Media Break: 28/02/2016

I was meaning to do one of these every two weeks. That hasn’t really worked out, has it…

  • Out the serious Oscar contenders, I will be more than happy if Room wins. Really subtle and well done. Mad Max: Fury Road is of course the best film there, but it’s never going to get Best Picture or Best Director in a million years (even though it had as arduous a shoot as The Revenant did, only less talked about).
  • Idris Elba was robbed. So were Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan: Creed is just a Rocky movie really, but it somehow manages to breathe life back into the old carthorse through the traditional means of quality direction, a mastery of screenplay structure, and beautifully realistic, low-key performance.
  • Deadpool is far more fun than it had any right to be and absolutely is the best X-Men spinoff by far (it does help that it’s the only one that’s been written with any form of a sense of humour involved). Suicide Squad will have a lot to live up to.
  • I liked The Hateful Eight a lot, probably more than a lot of critics did: only Tarantino and Robert Richardson can get away with filming a cramped single-location film in Ultra Panavision 70 and not have it feel entirely like a gimmick. Like always, it improved a lot in his redrafting and, looking at the final draft screenplay the Weinstein Company have published for Oscars season, in the edit too. Wish Entertainment hadn’t fallen out with Cineworld though; but I don’t regret having to pay extra for once. (Note: I saw it on digital, with an intermission, at a Vue.)
  • What on earth is going on with Batman v. Superman? The only way they seem to be promoting it in Britain at the moment is with some appalling Turkish Airlines commercials that are on every ad break on Food Network and most ad breaks on every other Freeview channel. I will probably see it, but still…
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider can be recommended to anyone who enjoyed 2013 Tomb Raider: it plays the same, but adds better tombs, better side missions, optional NPC quests and fewer quick-time events of doom. A better rounded game.
  • Musically, I am enjoying Not to Disappear by Daughter, SVIIB by School of Seven Bells, Adore Life by Savages, and absolutely loving Synthia by the Jezabels. Check all of these out on your streaming service of choice. New Underworld, Pet Shop Boys and PJ Harvey coming imminently too.
  • Blackstar is also brilliant, but what did we expect really? David Bowie is the biggest, most devastating loss of the year.

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.