Riverdale (The Return to Netflix)

I was never a fan of Archie comics – it was a bit too apple Pie America for me.  On top of that, there were no superpowers involved.

Having signed back up to Netflix at the recommendation of couple of friends, I was drawn to Riverdale and thoroughly engaged by it.

Imagine a cross between The OC and Twin Peaks, and you’ve got Riverdale.

A series in which Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica are caught up in a maelstrom of murder, duplicity and the underlying darkness of small town America.  An investigation into the death of Jason Blossom unveils the cracks in the otherwise perfect Riverdale and consumes everyone involved.

With a cast that includes KJ Apa as the red-haired Archie, Cole Sprouse as Jughead, Lili Reinhart as Betty and Camila Mendes as Veronica, the roles are large, the characterisation deep and the performances compelling.  Add to this Luke Perry, Madchen Amick and Skeet Ulrich to the mix, and the cast is as talented as it is broad.

As the story develops, we get a feel for the darkness that envelopes Riverdale, whilst the love of the this group of high school students evolves, not just between the principles, but amongst the supporting cast of characters, too.

With so much potential, it’s hardly a surprise that we’ll be getting a second season.  But, where next…

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The Boy Next Door (or, the Boy Next Snore)

Jennifer Lopez plays recently betrayed teacher, Claire, who has a one night stand with her 19 year old neighbour that quickly turns to obsession.

In a film in which this guy is supposed to be 19 and this girl can’t get a break, the story doesn’t go well from the start with stilted, terrible dialogue as Noah moves in next door to Claire and becomes instantly enamoured with her, probably because she’s a teacher and he’s a 19 year old student – we go into that at great length, with it being mentioned every scene.

It takes badly cooked chicken for Noah to make his move and Claire goes from “no stop” to “oh my god” in a matter of seconds and never really recovers from its jaw droppingly bad execution.

 

It turns out that Noah isn’t all there – he turns obsessive and begins to stalk Claire in this “tense psychological thriller” that is less tense and more dense as it takes mystifying leaps of logic over gaps of reason that viewers could fall down.

Suffice to say, Claire isn’t happy with this turn of events, regretting everything and finding herself in a deadly game of cat and mouse and it gets worse when Noah joins Claire’s English class, bringing his creepy charm with him.  As Noah gets more and more obsessed (flashbacks help with this, of course), he ingratiates himself further with family whilst dealing with his anger issues… and, boy, is he angry what with angry hitting things, angrily being angry and being friendly with Claire’s son, Kevin, who lacks friends.

Somewhere, deep down in the idea of this film, there’s probably a good idea – a story about consent, abuse of trust and the boundaries of authority – but, whereas Notes on a Scandal was a superb example of this in the psychological thriller genre, The Boy Next Door tries to go the Fatal Attraction route, without ever committing to it.

Despite having Jennifer Lopez, Kristen Chenoweth and John Corbett doing their best to deliver the mind-numbing dialogue their given, it’s a dull film, poor realised.

 

For the Record (or How a £5 Record Player Made Me Love Music Again)

There was a time when I didn’t really listen to much music – it happened a while ago when I gave away all my CDs and pretty much only occasionally stuck on Spotify or YouTube to listen to whatever I fancied playing.  If I wanted entertaining, I’d stick on a video game or a film.

That was until I bought a cheap, second hand record player… and I haven’t looked back since.

I now own a suitably eclectic collection of vinyl – all 12″ originals, mostly purchased from local charity shops or eBay (when the mood takes me).  I’m a bit of a nervous purchaser when it comes to charity shops – you get what you pay for, but mostly I’ve been onto winners (especially when I changed to my second, more forgiving bargain record player).

Since then, I’ve gone back to CDs, too.  In a time of digital downloads, I’m still old fashioned and like owned a physical something – DVDs, BluRays, vinyl and CDs.  I’m still more likely to purchase a physical copy of a video game, although that’s mainly a cost thing.

It’s not unusual for me to pick up a few new discs a week, stuff that catches my eye or that I want to re-experience – film soundtracks are a particular thing that I enjoy and random compilations of stuff I remember from enjoying.  When you’re paying a quid for the Best of Bowie on CD, or discovering stuff you wouldn’t normally listen to because it’s cheap – I have far too many Carpenters LPs – it’s hard not to happy.

I’m now on my third record player, not because the first two failed (although the second, a Bush MTT1, had recently taken to being temperametal at spinning the turntable, but because of research.  Thanks to a positive review in What HiFi, I purchased the Audio Technica LP60 USB (the USB aspect is something I won’t be using).

It baffled me, going into my local HMV and seeing the “audiophile” release of classic stuff that I’ve already acquired for less than a couple of quid – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Thriller and Queen’s Greatest Hits, collectively, cost me under a five, yet I’d probably be spending ten times that to buy them new, on vinyl!

I listen to stuff, randomly, throughout the week.  It’s replaced the moving wallpaper that is my television and I’m happier for it.  There’s a joy to listening to stuff I haven’t heard in years and loved, be it the works of David Bowie, the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire. An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer, The Muppet Show or a rather wonderful collection by Andy Williams that includes a heartrending rendition of Solitaire (which I also own by The Carpenters).

Very much like my approach to film, I enjoy so much that it’s hard to pin down what I like, but a £5 record player reignited my love of music and long may it continue.

The Running Man

In 2019, Ben Richards, a scapegoat to a corrupt authority, fights for his life as part of the ultimate game show, The Running Man.

Based on the Richard Bachman novel (a pseudonym of Stephen King), Arnold Schwarzenegger was riding the crest of a wave of popularity and cuts a striking, if awkward, figure as Ben Richards, the military man who finds himself trying to overthrow a media obsessed dictatorship, whilst battling to survive The Running Man game show.

Imagine Gladiators (the TV show), except with criminals battling the stars of the show with the offer of freedom for the winner and you’ve got the concept of The Running Man.  Of course, the criminals don’t get released, but for a public who cheer the state mandated “good guys” and jeer the villains, it doesn’t matter – they’re feeding their blood lust, quest for entertainment and making money from the bets, so it’s all good for Joe Public.

Backstage, of course, there’s political machinations.  Freedom of expression appears to have become a crime, as does fraternisation with too many partners (one of Amber’s made up crimes involves three men… in a year).  It all started in 2017, with the collapse of the world’s economies leading to the US becoming a police state.  To maintain control, the US government pacified the populace with the opium of the masses, television – The Running Man being a prime example of this media mind control.

Thirty years after its release, the satirical undertones still cut deep, whilst the action set pieces may seem a bit tame by modern standards.  Schwarzenegger plays his role with the two-dimensional aplomb with which he approached many of his star turns.  It doesn’t matter, though, as it’s a showcase for a man of action and few words.

Steven Edward de Souza’s script is entertaining and the supporting cast mostly help carry the film to its satisfying conclusion.

Well worth watching, and one that you might not want to take too seriously.

Disney’s (Tim Burton’s) Alice in Wonderland

Alice returns to Wonderland and discovers a world under the tyrannical rule of The Red Queen.

A sequel to the classic Disney animation, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a surreal mess of a film and a blend of live action and, at times, over liberal use of CGI.

The performances are strong and entirely in keeping with Burton’s vision – Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and a raft of familiar British faces make up a cast that is occasionally mired by a incoherent script that has some bright moments but mainly revels in the surreal and sublime.

Possibly inaccessible to young audiences, not dark enough for mature audiences, it’s difficult to see what Disney were going for with Alice in Wonderland.

The Kentucky Fried Movie

Director John Landis teams with The Zucker Brothers to bring a ridiculous collection of sketches that cover everything from modern news, advertising, daytime television and film, in an irreverent mishmash of occasionally tasteless, often funny, film that still stands the test of time.

Although it’s now almost 40 years old, John Landis and The Zuckers have created a work that has stood the test of time.  In a much maligned modern era of dumbed-down media,  The Kentucky Fried Movie is silly in the most puerile ways, but has a thick satirical thread that runs right through it.

From it’s take on sexploitation films, to the kung fu legend that is A Fistful of Yen, via the mock news reports and bits in between, this is a film that anyone with a sense of humour and an interest in mass media will appreciate.

Also, when will be getting motion pictures shown in Feelaround!

Runner Runner

 

A young student, down on his financial luck, finds that a gambling site isn’t playing by the rules and decides to take on its supremo, only to be drawn into a world of corruption and deceit.

A sun kissed setting, a world where money flows as easily as water, and a principle cast that is incredibly talented and attractive, Runner Runner should be a high rolling winner.  Alas, under the facade, it’s all a bit… bland.

The cast shine with powerful performance as Justin Timberlake’s Richie (is there a more go-getter name?  Scoot, perhaps) battles against Ben Affleck’s Ivan Block (a name that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film).  Gemma Arterton has little to do as Rebecca, but is still superb, and the presence of Antony Mackie as Agent Shavers is only saved by Mackie’s skill as an actor.

The premise – an every-man (well, as every-man as Richie can be given his business and mathematics acumen) taking on a ruthless business tycoon – is hardly new, but it being set in the world of, primarily, online gambling certainly gives it an edge.  Sadly, it’s an edge that is dulled by a script that never settles on what it really wants to be, going from drama to action without ever maintaining either.

Definitely a film where cast and setting will leave you thinking it’s better than it is.