bookmark_borderGame of Thrones sucks

MILD SPOILERS: I’ve not gone into detail but there are a couple of notes on the most recent episode. Nothing that reveals any major storyplots though, but proceed with caution.

It’s official (I use the term very loosely of course), but Game of Thrones now sucks. Despite how popular it remains, it’s fast becoming a bore.

I get why it’s very watchable, the scale of it is impressive, the CGI is good (but these days, so what) , the myriad of converging stories and the hints of the mythology, coupled with some very modern language to keep it familiar, and it’s ticking all the pop culture boxes. I don’t think it’s particularly shocking even though I know some people do – OH: “he keeps using that awful word”, “who?”, “the Hound, keeps saying the c word” – the gratutious violence and gore almost seem, deliberately, OTT, ohhh and you get to see naked people.

There isn’t all that much depth to it either, the ‘good vs evil’ nature of most storylines has the ongoing and not very subtle message that even the good (humans) are also cunts… ohh sorry, I used the c word.

But what gets me the most is how predictable it is has gotten in the latter episodes. It’s almost like they’ve gotten scared to kill off their big stars. Remember those early episodes? Peppered with ‘ohhh they won’t kill … ohh holy crap they did’ moments that kept you on your toes. But now, not so much.

And that’s before you get to some of the battle scenes, where any sense of suspense has been lost thanks to the Battle of the Bastards (Jon Snow should’ve died at that one but no, they need the star in the show now…).

The larger and more popular this show gets, the weaker and more predictable the writing becomes. Take the last episode as an example.

The Hound, lobbing a rock across a frozen lake. The Hound lobbing a second one that falls short… gosh what on earth will happen?? And that final shot with the dragon, was ANYONE surprised by that?

To be fair, I’ve never been fully dragged into GoT like I have with other TV series, and I think this is why. Since it started it’s been predictable. If there is a battle scene, it will be the bloodiest one (until the next one), if a main character gets killed off, it will be a big surprise (until the next one).

It’s that progression that has kept it to being no more than an intriguing hour or so of TV with some pretty good scenery. The fact that it seems to be constantly striving to out-do itself with every episode, the very thing that built its popularity, is now the crutch on which it leans.

I’m sure the producers and TV execs are more than happy with this state of affairs but, for an audience that is being sold a mystical tale of dark forces, removing the ability to surprise and delight us means you are relying on our goodwill and sense of completion to see this through to the end.

bookmark_borderWhy I love films

I recently saw the movie Arrival at the cinema. I was sitting about four rows from the front, dead centre, and was soon immersed in the story that was playing out.

From the opening scene, that long fade from dark to light, the framing of the shot out across the lake, to the first hint at the doorways the main character will need to navigate (figuratively and literally) I was hooked. I’ve always been drawn to beautiful cinematography, to the point where movies like Road to Perdition stick in my mind more for that long shot of the car driving through the rain with the fields beyond disappearing over a low clouded horizon, than it does for the story itself.

It probably started with 2001: A Space Odyssey. I loved the books as a child, and can remember the first time I saw it on TV (advert breaks and all). There is no doubt it is a slow movie, those now famous scenes of spacecrafts gently waltzing in space, all a prelude to the long build towards the climatic scenes with HAL (and that’s before you get to the wonderful weirdness of latter part of the movie). I watch it every few years, and recently saw it in a cinema for the first time. I was sat in the front row and realised I had completely zoned out at times, just letting myself be taken away by the imagery on screen. Immersed. It was wonderful.

The same day I saw Arrival I also saw Fantastic Beasts (the latest from the Harry Potter world) and whilst it was fun it didn’t grab me and hold my attention. As it veered off into CGI land (which was all very impressive) I did leave knowing it was a nice bit of fun but it didn’t sit with me long. I was aware of being in a cinema, with other people laughing and gasping (or exclaiming ‘Ohhh that’s Colin Farrell’), but I can barely remember anyone who was sitting near me when I watched Arrival.

Perhaps this comparison isn’t all that fair. Arrival is not only beautifully shot, the story is smart, well handled by the director and the performance by the lead actor, Amy Adams, was nuanced and controlled and utterly entrancing. Meanwhile the Fantastic Beasts storyline is pretty standard fare (which isn’t a bad thing) and the pacing is good, but for me Eddie Redmayne wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Perhaps because I only recently watched him play Stephen Hawking with a similar awkardness (which worked well for that character), or perhaps because I was able to focus more on the acting and direction because I wasn’t pulled into the world of the movie.

I’ve always been able to suspend my disbelief when watching movies. I am the guy who doesn’t see plot twists coming (think Usual Suspects, Sixth Sense, Primal Fear) but I need to be enticed into the world of a movie, so whilst I enjoy all the big silly blockbusters, and I’ve already booked my tickets for Rogue One, they are simply a distracting entertainment.

But it’s movies like Arrival that help me step into their world are the ones that ‘stick’ in my brain; The Lobster, Slow West, Shawshank Redemption, and Rear Window are all movies the pull me gently, that let my brain do the work and don’t force their worlds on me. I will happily step into them because of that, and more and more I am drawn to intelligent and beautiful movies. Think Cohen Brothers and Wes Anderson. Think Christopher Nolan. Think Kubrick. Think Hitchcock.

All of their movies involve imagery as a means of communicating. They don’t rely on dialogue, or voiceovers, to explain what’s happening. They trust that the viewer can fill (enough of) the blanks to enjoy the story that is being shown to them, and because they trust us, they know they can show us things without having them explained. They let us interpret the worlds they have created and allow us to layer our own experience and knowledge and filters atop them.

Those are the movies that I return to, each viewing revealing more and more nuances as I discover more about the world in which the movie is set, just as I learn more about mine. And more and more I find myself looking for movies that will deliver that kind of viewing experience, rather than a couple of hours of mindless entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the distraction a well executed blockbuster can bring, but more and more I find myself seeking out movies that are a little smarter and that focus a lot more on beauty in all it’s weird and wonderful forms.

Bonus link – a big part of creating a movie like Arrival is in the sound, check out this podcast on Song Exploder
“In the film Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguist trying to decode an alien language. The score was composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, his third film collaborating with director Denis Villeneuve. In this episode, Johann breaks down a piece from the score called “Heptapod B,” and how, like the film, it revolves around the concept of language.”

bookmark_borderEngaged in Long Form

Throughout last year I tried to be a little more choosy with my content consumption and as a result, whilst I am definitely consuming more, it feels like what I am consuming better, more higher quality fare.

Looking back at 2015, whilst the goals were laudable, I’ve gotten more from the process of deliberately making conscious choices than the I necessarily did from the actual content itself (leaving aside the discussion of how art feeds the soul); actively and consciously deciding how to spend my time rather than giving in and going for the cheap and easy option (not that cheap and easy are bad per se, sometimes we all need a day on the sofa, sitting in our dressing gown, eating Pringles, farting, and channel hopping for a couple of hours before eventually succumbing to an entire weeks worth of Come Dine With Me).

This all started as a desire to be better to myself, to waste less time and, hopefully, use my actual down time properly, to gently nurture myself rather than killing my brain cells with mindless entertainment. There are, of course, exceptions to this and we each have our own – I will not stand to hear a bad word about the gentle salve that is Great British Bake Off! – and I bear my PS4 FIFA addiction proudly, but by and large my goal was to at least pause and consider what I was consuming.

Aside: Yes, I did end up watching all of West Wing again but I file that under ‘good quality’.

I’m not trying to be a snob, each to their own and all that, and I know many millions of people enjoy shows like X-Factor and more power to them*, it’s just not for me anymore, and hasn’t been for quite a while.

Of course it could just be my usual contrariness (I like to think I like to be different when the reality is I’m pretty much a middle of the road kinda guy, with the odd detour down Tattoo Lane and Polyamory Crescent thrown in to keep things interesting) but I’ve never really been one for the latest fad. In fact, about the only place where I’m prone to following the crowd is when it comes to selecting what book to read next.

And I’ve only really just realised this.

Funny how taking a step back to consider your own actions can reveal more than you had expected.

Following the crowd

For most media formats, I’ve got a pretty good handle on how I choose what I like. For TV and Movies, the potential story, director, or actor plays a large part in that, rather than how many people are talking about it; I loved Fortitude but didn’t hear many people mentioning it.

Music wise I’m happy to dip in and out of ‘new artist’ lists, listen to some samples and make up my own mind. Some services help by offering ‘if you like X’ comparisons, but again I’m not swayed by how many million plays a track has had; for example, I love Lordes track ‘Royals’ but have yet to find a Taylor Swift track that I want on a playlist, but both are frequently ‘suggested’ to me.

However, when it comes to novels, other than a few writers – David Mitchell, Ian Rankin, Stephen King – I tend to be swayed by popular opinion. Case in point, I’ve just read The Bees, which was on many ‘Best of 2015’ lists and I largely read because a few people I know have been raving about it (and rightly so, it’s a great story). More recently I’ve been using Goodreads as a reasonable measure of books that are both popular and good, but it does feel like I am following the crowd way more than I do with any other format.

This is not a bad thing, just an observation of how my decision making process is changing.

Independent or not

When it comes to films, whilst January was a quiet month (due to illness), the number of current movies I’ve watching has increased due to the fact that I signed up for a Cineworld card; I’ve managed to keep my average monthly visits above the two required to benefit from the pricing (technically you only need to watch 1.5 movies to ‘get your money back’ but given that I’ll sit through awful movies because I believe art has impact whether it’s good or bad, I don’t ever leave a movie halfway through. Not yet at least).

I’ve seen some of the recent blockbusters, Spectre, that Star Wars one everyone was banging on about, but I’ve much preferred the less popular ones, independent movies usually. My favourite from last year was probably The Lobster (I’d say Birdman but I only caught that on Sky Movies a few weeks ago), a weirdly dark, funny, moving drama, set in a world not all that far from our own.

And my more frequent visits to the cinema has had an impact on my TV habits as well, I’m much more likely to choose to watch a movie than just randomly channel hop. Or I’ll consider investing my time in a TV series/box set and it’s here that the long form approach starts to bear more fruit. As someone else noted (apologies, I forget who) the fact that Marvel are investing in TV series allows those characters to have a much richer character/story arc than they would if they were in a movie, and so they become all the more compelling.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, the rise of TV shows created by Netflix and Amazon is notable (and on the whole the quality of them is high).

The deliberate choice

Have you heard of the podcast Serial? I tried it out last year and soon became hooked. Why? Because it’s good quality storytelling, well paced and delivered, and despite each episode being around an hour I found I was going out of my way to listen to each new episode as soon as they were released; most of the podcasts I subscribed to are a more commuter friendly 30 mins or so.

I’m finding my behaviours are the same for new TV series – at least for those that are still realised one episode at a time – with the Netflix approach of releasing an entire series at once allowing me to make conscious decisions to spend two or more hours watching multiple episodes. I’m choosing to invest my time in quality.

But as I said, this isn’t really about content, format, or the amount of time I spend nor how I choose to invest it. It’s about changing my own behaviours to be more conscious of my actions, more deliberate, more considerate of the impact. If I spend an evening watching low quality, unstimulating, TV, most times I feel a bit guilty by the time I get to bed.

And I think being more conscious of the decisions I make for these specific things is starting to filter out into my everyday life. Rather than just charging headlong into things I am pausing to collect and consider my thoughts, regardless of whether the change is a big one or not, and as a result I feel much calmer and relaxed about, well, just about everything these days.

Which has to be a good thing.

* actually, no, not more power to them, I don’t trust them at all if this is the decision they make!


This post contains no spoilers

I am guilty of posting spoilers. TV show plot twists, sporting results, movie endings, I’ve done them all. But I’ve learned, by being on the receiving end one too many times, to think before I post.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” says some book or other – note to self: write-up your thoughts on the Bible some day, you know, cos there aren’t enough religious nuts in your life – and truth be told it’s not a bad way to live your life. Presuming you are a decent human being and not a complete and utter dickhead to being with, but I digress, back to spoilers.

It took me a while to stop posting them and even today there is that split second moment of wanting to share something with others, a feeling that seems born of social media even though it predates it; I think social media just makes it more immediate and increases the chemicals that are generated by your brain so it feels even more fun.

I understand that it feels good to share these things and I guess our use of social media is still so new that we haven’t had time to evolve much in that area, or have much in the way of emotional engagement or maturity. Social media in all of it’s various forms is still a very basic and crude device. I get it though, that I can now stand on the top of a mountain and shout really loudly and I know people round the world will both hear and respond to me, well that’s a powerful thing.

With great power comes a simple reasoning; just because we CAN do something, doesn’t mean we SHOULD do something (says the over sharing blogger). I know, I know. Cliché-tastic, right?

Posting spoilers seems to be driven by a desire to be seen, to have an acknowledged moment of visibility, the very same thing that, to this day, has people exclaiming ‘First’ in the comments sections of websites. Yes, that still happens.

Maybe it is our use of social media, our lack of sophistication (I’m generalising MASSIVELY here) that leads to these moments of angst and anger. It can’t be a coincidence that most of the people I know online who, like myself, get more than a little bit irked when people post spoilers, are people who have been online for a long time; where ‘long time’ is relative but is usually at least 8 years or more.

If that is the case, then I guess it’s down to those of us who have been here for a while to help others who are still in their toddler years understand and learn, help them mature their usage (god, what a horrible phrase).

Trouble is, I’m not sure how we’d even start and the bottom line is that if it’s a matter of evolution then I have to face up to the fact that neither you nor I can make it happen any faster.

Part of me gets annoyed with myself too. I mean a lot of what I’m talking about are transitory things. TV shows I’ll vaguely remember in 10 years time, sporting events that will merge into another set of memories, movies that I might re-watch regardless of whether the ending was spoiled for me or not.

These are not things to waste my energy on. These are not things that matter. I know this.

But I really fucking wish people would stop doing it.

bookmark_borderOver not Down

It’s been over a year since I last mentioned my podcast listening habits, since then I’ve changed what app I use and the list of my subscriptions has changed too.

Over not Down

When I started using Downcast it was largely because it was available as both iOS and OSX apps, and sync’d well between my devices.

It’s a good app but I soon realised that I rarely, if ever, listen to podcasts when I’m sitting at my computer, they are something to listen to when I’m on the go (and if I really want to listen to them at home I can use AirPlay).

These days I use Overcast because it’s the nicest one to use. It has clever features like Smart Speed and Voice Boost but mostly it’s because it does what I want and feels nice to use. I offer no more rationale than that because I don’t need to.

Sidenote: I’m much more relaxed about my tech choices these days. There will ALWAYS be something better, something newer, so I’m forcing myself to make my peace with that and finding that I’m much more persuaded by my emotional brain than my practical brain on these matters. Design over function, desire over need (within limits).


As for the podcasts I listen to, below is an update to the list I published previously. I’ve left the links for the ones I no longer subscribe to because they might be of interest to others but mostly I am just trying to keep my own list manageable, can’t listen to everything!

I’m still not a heavy podcast listener, instead I tend to listen to a few episodes in a row if I find I have the time, a bit like bingeing on Netflix boxsets.

* My favourite, 30 odd mins of random facts and chat from the QI Elves’.

bookmark_borderMy Sad Captains

I’m a huge fan of Elbow. Partly for the melodies they weave and the sounds they create, but mostly because of the lyrics which are in turn funny, acidic, bold, soaring, and achingly beautiful. Guy Garvey is my favourite poet.

Their songs, whether of sorrow, elated joy, or poignant recognition often strike a chord and I find myself moved far more strongly than I am with other bands. I don’t know if it’s because I’m of a similar age as the band and so the timely reflections on family and friends seem to ring truer than others, I don’t know if it’s a combination of the music and the moment, but at every single gig I’ve been at (seven and counting) there have always been tears (including one great big sobbing mess of a moment thanks to Scattered Black & Whites).

Of course a lot of this is down to my own emotional disposition – I’m quite happy to confirm that I cry at movies – and the attachments I assign to some songs, but that still requires there to be some form of lyrical hook on which I can hang my emotional baggage and Elbow provide those exquisitely well.

I’ve written before about the small group of people I care about the most who form the core part of my life; my family, my partners and my closest friends. I’m consider myself very lucky that my life is (mostly) full of rich partnerships and laughter. Focusing on reducing the negative influences and letting go of things I can’t control have definitely helped, but the basis of my happiness can be found in those relationships.

Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.

And I do, or at least I try.

The importance I place on these aspects of my life are not something I’m fully aware of, so embedded are they, but it’s when a line in a song rings true that it pushes it all, sometimes overwhelmingly, back into my consciousness.

Oh, long before
You and I were born
Others beat these benches with their empty cups
To the night and the stars
​To be here, and now, and who we are

Another sunrise with my sad captains
​With who I choose to lose my mind
​And if it’s true we only come this way but once
​What a perfect waste of time

Those moments with friends, family, loved ones, spent doing nothing much of note are some of my favourites. The odd memories that spring to mind may be formed around an event, but it’s not the R.E.M. gig at Loch Lomond we talk about, but the inflatable sofa we inherited on our way back to a friend’s house and how long it lasted (months).

I guess this all fits in with my wish to simplify my life, removing negativity and noise as best I can to allow me to focus on the now so that I  have more chances to experience those delicious little moments that make me happy.