Mixed media, Sunday 15 May 2016

Buckle up, this is a big one. Haven’t done one for a while.


  • Allegiant is a film that I watched.
  • Batman v. Superman is a two-and-a-half hour teaser trailer for next year’s Wonder Woman film. Like most good teaser trailers, it has good bits! To balance them out, it also has the worst Lex Luthor ever committed to screen. (I re-watched Man of Steel before going in to see BvS, and found it still stood up pretty well.)
  • Bridge of Spies is an excellent spy film without much spying. It’s all about the boundary between the spies and the rest of the world. Mark Rylance’s laconic “would it help?” is one of the best and most understated catch phrases of all time.
  • I remember the existence of the BBC version of Z for Zachariah from the eighties, but nothing more than that. The 2015 version is a slow character piece. The “Z” really does stand for “Zachariah”. It does not stand for Zombie. There are no zombies in this post-apocalyptic world. Pity. Zombies would have been more fun.
  • I found Escape Plan an enjoyable prison escape flick, although the climax relies too much on a giant shoot-out. Stallone and Schwarzenegger play smart and thoughtful characters who nonetheless get to flex their muscles just enough to satisfy the “action” quota. So many wasted supporting performances, though.
  • Kung Fu Panda 3: simple, easygoing fun.
  • I loved the cold war style paranoia that Captain America: The Winter Soldier did so well, and I had high hopes for Captain America: Civil War. It holds up. It’s a huge, sprawling piece of work, with plenty of edges and cracks that I’m still pondering. (Specifically, when and how did Steve find out about [REDACTED], the revelation of which leads to the final showdown.) I also like the amount of time that the heroes spend in ordinary street clothes instead of their costumes. It keeps the whole thing more grounded. Keeping Zemo entirely costume-free was a splendid decision.
  • Valley Uprising: documentary about the history of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley. Some very colourful characters on display, and some amazing climbing footage.
  • For Grace: the story of Curtis Duffy, one of America’s top chefs, and his obsessive drive to build his new restaurant from the ground up. Fascinating and emotional.
  • Super. Superheroes are often portrayed as disturbed characters, haunted by inner demons. Super just ignores the super powers. The absurdity of people dressing up in costumes to “fight crime” (what crime? how do you decide?) is sometimes played for laughs, and sometimes for discomfort. It’s an awkward film that nevertheless tries to have a solid, well-meaning heart. I appreciated it, but I didn’t like it.
  • Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay A collection of reminiscences and archive footage of Ricky Jay and the magicians who influenced him growing up. I adore anything with Ricky Jay in it.
  • Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants A recording of Ricky Jay’s 1996 stage show. I downloaded a low-def TV broadcast version from the internet, but even so it was never less than amazing.

Books and comics:

  • Arkwright is another Allen Steele love letter to space exploration and colonization. A multi-generational story of humans leaving earth for the stars, but concentrating on the very small-scale human stories that unfold along the way. (Promotional copy provided by MacMillan.)
  • Birthright vol 1 has a promising premise, but didn’t leave much of a mark on me. I don’t see myself hunting down vol 2.
  • Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 2 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson continues in the same vein as vol1. Fun and funny.
  • Powers vol 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Oeming is a cross between police detective fiction and superhero story. I liked it in the large, but the text is full of awful sentences and spelling mistakes that should have been caught during the editing process. The big picture has promise. Maybe once I’ve forgotten how much the mistakes annoyed me, I’ll go back for vol 2. (Note: I’m fully aware that this blog here is full of grammar and spelling mistakes. I hold professionally published material to a higher standard.)
  • Kaptara vol 1: Fear Not, Tiny Alien by Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod is a weird, weird science fantasy adventure. I haven’t formed much of an attachment to the characters, but I’ll follow this to see just where it goes next.
  • Sex Criminals vol 3: Three The Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I’ve been following the comics as they’ve hit the stands. The last one in this story arc (issue #15) came out last month. Just as issue #14, I found it disappointing. There are a few outstanding panels, but it didn’t lead anywhere, except maybe to the beginning of the next story arc. I dont’ feel I know the characters any better at the end of the issue than at the beginning. Perhaps I should go back and read issues #11-15 in a single sitting and see if it’s more satisfying that way. I think I’ll hold off on getting single issues in the future.


  • Gravity Falls In the first season, the show makers introduce a splendid cast of quirky characters in a rich setting. In the second season, they actually wrap the story up, rather than letting it run on indefinitely. And the way it wraps up is just astonishing. For a TV show that is ostensibly for kids (made for Disney XD), the final episodes are utterly terrifying. If you’re familiar with the apocalyptic world that the Earth transforms into at the climax of F. Paul Wilson’s Adversary cycle: this is it. If it wasn’t balanced with hefty doses of comedy, and had all the sympathetic yet flawed characters we’ve grown to care about over the two seasons working together, it would be pure nightmare fuel. How the show blends all of this together into a satisfying and emotional conclusion is a masterpiece of TV writing. I can’t praise it highly enough.
  • Master of None. When we were out for a curry a few weeks ago, Alan talked about how he likes to watch comedy late in the evening, because it’s nice to go to sleep with a smile of your face. He recommended Master of None on Netflix, and it’s great.
  • House of Cards season 4. Abi and I watched the first three seasons last summer, and binged on season 4 almost as soon as it hit Netflix. The final shot of the last episode is like whoa O.O
  • Daredevil season 2. “Come for the Daredevil, stay for the Kingpin.” is what I said about the first season last year. For season two, it’s similar: come for the Daredevil, stay for Foggy and the Punisher. Anyone but Daredevil himself. Matt Murdoch is such a self-absorbed dick in this show. I have a worrying feeling that this is not deliberate, that the writers think they’re presenting a tortured soul rather than a bit of an asshole. We’ll see next season.
  • Arrow season 3 I enjoyed the wildly fluctuating alliances and breakneck pace of character development in the first two seasons, but season 3 is just a hot mess of people being awful to each other. What happened?
  • Criminal Minds season 9 is a show that I watched.
  • VideoGaiden season 4 The long-awaited return of a cult Scottish TV show about video games. Are Rab and Ryan really back, or are they stuck in a bizarre TV afterlife? I loved watching the old shows on late night TV, and these new episodes are great, too. Full of sometimes surreal and existential humour, and insightful musings about videogames.


65daysofstatic are making the music for the new videogame No Man’s Sky. Like the game, some of the the music will be procedurally generated, but they’re releasing two albums selected from it as well, Music for an Infinite Universe and Soundscapes. Due out on 17th June. They’ve put an early track up on Soundcloud already, and it’s delicious:

Third Coast Percussion have a new album of Steve Reich compositions. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I adore this:

Intermittently listening to Little Black Book by Groove Armada, Junk by M83, and Hitch by The Joy Formidable. Ritual Spirit by Massive Attack is a short EP, with some striking songs. “Voodoo in my Blood” is one of them:

Finally, Johnson & McAuley is a collaboration between Alexz Johnson and Bleu McAuley. I’ve been a fan of Bleu since 2003, but I hadn’t come across Alexz Johnson before. This collaboration features just six tracks, but two of them are among the finest power pop songs I’ve come across in recent years: “The Secrets You Keep”, which features delightful criss-crossing vocals, and “No More Fear”, which is a throwback to a certain style of mid-eighties funk that gets under my skin in the best possible way. (Reminds me a lot of “I Won’t Feel Bad” by Simply Red.)

Melanie Martinez at Melkweg, Monday 2 May 2016

After visiting the World Press Photo exhibition in Amsterdam the other week, I walked to the Melkweg to meet Fiona in the queue for the Melanie Martinez concert. Fiona is a big fan. Having learned our lesson from the Halsey gig in February, Fiona had got there even earlier than me, at about 13:30. There were still about 200 people ahead of us, but when I showed up at 15:30, there were even more behind us. The fans first in line must have been there since early in the morning, or maybe they camped overnight. (Although I didn’t see any sleeping bags.)

200 ahead
Many more behind

Apart from the roadies and security staff, I was by far the oldest person there.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting and standing around, watching videos or listening to podcasts and music on our phones, and getting colder all the time. Fiona went off to get a makeup pencil so she could apply a cry baby tear to her cheek, like many of the others in line. Melkweg staff toured the line periodically to make sure we weren’t blocking the road, to collect rubbish (mostly futile), and to lead groups inside for toilet breaks. The tickets said doors at 19:00. We kept a careful eye on all signs of activity near the entrace, so we were ready to move when the doors actually opened, and the line instantly collapsed into a tight swarm. We were early enough that we could have got floor spots about six or seven back from the stage. Fiona wasn’t sure about the view, though. The balconies were still mostly clear, and we got some excellent positions up there.

With a good view locked in, Fiona went off to grab a poster and a cry baby necklace from the merch stand. While we were waiting for the opening act, we amused ourselves by identifying the “Concert Dads” in the audience. They were pretty easy to spot. Midde-aged men, usually with their arms crossed, bemused at what they’ve let themselves in for, standing slightly apart from a teenage daughter, conspicuously trying not to look like a chaperone.

Concert Dads, we salute you

Dudes, I’m not judging. So long as you don’t throw your pint all over me, enjoy the music however you like.

A Concert Dad deliberately trying to embarrass his teenage daughter.

The Alvarez Kings came on at about 19:40. I had been listening to them during the day, and I was liking their track “Tell-Tale Heart”. They played through their EP Fear To Feel, and three other songs I didn’t recognize. The song they opened with, “Run From You”, starts with a two minute slow burn, and then erupts into a wall of guitars and noise. The crowd loved them; I thought they were excellent; Fiona was “meh.”

Alvarez Kings at Melkweg

When Melanie Martinez came on, the whole place melted down. The gig was originally scheduled for the Oude Zaal at Melkweg (capacity ~700), but had been moved to The Max (~1500) because it was so popular. At least 95% of the people there were young women in their teens. I had thought that Halsey’s fans were enthusiastic, but it felt like every single person in Melanie Martinez’s audience was singing along with every single word of every song, at the top of their voices. To the point where it was hard to hear her sing. At the start of “Sippy Cup”, she sang a different, slower intro than on the album. The crowd started singing it in the tempo of the recorded version and almost drowned her out. They backed off briefly, but started up again at full volume when she launched into the body of the song. I can’t blame the fans for having a great sing-a-long time with their favourite artist, but I would have preferred to hear more of Melanie Martinez herself than the chorus. (Hmm. It’s almost like there’s a reason the audience skewed young.) Melanie Martinez’s voice did seem strained and weak, so maybe that’s why I was having trouble hearing it. She commented on it the start of “Soap”, and at the end of the gig she said she would love to come back to Amsterdam again when her voice was better.

(Set list: she played the album Cry Baby in order. I was surprised, but Fiona wasn’t. She explained that the songs form a narrative, and need to be played in the right order.)

The Teardrop Describes Itself

I woke up this morning with the band name “The Teardrop Explodes” stuck in my mind. I knew they were from the early eighties, but frustratingly, I couldn’t remember their music. Wikipedia came to the rescue. Their biggest hit, of course, was “Reward”:


As I was reading the article, the name “Alan Winstanley” jumped out at me. I recognized the name, but couldn’t figure out why it was so familiar. Reading his wikipedia page didn’t help in that regard, but it did show that he had produced the album Please Describe Yourself by Dogs Die In Hot Cars, one of my favourite albums from 2004, which is what I’ve been listening to this morning.

World Press Photo

Pat and Susan are visiting for a couple of weeks. On Monday we went in to Amsterdam for lunch, and visited the World Press Photo exhibition in the Nieuwe Kerk. For as long as we’ve lived here, I’ve seen the billboards and posters advertising it go up around this time each year, but this is the first time that I’ve gone in. I was reminded of it last weekend when I fell down an internet rabbit hole and ended up browsing around PetaPixel. That’s where I learned about the controversy around the prize last year, which led to the organization adopting a code of ethics. I had not known that World Press Photo contest was started in the Netherlands, and has been around for 60 years.

I had expected to be impressed; I had not been expecting to be moved to tears. I followed the main path through the exhibition, looking at striking and beautiful photographs of nature, sports, and people. But the many images of refugees, leading up to the final, winning photo were harrowing. I had seen the image itself elsewhere before, but the context of the exhibition, and seeing it blown up to life size made it much more powerful.

The exhibition is on display around the world. It’s worth a visit. I’m going to make a point of seeing it again next year.