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m/e 31 January 2019

That’s the second time I’ve wrongly thought, “I’ve got a good momentum going with weeknotes; I bet I can use that to carry on with more irregular, but still frequent, blogging instead.”

The momentum carried me for a while but only so far. Back on the weeknotes wagon for me. Or maybe off the wagon? You know what I mean. First, I must catch up on all the things I failed to write about irregularly-but-frequently this month.

First, some music. I’ve had the horns that come in at 3:00 in this performance of Ezra Collective’s Mace Windu Riddim going round in my head for a while. The piano and drums preceding them aren’t too shabby either.

The studio version is good but I like the piano in that live performance.

The previous two or three years there have been too many films I’ve wanted to see during this pre-awards period of the year. But not this year, so I haven’t been much.

We saw The Favourite which was good, but… I felt like I did when watching The Death of Stalin: that the trailer had spoiled it for me. Not that either trailer ruined the plots, more than both ruined the surprise. Part of the delight of both movies is their peculiar worlds and so a big part of the joy of watching them should be discovering those worlds. But the trailers were enough to give me that, “Ha ha, this looks brilliant!” feeling and so I’d already used that up when I saw the movies. Still good, but especially so if you have managed to avoid seeing any footage of it.

We also saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was the first superhero movie I’ve seen since The Avengers nearly seven years ago. They’re not my thing, not what I want from films, so I gave up going, no matter how many raves I heard about, say, Black Panther. But this one looked interesting so we gave it a go… apparently I still don’t care about superheroes.

Yes, the animation is amazing but, despite that, I kept drifting off because I had no interest in anything that was happening. The usual flat characters and lack of any tension (they’ll be fine!). And as for the “Oooh, it’s so meta! So clever!” chatter I saw on Twitter… pffft. I kept waiting for it to get more interesting or complex on that front, but apparently the idea of there being different universes, each with its own different Spider-Man, is enough to make people, er, marvel. Anyway, I’m glad you all enjoyed it. It looks great.

We’ve watched a lot of telly!

Over new year we caught up with The First, Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone preparing the first human mission to Mars in 2033, and it was pretty good. It was a good example of what I think of as “mundane science fiction”, although I now realise that’s actually a “thing” and I don’t know whether The First officially qualifies for that.

Although it was set in the future, and about space travel, the show was nicely un-sci-fi. Cars were all electric and just a bit smoother. There were no smartphones but there were tablets and some keyboards. Everyone had a little earphone that they used for calls. Lights were voice controlled.

The most future-y thing was that everyone could pull a pair of glasses out of a handy pocket and see virtual and/or augmented-reality scenes. That they could easily share someone else’s vision by simply saying “sync” seemed the most unlikely thing to me: no obvious permissions, no operating-system incompatibilities, nothing going wrong… but who knows.

The drama itself was alright, although it felt torn between two different stories. One was about Sean Penn, his deceased wife, their daughter, their various struggles, and Sean Penn dealing with it all by showing off his muscles as often as possible. The other story was an ensemble piece about the whole of the team preparing for the Mars mission, lead by Sean Penn showing off his muscles as often as possible. I’d be thinking the latter story was the focus and then out of nowhere there’d be an entire episode that was flashbacks into the past of the first story. I felt it could have been a shorter, tighter story, with Penn’s family’s issues being only one of several equal subplots.

Anyway, still good, and given more weight than it would otherwise have had by Colin Stetson’s excellent score. It now seems so obvious that of course he would create a great soundtrack to adventures into space. (All on YouTube or Spotify.)

More recently we finished the sixth and final season of The Americans and it was very good. We’ve enjoyed every season and this may have been the best. I wasn’t initially convinced about the single plot, centred around the USA/USSR missile-negotiation talks. It felt like it was trying too hard to be “real”, name-checking real-world politicians in a way I don’t recall previous seasons doing. But I was soon less bothered about that as I became more gripped by events.

This was a great example of ending a show properly, rather than having to wrap everything up in a hurry because it got cancelled. The entire season was a conclusion, tightening the tension as it went, episode by episode. Shows that run forever-until-cancelled are one of the worst things about TV as a medium — it must be hard, if not impossible, to create a great work of art, or a satisfying narrative, without knowing how long it will be.

It’s always a good sign when you keep wondering what happens next to the characters. I miss them already.

Some brief TV things…

That Paul Heaton documentary was a lovely thing, and as Tom suggested, it makes a great companion (and massive contrast) to that Bros documentary that was on over Christmas.

We watched the Mildred Pierce mini-series from a few years back, starring Kate Winslet, which was good, especially having only seen the the movie for the first time last year. Guy Pierce made for a much less slimy Monty Beragon, which was an improvement. I hadn’t realised the film added a major event to the plot taken from the book (which I haven’t read). The mini-series sticks more closely to the book, resulting in me wondering when [dramatic event] was going to happen… and it never did.

The gaps between seasons of Luther meant that I had only the vaguest sense of previous events when watching the recent season five, not that it mattered. It was good. Luther’s not going to change your life or anything but it was great to watch a show that was just long enough — four episodes — with, I think, only a single brief flashback that helped explain something. Short, sharp, got the job done.

I read Smoke by Simon Ings, which was interesting. Set in an alternate-history England that is very odd. I heard about it via Warren Ellis who does it better justice than I could:

It is truly off its trolley, but written with superb control. There is a strain of alternate history that imagines the futures of things that weren’t true but were believed to be. … Ings goes off with Alexander Gurwitsch and his biophotonic rays and morphogenetic field theory. A world in which World War 2 didn’t happen, Gurwitsch’s theories are carried by the Jewish Bund to a Russian homeland and developed to the point where the people of the Bund speciate.

… And, at its heart, this is a book about a love affair between a normal, “unaccomodated” man and a woman of the Bund.

But everything wrapped around that broken heart is… well, I’m having to rush this newsletter out, so let’s just say “mad.”

I’m not sure it all works, and I got a bit bogged down in the latter parts of the book, but it was interesting and has stuck with me, which is always a good sign. Given all of the weirdness I tried not to get too hung up on the unbelievable alternate-history-ness of a flat in the Barbican having a gas cooker.

In other news, I’ve been finishing off a work project that is launching as I type, more of which another time. We’ve also had a couple of nice weekends away in Walton-on-the-Naze and Herefordshire.

Other peoples’ dreams are always boring, like tales of other peoples’ drunken nights out. But, BUT, the other night I had a dream that woke me up wondering how my sleeping brain worked. In it, I rescued four kittens from a massive, white, futuristic building that was about to be demolished. Afterwards I went on daytime TV to talk about it. Theresa May phoned in to cheerily offer her help. I interrupted her and said, “No, Theresa, I said I’d cat-sit and I will. Cat-sit means cat-sit.

(For reference for those from elsewhere and the future.)

We’re caught up. Thanks for making it this far. That was a lot of words. I will probably try to get on/off the weeknotes wagon again in ten days or so. Until then, good luck.

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