This is the fully uncut '2nd Pressing' of the disc as the original release in 2014 was of a cut version (various trims to numerous scenes of violence), so make sure you have '2nd Pressing' written on the disc itself (or get a replacement disc from Arrow Video directly if you don't).
Hellraiser (Blu-Ray) - it's been a very long time since I saw this movie, and this was only my second viewing, but numerous scenes burned themselves into my memory and they're still as chilling all these years later. Arrow Video released a boxset of the first three movies, but this is a stand alone release of the first film (which seems to only be available in certain retailers). Extensive special features delve deep into the making of the film, especially the key effects sequences.
Twin Peaks: The Return - it's been a long time coming (a 26 year gap between the second second and this new batch of 18 episodes). We're only four deep, but it's so good to have it back. There are a few pacing issues in the third and fourth episodes, and the sheer volume of familiar faces (those who are new to the Twin Peaks universe) filling small roles can become distracting at times (you'll find yourself going "Oh! It's them!" as you watch it). There's the odd scene that doesn't quite work (Wally Brando, for instance), but again, it's so good to have it back!
Archer: Season 8 - a sojourn into 1940s film noir proves to be a welcome breath of fresh air as "Dreamland" plays out as a coma dream in the mind of the titular spy. A reduced run of eight episodes sharpens the creative minds behind the show, so there's little fat on the bones - it gets to the point - albeit in a surprisingly bloody fashion.
Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix 2017 - some complain it's a "procession", but that's missing the point (and challenge) of Monaco. In addition to the heritage and glamour, the track represents an unforgiving challenge to each driver. This is less driver vs driver and more driver vs track - the margin of error is almost zero. This does mean that overtaking is rare, but there are opportunities. Here, team strategy and pit stops play key roles in deciding the winner (just look at how the winner was decided by slip-ups in the past two years). If you want to complain about "processional" races, perhaps it'd be better to look at Sochi - there was little in the way of racing as the cars became increasingly spread out over the course. That track may be fast, but it didn't make for much wheel-to-wheel racing. While qualifying for Monaco is vital, and sometimes determines the winner, anything can happen there (and one or more safety cars is almost guaranteed). It's one of my favourite courses on the calendar (along with the likes of the Belgian, British, and Canadian races) ... besides, it wouldn't be F1 without Monaco!
Night of the Comet (Blu-Ray) - a post-apocalyptic romp that references the likes of "The Omega Man" and "Dawn of the Dead", this was my first time seeing this 1980s genre favourite in which two valley girls hit the deserted streets of Los Angeles to hit the mall and fire off sub-machine guns at decaying ghouls. The focus of the story somewhat drifts in the second half, but the sense of style and good humour wins out in the end. The disc features three audio commentaries and a range of interviews with various members of the cast.
HIM "Dark Light", "Razorblade Romance"
Foo Fighters "Sonic Highways"
Chromatics "Shadow" - as featured in the closing scene of the opening two-parter of Twin Peaks: The Return. A dreamy shoe gaze vibe of melancholy love that fits in so well to the space where, back in the 1990s, Julee Cruise would have been inside The Bang Bang Bar singing something like 'The World Spins' or 'Rockin' Back Inside My Heart'.
Bobby Vinton "Blue Velvet", Harry Belafonte "Jump In The Line", Simon & Garfunkel "The Sound of Silence", The Crystals "Then he Kissed Me", The Delfonics "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)", and The Ronettes "Be My Baby"
VIBES & FLAVOURS:
Murder at the Grindhouse - so I've been chipping away at writing this novel in my spare time for the last six months, and finally I reached the end of the story and achieved a complete first draft. Word count update: 123,974 words. Right now I've set it aside for a few weeks, so probably some time in June, or maybe the start of July, I'll return to it for the first round of improvements.
Arrow Video - there's been a sale on at HMV, and so, being a huge fan of the Arrow Video label, I scooped up ten discs for my collection: The Black Cat, Bride of Re-Animator, The 'Burbs, Dead-End Drive-In, Eaten Alive, Hellraiser, Night of the Comet, Nightmare City, Shivers, and Slugs.
Chuck Palahniuk "Invisible Monsters: Remix" - what's the difference? The chapters are now laid out in a non-linear fashion, the idea being that the reader will never know when the ending of the story will come (although a pattern soon emerges and the destination becomes clear). However, be sure to do as Chuck says and mark each chapter of the story that you read as you go along. Why? Because there's several new chapters included in this version, which covers various asides by Chuck and some 'what happens after the end of the story' insights. FYI, those chapters are: 3,9,13,16,18,25,27,30,36,42.