Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Some comfort for USA football fans - watch World Cup as Netflix

USA have not qualified for the next world cup after losing to Trinidad and Tobago. Urgh. One of the reasons association football is so exciting is comparative lack of scoring, meaning any one mistake can be hugely consequential and if you leave it to fate in this sport, fate will bite you on the a*se.




I know, I'm an Englishman, and because of that I can offer some comfort from similar disappointment in the past.

It's a sad fact but I nearly always enjoy football tournaments more when my own team does not qualify. I won't go into the details as it's depressing but watching World Cup as a neutral is far better.

Forget it's a sport you should be a part of, and if you really want to enjoy it, treat Russia 2018 as something more like a Netflix subscription.

Brazil, Belgium, Spain and France all play football like a movie directed by Luc Besson.
They will be out of this world to watch and it will probably be an experience like STAR TREK : DISCOVERY.

Germany are not far behind on the good to watch stakes but also have an admirable hypnotic sheen that would be like binge watching THE CROWN.

Italy, Uruguay and Argentina will be dramatic and gripping like BREAKING BAD

All the African teams will be as crazy entertaining as UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT

Any English speaking teams will be hard to watch but with air of unmissable eventual tragedy, like BETTER CALL SAUL. England will typically take this to a whole new level and add awkward tragi-comedy that wouldn't be out of place in THE OFFICE.

Like STRANGER THINGS? Need an unlikley story of no-hopers winning out in a far off fantasy world - Iceland! Qualified! Iceland!

 and finally.. to get to the he hosts of the World Cup 2018.. Have you seen ICARUS? The Russians have very little concept of fair play on current form and I would expect some of the antics with referees, officials, social media and mysterious information release to look quite a look like HOUSE OF CARDS (though MR ROBOT prob more appropriate).

If you really cannot watch as a neutral

  • N Ireland
  • Rep. Of Ireland
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

are all in the playoffs and might still qualify

But for sheer entertainment I would follow Belgium

Monday, 9 October 2017

HBO-no : THE NIGHT OF vs VINYL

Someone in the pub last week suggested I reboot the blog with a comparison* of The Orville vs Star Trek : Discovery.  Well...That's not how this works. Too predictable.
It has irked me that this blog has been a one note promo site for HBO up until now. The only reason I've not covered Westworld tv is that it pretty much blew my mind beyond rational analysis.  (In the meantime, try this)

so instead this is

HBOs Emmy nominated THE NIGHT OF
vs
HBOs one season failure VINYL



The one season of HBOs VINYL is flawed but fun and still worth a spin

VINYL was a much anticipated music related HBO drama about New York in it's amazingly creative 70s. I nearly said heyday LOL. This is the hell experienced an shown in THE NIGHT OF from the other perspective.

American Century records is a music company about to get a ringside seat to the birth of Punk, Disco and Hip-Hip, if the slightly cartoonish but entertaining staff and clients can keep their hands off the powder and each other. Co-written by Mick Jagger and directed in parts by Martin Scorsese, who where both there at the time so should know.

Is it great, classic HBO - No
Is it still entertaining - Yes

This is best seen as a long movie, as it was cancelled after one season and isn't coming back, I think it was ultimately too much like MAD MEN. It was released unfortunately at the same time as HBOs other hope for the future, WESTWORLD, and was just steam rollered for attention by that far superior show.

Writing is ultimately the problem with VINYL, which tries to easily recapture the dynamics of MAD MEN only to find that apparently straightforward story was a lot more complex than it looked. That said compared to the plot aerobatics of WESTWORLD even MAD MEN might not have lasted long.

VINYLs main issue is it seems to be more about cocaine then music. I can see this being authentic for the time, but hardly makes the characters sympathetic in the austere world of today,

Bobby Carnivale a great actor and a real scene stealer in Boardwalk Empire but not sympathetic enough to lead the series. Seven seasons of Don Draper was just about enough thanks, and Draper did have enough wrinkles in his background and behavior to make him understandable and ultimately pitiful.

Had it been possible to rejig VINYL in the face of big egos like Jagger and Scorsese it should probably have been all about Ray Romano's character, Zak Yankovich, head of promotions who is the most likable face in the chaos.
American Century is nearly bought out by a German company, which is a problem as Led Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant is virulently anti-German
For a story heavy with 70s rock cliches this has some great female characters,
Olivia Wilde is great as the magnificent Devon Finestra, a survivor of Andy Warhol's social circle and Factory favourite. Juno Temple is an ambitious assistant who just burns up the screen.  Annie Parisse as Andrea "Andie" Zito, a previous manager at the company with an lot of unexplored but interesting history tries to restore order but only creates her own chaos.

That said, for all the casting masterstrokes, one major casting disaster is having Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall's son as a early John Lydon type punk at the heart of the action. Just telling the events as they happened would have been far preferable to a fantasy of events told from the perspective of those being rebelled against. A blatant piece of Hollywood nepotistic casting like this is a great pointer to what drove the punk movement in the first place.

Also isn't the timeline off? English punk bands before the New York Dolls? if those punks been more like Ian Dury and Dr Feelgood this would have made sense. In fact - why wasn't the punk section of VINYL just all about the New York Dolls? Were they too boring? (this is a joke).

So, its got a lot of issues, but if you try and see it like AMERICAN GODS with a good soundtrack and less like a documentary it's at least fun.

There are scenes from this one season failure of a show which have stayed with me all year.


 There is a surprisingly affecting scene when American Century tries to rescue Elvis from the tomb that is his Las Vegas career
 Or when the junior record exec try out a new sound as a dance record



Perhaps the most interesting part of VINYL is it's failure - it shows HBO experimenting and trying to get things right. This show was redeveloped endlessly, as was WESTWORLD, and sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't.

Example - The cameos and inserts of real legendary musicians into the narrative is clunky and awkward and perhaps would have been better done with real footage back protected onto the scene.

I've a high tolerance for this kind of thing from HBO and recently tried very hard to like JOHN FROM CINCINATTI before it's pretentiousness overwhelmed me. Even then that had plenty to like.

Can you regard VINYL, and surfer soaps trying to be Shakespeare, and even minor successes as TREME and HUNG as HBO classics? Obviously not, but are they better than some of the mainstream garbage we are served every day as decent TV?

Fox's EMPIRE is a successful tv show about the music business, about to go for it's 4th season. It's entertaining enough in a trashy way like the best mass market tv. I enjoyed Season 1 last year with a bottle of wine while writing out Xmas cards.

Something keeps EMPIRE just about watchable, performances and music mainly.
But it's garbage compared to VINYL.

The real issue is wether experiments like VINYL are worth the effort when there is so much other quality HBO and cable shows that don't get the attention (SHOW ME A HERO). But, If you are that much of a fan of how these shows are put together even the interesting failures are worth a look.



THE NIGHT OF is hard work

THE NIGHT OF has won and been nominated for many awards.

In contrast with Vinyl I was really looking forward to this. I now realise to write this honestly I'll have to watch to last two episodes of The Night Of, and this is annoying because I hate it.

It's another show set in New York, but this is a hell hole rather than any kind of living place.

It's unbelievable. I don't believe any kid with any background would be stupid enough to get into that situation. Naive? Where did this kid grow up? Narnia? He's supposed to have spent 20 years growing up in Queens NY!
Did he ever leave the house or did they home school him in a oxygen tank.? They are supposed to be Pakistani-Americans,  not the Amish.

If you are bored, like me, of seeing Muslims as naive, ignorant magnets for violence, you should instead watch MASTER OF NONE , which is very refreshing and funny.

THE NIGHT OF seems, for HBO original shows, a very unsophisticated take on race which puzzled me until I read on the wiki
"based on Criminal Justice, a 2008–09 British television series"
Hmm. That's depressing.

Just to clarify, I'm not Muslim or Pakistani and I'm not offended by this portrayal.
I'm just bored with it.

 Also

The gritty detail is laughable

John Turturros feet... honestly. This is a potentially interesting character reduced to the level of a joke, and that ailment isn't that funny.

Economics of New York taxi firms? If it was this much of a drag they wouldn't operate on a day to day basis. Does Uber exist in this universe? Honestly I'd rather watch Misfit Garage.

Lawyer politics ZZZzzz
(and yet I loved S1 of Damages and love Billions)

Gritty detective on his last case about to retire Zzzzzz

Want a vision of New York as hell? avoid this and watch Jacob's Ladder. The Night Of is like The Wire written from a suburb. If you need that level of grit and authenticity watch SHOW ME A HERO instead.

The Positives -
As usual with HBO casting and acting is top notch all round

While being fully aware of the critical reaction to both shows I have a bit of an itch already to rewatch VINYL despite all its many flaws, while you really would have to pay me to to watch THE NIGHT OF again.

(I'm aware most viewers and reviewers do not share my opinion on this show)


Finally You can tell a lot about the quality of the shows in this golden age of tv by the titles. It seems obvious but is worth reiterating.

VINYL's titles are exciting but overcooked

THE NIGHT OF's titles look (to me) like a dull knock off of TRUE DETECTIVE





* OK - Star Trek : Discovery vs Orville

I can see why people hate Star Trek : Discovery, but its flaws are 90% promotional - this is NOT set in universe we were familiar with and does not link up easily to other series. But, if you can get over the details up to Ep 3 it's a well written, smart, beautiful show with already some of my fave characters on tv.

The narrative before this was that The Orville was real the Trek show, if so it's everything about TOS that I used to hate - predictable, flat, dull to watch despite being set in outer space, and aliens which are not anything like alien enough. The worst crime is it's not funny while trying hard to be. I've given up already. And I would count myself a Seth McFarlane fan.

FYI the entire first season of Star Trek : Next Generation absolutely stank out 1987 before turning into the phenomena we know and love in later years.



Sunday, 8 October 2017

Excuses excuses

Aside from political meltdown and other issues I've been trying to learn guitar.

Without much success I have to say, though if I use blogging as displacement behaviour to avoid that at least I'll get this done.

30 years of real mix tapes

This blog is not dead

Normal service will be resumed as soon as I can be bothered to edit 12 posts in the Draft folder

In the meantime, I started this

https://mixtapesfrom1987.blogspot.co.uk/

after I found a huge bag of mixtapes in my attic

Friday, 9 June 2017

Who is going to hold Trump's hand now?

After latest UK general election Trump's leading international ally, Theresa May, is finished politically.
Nigel Farrage's UKIP party is completely wiped out.

I'm thinking Trump's schmoozing with Farrage and Theresa May might not have been great for UKIP and the Tories.

Picking a fight with London in the middle of a terror attack.. days before a general election.... He's a real strategic genius isn't he?



Sunday, 14 May 2017

The best way get over ALIEN3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION is to accept them in all their grim ugliness

Best way to get over depressing experiences is to accept them and learn from them.

Prompted by next weeks release of Alien : Covenant,  my A L I E N 1-4 binge revealed a lot and improved them all.

I was not alone in disliking Alien3 and Alien : Resurrection at the time of release. They were, and remain, grim experiences but for different reasons.

Alien3 Assembly Cut

There is perhaps no movie sequel with a worse reputation for following the narrative of the previous movie. After investing ourselves in the survival of beloved characters through the nerve shredding final hour of Aliens, moviegoers all over the world were astonished to find Hicks, Newt and Bishop butchered off screen at the start of Alien3. It was perhaps the most infamous piece of movie franchise suicide in history.

From the outset Alien3 has everything against it


  • The worst premise of any movie sequel in history
  • Lousy effects
  • 3rd hand script (who are those characters at the end?)
  • Stupid pacing and development
  • Only character worth identifying with, Charles Dance's Clemens, dies in first half
  • Needlessly Sadistic tone - Autopsy on Newt?
  • Abuse of a great director to be in David Fincher
And yet, despite all that, the Assembly cut of this butchered movie is not bad at all. The stunning  opening shots of Fury 161 hint at the level of bleakness you should be expecting.

This is a funereal movie, because it hints heavily that THIS IS THE LAST ALIEN FILM. There is obviously a real determination to finish the franchise on a particular tone. (Completely undermined by the cynicism of A4 but we'll get to that)

Fincher really created an atmosphere comparable to Scott's film, and like Alien it is immeasurably better on a big HD screen. Suddenly we can appreciate breathtaking set design, a great setting and some riveting performances.

We still can't escape the flawed concept and the production hell which resulted but separated from the two previous movies this would be a cult classic. A London Shakespearean version of Outland?
If you picked a scene at random someone who didn't know and turned off the audio it does look like an extremely radical Shakespeare adaptation - but what play?
Macbeth
The Tempest​​
Titus Andromicus
Midsummer Nights Tale
As You Like It (???!)

(We can safely say it's not Hamlet unless the  dog/cow alien variant is Hamlet)

This comparison falls apart quickly. Shakespeare's plays stand out because they are the vision of one man from conception to execution. Part of the magic of Elizabethan theatre, is that the artist produced  work directly for mass audience with no filter.

Whereas

The average Hollywood script which reaches the screen is more like a monstrous hybrid of committee ideas that have absorbed and corrupted the world of many talented contributors into a series of experiments until something accidentally stumbles onto the screen.
Let us bow our heads briefly to
Vincent Ward's Alien3
William Gibson Alien3

In fact the best 'Assembley Cut' of this movie was only put together by someone else, Charles de Lauzirika, as David Fincher absolutely refused to return to the project - so actually my Shakespeare comparison could not be farther off, Elizabethan theater is the complete opposite of Alien3, and it's similarly compromised sequel.

Assembly Cut?
A vast improvement over the original release, which makes the most of a great setting and provides a reasonably coherent storyline from one of cinema histories great production car crashes.

Alien Resurrection Special Edition

In 1996, still heavily within the shock and anger of reaction to A3, Alien Resurrection somehow appeared, again with Sigourey Weaver with a big producers paycheck, this time shot in LA.. because.."..decision to film outside of England was influenced by Weaver, who believed that the previous films' travel schedules exhausted the crew".
In tone it tries to recapture the action and emotion of the James Cameron sequel, without unfortunately any unconvincing action or emotion.

Unlike Fincher's doomed movie it seems to have a lot going for it from the credits


  • Soon to be great screenwriter Joss Whedon (I am another priest of the church of Whedon)
  • Great experienced director Jeunet  (go and see Delicatessen and City of Lost Children immediately if you have not already)
  • Great cast
  • Not terrible concept - the human alien hybrid is even worse than the aliens.


But, and here is the main issue, Jeunet's great gallic sense of humour might have transfered to Pinewood but it sure doesn't fit in LA. Right from the off the 'bug opening' gives it a definite Abbot and Costello tone, which was a slur ironically applied the first Alien vs Predator film,  and I think we can now comfortably say that was a real step up on virtually every level from this.

The LA shoot obviously killed this movie right off the drawing board. Looked at now the movie functions like a two hour ad for Pinewood Studious and British effects crews. Whole production screams cheapo exploitative LA knockoff, Roger Corman's Alien - but without anything like AIPs panache, featuring fake looking firearms and occasional model shots that would look unconvincing in Blakes 7.

Not that the script is without blame. I've not read the original and I'm a massive fan of Whedon so I'll go easy but this is even less satisfying than the butchered schizo tale in Alien3. I'be heard  Whedon defenders its best seen as a dark episode of Firefly but it wouldn't even be a good episode of Firefly. We get the least convincing 200 year time jump ever, with only slight changes in costumes and hair style over centuries. Bare hints that Earth is a hellhole are never explored.

Perhaps most irritating, if you are directly comparing with previous installments, the Alien's acidic blood, a major plot point from the first movie,  is selectively forgotten about.

At worst this produces a jokey self referential fan film tht shouldn't be seen outside a scifi convention. Most obvious in jokey self referential dialog which I just don't have the enthusiasm even to repeat.

but

like Alien3, we just have to accept it, on some level, to get over it. and we can. Alien Resurrection is a far better a horror film about great concepts and characters exploited by a cynical movie corporations than it is about fictitious characters exploited by fictional aliens and corporations.


Like '8' herself Alien Resurrection is a abortive experiment which should probably never happened but did. The self referential quote we should be referencing a quote from Aliens
"You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage"

When the Newborn butchers the Alien Queen we are forced to conclude human cynicism is even more powerful than the Aliens themselves, but by then the existence of the movie itself has made that obvious. It appears the only way to go after undermining the honest desolation of Alien3 is jokey cynicism on very level, and the jokes aren't even funny.

Ironically the best scene, when '8' finds her predecessors in room 1-7, hints at the creative waste and loss behind the scenes. You can almost see ruined sequel concepts and great ideas suffering in the background and perhaps Ripley/Weavers realisation of how much she has exploited and tortured a character that built her acting career. It's the best  scene in the movie by a light year, perhaps because it is the only scene with Weaver seeming to care.

Special Edition?
I'm obviously not a fan of this movie but the changes made in this version at least make it more Jeunet, so it is at least more honest. Apparently the painfully un-amusing 'bug' opening scene got Jeunet the job. "Jean-Pierre Jeunet allegedly secured his position as director by explaining the "bug opening" he planned to incorporate to 20th Century Fox executives. Ironically, the sequence was ultimately cut from the theatrical release of the film due to budget constraints"


Jeunet at least gives us Earth - and Paris! I bet they can see the Luc Besson museum from there

The other meta movie industry story here is all about Hollywood Star Power.

Surviving actress from classic movie is granted greater and greater creative control over subsequent installments allowing some bizarre selfish creative decisions (Alien3) and some selfish production mistakes (Alien : Resurrection badly shot in a murky LA shed because transatlantic travel deemed an inconvenience).
Haggling over money before committing to Alien3 killed at least two promising scripts (William Gibson's Alien3, featuring Newt and Hicks without Ripley was a casualty) and her subsequent commitment to Alien4, for a bigger paycheck, undermines most of the final funereal intent of Alien3.


Alien 'Directors Cut' and Aliens Special Edition


Ripley dooms Hicks, Newt and Bishop by momentarily losing control in ALIENS

Prompted by next weeks release of Alien : Covenant,  my A L I E N 1-4 binge revealed a lot and improved them all.

Alien 'Directors Cut'

Ridley Scott's Alien 1979 is still a Rolls Royce of a horror film and is a stone cold cinema classic on any level, comfortably head on shoulders above the other movies in this series. Acting. dialog, set design, soundtrack, direction - you name it.



It wasn't quite so appreciated in the year of it's release. The 51st Academy awards, the year it was released, only recognised Ridley Scott's Alien for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.

In a year when  the Vietnam experience finally broke through into Hollywood cinema I can see how The Deer Hunter and Coming Home would clean up the actual awards, but here are the 1979 movies nominated for Oscars instead of Alien in various categories
I must watch An Unmarried Woman - it must be a hell of a movie.

and
The Swarm (Best costume design)*

Directors Cut?
Changes are minimal, even the inclusion of the Dallas cocoon scene is truncated and explains little.

Aliens Special Edition

In 1986, in the immediate aftermath of it's release, James Cameron's classic sequel, often name checked as the best ever sequel, was considered the equal, if not an improvement on Scott's first film. Now I have to say it's growing old fast. and increasingly relies on some great comedic performances. And they are great, one classic line after another performed with engaging conviction. Even those of us who know the dialog well enough to see it coming still laugh at the sames scenes, surely is a tribute to magnificent comic delivery and commitment of the actors and their director.

But even even the fantastic model work is looking creaky, and the stars on stripes the 'US Colonial Marines' looks very out of place. It looks like very conventional 80s  action film.

Some of this must be down to the medium on which we now what these films. In the 80s and 90s, seen on VHS and DVD usually on small screens, Aliens is comfortably a better movie than the original. Today, on HD full size screens, Alien looks like the grand gothic space opera that it is, and Aliens looks like a fun tv show in comparison, even when it has perhaps the greatest pacing and character interaction in movie history.

It's a shame Cameron's classic looks so flat and conventional compared to Scott's film but ironically it may be enhanced long term by way it set's up the once much reviled Alien3. Seen between two restrained atmospheric suspense films, Aliens is a cathartic monument to thoughtless uncontrolled violence. This is  ironically is the downfall of the characters, setting up the tragic events which begin the next installment.

I am positive that James Cameron did not intend this ....but when watched and accepted as a long narrative Ripley Newt, Bishop and Hicks are effectively doomed in Aliens, in the first confrontation with the Alien Queen.  Ripley has rescued Newt, and should hurry back to the Dropship knowing the imminent destruction of everything around her is about to happen in a nuclear explosion. This would obviously destroy the nest and dormant Queen she leaves behind.



Instead, when backing out of the egg chamber, this most controlled of female characters loses control of her emotions and stops to open fire on the egg chamber with flame and gunfire. The Queen survives this of course, and by provoking it and turning it into an enemy that pursues her into the Sulaco she almost certainly sets up the tragedy at the start of Alien3.

I explained my theory of Ripley's tragic loss of control to a friend of mine in the pub the other day - his response was "That's easy for you to say, you weren't there"

Special Edition?
Before James Cameron's Aliens it was naturally assumed that any movie sequel would be inferior to the original, Four years later the Special Edition of this movie also proved that a later release with added scenes could also improve on the original (notably the Special Edition of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind had not been been an improvement).
This version includes several scenes which enhance the original release, we get to see the fate of the world Ripley left behind, 60 years in the past, and a mini introductory battle featuring drone sentry weapons which really puts the scale of the threat in perspective.


* The Swarm is a notorious stinker but I love it



Alien3 Assembly Cut and Alien Resurrection Special Edition