In my never-ending search for blog content (god, I hate that word! Talk about devaluing what writers do. Reducing our blood, sweat, and tears to something easily digestible and just as easily forgotten) I’ve decided to make a virtue of my chronic procrastination. Hence this new column, the full title of which would have been What I watched, read, listened to this week while I should have been writing if I wasn’t a little OCD about unwieldy page URLs. This is a place where I’ll touch on the various tv shows, movies and music I caught this week.

My tastes are pretty conventional but maybe I’ll turn you onto something cool you didn’t know about. If you disagree with my opinions feel free to let me know in the comments. This is a conversation, not a lecture. And, if there’s something cool you think I’ll like, please let me know. I’ve reached that age where I feel less and less connected to the pop culture zeitgeist. Especially, when it comes to music. Watching the Top 20 on Rage every Saturday morning is both a confusing and depressing experience. Where did all the guitars go? Maybe I’m just old.

 

TV

I was chatting with some friends at work and the topic of Married at First Sight came up. This is evidently a popular reality tv show. I have never seen it. Good trashy fun, they say and I’ll take their word for it. The last reality TV show I watched and enjoyed was Rock of Love with Bret Michaels. I’m pretty sure that’s as good as the medium gets.

Since Netflix came to Australia I’ve been gradually weening myself off free-to-air television to the point where now I only watch ABC. Just like my grandparents. Between Netflix, Amazon, Stan and HBO Now, I don’t ever find myself at a loss for something entertaining to watch and if the best commercial TV has to offer is Married at First Sight it’s probably going to stay that way.

Seinfeld

There was a time when Seinfeld was ubiquitous, seemingly on TV whenever I happened to switch it on. Enough time has passed, however, that when I saw it pop up in the Stan queue I was genuinely excited about watching it again. Still, I was nervous – would it hold up? Since the finale back in 1999, I’ve discovered and loved The Office, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, and Seinfeld-creator Larry David’s own Curb Your Enthusiasm. Shows that built on the foundation of Seinfeld and pushed the medium into new and exciting territories. I wasn’t sure the three-camera, canned laughter format would still work for me. It does. Seinfeld is just as funny and subversive as I remember it being. Some of that is due to the rosy glow of nostalgia. Mainly, it’s just really well written. Probably, the apotheosis of the sitcom format. Certainly, a helluva lot better than The Big Bang Theory.

Twin Peaks

I’m a David Lynch fan. Barring Inland Empire (I just couldn’t get past the incredibly ugly video format Lynch shot on. Also the 3-hour running time was a bit much) I’ve enjoyed everything he’s done. My favourite Lynch flick is Blue Velvet, with Mulholland Drive a close second. I was a bit too young to catch Twin Peaks when it first arrived in 1990 and changed the landscape of television forever (Seriously, it did). Watching it now has been a fascinating experience. Yes, it’s dated and some of the performances are corny as hell but Lynch and his co-creator Mark Frost were really onto something. You can be watching one scene which is objectively bad (bad acting, writing, lighting, etc) and the next  is so sublimely perfect that it throws the previous scene into a whole new context and you realise that Lynch isn’t just throwing shit at a wall and seeing what it sticks – that he actually has a plan and that plan is genius. I love the rich supernatural mythology of the show, the primal evil forces that inhabit the woods and find Agent Cooper to be a hero for the ages. Also, Angelo Badalamenti’s music is the best score any TV show has ever had.

I’ve started the second season, and while it doesn’t feel as focused as the first I’m still enjoying it. It’s the perfect show to watch at 11 pm when it’s quiet and dark and you’re sleep deprived and need to feed a hungry crying infant a bottle of milk.

Billions

I watched the first episode of this on Stan and loved it. I don’t get all the finance mumbo jumbo but Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis are infinitely watchable. It’ll be a nice holdover until Better Call Saul starts.

As for upcoming TV shows, the trailer for this dropped yesterday and I’m beyond excited…

 

Movies

Cape Fear

This has been sitting in my Netflix queue since I went on a Scorsese jag a few months back. I watched it on video about 20 years and hadn’t seen it since. Watching it again, I was thrilled by Scorsese’s craft. This is Scorsese doing De-Palma doing Hitchcock and cranking it up to 11.  I don’t think a thriller so self-consciously stylish could make it through the studio system today. The marketers wouldn’t know what to do with it. De Niro’s great and seems to be having a ball but his performance reads a little hammy these days. Less Travis Bickle and more like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. The real acting tour-de-force comes from Juliette Lewis. She couldn’t have been older than 18 and blows everyone else off the screen giving a nuanced and affecting performance. I wonder what she’s up to these days?

They Look Like People

As a horror buff, I’m always seeking out talented new voices in the genre. Last year I caught It Follows which was great, but I hadn’t seen anything recently that knocked my socks off. They Look Like People won the Special Jury Prize at the prestigious Slamdance festival which is how it popped up on my radar. I’m surprised it didn’t win more awards. It’s the kind of film you point to when you want to make the argument that you don’t need a lot of money to make a great movie. Just talent (and talented friends). Shot in the director’s apartment with a small cast (many of whom doubled on technical duties behind the camera) They Look Like People contains some of the best performances, writing, and directing, of any movie – horror or otherwise – I’ve seen. Days after watching it I still find myself returning to scenes, mulling them over, uncovering subtleties. It’s both a tense horror flick and a compelling portrait of mental illness.

Books

The Fireman

I love Joe Hill. Yes, I came to his work biased knowing that he was the son of Stephen King, my all-time favourite author, but I think it’s indicative of Hill’s talent that he has managed to rise above any easy comparisons to his father’s work. That said, The Fireman hasn’t grabbed me as immediately as his previous novel, NOSFA2 did. The premise is compelling enough – a fungus spore spreads throughout the world making people combustible – I’m just not a huge fan of his heroine. She’s a little too passive. And the Mary Poppins thing seems forced. Still, it’s early days yet and I trust Hill enough to follow where he goes. If you haven’t read his work, pick up 20th Century Ghosts. Easily, one of the best collections of short stories I’ve ever read.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Great muscular Hemingway writing in easily consumable bite-sized narrative nuggets. Lots of stories about matadors. I guess Hemingway had a thing about them. I don’t why but I find his writing pretty homoerotic in places? Maybe it’s just so alpha that I can’t help but feel he’s trying to obfuscate something. Maybe I’m way off.

Keith Richard’s Life

I started an Audible subscription last year and it’s one of the best purchases I ever made. Now, on the way to work or long car journeys I can listen to stories rather than just zone out to the same mixes I always listen to. I find memoirs work particularly well in this format, especially when they’re read by the author. There’s an intimacy to the experience that mere words on a page can’t quite convey. Having recently finished Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run I felt like continuing my musician jag so grabbed Keith Richard’s Life. Instead of Keith, it’s narrated by Johnny Depp but that’s cool. Anyone who’s seen Pirates of the Caribbean knows that Depp can do a pretty mean Keith Richards impression.

 

Music

The Rolling Stones

To enrich my Keith Richards audiobook experience, I’ve been going through The Rolling Stones discography. The early stuff is cool but their stuff didn’t really click with me until Beggar’s Banquet. Sympathy for the Devil is one of my favourite songs of all time. Still, at heart, I’ll always be a Beatles guy.

The Kings of Leon

Re-listening to the Kings of Leon, man I love they’re early stuff and find they’re later stuff almost unlistenable. It’s like they wrote Sex on Fire had a big hit with it and decided that’s all they were going to do. They should never have shaved off the beards.

A closer-to-home comparison to this depressing musician phenomenon would be the Aussie band Powderfinger. Their early stuff was interesting, experimental kind of raw but kind of beautiful. They hit it big with the power ballad These Days and seemed to morph overnight into the poster-children of radio friendly rock’n’roll. I guess it takes a peculiarly strong artistic type to hold onto their integrity in the face overwhelming financial success.

 

Writing

The third Winter book is going well. I managed to keep to my early morning writing schedule this week and churn out another few thousand words. Just picking up speed at this stage, hoping to break into a full sprint soon. I’ll keep you posted. And please, if you enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing by typing your email in the field below.

M.J.