My 2019 media consumption roundup

OK so one element of this “media roundup” tradition I’ve started for myself seems to be that I don’t actually write most of the notes til the end of the year, which inevitably spill over into the next year, and the recollections I have are sketchy to the point of irrelevance. So, I’m going to *try* to take notes as I go in 2020. Got it?

26 movies (&/or standup specials). 35 TV series. 13 books. Smell that? That’s achievement.

DEFINITE improvement on the reading-front in 2019. I think I just decided to make time to do some reading. Nothing heavy or too worthwhile, I don’t think… but at least it makes me feel a bit like an adult.

January

January 3rd, 2019

Netflix's attempt to make Project Management sexy. Fascinating and disparate selection of stories told in a much more tension-fuelled and suspenseful way than anything with Jack Bauer in. And I SWEAR the Westminster Dog Show one was more or less lifted directly from the script of Best In Show (2000). 👍

January 6th, 2019

In 2019 this tale of peoples' willingness to go along with instructions from authority figures seems near-impossible to swallow against the context of social-engineering-awareness which we live day to day in financial services careers. And yet it's a dramatisation of a true story. Not an enjoyable film, and often it feels like not a well-made one, but then you can't criticise a film because the true story it's based on seems hard to believe. Controversial. I think, probably worthwhile.

January 6th, 2019

This sitcom about a group of Manhattan-dwelling Harvard grads doesn't really do anything for the image of the 1% - entertaining as it is, one can't help feeling that they don't work particularly hard.  Mainly carried by the charisma/animatedness of Keegan Michael-Key, although good to see Fred Savage back in a series too. It's not a bad show, it's just... they're all such dicks!

January 8th, 2019

Small-town tensions in a fabulously wealthy & attractive town interlinked with post-"happening" interviews. It's a little maddening to know that *something* has happened, but not know what or to whom. Heavy-hitting cast... weird to see Alexander Skarsgard without fangs.

January 18th, 2019

Inward-looking BBC Documentary about what a groundbreaking show The Young Ones was, and how the performers in it impacted the UK alternative comedy scene. I loved it, because of it being a walk through my favourite paddocks - but one's got to question what we learn from a documentary like this, other than that it's sometimes beneficial to have a system whereby people can go off and do their own thing which doesn't conform to the norm. Blew my mind a little that Series 1 was made in 1982, and if anything surprised me that when I was discovering The Young Ones at the age of about 8 or 9 I was actually watching something contemporary, rather than all the other British TV I loved, which had been made in the 70s or earlier.  But then at 8 I had very little concept of time... good job those days are over, eh?

January 18th, 2019

Further adventures of the Manhattanites who behave like spoiled tossers.  Generally amusing specific situations, but it's almost depressing that we live in a world where it might be plausibly possible that people could conduct themselves like this and still lead rewarding professional lives.  TV's a strange thing, isn't it?

January 18th, 2019

Dramatisation of one aspect of the Brexit "Leave" campaign, focussing on a tonsured Bandersnatch Phantybatch as charming person Dominic Cummings - it didn't get great reviews in the press, but then we've had enough of experts, apparently. Whilst it was never going to capture "the truth" of it, I think it was a reasonable watch provided you could stomach watching it all unfold again and live with the stomach-churning reminder of the lies, manipulation and misinformation used to activate millions of people who already felt disenfranchised: it highlighted that the measure of a success of an election/referendum campaign rests not on having the best motives & plan, but by convincing them to put the tick in the box you want them to.

January 21st, 2019

One of the problems with waiting til the end of the year to retrospectively write reviews of all of the crap you've watched over the year is that sometimes there are things you've no memory of whatsoever.  This is one of those.  I can see it's got Anna Kendrick in it (and her enormous acting range), and I've read the plot synopsis - but have no recollection whatsoever.  Worthwhile, eh?

February

February 2nd, 2019

Female heist caper modelled after the other "Ocean's" films, and bloody good fun it was too.  Great cast brimming with personality and culminating in a self-supporting film that didn't feel like a "girl version of".  Then again, I'd buy a DVD of Anne Hathaway reading weather reports.  She's amazing.  Good enough to overcome another 2-dimensional performance by Sandra Bullock. 👍

February 9th, 2019

Very conflicting show this - I quite enjoyed the concept, but the characters all really annoyed me, to the point where I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep watching or not, but somehow did.  AND there was one bloke who I swore reminded me of somebody, and looked a bit like David Tennant.  Hey ho.  That'll learn me for skipping the opening titles.

February 9th, 2019

We watched the pilot episode of this aaaaaaaaaages ago, then saw nothing more of it for a long time.  So when it came up on streaming somewhere we had a weird deja vu moment, then watched the first one and kept looking at each other and thinking "have we seen this?".  Seemingly decent story of a Mexican girl caught in a drug cartel's operations who makes a run for it to the USA and is visited by visions of herself being a Kingpin... not sure we finished this, because even quite a few episodes in her progress from starting point to kingpin was still pretty glacial, and it seemed like the kinda show where the funding source might lose interest well before the audience did.

February 9th, 2019

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin continue to perform like the treasures they are in this dramatic sitcom about retirees who've had circumstance thrust upon them, and how they deal with some of the admittedly fantastical changes in their lives. Which, as ever, appears to make for much more palatable viewing when nobody involved really has any dire financial worries.  👍

February 14th, 2019

Quirky as fuck Groundhog Day, led my Natasha Lyonne as a game developer who keeps dying and then respawning back at her own birthday party, leaving her to try to solve what's going on and unlock the mystery.  Exquisitely shot & quite compelling, yet still leaves simpletons like me wondering wtf is going on, or whether I've actually missed something or it just seems like I have.  I find that increasingly these days.  Goddamn style over substance.

February 28th, 2019

This was an interesting one - it's a documentary about the insidious and conspiratorial nature of the inner upper echelons of Scientology, but a lot of it seemed to mirror the plot of any TV series you watch that features personality-cult religions, which I guess ought to have highlighted how well-researched TV series are nowadays, but it couldn't help but give the documentary a vaguely fictional feel.  A notable film, because rather than just stating that they disagreed with the contents of the film, the Scientology movement actually mounted a smear campaign against the film and its principals - very much in-keeping with the modus operandi detailed in the film. 👍

March

March 20th, 2019

This is going to sound a bit stupid, but we re-watched Season 7 prior to watching Season 8 in order to get our heads back into the GoT story so that Season 8 would see us moving at running speed without having to remember what "just happened" (i.e. from 2 years ago when it was on the telly).  Disappointing storytelling compared to S1-6, but not a patch on the ludicrous shite that was to come in Season 8 though.

March 21st, 2019
Autobiography, Humour :: Brian Blessed

Since hearing Blessed on Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (RHLSTP!) I became somewhat obsessed with the man, and went & saw him live one evening in Bath, where I bought this book. A really unique character with a powerful grip on living life to the fullest.  It's impossible to read without hearing it narrated in his voice - moreso because the style of the book is him recounting anecdotes - and you come away from it thinking "Well, if even half of that were true, it's still pretty amazing stuff!".  Too many wonderful moments to recap... although I was particularly fascinated by his relationships with other actors of the period.

April

April 15th, 2019

I feel like I've already covered this.  Season 8 was a tremendously disappointing finish to the television highlight of the decade for the simple fact that the style of storytelling changed completely at the end of Season 6 and the showrunners rushed it: meaning that vast chunks of potential plot were compressed into moments, armies and key characters were seemingly teleported around Westeros, and the whole thing became about linking together set pieces rather than exploring character interaction organically. The story itself was arguably fine, but the way it ended up being told left a lot to be desired.  Particularly against the backdrop of what had been accomplished in seasons 1-6. 👎

April 20th, 2019

Having been a fan of Fry & Laurie since the early 90s I couldn't believe that I didn't know there had been 4 seasons of their absurd sketch show, (doing the air quotes with my fingers) "A Bit of Fry and Laurie".  It was all very clever, although bingewatching it's a *little* much...  however it was a delight to see the how the series developed as it went on, and by Season 4 it was barely recognisable from its initial incarnation - I read about this in much more detail in Jem Roberts' book "Soupy Twists" mentioned a little later.  Lots of great stuff, but the standout line of the lot by far: "Then after that, I spent a couple of months as Princess Anne's assistant. Well, I chucked that in because, you know, it's perfectly obvious they were never going to make me Princess Anne, no matter how well I did the job.  And it was a question of who you were, rather than how well you did the job, and I hate that." 👍

April 27th, 2019

Having suffered through Season 8 we decided to make sure we weren't being nostalgic or rose-tinty about our glasses, etc. and so for the third time (I think) we started all the way back at episode 1 of series 1 and made our way through.  It's still gripping and compelling TV, and I maintain that the strength of the writing was the glue that held the whole thing together - not just the visual splendour or the wow-factor of events from the show...  because it seemed every spectacular event drove the story forward and was therefore a part of the narrative, not just window dressing.  Utterly magnificent. 👍 👍

April 27th, 2019

So, there's a type of Netflix show that goes on late at night when everyone else is in bed and you want something on in the background while you do stuff on your phone/laptop, and that's what this turned out to be.  I guess partially inspired by watching the Penn & Teller "Fool Us" stuff, this show professed to revealing magic's "secrets" - demonstrated by an overly dramatic deep voiceover and a theatrical magician in a particularly unsettling mask. The thing is, the illusions they explained weren't all that unexpected - and in the cases where magicians would do those tricks latterly the artform's been in them doing the tricks in such a way that you wonder how they do them, whilst at the same time they make it clear that whatever their trick is it's *not* whatever the magician in this show's doing.  I suppose it made me watch a few things closer on "Fool Us", but overall was all rather silly. 👎

April 27th, 2019

Stephen Fry & Mark Carwardine's followup to Douglas Adams' 1990 book & radio series.  A generally desperate series of illustrations of mankind's decimation of our natural habitat and the ecological collateral damage that ensues, although seldom over-earnest and mawkish.  Tough one for me, because it's one of my favourite books ever... and as much as I love Stephen Fry, there's no way he could come close to holding a candle to Douglas Adams.

April 27th, 2019

I'd sort of shoulder-surfed Liz watching The Good Wife previously and so knew who some of these characters were - I guess it's a more gender & racially balanced law-ish dramedy after the same style as Boston Legal.  Hard to know if my interest was partially down to the involvement of Rose Leslie and to see if she might sneak in a "You know NOTHIN, Jon Snurr" to this character's dialog.  Season 3, none so far.  Michael Sheen guest features on some episodes playing what appears to be Al Pacino. 👍

April 28th, 2019

I *love* Penn & Teller.  They're the most skilful exponents of magic, comedy, and debunking that I think exist in mainstream TV today.  So I *had* to watch this Netflix show in which would-be magicians would perform their tricks to Penn & Teller, and if P&T couldn't explain or guess how a trick worked, then they'd been "fooled", and the magician "won" the prize of coming to Vegas to work on P&T's show as a support act, or similar.  The first season was helmed by Jonathan Ross and every aspect of the talent show side of the show was cringeworthy - the video packages, the interviews, the stage banter... awful and second rate.  But the tricks were great, and watching P&T analyse and communicate to the acts the crucial info they needed to to get the act to concede that they hadn't been fooled was just delightful.  And of course every episode culminated in Penn & Teller performing one of their illusions. The second series was a little odder - set in Vegas, the prize was still a trip to Vegas.  The banter with host Alyson Hannigan was better (or at least lost its wink-nudge knowing misogyny), and seemingly there were more would-be players prepared to come to Vegas and try out than the endless repetitive attempts by what seemed like the same 15 people in the UK edition. 👍

May

May 8th, 2019
Humour :: Charlie Brooker, Jason Hazeley, Joel Morris

I mistakenly bought this for Liz, and when I handed it over very quickly realised that *I'M* the one of us that likes serially uninformed but doggedly informative broadcaster Philomena Cunk.  A tough read from end-to-end, because it's literally a series of short pieces in alphabetically organised topics... but word-perfect for the character, and you could picture her delivering every line in her TV-authentic way.  I had to stop grabbing random people that were near me so I could read stuff out, but it was a real hoot, and I was almost sad when I finished it.  And now I don't think I'll ever look at a tiger with out thinking "Tigers are the ones that look sort of like big orange barcodes, but with teeth".

May 27th, 2019

I suppose this one was my fault for not knowing the source material - this was a six-part adaptation of a John Le Carré book, rather than a 6 episode TV series: Tom Hiddleston's character almost out Bond-ing James Bond, with musical cues to match.  Incredibly well-executed though and one hopes a second story can be put together and told as grippingly.

June

June 9th, 2019

Drama/dark comedy series starring Christina Applegate which feels like it has a few parallels or links across to Big Little Lies somehow, but a decent watch and further evidence of how much of a relief it is that TV shows aren't all about blokes & their adventures any more. The central conceit was a bit annoying due to it's sheer implausibility, but then I guess it's just telly, isn't it? 👍

June 14th, 2019

This was the 5-part "It's not fun at all, but you HAVE to watch it" show of 2019, and sticking to one episode a night was the sensible option.  Splendidly presented (and the fact that the cast was entirely British seemed not that distracting, so long as you weren't jolted out of the moment by trying to remember who they'd played in Game of Thrones), and it certainly got the topic of nuclear meltdown back into mainstream conversation for a moment.👍👍

June 14th, 2019

Netflix, IMHO, has done a great thing by sinking a load of money into developing standup specials - providing increased access to them for all, and removing the need to litter the landscape with single-watch DVD copies that haven't made it off the shelves of charity shops around the land.  In Jimmy Carr's show you get an hour of textbook Jimmy Carr.  He's great at what he does, while at the same time doing merely exactly what he does - the problem with this is me, not Carr.  I really hope to get more out of a standup show now than just a load of jokes, and Carr's mainstreamin' it all the way.  The guy knows how to fit a routine together that's for sure.  Pity he's not challenging anyone here - us or himself.

June 15th, 2019

A fairly "by numbers" piece in which a misanthropic wheelchair-bound millionaire contrarily hires a parolee-jobseeker who's walked into the wrong room, and through their time together each learns a lot about themselves, etc. Decent performances from Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, and a waspy Nicole Kidman - but it's a plumbing together of stereotypes with barefaced emotional manipulation.

June 21st, 2019

Good lord, I really have to write these little summaries as I go rather than retrospectively, cos I've no memory of this film either.  Maybe it's a comment on watching too much stuff?  I vaguely recall seeing Banderas and Patinkin in a film, but other than that the writeup rings no bells at all.

June 22nd, 2019

Evidently this was released in the UK under a different title - I recall this rather stunningly cast film not really having much effect other than being YET ANOTHER thing on in the background as the time passes.  Alison Janney's always great, and in this she plays a Principal where a school day kicks off with a dead body on campus and then high-stress situations coupled with unlikely hijinks ensue.

June 22nd, 2019

This one was quite good - we were mainly attracted to it due to the presence of Dominic West, who's always first & foremost going to be Jimmy McNulty for us, and therefore hearing him speak in any accent other than Baltimore is a non-sequitur (even though that's not his real accent).  Quite well-told story of a woman (Keira Knightley) who writes stories based on her own life, which are then published under her husband's name, and he claims all the credit. 👍

June 28th, 2019

The Rose family continue their ridiculous adventures in the town of Schitt's Creek, and each character seems to be more & more O.T.T. every time they take the screen.  Pretty sure that Alexis and David are mainly trying to get each other to corpse on screen, and Catherine O'Hara's Moira could be described as pure pantomime, if only there were need for a stock character as bizarre as her in a pantomime. I feel like this entire show is almost due for a rewatch (except for the Christmas special, which was a Very Low Point) 👍👍

July

July 10th, 2019

I remember THIS one! You've got to love any story about WWE wrestling whose promotional spiel includes the sentence "Based on a true story".  And it's got Nick Frost & Lena Headey playing a husband & wife.  AND The Rock is in it.  AND it's written/directed by Stephen Merchant.  AND the official genre description is "biopic sports/comedy drama".  Defo. worth a look. 👍

July 17th, 2019
Biography :: Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis - mainstay of gripping Financial Services pieces like The Big Short, Liars Poker, Flash Boys et al - zeroes in on the story of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and how their theories on decision came to influence western society. Great story, great author.

July 22nd, 2019

Still sticking with this women-forward wrestling drama, although I feel like the writing this season took a bit of a detour because the story seemed to be more about the male protagonists (Sam Sylvia & Bash Howard).  I hope it gets back on track again.  Oh, ALSO, I just this moment learned that Britannica is played by Kate Nash, but having never seen her in a music video before I'm now finding it very weird to watch one on YouTube and take it in any way seriously.

July 29th, 2019
Autobiography, Humour :: Kunt from Kunt and the Gang

The story of the rise & disappearance of inane & vulgar lo-fi singer of such minor internet classics as "Have a Wank", "Gentleman's Wash", "I Shit My Pants", "A Lonely Wank In A Travelodge", and the anthem "Fucksticks" - penned by the author himself. A refreshingly honest story from someone who doesn't feel like they have a reputation to protect, though not one for people put off by fruity prose. I couldn't put it down.

July 29th, 2019

The ante is upped in Season 2 with a conspiracy maintained between Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern as a result of the finale of Season 1, and now there's additional rounding out and deepening of the characters in the small, well-to-do seaside town they live in.  Jeopardy in this season sweeps in in the form of Meryl Streep, so clearly the casting team have a healthy chequebook. Seems we're unconsciously drawn to David E. Kelley productions. 👍

July 29th, 2019

Thoroughly good fun screen adaptation of the Pratchett/Gaiman story of Aziraphale and Crowley - a pairing of functionary angel & demon who've worked together since the time of creation to make their lives easier and achieve better results.  What's great about this is the amount of fun the ludicrously good cast seem to be having with it, none moreso than Michael Sheen & David Tennant in the lead roles.  Brilliant source material, very well executed. 👍👍

July 29th, 2019

Katherine Ryan is amazing.  Confident, assured, fabulous, sarcastic, empowered, affirming, hilarious, brilliant.  She's a comedy assassin, and I wish there were a hundred of her standup specials on Netflix so I could watch them all - over, and over, and over.  The headline piece from this special, I reckon, is her trip to see the musical "Hamilton". Although the section on her & her daughter stalking Anna Kendrick was pretty cool too. 👍👍

August

August 3rd, 2019

The key phrase of the films I watched in 2019 seems to be "based on a true story".  In this case, a Mossad operation to evacuate Ethiopian Jews from Sudan by setting up a cover operation of a holiday resort.  The whole thing had a very "Argo" feel about it to me, and as such felt like a film changing through the gears of a predictable story.

August 3rd, 2019

This documentary centering on Carole Cadwalladr's journalistic investigations of Cambridge Analytica was quite compelling in its detail diving into how social media data was used to manipulate voters & allowed the company to perfect its near-weaponised data science operations.  Thoroughly depressing, really, given that it opens up massive questions about the legality of the Brexit vote - and yet even with the existence of this as a mainstream & widely available film it makes no frigging difference as to the outcome. 👍

August 12th, 2019

We seem to watch a lot of FBI & CIA related content, so this one examining how the breakdown in cooperation between the two over 9/11 was detrimental to the whole operation seemed an interesting and obvious watch for us.  Highlighting that often the people at the heads of these things aren't moral paragons, but simply people doing their jobs and subject to the usual foibles, weaknesses and deficiencies that normal people have. 👍

August 17th, 2019
History, Popular Culture :: Jem Roberts

Jem Roberts dives into the story & circumstances of the genesis and development of one of the finest British sitcoms ever produced, and one which taught me most of what I know about British history (I won a game of Trivial Pursuit once on the strength of the answer "a groat"). Being such a core piece of my adolescent comedy pantheon, my friends & I had always held fairly strong opinions about the various series - so this book is a treat in that it exposes the feelings and points of view of those who created it.

August 19th, 2019

I can't seem to stop watching things that confirm how screwed up the world is.  Although Michael Moore's known for laying it on nice & thick.  This outing sees him looking at the US of A and analysing what happened in the 2016 Presidential election - why & how Trump got voted in, and how Hilary lost out, and made lots of parallels with the rise of Trump and the rise of Adolf Hitler.  Never one to deal solely in the macro, he also dives into the Flint water crisis and draws allegories and connections with the state of the country at large.  I don't know why I watched this - whether to learn more detail about the US's political and domestic situation, or to play to my confirmation bias.  This did both.

September

September 3rd, 2019
Autobiography :: Geoffrey Robertson QC

The trouble with trying to be objective about Geoffrey Robertson is that I can't do it. The man's an absolute legend and hero. This autobiography covers his entire life to date, from growing up in suburban Sydney - to the move to England via his Rhodes Scholarship - through to his burgeoning legal career and subsequent founding of the renowned human rights law chambers on Doughty Street. Whilst fairly dry in its humour, the book shows a selection of situations where the barrister must reconcile their client's situation with respect to the law - although also highlights that a judge's circumstantial understanding or predilections may influence a case as much as its legal technicalities. And I'm just starstruck at anyone who can casually use words like "propinquity" in a sentence. This took me no time to read, cos I couldn't put it down.

September 15th, 2019
Fiction, Sci Fi :: John Birmingham

John Birmingham's latest dramatic fiction, told in a similar style to his Axis of Time trilogy but this time the setting is a future space colonial civilisation, where aristocratic family corporations run planetary systems, and they come under attack from a deep space movement of insurrectionists thought previously banished from the galaxy. Birmingham's writing is incredibly detailed in terms of the specifics of the world but approachable, and the action sequences are painted out very evocatively. I can't wait for the next instalment to find out what lies in store for incorrigible war-hero Admiral Frazer McLennan.

September 21st, 2019

Based on a true story. File this one as "chewing gum for the brain" - MIB sequels aren't exactly cinematic game-changers, but it was a mindless enough romp and something fun to watch on a flight.  Couldn't tell you what happened in it though.

September 21st, 2019

Now we're talking.  Based on a true story.  Well, it's a documentary, so that's a freebie.  This follows the brothers who make up the band Bros who are prepping for their first performance together in 30 years.  Apparently the tickets to this gig (in London's O2) sold out in 7 seconds, which is something of a record.  Anyway, there's plenty of tension and issues in the relationship, and the stuff that comes out in the interview sections...  Mark Kermode famously said "It's like they've been speaking to Christopher Guest".  Plenty of shades of David Brent too. 👍

September 21st, 2019

Being a biopic, it's "based on a true story" - although the Tolkien Family made a statement saying they did not endorse the making of this film - it follows the developmental life of JRR Tolkien, highlighting the formative years culminating in the leadup to starting to write his books.  The climax of the film takes place during his trench experiences in WW1 and the film paints a pretty vivid series of parallels to elements of Lord of the Rings drawing on this as inspiration.  It was fine.

September 26th, 2019
Space Fantasy :: Adam Christopher, Alexander Freed, Ashely Eckstein, Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, Beth Revis, Cavan Scott, Charles Soule, Christie Golden, Chuck Wendic, Claudia Gray, Daniel José Older, Delilah S. Dawson, E.K. Johnston, Elizabeth Wein, Gary D. Schmidt, Glen Weldon, Greg Rucka, Griffin McElroy, Ian Doescher, Jason Fry, John Jackson Miller, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Ken Liu, Kieron Gillen, Madeleine Roux, Mallory Ortberg, Matt Fraction, Meg Cabot, Mur Lafferty, Nnedi Okorafor, Pablo Hidalgo, Paul Dini, Paul S. Kemp, Pierce Brown, Rae Carson, Renée Ahdieh, Sabaa Tahir, Tom Angleberger, Wil Wheaton, Zoraida Córdova

Bit of a baffling one this - it takes the chronological run of Star Wars (or, if you're hung up on such things, "Episode IV: A New Hope") and then each chapter of this book is a short story written from the point of view of a bit-part character. A sort of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" type arrangement, perhaps. The incongruousness is that because each story is by a different author there's a wild variance in the execution... so some stories cover the few moments before that character's involvement in the story. Some cover the aftermath. Some are about the weeks and years leading up to that moment. Examples from memory are:

  • the Imperial functionary who saw what they thought was an empty escape pod taking off towards Tatooine, and their subsequent manipulation of Empire red tape to try to avoid having their arse handed to them for missing such a key piece of intelligence
  • a Jawa's story of the things they collected and stashed away in a hidden compartment in the sandcrawler
  • back story on the Bith musicians in the Mos Eisley Cantina
  • a life-perspective on the tentacled creature living in the Death Star's trash compactor

Such a mixed bag. Mildly interesting.

October

October 2nd, 2019

Police procedural set around an interrogation room, as part of a larger 12-part series set in several countries in those languages... which we didn't get around to watching.  Engaging enough, but not especially memorable.  More David Tennant facetime.

October 3rd, 2019
Beer :: Pete Brown

Pete Brown goes into a detailed dive into the ingredients of beer in this piece following his wanderings around the world, where he tries to understand different global interpretations of beer and the disparate endpoints that will take you, from what's nominally a simple list of the same ingredients.

I love the way Brown writes: knowledgeable and ever-keen on his topic, yet coming across as a somewhat shambolic amateur - yet still delivers a neat balance of the science, philosophy, and anecdote of each of the adventures, all underpinned by an obvious love of enjoying a nice beer.

October 5th, 2019

On the one hand this is a completely superfluous exercise in brand-refreshing, copyright-extending, and merchandise-pumping by the Disney corporation.  Good fun though.  Will Smith met the challenge of playing a 3D version of Robin Williams' iconic genie (without ever eclipsing, but at least he didn't make a total pig of it), and Mena Massoud & Naomi Scott brought charismatic portrayals to Aladdin and Jasmine.  Watching this seemed to fit appropriately into my brainspace after 2 weeks of wandering around Sri Lanka with Edi and Imi belting out showtunes. 👍

October 5th, 2019

Ever watch a film and watch it go about its twists, turns & machinations, then get to the closing credits and see "Written by Richard Curtis", and think, "Well THAT makes sense!"?  That was very much my reaction on this one, about a bloke who - whilst flying through the air during a bicycle accident becomes nearly the only person on Earth who's ever heard of The Beatles, following a weird cosmic event... and sets about becoming one of the world's most popular musical stars.  Nice touch having Ed Sheeran play Ed Sheeran - much more convincing than his stint in the Lannister army.  Fun. 👍

October 5th, 2019

Pure wank. I mean, you've got the ingredients for a sure-fire winner of a film when you cast Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, RZA, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Danny Glover and Tilda Swinton in a small-town zombie flick.  But somehow Jim Jarmusch managed to wrestle it into an attempt at a consciously quirky & offbeat flick that did very little to keep me awake. 👎 👎

October 7th, 2019

For someone who more or less doesn't give a solitary flying fuck about superhero properties, The Boys was incredibly captivating.  Almost an extension of where Mystery Men left off - this fairly cynical series featured superheroes-as-antiheroes with normal hopes, dreams, and foibles, alongside a toxic capitalist culture driving the idealism agenda, and being pursued by a damaged outsider with baggage.  It portrayed much more complex if still roughly 2-dimensional characters in the superhero roles, and I'd definitely be keen to see where the story goes. 👍👍

October 18th, 2019

The Acting Range of Anna Kendrick heads up this oddball piece alongside Sam Rockwell, in which Rockwell plays a hitman with what can only be described as a fairly unconventional business model, and a very non-standard romcom situation comes into being.  Total poppycock, of course - but I thought it was well-executed and enjoyed it rather a lot.  But then I like those kinds of films that look as if they're going to be in 4/4 and it turns out they're in 5/4. 👍

October 20th, 2019

Dramatisation of the downfall of Roger Ailes - executive in charge of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, following his systemic sexual harrassment of the women they hired based on the speaking out of Gretchen Carlson.  A compelling story highlighting the challenge of upholding the law and decency amid a backdrop of a huge power imbalance.  I found it difficult not to be distracted by Russell Crowe's obvious prosthetic work to play Ailes, as well as the repulsiveness of the man. 👍

October 28th, 2019
Biography :: Jem Roberts

Following his Blackadder biography, Jem Roberts dips into detail on obvious heroes of his - Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie - in this examination of their comic partnership leading up to and focusing on "A Bit of Fry & Laurie".

It's apparent that there was a great deal more to this story than I'd have anticipated, but then as someone who declared themselves as a huge fan of the pair I was surprised earlier this year to learn that there were in fact 4 series of "ABoF&L" rather than the 2 that I'd been confident I knew about.

The author is visibly a huge fan, which sometimes gets a little in the way of the telling, and on the whole I left with the impression that this book was written because the author wanted to be the one to write the definitive book on the subject, rather than that there was anything particularly remarkable to talk about. Still worth a read though.

October 31st, 2019

Sometimes I find myself wondering why I watch this - the unstoppable tide of unpleasantness depicted in the story raises the stakes for the characters to succeed and to create all sorts of moral ambiguity for the oppressors' characters... however on a much more surface level it's a kind of disaster-titillation which by continuing to consume we're approving as an audience.  This season felt like it maybe reduced that side of things and moved the story on a bit, but I still found myself slapping my forehead when June decides AGAIN not to grasp the brass ring to escape & wondering how this is meant to be in any way credible.

November

November 14th, 2019

More compelling CIA stuff... hard to know where to suspend disbelief about the Action Man antics of Jack Ryan, who's ostensibly meant to have gotten himself a job as an office jockey.  This provoked a little bit of shouting "Arrrgh, WHYYYYYY!?" at the TV when characters supposedly selected for CIA black ops incursion activity would make seemingly irrational decisions.  A bit more of the intra-agency non-cooperation stuff surfaced in The Looming Tower, as well.  Ultimately, nothing new here - but a decent fun bit of escapism.

November 20th, 2019

It's fair to say that I totally missed this the first time around.  And the second.  And probably would've kept ignoring it in the same way that I do with things that Normal people watch on terrestrial TV.  Liz got interested though, so I spotted various bits of it as I breezed through the room, and couldn't help but form a mild interest. Competitive baking's one thing, but the fostering of a tense and increasingly brutal environment made it less pleasant to watch. And starting as we did with the more recent seasons and then working backwards demonstrated how much more complex and sophisticated the show has become (compare Season 7 and its near-constant stream of Genoese Sponges to the episode of Season 1 where the judges remarked "Oooh, we've never had a Genoese Sponge on this show before!").  I enjoyed the Perkins/Giedroyc/Berry dynamic far more that the Fielding/Toksvig/Leith series, albeit the prime drivers were Fielding's disappointingly banal presence and Paul Hollywood's increasing meanness. Hey ho - it inspired a bit of baking in the B. Standing house, and Liz bagged a new Kitchen Aid for Christmas as a result. 👍

December

December 3rd, 2019
Sci Fi :: John Birmingham

Proper ludicrous fantasy/fiction here from JB - a deep-drilling oil rig somehow taps through to a banished demon horde civilisation, and a seemingly un-redemptionworthy everyman (Dave Hooper) finds himself imbued with superhero powers to combat them.

Plenty of military operations & jargon, a rich fantasy demon-world setting, and all told with JB's signature approachability & irreverence.

December 4th, 2019
Humour, Politics :: Stewart Lee

M'colleague Billy went to the launch of this book, which he said was "the most Stewart Lee thing ever" - consisting of the author standing on a riverboat bookshop on a West London canal, reading excerpts from the book through a PA system to the gathered crowd on the shore.

I find Stewart Lee's columns a bit harder going than his other output, probably because I haven't quite grasped the character of the character of Stewart Lee the Columnist. When all's said and done though I think I'm pretty clear on how I feel about Brexit, and about the actions of those who made it happen were directed to the people who were used to make it happen - so seeing Stewart Lee's take on it (and that's any of the various Stewart Lees that exist in whatever guise) was equal parts amusing and frustrating.

December 4th, 2019

I guess I've come to regard John Wick films as the really-violent-film equivalent of opera: there's not usually much to the story, but the dressing is incredibly rich, and the quality & artistry's all in the fight sequences.  There's a bit of a false start at the beginning (for me, at least) in the sequence where Wick fights off assassins in a library - however things soon return the the pace & style you want out of this franchise.  And there's guns.  Lots of guns. 👍 👍

December 7th, 2019

Vigilante one-man-weapon film that's a one-woman-weapon film starring Jennifer Garner.  I really enjoyed this, although it was very interesting to me how much my brain kept wrestling with the concept that she'd gone from Ordinary Mom in act one of the film to "five years later" in act two being a relentless tooled-up killing machine - the non-sequitur being that I don't think I'd have had any issues with a similarly ludicrous plotline had the star been a man, and that's what kept bothering me about it (i.e. my reaction).  So all that aside, it was a decent watch. 👍

December 19th, 2019

Now I see what all the fuss was about for this one! Police/detective thriller starring Robb Stark guarding a Tory. Decently rounded characters and plenty of character-driven ambiguity/conflict. I don't really want to say anything about this one other than definitely recommending it as a splendidly-crafted bit of telly.  👍👍

December 22nd, 2019

The final arc for the beleaguered lads of Pied Piper Inc, rounding out with almost a victory lap of ludicrousness.  A great and well-timed way to end this story, and happily we got a big serve of the utter ridiculance of Russ Hanneman to play out on.  It had everything! Stupid vanity projects... hostile takeovers... data privacy & principles... multi-layered tech stupery... sarcastic manipulation by Guilfoyle... I reckon this show's due for a re-binge from me fairly shortly.  👍👍

December 22nd, 2019

The irrepressible Midge Maisel continues her tour de force of the comedy world of 1960, securing a tour spot as opener for crooner Shy Baldwin.  The storyline this season seems to have found its way a lot better than series 2, but in the end it still comes across as if all of the other characters are the ones who experience hardship and conflict.  Midge just always seems to effortlessly land on her feet. Still watchable, and the show's still got a great aesthetic & overall vibe to it. Not a game changer though.

December 23rd, 2019

We watched this 1988 classic following Liz's watching of girl-powered remake "The Hustle" on the flight from Sri Lanka, and I got a bit caught up in describing how much I loved "the original" with Steve Martin & Michael Caine... not realising that DRS is a remake of a 1964 Brando/Niven film called "Bedtime Story".  At any rate, I love Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and I think Frank Oz did a sterling job on it. 👍 👍 I really ought to have a look at The Hustle though.  Liz said it was fun, AND it's got Anne Hathaway in the lead.  Win.

December 26th, 2019

Occasionally paging through film descriptions on a streaming service one will pop up which you'd never have pictured yourself as being interested in or even having heard about, but seems like it'd make an interesting watch - and this was the case with this Daniel Radcliffe film about an FBI agent sent to work undercover with white supremacists to investigate high-level connections (and it was BASED ON REAL EXPERIENCES, which is *almost a TRUE STORY).  Toni Collette was in it just seldom enough that she didn't irritate me to the point of switching this off.  Bit of a weird twist in the final act when the wheels of the main plot seemed to fall off, but hey...  Hollywood, right? And Radcliffe gets to do some acting, which is an excellent thing. 👍

December 29th, 2019

If season 2 was difficult to describe, season 3 has upped that ante quite a bit. Ostensibly about some farmers who come to Billy McBride about water rationing in their area, the story quickly becomes entangled & starts dropping into hallucinogenic back & forths involving a web of interlinked characters from previous series, covert interests, quirks, and generally leaving me wondering wtf is going on about 2/3 of the time.  Just not sure about this show.

December 31st, 2019
Sci Fi :: John Birmingham

2nd instalment in the Dave vs. the Monsters trilogy - fresh from saving the world, this instalment sees Dave revelling in his newfound adulation in Vegas, when The Horde make themselves known once again.

You're not gonna learn anything reading these books - but they are bloody good fun.