(UN)POPULAR CULTURE

The home of writer & author A. J. BLACK

Welcome to July! 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 but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black.

Let’s start this month with Film…

FILM

Another quieter month for cinema, mainly because I’ve not had time to get to the flicks, also because there hasn’t been a whole lot out that either interested me or wasn’t savaged by critics. Diego Maradona just wasn’t on at the times or places that made it convenient, and I missed the window for Toy Story 4. The rest? Eh.

I did make time for X-Men: Dark Phoenix, mind, so I could wrap up my exploration of the X-Men cinematic franchise. It was decent, I thought. Better than the car crash I had been expecting. Not a great film, or a great way for the franchise to bow out, but it did the job well enough.

Other than that I’ve caught up on a few I missed at the flicks last year – Venom, the Tom Hardy-starring Spider-Man universe-set superhero film, which is 40 minutes of dullness before it suddenly–and, like, genuinely in seconds–turns into a completely bat-shit OTT film with Hardy going full Nicolas Cage. An absolute Frankenstein’s monster of a movie but it’s often (probably unintentionally) hilarious and definitely fun.

Also caught Searching – nope, not a biopic of 90’s pop band China Black, but rather a John Cho-starring, social media-focused drama about a missing teenager which is surprisingly engaging and well done (given Timur Bekhambetov produces, especially). Very inventive and though it gives way to silliness in the final act, it may stand the test of time for how it tells a story using the online world.

TV

It’s been another good month for telly, some great, some decent, some… eh. 2019 overall though has really shown how TV has replaced the mid-budget blockbuster as a medium for some stories.

Take Good Omens, the BBC/Amazon co-production of Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman’s 1990 novel, which delivers a six-part adaptation with the budget and scope you would have seen in the cinema twenty years ago. Personally, much like the book in all honestly, it didn’t do a lot for me, but you have to applaud the effort in bringing it to bear.

Two dystopian tales which share some common DNA turned my head once Good Omens was out of the way – Black Mirror, back for three new episodes as part of a truncated Season 5, and Russell T. Davies’ barnstorming one-shot look into the future, Years and Years. The latter was a delightful, hyper-real head rush of a cautionary tale, but the former lacked teeth. Black Mirror is always at its best when it underlines the truly absurd and vicious aspects of our relationship with technology, but little across these three episodes–which tapped far more into a hopeful engagement with future innovations–stands out as classic Charlie Brooker.

The standout of the month, perhaps indeed of the year, was Chernobyl. Everyone and their dog have been talking about Craig Mazin’s adaptation of the real-life 1986 nuclear power plant explosion and quite rightly – it is searingly dark television, often deeply factual, filled with great performances and tapping not only into genuine hypocrisy within the Soviet system but the timely concept of truth and lies. Don’t miss it – plus check out HBO’s official podcast, The Chernobyl Podcast, as Mazin appears and discusses the show behind the scenes in depth; one of the best tie-in podcasts I’ve ever listened to.

Beyond that, I’ve been watching a couple of returning series this month. Killing Eve finally landed after the US got Season 2 a good couple of months early (what’s up with that?) and while it lacked the punchy swagger of the first season–and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing–it shoots for a slightly different, more introspective character tone and in the last half nails it. The final couple of episodes felt more like Hannibal, and I mean that as a compliment. I think it needs to end after Season 3 though, before it gets stale.

Speaking of stale, Jessica Jones came back for Season 3 and essentially a lap of honour given the Marvel-Netflix TV universe is no more. It is… fine. Serviceable. Earnest. Sadly it’s a show that never could live up to a pretty great Season 1, and kind of sums up the universe as a whole… never *quite* as enjoyable as it should have been.

BOOKS

Managed to eat up a few books this month, a couple for Titan Books which they kindly sent me for review – Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man, an enjoyable piece of detective fiction that’d slot nicely into Arthur Conan-Doyle’s canon, plus Hangman’s Gate, second in a fantasy trilogy called War of the Archons which is George R. R. Martin-esque in blending world-building, magic and lots of swearing. Great fun.

Beyond that, I finally ticked off Simon Mayo’s first adult novel, Mad Blood Stirring, which blends Shakespeare and the real-life story of Dartmoor POW’s at the end of the barely-remembered War of 1812. I really like Mayo from his film show with Mark Kermode, and he’s an engaging writer, but I found this a bit of a slog in places. It feels like a more interesting story than ends up on paper.

Speaking of slogs, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. A recognised classic, right? This was hard work. Certainly for the first 200 pages or so. Heller’s shouty prose, spiralling style, jagged narrative structure, it’s all just so unsettling it takes ages to lock into. I can’t deny it was profound and darkly hilarious (and I do mean *darkly*) and weirdly pervy & brutal, and I’m glad I finished it, but I’d be lying if I said I *enjoyed* it, or would read it again.

No such problems with Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, which I tore through in a day. Rarely have I had as much fun with such pretentious, middle-class people I couldn’t bear to know in real life. Rooney’s prose is deliciously intimate and psychological. Felt like reading someone’s diary. Recommended.

Oh! Also, I unveiled the title and some details of my own forthcoming book. Almost forgot to mention that…

PODCASTS

Slightly quieter on the podcast front this month but there have been one or two to remind you of.

Two episodes of my film podcast, Between the Notes, one focused around Godzilla: King of the Monsters and monster movie scores, and the other centred around TV and principally the aforementioned Good Omens and Game of Thrones. We did well snaffling interviews as part of these, too, with major composers Bear McCreary & David Arnold.

Finally, I popped back up on Trek FM’s Primitive Culture, for a second part (unoffically) to my discussion on broken fandom. I’ll be back on PC semi-regularly going forward now and this was a great discussion.

Have a great July, folks!

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