(UN)POPULAR CULTURE

The home of writer & author A. J. BLACK

Welcome to September! 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 the blog but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black. This edition covers both July and August collectively.

Let’s start this month with TV…

TV

After quite a year of ticking off TV shows, we’ve slowed a bit across the summer months in favour of other material.

We did enjoy Stranger Things S3, which could well be the strongest year of that show to date. It was the most nakedly nostalgic for the 1980’s but it introduced some strong new characters, focused less on the Mary Sue that is Eleven, and while the plot was essentially the same one from the previous two seasons, it brought it all to bear with a gusto the show has sometimes lacked. Buckets of fun.

Elsewhere, we continue ploughing through Fear the Walking Dead S4 in a (very) slow binge, and we’re revisiting S1 of Mindhunter now the second season has dropped. I only got 5 in S1 back in 2017 before getting distracted so it’ll be fun to binge that show to date for all its gloomy darkness.

We took a diversion for The Boys, Amazon’s brand new comic adaptation of the Garth Ennis source material which we enjoyed. Only 8 episodes and while some of them didn’t need to run for an hour a piece, they’ve constructed a fucked up superhero take that it’ll be fun to see develop – even if Karl Urban’s cockney accent is Dick van Dyke levels of bad.

And finally, we said goodbye to Orange Is the New Black, which aired its seventh and final season. Mrs Black had watched from the beginning, I jumped on from S5 after binging (my favourite season) and I’m glad I was able to digest the end with everyone else. Stuck the landing, even if at times it was a bit heavy on the social justice polemic, reacting to these Trumpian times, which I wrote a bit about for The Spool.

BOOKS

I’ve done well with reading over the last couple of months as I strive to reach my Goodreads target of 100 books for the year (at 44 right now I think it’s a tall order, but I’ve still read more books this year than any other).

Started with The Spider Dance, which I’d been looking forward to enormously for a year after its predecessor, The War in the Dark, served as my favourite book of 2018. Author Nick Setchfield was kind enough to be interviewed for it too.

Rattled through a few classics – Foundation and Empire, the second in Isaac Asimov’s magnum opus which I started late last year; absolutely loved Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, more than the film I think which I watched for the first time soon after (I loved the film too, which is an immensely faithful adaptation); and I finally read Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in advance of the upcoming BBC show – way more satisfying than I expected, with its fusion of science-fiction, high fantasy & adventure, riven with real ominous darkness. The Subtle Knife, the middle book, I felt worked the best.

Beyond that, I’ve dabbled in some non-fiction with The Title by Scott Murray, a book all about the history of British football’s First Division – filled with stats and stories from the 20th century of footy, a book I will soon gift to a football fan pal, and I also read Peter Biskind’s towering Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, one of the best books about cinema you will ever read all about the ‘New Hollywood’ of the late 60’s and 70’s – probably the most fascinating period in film history to date.

FILM

It’s been a damn good couple of months for cinema, all told – caught plenty of stuff, new and old.

Wrote a little bit about Spider-Man: Far From Home, which I thought was good fun (even if it’s now tinged with some latent, Spidey no longer in the MCU sadness), and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood knocked me off my feet – twice. What a picture. You’ll hear plenty of anti-Tarantino takes but mine is all about celebrating perhaps his most accomplished film since Jackie Brown. Can’t wait to see it a third time. Beyond that, I thought Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark had better thematic resonance than storytelling panache, though I did feel Annabelle Comes Home tickled a few stronger horror buttons, and I wrote for Escapist Magazine how much Hobbs & Shaw gets a Fast & Furious franchise on its feet.

Caught a few films for the first time which immediately struck me. A Star Is Born from 2018 is one of the few films in a long time which left me firmly with a lump in the throat, and what a soundtrack; watched Wall-E for the first time, believe it or not, and yes I know – masterpiece; saw Michael Powell’s 1960 chiller Peeping Tom, which should be as well known as beloved as the same year’s Psycho really; blitzed all of the Halloween films from II onwards through to the last Rob Zombie one, and crikey they’re a mixed bag! Also loved Larry Peerce’s 1967 film The Incident, which should be better known, and enjoyed Robert Altman’s 1982 curio Come Back to the 5 and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, though I was less enamoured with Robert Zemeckis’ 1980 comedy Used Cars.

I’ve also started a project to dissect a favourite film in detail. As voted on by Twitter followers, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the first picture for this treatment and I’m two scenes in so far – a really fun process.

Finally, I was really overjoyed to catch Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut in cinemas in mid-August with my friend Carl Sweeney and it was a stunning experience, followed by a great Q&A between Steven Soderbergh and Francis Ford Coppola. The BluRay should be arriving in a couple of weeks so I’m very excited to dig in.

PODCASTS

It doesn’t feel like I’ve recorded all that many podcasts in the last couple of months but a fair few have been released.

I was back on the aforementioned Carl’s The Movie Palace, first to talk the classic James Bond picture Goldfinger with fellow guest Gabriela Masson, but also to contribute a little chunk to the podcasts 1st anniversary, discussing my love of a quaint 1962 British comedy called The Fast Lady.

I also cropped up on The Projection Booth again, talking to Mike White with fellow guest Chris Stachiw about Alex Garland’s 2018 film Annihilation, which I gained more respect for after dissecting it this way. I was down to appear again on an episode talking World War Z but had to pull out for personal reasons, which I’m disappointed about. I should crop up again on TPB late next year or in 2021.

I’ve also been back on Trek FM’s Primitive Culture a few times, returning as a semi-regular fixture with Duncan Barrett. We talked about The Prisoner in relation to a DS9 episode (and games in Trek in general) and how the Rashomon effect influences certain Trek episodes from multiple series. Some fine discussions and more to come in coming months.

I’m ticking away on my own We Made This projects – I hosted an breakdown of X-Fest 2019 on The X-Cast and talked to actor Bill Smitrovich about Millennium for The Time Is Now, plus Sean Wilson and I wrapped up our last Between the Notes for a while – we should be back for more film score chatter early in 2020.

Have a great September, folks!

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