Justin Cawthorne dot com

read, write, ramble

Author: Justin (Page 1 of 49)

pizzas

Week 42: Birthday

(October 15 – 21)

This week was dominated by the Elderbeast’s birthday (his 12th) which seemed to be another one of those things that was on the horizon forever, and then suddenly … happened. His main present from me this year, on his request, was ‘dinner at a fancy restaurant’. Since he also wanted Peking duck, it made sense to go to the nice Chinese restaurant down the road from us. And it was very, very nice indeed. So nice, in fact, that everyone kept saying how nice it was, in case we each forgot how nice a time we were having and how delicious all of the food was.

One of the best parts was that I got to pay—which might be one of the first times I’ve ever paid for a big, expensive family meal. It felt really good to be able to treat everyone to a good meal and a great evening. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I’d recently been handed a little over $500 back on my tax return.

The celebrations continued on Saturday when, as further evidence of my sheer awesomeness as a parent, I allowed the Elderbeast to have some friends round for a birthday sleepover. Naturally, I was a little nervous about this but—spoiler alert—I have to say they were all excellent and any fears I might have had ended up being completely unfounded.

What was more of a surprise was the Kinderbeast spending half of the day in hospital! He complained of a pain in his groin in the early afternoon, so I took and look and let’s just say that things didn’t look they way they should. Unfortunately we were mere hours away from people arriving; luckily, the Kinderbeast’s mother was able to take him to a local walk-in surgery.

And then the saga began. From the surgery, they were sent to the nearest Emergency Department. From there, they were sent to the children’s hospital in the city. We then had some fun talk about possible surgery, until they ended up walking that back and sent him home at about 9pm with a prescription.

It was a time!

Watching

I spent all week meaning to get started on Netflix’s The Haunting Of Hill House, but somehow that didn’t happen.

I did, of course, watch the second episode of Doctor Who. I’m still very much loving this latest reimagining, and I genuinely can’t get over how gorgeous the show looks now. It always looked good, but they’ve managed to take this new season to the next level. The plot was, once again, perhaps a little thin, but was more than compensated by the compelling characterisation and performances of all players.

Oh, and the new opening titles are just superb—they’re just too short!

To keep me entertained on Saturday night, while the children played, I decided to watch the 1975 movie of Tommy. I’ve been listening to the album a fair bit lately, and remembered the movie vaguely from my childhood. It’s a blast. Not, perhaps, a great movie, but one that’s not ashamed to be what it is, and it does good service to the music.

Sunday night’s ‘Netflix hidden gem’ viewing was Advantageous, a light science fiction drama about a mother struggling with being sidelined in an increasingly age-conscious society. I don’t really want to say too much more about it, but it’s surprisingly sad and moving.

Reading

It, the audiobook, continues to be a little plodding. I’m at the same point, more or less, where I last abandoned the novel. And I’m not surprised, to be honest. As my reading discipline gets worse, I really need stories to get to the point, or for the plot to move forward fairly regularly. It is not a book like that. In fact, on reflection, it has so little plot that I’m impressed they managed to make such a good film out of it.

This is not me saying that it’s a bad book. It’s not; it’s a tremendous book, perhaps King’s defining work. However, it does run down numerous side alleys—it’s a book, you could say, that takes the pretty route at very chance. There’s barely a character whose entire life story isn’t spelled out in marvellous detail; there are flashbacks within flashbacks; there’s a wealth of content that brings almost nothing to the story, does add to the richness of the tale. As I think I’ve already said, no one rambles better than Stephen King, but there is a lot of rambling in It.

Outside of that, it’s still an absolute pleasure to listen to Steven Weber’s narration. Even the slow stuff is marvellous: I just seem to be at a point where I’ve been stuck in the same scene for about four days.

In far more glorious news, I finished my book—The Boy On The Bridge. Thoroughly enjoyed it, and I can say without hesitation that if you’re someone who enjoyed The Girl With All The Gifts, then you’ll also enjoy this one.

As mentioned last week, I also started (and finished) reading the graphic novel of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. This one was a real treat, and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s one of the densest graphic novel adaptations I’ve read, by which I mean it really feels as though every page of Philip K Dick’s source novel has been brought onto the page.

I’ve read the original novel several times, and, perhaps inevitably, always viewed it as a prototype version of Blade Runner. This is the first time I’ve read it as a story in its own right and been able to see exactly how rich and fully-formed the world that Dick creates really is. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more adaptations like this.

smoke on the horizon

Week 41: Ensure the insurance

(October 8 – 14)

This week I renewed my house and contents insurance. For most people this would be a gloriously trivial matter. For me, not so much.

Last year, as part of an effort to streamline and manage my finances, I adjusted my insurance policy before renewal: main change was to raise my excess to $1000, reasoning that reducing the monthly payments would a smart move. The following week my backyard fence was irreparably damaged in storm, landing me with a $1000 excess bill (the total cost of the replacement fence was $1500). I quickly decided that I would drop my excess back down before the this year’s renewal, while spending much of the ensuing 12 months crossing my fingers that no more of my fences would blow down.

So this year my renewal quote comes in and it’s already $20 a month more than last year, and this is before I even reduce the excess. Given that the same company had increased my car insurance premium a few months earlier (and I’d been too lazy to do anything about it) I was determined to get a better deal this time round. So, I shopped around and found a better deal (almost $50 a month better).

There was just one problem.

I would need to phone my existing insurance company to cancel.

Naturally I didn’t want to start the new policy without cancelling the old one, but neither did I want to pick up the phone. So this dance went on. And went on. And this week we get to crunch time: the day that my insurance policy automatically renews if I do nothing about it.

So I double checked my replacement policy, got a fresh quote, and fiiiiiiiiinally made that phone call. It couldn’t have been more straightforward—they didn’t even try to haggle (to my simultaneous chagrin and relief). Even better, I was able to set up the new policy completely online.

The curious aftermath of all this is how much better I felt the following day. Now that I’ve laid it all out, it doesn’t seem much of a surprise, but I suspect this ridiculous business was stressing me out more than I realised over the last few weeks.

Stupid, the little things that wear us down.

Watching

Of course the big news this week is that Doctor Who finally came back, and it’s arguably one of the most anticipated season debuts since the series relaunched in 2005.

For my part, I love that the show changes. I love that it’s different every few years, and I love the fact that we’ve finally got a female Doctor. (If I have any reservations, it’s simply that showrunner Chris Chibnall has historically written some of the series’ weakest episodes in the past; but he may end up being a superb showrunner).

It’s odd to be able to say that a show is different in almost every way, but is still intrinsically Doctor Who. The way it looks, sounds, and even feels, is totally different now; and yet Jodie Whittaker is unquestionably the Doctor—the same character we’ve followed for decades. One of the smartest things in this episode was to make almost no reference to the fact that the Doctor is female now—there’s a few offhand comments, but this isn’t an episode about how the Doctor is different now (as post-regeneration episodes can sometimes be). Rather, it’s an episode about how the world changes around the three companion characters. Now, I’ll admit I was a little bit dubious about having so many companions for this season—it smacks of hedging bets, as if Chibnall wasn’t sure his new Doctor alone could bring in the viewers (same thing that happened when Tom Baker left)—but I’m enjoying the company so far and it definitely feels like the right decision.

Anyway that’s enough about Doctor Who. For this week…

For Fridate horror we watched the original version of Suspiria, which turned up streaming on Stan a week or two ago. I’d never seen it before, so it was quite a trip. Probably one of the most gorgeous horror films I’ve ever seen, but of course it didn’t make a lick of sense.

I had a curiously tangled journey towards my Saturday night film choice. I settled on something earlier in the week, and then promptly forgot what that choice was. I spent Saturday afternoon narrowing down my choices, and then happened to read something that mentioned my original choice: Looper!

I’d only seen the film once before, and was keen to give it a second viewing. And it holds up to a repeat showing. Strongly. Both leads (playing the same person) are fully rounded—they make bad choices at times, but it’s understandable why they do what they do. The time travel shenanigans hold up (at least I’ve not spotted any obvious gaffes yet). It’s a film that’s well worth the buzz it generated (and I’d completely forgotten that it was a Rian Johnson movie).

Keeping with the theme, and in the mood for some more potentially mind-bending sci-fi, I dipped back into my Netflix list for Sunday and picked Infinity Chamber. My only complaint with this one is that the casting was a bit of a missed opportunity. The lead actor is perfectly good, but given that the narrative demands one person to carry the film solo for large chunks of time, the movie could have been immensely elevated by casting someone with a bit more charisma.

Nevertheless, this was still a really engrossing watch that offered plenty to think about and left room for a couple of different interpretations.

Reading

Still going with the audiobook of It, and very much enjoying Steven Weber’s narration.

Also still going with The Boy On The Bridge. For once I’ve been pretty good at picking this one up almost every day; it just seems, on this occasion, that only having 30 minutes or so reading time per day is the reason why I’ll be with this book for a few weeks.

Late in the week I also picked up the graphic novel of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep in a ComiXology sale (and, yes, I am worried about how much of my live suddenly revolves around Amazon companies). More on this one next week.

chickens in their coop

Week 40: Chickens!

(October 1 – 7)

We finally got our chicken this week, after months of prep and waiting. The farm I had been keeping in touch with called up to say they had some pullets available this week, so we drove down on Monday morning and picked them up.

They are already much loved members of the family and I’m really pleased to see how dedicated the kinderbesten are to looking after them. The Elderbeast has taken on feeding and watering duties, while the Kinderbeast has decided that he will be chief pooper scooper.

The chickens are called Henrietta and Lady Scramble von Eggs III (both names chosen by the kinderbesten). Of the two, Lady Scramble is the biggest and already clearly the boss.

Having finally got the hens, I’m definitely glad that I opted to buy a second coop and bolt the two together. The original coop would have been just about big enough, but only for overnight stays. As it is, there have been a couple of days already where bad weather has forced me to keep them in the coop (instead of them getting to spend the day in the playpen, on the lawn). The second coop has a much larger floor area, and provides a place for us to put the feeder and waterer where they won’t get in the way.

Over the weekend I fitted a roosting bar in the coop—chickens like to sleep off the ground, safely away from predators—and was delighted to see them start using it almost immediately.

Chickens!

Watching

I managed a relatively rare feat this week and binged an entire Netflix series. The show in question was Maniac, which had started off looked pretty intriguing, and had then gone on to get some pretty strong word of mouth.

The show does a great job of defying categorisation, but it reminded me in some ways of the cerebral science fiction thrillers that the late 1970s was very good at producing. It was also barmy, surreal, funny—demonstrating perhaps a dash of inspiration from Douglas Adams. Both Jonah Hill and Emma Stone are fantastic in it—Hill, especially, is a revelation—but I also took particular delight from Justin Theroux’s performance.

Ironically, much of the appeal for me was that Maniac was billed as a “limited series”—just the single, ten-episode series—which I like because I don’t want to have to catch up on, or commit to, several year’s worth of episode. Inevitably, this time I’m sad that we won’t be getting any more of this one.

For Saturday night I was planning to watch The Man From UNCLE. Then the Elderbeast overheard me listening to the soundtrack from The Social Network and asked if we could watch that. Having only seen it once, and remembering it to be pretty damn good, I agreed.

I was impressed that the movie kept the Elderbeast’s attention throughout. Then again, with David Fincher directing an Aaron Sorkin script there’s really no alternative. I was also very happy that, given the rich drama unfolding on the screen, outlining a version of the story behind the world’s biggest social network, I was able to summarise events as “it’s basically a bunch of people being dicks to each other”.

Reading

I’ve started two new books this week. The first is the audiobook of Stephen King’s It which, at 40 hours long, is going to take about 60 days of driving to and from work to finish off. It’s read by Steven Weber, one of those actors you recognise, but can never remember what from (most recently he appeared in I, Zombie).

So far he’s brilliant, bringing a huge amount of energy to the reading and giving each character their own, very distinctive voice. I get the feeling that he thoroughly enjoyed getting stuck into this one.

I attempted a reread of the book last year, shortly after the film came out, but stalled about halfway through (frustrating, given I’ve successfully read it at least twice before). Out of all King’s best-remembered books, it’s almost certainly the most rambling. Almost every character gets their life story laid out before you even get to see how they fit into the story. It’s certainly a long haul.

Luckily, no one rambles better than Stephen King. It may be a bit of a slog for a poorly disciplined reader like myself, but it makes for great listening. As with Dune, I’m finding that listening to the book, rather than reading, allows me to absorb the details more easily and enjoy the world I’m being drawn into (rather than worrying how long it’s going to take to get to the next damn chapter.)

alien lego

Week 39: Difficult conversations

(September 24-30)

This week’s theme is Difficult Conversations. I had to have a Difficult Conversation at work this week, but in the end it was thrown rather sharply into relief by the Supreme Court nominee hearings over in the USA. Here we saw one brave person stand up for truth and justice, no matter the cost to themselves, while another person ranted and raved about the injustice of it all. One of these people is the nominee for the Supreme Court—a lifetime term which puts the appointee in one of the most powerful positions in the USA, not to mention giving them significant influence over the lives (and deaths) of every citizen in the country.

Of course the GOP has been true to form and put forward the worst candidate you could possibly imagine. It’s one of those situations where I find it hard to articulate the problems because they’re so blazingly obvious. And yet we have the GOP, and no shortage of other people, campaigning on behalf of someone who is demonstrably a liar and almost certainly an abuser. In a twisted way, it’s entirely appropriate—Kavanaugh would absolutely represent the law, but the law as the GOP sees it (which is to say, as another tool they can exploit and twist to their benefit).

I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t seem so many years ago that a politician’s career would be finished after even a whiff of indiscretion. We all remember Bill Clinton’s presidency almost ending because of a consensual sex act. Now, we have someone who is accused of attempted rape (and is almost certainly guilty) and people are still supporting him. Meanwhile, here in Australia we have a former Deputy PM who is a proven cheat and liar, and who got re-elected to Parliament due to the efforts of his party.

The most galling thing is that it’s the right-wing who campaign on the basis of family values, but it’s those same people who trash those values at every turn. I can’t help feeling that modern politics has become tarnished beyond repair and the process of fixing it is not going to be a pleasant one.

Watching

It’s been a relatively light viewing week, but I did finally dip into a new TV series. I’d read about a series called The Norsemen somewhere or other and seeing described as “The Office, but with Vikings” made it sound like something that I’d be into. It was. And I am. It’s not the fall-down, hyperventilate, smack yourself funniest thing you’ll ever see, and there’s a mildly worrying homophobic slant to one of the characters, but it’s casually amusing and if “The Office with Vikings” appeals to you, then I highly recommend it.

For my Saturday movie I picked Hanna, which showed up on one of my streaming services. It’s one of those movies that’s brimming with genius, but doesn’t quite manage to become the sum of its parts. In short, I loved many, many elements of the film, but came away thinking the whole thing hadn’t quite come together as well as it could have done. That being said, definitely not a disappointment, and well worth viewing,

Reading

Guess what? I FINALLY FINISHED THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE!! Yes! I made a commitment to myself to sit down and read it every night this week, and I managed to do exactly that. It was a fine read, but throughout I had the same problems with it that kept stalling my progress.

Firstly, the 1963 Robert Wise adaptation is so good, and relatively close to the source material, that I felt little sense of mystery as I made my way through the chapters. It’s probably sacrilege to say, but I didn’t feel as if the novel was giving me anything I hadn’t already found in the movie.

Secondly, I had a really hard time engaging with the characters as written due to the fact that their dialogue seemed overly stylised. It was very hard to accept them as real people when, to my ear, they didn’t speak like real people.

Also this week, I finished the audiobook of Dune. It’s been fascinating listening to a full, and highly regarded, novel in audiobook format. The production, as I’ve already said, was superb. The experience of listening to a book, instead of reading, seems to allow me to focus far more on the words and details. As such, both the strengths and flaws seem more apparent. Frank Herbert builds a rich, highly detailed, fully immersive universe in Dune. The first act of the story is rock solid, intricately plotted, and absolutely gripping. After that, however, he seems to get a bit lost in his creation. We shift from a Game Of Thrones level tale of political drama, to a slow-burning character study of a rising messiah. The closing chapters, though dramatic, seem to amble towards a conclusion, and then abruptly end.

Overall, I really enjoyed listening to this one, but it was just as fascinating to hear the book in a whole new light, and with a fresh perspective.

sunset

Week 38: Scribbulings

(September 17 –  23)

Over the course of this week I’ve been hammering away at several different writing projects, so I thought I’d waffle on about them a little more here. I tend to waver between having a laser-focus on a specific story, and having several things on the go at once. It’s possible that this isn’t great for my productivity, and I should maybe look at a more structured approach—but where’s the fun in that?

My major project at the moment is a sci-fi novella. It started out as a story, and quickly decided it needed to be longer. I’m at what I call the start of the second act (or roughly a third of the way through). I’ve had a few victories with this project recently. Firstly, it’s reached the point where the story has developed its own legs—I may have written about this already, but the current couple of chapters weren’t even in the original outline; they’ve simply appeared because the characters wanted to go in different directions.

Second, I finally have a title. The story takes place on a space station, and I’ve been struggling for months to come up with the right name for the station. That finally arrived this week, and will serve as the story’s title too.

I’ve also done something I’ve never really done before: I’ve written a lengthy piece (in the form of a report) simply to give me some much needed background to the events of the story. Most of it was already in my head, but writing it out this way has given me something a little more rigid to continue building the story on. It’s a really useful process, akin to writing biographies for your characters.

My other projects have included this blog, which I tend to devote a morning a week to. It’s a good way of getting some low-effort writing done, and can also be a good way of starting the day—by reflecting on what’s gone by recently.

I’ve been putting some extra effort into wrapping up new material for the podcast I’m working on with some friends. It’s been many months since we managed to get a pilot episode out, and I’ve taken a bit more time with the writing than I had planned to. For a long time I’ve had 90% of the material I needed for some new episodes; I just needed to sit down and focus on filling in the blanks.

Finally, a couple of older short stories have popped up recently and demanded to be rewritten. I did one of these earlier in the month, and recently another one—one that I’d almost forgotten about—piqued my interest again. Hopefully this means I’ll have a couple of stories that are worth sending out, instead of simply leaving them to languish on my hard drive.

Watching

I’m not still into the idea of starting a new TV series (no idea why) so for my Monday night TV Night I cracked open my newish bluray of The Thing and watched a doco that spanned the publication of the original story to the making of Carpenter’s film. Not a huge number of revelations in there for me, but it was still fun to watch.

For Friday Night Horror we wrapped up our Final Destination journey with Final Destination 5. This movie might have the best opening titles I’ve ever seen: a simple concept, incredibly well executed, that had us all watching in awe.

On Saturday I found myself unexpectedly #childfree (the Elderbeast arranged a last minute sleepover at a friends). I found myself into the mood for either an eighties movie, or an all-out action movie. I settled on Dredd, which perfectly captures both. This is a movie that either gets better each time I watch it, or I simply forget how good it is every time. It’s perfectly crafted, from start to finish, and the only sadness is that audiences didn’t show up enough to give us the sequels that this film deserves. I will have to watch it again very, very soon.

For Sunday night I was tempted by a few titles on my Netflix watch list, but I also felt like it was a good night for introducing the Elderbeast to another classic. After a quick browse, I came up with Hot Fuzz (yes, I’ll get an ointment for that). The Elderbeast enjoyed Shaun Of The Dead, so this was a reasonably safe bet. And it paid off. He’s already keen to watch World’s End.

Reading

I have, predictably, made no progress on The Haunting Of Hill House this week. I’m actually starting to look at reading strategies, and whether a more structured/disciplined approach to my reading will help. Normally I’d simply abandon the book, on the premise that life is too short. But this is a classic of the genre and I can’t let it defeat me!

I’m also very close to finishing the audiobook of Dune. It remains highly absorbing, but I’m still feeling that Frank Herbert hasn’t quite managed to make the latter parts of the book match up to the gripping first act. It’s all starting to come together, but there’s a lot of meandering. I’m aware that these words might be sacrilege to some—and the prose and characterisation are undeniably top notch—but the book does shift rather noticably from being a tense political drama to a portrait of life in the Arrakeen desert.

weeds in alley

Week 37: The sound of …

(September 10 – 16)

This week, for a change, has mostly been about music.

One on end of the spectrum: the streaming variety. I’ve been a longtime Spotify subscriber, but recently got the urge to try out Google Play Music, mostly because it supposedly does a better job of integrating with the Google Home. So far I’ve been unimpressed. Spotify is less than flawless in its design, but I’ve grown used to it. Meanwhile Google Play Music isn’t lacking anything I can put my finger on, but it’s often hard to find what I’m looking for. There seem to be minimal options for browsing music, so the user is forced to search. I’ve got it for a month, so I’ll keep trying, but so far it’s not looking Iike I’ll be making that switch.

On the other end of the scale, I’ve been immersing myself in hi-def multichannel music. Way back when I bought my first DVD player, I discovered that DTS (rivals to Dolby) had started releasing multichannel remixes of classic albums. These were mostly hard to get hold off, relatively expensive, and included very few titles that I was interested enough in to pay the money. This was followed by DVD-Audio, which offered high resolution sound as well as multichannel. Same story. Limited selection. Hard to find. Too expensive for my pocket back then (although I did end up with a couple of titles). After this came SACD. Same story yet again.

All of this was enough, however, to give me a taste for multichannel music. Some audiophiles may look at it as a gimmick, but I love hearing all my speakers coming to life, and being completely surrounded by the music.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I decided to set up my old SACD compatible player for the hell of it. I also decided to check out what SACDs are available to buy, thinking that no one plays SACDs anymore, so there must be a cheap secondhand market, right? Wrong! Most of the bastards are well over $100. Amidst this, somewhat absurdly, is a newly released SACD of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms at the price of a regular CD. I snapped it up (I used to quite enjoy the album when I was younger) and it sounds absolutely awesome.

Since then I’ve been investigating options for getting hold of some more multichannel music. I’ve picked up a few Bluray audio titles (which is the latest format; again, relatively expensive and offering only a small number of titles that I’m actually interested in). I’ve continued to look at SACDs on eBay, but they mostly continue to be way too expensive.

However, over the weekend I stumbled across a Definitely Not At All Dodgy site that offers downloads of hundreds of these out of print titles and I’ve been downloading them like Napster never went out of fashion. I’ve bought myself a portable DVD burner and a stack of discs (and now also have the inevitable stack of failed burns). Where I can, I’ve bought original discs (I’ve ordered at least four titles from eBay in the last few weeks) but most of these mixes are either long out of print, or are secluded away within hugely expensive Super Deluxe reissues of albums.

Consequently, I’ve finally been able to enjoy treats like David Bowie’s Station To Station in 5.1 (pleasantly immersive, but not quite a revelation); I’ve rediscovered a few old Queen albums (The Game and Night At The Opera); I’ve realised that I should have been spending a lot more time listening to Groove Armada’s Vertigo album; and I’ve even found that an old multichannel download of Propaganda’s A Secret Wish (one of my favourite albums) works quite nicely on my new Bluray player.

The market remains defiantly adult-oriented. Naturally we’re talking about people who buy physical music, and like to listen to in on a hi-fi system, which means you’ll see a lot of Sting, Genesis, Dire Straits and the like getting the multichannel treatment—artists that are a bit less to my taste. Luckily, there have also been some David Bowie and Simple Minds titles release, which is a bit closer to the sort of music I’d buy anyway.

Sadly we’re unlikely to find the likes of Chvrches or Tash Sultana hitting this market. Maybe one day.

Watching

For Fridate Horror this week we did something a little different. I spotted something called The 50 Best Horror Films You’ve Never Seen on [Amazon] Prime Video and we decided to watch that, since who doesn’t love a list show? Despite a straight-to-video budget it was a surprisingly engrossing. It as presented by people who clearly love the genre, as opposed to the usual Z-List celebrities that are often unearthed for theses things. Furthermore, it introduced me to several films I’d never even heard of, let alone not seen. Suffice to say, there are about 10 new films on my Friday Horror viewing list.

For Saturday night I treated myself to a shiny new Bluray of Deadpool 2, having missed the movie at the cinema. There’s not really anything profound to say about it, other than it’s just as awesome as the first one, and had me laughing out loud at numerous moments.

Finally, on Sunday the Elderbeast (who has managed to come down with yet another virus) went straight to bed leaving me free reign to choose my own viewing. I opted for The Similars, which has been on my Netflix list for some time and has something like a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (unlike most of the films in my Netflix list). I can’t say too much about it without giving things away, but it’s a beautiful looking film and if you’ve ever wanted to see a Twilight Zone episode directed by David Lynch then this is your almost-chance.

Reading

Still listening to Dune. Still reading The Haunting Of Hill House. I promise I will read something different soon …

snail

Week 36: human

(Sept 3 – 9)

It’s been a slightly depressing week in social media land.

The early part of the week had me preoccupied with Wil Wheaton (not, some of you may note, for the first time) and his experience of the internet. Without going into too much detail (you can get that here), he decided to try out Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter (something I’ve been considering myself), only to find it just as much as of an abusive, festering cesspit as twitter. The depressing part of this is that while many of the people attacking him are undoubtedly manbabygate-adjacent, there were also plenty of others piling in who really should have been on the same side—and entirely, it seems, because of a simple misunderstanding.

It’s another case of something that is increasingly bothering me about social media and modern discourse in general. People seem to be largely intent on looking at how something impacts them, and them alone. There’s little consideration for either intent or context any more. It’s partly to do with the media we now use—we’ve all had instances where an email has been misinterpreted; well that capacity is amplified even more on social media—but people are also fanatically staking out their own corner of the culture war and attacking anyone who, in their view, transgresses.

I’m starting to think that one of the by-products of social media being such an amorphous, distributed thing is that people have a greater need than ever for something to focus on. It can be something relatively wholesome, like a new meme; it could be some event for people to get collectively outraged over (sometimes for good, sometimes for bad); or it can be a person. I wonder if Wil Wheaton, simply because he has poured so much of himself into social media over the years, has become one of those focal points with a critical mass of people using him as a handy target for their various frustrations.

The other major social media event of the week was the outcry over Steve Bannon’s various media appearances, which have included interviews on TV over here, and a [swiftly cancelled] invitation to headline the New Yorker Festival.

Let’s be clear for a moment. The views that someone like Steve Bannon holds absolutely need to be discussed, dissected and (ideally) dismissed. However, this does not mean that Bannon needs to be given a platform to present those views himself. Doing so only serves to legitimise him in the same way that the media, in striving for drama and the audience it delivers, has helped convince the world that there’s a debate to be had on climate change.

It’s depressing enough that various media outlets don’t see any problem with giving Steve Bannon a platform. But what’s truly gotten to me this week is seeing them respond to the justified outcry over Bannon headlining a major Festival with accusations of “outrage culture” and “what about free speech”. And this wasn’t just the usual right-wing suspects, this came from the left as well. It’s made me realise that outlets as supposedly distinct as The Guardian and The Australian are, in fact, closer to representing each other’s views than either are to representing whatever the voice of the people is. It’s shocking, in fact, to realise that there is now a general assumption among the media that they dictate the voice of the people, rather than reporting on it. And this at at time when traditional news is dying a slow, inevitable death.

Bring it on, I say.

Watching

This week we wrapped up Ready Player One—which, you’ll remember, we conveniently abandoned last week at the end of the second act. I’ve come out a pretty big fan of this movie, but it’s mostly because it works as the ultimate Steven Spielberg blockbuster. He was the perfect director to make this film, and he made it perfectly. Not to say that it’s a perfect film: I’m somewhat aggrieved that the otherwise strong female lead is mostly shunted aside in the final act (I haven’t read the source novel so I don’t know if this is the typical hero’s journey weakness endemic to Hollywood blockbusters, or if it’s right there from the start).

However, that aside, the film is worth watching for The Shining sequence alone.

For Fridate Horror we watched Dressed To Kill, which is a film I discovered and fell in love with during my Film Studies course at University. It’s a challenging film in some ways, but it’s a masterful work of cinema. I continued the Brian de Palma theme with a rewatch of Mission: Impossible on Saturday night (I’m aiming to rewatch the entire series, except for the second one, before I catch up with Fallout). I’m delighted to say that I managed, at last, to follow the plot this time around. It’s only taken me the last several decades to get there.

The choice of our Sunday night movie, after last week’s minor debacle of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, was given to the Elderbeast and he picked Doctor Strange. Typically I prefer smaller movies, ideally ones I haven’t seen before, on a Sunday night, but Doctor Strange really fit the bill this week. It’s building its way towards becoming one of my favourite Marvel movies. It’s not only great to look at, but has a compelling journey for its hero. It struck me after this viewing that one of its strengths—ironically, given the premise—is that it tells a very human story of a flawed man who starts out putting himself above everyone else, but ends up putting the rest of the world first.

Reading

Not much to report on The Haunting Of Hill House. I am enjoying the experience of reading it, but not enough to want to return to it every night. I will need to make a concerted effort to get into a reading rhythm otherwise it will end up on the pile of abandoned books.

Dune has also reached a bit of a lull. I’m at what I would call the start of Act 2 (when it’s all gone horribly wrong with House Atreides) and am finding that there’s much padding. This seems to be the point when Frank Herbert has grown overly fascinated with his own creation and has forgotten to keep the plot moving forward in any significant way. It’s interesting to compare to the film version which retained Act 1 in almost every detail, but skipped past huge chunks of this section without any obvious impact on the plot.

Make no mistake, it’s all great writing and perfectly enjoyable to listen to—it’s just a bit of a comedown from the pace and intrigue of the first section of the book.

cookies

Week 35: Smart

(August 27 – Sept 2)

Regular readers of these ramblings will know that one of my recent obsessions is smart devices. This started out as an obsession with bluetooth speakers, then bluetooth colour-changing light bulbs. Then I realised that I could potentially control my light bulbs with my voice and, well …

To date, I have four Google Homes in my house: one in each of the kid’s rooms, so they can listen to music / podcasts / stories; one in the kitchen, mostly so I can listen to music while I cook; and one in the front room so I can control my Chromecast and the two smart lights in there. Sure, it’s fair to say I’m not exactly using those devices to their full potential, but I’m definitely having fun with them.

This week I added a few new devices to the setup. I’ve been ogling the Mijia touch-controlled bedside lamp for a while and finally saw one at a sufficiently tempting price. Now, I actually have two bedside lamps in my bed room, but I wasn’t about to shell out for a second fancy bedside lamp, so I simply fitted the other lamp with a spare Yeelight smart bulb that I happened to have lying around.

I also replaced the Google Home Mini in my kitchen with a .. non-mini Google Home (again, after seeing an unmissable offer), which meant I ended up with a handy Google Home Mini for my bedroom. Which meant I could control the lights which sit next to my bed without actually having move my arm.

After much tweaking, I finally settled on three lighting setups: “reading”, in which my bedside light is bright enough for me to read by, but the other one is set to a dim red (for that all-important red light at bedtime!); “night”, a suitably low-level ambient setup for the rare occasions when I want to Netflix and chill in bed; and the imaginatively named “orange”, a nice bright orange for everyday use.

Even more fun than all of that is the particular trigger word I need to use for the Google Home to switch on these modes for me, which is “activate”. For example:

“Hey Google, activate night.”

To which I get the response: “Okay, activating the Night.”

It’s the little things …

Watching

A busy film week this week. As the Elderbeast has been sick all weekend (and would go on to be sick all week as well) I allowed him the privilege of choosing our Monday night viewing. He picked Ready Player One which was turning out pretty good, but because it’s so goddam long he bailed at the end of the second act. I’ll have more to say about that one when we eventually finish watching it.

I also checked out the first episode of the Sci-Fi Channel’s 2000 adaptation of Dune. It had been much-heralded at the time, but I don’t remember very much about it. I didn’t want to watch the David Lynch film as I’m still only about a third through the audiobook and want to enjoy the end of that without another version getting in the way—also, I still seem to remember the Lynch film pretty vividly.

Unfortunately the Sci-Fi version was a fair disappointment. While plenty of the detail made it to the screen, much of the subtlety was lost. I had the impression that scenes were rushed through production (the likely peril of a TV budget back then) which diminished any sense of dramatic tension: things simply happened in the order in which they happened. It definitely gave me a renewed appreciation for the Lynch film which, at least for the first hour or so, manages to perfectly capture both the mood and drama of the book.

For Friday Horror we watched Hereditary, which is a film that will stay with me for a loooong time. It’s one of those rare films where the ending more than adequately pays off on the terrific sense of dread that has been developing throughout, but also one where it’s not just about the ending (like, for instance, Audition). Amazing stuff. I hope to see it appearing in many future lists of the best horror films ever made.

For Saturday I continued my brief Les Liaisons Dangereuses revisitation with Dangerous Liaisons, which perfectly captures the deliciousness of the source material, despite being somewhat Americanised (not least with the title). Unlike Valmont, however, you don’t quite get the same sense of the emotional journey that the characters take. I suspect Milos Forman (Valmont) was far more interested in exploring the characters, which is why he took a few liberties with the story, whereas Dangerous Liaisons was mostly about capitalising on the success of the play.

I do wish we’d managed to get Alan Rickman in there as Valmont (it was, after all, his performance in the play that first brought him to the attention of Hollywood), but I imagine we might have missed out on his legendary Die Hard casting if Hollywood hadn’t decided it was necessary to have a known actor (John Malkovich) in its film version of Dangerous Liaisons.

On Sunday afternoon I finally treated myself to Sunset Boulevard, one of several notable cinema classics that I have so far failed to see. My only surprise is that I was genuinely expecting something of a noir thriller. Other than that it’s as perfectly wonderful as everyone says it is, and it’s already earned a place on the rewatch list.

For Sunday night I stuck on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, thinking that the Elderbeast would be tickled by it. The good bits are just as good as I remember but, oh boy, does it take a while to get there. The film rides comfortably on the Caine-Martin double act, and the script is just about good enough to keep you watching. However, it seems that this movie falls into the same trap as a lot of comedies–particularly eighties ones: namely that it’s a light-hearted romp that’s oversold by having a comedy superstar like Steve Martin in the cast. We remember all the Steve Martin bits (Ruprecht the Monkey Boy, in particular) but the rest of the movie can’t help but feel a little flat in comparison.

It’s a very rare film that properly meshes the comedy and the story—when it works you get Ghostbusters or Animal House; when it doesn’t you get almost every other film starring a Saturday Night Live alumnus.

Reading

I’m continuing to make slow progress on The Haunting Of Hill House. As good as it may be, it’s hardly a page turner and I’m struggling to muster the discipline to pick it up each night. This will likely be a slow burn for me.

I’m also still immersed in the audiobook of Dune—given that this is 17 hours long this was always going to be a month-long project (at least). A few weeks back I listened to an Audible interview with Joe Hill, where he was asked what he liked in particular about audiobooks. I was very struck by his answer, in which he explained that having a book read to him had the effect, sometimes, of revealing to him how a book should be read. It makes sense. We read books to ourselves the same way each time, in our own voice, which may not be the right voice for every book we read. Someone else will inevitably offer a fresh perspective.

Joe Hill’s example was of a book that used a specific dialect and needed an actor familiar with the patois to bring it to life. Dune isn’t in that category, but it is lush with details, and has many, many characters to follow around—at least initially. I’m finding that the audiobook version is bringing the story to vivid life in a way that my previous readings of the book never really achieved. I’m picking up details that I know I missed on my previous readings, and I’m having absolutely no problems keeping track of the characters and the subtleties of the plot.

Having just written the above, I’ve opted to use one of my Audible credits on the audiobook of It (which has received superb reviews). It’s another book that I’ve read many times, and am very familiar with. However, I stalled on my last rereading and am now fascinated to see if/how the audiobook version brings a fresh dimension to the book.

cat sitting in grass

Week 34: Dim

(August 20 – August 26)

There has been an interesting theme of disruption and lack of focus this week. Politically, the week started with a leadership challenge in Parliament in which the least effective Prime Minister in Australian history was challenged by a strong candidate for the least suitable person ever to [almost] be Prime Minister–and given the catastrophically low talent pool currently available in the Liberal party, and the fact that we’ve already had Tony Abbott, that’s really saying something.

Fortunately the leadership bid made by Peter Dutton, possibly the one person in the world less fit to be in charge of people than Donald Trump, failed.A second attempt followed at the end of the week which Dutton still lost (because apparently he’s really, really bad at this), but we still ended up with a new (and just as awful) Prime Minister. We also endured the shameful spectacle of the government shutting down Parliament for a day simply because it was all too hard for them to get on with their jobs.

Meanwhile, over in the USA, Donald Trump inches closer and closer to impeachment and grows more paranoid and deranged as the day approaches. I haven’t checked in on the UK for a while, but I assume the government there is continuing with the catastrophic omnishambles that is their Brexit negotiations, and which shows every sign of wrecking the country in the long run.

Closer to home, I’ve all but given up on being particularly productive during my morning (writing) shifts. I’ve continued to write, but I’ve struggled getting up most mornings and my concentration is shot. I’ve turned out paragraphs here and there, but nothing substantial. I’ve decided to mostly write off (hahahaha) August, by which I mean I’m not going to stress too much about not writing, and I’ll make an effort to return to normal business in September.

Hopefully the world will have calmed down a bit by then and things won’t be quite so distracting.

Lol.

Watching

It’s been another week of not watching anything TV-wise. On Monday the kids and I dropped in on a very excellent Lego group, which particularly rekindled the Elderbeast’s passion for LEGO. As a consequence we sat down and watched the LEGO Brickumentary later in the evening. It was pretty good and offered a very rounded view of the world of LEGO. My only complaint was, like most of these feature length pop culture documentaries, it focused a bit too much on the fans. I can talk to LEGO fans anytime—what I’m really interested in is how LEGO gets made, how the sets get designed, all of that stuff we don’t usually get to see.

Also, all of the Americans who keep saying “Legos” can get in the bin.

For our Friday horror film this week we watched a British offering called Ghost Stories. This was excellent, very scary in parts, pretty oddball in others. It was not unlike the portmanteau chillers of the seventies, which would typically wrap up by delivering a severe moral judgement on its various participants. This one ended up in a different place—which I obviously don’t want to spoil—but it was nice to see that the British industry can still deliver top quality horror.

The Elderbeast chose Spider-Man: Homecoming for our Saturday night film, which was as good as I remember it being first time around.

For Sunday I was a little stuck for something to watch, and eventually chose Night of The Hunter, which I’d recently bought on bluray. I’d only seen it once, many years ago, and there turned out to be a lot I didn’t remember. It’s a remarkable film; at times chilling, lyrical almost to the point of surrealness in others. I’m very glad I now own a copy that will allow me to revisit the film a bit more often than previously.

Reading

Still reading The Haunting Of Hill House. Still listening to Dune. More next week. Maybe.

garden lights

Week 33: “I hope all your children have very small dicks! And that includes the girls!!”

(August 13 – August 19)

This week was mostly about the slow, ponderous return to full health after my illness last week. Although I was up and about, and going to work, and generally passing for human, I was still feeling pretty shabby. It wasn’t until Thursday that I finally felt the bonds of illness slipping from my shoulders and began to feel like myself again.

I suppose that’s one of the benefits of a minor sickness: you get to see your everyday self in sharp relief to your ensickened self. You get to realise that it’s quite nice being able to do things, even if it’s just boring, everyday things like cooking dinner—and being able to cook dinner without it feeling like a marathon effort.

Talking of dinner, I also got my new stovetop installed this week. Which was nice.

Watching

Following a random mention on twitter this week, I felt compelled to end my working week by watching The Tall Guy. This is one of those films I used to watch regularly in my late teens and it was a delight revisiting it now. In fact, I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to remind myself why I used to love it so much. Perhaps a fear—ultimately and definitively unfounded—that it wouldn’t match up to my memories.

I believe this was Richard Curtis’s first film as screenwriter, and there are plenty of his tropes already on display. I won’t pick through them here, but it’s certainly fun seeing this almost-forgotten comedy showing off many of the things that would eventually make it into his subsequent blockbusters.

Of course, one thing you get with a debut screenplay, including a low budget, is the sense that Curtis hasn’t quite yet worked out what he’s doing yet. Consequently, he’s willing to take a few more risks here, to throw jokes at the screen instead of whittling them down to perfection. As a result, one of the [many] charms of The Tall Guy are the random gags and one liners that bring a wealth of colour and characterisation to this otherwise tiny tale of people caught in the swell of London life.

One surprise on rewatching the film was how much of a role the music plays. In truth, this shouldn’t be a surprise at all, given that I found myself humming along note for note to almost every music cue—and remembered the music far better, as it happens, than the dialogue (which was more in the realm of comfortably familiar). In concert with some fine editing choices, the music absolutely builds the mood of the film throughout, adding a rich emotional depth to what is, basically, a silly movie about two people falling in love. When the characters do fall for each other, we really feel it; when they’re maudlin and reflective, so are we; and when we get to the (spoiler) happy ending, the music doesn’t overplay things; instead it lets us enjoy the moment.

Also; try not falling in love with Emma Thompson in this movie. I dare you.

Reading

In audiobook world I finally finished Redshirts, which was pretty great. I had a small selection of purchases to choose for my next listen and eventually—and ambitiously—opted for Dune. It’s something like a 17 hour listen, which will be interesting with my 40 minutes of so of listening time each day. I read the book many years ago, and have revisited it once or twice since then. I’ve been meaning to give it a fresh read for a few years now, so the audiobook seemed like a good opportunity.

So far I’m gripped. The narrator (Simon Vance) is excellent, and there are some full cast dramatised sections which I’m also enjoying. I’m finding, perhaps, that I’m following the detail of the story more easily with the audiobook.

I also started reading The Haunting Of Hill House, which has been on my Kindle wish list for some time, and conveniently went on sale this week. The Haunting (Robert Wise’s adaptation) is one of my favourite films and so far the book and film are very close. As vivid as Shirley Jackson’s prose is, I’ll admit I’m finding the ‘old fashionedness’ of it a little hard to wade through at times. It’s fascinating the way that prose styles change over the decades and centuries, and how our ‘reader brains’ get used to one style over another.

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