Welcome to February! Because there’s not enough useless information floating around on the internet, I thought I would update readers of this blog as to what I’ve watched/read over the previous month, each month, in the form of TV, movies and books.
Some of this I will have reviewed on Cultural Conversation (or perhaps Set The Tape) but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black, or in some cases because I was off sick from work and had little else to be doing.
Let’s start this month with TV…
While still relaxing over the festive season with the in-laws down south, first on the agenda was the new fifth season of Luther (BBC1), or perhaps LOO-FAAA if we want to get a bit more phonetically correct about it. Idris Elba as the London detective who someone brilliantly described as moving like a “sack of granite on legs”. Now I haven’t watched all of Luther, I came in at Series 4, so I had a bit of catchup to do on some of S5’s content, but it was still highly enjoyable. Neil Cross doing Thomas Harris with a dash of Chris Carter, it may have conjoined two distinctly different plots (gangster thriller and serial killer), but the result was a heady brew of some of the darkest and scariest episodes of TV I’ve seen in years. Watch this series and you’ll never go on the top deck of a bus alone at night again. Trust me.
The next to drop was Cuckoo Series 5, which landed all at once on the streaming graveyard that is BBCThree. This is a real shame as Cuckoo is a unique British comedy these days – I write more in depth about why here, but I’d urge anyone to hop on the Cuckoo train because it’s consistently hilarious and knows exactly what it is, which not all comedies achieve. Beyond this, Mrs Black and I spent a good chunk of the month steadily working through Season 5 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Amazon Prime), which we’ve been determined to get back onto for ages after we binge watched the first four seasons pretty much back to back.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is a funny one; shamelessly now a throwback to the 90’s and 00’s combination of network averageness and serialised narrative, it stands out like a sore thumb in the modern TV landscape. It is pure family friendly escapism so you can see why it was renewed by Disney, as it’ll slot in nicely on their upcoming Disney+ service. Season 5 though feels strange in retrospect because it was very clearly planned as the last hurrah, with a strong elliptical feel with recurrent themes and nods going back to the very beginning, and the sense of an ending for the characters. It’s a very disjoined season – the first half, set in an alternate future, is pure 80’s camp sci-fi (with a terribly droning villain), and the back half suffers with character motivations and twists zipping back and forth with no real consistency or even sense to them. It’s not the best S.H.I.E.L.D. season at all but would have worked as a curtain down to a show that remains beguilingly enjoyable, even if you half sense it shouldn’t be.
Finally, after significant praise particularly from the excellent TV Talk Machine podcast, we started Patriot (Amazon Prime). A two season (so far) show from Steven Conrad, Patriot was not what I remotely expected it to be. A supremely quirky melancholic espionage drama, basically, which has flashes of Bourne-style violence but overwhelming skews further into existential ennui via the main character of John Lakeman (Michael Dornan), who for his CIA father must infiltrate a Milwaukee piping company in order to aid a complex plot to destabilise Iran’s burgeoning nuclear weapons program. It’s best not to worry too much about the detailed narrative and just enjoy the sanguine, gallows humour (much of which is laugh out loud funny), with great performances from people such as Kurtwood Smith or Terry O’Quinn (my favourite actor) to boot.
Starting February by ploughing on into Season 2 and I feel it will take digesting that before I can fully figure out whether I just like or indeed I love Patriot yet. It’s one or the other.
Oh! Star Trek: Discovery also kicked off Season 2. I’ll warp back around to that in the coming months but I did review the opener and will be doing a review every four episodes.
47 episodes x 5 shows watched in total.
Cards on the table: I don’t go to the movies anymore. Or, more accurately, I go semi-regularly nowadays, since I junked my Cineworld Unlimited card due to lack of use. I will make sporadic trips for big event pictures this year – Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame in the near future, for instance, but the rest I’m going to lag behind and catch them on streaming. Maybe I’ll get back a cinema card one day when it’s all more convenient but… we’ll see.
These days, of course, it’s not all about what hits the cinema screen in terms of new releases, as Brexit: The Uncivil War (Channel Four) proved. A HBO production which skipped cinemas, serving as much as a TV special really, it starts Thunderclap Bandersnatch and tries to depict the run-up to the 2016 referendum… with mixed results. My deeper take on it is here but I can’t see it winning any prizes for objective realism any time soon.
On the whole, I’ve been looking into the past rather than the present, thanks to a great Christmas present from Mrs Black – a scratch image 100 Films Bucket List poster, which now adorns our fridge, and is filled with classic pictures I have never seen. Over 2019, my mission (should I choose to accept it) is to scratch off the remaining roughly 25-30% of pictures I have yet to see. I started the ball rolling with John Carpenter’s Halloween (NOW TV), one of those films I really should have watched by now – mainly because it’s brilliant. But you already know that.
Mid-month, a horrible cold virus knocked me for six and forced me off work for three days, which I naturally used as an opportunity to watch an absolute brace of films. Chief among them in terms of quality was the Michael Curtiz epic ’40’s romance, Casablanca (NOW TV). I was surprised just how political and barbed the whole thing was – the romance aspect in some respect is only part of the wartime espionage tale, and while it’s remembered of course for Bogey and Bergman, I can’t help but feel like its Claude Rains who walks off with the film thanks to his impish supporting turn. Also while laid up in dock I took in Kurosawa’s Rashomon (BFI Player), surprisingly *not* one of the 100 Bucket Film list but no less important to cinema. Found it enthralling and you can see just how much was inspired by it.
While laid up in dock, I also began what will hopefully become a recurring feature – looking at the Filmography of a director, in the run up to their newest film coming out. I chose to start with Irish director Neil Jordan and it’s been fun so far unpicking the work of someone so eclectic in the films he chooses to make. My favourite so far of his films, four deep, is 1986’s Mona Lisa, but do join me over the next few months as I churn through the rest steadily.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to mention that I watched Shane Black’s The Predator. It was… not good. Here’s more on why.
38 movies watched in total.
One of my goals for 2019 is to get more books read. I don’t talk about them much but I love books and I’m an avid reader, but it’s often come in spells. I’ll read voraciously then it drops off completely for a while. This year, I aim for more consistency, and I’m not off to a bad start for January. I’ve been lucky enough to read some fine bits and pieces.
Kicked off the year with one of my presents, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, one of the seminal works of sci-fi literature. I found the first half more compelling than the second, in all honesty, and the centuries-spanning time fracturing takes some getting used to, but there are some amazing ideas in here. The sequel is waiting for me at my in-laws for when I next visit in March and I’m looking forward to seeing where Asimov takes this.
Easily the strongest book I’ve read this year so far, and among the strongest I’ve read in a while, is Don Winslow’s The Force. I cannot remember the last time I blasted through 500 pages in four days but Winslow’s tough yet elegant prose helped no end. The Wire meets The Godfather meets The Departed could amply describe The Force and the dark journey cop Denny Malone takes, and if you like your crime pulpy with a side order of Ellroy-esque nihilism, you’ll adore this as much as I did.
Beyond that, I’ve been reading about US Presidents. As you do. I’m a big non-fiction reader, particularly history and politics, so you can imagine my excitement for Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury when the paperback landed on my door. The full expose on Trump’s first year, it’s a heck of a book that’ll make you laugh and cry in exasperation in equal measure. Essential reading for anyone interested in politics of the day.
I’m currently starting February halfway through Thomas Maier’s vast The Kennedy’s: America’s Emerald Kings, a painstaking biopic of JFK and his family going back to the Irish Famine of the early 1800’s. Fascinating stuff that exposes so much about JFK’s life you just wouldn’t otherwise know.
7 books read in total.
There you go. A lot of content downed in January so far and hopefully February will be an even more enlightening month. I’ll give you lowdown this time next month!