It’s the list-makingest time of the year

It’s that time of the year where everyone comes together on the Internet to argue about what everyone liked over the year and why they’re wrong. So it’s time for my contribution…

Music

Here is a Spotify playlist I’ve made of some of my favourite stuff this year:

This playlist is actually incomplete: for the sake of track-to-track flow it’s missing anything from Floating Points’ Elaenia, Laura Marling’s Short Movie, Errors’ Lease of Life, Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense? and Purity Ring’s Another Eternity, all of which are very much worth your time. Purity Ring provided the best live show I’ve seen this year (at Metropolis in Montréal).

Best comeback of the year is of course New Order (but then I’m biased), and best collaboration of the year is F.F.S. (managing to be better than both the last Franz Ferdinand and Sparks records – there has to be a future for it.)

Addendum 22.12.2015: Forgot to mention or include in the playlist The Race for Space by Public Service Broadcasting, which is a pretty big omission; or No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney.

Movies

Best biopic so far this year is the exceptional Love & Mercy. Only just behind that is Straight Outta Compton, which did well to try to get a consistent narrative line into the complicated and multifaceted N.W.A. story with nicely kinetic direction from F. Gary Gray and the year’s best producer credit (Ice Cube p.g.a., because of course he’s in the union.)

It’s actually been quite a good year for spy and spy related stuff. Kingsman is by turns nasty, compelling, outrageous and very, very funny (even if Vaughan and Goldman didn’t quite manage to downplay the bad bits of Millar’s writing as much as they did with Kick-Ass.) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is massively uneven but its 60s atmosphere is spot on and when it sparks, it really works (the scene where Napoleon Solo finds safety while a massive action scene goes on in the background is utterly unique).

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the most consistent narratively since the first one and is brilliantly directed and constructed, even if there’s not a single overall sequence as good as the Dubai sequence in Ghost Protocol. Spectre is the third best Daniel Craig Bond film, but  I’d still be happy if Mendes came back on the condition that he brings back Roger Deakins and Stuart Baird and finds some better writers.

Out of the two Marvel films this year, Ant-Man is better (completely in inverse to my expectations): off the wall and willing to try new things, it is also the rare Marvel film that gets better and better as it goes on, although it’s a shame we didn’t get to see Edgar Wright’s version. It’s effectively a low-stakes version of Iron Man and all the better for it. Age of Ultron drags a bit and feels overly breezy and fluffy, although it’s still pretty and Elizabeth Olsen is great in it.

Since I haven’t seen Star Wars yet I can’t quite classify that. The Revenant should be interesting too: the trailers give an utterly unique feel.

Addendum 22.12.2015: The Force Awakens is very much worth watching. I missed The Martian, which was a lot of fun and Ridley Scott’s best film in years. And of course, how could I forget Fury Road, by far the best sequel of the year? (That piece is unblocked and I’m working on it again, by the way.)

Games

I haven’t played that much this year – I have time constraints, I don’t play MMOs and I hate military FPS with the force of a thousand suns, so the only big budget games I’ve played through this year are the hilarious Saints Row IV (finally giving up any pretence of being a serious game and going for all out comedy) and the PC version of Arkham Knight. Because I have a 4790K, 16GB of RAM and a GTX970 I was just about able to run it acceptably, which continues to show that if the PC is not dead as a gaming platform, it’s at least in the resus room.

For the record, it played OK after the first patch and some of what it does is brilliant (and unfortunately its best element is a spoiler), but it is the least of Rocksteady’s Batman games. Still better than Arkham Origins and most other games though, and it still handles its No Man’s Land inspiration better than Dark Knight Rises. So I would recommend giving it a go if you have a machine that it it will work on, or one of the current-gen consoles.

I do not own any of the current consoles, so Rise of the Tomb Raider will be 2016 for me. Let’s hope Crystal don’t screw that port up.

The distinguished competition

At the point when I am writing this in 2015, the world is heading towards Peak Superhero. Both Marvel and DC, both owned by major media conglomerates, are developing movie universes to match the ones they have built on paper. Both plan to release many comic book films over the next few years; Marvel of course having had a considerable head start. But, considering history and the upcoming slate, is this going to work out for either of them?

(Warning: This piece is quite long, has a few minor spoilers which you probably know anyway, but does contains ranting about The Dark Knight Rises. So read it at your own risk…)

Continue reading “The distinguished competition”

Media Break: 26/08/2015

Here’s what I’m watching, listening to, reading etc. at the moment, in an article which I plan on posting at least once every few weeks:

  • Health’s “Death Magic” is still brilliant after however many listens: a massive improvement over much of the rest of their career (as they have discovered tunes). Recommended.
  • Tangentially related: Alice Glass has released a solo single called “Stillbirth”, produced with the aid of Health’s Jupiter Keyes. It’s industrial, angry, wrenching, emotionally draining and yet compulsively listenable – a real shout along. It bodes well for more, especially when compared with the unmemorable post-Glass Crystal Castles material.
  • The John Grant single, “Disappointing”, isn’t. Has a lovely duet with Tracey Thorn too.
  • Looking forward to the New Order album, and the ability to still frame Fury Road. (Article about Fury Road is coming up, along with one contrasting the Nolan Batman films with the Arkham games.)
  • I have Netflix at the moment, and by far the best original show I’ve seen so far is Bojack Horseman. A brilliant study of celebrity ennui, as handled by anthropomorphic animals. Fans of Venture Bros and Archer should look in. (Also, the Comic Sans-O-Matic tie in web site is nothing short of genius.)
  • The Great British Bake Off. Because. Plus University Challenge and Only Connect.

Let’s start again

I started The Hard Sell as a way of trying to write more often, and it was a success for a while. Like so many other things, it fell away when I went into full time employment; but also out of ennui at my own and at the general British political situation.

I have kept up tweeting, mostly, but Twitter isn’t really conducive to long form discussion. And I feel that’s been hurting the writing that I do in my spare time.

This blog has been defunct for a surprisingly long time. I feel that it’s probably time to bring it back, but with some differences: mainly, the new version of the blog has a distinct purpose. I intend to post media reviews, discussion of things that I find interesting, pieces about writing, and probably some more of what worked best on the old blog.

I want to have a way I can get used to writing again, and I feel that this may well be it.

The revamped blog is called Flickering Frame. A restyle focused around the new name will be forthcoming; I will not be removing or editing any old articles, but the new ethos should be happening from now on. I intend to post at least once per week and should post more often. It’s time to start again, and see what may happen – and I hope that those who read me will find it worthwhile.

Let’s start again, and do it right.

Reading the bills, because no-one else does

The Alcohol Bill appears to be being discussed by the Scottish media simply in terms of minimum pricing, which is exactly what the Government wants you to do. That there is other stuff in the bill that people might find objectionable (or not, of course) is simply not being mentioned anywhere other than in the last paragraph of every fifth BBC News Online article.

The good thing about the Scottish Parliament is that all new bills are uploaded online as PDFs (the bad thing is that the website is very poorly designed), so you can read it for yourself, with a full explanation also available. For those who don’t really want to because it’s written in jargon, here’s a summary interspersed with occasional ranting:

  • Minimum pricing for alcohol

The minimum price-per-unit is specified by ministers, and is calculated as a measure of (minimum price*(ABV percentage/100)*volume in litres*100). The explanatory document specifies that the minimum price could be 40p/unit, but of course it doesn’t have to be. Nevertheless, this won’t affect spirits or pub prices very much; taking a bottle of 12-year old Highland Park, this works out as 0.4*0.42*0.7*100 = £11.76. Highland Park usually sells for ~£20 in supermarkets.

The killer is that a multipack price must be at least (n items*minimum price), which means no more BOGOF/3-for-2 wine offers as well. So for a  12-pack of 440ml 5% Stella Artois, this would be (0.4*0.05*0.44*100)*12=(0.88)*12=£10.56, which is a bit more than this usually sells for.

What the bill does is make multipacks, for the most part, uneconomical.I find this somewhat annoying because I buy a large pack of beer, put a few cans in the fridge at a time and tend to drink even a 12-pack over a couple of months – it harms reasonable drinkers more than it harms those who are abusing it – but it’s not lethal.

  • Explicitly banning BOGOF/3 for 2 in off-sales

Just in case you didn’t notice the bit above.

  • Banning alcohol advertising outside designated areas

Almost certainly means that off-licenses will have to cover their windows (just after we finally admitted it didn’t help for bookies) and means that supermarkets won’t be able to promote in windows. The current alcohol laws mean that all alcohol offers must be in the designated area anyway, so all this’ll do is mean that offers can’t be promoted outside Row X. This doesn’t apply to non-alcoholic beer-branded merchandise, so supermarkets can sell you a Guinness glass in the glassware area.How thoughtful.

  • Requirement for age verification

Scottish licensees already do far too much age verification as it is; I was refused alcohol at an open-air Radiohead gig in Glasgow because I didn’t have any ID they found acceptable (despite being 23 at the time).

As I don’t drive and don’t carry my passport around with me, this is a perennial problem; I do carry quite a lot of identification, but no-one cares about my photo bus pass, credit cards (over 18 only, verified by your bank) or so on; it’s just passport, driving license, the national ID card that isn’t going to happen or the Portman Group give-us-your-personal-details blackmail card. The bill requires Challenge 21. As it’s already a crime to sell to someone under 18, quite harshly punishable, there is absolutely no need for this.

  • Allows ministers to add to and remove from the law at will

So they don’t have to shove any changes through the Parliament again. This is by far the sneakiest segment of the bill, a very New Labour-style measure fron the SNP. This will allow them to bring back the over-21s stupidity again…

  • Licensing boards can ban under-21s in their own area

…oh. Apparently this involves a “detrimental impact statement”, but section 9 gives them the power to do it unilaterally.

A thoroughly infantilising measure. Most of the worst thugs I’ve seen in pubs are Begbie types who are far older than 21, although that is of course a personal opinion rather than purest fact. Students can be annoying, but generally not too vicious; and in any case, a good proportion will be over 21 anyway. And how are you going to tell the difference between 21 and 18? It’s harder than 18/non-18.

See Challenge 21 for details. Grr.

  • “Social responsibility levy”

Licensing-board imposed fines for “bad” publicans, which could just be being in a “bad” area, or the Western Isles. A fine piece of spin from the Alistair Campbell Big Book Of Machiavellian Delights.

So there you go. Surprisingly, there isn’t a big Q&A article on the BBC News website with this information in it linked off every article about the Bill, without the ranting, as there is with most controversial Westminster issues. There’s certainly no excuse for the Herald or Scotsman, past the fact that Johnston Press don’t care about anything other than cash (most certainly not their website). I guess  that’s the Scottish media for you: media by press release, complacent and incompetent all.

A dilemma.

Am I wrong for wanting to see Star Trek as soon as possible? The trailers and the interviews have been encouraging, the new Enterprise is plain cool, I like the idea of Simon Pegg as Scotty and Sylar as Spock and then I think about it and realise that, from the information I know…

  • It’s time travel, again
  • The gimmick this time is that it’s destroying the entire Star Trek universe as we know it, except for Enterprise. I repeat: Enterprise is apparently valid continuity for the new Trek movie. If you’re going to retcon out a series, why couldn’t it be that one?
  • And this means that retcons Picard out of the universe as well.
  • And DS9 too, and even the first few series of Voyager.
  • It’s written by the people who ruined Transformers (excepting Michael Bay).
  • It’s at least partially a variant on the age-old ‘Starfleet Academy’ idea, which was repeatedly rejected during the Berman era as a lame idea.
  • And how can the tech difference…

…and so on, goes the reasoning side of my mind. But the geek side just goes “new Star Trek, cool spaceship, MUST SEE.” It feels wrong, somehow, but I’ll still go – eager in the hope it won’t suck as much as it sounds. And when I find out, I’ll get back to you…