Tuesday, 11 January 2022

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

Agent Rob, the man (really!) who fell to earth....

Covid 19 + COP26 = FLOP21, the year that sucked from end to end, a gruelling, endless, featureless grind, 12 months of tedious 'long collarbone', a bone-breaking, rib-cracking, lung-puncturing, physio-requiring 365 days that saw Agent Rob tumble into middle age with a resounding bang! Still, one shall overcome and as per years gone by you can expect (mostly) glowing reviews peppered with the occasional brisk/bitter dismissal of huge creative endeavours – here's looking at you, The Blandalorian! - that are obviously infinitely better than anything a failed Agent could ever hope to achieve. (But, y'know, that's the internet for you - you get what you don't pay for.) So read on to see what provided last year's escapism (from what exactly, our laughably comfortable Western lives, pandemic or no, or our guilt, our shame in knowing that our entire lifetime is a vast cultural, climate and consumer disaster). Anyway, that's more than enough off-putting 'blah blah blah' from Rob, so on with the show....

Dud 'n' Pete....

Firstly the last thing Agent Rob expected in mid-2021 was to get pulled into the comedy orbit of not only Peter Cook but also Dudley Moore (with whom Rob was admittedly quite suddenly smitten, this club-footed, working class piano prodigy) all courtesy of a chance charity purchase of William Cook's thoroughly engrossing One Leg Too Few. This prompted a swift delve into their somewhat sprawling back catalogue, given much of their highly influential 60's TV output (audio aside) is lost/destroyed and much of what followed, bearing in mind the duo had no Pythonesque budding business acumen to call upon, scattered to the four (sheets to the) winds. Still, there's plenty enough floating around to delight, from Moore's solo venture 30 is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia to The Wrong Box, to Cook's solo venture The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, to the mighty Bedazzled (of course!), to the howling and beleaguered The Hound of the Baskervilles, to the (drunken) debauchery of Derek and Clive, Agent Rob really only drawing the line north of Arthur and Get The Horn. Well, what are you waiting for, jump right in....

Dune know whattah mean, yeah, yeah....

The only big screen (ad)venture Rob undertook (late) this year was to go forth and see the new Dune, a self-consciously epic and FX laden tale full of dusty visuals and precious little story of interest, the cast of dull characters sleepwalking through the dry plot with no one really doing any acting (except for Jason Momoa.... who, to be honest, really just plays himself). If it wasn't for an exceptional amount of obligatory 'bangy noises' around the mid-point there's no doubt Rob'd have left the desert for good and gone off to visit the sandman instead....


There's no doubt that Film Four takes the acting gong yet again this year, (still) serving up a tremendous variety of striking and immersive world cinema – Blade of the Immortal, Savage, Woman at War, Fire Will Come, Border, Why Don't You Just Die! – and (perhaps) lesser-known contemporary indie (often American) gems hiding in the left-field - My Fiend Dahmer, American Woman, American Animals, Come To Daddy, The Old Man and The Gun, A Bigger Splash, Youth, Snowpiercer, Anthropoid – as well as the usual treat of seldom and oft-seen older-ish joys – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, How To Get Ahead In Advertising (AKA Withnail 2), The Riddle of the SandsTrack of the Cat, The Ladykillers, The Straight Story, Escape From New YorkPi – and those irrepressible cult classics such as Wim Wenders' absorbing cinematic trio of The American Friend, The Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas....


Talking Pictures TV also managed to unearth plenty of vintage rarities and oddities, Villain, Tom Jones, The Dead of Night, To The Devil a Daughter, The Night of The Demon, The Assassination Bureau, Black Sunday, Personal Services, Foul Play (Dudley Moore debuts!), Brighton Rock, The Quiller Memorandum, Bank Holiday, Vampire Circus and The Man Who Fell To Earth – while TCM offered up the likes of The Thing, PerformancePoint Blank, Play Misty For Me, ShampooFrankenstein, The King of Comedy, No Country For Old MenThe Big Sleep, Dirty Harry and ITV4 stuck to its six guns, blasting out a regular (and reliable) dose of manly action every evening ie. pretty much anything on celluloid Clint Eastwood's squinted near as well as Copland, Death Wish, The Nice Guys, Airplane! and The Fugitive....


Jodie Whittaker's Doctor Who returned for (who honestly gives a) FLUX, which found the entire yawniverse under threat from some galactic mess that, given world leaders were (supposedly) discussing the very fate of the ground we walk on (most of the time!) at COP26, was off to a shaky enough start. Things improved over the course – expect to see Vinder, Bel and Karvanista spinning off via Big Finish very soon – once Chris Chibnall slowed the story down following a brain-busting opening episode and began (trying his best) to tie all the disparate story threads together.... only to climax with another head-scratching final episode that struggled to get the Timelord back on track. Still, all credit to him for trying to think outside the (blue) box (and serving up a decent NYE special with Eve of the Daleks). Here's to Braw favourite June Sarpong hopefully picking up the sonic screwdriver for the show's 60th anniversary in 2023....

Here's Looking Glass at you, kid....

Well 'Swash me Solomons!' if there wasn't a digital pandemic of reality television streaming from our screens in 2021 (with much more to come!), from (overly) familiar panel shows – even the horrible, hateful Never Mind The Buzzcocks was dredged up! - to makeovers, to bakeovers, to walkovers, from celebrity castles to mental health island, to the glut of formula homespun hobby competitions + tiresome comedian du jour (though thankfully no one's had a go at actual comic book comics yet!)....

Thankfully there was an antidote, of which there's no denying that HBO's (Whathefu-didIjust?!) Watchmen was Rob's telly event of the year, a take-no-prisoners plot tease tour-de-force that made the DC comic sequel look (well, read) like a children's book by comparison. More on that next time....

Brooke-Taylor, Cleese, MacDonald, Chapman and Feldman

There were other televisual treats in the shape of the sinking ships of The Terror, the stately stiff upper drama of The Night Manager (from another Braw fave Suzanna Bier) the 'equal not a prequel' laughs of At Last The 1948 Show and the sharp-suited writing of MAD MEN (thanks MISSING!)....

A shame as it is to sharpen the stakes but by contrast the third series of What We Do In The Shadows completely missed the mark, descending into mirthless and cacophanus shouting matches nearly every episode, thereby (grave) robbing it of much of its humour and charm. With a fourth series in development Rob has to admit it's more likely better the sun came up on this undead delight. Who's to say if the similarly themed and agreeably quirky Wellington Paranormal will suffer the same lifeless fate.... And the less said about Fargo's forgettable fourth season (from painfully slow burn to complete and utter fizzle) the better....

The Book of Boba Fett. Bedtime viewing.... Yawn....

Di$ney continued to give the (vocal) majority of Star Wars fans exactly what they wanted with the second series of The Mandalorian, making use of no creative juices whatsoever - Baby Yoda was eventually saddled with the clunky and dull name of Grogu - deriving all their big buzz and excitement from simply digging up and teasing well-established/worn characters while plopping them into the same old familiar environments (and thus once more hiding the absolute paucity of fresh ideas on show). Of course, fans are slave-one-ishly looking backward to new seasons of The Book of Boba Fett, '(bl)Andor, Asoka and Obi Wank Enobi, where - would you believe it?! - he'll likely take on Darth Vader once again in what will be a dream come true for people with absolutely no imagination universe-wide....


With Glasgow's MISSING Records but a stone's throw from Rob's (UnderGroundhog) day job there was plenty of 'physical' media on offer over the course of the year('s worth of careful browsing). Whether that's some lovely/laughably affordable Kris Kristofferson, Monty Python or Pete 'n' Dud vinyl or the gold to be mined in their 3 DVDS for £1 section....


....which managed an exceptionally healthy yield of the wonderful one-two world cinema punch of Manon Des Sources and Jean De Florette, The Edukators, Arthur, Derek and Clive Get The Horn, Last Days, Made In Britain and MAD MEN amongst others, all looking spanking on Sony's highly recommended/affordable one-two home cinema punch Blu-Ray/DVD BDPS range....


FOPP in Union Street was also open (some of the time) and able to cater for more recent DVD nourishment, including the near-perfect Parasite, the Jerry-baiting Jo Jo Rabbit, the fine The Farewell and the delightfully boozy and poignant Another Round (which, truth be told, wasn't nearly as good as the Mads Mikkelsen starring Riders of Justice, a hardy revenge tale that had a clear enough head to walk a fine, steady line between silly and serious, making it the actual hard act to swallow as far as Rob's concerned)....


And, seeing as everybody likes a happy ending (other than the happy fact that this blog is ending!) then take heart that Rob's vintage VHS/DVD combo, earmarked for the dump alongside countless redundant cables, chargers and BT hubs, was duly packed up and shipped to VideOdyssey in Liverpool after a workmate spotted this story. There, try and keep that happy thought in your head until Part 2, where we'll delve into music, books and comics....

Derek and Clive - Squatter and the Ant