Sunday, 22 January 2023

UndergRound Up of the Year, Part 1....


Welcome no one and all to Braw's UndergRound Up for the perpetually ground down of 2022, our (obviously) annual unpopular popular culture(?!) look at the past 12 months(-ish). Here we'll filter through Agent Rob's means to (undeserved) escapism in the previous 52 weeks, of which about 2 were spent glimpsing the light at the end of the lengthy pandemic tunnel before Russia's invasion/liberation of Ukraine cruelly snuffed out humanity's last hope.... So if gorging on 24/7 news feeds of our increasingly burning world isn't quite your thing then it's time to face up to plenty of brackets (like, y'know, these kinda (brackets)) and get your fear on (for want of any better means of kicking things off)....

"Ere, Clive, is, eh, Agent Rob still a c-" "'e is, Derek, that is correct."

In general it has to be said that in UndergRounding Up 2022 Rob realised it was pretty much a year of, er, cultural consolidation (with an unhealthy dose of copy/edit/paste chucked in for good measure). Sure, there were plenty of new films and records to be enjoyed, but they all had a tang of familiarity, if not a whiff of nostalgic sell-by, and it'd be fibbing to say otherwise before we begin....


Take for example MARVEL's 'Phase Four', where they did pretty much as per the previous paragraphs/Phases (although well past it's Avengers: Endgame prime), coasting along on their (too) established green screen train with Thor; Love & Thunder proving that lightning certainly doesn't strike in the same place twice, the titular character's (by now somewhat self-satisfied) mismatch of goofy and serious personas coupled with child death and cancer (sub)plots – if ever the MCU was going to take a bold leap into DCU-esque darkness then this seemed a mighty good opportunity – making for an uneven and ultimately somewhat underwhelming 4th entry in the franchise (within, er, a franchise?). Shang Chi and The Legend of the 10 Rings and  Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness were along very similar entertaining if formulaic lines – admittedly there's nothing truly wrong with spending 2+ hours with any MARVEL film at all - while Spider-Man: No Way Home (which is like, y'know, the second Spider-Man 3 of the third Spider-Man film franchise within a, ah, y'know....) relied heavily on a leaf torn out of Doctor Who's (very well thumbed) book by bringing back previous incarnations of both hero and villain for what amounted to a super slick web-slinging nostalgia fest....


In contrast to all this visually wearying and interchangeable SFX it was nice to lower oneself to the gritty street level of The Batman from Braw fave Matt Reeves of POTA fame, sitting back and enjoying it's realistic and restrained Detective (Comics) approach, proving that like the books themselves, the DCU seems a far better fit for stories that simply do not adhere to any predetermined cinematic continuity. A shame then that they felt the need to shoehorn Barry Keoghan's The Joker in at the very end (because between Ledger, Leto and Phoenix it's getting kinda crowded in that wing of Arkham Asylum of late). Speaking of (the non 'The') Joker, it too was an agreeably disagreeable deep slice of the darker DCU (really recommended only for people who haven't seen Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy and wondered what would happen if you mashed them together in a pot and washed them down with a few hits of Fight Club)....


Agent Rob (and Miss Pennymoney) also had the opportunity to see Professor Xavier in the flesh as local superhero himself James McAvoy rolled into Glasgow in Jamie Lloyd's mesmerising take on Cyrano de Bergerac, a hip-hopping, beat-boxing, jaw-dropping theatrical tour de (X-)force. A good thing too, as it's unlikely he'll be back, ahem. Oh, dear, green place....


It's inevitable that Film4 takes home the Best Films Brawscar(tm) yet again this year by offering up an All-1-2-3-4 of daring and fully immersive world cinema – Mandibles, The Tunnel, First Love, Servants, Videoman, The Warrior, Deliver Us From Evil, Sputnik – that simply excelled itself with their (South) Korean season – Sympathy For Mr. VengeanceThe Beast, Barking Dogs Never Bite, Memories of Murder, Beasts Clawing At Straws, The Swordsman – and quality contemporary (mostly) American films, some famous, some not so - Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Knives Out, Mandy, Alita: Battle AngelVivarium, 1985Lucy In The Sky, Saint Frances, Lords of Chaos – and the occasional irrepressible cult classic such as Mike Leigh's searing Naked....


Likewise Talking Pictures TV did it's stiff-upper lipped best to screen films from the classic to the cult/curio and the, well, frankly (watchable enough) crap – The Incident, The Hustler, The Raven, The Trial, The Offence, The Bed Sitting Room, The Devil's Men, Perfect Friday, Bear IslandGas-s-s, Morons From Outer Space, Futureworld, Shatter, Scream and Scream Again - with TCM and Paramount Movies showcasing the wilder west with Wyatt Earp, Tombstone and (the remarkable) Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid as well as the likes of Promising Young Woman, The Running Man, StardustDas Boot, Conan The Barbarian, The Odd Couple, Paycheck, Raising Arizona, Hot Shots II and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad....


An extra special mention must be given to Stake Land and The Stakelander, two quite remarkable low-budget films shown courtesy of The Horror Channel (now, er, rebranded as Legend), not remotely scary but wonderfully gloomy and atmospheric with a sleek, minimal soundtrack. Fangers crossed for a third entry. Well worth vampire hunting down....

Please, just don't come back ever again....

From Film4 et al to 'top of the film flops' where Terminator: Dark Fate sat like a great fat undercooked Christmas turkey (itself carved from hopeless leftovers). It's as if a bunch of studio execs watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens* and decided that Box Office Gold simply involved getting the old (acting) gang back together to have them spout tired catchphrases while less charismatic screen photocopies toiled with a soft turd reboot of a plot. If anything it's even worse than the flat battery that was Terminator Genityls. Not that Arnold Schwarzenegger's old 80's sparring partner Sylvester Stallone could do much better (aside from an oddly deft closing montage) as he bled every drop of (Last) Blood from Rambo's cinematic corpse. And just to prove it ain't all about taking down easy targets there was Martin Scorcese's The Color of Money (crappy brown!) and Clint Eastwood's absolute dud Absolute Power going to show that even old masters have their off days. Huge props to Clint for The Mule tho.... *Star Wars bashing will likely return next year.


But fear not, for filming on (Mad Max) Furiosa has wrapped - that'll give all those 'mediocre' soft studio cash grabs a deserved (hard re)boot up the a$$. Roll on 2024....


In absolutely no contrast to any of the above – see, even writing about the pop culture formulas is just a formula in itself – Jodie Whittaker's likeable enough Doctor Who bowed out in 2022 with 2 long specials and a final really long extra extended special special, Chris Chibnall evidently reacting to Auntie Beeb's truncating the number of episodes by simply bumping the running times up (and up and up). As per the aforementioned leaf that Spider-Man ripped out/off, the good Doctor turned matters up to an unheard of 13 with a finale that jammed in as many surviving Whos and 'who's that?' companions as you could shake a sonic screwdriver-shaped stick at. Geez, they even got William Russell in there – last seen taking a whizz at Collectormania Glasgow in 2014....

Nice to sea you again....

The episode also provided 2022's most puzzling scene, Agent Rob wondering if Sacha Dahwan's manic (post-Ledger Joker) take on The Master as Rasputin singing, er, Rasputin was in fact the modern show's absolute zenith or ultimate nadir.... Either way he still had the tune in his head the next day while he still reeled from the chutzpah of regenerating the 13th doctor back into the 10th (but actually 14th) Doctor. If only they'd made more of the Yaz/Doc dying dynamic as matters drew to a close - there's no denying that could've been time for a real tearjerker. More mystifying still is why they didn't air the finale over 2 consequtive nights – there was an obvious cliffhanger post-sing-and-dance-along – and once again just like this review #chop Nu-Who in two!

"I'm sorry, but I'm holding Blake's 7 back...."

A good chunk of early 2022 was spent binging on Blake's 7 (thankfully just completed before Forces TV vanished from our screens as suddenly as it arrived). It was incredible how the first 2 series seemed to run along the lines of world events, the mounting threat of the excellent Star One invasion arc creating genuine on (and off) screen tension. A shame then that it concluded with a damp squib and the following two seasons, now bereft of Blake and Avon's bickering and replacing the actor of the villainous Travis, saw increasingly, er, diminishing returns. Still, episodes never seemed to drag over their running  time and we did get to see the very Ultraworld that inspired The Orb's momentous track, and there's no denying that Paul Darrow's was the genuine star (making) turn, his Avon coldly quipping his way into the legion of 'the greatest sci-fi anti-heroes of all time' – just don't ask Rob who else qualifies for said title....


Televisually MAD MEN impressed pretty much across its full run (with only a handful of so-so episodes), the super sharp suited retro drama playing out deftly and realistically – viewing seasons near back to back didn't expose the sort of ridiculous character arcs/relationships and events that plague less grounded US dramas. So what if John Hamm's puzzled Don Draper gurning wore a little thin over the years, but there was always Peggy, Pete and Roger on hand to keep the creative ideas flowing....


Atlanta served up a third season that expertly toyed with the formula, indeed they shredded the rule book to a cringing middle-aged white man degree, while Peacemaker showed that James Gunn is able to walk that very fine line of good and bad taste, er, assuming ultraviolence and jokes about mental health are your thing in the first place. Bored to Death (thanks Missing!) provided daft affable private dick laughs and Star Trek: Prodigy made a decent fist of warping the Star Wars: Clone Wars animation template....


Elsewhere the BBC's The Tourist proved they could make slick adult decidedly un-BBC (in a good way) drama that, in spite of a wobbly ending, lived up to some of the(ir own) hype. The same could not be said for Killing Eve's final season, the episodes as lifeless and joyless as Jodie Comer's assassin's eyes. It didn't help that the show's whole 'jolly Russian killers' approach arrived at the very moment that troops were lining up and up along the borders of Ukraine. Doh!


Certainly Agent Rob never thought that ITVX would save Christmas, the 'rebooted' app offering up (the South Korean) The Host and 70's conspiracy thriller Capricorn One as well as a host of vintage television classics such as The Prisoner, Space: 1999 and Sapphire and Steel, a 30 minute dose of the latter – helped no doubt by the utterly luminous Joanna Lumley – papering over Xmas scheduling that lacked any sort of fizz whatsoever (even the ever-reliable once-a-year bumper Radio Times has unfortunately ditched it's tried and tested festive format for a more streaming/less Rob friendly version)....


And what a better way to sign off than with an near-copy of last year's 'end of part one', only this time Rob's happy to announce that he reunited the remote – found languishing in 'deep storage' – with its parent Samsung VHS/DVD player, by posting it on to VideOdyessy in Liverpool. So hold that happy thought until 'part two' (music, books and comics) arrives in 4 weeks time....

The Orb - A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of the Ultraworld 

Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Eclectic Dreamzzz back from the bed....


Just a wee Braw reminder that our sister(?) blog Eclectic Dreamzzz, charting Agent Rob's many varied adventures beyond the Dreamescape has finally returned after a 2 year hiatus.... Feel free to check out the newest (bed)post here - https://eclecticdreamzzz.blogspot.com/2023/01/hwanzahh.html - and if tweeting on Twitter's more your thing, then please follow us here for updates - https://mobile.twitter.com/eclecticdreamzz - and remember to set your alarms for every WedneZZZday going forward....


Meanwhile, here's a Top 5 of sorts from previous dreamy excursions....

Vranth - featuring The Beckhams and John Byrne....
Herunklig - featuring Demi Moore, Joel Gion, Spike Milligan and Julia Davis....
Pirglallap - featuring Madge from Neighbours....
Nannzarrith - featuring the girl from the Post Office (a long time ago)....
Tansitle - featuring loads of old drawn recollections (from a very long time ago)....

Saturday, 17 December 2022

A Chronicle of Doom....

Hi-Yah! Howzit gaun?

With absolutely everything seemingly 'drawing to a close' (without much actual comic drawin' to start with!) there's never been a better time to slip inside Agent Johnny's house and quietly ignore the world goin' by. And how better to celebrate this long overdue 'View to a (non-alcoholic) Swill' by kranking open the Karmi while Bob Dylan and chums noodle away in a pleasantly directionless fashion in the background....

See Braw's previous blog....

As (un)usual proceedings kicked off with a discussion around recent issues of Infinity Magazine and Spaceship Away before heading off in search of space, Johnny 'waxing lyrical' about seeing 'The Floyd' at Potter's Bar in '71, Tangerine Dream in Sheffield in '76  and, of course, Grateful Dead in Edinburgh in '81. Other topics of contented chuntering included the fillums Atomic Blonde and Lords of Chaos - both notable for their queasy violence - the Hammer/Shaw Bros collaborations The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and Shatter, the leery X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, 1967's Quatermass and the Pit followed (quite literally) by Death Wish 4 and a mighty ye olde Lanark Regal Cinema double-bill of Enter The Dragon followed by Death Race 2000....

Maybe Braw's previous previous previous blog...?*

Next up our Agents got all misty-eyed for the days of proper seasonal programming, wondering if the cult likes of Zabriskie Point or Zardoz will ever grace (domestic free-to-air) television channels ever again, snow or no', before chat inevitably (re)turned to the possible release of the John Stark comic, anything to free it from its freezing over 'development hell'. Any longer and it'll be an Alan Smithee production. Of course, unlike auld Robert Zimmerman there comes a time when there is no direction but home for Agent Rob and bottles are drained, plans are hatched and partings are said....

*Following a discussion on the origins of Sinbad/Sindbad the Sailor, it transpires the character appears in seven voyages/stories in the Tales From The Thousand And One Nights....

Sounds: Bob Dylan - Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid: Bernard Herrmann - Taxi Driver OST: Tangerine Dream - I Dream of Star Trek (bootleg): Rose City Band - Dawn Patrol (track) and Eric Burdon & The Animals - Sky Pilot....

Bob Dylan - Main Title Theme (Billy)

Friday, 11 November 2022

You Seen The Set, Part Seven: Reno (and Bonus Content!)....

The Dynamic Duo!

"Holy Holidays, Batman!" While a spirited springtime jaunt to San Francisco was undeniably the main attraction of Agent Rob's recent sojourn Stateside, there was no denying that Reno itself had a few sneaky surprises in store....

Reno, er, "The Biggest Little City In The World", um....

"And the skies always had little fluffy clouds...."

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na... Nah, really, honest!

Surprise number one had to be the National Automobile Museum which, completely unbeknownst to Rob beforehand, houses a startling collection of authentic fillum and TV cars. Top of this (far from scrap) heap has to be an immaculate 1960s Batmobile. "Holy Polish Job, Batman"....



In addition to this the museum also has an equally primo 1960s JokermobileGreen Hornet's 'Black Beauty' (as actually driven by some guy called Bruce Lee, no less), Knight Rider's K.I.T.T. (for short, or Knight Industries Two Thousand for, er, long), 2005's Herbie Volkswagen Beetle and Back To The Future's DeLorean time machine. "Run for your life, Marty!"....

The Jokermobile

'Black Beauty'

K.I.T.T.

Herbie (and here Rob goes bananas)....

DMC DeLorean


A quick drive over from Reno to Lake Tahoe (which straddles the California and Nevada state border like a bow-legged hoss) and, Hi-Yo Silver! - wrong intellectual property, Rob knows! - it turns out you're in baked and boiling Bonanza (ranch) TV country....

Obligatory photo of generic sun beaten boulders....

BONUS TRACKS!

Grateful Dead (and company)....

Rewinding just a little, a truly Braw trip to SF wouldn't be complete without hitting the 60s hippie trail and venturing far out, er, in the direction of the Golden Gate Park, making sure to keep on truckin' through the Haight-Ashbury intersection and turning on, tuning in and dropping out at the Grateful Dead's old communal residence, gawping at the colossal collection of vinyl and cds in Amoeba Music, before finally swinging your sizeable pants by the Fillmore West concert venue...

710 Ashbury Street

Haight-Ashbury

It's (un)fair to say that Haight-Ashbury was something of a disappointment. No Dark Star drifting from first floor windows to soundtrack this psychedelic pilgrimage, no great clouds of dope smoke obscuring reality, no real sense of urgent political purpose or idealistic 'movement', just Agent Rob wearing (metaphorical) rose-tinted glasses and enduring the stark reality - the whiffs of patchouli oil/incense while eyeing the (white) bums going about their (permanently closed for) business - wondering just what exactly he was expecting to find (himself?) 60 years post-zenith. To completely compound the cliche Amoeba Music didn't even have a copy of American Beauty in stock....


Indeed the admittedly tasty VeganBurg lunch there was to reveal that they are a 'catering partner' of ultimate mainstream music pop supremo Taylor Swift , making Ben & Jerry's - who occupy the 'store' bang on the intersection - very own Cherry Garcia ice cream simply melt into the counter-cultural flotsam....

Fillmore (West)


"Uh, what's up, docs...?"

Amoeba Music

Madchester in the (hotel lobby) area!

The "Painted Ladies", Alamo Square

If you fancy a 'Full House' of SF TV sights then you could always visit the "Painted Ladies" as seen in the 80s-90s sitcom, er, Full House (as well as viewed in reality at Alamo Square)....

Dashiell "The Maltese Falcon" Hammett....

San "Charles Manson" Quentin....

Finally, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and on through Marin County and what can one spy from the speeding window of a car but San Quentin (State Prison) which famously 'housed' Charles Manson on one occasion and 'hosted' Johnny Cash on two.... 

Peace (Over and) Out....

Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues (Live at San Quentin State Prison, February 1969)

Friday, 9 September 2022

You Seen The Set, Part Six: San Francisco....

"...you've gotta ask yourself one question..."

"Do I feel lucky?" Indeed Agent Rob certainly does, being one of the fortunate few who managed to Escape From UK earlier this year for a bit of glorious sightseeing stateside, managing to swipe a few days on the streets of San Francisco, pounding the very same sidewalks that Harry Callahan and Frank Bullitt called their own to bring you yet another 'Summer Blogbuster' in the vein of JAWS, Indiana Jones and, er, Chungking Express....

Greyhoundog day.... Yes please!

It seems only fair to start at the beginning with the bus trip from Reno HQ to San Francisco on a Greyhound bus - I mean, c'mon, why the cliche not? - a journey that just so happened to mosey on through Sacramento and Philip K Dick's old SF stomping ground of Berkeley, California then (over) Oakland (Bay Bridge) giving a first glorious glimpse of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge....

"I am the law!" (er, wrong character....)

Setting up camp in Bush Street (around about Chinatown) proved to be the perfect location to simply get out and wander about this very walkable city (and very tasty too, with Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese slap-ups around the chops). But like Harry and Frank themselves this is gonna be a blog of few words - we all know a picture is worth a thousand and, in Agent Rob's decidedly lower (quality) case, probably much much more than that - so without further ado let's hit those dirty roads....

San Francisco City Hall

First up we have San Francisco City Hall (at 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place) and the surrounding Civic Center Plaza. Maybe best to avoid the decidedly dodgy UN Plaza / Market Street / Tenderloin area to the East, mind - at first Rob thought the nearby assembled throng was tourists before realising it's a key congregation site (for sore eyes) of the city's numerous homeless....

Eh, that was then....

....like this is now....



Civic Centre Plaza (1971 style)

Civic Centre Plaza (minus water feature)


Still hangin' in a Sunshine State....

Saints Peter and Paul Church


Next stop is Saints Peter and Paul Church (at 666 Filbert Street / Washington Square off Columbus Avenue) where that scallywag Scorpio took aim at a Catholic Priest....

Bank of America Building


Our final stop is in fact Harry's first, the Bank of America Building (at 555 California Street) which he scales to get a better view of the swimming pool where Scorpio's first victim is bob bob bobbing along....

Mt. Davidson Memorial Cross

Those with more time on their feet may wish to visit the Mt. Davidson Memorial Cross (at 2-280 Dalewood Way / Myra Way) to complete their stroll around the most easily spotted Dirty Harry landmarks....

"You couldnae tell us the way to San Jose, mate?"

With so much attention lavished on old Harry it was inevitable that young Frank's locations would inevitably suffer (from a lack of proper pre-research and later inability to match up photos to actual street names). Still, a completely comprehensive guide is here and there's no doubt Rob got the gist of the famous car chase, making sure to race around Mason StreetTaylor Street, Chestnut Street - the sign of which definitely appears in The Enforcer, Detective Callahan's third outing,  - Filbert Street and Columbus Avenue....

Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church, 1051 Taylor Street

That'll definitely be, er, Chestnut Street, um, at Columbus Avenue

 Chestnut Street, again at Columbus Avenue (and Taylor Street)




Filbert Street  (towards Colt Tower)

Filbert Street  (towards Colt Tower) 1968

Taylor Street

Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, 1 Nob Hill, 1968

Top of the Mark (Hopkins Hotel)

Taylor Street, er, again....

Mason Street?

Mason Street?

Taylor Street, er, again again....


Of course, the Clint connections just keep on coming, with Alcatraz Island having pride(?) of place to your right in San Francisco Bay. (Those with suitably stern stomachs might fancy a trip doon the watter for a visit.) Then again, over to your left is the Golden Gate Bridge, guest star of far too many films to mention (so Rob'll settle for recent firm film fave Rise of the Planet of the Apes)....


Alcatraz

Murky Harry

Golden Gate Bridge

Unfinished monkey business....

Woah! It's "The Big One"!

Well, here's hoping this blog made your day, as there we have it (for now, as there'll no doubt be some subtle tweaks in the coming weeks) until the planned/under wraps sequel arrives on the small screen worldwide early November. So what are you waiting for, bookmark your tickets now....

Ooh, Braw Books gets political....

Grateful Dead - Ripple (Official Music Video)