(I try to post reviews of all the films I watch over on letterboxd. Here are some of my most recent reviews)
Black Sea ★½
When you're making a submarine film, I'm sure it's really tempting to default to autopilot and cross off the tickboxes of all the scenes you expect to see in these films. The near-miss collision, the accident that sends the sub to below crush-depth where they just barely survive. Etc. etc.
So it's not enough for Black Sea to lazily trot out the same hackneyed bullshit we've seen countless times in films like this while claiming to be different because this time it's all in service of a story that's really just a commentary on the exploitation of the working class.
Plus, it has Jude Law (with the worst Scottish accent since Christopher Lambert) saying "the shit is fighting back". Honestly, that's an actual line from this film.
Predators isn't a bad film. In fact, it's got some really great bits in it: the smash opening; the reveal they're on an alien planet; any time Walton Goggins is on the screen. In fact, it's a good enough film that you'll actually overlook the fact that they cast (lol) Adrien Brody (lol) as a badass soldier (lol).
But if there's a complaint to be made about the film, it's that it's just too goddamn bleak. For the entire 107 minute run-time, there's not a single moment of hope to be found in this film.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ★
Honestly, the next time some dickbag comes along and tries to tell me that Episode III is the best of the prequels, I'm going to smack that person in the goddamn nose.
White God ★★
I know White God is supposed to be a parable, but I’ll be damned if I know exactly what it’s supposed to be. Current list of theories:
The prison system
The oppression of the Jews before and during WWII (what dog pounds have such prominent chimneys?!)
It could be any one of these things. It could be all of them. I don’t know. And I’m not sure the film itself actually warrants the kind of time it would take to develop these theories. It’s 100 minutes of a dull, emotionless domestic drama with 20 minutes of interesting images tacked onto the end. Seeing 200 dogs running through Budapest dishing out vigilante justice like some canine Mr Majestyks was at least something I hadn’t seen before. The rest of the film was just filler.
Groundhog Day ★★★★
For most of this film, it's all very clever and enjoyable and even if it doesn't sweep you off your feet, you think "I'm so clever, I can see all the mechanics of this plot at work and I can appreciate on an intellectual level what the film is trying to do. Yes, very clever."
And then the last scene rolls up and hits you like an ton of bricks. Even if you've seen the film before, it's still a gut-punch of emotion.
That's the real genius of this film.
Force Majeure ★★★½
Force Majeure is an interesting reflection on the ways that relationships can be affected and tested. There are the large, obvious events, like a father leaving his family to save his own life under the threat of an avalanche. But these are just the sparks that ignite the fuel that’s already there: the years of insecurity and resentment. And those are the things that really test relationships.
I guess it says something about my own marriage that we chose to watch this on Valentine’s Day.
Wild Card ★★★
Jason Statham IS Nick Wild in WILD CARD.
If this sentence doesn't make you want to immediately run out and watch this film, forget it, this is not the film for you.
It may not be a great film, but these photos at least give you some idea of why it's such an amazing achievement. The amount of care and craft that went into something that would appear on screen for a second or two. So impressive.
I spent an entire weekend migrating my blog from Wordpress to Jekyll and I fucking loved it. I have a board game collection that's out of control. And just this week, I've had not one, but two arguments about the ending of Battlestar Galactica (one of these turned into a standing-up, shouting kind of argument)1.
In fact, I'm going to revise up and describe myself as a huge nerd.
Despite this, I have not enjoyed a single Terry Pratchett book that I've read.
It's not like I haven't tried. I've asked my nerd friends where I should start and I've gotten different suggestions from each of them. And I've tried each one that's been suggested. Even Metafilter, the closest we'll get to an internet version of a Borg hive-mind can't settle on any one starting point. The closest I've come has been Good Omens, but I'm dismissing this because of Neil Gaiman. Oh, and I played a lot of The Colour of Magic on the Commodore 64. But again, I'm not counting this because it's, you know, not a book.
All the same, I'm going to pour one out for Terry Pratchett for two reasons.
First, even though I can only handle him in small doses, even I can recognise he was capable of some beautiful writing. Like this passage from Wings
'Come to think of it,' he said. 'it wasn't frogs exactly. It was the idea of frogs. She said there's these hills where it's hot and rains all the time, and in the rain forests there are these very tall trees and right in the top branches of the trees there are these like great big flowers called ... bromeliads, I think, and water gets into the flowers and makes little pools and there's a type of frog that lays eggs in the pools and tadpoles hatch and grow into new frogs and these little frogs live their whole lives in the flowers right at the top of the trees and don't even know about the ground and once you know the world is full of things like that your life is never the same.'
He took a deep breath.
'Something like that, anyway,' he said.
I mean, wow. This is just marvellous. (For the record, I gave up on Wings after 50-odd pages.)
But I'll mostly be pouring one out because even though he's not my cup of tea, his writing touched -- deeply touched -- a lot of my friends. His writing, his irreverence, his entire outlook on life - these had a profound influence on an entire subculture. A subculture I count myself part of.
Godspeed, Sir Terry.
“DON'T THINK OF IT AS DYING," said Death. "JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”
For the record, I think the ending to Battlestar Galactica is totally fine. I have no problem at all mixing spiritualism with sci-fi.
This is so good. I could use any one of his answers as a pull-quote here, but this answer hit one of my weak spots:
Why do you EDC?
I like the idea of finding the very best version of some otherwise mundane object, settling on it, having that problem solved well, and then using that object for the rest of my life. This is my watch. This is my pen. This is my wallet.
Have you read that interview Rock Paper Shotgun did with Peter Molyneux? If not, you should go read it now. And not just because it's relevant to what I'm about to talk about, but because it's an absolutely fascinating interview. It's an interview that starts off with John Walker asking Peter Molyneux "Do you think that you’re a pathological liar?"
I mean, holy shit, that's something, right?
It's a tough interview. It was sharp around the edges. But that's a good thing. Most developer interviews are polite affairs. Even developers that really deserve to have the boot laid in get the soft treatment. Microsoft released the Halo: Master Chief Collection, whose multiplayer (arguably the main draw of the collection) was unplayably broken and the hardest question most games press ask is "when will it be fixed?" It's press-as-PR bullshit.
Remember back when Dan Hsu laid into Peter Moore about all the issues that plagued the Xbox 360 at launch? Remember how that was greeted? Everyone cheered and welcomed this as a new frontier: the moment when the games press seemed like they could actually be (whisper it) games journalists.
Which brings us to the Molyneux interview. Rather than being heralded as another great moment in games journalism -- when a developer who has lied to consumers for years was finally held accountable -- the reaction from most of the games industry has been pretty disappointing. The latest episodes of DLC, Idle Thumbs, Gamers With Jobs and Isometric all include some variation on the theme of "poor Peter Molyneux, he didn't deserve that"1 (Isometric_ even went so far as to say that the whole thing just demonstrated gamers' 'sense of entitlement'). A common thread across all four podcasts is that they described the interview as "unprofessional" for starting by asking Molyneux if he's a pathological liar.
This has driven me absolutely fucking potty over the last couple of days. I feel like I'm living in bizzaro-world, where up is down and down is up. Peter Molyneux is such a notorious liar that he's spawned a goddamn internet meme:
... yet actually saying this to his face, actually confronting him about it is "unprofessional"? I just don't get it.
Personally, I think that, if anything, the interview didn't go far enough. I want to know if Molyneux feels any guilt about taking people's money for Curiosity over the promise over a 'life-changing prize' (for the record, Eurogamer ran an article about how much the winner's life has changed. Short answer: not at all). I want to know if he feels any remorse over putting out Curiosity in the first place, since it was nothing more than a shameless cash-grab helping in the race to the bottom of free-to-play games. I want to know if he feels bad about potentially having taken money and press from other potential God games that were on Kickstarter. Games that could potentially have been driven with more passion than he's shown Godus. And while we're at it, I want to know if he ever gives a second's thought to the people for whom Godus was the first game they've backed on Kickstarter and they're now so wary of the process that they'll probably never back another project on there.
These are just some of the questions I wished John Walker had asked Molyneux.
The only thing I can think of is that the four podcasts I listed above all feature game developers as either main hosts or as special guests. I guess game developers would have a different reaction to the interview? Idk.
Based on his terrific books his occasional appearances on Radiolab, Oliver Sacks seems like a really great guy: smart, funny, and curious. So it's pretty sad to hear that he's been dealt one last shitty hand. But at the same time, it sounds like he's totally at peace with it:
It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.
Nathan Barley is ten years old today and this is a great retrospective from The Guardian on how the show came about and why it's still so prescient. If you haven't actually seen the show yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out. And if you've already seen it, you owe it to yourself to watch it again.
I realise I've mentioned him a couple of times on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but I've never actually even mentioned it on my own personal blog. So let's fix that now.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Dessie.
He's my dog and he's my best friend and I'm going to tell you about him. But first, a story.
My wife and I had wanted to rescue a dog for ages. We'd been out to Dog's Trust a few times and, although there were a lot of lovely dogs out there that needed homes, a lot of them were 'troubled' dogs. Actual conversation: "Oh! You're interested in Solo? He's such a sweetheart. Just lovely. But tell me, are there ever any small children in your house because he does have a history of biting. Yeah, he's been returned to us a few times because of that." Stuff that just broke my heart. I wanted to adopt them all, but I've never actually owned a dog before, so there's no possible way I could ever train one up to, you know, not bite small children. So we hadn't found the right dog for us. But we kept looking.
A friend of mine was fostering dogs for A Dog's Life and just before Christmas 2013, she started fostering Dessie. Here are the pictures of him from A Dog's Life.
The minute we saw him, we said "that's it, call of the search, this is the exact dog we want". He was so gentle and so sweet and we called up the charity the day after we met him to start the process. They don't actually allow people to adopt over Christmas (understandable, no?), so we had to wait a bit.
We actually got him on February 14th last year. Honestly, that timing had absolutely nothing to do with grand romantic gestures and had everything to do with bureaucracy.
Our lives have completely changed since then. In lots of ways, both obvious and non-obvious. Obviously, we have a lovely little creature to take care of now, so we have to arrange our lives differently. For example, we're meeting some friends for dinner next week and we're already talking about who's going to cycle home to walk the dog and cycle back into town before dinner. We have to plan things. We have to be more organised with things. No more leaving food on the table, for example. Also, before getting Dessie, I'd never picked up a still-steaming pile of shit on a frosty winter's day. That's a line I can't un-cross.
But there are also less obvious ways that things have changed. Like, we're part of the neighbourhood dog walking group that meet in the local park to walk their dogs. It's such a semi-formal group that they actually had a Christmas party, where everyone wrapped their dogs in tinsel and brought wine and brandy and cakes to the park and everyone had a merry old time. Before we had the dog, I had no idea this group was even a thing. Now I'm one of them.
It wasn't all smooth sailing though. For the first couple of weeks, he was absolutely terrified of me. I guess a handsome, burly man must have mistreated him before. We still keep getting these glimpses of what his life was like before he came to us. Snatches of his little neuroses that hint at some past trauma. Like, he's absolutely terrified of motorbikes. Even a parked motorbike on the street, he'll give it a wide bearth. And that was just the start.
For the first couple of weeks we had him, it was tough going. He wouldn't settle. He'd whine all night and then he'd whine all day (we set up a webcam so we could check on him via our phones - that's how quickly we descended into being just awful dog-people). But that's something I really appreciated about A Dog's Trust: along with the dog, they give you access to a sort of a dog counsellor that you can email with your questions and they'll give you advice. So you can say "my dog is doing $x", and they'll say "your dog is doing $x because of $y, you should try to $z". Well -- and I'm not happy about this -- when he hadn't settled after two weeks, I wanted to send him back. But the charity were lovely and answered all my questions and helped me get through it and I learned how to handle him much better because of them. That helped him become more comfortable with me and settle down.
And here he is now.
In this photo, he'd just won "best rescue", came third in "agility" and won "best in show" at the Greystones dog show.
So, things people should know:
Sight hounds (whippets, luchers, greyhounds) are the laziest animals you'll ever meet. They sleep and they sleep. Here's a typical picture of Dessie:
I know everyone expects them to be really energetic and be a real handful, but if they can get just a couple of decent 20-30 minute walks a day where they can get off the lead and run fast, they're super-happy.
The only issue with this is that they've got a really strong prey instinct and that can be a real problem. If they see something small (and preferrably furry), they must have it in their mouth. If that small thing is across a busy road, they don't care. So they need to be trained out of this, which can be a slow, slow process. It's only in the last couple of weeks that Dessie has stopped running out of our local park. For a while there, he was strictly kept on the lead, which was frustrating to both him and me.
Also, you wouldn't think it to look at them, but they're incredibly affectionate. They're all skinny and pointy and you'd think they're not into the whole touching-feeling thing, but there's nothing Dessie loves more than to sit on the sofa with us. And he nearly always has to be touching us at all times. He'll be sitting beside you and just put a little paw on your leg. Adorbs. Again, another very typical photo of Des:
If you're ever thinking about adopting a dog (and you should! I can't think of a single person whose life wouldn't be improved by getting a dog), I'd seriously encourage you to take a look at the whippets, lurchers and greyhounds. The pounds are full of them and they're just the best.
One of the nice things about having a blog that no-one actually reads is that you can do silly, borderline reckless things with almost no fallout. For example, you can completely change your backend from Wordpress to Jekyll on a whim.
So this weekend, that's exactly what I did.
And I have to say, it's been an interesting experience. I moved from Livejournal to my own Wordpress blog, on my own domain (fuckcuntandbollocks.com - RIP) in 2004. Besides the general embarrassment that comes from reading stuff from your past, (especially when I moved away from the earnest, personal writing on Livejournal and I was trying so hard to be clever and articulate over here), there's also the sheer volume of cruft that's built up over time. I've spent the weekend blowing the cobwebs off the darker corners of my Wordpress database and trying to extract this content into something that makes sense and will out-live Wordpress. Both of these have clarified exactly why I needed to move to something like Jekyll.
Now my blog is written in text files that live in my Dropbox and I don't have to worry about the latest Wordpress 0-day exploit.
But there's still a lot of work to be done. Broken images need to be found. Broken links need to be fixed. The migration is maybe 90% complete. So bear with me while I get it finished.
When I was about ten years old, I saved up all my pocket money for months and bought myself a hardback copy of Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects. And the thing I loved most about this book was all the matte paintings. Such a simple idea, but so powerful and so evocative. I'd get lost in them for hours. And here we are, over twenty years later and they still draw me in, every time.
You know the way on Netflix, there’s a ton of films, but they’re all shite? And the way that discovery on Netflix is next to impossible, so you have to go to third-party sites to see what they recommend, or even to find out what’s just been added (you know things are bad when you’re going to a fucking blogspot site to find out what’s new). So I’ve been looking for something new.
A few years ago, I remember trying Mubi and it wasn’t much better. It was like Netflix with an arthouse bent: hundreds of films, but hardly anything you'd want to actually watch. A broad selection of films so it looked impressive, but they were shallow as mud.
I don’t know when exactly, but somewhere in the last few years, they completely changed their focus. Now they’ve got an extremely narrow, extremely deep selection. How narrow? They’ve got thirty films. That’s it. Every day they add something new, every day they take something off. And they take care with the films they add. These are thirty tightly curated films that are almost always worth watching. Here’s the current list of films as of today:
There are some amazing films on there that I want to watch again. There are some amazing films on there that I’ve been meaning to check out for ages. And the ones I haven’t heard of? Well, the overall quality of the rest of the films means I’m comfortable knowing that they’re probably worth checking out.
Mubi isn’t paying me to write this blog post. I’m writing this for completely selfish reasons: I only just discovered how great this service is and I want to make sure it sticks around. So do me a favour and give Mubi a shot?
My favourite part of this video is where she's standing next to the owner of the fleshlight factory and the interviewer asks the owner "have you ever used the fleshlight?" and he's like "of course!" then realises he's standing next to the lady whose fake vagina he masturbated into. I haven't seen anything that awkward in ages.
I don't know who in NPR thought it would be a good idea to invite the stars of Broad City (one of the best shows on tv right now, btw) to interview Sleater-Kinney, but that person should be given a massive promotion.