Welcome to March! 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.
Let’s start this month with Books…
After some heavy duty non-fiction across January, I switched it up and concentrated on fiction for February, partly at the behest of Mrs Black who encouraged me to “read more stories”. Sage advice, as it turned out, as I’ve burned through some truly terrific pieces of fiction this month.
I went for some classic science-fiction to start with, 1979’s The Fountains of Paradise from Arthur C. Clarke, which details a 22nd century effort to build a ‘space elevator’ in the ruins of an ancient temple. I’ve enjoyed previous Clarke books such as The City in the Stars and Childhood’s End and while his prose can be a little cold and scientific, his ideas are magnificently ahead of their time. It could have been written last week in many places.
Given I’ve had the semi-sequel novel Moriarty sitting on my shelf for about 2 years, lent to me by my good friend Sean (you’ll get it back soon mate!), Mrs B also encouraged me to have a run at one of her books, Anthony Horowicz’s Sherlock Holmes novel The House of Silk. What a treat! Often when people write dressed up fan-fiction (and that’s what this is really), it can stink but Horowicz writes Conan Doyle as well as the great man himself. First book I’ve burned through in a day for ages.
Lastly, I’ve taken on a tome that has been on my shelf for far too long – Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Mainly so I might have a hope in hell understanding the second season of the TV show when it returns next month, as without the book’s content, the first season was weird and alienating. Gaiman’s novel is far superior to the show; intentionally languid but mystical, etherial and super darkly comedic, it’s the kind of work which beguiles and draws you in. I’m nearly done with it and I’ll be really sad to let it go.
Books read: 6
It’s been a fairly quiet month for me where cinema is concerned, I’ll be honest.
Kicked things off by looking at Velvet Buzzsaw, the new picture from Dan Gilroy. Aside from the excellent Nightcrawler, also starring Jake Gyllenhaal, I’ve never really dug Gilroy as a writer-director and this oddball blend of Gothic horror and darkly comic absurdity didn’t work for me either. I go into more detail here as to why.
Though now potentially compromised as a factual document, the Fyre festival documentary on Netflix was really quite thrilling. The story of a decadent, nightmarish failed festival for preening, wealthy millennials played more like a twisted thriller that again proves truth can be stranger than fiction. Especially if you hate the vacuous Insta-world of modern trending, Fyre is worth being aghast at.
Aside from this, I’ve been reviewing some old pictures for Set The Tape sent through by excellent labels Arrow and Eureka, who pull out of mothballs lots of archaic films of merit. My favourite is probably a pulpy little 1945 noir called My Name is Julia Ross – very Hitchcock-lite and only 65 minutes of your time.
Oh I did watch two banging modern films for the first time – Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, which has a truly brilliant score, and the hilarious Blockers which comes close to Game Night levels of comic excellence; you’ll never look at an emoji in the same way after that movie.
Films watched: 13
To be honest, this month has been dominated by some serious TV watching, as it’s been a pretty damn strong month for new, returning and concluding shows on the small screen.
Natasha Lyonne-fronted Russian Doll on Netflix was a bonanza way to kick off February; a nihilistic Groundhog Day time loop piece which we just burned through on one Saturday night. More detailed thoughts here as to why it’ll be a challenger for my Top 10 shows of 2019 list come the end of the year.
Soon after, I finished Season 2 of Patriot and I can answer my previous quandary as to whether I love or like the show… it’s definitely the latter. Season 2 just wasn’t as good, sadly, even despite having fewer episodes. Often meandering, sometimes confusing, not nearly as funny and much more fragmented. It’s still unique and weird and at times has moments of brilliance, but I imagine if it gets a third season, that’ll be the curtain down on Patriot. It’s just too quirky to go for 5 years or more, nor do I think it has the legs to do so.
Tears shed somewhat for the end of Catastrophe, one of the best comedies of the 2010’s. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney as an Irish-American pairing thrown together after a night of passion produces a child, who try and make a marriage work after a sudden tryst.
Though it took a slight quality dip across an uneven Season 3, the show pulled it back for the final hurrah, with six funny and sometimes raucous episode which captured the existential angst of Sharon & Rob as well as any previous season. The ending was compared to The Sopranos for its ambiguity and while it’s less sudden and perhaps bleak, it certainly ends on an apt metaphor for the entire show at the very least. Great series you hope might return a few years down the line for a revival.
A surprisingly strong new kid on the block was Netflix’s Sex Education, starring Asa Butterfield as a sexually awkward teen and Gillian Anderson as his relaxed sex therapist mother. Sex Education was a real surprise in how well it combined the naughtiness of The Inbetweeners with the sweetness and pathos of John Hughes’ 1980’s output. Set in a picture-perfect American high school idealised Britain, during an endless summertime, Sex Education develops over eight episodes an array of really strong characters, teens and adults, all with arcs that play out fairly predictably but with real skill. I can’t wait for the next series – watching it in February felt like you were transported to the summer holidays!
In advance of the new series, I also caught up on Fleabag, which is as brilliant as everyone has been telling me for years, and started in again on Breaking Bad, a massive blind spot on my TV knowledge to date. I watched Season 1 some seven years ago and for some reason never continued the journey. One episode into Season 2 and I already know that was a mistake, so it’ll be a fun journey over the next couple of months.
TV watched: 48 episodes x 7 series
So that’s it for this month, which I must add the latter half of which has also been dominated by a *lot* of Red Dead Redemption 2, in a rare these days foray into PS4 gaming. I can be forgiven as it’s a marvellous game.
I’ll update at the end of March about how the month has gone!