Saturday, 5 June 2021

A Chronicle of Doom....

J for Julie Christie shining like a star....

A for Andromeda. A also, of course, for Agents Rob and Johnny. B for Ballard Heights to I for Ice Station Zebra. C for (A) Chronicle of Doom. L for loooooooong overdue - can it honestly be two years?! - and (finally, thankfully!) S for Scockrail (who did everything in their power to cancel and delay the necessary trains needed to make this vital visit eventually happen)....


They say that abstinence makes the heart grow fonder and it wasn't very long before Rob banished his mounting 'intrepidation' - Agent Johnny might be even more painfully slo-mo than ever before, but was on sparkling form having definitely landed sunnyside up in Slateford 'after the flood' - and was duly dispatched to the local Postie Office 'fer to buy' some swill to help the 'dafternoon' drift by that little bit more smoothly, our two Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. chuntering (al)most contentedly, feeling like days of old.... as opposed to these (quite suddenly just) feeling old days....

The 'ungoing' John Stark: Secret Agent comic was discussed at length, Rob offering 'fer to draw' any script that Johnny cared 'fer to think up', given that, at 67(!), the copious 'aches and pains' - cue much grumbling about both being (un)fairly 'f*kt in' - are putting (un)paid to any comic drawin', but, y'know, there's nothing wrong with (dis)gracefully retirin' into the sunset....

HBO's (somewhat inspired) Looking Glass character

Topics of conversation included everything from the A for Andromeda tv show and Anthology book (pictured above above above), Philip K. Dick, Infinity Magazine (pictured above above), Vampire Circus and everything Watchmen-shaped, with Doomsday Clock, Before Watchmen and the HBO series (pictured above) bringing us full circle and face to face. Round that off, the seconds ticking away, with Johnny reminiscing about seeing Pink Floyd in '71(!) and Grateful Dead in '81 and you have a mighty fine encounter, one worth writing up 'fer to blog'. Here's hoping there's another of these swell swilled dreamy daze soon.... 

Sounds: Two From The Vault by Grateful Dead....

Grateful Dead - Death Don't Have No Mercy

Saturday, 1 May 2021

UndergRound Up of the Year, Part 2....

The Mummy returns! Agent Rob back from the undead!

Welcome back (no) one and all for Part 2 of Braw's UndergRound Up of the Year, Agent Rob's much delayed (ultimately should-very-unwell-have-been-cancelled mis-) guide to 2020. “An equal not a sequel”, as Braw favourite John Cleese said of (the then absolutely critically mauled to pieces) Fierce Creatures. (Indeed, here's hoping Mr Cleese spent his lockdown working on the second part of his autobiography with that same ethic in mind, as opposed to wasting his twilight talents gleefully twatting the endless hordes of Twitter trolls to one side....) Will it again be a tale of two brackets? With films hitting home box office while television mostly struck out, let's see how music, books and comics fare (fair?) as it's 'seconds out' for (underg)round two(-oh-two-oh)....

The Orb this week.... are just the medicine, man....

There's no doubt that music saved Agent Rob's (underGroundhog) day these past12/13 months. Thanks in part to Dr Alex Paterson – didya know it's actually Duncan Alexander Robert Paterson? - and co(horts) there was plentiful prescriptions on offer, be it the time to take a long bath in the loopy 90's ambient throwback of Chocolate Hills' rather wonderful 'Pail of Air' (why not an actual Orb?) album or a moment to drift off into (inner) space thanks to The Orb's surprisingly timely 'Abolition of The Royal Familia', an album that cannily tapped into the lockdown vibe* while very much following the (free)formula of 2018's 'NSOOB' only bigger and better, eschewing the latter's rather flabby and shapeless midsection for something agreeably phat and dubby around the middle, languid and agreeably unhurried, cushioned by much tasty and tinkly ambient noodling.

*....and not only was there that slice of prescient action, but the Royal Familia 'Guillotine Remixes' album somehow managed to drop on the very day that the Duke of Edinburgh passed away. Uncanny....


Duende India Collective - Escapology (Epically Orb Mix)

As if that wasn't enough, Agent Rob also booked a trip on Auntie Aubrey's third set of The Orb remix 'Excursions Beyond the Call of Duty' at the very end of the year, wallowing in a (surprisingly) solid selection of knob, er, twiddling and, um, tweaking. That's 'ambientertainment' for yer....

"And we stare straight into nothing, but we call it all the same"

There's no denying that being cooped up at home or office in 2020 inspired Rob to hit the (mental) road, roaring off into the brainset(?) to the sounds of The War On Drugs and their particular brand of widescreen cosmic US radio rock.... and to a lesser extent there was fellow acolyte Kurt Vile's slightly patchier, slacker take on the genre with Mac De Marco's wholly slacker take bringing up the rear view. While Rob finally got around to (WODrugs influencer) Bruce Springsteen's raw and pointed 'Nebraska', it was the granddaddy of them all Bob Dylan who graced us with his simple, shimmering (and ultimately transcendent) 'Murder Most Foul' from his 'Rough and Rowdy Ways' album....

27 years.... Quite an eye opener....

Elsewhere Thousand Yard Stare delivered their first album in 27 years, the spiky 'Panglossium Momentum', while Cornershop took a little less time to produce more of their spritely, wry and slyly political agit-pop on 'England is A Garden'. Team Crippled Black Phoenix motoriked on too, releasing the accomplished – that's really Rob's way of saying he's still not quite worked out if he really likes it yet - 'Ellengaest', while Capitol K served up more of his worldly homegrown organic techno on the tasty 'Birdtrapper' and an unexpected winter salvation came in the shape of Wu-Tang Clan's chilly, first post-Ol' Dirty release, '8 Diagrams'....

Bang! Ace shot through the bleeding heart....

The most momentous, er, moment in the musical calendar was without a doubt the 19th of August 2020, the day that Agent Rob, after a two and half year break (having had his heart broken by Sam Sweet's 'Hadley Lee Lightcap' book, a vivid, lyrical account of simply scraping by as a member of the band Acetone*) finally plucked up the courage to again delve into their warm, wistful and pretty much perfectly formed body of recorded work.... all the, ahem, 'hits', as it were.... And here's a fairly freaky full circle of sorts given that, unbeknownst to Rob until he took to researching(!?)/typing this article, Pitchfork wrote in their review of the (highly recommended) 'Acetone 1992-2001' compilation, “But if Acetone are not a name that gets dropped with any regularity these days, a survey of the contemporary indie-rock landscape reveals a number of artists striving for a similar zen state. From the slow-dissolve soundscapes of the War on Drugs to the window-gazing ruminations of Kurt Vile to the lysergic twang of Mac DeMarco, there’s a healthy appetite today for patient, clock-stopping music that, if only for a moment, can pull us out of a world where 24/7 news tickers and obsessive-compulsive feed-refreshing set the pace of modern life.” Now howzabout that? Uncanny again....

*if only one person discovers the wonders of applying a daily dose of Acetone to their life then this entire blog will have been worth it....


The old roads best travelled....

With Boobs of Doom taking something of a hiatus in 2020 – only four albums, c'mon! - following on from 2019's dozen doses album extravaganza, it was over to fellow Scot Fordell Research Unit to up the release ante on Bandcamp. Pick of his bunch (so far) has to be 'Old Roads', with track 1, the epic sweep and swoosh of 'Funeral Rites For Mahler' getting the earth moving under Agent Rob's feet every time. (His tumbling CCTV soundtrack 'Etches of Pain' album on Invisible City Records comes highly recommended too....)

We've actually made it quite far this time around without mentioning Poland (until now!) but here's a fascinating (vinyl) cut salvaged (along with several colourful others) from the 'Archives of the Eastern Bloc'. What you're looking at is actually a record.... and not only that, it is in fact a Hawkwind record…. Silver Machine AKA Srebrna Maszyna.... (and, deemed top billing, there's Popcorn AKA Prazona Kukurydza by, er, Hot Buter)....

Not a bunch of DIIVs....

How do you make gig of the year in 2020? Easy.... you are Agent Rob's ONLY gig of the year. Lucky for DIIV they were just ahead of the Covid curve – Rob recalls thinking of the growing pandemic and raising a wry eyebrow when the support band's singer announced, “your country is sick!” Luckier still the band've cleaned up their act considerably since their last visit to Glasgow, a performance that was as wan and as hollow as frontman Zachary Cole Smith's smack sharpened cheekbones. (That it was at the frankly dire SWG3 venue didn't help matters much either as every band struggles against the dud acoustics, muddy sound and lack of any discernible atmosphere.) Placing saucer-eyed Gollum-cum-guitarist Andrew Bailey centre stage – he never missed a note/beat, mind! - the band powered through deep cuts from their 'Deceiver' album (with older tracks from their previous lp 'Is the Is Are' sounding sparse and half-formed by comparison), delivering a genuine (finally) coming of age performance. Here's hoping they spent 2020's lockdown wisely and have only been cooking up new tunes....

Don't be a mug and support live music....

Of course, with gigging strictly off the menu, totally down the pan and quite frankly up the spout the whole (live) music industry has been thrown into crisis (by way of the wolves). If anyone reading this has not done so then please consider heading over to make purchases/donations at #wemakeevents – some nice mugs and tote bags to be had, perfect for Rob's middle-aging demographic – or Save Our Venues, where you might pick up a nice t-shirt you can wear without embarrassment (while you, er, half-heartedly mow the somewhat neglected, mostly moss ridden lawn)....

"Yes he did, he does, he really did like it." (pic. Tom Sheehan)

As we seamlessly segue from music to books singer Tim Burgess cropped up with his autobiography, shedding more light on the decidedly dark death of The Charlatan's keyboardist Rob 'The (90s) Hammond King' Collins, – 25 years ago this June! - with some additional bleakness to round out the grim details courtesy(?!) of the Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm documentary....

Second Crumbling.... Ian Browned off with Reni circa '95....

Meanwhile Simon Spence did his best to get under the prickly skin of those perpetual enigmas The Stone Roses in his War & Peace biography. If anything it got Agent Rob back listening to their startling debut - such a considered, spacious sound and genuinely unmatched song dynamics – as well as hopping online to unearth the 'Schroeder Mixes' of 'Second Coming', seemingly 90% finished before John Squire's coke habit buried the songs under two years of over and over and overdubbed guitars. The updated edition even covers their initially well-intentioned but ultimately well-flogged – official iPhone covers, really?! - 2014 reunion....

Leaf it out, Ian!

However, in contrast to Tim Burgess embracing the lockdown online via his Twitter Listening Parties – still not enough to tempt Rob onto that life-vacuum however – and releasing his 'I Love The New Sky', a charming album of quirky alt-pop, fellow Mancunian singer Ian Brown planted his feet firmly in the disbeliever camp with his 'plandemic' protest song 'Little Seed Big Tree', diverting enough in the swaggering spring sunshine of 2020, but harder to say it was rooted in any sort of reality come the year's decidedly sticky end....


If Rob was pushed and shoved to pick a book of the year it'd have to be Robert Silverberg's Nightwings, a short, well realised and wholly immersive Science Fiction (with a decent dash of the fantastical) novel. Of course, H. G. Wells couldn't fail with his excellent The Invisible Man (surely ripe material for the best Studio Ghibli animation never made), as elsewhere Emily St. John Mandell took us on a pre-pandemic ride with her Station Eleven (thus sparing us Agent Rob's Unearthly Science Fiction outtake about the 'last Mars bar man'....), the Strugatsky brothers entranced with the sprawling, immersive The Doomed City while JG Ballard predicted the rise of English nationalism, foretelling the build up to Brexit, his canny fingers on the quickening pulse for what was his final novel, Kingdom Come....


Any excuse....

Lawrence Durrell's TUNC, with it's 70's setting but dense 50's literature stylings often suffocating the telling, still impressed with it's strange SF-esque plot, while Tom Baker tackled his Fourth Doctor (Who) in the enjoyable (salvaged from a never made film of) Scratchman. It's inevitable that the towering 1984 by George Orwell should rear it's ugly, impassive head – Big Brother really is watching you – prompting Agent Rob's inevitable retreat into the comforting primordial stew of Ballard's The Drowned World - with such an affecting, poetic conclusion - before finishing right back where he started with a third book by (his favourite author of 'straight fiction') William Boyd, the epic The New Confessions, a beginning fitting for the end....

And Rob's favourite sentence of the year is from Michael Moorcock's bracing boy's own adventure omnibus A Nomad of the Time Streams, taken from book two, The Steel Tsar, “His smile was a soft, deceiving thing lying upon the pitted surface of his head like a red slug.”....


The most curious book (discovery) of the year has to be a copy of Space-Travel Stories, a 1969 Moscow publication 'for the 9th form of the secondary school', Compiled by L. Fomin and designed and (nicely) illustrated by B. Trofimov. All the (translated) stories therein are adapted and it features Asimov's Little Lost Robot and John Wyndham's Meteor among lesser/completely unknown others....





Nothing like holding a book in your hands and knowing it's quite likely the only copy in existence anywhere. Bonus points surely have to be awarded to this completely obscure Russian publication for allowing the word 'bisexual' to slip undetected into the 'vocabulary' at the back....


With From Hell (in color) finally wrapped up for good this year Agent Rob turned his attention to Alan 'The Original Writer' Moore's early 80's work on Miracle/Marvelman, fighting his way through the initial stodge of the wordy Warrior tales into the truly creative enlightenment, but no less boggy let's be honest, of the Olympus/Eclipse era. Still no word from 'The House Of Mouse/Ideas' on Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham concluding their proposed 90's stint on the book tho....


With a little cash to splash (just in time before the crash) Agent Rob said 'Hiya!' to his local comic shop and duly order a copy/doorstop of this wonderful, evocative 1970's comic-cum-magazine as previously spied bending the shelves at Ice Station Zebra. Needless to say, with it's wonderful comic strips and fascinating articles it was a fung kung smash hit (on the wallet)....


Aha, and we're back on Polish soil again, Agent Rob swiping his dictionary to make a start at the collected tales of the lewd and crude Jez Jerzy, the Poles very own underground/overground comic strip sensation – it did make the leap into film in an agreeably vulgar 2010 adaptation....


Another drawing discovery was the stunning work of German Peter Knorr, illustrator of several eye-popping children's books, wholly immersive affairs with gentle narratives, invitingly quaint environments and recurring characters inhabiting each warm and wonderfully-realised scene – highly recommended purchases (as the tiny online galleries do not do the sheer attention to detail justice)....


If all that wasn't enough to break your continental fast how about some lovely chunky and stylish illustrations (courtesy of Jan Baranowicz) from Waldemar Bonsels 'Pszczolka Maja I jej przydogy' (otherwise known as 'Maja the Bee'), an 1981 KatowicePoland again!! - children's book that caused quite a buzz when Agent Rob unearthed it in the Eastern (housing) Bloc 'Archives of Doom'....





Tytus, Romek i A'tomek and creator....

Polish comics had a sad loss this year (January 2021) with the passing (at the ripe old age of 97, mind) of Henryk Chmielewski, the creator/writer/illustrator of 'Tytus, Romek I A'tomek', a strip that ran for over 40 years across countless books and publications, seeping into the national consciousness in all that time (Tytus gracing MediaMarkt's promotions only last year). Although not the slickest of comic strips – the art has a somewhat clunky, innocent charm, eandearingly simple – there's no denying that this Jadek (grandfather) of Polish comics acheived an incredible artistic lifetime's, er, achievement.... 


And so 2020 proved to be a year that pulled no punches - obviously sincere Braw sympathies to those of you reading who have been affected by Covid-19 - and the pop-culture punches suckered more than most given we lost a plethora of icons, among them a James Bond, (THE James Bond!) two (UK) Avengers (and some time iconic Bond Girls), a Python, a Goodie, Emperor Ming (THE Merciless), a (US) Avenger, a Supervillain (THE Supervillain) and (clocking in/out at 104!) Spartacus himself....


Maybe 2021 will be the year that Braw Books finally gets back to doing what we do best – although you'd be forgiven for thinking that's NOT publishing the finest (and funniest) underground comics (collections) in Scotland (and, let's be honest, elsewhere)....


Plans are still afoot for the long awaited/delayed/drawn out John Stark: Secret Agent comic – Agent Johnny even predicted the pandemic with his canny 'Lockdown' story (title) on his 2018 cover (although the script itself, later drawn by a drunken Agent Rob in Poland(!), didn't appear until the summer of 2020 when John, er, actually remembered creating it, um....). Beyond that (which is just about beyond us!) who knows.... Hopefully we'll (soon) see some blogs delving into the existing range of Braw Books as well as the return of regulars such as Sketch Sunday, Philip K. Dick and From The Vault (and the associated drift of Eclectic Dreamzzz). We did provide a handy users guid to the revamped Life In The Buckfast Lane tho....

In the meantime – and it is particularly mean, this relentless forward charge to oblivion – there's always an occasion to download our fantastic and free Braw Books PDF sampler here>>

Congratulations! You have reached the end of 2020 (and, indeed, already made it 1/3 of the way through 2021)! All that remains to say is to 'keep well' (in preference to the wholly misguided 'stay safe' nonsense that peppered the pandemic promos here in the UK) and we'll see you after a short summer break (following on from Agent Rob's completely unwarranted winter one....
 
And last, but never least, our Braw pick of the year? Well, this 1963 film certainly gave this weary old RIDE fan a bit of an unexpected surprise....

Billy Liar - Twisterella

Thursday, 1 April 2021

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

I want my Mummy! Agent Rob takes a break after his, er, break....

Exactly what kind of gormless 'April fool' would present his UndergRound Up of the Year about three months too late, dropping his exhaustive (and exhausted) grab bag blog of the year gone by as late as spring of all things? But, as per good ol' Zack Snyder, so much of this here (under)groundwork had already been done that it seemed a shame not to press on and assemble at least something for your reading, er, pleasure. Of course, with Agent Rob's 2021 starting (and pretty much ending shortly thereafter) on a slippery slope it all now seems rather pointless in the grand scheme of things, but, well, y'know, the only way is forward (likely by means of two very cautious steps backward)....

Agent Rob commutes (just before masks were obligatory)

In spite of the head going over the heels it was 'key working' all the way in 2020 for Agent Rob, kept busy in his (Jimmy from Quadrophenia) mail and admin job while much of the world ground to a grim halt, barely leaving the station. Not that that was enough to derail his multiple trains of thought, so all aboard (a-bored?) if you please for a suitably socially distanced sojourn through 2020. Bad grammar, shocking puns, worse reviews and delays are expected....

"Zapraszamy do reklamy...."

In keeping with the past two years round ups let's kick things off again by turning the dial on the 'wireless' up to 11 and hopping across the pond to Poland – something of an emerging theme in 2020, so Brexiteers may wish to tune out now – to enjoy Radio Trojka. However, as many fond memories as Agent Rob has of time spent in the company of this fine radio station – think an eclectic mix of high end Radios 2 and 4 crossed with 6Music and Late Junction (but thankfully without any grating presenters given it's all mostly 'lost in translation') - it has been systematically dismantled from without in the last few years as the Polish government tightens its grip on the media machine, squeezing out freedom of speech/expression in favour of those who'll happily tip-toe along the ever-tightening party line. It all came to a head in May last year when Kazik, the Kult singer, had his song 'Your Pain is Better than Mine' censored, a move which then sparked a spate of resignations, removals and artist boycotts. Ergo, the (far from blind) mice left the rats to the steadily sinking ship and promptly set up not one, but eventually two new (online) radio stations from their steadily filling lifeboats. Radio Nowy Swiat was first off the patreon mark, followed not long after by Radio 357, thereby ensuring there's still plenty alternative choice for the discerning online listener....

KAZIK - Twój ból jest lepszy niż mój [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

Both Oxford Drama and Patrick The Pan had their first Braw listens while vacationing to Trojka (as well as the liked likes of Scianka, Brodka, Organek, Daria Zawialow and the ubiquitous, all-conquering Dawid Podsiadwo) where one could happily hear them rubbing shoulders with familiar faces like Deerhunter, The Charlatans, The Orb'A Huge ever Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of the Ultraworld' played in full, thank you! - and (on one memorable occasion) F*ck Buttons (whereby the entire room was pretty appalled with the exception of a rather fired up Rob"masakra!")....

Doctors Smith, Whittaker and Paterson (we'll get to him later)....

Of course, last year it was all about the doctors, Rob being in just the right mood for Jodie Whittaker's second season as the trusty Timelord, enjoying its increased sure-footedness and chucklesome humour, something of a slight return to the show's more 'teatime' roots (in spite of it endlessly preaching without the accompanying power). There was also a nice turn from Sacha Dhawan as the Master, losing his longtime controlled cool in favour of a more modern, jittery (and appealing) post-Joker-esque regeneration. (And not only that but we had a future black female Doctor! ....not Braw favourite June Sarpong unfortunately!) Naturally all this plot dripping came gloriously unstuck right at the end, collapsing under the weight of shoe-horning yet another post-modern idea into the (already bulging) mythos as – surprise, surprise! – writer/producer Chris Chibnall couldn't resist dumping another turd down the show's already well blocked canon with Jodie's Doctor, who's barely found her own character feet, now questioning "who" she actually is and-YAWN!

Art by Braw buddy Lex! Any excuse....

Having wrapped that and given there was precious little else on the 'Whorizon' there was nothing for it but to return to the (overlooked by Rob himself) Matt Smith era and work his way towards the 50th anniversary which, praise be!, didn't disappoint, Smith and David Tennant's jokey interplay coupled with the ever-reliable grizzle of the mighty John Hurt making for a hugely satisfying birthday conclusion. Smith's run certainly had it's moments – 'The Rebel Flesh' / 'The Almost People' 2 parter even harked back to the classic era's cliffhanger incarnation* - but for Rob the epic arcs, seemingly designed with nothing more in mind than generating endless fan theory Youtube videos and setting said forums alight (see new Star Wars for similar details) were less so, muddying episodes here and there and just taking up far too much time (before the inevitable, clever-but-okay-ish reveal). Still, proof that absence makes the two hearts fonder....

*It's amazing given that the newer shows always flag about 30 minutes in – they're obviously tailored to ease into American/overseas programming schedules, bumping up to an hour with the inclusion of adverts – that no one has thought of chopping them into 2 parts, bringing back the cliffhanger ending proper and having the show on for 20 weeks or so instead of 10-ish. #chop Who in two!

Agent Rob quite agog at those oh-so-special effects!

With the big screen having no option but to completely shut up shop and settle for the biggish screen it was left to the concluding part of the recent POTA trilogy to provide last year's top blockbuster thrills. Whilst not quite besting the previous instalment in the story stakes, War For The Planet of the Apes more than made up for it with the amazing (VIP) CGI effects – quite frankly the best you'll see anywhere - the king of the swingers indeed!

"I've got a bad feeling about this...."

If ever a film was so desperate, so relentlessly eager to please it had to be the risible The Rise of Skywalker, the absolute nadir of the new Star Wars trilogy. This sorry, stodgy, Han-fisted attempt to tie up the messy, misguided threads of the previous two films (while effectively ret-conning much of the preceding The Last Jedi) is really the ultimate in slick, unimaginative blockbusters - conclusive proof that movies made by committee, steered by 'target markets' and focus groups, with no clear direction or story aren't really anything worthwhile at all. A film so obvious (and actually so pointless) that you're left bemused and angry at having wasted your time with it. Not even Iain McDairmid rocking it as Emperor Palpatine (or a stupid clone of him or whatever) can rescue this steaming pile of Bantha Poodoo, a whiffy mish mash of (presumably) The Force Awakens reheated leftovers and whatever ideas hadn't yet been plundered from the Empire and ROTJ cash cow by the previous two films....


(And just to prove it's not only Star Wars that gets it horribly wrong, Rob has to admit that rewatching Takeshi Kitano's Brother, his (failed) attempt to reach an American audience, was almost as dispiriting an experience, marred by hammy acting, clunky violence and a general sense of otherwise simply not translating in terms of style and substance....)


Funny that after slamming MARVEL blockbusters Martin Scorcese then proceeded to release the much trumpeted The Irishman, a film an hour longer than Avengers: Endgame (and that feels like it's twice as long again!). To be frank (Sheeran), aside from the oddities of Joe Pesci's head floating on a younger man's body, Al Pacino's magical hair or Robert De Niro squinting through his Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn face – presumably in search of his vanished neck – there was little to recommend this legendary gang's last hurrah. He paints houses... and you'll know what it feels like to sit and watch it dry, likely needing to be digitally de-aged yourself after the epic slog....


While 2019 was the year of Talking Pictures TV it was Film/All4 that snagged the best pictures gong in 2020 with a huge range of diverse and satisfying world/cult/oddity films, from the unforgettable, epic, almost alien, yet humane An Elephant Sitting Still to the emotional and (politically) enlightening A Taxi Driver, via other entrancing gems such as the doe-eyed melancholia of Happy As Lazarro, the raucous slapstick of Men & Chicken, the punishing obsession of Suntan, the twisted humour of I Am Not A Witch, the moody mysticism of Embrace of the Serpent, the plot twists and turns of The Handmaiden, Bruno Ganz tearing it up as Adolf Hitler in Downfall, the bleak power of A Touch of Sin and chilly (Polish Oscar contender) Cold War - films that shone a (welcome) bright, rich light on other countries and cultures....

"Careful, Peter.... There are acids in here...."

Nonetheless Talking Pictures still had a few Brit-obscurios to offer, screening the likes of The Medusa Touch, Gumshoe, Billy Liar and Rasputin:The Mad Monk, featuring a wonderful, mesmeric turn from (the late Sir) Christopher Lee....

Hiroshi Abe commutes (just before masks were obligatory)

Bonus points have to go to the pleasingly gentle After The Storm's Hiroshi Abe for having that classic anime hangdog expression in the flesh....

"Why so (deadly) serious....?"

You'd be forgiven for thinking that with so much movie action, that the (not actually any) smaller screen of television would be left for dead and buried. Not so, as Agent Rob still had time to unearth and dust to dust down the tombstone-alike series boxset of HBO's wonderful Six Feet Under, the dramedy concerning the dysfunctional Fisher family and their barely functioning funeral parlour. There's older brother Nate toiling with his fidelity, middle child David tormented by his homosexuality, and daughter Claire wrestling with her identity while they all, mother Ruth included, grapple with their sense of self and belonging after the father's death. Over the corpse of 5 ever-darkening series it generally stayed true to its course with believable (and believably flawed) characters, remaining insightful and pertinent and, dare Rob type it!, 'life-affirming'. Perhaps daughter Claire's artistic arc was the closest to the show's beating heart for Rob as he watched her transform from doe-eyed arts scene devotee to dead-eyed farts seen disenchantee(?) - it certainly struck a (painful and fairly bitter) chord. That said, a Series 3 episode did as good a job of any of evoking that (often misguided, usually drunken, yet) invigorating sense of creative wonder and possibility that can grip like-minded individuals and inspire them to reach for greater heights.... until they wake up hung over and depressed in the unforgiving low of the following afternoon....

So how d'you follow a show (primarily) about death? Maybe with all 7 series of the comedy vs. dramedy of Showtime's Nurse Jackie, the lovable-ish drug addicted ER mainstay who'll stop at nothing and no one to feed her habit. No doubt it's a fine, ahem, line to pitch your show around an anti-heroine and try to keep the audience on side for all that time. (Though there's no doubt in Rob's mind that the open-ended series finale should be it – he couldn't help himself but loathe Jackie by the climax and absolutely hoped she got exactly what was coming to her....)


From funeral parlour to ER to the undead of What We Do In The Shadows.... that's 2020 for you in a knutshell.... Still, this show dug up a wonderful second series of satisfying vamp-antics that kept Agent Rob chuckling till well after sunrise. How rare that a spin-off should easily surpass the original (film). Here's hoping there's plenty more (after)life in this old dog yet....

Claes Bang? Fangs.... but no fangs....

Unfortunately, for all their bombast, the BBC spent most of 2020 flopping around (and doubtless spending millions of pounds in doing so). First (belly) up was the much-heralded and (a bit too) stylish adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. For all there were a few good scares it lacked bite, failing to match the unsettling chilly creepiness of Herzog's Nosferatu nor equal the sheer Technicolor Gothic grandeur of Hammer, spending too much time trying to impress with it's witty one liners and (admittedly) clever-clever spinning of the plot plates, spotted as they were with the fingerprints of those past masters of the post-modern tweak, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. By the final episode the comedy and horror was failing on both counts – three counts if you include Claes Bang's puzzling Vegas entertainer-cum-chummy wideboy performance not helping matters much, rendering the bloodthirsty moments oddly toothless and wasting his proper ('could have been a contender') Count credentials....


There was more (unwarranted) post-modern tinkering to be found in the similarly stylish (but unnecessarily tweaked and needlessly) convoluted adaptation of H. G. Wells's War of The Worlds. Given the quality of the source material it was a shame to see the attention to period detail and FX budget squandered on an (admittedly interesting-ish but) half-baked post-Mars invasion version of  Earth, now reduced to an apocalyptic wasteland – tho it did mean more screentime for Robert Carlyle's intriguing, William Hartnell-esque turn, as the mysteriously disfigured scientist Ogilvy. This expansion did set up a nice twist in the opening tale but from there on things began to flounder and lose all shape (though some nice instrumental music somewhat salvaged the finale)....

"See ya...."

Is it genius or is it simply overcooked? Once again the BBC seem unable to not let a success go to their heads with this highly watchable, wonderfully performed but simply puzzling and confounding third series.... Not so much Killing Eve as a feeling of 'Treading Water' unfortunately, with Jodie Comer's captivating turn as Eve - there's something of Peter Cook in her blank, impassive stare - just about keeping things afloat....

Even more perplexing was the second series of His Dark Materials, the tv show that looks good enough to eat.... but tastes like cardboard, such is its complete lack of engagement – Scot James Cosmo managed one scene of decent dramatic heft in series 1 – to the point of being too dry to follow and swallow, everyone acting so deadly serious, so achingly sincere that the show has absolutely no warmth beyond the dazzling visuals. A dish (not at its) best served cold.... 

By contrast in sticking too close to the book('s penchance for page after page of thorough stodge) the immaculately presented The Name of The Rose bogged itself down to the point of disinterest by too often indulging the book's convoluted historical setting. Agent Rob'll happily stick with the Cadfael-lite (themselves pretty good books) film version with the late Sean Connery. No praise be, sorry....

"I could really go a bar of chocolate right now...."

Even ever-reliable Nordic Noir failed to raise temperatures this year as Darkness: Those Who Kill (a nordic-noir too far for sure!) delved too deep (even for Rob) with its grisly scenes of kidnap and teen torture, while The Killing II was simply disappointing, slopping all over the amateur shop - some of the best laughs of the year were watching poor portly Nicolas Bro shovel food into his gob at the most inopportune of moments....

"I've got a bad feeling about this too...." 

Lone Wolf and Cub + The Man With No Name + (not quite) Boba Fett + (not quite) Yoda + genre tropes + no imagination whatsoever = The Mandalorian AKA The Biggest Disappointment of the Year (and hot on the heels of 'The Flop of Skywalker' too). Created (which in this case actually means appropriated from someone else's ideas altogether, plundering the OT, EU and CW for any cool stuff to distract from the middling stories) by Jon Favreau and hewn from the same grit and sh*t Star Wars universe that delivered the likable but limp Rogue One, the show sure looked a (hundred) million dollars (of FX). A shame then that the often clunky direction and tired (and tiresome) plots - the double cross, the Mexican standoff, the shootout, the siege, the one last job, the suppressed yawn, the predictable eye-roll - were even more worn out than Agent Rob's work socks! A complete immunity to the charm of Baby Yoda certainly didn't help matters, proving that the best years of Star Wars really were a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

*About now Rob's assuming most readers will have given up on his (genuinely) ill-informed opinions ,but thankfully we've reached the end of this part as it is. (Plus, for all it took to read, can you imagine how much time he wasted putting all this together?!) How can he possibly favour wannabe 'woke' 'BBPC' krenk like Doctor Who over slick SW fan favourite The Mandalorian? Truth be told the (other) good Doctor wins simply by trying – writers like Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall were/are out to better what's gone before, and truly believe they are. The case is comprehensively closed when you realise that absolutely anyone (with a bunch of old Star Wars toys to bash together) could write the predictable, fan pandering fluff that Favreau/Disney are currently churning out. I have spoken.

Anyway, we all know the opinion on opinions so hopefully that won't stop anyone from agreeing to disagreeing to joining us for Part 2 where we'll cover (in a far more favourable light) books, music and comics. Altogether now, "Haw hooo! Hoo hee hahoo hahoo!"....

Kult - Piloci (Official Audio)