Hi, I'm Rob, and this is where I log the books, films, articles and other cultural flotsam that has caught my attention.

Consumed the week of 4 November, 2019

My favourite long read of the week was probably After the Fall of the Glossy Magazine, What’s Left of Condé Nast?, just because it’s a proper nerdy deep dive into how journalism is working (or at least trying to work) in the Internet age.

Don’t Play the Goose Game from The Atlantic is about the Untitled Goose Game (which I haven’t actually played) but it’s also about what constitutes game play and how that, more often than not, is about some kind of ‘work’ (or ‘playbor’) and how the new breed of ‘walking simulators’ try and avoid that playbor trap. And it’s also about memes and web culture more broadly:

But as images both real and fake have proliferated, their volume has become oppressive. The hundreds your Instagram or Facebook friends post daily. The thousands on Pinterest that show up, welcome or not, with every Google search. Specific images become replaced by caricatures of images: a sun-drenched vacation beach, or an artfully arranged omakase course, or a child now older come a new autumn. It’s no wonder that the droll, more biting memes rise above the fray. Perhaps the best definition of a meme is just an image that, against the odds, actually gets seen—before mercifully vanishing.

The other week I went along to the BFI on the Southbank to watch a preview of the new BBC adapatation of War of the Worlds, starring Eleanor Tomplinson and Rafe Spall (and Robert Carlyle). It’s proper Sunday evening entertainment and I’ll definitely watch the rest of it when it airs.

That’s it for this week, been a quiet one. I’ll leave you with my playlist of the music (both new and old) that’s caught my attention over the past few months:

Consumed the weeks of 21 and 28 October

I’m back from Orlando, just getting over the jet leg as well as a bit of a head cold.

I could write a lot about how strange Orlando is. Although I really enjoyed Universal Studios (especially the Halloween Horror night we went to there), it’s very peculiar to be in a different country for a whole week and not encounter anything ‘real’, by which I mean something that isn’t artificially constructed. A whole week and we didn’t encounter a real high street or anything you’d call a ‘community’ (and we tried!). But, wow, that King Kong ride is pretty fantastic!

On the plane I watched Rocketman which I enjoyed far more that I thought I would (it’s pretty much made to be an aeroplane film), and I thought Taron Egerton gave a fantastic performance. Also on the plane (but on my Pixelbook, these two weren’t on the in-flight entertainment menu) I watched Ken Russell’s 1908 psychedelic sci-fi/horror Altered States, which I really liked in all its trippy, slightly melodramatic insanity (it also makes you appreciate what an amazing job Kubrick did with his special effects over a decade earlier), and Richard Brooks’ 1977 true crime drama Looking for Mr Goodbar starring a great Diane Keaton and Richard Gere in his first screen role.

Since we got back Nina and I watched Steven Soderbergh’s new one for Netflix, The Laundromat (not that great) and Lulu Wang’s The Farewell which is just beautiful and touching and funny and everything you want from a film.

Television good news: Watchmen is very good so far (two episodes in), and AV Club agrees with me.

Television bad news: The fantastic Lodge 49 has been cancelled and is looking for a new home. Such a shame when shows like that can’t survive. Here’s Vox talking about why it’s so special.

Back to film for a second: Vice has a nice oral history of one of my favourite cult films: The Improbable True Story of How ‘Clerks’ Was Made, and the New Yorker has a long, fascinating interview with the great Errol Morris about his new documentary which is a typical Morris profile of the vile Steve Bannon (AV Club reviews the film positively here).

Back to Vice, and they have a really interesting article about a big AirBnB scam (I have become increasingly disillusioned with the service over the past year or so and think it will take quite a lot for me to use it again at this point). Meanwhile The Atlantic explain why WeWork’s Adam Neumann Is the Most Talented Grifter of Our Time (and by ‘talented’ they mean ‘disgustingly greedy’).

My favourite article this week though was This essay is just Harry Potter for people who think comparing things to Harry Potter is stupid (it’s not actually about Potter).

Finally this week: music. Yesterday I went to the Southbank Center to see part of their Deep Minimalism weekend. Essentially I sat in a darkened room for three hours (no break) and listened to Trilogie de la Mort by Eliane Radigue, “the long-form bass experience never to be forgotten by those willing to give up the surface of the world for three hours.” I’m not exaggerating when I say it was a beautiful, mind-altering experience, which you can recreate in the comfort of your own home by getting some good headphones, going into a darkened room and listening to this:

Consumed the weeks of 7 and 14 October.

Last weekend I was in Spain with work, this weekend I fly to Orlando with my wife’s family, so here’s a quick film and TV roundup before I go away and read all those articles I have saved up.

This week another adaptation of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen hits our (ok, America’s screens) in the form of Damon Lindelof’s HBO series (not a retelling though, this is a ‘remix’ apparently).

I’m excited for this, mainly because I adored The Leftovers. But I have been burned by Moore adaptations before (and I have been burned by Lindelof before -cough-Lost-cough), so we’ll see. It’s been fun reading the coverage though, especially as Lindelof thinks Alan Moore has cursed him (literally). Meanwhile The NY Times dug right into the history of The Watchmen universe, and my most trusted review source (The AV Club) gave the preview a B score.

Certain to be my most disappointing thing (not just ‘film’ but ‘thing) of the year, is Joker. God, I hated this film. So much so that it made me angry. I’m not going to waste space or time writing about it (I’m already bored of the endless conversations), but if you want to read a review which is very close to my feelings this from Mubi‘s blog is very good.

Or, if you want to watch a deadpan YouTuber talk about the problems with the film for 30 minutes, I can recommend this:

Certain to be amongst (if not at the the top of) my top films of the year is Parasite by Bong Joon ho. It’s everything Joker isn’t: smart, funny, well-directed, engaging, interesting fun… But don’t just take my word for it. As it’s about to come out in the States there’s a ton of good press about it, including this overcooked headline from AV Club: Parasite may be Bong Joon Ho’s most thrilling ride on the genre-hopping Snowpiercer express, and Director Bong Joon ho on his favourite filmmakers and the rich kid who inspired Parasite (also from AV Club, sorry, I really need to widen my reading habits), Bong Joon-ho’s Dystopia Is Already Here from Vulture which contains a cracking Harvey Weinstein anecdote, and Why everyone is talking about Bong Joon Ho’s ‘Parasite’: A thriller rooted in class conflict from the LA Times.

(There’s a lot of different ways to write Joon Ho in those headlines, I just realised)

Other things watched in the last few weeks: Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons (great but understandably flawed – not Orson’s fault), Netflix Stephen King (and son) adaptation, In The Tall Grass (not good), and documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (great stuff).

See you in a week or so! In the meantime, here’s a short film about Robyn’s gig at Alexandra Palace earlier this year, which i was at and which was amazing:

Consumed the Weeks of 16th, 23rd and 30th of September

Last week I went back to Liverpool with a few friends to mark the 25th (!) anniversary of us all going to university there. Yes, I am officially old now. Which is why this GQ article on ‘being washed’ really struck a chord with me.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more of us admitted…not defeat, necessarily, but the possibility of defeat? If more of us were washed? And in doing so allowed ourselves to find what pleasure, or peace, might await on the other side?

(I don’t play golf though. I’m not at that point… yet.)

The musician Daniel Johnston died earlier this month. I wasn’t an obsessive fan of his or anything, but I liked his music and really enjoyed the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. This article from Longreads is one of the best I read after he passed away.

I hate giving up on books, but this week I decided to give up on Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory. The set up was really intriguing, but it just didn’t grab me and I had to make myself put it back on the shelf even though I was half way through it. I picked up Lovecraft Country instead, and already I’m a lot happier.

In between the two I demolished the new Stephen King novel, The Institute, in two days flat. I hope he keeps writing books forever.

What I’ve done most of the past few weeks is watch films. I’ve been working my way through quite a few cult classics as well as some new movies. Here’s the list:

Targets (1968)

The Long Goodbye (1973)

F for Fake (1973)

Shirkers (2018)

Hard Eight (1996)

Lowlife (2017)

Hal (2018)

Night of the Demon (1957)

Harold and Maude (1971)

Billy Jack (1971)

Parasite (2019)

Of the classics, I loved Harold and Maude and Night of the Demon. From the new stuff, Parasite was my favourite I think. Shirkers was the pick of the documentaries. I also read a really good article about the Billy Jack phenomenon.

I’ll leave you this week with some Four Tet:

Consumed the week of 9 September, 2019

Above, Sam Gainsborough makes William Blake’s paintings come alive over London buildings to mark the opening of the new Tate exhibition.

Also from Vimeo: this brilliant little documentary on New York Sanitation worker, Nelson Molina who has collected over 45,000 items from the stuff that’s thrown away on his route in East Harlem and catalogued and organised them all on the second floor of the M11 garage.

Last week I was clearing out the hard drives of an old Macbook and found my old iTunes library. So much great stuff, so many memories, so much money and time invested.. and now it’s effectively redundant. A few day later I came across A Decade of Music Is Lost on Your iPod. These Are The Deleted Years. Now Let Us Praise Them on Esquire.

As a forty-something year old man in the UK, I really shouldn’t be as interested in The Story of Caroline Calloway & Her Ghostwriter Natalie, but I really am.

Watched this week: The Honeymoon Killers from 1970 (thanks mainly to Danny Peary’s Cult Movies book which I picked up second hand last week).

Finaly got round to watching John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum which was great fun and help up really well until the last 20 minutes when it lost its way a little.

I alos watched Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood for the second time. This time at the Prince Charles cinema in 35mm. I enjoyed it even more the second time around.

Music-wise this week, how about a huge playlist celebrating the legendary Lovefingers blog?

Consumed the week of 2 September, 2019

This famous photo of two people wrapped up in a duvet in the middle of Woodstock was taken by the amazingly-named Burk Uzzle. Longreads interviewed him about his life, his work and that particular image.

I will read anything about Charles Schulz, so this article that asks Did Schulz Really Write ‘Peanuts’ for Kids? made me very happy.

Talking of dogs (kind of), we are now registered for adoption at Battersea Dogs Home! Watch this space for canine-related updates.

The Crane Wife from the Paris Review, is an essay about love and relationships and wildlife and all sorts of things.

Takashi Murakami is probably one of my favourite living artists. CNN interviewed him about the influences that shaped his artistic identity.

I am one of the last Internet innocents apparently, i.e. I was born in a pre-Internet age. In her Guardian essay Innocence Lost, Leak McLaren (who must be about my age and who also has a great name) asks ‘What did you do before the internet?’.

On Friday night, Nina and I finally got round to watching Wild Rose, directed by Tom Harper and starring the incredible Jessie Buckley. I thought it was brilliant.

I have just started reading Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory.

I’m really enjoying the second season of Lodge 49 right now. Here’s a playlist someone has made of the music from the show.

Consumed the week of 26 August, 2019

I’m still not reading a lot at the moment. Been a few weeks now where I’ve spent more time listening to music and watching films than I have reading articles or books.

I did finish The Lost Man, by Jane Harper who also wrote another Australian outback thriller The Dry (which I read last year).

And I’m about halfway through Robin, the enormous Robin Wiliams biography by Dave Itzkoff (it’s so enormous I can’t carry it around with me, so it’s strictly a bedtime book).

I also managed to get to the Prince Charles Cinema (of which I’m now a lifetime member, and if you live in London and you like films then you should consider becoming one too, it’s only £50!) to watch the documentary Memory: The Origins of Alien. Here’s the trailer:

Still on a bit of a cult classic kick, I watched Hard Times directed by William Hill and starring Charles Bronson as a street fighter; and Godard’s Band of Outsiders (aka Bande à part) which I’ve shamefully never watched. Here’s the dance sequence to cheer up your day:

Talking of classic films, this post from the Mubi blog about the evolution of the poster for Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero (and the business of marketing movies) is a brilliant read (that’s the Criterion DVD cover design at the top of this post).

And a relaxing, meditative long read for you: The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan by Craig Mod, from Wired.

Finally for this week, here’s some of my favourite music from the past few months (some brand new, some newly discovered):

Consumed the weeks of 12 and 19 August, 2019

I’ve watched quite a few old films recently.

Nina was away in New York with work for a week, but before she went we had a cinema date to go and see Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, at the Everyman in Crystal Palace.

Definitely not Tarantino’s best (as I’ve heard a few people say) but I enjoyed it and I suspect it might be one of those ‘better the second time around’ kind of films.

I did then have a few days where I could indulge in some very Taranino/OUATIH-esque films (which Nina wouldn’t want to watch in a million years). So I did.

I gobbled up Bob Le Flambeur, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, Point Blank, Moving Target and If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death.

While none of them blew me away it was a pretty fun experiment.

When Nina got back we sat down to watch The Souvenir, Joanna Hogg’s latest, which was pretty brutal viewing but quite brilliant.

These past couple of weeks I read The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do, a book whose title is almost as long as the book itself. It’s very gimicky and one note but probably a valuable reminder.

I also picked up the Nintendo Switch again after quite a while and got stuck into Inside, which I’m loving.

Here’s a song to put on while you’re cruising around the city in your convertible, pickng up hitchhikers:

Consumed the month of July (and a bit of August), 2019

I took a month off updating the blog. I didn’t really mean to, but a trip up to Manchester for a friend’s 40th, plus a trip to Spain to visit my in-laws, meant that I didn’t really have much time to sit down and get this done.

In the past four weeks I’ve seen the plays The End of History with David Morrissey and Lesley Sharp (which made me cry), and Bitter Wheat with John Malkovich (which made me laugh a little, but didn’t really do much else).

I also went along to Despacio, the “bespoke soundsystem [that] envelops the crowd in amazing sound for a vinyl-only experience like no other” created by James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) and David and Stephen Dewaele (Soulwax). Even though James Murphy couldn’t be there that was still an incredible night with an equally incredible glitter ball (see picture above).

I finished reading Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan, and I also read Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

I watched A Bigger Splash, the 1973 documentary/drama about the life of David Hockney (loved it), and also recent romcom Long Shot (just ok).

I also finished watching season 2 of Big Little Lies, and read a lot of articles like this one from the New Yorker abut how it was ‘disappointing and Emmy-baiting’ (it may have been, but I still enjoyed it).

Sahanika Ratnayake’s essay Mindfulness is loaded with (troubling) metaphysical assumptions put into words a lot of the worries and nervousness I have about mindfulness and meditation.

Mike Davidson’s diatribe about the email client Superhuman and how it is Spying on You reminded me how vigilant we have to be these days.

I also read some more lightweight, fun stuff, including…

NME’s interview with Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend (still my favourite album of the year so far).

This video essay from Vox on the birth of house music:

And a whole article about the brilliant When Harry Met Sally…,

Do Something! is a bit of a takedown of Jenny Odell’s book How to do Nothing (which I adored and have recommended to a lot of people). Always good to expose yourself to the other side of the argument, right?

Jason Kottke wrote about serendipity v algorithmy, which led me to an article by Dan Cohen on why Engagement Is the Enemy of Serendipity. I am in total agreement.

I couldn’t go a whole month without reading a long article about a conman of some kind, and How Scorned Women Caught L.A.’s ‘Dine-and-Dash Dater’ is a corker.

And then there’s How Clown Pants Saved My Life.

After a bit of musical goodness to accompany you through the week? Here’s Fingertracks Vol 1 from Lovefingers.

Consumed the week of 8 July, 2019

Loads to get through this week so let’s dive right in…

That video above is from the YouTube channel Veratisium and it goes into brilliant detail about how YouTube works. Fascinating stuff.

Coincidentally, the sam day I watched that, I also listened to the most recent episode of Reply All, which also looks at YouTube’s algorithm and the effect it has on our behaviours.

I haven’t watched any of The Toys That Made Us on Netflix but this short article goes into the weird, accidental history of  He-Man’s Battle Cat and how he is “a metaphor for digital product development”.

Over at Popula they’re talkng about Cory Doctorow’s arguments and worries about digital books and why Paper Books Can’t Be Shut Off from Afar.

Loving the fact that Jarvis Cocker and Jeremy Deller have joined forces for a new National Trust art trail.

A couple of long reads about health and illness etc this week.

First was The Reappearing Act from Longreads, which is mainly about knife throwing.

Also, I have had Drew Magary’s essay about his “freakish brain hemorrhage” on my to-read list for nearly three months now. The reason it took so long to read it was my wife suffered a traumatic brain injury a couple of years ago (she is fully recovered now, thanks for asking) and I wasn’t sure I was up to reading about it. But I was, and I’m glad I did.

Complete change of course now: an article about Tom Stoppard’s work on the script of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and what that can teach storywriters.

Last article this week is this Frank Chimero interview about “causing ‘good trouble’ and re-imagining the status quo to combat achievement culture”.

Music-wise this week, I’m enjoying the new one from Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Mattiel: