I’d call this my “song of the summer” if it weren’t one of the only new songs I’ve listened to recently. For whatever reason (Lockdown = no concerts? Stress = retreat from novelty?) it feels like I’ve been listening to Underworld non-stop since March, with occasional forays into Kimbra and Mull Historical Society whose previous album Dear Satellite seems so strongly embedded in my memory that it feels like it ought to be way older than 2016.
As another illustration of how out of touch I am with current music, I kept wondering why the awesome song “Blinding Lights” by TNAF wasn’t included on their new album Recover, until the original (massive global hit, lol) by The Weeknd came up on our weekly playlist at work, which this week has the theme “Earworms”. Sure is catchy! I’d never heard it before. I prefer the cover.
My last Mixed Media post was about five months ago; my last post at all here was on 28th March. I wrote the latter while procrastinating in the middle of the “48-hour online timed assessment” (don’t call it an “exam”) at the end of the Learning & Development module for the Org Psych course I’m following.
The course is a big time commitment. The university suggests that we should expect to spend around 15 hours per week on it during term time. This comes in the form of a weekly lecture, readings, and writing assignments for the online forums. My intention is always to spend use “evenings and weekends” for this, but reality is that I’m often too tired at the end of a full work day to hit the books after dinner. I find myself doing most of the work in the weekends, submitting my forum posts long after everyone else has chewed over the subject of the week, trying hard to contribute something new or useful. In terms 2 and 3 I experienced a pattern of feeling like I was constantly falling behind, and a huge amount of stress and anxiety before the assessment.
Is this fun?I’m not taking this course because I have to. I’m doing it because I’m interested in the subject, because I thought a deeper understanding of organizational psychology would help me be a better manager, and because it seemed like a bit of a challenge. There are many other things I could be doing with my time, such as, oh, not putting myself under that kind of pressure 30 weeks out of the year. I’m learning a lot, and I’m gaining a sense of achievement from doing this, but is it worth the cost?
The examonline timed assessment (there’s a rant in there, but I’ll save it for another time) for term 3 was about a month ago, so I’m in the middle of the summer break now until the start of October. It’s very relaxing! I can wake up at the weekend and spend a day doing absolutely nothing without a feeling of guilt that I should be reading and studying. (I still spend time doing nothing, or at least nothing “productive” during term time; it just leads to me feeling bad.) I tried to go easy on bingeing TV shows during term, and I deliberately held back on buying The Last of Us Part II until the assessment was over. If I wasn’t spending time studying, is that all I would do, though, read books, watch TV, play video games? (I could say that I’d spend the time getting back to practicing the bass, but let’s keep it real.) Would simply enjoying myself be a bad thing? Don’t answer that, I already know.
So I’m spending some time thinking about whether to continue the course after the summer. I don’t have to decide straight away, and because I’ve got 5 years in total to complete it, perhaps I just space out the modules a bit more, and do 2 per academic year instead of 3. Maybe future modules will be different?
Last term was a bit of a pressure cooker: the Selection & Assessment module covers subjects of fairness and biases in hiring practices, the role of “intelligence” (aka “general mental ability”), and the differences in average test scores between racial groups. In the light of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and elsewhere, I found myself getting genuinely angry at some of the research literature I encountered that didn’t address scientific racism, but instead took a hands-off “we’re just reporting the numbers, what you do with them is up to you” attitude. Many researchers do try hard to come up with methodological explanations for the means differences: the apparent numbers just can’t be right, so what’s causing them? But the journals of I/O psychology are not exactly a hotbed of social justice activism. This is frustrating because outside the field, there’s a much simpler answer: the prolonged effects of structural racism!
Also COVID-19 and lockdowns. That’s not making me feel happy and comfortable, either.
Hmm, I started this blog post with the intention of writing about media.
💩 Need for Speed: Too much nonsensical plot, not enough racing. Fast & furious, this isn’t. I watched it because I was looking for something mindless, and that’s what I got.
⭐️ El Hoyo: Tight and tense sci-fi thriller about a prison? Rehab centre? Social experiment gone wrong?
Bloodshot: I’d been looking forward to seeing this in the cinema, but then lockdown hit. Fortunately, the studio released the film for download. It’s daft, but neat. Interesting for a film to offer a twist beginning rather than a twist ending. Don’t see it spawning a major franchise.
Rampage: Daft, but entertaining.
⭐️ Booksmart: Yes, it’s good, with good gags, strong characters, and a nice pay-off; but I’d hoped for it to be a little less cringe-y.
⭐️ Onward: Good Pixar, not great Pixar.
Code 8: I remember seeing the short film a few years ago; this is the full-length thing, a low-budget, low-key crime thriller in a world where some people have powers, but society has grown to shun and marginalize them. Engaging.
⭐️ Jumanji – The Next Level: More fun than it has any right to be. It’s simple and silly, but the cast sell it really well.
💩 Central Intelligence: I’d been going to say something about how I enjoy pretty much anything with Dwayne Johnson in it, but I’m putting that thought back on ice.
⭐️ Colossal: The premise is weird, and for a while it looks like the characters will follow a certain kind of redemption arc, but it goes somewhere darker instead.
The Lovebirds: Throwaway romantic comedy. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes.
Brightburn: What if Superman origin story, but he turns out as a brutal psychopath instead? Jump scares and some slasher-ish horror, but it’s not much deeper than that.
Mute: Very pretty Blade Runner vibe to the production design, with a very earnest tragic romance driving the plot, but lacking in focus. I didn’t need to see so much of both sides of the curtain.
💩 Bad Boys For Life: I got about five minutes into this and couldn’t watch any more. After the Black Lives Matter protests and the heightened awareness of police brutality in the US, the opening scenes felt laid bare as a classic building block of pro-police propaganda that I hadn’t critically examined before. See also Jordan Calhoun’s article “Saying Goodbye to Law & Order” in the Atlantic.
⭐️ The Old Guard: Satisfying action thriller with a bunch of immortals trying to come to terms with who they’re fighting for, and why.
⭐️ Mick Herron – Joe Country:I’m still enjoying these Slough House spy stories.
⭐️ Curtis C Chen – Kangaroo Too: Sequel to Waypoint Kangaroo. I don’t think he has written any more in the series, which is a terrible shame because I love the wise-cracking space opera spy with superpowers vibe here.
⭐️ William Gibson – The Peripheral: I got a few chapters into this a couple of years ago and gave up because I couldn’t get a handle on it. This is a very dense book. The writing style is sparse, and there’s no surplus exposition. You have to build your picture of the world from the inside out. At times it feels like Gibson started with a 1200-page draft and then deleted every other word to bring it down to size. But I found it enormously rewarding once I got properly stuck into it, especially because the current pandemic makes it feel like we’re living out part of the Jackpot, a decades-long slow-motion global catastrophe.
⭐️ William Gibson – Agency: I felt an ache when Gibson described the circumstances in the present-day “stub” world, where most of the action in Agency takes place: Trump didn’t win, and no Brexit. The world is in peril for different reasons, though, so still no party. The writing feels lighter and faster-paced, but maybe that’s because I’d already bootstrapped my understanding of the world from The Peripheral. The ending also felt a little too tidy and hopeful. You’d think I’d enjoy a bit of hopefulness? Given the backdrop of the Jackpot in the book, and the current situation of our world, it rang a bit hollow.
Warren Ellis & Jason Howard – Trees vol 3: So there’s the Warren Ellisthing. This struck me because it came hot on the heels of the allegations and accusations around Max Temkin. I had enjoyed the weekly podcast Do By Friday with Temkin, Merlin Mann, and Alex Cox for a couple of years, and had just recently backed his Magic Puzzles kickstarter. Picking up the first two volumes of Transmetropolitan, along with Matt Fraction, David Aja, & Javier Pulido’s Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon at Dr. Comics & Mr Games in Oakland in the summer of 2013 feels like the start of my ongoing love of modern comics. I had consistently sought out Ellis’s other comics. I subscribed to his newsletter, and through it learned about many other artists and people of interest. I’m fully aware that any fondness I had for Ellis and Temkin was parasocial. But the fondness was there, and when it gets betrayed there are feelings. June 2020 was a pretty fucking intense month for feelings. Anyway – ignoring the author, Treesvol 3 is a minor addition to that canon: a claustrophobic murder mystery/ghost story that doesn’t contribute to the global events the first volumes showed. I’d be surprised if we ever see any more.
💩 Stuart MacBride – All That’s Dead: Filler material in the Logan McRae series. Gratuitously gruesome. No character evolution. Skip it.
Max Brooks – Devolution: Remote Washington residential community for clueless rich people gets attacked by Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) when Mt Rainier erupts and cuts them off from the rest of the world. Much more easily filmable than World War Z, but much less interesting as a result.
Episodic Video (“TV”)
⭐️ The Witcher season 1: Highly entertaining fantasy. Neither Tolkienesque nor GoT-ish grimdark. Looking forward to more of this.
⭐️ Tiger King: So much has been written about this already. It’s compelling viewing, each episode filled with more WTF than the next. One of the wildest things was how the film-makers got footage of the whole story as events unfolded over several years. The result is far more reality show than an investigative documentary.
⭐️ Better Call Saulseason 5: Beautiful, meticulously constructed, and continues to generate empathy for characters, good and bad, whose destiny is already written. Except for Kim: she’s never mentioned at all in Breaking Bad, yet she’s grown to be one of the biggest elements of the show, and is thus the biggest mystery. I’m looking forward to and dreading the final season.
⭐️ Agents of SHIELDseason 6: Took a very different direction than the out-in-space season 5. Still great. Annoying that season 7 isn’t up on Disney+.
Halt and Catch Fire season 1: It’s a wonderful production, full of intricate historical verisimilitude. You can watch it as a computer expert and not strain your eyes from rolling them. At the same time, the characters are horrible people, I don’t like them, and if I keep watching the following seasons sooner or later one of them is going to kill someone, possibly accidentally, but definitely with a lot of secrecy, guilt and remorse, and I’ll like them even less. I don’t think I’m up for that.
Communityseasons 3, 4, 5: Funny, yes, but there’s a certain cruelty that always seems very close to the surface, and shows its face often enough for it to make me uncomfortable.
Runaways season 2: Entertaining enough. Annoying that season 3 isn’t up on Disney+.
⭐️ Dead to Me seasons 1 & 2: Brilliant dark comedy drama.
⭐️ ⭐️ Chernobyl: ? Utterly astonishing. As a teen in the Netherlands at the time of the events of 1986, I remember only the general shape of news events, and a heightened sense of alarm about radiation. In the years since, the disaster has been sanded down by history, and rendered abstract by factual articles and encyclopedia entries. This 5-episode mini-series brings out the full horror or the catastrophe, and shows how close we came to it being unimaginably worse. The image of a shaft of blue light, caused by Cherenkov radiation, spearing up up into the sky from the exposed core is something that will stay with me.
💩 Space Force season 1: I couldn’t watch more than the first two episodes. First of all it’s just not very funny. Secondly, I have no appetite for gentle satire of government and administrative incompetence when genuine malfeasance is rampant and needs to be attacked, not made light of.
⭐️ Dark seasons 2 & 3: I appreciate a show that actually brings things to an end. And for a show all about free will versus determinism, and the ambiguity of “good” and “bad” within the context of a time loop (the characters spend much of their time apologizing to younger versions of themselves or their family members about horrible things that are about to happen, or staring at things in regret), the ending was surprisingly tidy. It made me wonder a lot about how the writers had planned from the start, and how much they tweaked on the fly between seasons. Dark is a deliberately slow burn, but even at that careful pace, it’s one of the densest, twistiest time travel stories I’ve ever seen.
I finished Desert Golfing. I’d seen a video of someone finishing the game at around 24,000 holes, but that was from some time ago. Originally the game was “unending”, but had some impossible holes in it. In an update a couple of years ago the creator put a 10,000 limit in place for new games, or 10,000 more than wherever you were at the time of the update – hence why some people have so many holes.
I’ve picked up Golf on Mars, the follow-up, but the physics are a bit different, and hard to get used to after so much of the original. It also has 25,770,000,000 holes, which is effectively infinite. This somehow makes it feel less challenging and more pointless? Not that there was much point in finishing Desert Golfing, but it always felt like there was an end I was striving for – some kind of achievement. Without such a goal, and no high-score to beat, I’ve quickly lost interest.
I’ve also finished The Last of Us Part II. Fiona and I played it together: me on the controls, and Fiona providing snark about how bad I am at killing zombles. After the end credits rolled, the game presented a screen asking us if we wanted to start a New Game + session to level up the characters even further and pick up all the collectibles we’d missed. We were both very much NOPE NOT GOING BACK THERE THANK YOU.
It’s an amazing game in many ways: the graphics, environment, and art are stunning; the post-apocalyptic world is richly portrayed; the character models are shockingly emotive; the voice acting is unparalleled; the gameplay is fluid, with well-balanced difficulty that can nonetheless be adjusted on-the-fly so that you don’t get stuck and get bored.
But it’s also continuously, intimately violent far beyond my comfort level. The absence of choice in all of the actually meaningful encounters makes a mockery of your ability to sneak past enemies instead of shooting or stabbing them along the way. This is very much not an open-world game, or a role-playing game where you can steer your character’s personality. It forces you to become attached to a sympathetic character, and then forces you to watch her (to be her) as she then consistently makes the worst possible choices. It’s maddening, bordering on sickening. Maddy Myers describes it very well in her review at Polygon. Art doesn’t have a responsibility to make us feel happy or comfortable. I’m glad that I’m done with the game; I’m not sure if I’m glad I played it.
Most days, the skies over our house are criss-crossed with contrails. How many planes come zooming by, at what height, and how much noise they make all depends on the wind direction. On busy days, there’s one every few minutes. They can make a lot of noise, but you get used to it very quickly.
And now it’s not there any more. The skies are quiet and empty. I noticed it earlier this week as I was sitting downstairs having a sandwich for lunch, and I noticed the silence. Nothing moving in the street outside. The constant background noise of A8 motorway a few hundred meters away was minimal. And no planes.
Looking up out of my office dormer window, there’s nothing but cool, pale blue from horizon to horizon. The last time this happened was in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted and air traffic in northern Europe was shut down for a week because of the ash cloud.
I only have a vague memory of how everyone reacted over that. I seem to remember stories and speculation about what would happen if that became the new normal, and air travel was shut down permanently. But that passed, and everything carried on. Will this time be different?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood A film so memorable I forgot to include it in my last mixed media post, despite updating that post twice with items I’d forgotten when I first wrote it. It’s a very pretty film. The cinematography is amazing, and it evokes a wonderfully moody feel for Los Angeles in 1969. It just doesn’t have anything to say.
⭐️ Birds of Prey Fiona and I went to see this to celebrate her being able to watch 16+ rated films here in NL now! It’s very good. Fun story, great use of narrative structure and editing to tell it in a way that echoes Harley Quinn’s manic and fragmented personality.
⭐️ Train to Busan Zombies on a train!
⭐️ Uncut Gems I saw the Safdie brothers’ previous film Good Time in 2018, and thought it was excellent. Uncut Gems has the same frantic energy and characters right on the edge of chaos. Don’t let the presence of Adam Sandler fool you: this isn’t a comedy. He plays a terrible person, and the awful situations he finds himself in are all of his own making. He’s an anti-hero all the way. The film didn’t make me care about him in the sense of wanting him to be happy, but his story was relentlessly compelling. I was practically holding my breath the whole time, wanting to know how (and if) it was going to work out in the end.
The Last Thing He Wanted Wherever the line is between “understated” and “bland”, this film was on the wrong side of it.
⭐️ Sonic Yes, genuinely good. Despite a characteristically cartoonish performance, Jim Carrey contributes but he doesn’t steal the show. The heart of the film lies with the friendship that develops between policeman Tom and Sonic. It’s corny, but it works.
⭐️ Parasite Amazing. Deserves all the praise it has got. I’m sure there’s a lot of symbolism and cultural meaning I missed, but no matter what I missed it’s still an amazing thriller with universally relevant themes.
⭐️ Better Luck Tomorrow Early film by Justin Lin about a group of teenagers whose indiscretions and petty crime spiral out of control. Alex pointed out that this film is actually set in the Fast and Furious universe, with the character Han (played by Sung Kang) making his very first appearance.
Spenser Confidential Why. Whyyyyyy. Why does this film exist? Working theory: it exists to entice and then disappoint Robert B. Parker fans everywhere. This is not a Spenser film. Wikipedia (currently) says that the film is “very loosely based” on the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins, who took over writing the Spenser series after Parker died. How about we go with, the film is based on the names of characters featured in the book. Because other than the fact that Henry runs a boxing and MMA gym, and that Pearl is a dog, these characters are completely unrecognizable. The thing is, this would have been a perfectly serviceable crime thriller otherwise. Just give the characters different names, and I would have been down for this anyway. Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, and Iliza Shlesinger have some good on-screen chemistry! So if you have no prior knowledge of the Spenser books, you might enjoy this as a relatively lightweight crime/corruption thriller. But I’m feeling grumpy about the naming, so it gets no star from me.
⭐️ Road Quest A Kickstarted YouTube series produced by Loading Ready Run, in which six of their hosts drive three second-hand cars on a road trip from Victoria, British Columbia, to Dawson City in the Yukon. It has certain elements of Top Gear, but it’s a completely different experience. It’s kinder for a start. Also, although it’s professionally produced, it’s still beautifully amateurish in the sense that these people don’t make automobile content for a living. They’re just a bunch of friends (presenters, comedians) who decided to make a video series about a journey they thought would be fun to take. It’s relaxed, relatable, and full of geek culture references. Alex was a backer on Kickstarter, and he’d been looking forward to it ever since it was announced. When it started streaming, I became a fan, too. It’s just so Canadian and lovely. The soundtrack is great, too.
⭐️ Locke and Key (season 1) I love the comics, and I thought this was a great adaptation. It dials down the family tragedy, violence, and existential horror by quite a bit, but it retains much of the mystery and wonder. The season finale leaves the door open for a season 2, but wraps the story up in a sufficiently satisfying way that it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger. (Come to think of it – TV shows are starting to get good at this kind of ending. Consequence of the streaming “all episodes at once” era?)
⭐️ Runaways (season 1) Same as above. Love the comics, love the adaptation. Unlike Locke and Key, which sticks fairly closely to the books, Runaways takes the basic elements of the source material but runs them very differently. The fact that the adults get equal screen time (and are developed sympathetically) is one of several major shifts. I think it works. The show has two more seasons already out in the world, but they haven’t landed on Disney+ yet, presumably because of licensing issues.
I haven’t quite figured out how to make a European Flag tattoo design that works for me yet.
El Camino (Breaking Bad movie) A good chaser after having finished watching all of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
⭐️ Knives Out I’m a fan of Rian Johnson’s, and I’d been looking forward to this for ages. Watched it at the cinema with Abi and Fiona on my birthday, after rushing down a pineapple and jalopeño pizza (yes) at the Domino’s around the corner to catch the movie start time. Excellent film, absolutely loved it.
The Irishman Boring. The facial digital de-aging was good, possibly the best we’ve seen to date, but they forgot to de-age the actors’ gaits. In scenes where he’s supposed to be playing a man in his 40s, De Niro still walks and moves like a man in his 70s. Also, did I mention the film’s boring? Because it’s boring.
Rise of Skywalker Yes, it’s stupid and full of plot holes, but I liked it. Kinda glad that the cycle is done now, though.
⭐️ Warcraft You know what? Not at all bad. It’s not Moon or Source Code, but it’s not a turkey. It’s not subtle, it’s not groundbreaking, but it’s sincere in putting on an entertaining and exciting big-budget fantasy spectacle that isn’t set in Middle Earth. I enjoyed it.
Roman J Israel Esq Knowing nothing about this film other than having watched the trailer clip showing a single scene of dialogue between Denzel Washington and Colin Farrell, this went in a completely different direction than I’d expected. Thoughtful, uncomfortable, pretty good.
💩💩 6 Underground I tried watching this, but I couldn’t. A billionaire faking his own death so he can mete out vigilante justice with no regard for collateral damage is…troublesome at best, the I found the opening car chase scene so abhorrent that I deleted the download from my phone so that I wouldn’t be tempted to try returning to it. (Yes, Bruce Wayne/Batman, yes, Tony Stark/Iron Man. I know.)
⭐️ Frozen 2 Good. Kristoff’s “Lost in the woods” eighties music video parody is hilarious.
⭐️ My name is DolemiteExcellent. Funny and moving story of a comedian trying to make it big, and do it his way.
⭐️ Song of the Sea Beautiful film, gorgeous animation.
⭐️ Jojo Rabbit Brilliant. I found the start uncomfortable, with how much it leaned in to painting the nazis in a normal and humorous light, but it turned into something altogether sharper, more subtle, and more emotional.
⭐️ Rick and Mortyseason 4 (or at least the first half of it) – still funny.
⭐️ Watchmen Excellent, intense, twisty & turny, although the use of kinetic weapons in the final episode felt inconsistent in its execution.
⭐️ The Good Place season 4 Wow. Hard to keep up the level of comedy and still bring that to a satisfying ending, but they really did it.
⭐️ October Factionseason 1 I won’t be surprised if Netflix doesn’t renew this for a second season, and I won’t be super disappointed, either, because they brought this first story arc to a pretty solid conclusion. It’s relatively low budget, relatively low key and downbeat, definitely not the flashiest or best piece of TV out there. But what can I say? I enjoyed the family story, and felt a strong connection with the two parents, struggling to deal with two teens who themselves are trying to figure out their own identity in a new and difficult situation.
⭐️ The first 5 books of the Jackson Lamb series by Mick Herron: Slow Horses, Dead Lions, Real Tigers, Spook Street, and London Rules. Loved these. I came across them via Warren Ellis. Serious spy stories, with elements of Archer-like inappropriate humour that creep in around the edges. Looking forward to the next one.
🤔 Measure What Matters by John Doerr. He never comes out and explicitly says there is a causal link between the use of OKRs and corporate success (maybe his editor balked), but he sure as heck implies it at every opportunity. Now, I like OKRs, but I also like supporting evidence. This book is a selection of the most successful case studies from his personal acquaintance. Pretty! But completely lacking in balance, or in guidance for anything but the happiest of paths.
Manic by Halsey is amazing. Varied and richly textured. And I can actuall play the bass part for “Finally // beautiful stranger” because it’s super easy (E-D-C-A) and at a tempo I can still handle. ❤️
The track “Alanis’ Interlude” on Manic features…Alanis Morissette, who I haven’t listened to for ages. As in, I hadn’t heard Flavors of Entanglement from 2008 or havoc and bright lights from 2012 at all. But now I have! I prefer the latter.
Update: I’d forgotten that in the time period for this mixed mediastravaganza I also had a subscription to Amazon Prime. This was accidental. I generally avoid Amazon (I disapprove strongly of their labour practices), but when I do use them, I always avoid signing up for their offers of Amazon Prime. But this time they caught me with one of their dark patterns. Something like a “no, I don’t want to not take advantage of opting out of this free offer” checkbox that I misinterpreted.
Anyway, so there I was with an Amazon Prime subscription, and Season 4 of ⭐ The Expanse just having been released as an Amazon exclusive, so I stuck around for that. And season 1 of ⭐ Fleabag. But not season 2, because despite season 2 being “Available on Amazon Prime Video” this apparently doesn’t mean it’s, you know, available on Amazon Prime Video in the way media are available on other video subscription services. Of course not, what was I thinking.
So anyway, that subscription is gone now.
And then there’s Disney+, on which we’ve watched season 1 of The Mandalorian. Mixed opinion. On the one hand Baby Yoda, on the other hand droid slavery and mass murder. So.
And as I was looking back over this media collection, I thought it was looking a bit light for a three month gap since the previous one…and then I remembered that ⭐ Spider-Man on PS4 kinda took over my life for while there. Time well spent.