The Watchlist: December 2016

As you can imagine, given this includes the Christmas period, this feels fairly mammoth this month! Some things have been relegated (thankfully, no doubt) to a few lines.

Television

Dirk Gently

I had eagerly been looking forward to this series for a good few months. I’d purposefully tried to both be excited about it but not watch or read too much about it – I wanted to see it with properly fresh eyes. Obviously, I loved the Stephen Mangan Dirk gently series that was on BBC Four a few years ago (back when BBC Four had a homegrown drama budget – when that went, so did the show), which did a fairly decent job of being faithful to the original novels. It’s worth saying here that the novels are far from perfect. I know that Adams is held up in high-esteem by his fans as if he could and didn’t do wrong, but the second Gently book is an absolute mess in the back half.

gallery-1481457854-dirk1

The BBC UK series was an anthology and I kind of expected this BBC America/Netflix series to be mildly similar. Maybe a few detective cases, spread over a couple of double episodes, with a longer running thread between them all that comes to  a head in the final episode. I couldn’t have been more wrong! This series paves its own way completely, and the Dirk Gently legacy is barely visible apart from the name in the titles and the titular character being a quirky Brit. Macduff doesn’t really exist, being replaced by a down-on-his-luck bellhop called Todd,  played by Elijah Wood*. I spotted one nod to “Dirk” in the pilot – he randomly eats pizza from the box during one scene. Bizarrely, he’s upgraded from a wreck of a car to a sports car (?!), which is a shame but understandable as there’s already another character, the assassin, driving around in a wreck. Gently’s ineptitude when it comes to finances aren’t visible, sadly, and his secret psychic but not psychic path is turned into something bizarre involving the CIA. I’ll say no more on that one but safe to say correctly predicting exam papers doesn’t appear at all. There’s no young Dirk flashbacks like in the BBC UK series.

If you divorce any semblance of expectation of”Dirk” from the show and just watch it for what it is, it is enjoyable. There’s lots of threads all playing out at once and Todd and Dirk barely feature in some of the first episodes. There’s a surprisingly high body count if you can look past that, but there’s some really strong characters within the series. The ending just about holds up – there’s a lot of ‘explanation’ at then end, which although needed, I always feel like is a bit of a get-out when it comes to TV series. They’re fine with a one episode, ninety minute murder mystery, looking back at the vital clues that were underneath your nose; but if you have to explain in great detail how everything links then maybe you haven’t plotted and presented it well enough. A viewer should be able to realise connections as a series goes on.

It’s a fun series, there’s a definitive ending, a lovely bit where the main characters are sitting at a table in a diner, Christine & The Queens’ Saint Claude floats in, and everything seems serene… and then they set themselves up for a second series with crashes and bangs and wallops. Maybe in the second series we can actually find out what the point of the assassin character is?! I’m still struggling to see how she progressed the story in anyway. And Samuel Barnett has set himself up very nicely to be a future Doctor…

*I don’t know if it’s just because he looked incredibly good as a forlorn bellhop and my brain immediately thought of The Grand Budapest Hotel straight away, but… when is there going to be a Wes Anderson film with Elijah Wood in the main role? It needs to happen.

modus_1_Modus

Modus is about as clichéd Scandi-noir as it’s possible to get – but unlike other series, we are fully aware of ‘whodunnit’ and we witness the merry dance between them and the police as the deaths stack up. It’s not an unenjoyable series, it ticked a lot of boxes for me and it was really great to see a middle-aged couple represented on screen where their sexuality doesn’t come into play all that much… or so I thought. The ending is a complete pile of pants though – a rushed mess that undoes everything that’s been built up in the previous seven episodes. It was actually incredibly disappointing and frustrating in hind-sight. I could understand why they didn’t get ten episodes of the series and I don’t think they needed it, there would have been a lot of treading over the same ground again (is the daughter safe? Will she tell her secret? Who will be murdered next?) but a lot of the ending came out of nowhere. Inheritance scandals, random in-car deaths, a complete lack of reaction or reference as to the explosive ending of Ep 7 and a bizarre final showdown that makes no sense. And *spoiler* when you examine the plot it starts to unravel too: for starters, if the bishop’s secret lesbian life was such a well kept secret, how did some random cult in America with no real Scandinavian links happen to know about it?

All that aside, for those playing Scandi Actor Bingo, it was nice to see another cast member from Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves pop up in something, following Adam Pålsson in The Bridge S3 and Adam Lundgren in Blue Eyes. Modus stars Simon Berger.

Witness For The Prosecution

It’s like Toby Jones hasn’t been off BBC One in 2016 and yet, I’m pretty sure this is the first drama I’ve seen him in for a while! The BBC seem to have started a new Christmas tradition of an Agatha Christie-adaptation, and it was all going to be a tough act to follow And Then There Were None (don’t mention their work on Tommy & Tuppence). WftP is actually a Christie play, but this adaptation presents the story slightly differently. The first of the two episodes presented itself as a bit ‘meh’, I’d say. It just seemed like any average 1920s mystery drama, and tbh, I was tempted to bail out on it *but* obviosuly with Christie there’s a decent enough twist coming, and that appears in episode two. This was solid and decent and I await next year’s adaptation.

2-16-deep_water-1358-photo_by_sean_oreillyDeep Water

This is unusual for me: a foreign detective show that doesn’t involve people in knitwear, running through snowy forests in the hunt for a killer! It was down-under this time round, so there’s surfers, swimming costumes and beaches instead. Interestingly, Deep Water‘s airing in the UK couldn’t have come at a more apt time given the news stories – the premise revolves around the murder of gay men via dating app hook-ups. It took me a while to realise why I recognised the two detectives – one is Charlie Bucket’s Dad (Noah Taylor) and the other is Morello (Yael Stone) from OITNB.

It felt very ‘commercial television’-esque as a detective drama, but wasn’t terrible. It had four episodes, and I think they could have stretched it to six if needed be. It never felt rushed as such, but things weren’t presented in masses of detail and the plot developed happened at an incredible pace in some episodes. There was a really nice direction thing with it though, in some scenes, where the audio of a conversation continues as voice-over as other shots from before/after the conversation and reaction shots are blended in. It’s difficult to explain properly but felt incredibly originally and didn’t grate at all.

Rillington Place

I admit I was completely unaware of any of this real life tale. I’d never heard of Christie or Timothy Evans or the crimes committed. This series presented itself as three episodes presented, broadly, from three different perspectives. It wasn’t a first person account per episode, it just went through the years with differing viewpoints. Looking back, it was nice that Christie’s wife Ethel got an episode revolving around her given her closeness but lack of direct involvement with the murders. Tim Roth does a strong job of portraying the creepy Christie. Two old My Mad Fat Diary take on the loved-up couple together; Nico Mirallegro and Jodie Comer. I’m a fan of Nico but his accent in this was questionable, appearing strong one minute and disappearing the next.

Two Doors Down S2

It feels like a pretty swift turn around from Series 1 – I think that’s down to S1 originally airing on BBC Scotland, before appearing on the network. Once again, this is a decent BBC comedy. Hell, I think TV comedy in the UK is in a terrible place but this is one of the better ones out there. It’s nice to see Christine’s character develop too, away from the ‘hypochondriac’ she’s been presented as before.

p04mbs2s2016 Wipe/Cunk On Christmas

Oh, Charlie Brooker. What a man, what a mind blah blah blah. Oh, and what a year. I think Brooker said on Twitter the rough cut for 2016 Wipe was over ninety minutes long, and they managed to get it down to just over an hour. It was strong as usual and one of those shows you need to re-watch to appreciate all the one-liners littered throughout. I was surprised by how pro-Remain it presented itself, however. I didn’t expect Brooker to be a Leave-voter, but this is very “you twats!” in some places but then seeks to point out it recognises some of the issues that led to the vote swinging how it did. It’s both tongue-in-cheek about it (the magazines etc) but equally, by the notion of describing 2016 as a shitty year of tumultuous events you’re insinuating Brexit was a terrible thing, and yet a whole bunch of people think 2016 was /great/ for that very reason.

I’m a big fan of Philomena Cunk and her Shakespeare special earlier in the year showed great promise for a full series. Sadly, however, I felt this Christmas special wasn’t as tight or funny as it could be. Likewise, her ‘moment of wonder’ in 2016 Wipe was average at best, even if Brian Cox was in it and had clearly sussed her out beforehand well enough to not appear like a rabbit in headlights when the questions tumbled from her mouth. But that’s the fun, right?

Skam I blogged about this last month, and if there’s one thing this show doesn’t need another of , it’s a ‘hot take’. I really enjoyed it however, and the final two episodes were so great. There’s a beautiful ending to the penultimate episode where a Norwegian Christmas song is sung in falsetto over the scenes, and the scene in the kitchen at the party in the final episode gave me a big grin plastered all over my face. The final episode was quick to remind us that the entire series wasn’t all about Isak – in fact, Isak and Even’s relationship doesn’t feature all that heavily. And it’s refreshing that they both agree to enjoy it for what it is now, knowing full well that good things come to an end but that doesn’t mean they were any less wonderful at the time.

Please Like Me S4 this series drew to a close, and it was more heartbreaking than ever before. And, as much as each character’s life appeared to change dramatically to the the point when it was almost end-of-an-era level, things went round in a circle. The show’s future is in doubt but if the S4 finale was the forever finale I’d be happy with it.

Michael McIntyre’s Big Show The hey-day of Saturday night TV had all but disappeared by the time I was a child. Endless years of Strictly, a karoake competition, Casualty was all there really was. It appears that the Beeb have struggled to know what to do with Michael McIntyre of late (a comedy roadshow? a chat show?) but MMBS has settled in incredibly nicely, taking elements from other shows and giving them a nice new feel. There’s live music, classic hidden camera stuff, taking the piss out of celebrities… and it’s all in good faith, there’s nothing mean spirited about it. When one woman is united with a pen-pal she’s written to but never seen in all of 70 years.. that’s special. Great Saturday night family* TV whether you’re a fan of McIntyre’s style or not. (*some jokes are a little risqué, but broadly a family show)

Grandma’s House The beginning of the month saw me in another of my classic cultural droughts. very little was of interest to me, and, as usual when this time comes I end up watching Grandma’ House again, for what must be the seventh or eighth time. It was an acquired taste at the time, but there’s so many great lines within it and it’s a masterclass in character presentation.

Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves My rather morbid December tradition is to watch this Swedish-drama set in the 80s during the height of the AIDs crisis. I have a real fondness for this drama and its characters, particularly Benjamin. Epsiode 2 breaks me every single year.

Films

Clue

I’ve heard a lot about this film, over time. I started watching it a few months back and bailed but felt in the mood for a bit of comic farce over Christmas. My parent’s were unimpressed by it (which I found quite surprising given some of the crap they watch) but I enjoyed it. I mean, who couldn’t love a film based on a board game, right? It’s the whole classic premise of people in an isolated place being murdered one by one, but who is the culprit?!?!?!??? There’s a whole bunch of false endings to this film which was unexpected, but it’s alright. It does it’s job, it’s amusing and that’s all you can hope for really.

high-rise-film-ben-wheatley-mark-tildesley-interview_dezeen_1568_9High Rise

It got mixed reviews at the time, which prevented me from going to see it at the cinema, and having now watched it at home, that was probably a wise idea. I didn’t detest this film exactly, the whole future-from-a-60s-perspective thing is always a great stylised look, and it’s presented well here. There’s a solid British cast (and Elisabeth Moss) too and I hate to admit how basic I am but I do fancy Tom Hiddleston. Forgive me, forgive me, but this is the first thing I’ve watched that he’s been a protagonist in and he’s slim and blonde and looks good in a suit… It’s a shame that the film becomes batshit crazy at the drop of a hat half way through. I understand that’s its a societal commentary on hierarchy and bubbles and a collapse etc but it does disintegrate very quickly, both literally and in terms of the plot itself. The second half became nonsensical to me, and oddly plodding. I lost interest. But still – at least the first forty minutes looked nice!

The Readlist: November 2016

Well, this is a little embarrassing. I barely read a thing in November. The Magus (see October) had taken it out of me and I needed some time out from reading, preferably with something light whenever it came along. I opted to read my first James Bond novel and went for Goldfinger (badababdaba – he’s just the man…). I’m yet to actually finish it because it turns out Fleming’s not necessarily a great writer.

His dialogue seems fine, and once you get past the misogyny it could almost be a good book apart from the fact he can’t write the inbetweeny bits, the basics. When Fleming has to hurry a scene along and is recounting a characters movements or thoughts it’s like reading a Buzzfeed listicle and as if the sentences are refusing to flow with each other. He did this; he then did that; he then did this followed by that. It was quite painful.

There’s also a large chunk of the first third of the book dedicated to describing a golf game in great, minute detail. I skimmed most of it, as you’d imagine.

Better luck next month.

Long reads & Articles

The Grindr Killer November and early December was quite the month for dating app killers, with numerous in the news all at once. This BBC News long read recounts the events surround Stephen Port and the Met police’s failings.

Telly Traditions There’s always a fascinating disconnect on a country-by-country basis when it comes to Christmas telly traditions; the shows and films that are screened each Yuletide season. There’s Charlie Brown in America of course and the Swedish have Donald Duck. This article recounts a British TV episode which is a tradition on the continent that most Brits haven’t a clue even exists.

Linking Buzzfeed’s Composition I can guarantee that at some point this year you’ve watched a James O’Brien interview on Facebook or clicked on an article as he very calmly reasons with a bigoted caller. Given how long he’s been at LBC his sudden surge in notoriety is almost overwhelming, really. Buzzfeed take a look.

 

The Watchlist: November 2016

Please Like Me S4

I’ve gone on about this show an awful lot this year. It’s probably my favourite new discovery and I recommend it to everybody. When Amazon Prime recently picked up S1-3 I was hopeful they’d do the same for S4 and stream an episode a weekly, parallel to it airing in Australia. And they did! What a shock that was, I think that was the first time something I’ve wished for has ever come true.

For a show that’s now four series in it’s a surprise that this one features the first proper ‘going away’ episode. A classic sitcom trope, the group going away camping together was well delivered and devoid of clichés. There was a large amount of disdain online for Josh this series but he doesn’t seem any more irritating or complicated than before – Arnold is the one who’s changed. My favourite character, Claire, has moved on with her life and appears sporadically via phone call. This was a conscious decision by Josh Thomas to portray real life friendships honestly; sometimes people just drift apart, it doesn’t mean they hate each other. Re: character development, I’ve become a real fan of Ella this series. She was a little irritating last series and, although little has changed, she seems to have come into her own more and it’s nice to see Tom happy.

tumblr_o5dlj8dij81r00hyjo2_1280The Outs S2

Do you remember when everyone kept going on about HBO’s Looking as this superb seminal piece of gay drama? It wasn’t. This isn’t either, but it’s a damn sight better. The Outs is a web series that appeared online before web series was cool to mild acclaim. This time round it’s been picked up by Vimeo and they’ve thrown a load of money at it – and my God, can you tell! The production values have clearly increased substantially.

It took me a while to get back into the groove with the characters again, but it’s nice to see they’ve all slightly developed. And everything is unpatronisingly relevant in the way it’s presented. The show does a great job of being part of the ‘now’ without really meaning to be and the way it deals with issues such as suicide, HIV, monogamy, long distance relationships and happiness is great. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a laugh a minute comedy but it has its moments and is really pleasant to watch. I happily binged it in 48 hours. And judging by the series ending, there’s clearly going to be a S3.

Class

Somehow, and inexplicably, Class got so much worse post Ep 4. I was holding out hope back in October because it showed promise but then the scripts got even more clunkier and the plots even more dull. Shadow Kin? Shadull Kin more like. Still, at least there was more gratuitous sex scenes and if you’re going to have unattainably attractive actors at least use and abuse them like so:

Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 14.42.41.png

*wipes brow*

Transparent S3

Look at me with an Amazon Prime subscription again! I got it for Please Like Me, and I’m a little afraid the Amazon computers are going to lump me in with all the Grand Tour watchers given their proximity of release. Anyway, since I was last on S3 of Transparent appeared. It’s probably the weakest of all the series. I felt there was little in the way of character development, it was all same-old, same-old. The flashback episode was pleasant enough though and the (updated!) opening titles are still so, so perfect.

I don’t feel that the show can in any way be described as a comedy anymore. There was barely a funny moment in it – the only amusing thing I counted was in the final episode where Shelly ~”gets a gay with her room”~ on board a cruise ship. You could count the terrible shot continuity as amusing though, I suppose, if that’s what they were going for.

Skam

Crikey, look at me with my TV shows with gay plotlines this month. The ‘internet’ (tumblr teens/30-something gay men) have been going mad for this Norwegian teen drama this month. S3 is airing currently and focusses on Isak’s coming out story and first gay relationship, with a guy called Even. Forget Skins, this is a thing of beauty. Adults barely feature in the entire series, it’s all about teenagers and their own world and bubble. You might see an adult silhouette, or a text message or their torso but that’s it. These teens are struggling through life themselves and helping each other out and not everything is action-packed. There are scenes where characters just shoot the breeze, or sit alone on their bed texting and browsing the internet which feels incredibly authentic. There’s enough action, and enough beautifully shot scenes (the soundtrack too!) that brings everything together to create a really wonderful show.

maxresdefaultThe Norwegian broadcaster refuses to syndicate the show online so it’s down to Tumblr blogs and Google Drive accounts to find the latest instalment, lovingly translated into English by Norwegian teens. Annoyingly, links disappear almost as quickly as they appear. In its native country, however, episodes don’t just air weekly: scenes are posted online in real-time, as they occur, and texts and Instagram posts from the ‘characters’ appear throughout the week too. It’s clear to understand why its become quite the phenomenon, and Tumblr loves a gay storyline so this ticks all the boxes. S1-2 from the past couple of years are on my to watch list too, with each season focussing on one specific character but the same groups being present throughout.

There’s a couple of bits that are a little difficult to get your head around: high schoolers living alone, away from their parents (I think I read there was a rent grant in Norway and it’s not that uncommon?), people seeming to be quite rich and carefree and… oh, yes, everyone being so young. Some were born after the millennium ffs! That aside, the acting is sublime from people so young. And, as an opposite to Class, it’s nice to see teens on-screen with flaws. Spots, acne and problems. Skam just gets so much right.

streetmateStreetmate

I love a good dating show and I was mildly aware of the existence of Davina McCall’s Streetmate from the late-90s. It was brought back recently for a one-off edition on Stand Up To Cancer. I subsequently tried to find clips of the original on YouTube but there’s none  around, not even many of the ITV2 Holly Willoughby version from the late-00s. And then, on a fluke, I typed it into All4 and lo, all the episodes from all three series popped up! I then subsequently binge-watched around 20 eps and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

First surprise: the format. It took a little while to get used to it actually, I wasn’t expecting that the actual ‘street match’ element would be such a slim part of the show. The rest is made up of pre-date getting ready where you learn about the participants in more detail, the date itself and then the post-date interview filmed a few weeks later which features the question “did they ring you?” which seems so lovely. These days the question would probably be “did they send you a nude?”.

Talking of nudes, there is a surprising amount of naked male bums and ab close-ups in the pre-date section. A decision must have been taken between series however, as they (sadly) all but disappear in S2. It took a while for there to be an episode featuring a gay man but a couple did appear eventually. Lesbians still remain non-existent I’m afraid though. And the post-show voxes are a treat – which in essence involve asking random members of the public about their sex lives. Richard Whitely appears in one (!!) but with a more sedate question, understandably*.

One of main enjoyments of Streetmate is the 90s just quietly bubbling away in the background. The old cars, the defunct shop brands seen in the background, the soundtrack. It’s such a lovely trip down nostalgia avenue**. I feel like this show could have real potential for a comeback and would be quite big online. If I had any get up and go I’d create and film a version for YouTube called ‘Match Street’ with slight format tweaks to avoid a lawsuit.***

* talking of ‘slebs the not-yet-famous actor Don Gilet appears in one of the very first eps as a friend of a date participant
** not my nostalgia, I would have been in nappies
*** the show’s based on an American concept actually which is incredibly difficult to find any reference to online. The only thing I could find was this clip where the host sets up a couple at a retirement complex.

Black Mirror: Hated In The Nation

This was always going to be my Black Mirror treat. A feature-length episode to be savoured with drink and food, and my God was it great. As always it ticks the relevant box oh so well, being set in the very near future (2017 I think?). Katie Hopkins-esque columnists, public shaming through social media, band-wagon jumping, bees dying out, government surveillance and hackers; it’s all there. The episode begins in media res, as we see the beginning of a government investigation into some terrible and as-yet-unexplained event. We zoom back to the day when it all started and slowly, over the course of 90 minutes, everything becomes painfully clear. Outstandingly good.

blackmirror-bee

Buble At The BBC

I struggle to understand people who hate Michael Bublé. I feel like they’re cut from the same cloth as those who make out that they despise Coldplay. There’s a certain element of snobbishness involved and yet in reality I bet they could sing and hum an awful lot of their songs. And when it comes to the Boobs, he’s one of the nicest people in show business with time for everybody. Claudia Winkleman was her lovely self here as the Beeb try to replicate the success of their 2015 Adele special. I don’t think it was as successful and the hidden camera element where Bublé was in disguise didn’t work anywhere near as well as Adele and her lookalikes. However, it’s great to see music on prime-time TV. If we have to shove an interview in there and some little game than so be it.


Films

Arrival

Never before have I felt such a great disconnect in terms of my opinion vs. that of the masses. This film has been praised all over the place and people have been going wild for it on social media. I hated it. Like, really, really disliked. The fact it was sci-fi wasn’t the issue (the length of a film matters more to me) but I found the entire thing incredibly dull. The entire middle of the film as Amy Adams & co try desperately to communicate with the alien visitors was incredibly repetitive. Any ‘high-drama’ in the film was achingly dull. *spoiler* Oh no, the countries aren’t talking to each other anymore! Oh no, the explosives might go off with them inside! Yawn.

And don’t get me started on it being overly sentimental. Throwing a dying kid in the mix, some sad music and a potential new boyfriend does not automatically make the entire thing acceptably moving. There’s barely any depth to the characters either, I felt no connection or fear for them whatsoever. Everything seems incredibly basic and uninspiring, even when reviewed knowing the ‘twist’. In fact, with the ‘twist’ at the end, I can’t help but think the entire film eats itself at that moment. It ends shoddily and bizarrely both slowly and quickly. The solution presents itself very quickly but is then explained in agonising detail.

Oh, and the British input in the entire film was a Brit scientist saying “you cheeky bastard”. Got to love a stereotype! The most interesting thing during the film for me was a lady in the auditorium tripping as she went to the loo, loudly proclaiming “oh, shit!” leading to hysterics from the audience.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals on the other hand, the other Amy Adams film out this month, I adored. This is designer Tom Ford’s second cinematic direction after Colin Firth’s A Single Man. Right from the incredibly poetic opening in Nocturnal Animals, which is up there as the most bizarre thing I’ve seen on the silver screen, through to the end, it had me gripped.

Presented as a thriller within mundanity, Amy Adam’s character is sent a manuscript of a new book by her former boyfriend. Suffering from insomnia she reads through the book and the action plays out on-screen, in between her trying to get a grip on her life. The book and real life are intertwined and there’s the knowledge throughout that the former boyfriend may well be using the entire plot as a metaphor for their relationship. There’s some real tense moments throughout and the way the action can suddenly stop as the reading stops adds to the effect. It’s exactly like being deep into a book within your own life.

Also within the film is the sense of time passing as we see the real life relationship between Gyllenhall and Adams’ characters, and the way they and it changes over time. Is happiness how you define it, or how your societal status defines it? Can it be temporary? Do we all turn into our parents as we age? Eventually, Adams’ character realises the wrong steps she took in her life but gains no triumph from the realisation. It’s too late. It seemed perfect that way.

Hypernormalisation

The name Adam Curtis doesn’t mean anything to me. Well, at least it didn’t until Bitter Lake appeared as an iPlayer exclusive. I’ve still yet to watch that but thought I’d dive in with Hypernormalisation as it seemed incredibly relevant judging by the description. The post-truth world we live in and the echo-chambers we build ourselves are all presented here within a larger context. Trump features heavily too and having watched this after his win in the US presidential election, it all seems more sad and bizarre. Some of his history I knew already from the copious amount of articles about his less than straight past but it was interesting to see it weaved into a wider global context.

p04bpbyzI’m ashamed to say I don’t know all that much about the middle-East or recent global history besides that of the UK. I’m not sure that’s all my fault though. The recent past fascinates me far more than ancient history and yet it’s barely taught in schools. Instead, there’s an obsession with the two world wars and the bloody Tudors.

This doc is lengthy (I mean, of course it would be) and far from succinct but is easily spread over a few days with obvious places for you to bail for a night’s sleep. Important and relevant, but this is all just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve become self-aware of our situation but there feels like there’s no way of doing something about it. Shouting into the void doesn’t help, the liberals are decimated and all we can do is stare into the oncoming iceberg (Titanic reference, the best I can do).

Lost In Translation

I would discuss this film in great detail but I lost interest half way through. It bubbled away in the background until the end but I can’t for the life of me remember what happened. Just the way it is.

The Readlist: October 2016

The Magus by John Fowles

There was an adaptation of this on Radio 4 recently and in the run up to it the BBC publicity machine pumped out the phrase “this book will change your life!”. “Change your life?” I thought, “I can get on board with that”. And, a few months later, I took the plunge and bought myself a copy.

First things first, this novel is fairly lengthy and is up there with Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night for the longest book I’ve read this year. As a result, it took me a month to get through it, not helped by the fact it was a little plodding in places. The Magus is best described as Shakespeare’s The Tempest meets the film The Truman Show, as both the protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, and the reader’s perception of the world and the truth becomes ever more warped.

The Magus is all based around the idea of adventure and escaping the ennui, as a recent unfulfilled university graduate looks for life’s next big step. Urfe takes up a post teaching English at a boarding school on a Greek island and there the adventure begins as he becomes involved with a mysterious character called Conchis. Urfe’s an interesting character which is starkly apparent in the way he presents his relationship with his (now dead) parents in the opening chapters. As the book develops, it becomes clear that he is deeply flawed but I’d argue that he is no more flawed in terms of characteristics than the average person. There’s a comment made towards the end that he’d make a dreadful husband which I found unnecessarily harsh. For some reason that struck me as one of the worst insults you could ever give someone – you are undeserving of a loving relationship.

It took me a while to get into the first half of the book. Not because it was incredibly dull but it hadn’t yet captured me. There’s so many layers to this novel and they are stripped back incredibly slowly to begin with. The second half, however, I relatively raced through as more and more layers were stripped back and the reveal of the truth become ever near. Every single notion that you think to be true about the island and the characters during this novel will be turned on its head as you continue reading, and within the space of a few pages, turned again. In essence, you can’t trust anybody. The weird thing about this is that it didn’t give a sense of listlessness to the novel. As a reader you’re very aware that everything you’re reading in the middle of the book (and everything previously) is probably untrue and no longer relevant, and are also aware that the next few chapters will be the same, but you keep on going. With a murder mystery broadly a lot of what you read going through it may be untrue or irrelevant and it’s the little details from across the book that come together at the end to form the satisfying conclusion. The Magus isn’t like that, the clues to the truth aren’t presented throughout but it doesn’t feel any less worthy as a result.

The ending is an interesting one because, having read the whole novel, there’s no way you can’t place yourself in Urfe’s shoes and make the final decision for him. It’s not a matter of life and death but after everything he’s gone through, has he got anything left to lose? Should he protect himself from more pain? What’s the endgame? Is the game still being played? Could, looking back on everything that has been revealed, the entire process be viewed as abject cruelty? Will Urfe in some way be permanently mentally affected as a result of his experiences? Can he ever trust anyone again?

The Magus isn’t poorly written; Fowles has a real way with description throughout (some sections are very heavy on it though) and some lines just leap out at you. The one that stuck with me was the description of a noise heard during the night, and is as follows:

There was a strange call from the dark trees to the east of the house. I had heard it in the evenings at school, and at first thought it made by some moronic village boy. It was very high-pitched, repeated at intervals: Kew, Kew, Kew. Like a melancholy, trans-migrated bus conductor.

The novel is set and written post WWII so as you’d imagine this does feature, particularly in the second half. It isn’t done gratuitously though; it does seem relevant to the book’s themes.

Enjoyable? Vaguely. It certainly felt colossus but I’d still recommend it to people. And based on Woody Allen’s famous quotation I think I’ll give the film adaptation a miss.

Long Reads & Articles

Retrospective Friendships are a bizarre thing. To make new friends there’s an assumption that you must have great swathes in common but life doesn’t work like that. Friendships come about through shared experience and circumstance more than anything else. I’m too young to truly look back on friendships retrospectively but this is a lovely essay on two people’s kinship.

Have you ever, ever felt like this? Paul Jennings was a big part of my life growing up even though I was a child of the 00s. Round The Twist was repeated frequently and I read a lot of his books complete with their numerous cum-wanking-wet dream references (probably a little to early to be honest) and yet somehow, so many people are unaware of him and how huge he is in Oz.

Wither On The Vine The weird thing about our new digital age is how companies, websites and social networks can grow, blossom and die all within a few years. Here’s the story of what destroyed Vine… Here’s the story of what destroyed Vine… Here’s the story of what destroyed Vine… Here’s the story of what destroyed Vine… (ahahaha)

The Watchlist: October 2016

There’s a lot this month, brace yourself…

Television

Class

I worked out that I haven’t properly watched Doctor Who since 2010. This was around the time that a) I was growing up and getting into ‘adult’ TV more b) David Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith*, and most importantly c) Stephen Moffat took over as ‘writer’ (I use the term loosely given the dirge that comes from his keyboard**). I was keen to jump on board with this even if I was just out of its teen target audience. I haven’t watched a sci-fi show for a while, and there were lots of people comparing it to Buffy on social media, so I leapt in feet first.

bbc-class-doctor-who-saison-10-spin-off-clara-700x264

The first episode felt very contrived. They obviously had the difficult task of introducing every character to us but it didn’t feel particularly subtly done. Also, there was the feeling that they were trying a bit too hard. I know young adult fiction is great for representation and being relatable, but having a gay character who is happy in his sexuality, a gay character whose parents don’t agree with his sexuality, a football loving character whose girlfriend dies and then subsequently suffers from unresolved grief, his classic father figure, the brainbox who has been moved up a few years for being so clever and whose father has died and mother is very strict, and last but not least, the violin playing slim teen girl who doesn’t have any friends and has to care for her disabled mother who became paralysed after her manic father forced their car to crash is a lot to take in. And of course, to top it all off, they’re all very attractive. I understand why they’re all attractive (acne and spots do make it difficult to film scenes out of sequence) but it’d be great to have a character who isn’t a slim, attractive teenager. There’s always some dreamboats in every year but everybody has flaws beyond their ‘secret’ home life when they’re at school, and yet Class fails to show these. Where are the people doing crap at school work? Where’s the person who got dressed in two seconds this morning because they woke up late? Where’s the person worried about their weight? Hell, why can’t we have a non-slim character where their weight isn’t presented as a character point? Everything’s all too well quiffed.

That all aside, this series has promise if you try to watch it and enjoy it for what it is. There is a fair bit of gratuitous blood (“look at us, we’re a grown up grisly Doctor Who!”) and an odd nonchalance from every authority that shit loads of people die and disappear from one school and no-one cares, but there we go. I am a little disappointed that there hasn’t been an internet meme created a la Barb from Stranger Things after Coal Hill’s Headmaster is eaten by a monster and thus disappears. #Justice4TheN1ceHead

On top of grown up blood scenes, there’s a fair bit of sex too – episode three sees the gay characters so busy fucking each other senseless they fail to realise the world is ending around them. Admittedly, I would probably also spend the end of the world in bed but more out of laziness than through great company.

*Christopher Ecclestone is still “my” Doctor though
**pot, kettle

Black Mirror

hafgaftstsuhsdfygdsh! That’s the noise I made when new episodes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror arrived on Netflix. I understand that Netflix’s thang is to release episodes in bulk, however, I do think it would have benefitted them to strip this back and release one a week. There’s arguments for and against this when it comes to anthology series, but I think it would have allowed time for people to watch an episode and discuss it and get that ‘watercooler chat’ in. Black Mirror isn’t a show to binge-watch; you need to time to appreciate its nuances after each episode.

As a result, I took my time with this series. I watched episode 1, Nosedive, and episode 3, Shut Up And Dance (ta, Walk the Moon) on the same weekend; episode 4, San Junipero a week later and then rounded off the month with episode 2, Playtest.

Nosedive is a nice gentle start to the series and falls into the ‘plotted’ category of Black Mirror. There’s two episode styles seen over all three series – the ‘onion’ and the ‘plot’. The ‘onion’ presents the viewer with a certain reality at the beginning of the episode but then we’re slowly drip-fed facts and things twist, as we learn what we’ve seen should actually be viewed from a different perspective and the layers within the episode’s world become apparent. San Jun fits into this category and in previous series, White Bear. Playtest does to an extent too. On the other hand Nosedive is a linear episode. We’re not necessarily given all the facts to begin with (there’d be no point watching if that was the case) but there’s a solid narrative along a timeline. Shut Up And Dance follows this too.

There’s a real beauty in the way Black Mirror presents the near future in a way that is so believable. The pastel colours in Nosedive really make it stand out. Another great point in Black Mirror is the cast. There’s always a great collection of notable actors and actresses, often British, who aren’t necessarily main characters or protagonists but pop up for a scene or two. Most Black Mirror’s tick the box for believability, but Nosedive’s main device particularly so. If there was indeed a rating system in place I can guarantee I’d be in the low 3s.

21-black-mirror-rankings-w529-h352Playtest was a little weak in my eyes. A little bit smug, with a clever ending but it felt a little unsatisfactory overall. The protagonist wasn’t particuarly likeable either and the episode took a long time to get started.

I felt an immense pressure to love San Jun after people were waxing lyrical about it on social media. That pressure probably ruined it for me a little, but it was a genuinely lovely episode presented in a beautifully arty way, travelling across the decades. It’s probably the episode I would choose to go back to and rewatch in the future.

Shut Up And Dance was the first episode written and set in the ‘now’ rather than the near future. Starring Alex Lawther as a teen caught wanking by his webcam it did seem very realistic after news stories about revenge porn and Russian webcam spies in recent years. This was one of the episodes where you could transplant yourself into the roles – how far would you go, under pressure, as you desperately try to avoid public shame? The public shame element crops up in the final episode of S3 too but more on that in the Nov blog.

160201_ft_occupied-crop-promo-xlarge2Occupied

I feel like I haven’t watched a decent foreign drama in a while; they all seem to come out the woodwork in autumn and winter I find so I’m sure they’ll be plenty in the coming months. This one is available to stream in its entirety on Netflix and revolves around an original idea by famed Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø. Norway has elected a new government with a fairly sizeable majority on the policy of phasing out fossil fuels after a flood devastated swathes of the country a few years previously. However, the rest of the world are less keen on Norway’s new method of power production, which does away for the reliance on traditional oil and gas. So much so that Russia ‘temporarily’ occupies Norway… wait for it… on behalf of the EU! Things escalate, as you’d imagine and there’s desperate bids to end everything diplomatically but a far-right ‘Free Norway’ movement springs up to complicate matters. But can everything be blamed on them? The truth unravels over the series, which is plotted on a month by month basis. We follow the Prime Minister and immediate cabinet, the head of the Security Service, the PM’s bodyguard turned secret service agent, his judicial wife and a journalist adamant on exposing the truth behind everything and his wife who conveniently runs a restaurant that’s failing but becomes a Russian hangout.

It’s a very interesting premise, and something that feels oh so realistic throughout. There’s some interesting mock BBC bulletins that appear in the series which seemed interesting to me (even if the actor playing the newsreader seems to be parodying the BBC a little too far). I assume they were chosen as they’d be in English, adding an international flavour to proceedings. On that note, this series, although Norwegian, seems to spend as much time with scenes in English (to the point when you suddenly jolt upright at the sudden realisation there are no subtitles even though you’re half way through the scene) as Norwegian scenes and those spoken in Russian. Amusingly there’s references to Britain being part of the EU in this series too. I wish!

Taskmaster

I’ve been aware of Taskmaster for a while, catching the odd half of an episode in previous series but I’d never committed outright to one. I think I might have committed to S2 but I have a real dislike for Katharine Ryan which annoys me more than my actual annoyance at her. I feel like people will think I’m being misogynistic because she’s a female comedian and often the ‘token female’ on panel shows. It’s not that! Please, don’t think it’s that!

Anyway, Taskmaster is basically great and everybody should watch it. It’s a refreshing change to the tired old panel show format which clogs up the comedy slot on TV these days. In fact, Dave seem to be the only channel creating new and different comedy shows these days so kudos to them. I wonder if they’re all on there because no other channel will commission them…

Dave ‘check shirt’ Gorman, Al ‘moneybags’ Murray, Paul ‘innit’ Chowdhry, Rob ‘I’ll come on to him later’ Beckett and the ever excellent Sara ‘don’t want to put a comment in inverted commas because I really like her’ Pascoe. On the subject of Rob Beckett, he appears to me like that annoying child in your year at school who thought they were hilarious. Like, the bee’s knees of comedy. They probably had mildly kooky parents who encouraged them much to the exasperation of everyone else. And occasionally, say once a month, he’d say something genuinely funny during an RE lesson and everyone (even the teacher!) would laugh but that would only end up encouraging him and he’d try to emulate the success of that joke, fail and then just repeat that joke for the next week out of context, desperate to get some laughs. That’s how I view Rob Beckett.

Morgana Robinson’s the Agency

11784361-high-morgana-robinsons-the-agency-nat-cass-bagsI’ve been mildly aware of Robinson for a few years having never actually watched any of her programmes. She’s cropped up on Charlie Brooker programmes playing Russell Brand back when he was a thing, and I was aware of ‘Natalie Cassidy is just doing this now’ references on social media from her C4 show a few years ago. Also, she cropped up on celebrity Bake Off earlier in the year and this video where she pretends to be Fearne Cotton is v good.

This is a neat idea for a impressionist series and it’s delivered well. Nice mix of celebs, presented in a mockumentary style as we see inside their lives. Obviously, some of her impressions are weaker than others. Danny Dyer and Greg Wallace do nothing for me, her Miranda just about passes but Robinson’s Adele, Natalie Cassidy, Joanna Lumley and her Fearne Cotton are superb. In fact, she manages to be more Fearne Cotton than Fearne Cotton herself has ever managed. And obviously, the Cassidy performances are superb and I was thrilled to discover there would be an entire episode dedicated to her!  (Ep 5, if anyone’s interested)

Also, as an aside, Morgana as Natalie Cassidy had a chat with actual Natalie Cassidy on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show during the promo train and *thrillingly* when they asked real Cassidy what she was doing today she replied with, “I’m taking my dad to the supermarket!”; which is such a mock Cassidy thing! Oh, how I chuckled.

National Treasure

Headline: I didn’t like this. People were going mad for it on social media and I felt like they were watching a different programme to me. Yes, it’s an incredibly relevant drama but everything felt over-stylised in its way. Scenes shot with poor lighting for no reason other than to make everything seem more menacing or threatening than the reality. Admittedly, my predications for its ending proved incorrect so there was at least that. Although not terrible, if someone said to me “should I watch this?” I’d say no, go and watch something more worthwhile.

First Dates

This show has definitely hit a groove now and is clearly a money spinner too. International versions are springing up all over the place, Fred (the maitre’d) has somehow released a book on love just because he’s French and there’s been a spin off show created. Saying all this, I’m not so keen on the new waiter they’ve hired in. He’s lacking in any perceptible charm and charisma. Whichever episode aired in the first week of October was a stand-out, classic First Dates. Great from start to finish. Hunt it out.

Films

Remarkably only one proper film this month…

hero_manfromreno-2015-1Man From Reno

This has been on my Netflix watchlist for a while and a dark Saturday evening seemed the perfect time to click play. It sees a famous Japanese crime fiction author (Jessica Fletcher in a kimono if you will) return to San Fransisco and get caught up in a criminal plot. The film is half in English it and half in Japanese with subtitles, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting but was a pleasant surprise. I wonder how many people were turned off by the subtitles though, expecting a minor all-English blockbusting thriller.

There is a thriller element to this but I feel like the actual plot itself is too weak to warrant the suspense that they tried to build up. I won’t ruin it by explaining any further but when the reveals begin to happen in the back end of the film you do think “is that it? It’s been working up to that? Were all the deaths worth it?”. Saying all this, it’s not a bad film and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. The anecdote about the dropped melon is something to look out for if you don’t know it already

Stutterer

Look at me watching a short film! To make matters even more cardigan-wearing and sipping camomile tea-esque, I only watched this because the New Yorker posted it on their website. I was mildly aware of it for winning an Oscar a while ago and if you’ve got a spare few minutes hunt it out. It’s a short film, so I won’t talk in depth about it – just go and enjoy it. And not purely because there’s an attractive male protagonist which might have swayed me a little.

5131448_orig

Matt Shepard Was A Friend Of Mine

I’m ashamed to say, as a gay man, that I was unaware of who Matt Shepard was until the Orlando shooting earlier in the year. Someone on social media tweeted about how it was incorrect to assume all homophobia in America was shocked out of society when Matt Shepard died, or words to that effect. A cursory Google brought up the Wikipedia page and I gave it a quick skim. I didn’t know all that much about the case or its details, Matt’s life or experiences, so this documentary seemed a good place to start (albeit many months later). It does a good job of presenting him as human, with loves and disappointments without being overly sentimental. We know where its all heading so it was wise not to force this point down the viewers throat every few minutes. I did some more research after watching it which brought up this very interesting Guardian article about a book a journalist released a few years ago, shedding new light on the murder and motives.

The Readlist: September 2016

Buried For Pleasure by Edmund Crispin

Another Gervase Fen book for me this month. They’re so easy to pick up, get sucked into and are utterly joyous to read as I’ve explained in previous posts. This one revolves around Fen standing for Parliament in a seat that comprises of a sleepy and picturesque market town and its not so sleepy or picturesque cousins close by. And  – would you believe it – there’s a murder!

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

I originally started this book when I was riding the crest of the eReader phenonmenom in the early part of the decade when it seemed like physical book store’s days were numbered. I didn’t actually purchase an eReader though, I used my flash new Android tablet instead and TSB had recently been released on the Google Play store (or Android store as it was back then). Alas, eReaders didn’t hook me in and even buying a Nook eighteen months later didn’t sway me any further and The Sisters Brothers continued as one of those books I’d read the first quarter of but never finished.

Then, when bobbing around Sainsbury’s, I saw the paperback for £1.99 and took the punt on it again and it became my holiday read for my mini-break to Prague. All was going well – I read it from the beginning again, I was enjoying it and then… I left the paperback on the plane! Disaster! Even more annoyingly I didn’t actually realise this until two days later. But, here’s where my younger self came to the rescue, I was able to finish the book using the digital copy which was still linked to my Google account.

This book has a great prose style. It’s presented as a first person narrative, from the mind of one of the Sisters brothers who feels a little inadequate compared to his sibling. He’s a plain thinker, and everything is no-nonsense. It might take you a while to get used to the flow of the book as a result but it’s a real unusual pleasure to read. The story sees the brothers sent on an assassination job during the gold-rush era in Western USA. Obviously, as you’re following smash-and-grab assassins, there’s the whole anti-hero vibe going on here but it’s clear that the narrative stems from someone who no longer wants to be in the ‘business’. He’s also more kind hearted than his brother and this is seen through the bits and pieces involving horses. A film’s been in the works for a while and should be in cinemas next year.

Interestingly, the plane I caught back to the UK was the exact same one I had taken to get to Prague… and I was seated in the *same row* as the one I had been in when I left Blighty, and thus the same one I left my book behind in. Alas, the book had disappeared but imagine the bizarre sense of hope I got staring out of the terminal windows when I saw the plane appear!

Articles & Long Reads

The Only Plane In The Sky This article was widely shared in the days immediately following the 9/11 anniversary. It’s an oral history, an article transcript, of those surrounding the President on that fateful day back in 2001 and the decisions that were made. The startlingly thing is, as we now live in an age of wi-fi on planes, how little they actually knew when they were aboard Air Force One.

Trapped With 9/11 there are so many individual stories from one event, so many perspectives you can view it from. From people pretending to have been there and to have survived the atrocity to the story of the Marriott hotel next to the towers… I had a sudden all encompassing thought during the anniversary. What about the elevators? Two massive skyscrapers must have had hundreds of people in elevators (North more than South though, for obvious reasons) at the time the planes crashed. What happened to them? Did any escape? Or were they just trapped, completely unaware of events unfolding around them? This article goes some way to answering this.

In store grooves Do you ever find yourself bopping along to some tunes in the aisles? Most shops just have a playlist sent to them but others have to connect to a stream over the speakers. ASDA FM live (the most heard radio station in the UK – more than Radio 2!), The Co-operative Radio, Daily Mail News Shop Radio (no idea if that one’s still going), GAME Store Live to name but a few in the UK. This looks at the biggest in Australia. In reality, I’d say instore radio often have a better music mix than most radio stations on the dial and I’ve always found Morrisons’ mix of Britpop and 00s second singles to be very enjoyable. Interestingly, Chris Moyles career started off as a disc jockey for the Topman in store radio in London, which was literally a booth in the middle of the shop. I imagine these days they’re proper DJ decks rather than a ‘studio’.