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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Chocolate Socialist's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, November 18th, 2015
2:54 pm
Up to date.
[New York 1]
I freely admit that I wasted my first trip to New York - not entirely of course, I saw George's friends Daniel and Zeke, and I saw cartographer , all of whom were great.

Also I went out to an evening called Women of Letters, which is where they ask several female writers to write a letter on a certain theme.

Five of the writers were (from the Facebook blurb):
  • Acclaimed playwright and screenwriter of Academy Award-nominated 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' LUCY ALIBAR
  • Acclaimed rapper and 'Sisterhood of Hip Hop' star NYEMIAH SUPREME
  • Writer, former dominiatrix and author of 'Whip Smart' MELISSA FEBOS
  • Beloved actress/comedian, vlogger and host of MTV's Decoded FRANCHESCA RAMSEY
  • Moth-champion storyteller, comedian and writer MEG FERRILL

And I felt bad for all of them (particularly Melissa Febos, who was fantastic) because the sixth was Mallory Ortberg. She totally cheated on the theme ("Letters to my could have been"), but told an amazing story of an informational interview she had when she was in New York a decade ago. You will probably not be surprised to hear that her flat delivery was flawless.

In Philadelphia I mostly hung out with sinsense - I amused myself during the days by firstly walking around town finding a new pair of socks/underwear/t-shirt (because I'd miscounted what I'd brought over vs my access to a washing machine), and then secondly by limping not very far because I'd knackered a tendon near my ankle. But the evening was spent hanging about with her, which (sorry, Philly) was basically what I came to town for. I was introduced to the Bourne Ultimatum, she was introduced to Father Ted, we both spoiled ourselves for a crucial and controversial episode of Ru Paul's Drag Race (to the annoyance of her boy).

[New York 2]
I got more done the second time in New York - mostly Art because why not Art?

The Japan Society had an exhibition of Experimental Japanese Photography of 1960-1970, which frankly 50 years has not done any favours to - "We can still take photos of buildings, but they can be shaky now to indicate the tremors tearing their way through society!" "I can take a camera on honeymoon with my wife, and we can move from formal looks to the more intimate relationship that thrives away from the public persona. Now, get your tits out, love. No, I'll stay fully dressed, thanks"

The MoMa PS1 has the triennial Greater NY exhibition, 60 current artists' work, a lot I enjoyed and one that I LOVED - a video of the work and craft that goes into making the horrific gewgaws that get passed out at the completion of big business deals - some of it available on the artist's site: http://www.benthorpbrown.com/Speculative-Presence

The Marian Goodman gallery has two shows: big photos from Jeff Wall of people in various stances of 'unreadable' and an amazing room wallpapered with the design drawings for the opera Lulu, currently on at the Met. Big bold blacks on newspaper (actually dictionaries!) expertly sketching people and completely covering the available area.

I missed the gallery the first time around, as it's in the Gallery Building, containing a bunch of them crammed in on different floors - I ended up walking around the block and was directed to the internal elevator by some of the gentlemen that carry stuff about. When I had to ask for directions to the Jeff Wall from the drawings, the NY Art Receptionist said "Oh, did you come up through there? Unusual." which added a spring to my step for the rest of the day.

And finally the Morgan Library was showing two exhibitions recommended by Anthony - Martin Puyeur is a sculptor but the show is of his drawings - but past sketches from his early life, they are mostly of his sculptures, several of which are also present (some in miniature). And there's an excellent exhibition about Matisse's history of illustration for books, including one which was nixed by the publisher after it became clear that he'd never actually read the book - the author was completely in favour, but then it was Ulysses.

[Jordan & Hamilton - not just race car drivers]
And then the last three days were spent in Canada - my friend Katharine has a house not too far from Brock University where she teaches, and as with the last time I made this trip 6 years ago, I largely spent it reading and eating and napping and generally relaxing - the night of the Friday aside, of course. And on Saturday I headed over a little further around Lake Ontario to Hamilton, where I met Anthony and hung around with him for a few hours, seeing his newish life there, visiting a waterfall, eating a Butter Tart. And then home, and seeing that Clovember has returned several of you (incl. sinsense!) to LJ, and good thing too.

Also last night the Planetary Scientist, who had been back home in Scotland for the last week of my trip, came back and came around. After a while we fell to talking, and while I was gone she got notification that she has both a proper post-doc next April in London, and some sort of bridging money until it starts, which she can use to stay down here and write up her corrections. And after a while we fell to talking again, and now I have a girlfriend! Her name's Jen.
Thursday, October 29th, 2015
10:14 pm
Catching up!
Hallo! I have been rushing around for reasons that I'll get to in a bit, but I thought I would jot some stuff down.

I have been to hospital - but not in a terrifying way, I went to my local GP because I had a cold then just a cough then a cold then just a cough, so I was being reminded of the last time this happened, which ended up with the removal of a polyp from my vocal cords. Anyway, I went, got a general going over and decent bill of health - including a stand-alone shiny computer that you put on like the usual blood rate monitor, which displays the figure on top in what is frankly a Star Trek font (long ramble deleted about how Star Trek's unfussy use of tech ruined the impact of a lot of actually impressive advances for generations).

Anyway, the doctor said they couldn't see anything wrong, but just to be on the safe side, why not have an X-Ray? Now, like - just across the road. Now, I've never been across the road, to the St. Ann's Hospital, partly because it's not got a walk-in centre, but also I know it as a Mental Health facility - and also a full hospital it turns out. It's an enormous blank spot in my view of the neighbourhood, and it felt a little like wandering around backstage - there's the big chimney that I don't think of as nearby - there's the back of the Sainsbury's! In actual experience it's a little surreal - a lot of red brick like a town or a holiday camp, but nearly everything non-brick is available in white and NHS blue, like a computer graphics glitch. Anyway, I did the thing and I haven't heard back, and they were quite clear that this is good news.

Oh and old news - I got a second quote in for my windows, thinking it would calm my mind - it did no such thing, as it is fully half of the first quote. Third quote ahoy, then.

Also I went up to Leeds, do celebrate glitzfrau's 40th, and see her and biascut and the nearly-one Edith. I had the excellent whatsagirlgotta as a travelling companion, and met the amazing sorenr, radegund and chiasmata - I genuinely can't remember the last time I went to a party and harvested three LJ names! I'd decided (at some pain to my rucksack-carrying back) to bring up my suit, and the first outing for the excellent moleskine that I got from George's folks a Christmas or two ago. There were a couple of interactions that seemed a little odd - not unpleasant! - and I was telling Glitz the next day that it took me a while to realise that I'm at a stage of life where it's not clear, if I have scrubbed up, that I don't wear a waistcoat down to the shops. Sez I "I feel like I should have a badge saying 'I'm in fancy dress'". Sez she "You were dragged up!"

And then the reason I'm in a rush - a holiday, from Saturday morning to the morning of Sunday 15th - Boston (wwhyte)! Philadeplhia (sinsense)! St. Catherine's just over the Border in Canada (thorngirl)! Hamilton a little closer to Toronto (anthonyeaston)! And some time in New York seeing the sights (and cartographer)! It will be sweet.
Monday, September 14th, 2015
11:39 pm
The reflective jacket, though...
[that is another story]
The jacket is with me because I cycled in today, because I'll be housebound the next few days and I don't cycle enough these days. It was a good idea, as the heavens opened on my way in.

I might cycle a bit less over the winter, not because of the cold and rain, but because of Cycle! Super! Highway! 1! which appears to entirely match my cycle into work - I'm just off Vartry Road as seen in this picture (and wow, I have not really seen a Public Consultation in all its engorged majesty before), So (based on my cycle in this morning) this will be a great great thing .. next spring, and an almighty pain in the arse until then as every part of it will be being done up in one way or another. I may have to take the A10 straight down through Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington, Dalston, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Bishopsgate (which gives me the willies) and approx. a million traffic lights.

The jacket being deployed in a non-cycling manner in the photo is because the laptop is larger than the average lap, and so I have to head home with it via public transport (feeling a little awkward and worrying about losing it).

And the jacket being worn is because when you cycle in, you don't (I don't) bring a jumper or a coat, so the thermal top and reflective jacket are helping keep me warm.

And that's a big deal because I've been kicked in the bronchials by a cold since last Wednesday, wiping out that day, and taking a shine off the rest of the week, including less hanging around with the Planetary Scientist, and not getting down to the excellent evening of talks that George and her co-conspirator are putting on down in Brighton as part of the excellent Art-Tech thing she's been doing. I did get to go see the Thing last Monday and it's excellent - if you get the chance before it closes on the 20th I highly recommend it.

And now I should get to bed, to hopefully see off the last of the cold, and to rest before getting up tomorrow to clear out the bedroom before the handyman arrives - my evenings this week will be largely shifting whole rooms around (and judiciously shedding crud in the doing so).
9:10 pm
On carrying a non-briefcase

It's not really a briefcase, it just looks enough like one for me to be self conscious in different ways.

It's a laptop case, loaned from work for the next few days.

[because because]
The D-rings, (not so visible on this photo, they're just at the top of the sides) giving the impression of a slightly kinky briefcase, are because when they gave it to me, they didn't manage to give me a strap for it, so I am carrying it self consciously, remembering not to lose it.

I have it because it's Plan B - what I use in case I can't work from home on my own personal computer for the next three days.

Working from home is necessary because someone's coming in for the next three days to sand down and revarnish all the rooms in my house, and I'd like to be there.

The sanding is happening now because it's been five years that I've lived here, and it hasn't happened before, except for the first bit of it, that planted the seed, on the floor under the office chair in the old study, because that Really Really needed sanding.

The sanding is also happening now because I am trying to wrench this year back to being The Year Of Doing Things - I forced myself into my occasional review of my Great Archive of Paper Things To Keep, and it was more brutal than most years, but also I found a receipt that reminded me that the increasingly wheezy washing machine in the bathroom that could maybe be on its last legs, but what are you gonna do, it came with the flat - didn't. It was bought by me not long after moving in, and if I've been neglectful of any upkeep then that's on me, it's my washing machine - and would be even if it did come with the flat, I'm not the fucking janitor (much love and respect to janitors).

The laptop, though, is Plan B because I got a new PC and it has Windows 10 on it, and Windows 10 possibly does not work so well with the VPN software that lets me work from home - but the laptop's intentionally not been upgraded to Windows 10.

My new PC has Windows 10 on it, high incompatibility risk included, because it came with Windows 8, and to hell with that.

The laptop, though, is only the second Plan B (which really makes it Plan C) - the initial Plan B was that if I still couldn't get the VPN working tomorrow morning, I'd ring my boss and arrange a three-day holiday on the spot - I have a lot of them to take, and my work's kind of fluid at the moment.

But the initial Plan B fell through, because something happened last Friday in work that we needed to get a handle on - and though I couldn't do much over the weekend, today I've been getting a handle on it and reporting to my boss's boss, including being called into a meeting on short notice with her and two of the more terrifying senior partners. She wrote a note to me and my boss at the end of the day, saying that she was impressed by how I owned it - the next time I get the chance to see her in person, I might mention that it was one of the few days I get per year where I can tell everyone else to bugger off and stop bothering me, and thank her for that:)

Which is basically what happened after my last post - work stepped on my head for about a month.
Saturday, June 6th, 2015
2:42 pm
Things Various
I only thought to check during the week (I thought it was later in the month), but Thursday gone is five years since I got the keys for 22 Heysham Road - I still have on my phone the photo of them that I send to George. I have plans for it over the next while, though so far it's just been furniture moving - the bureau over here, that bookshelf out into the dining room, swap the couch and the desk. But it's edging on for halfway into the year, and I should probably get on with that.

My cycle home leads me down the West Bank, a side of a non-descript railway that was presumably named that before Stamford Hill became a centre for Hasidic Judaism. There's two removal vehicles (the type you would use to take away cars) usually parked on that street, and even odder two cars permanently up on the stirrups that protrude from the back of the vehicles. My only explanation is that perhaps, in order to encourage correct handling of these unwieldy monsters, the drivers are encouraged to drive their own cars home like this.

I was watching a trailer recently - I do this a lot, I seek out at least 10 trailers of films I never end up seeing for every one I do - where Jason Segel, of variously varieties of 'lovable' man-child (and also the Muppet Movie) plays a genius writer who is being joined by Jesse Eisenberg, as a nervous journalist and aspiring writer who's travelling with him on his book tour to write an article about travelling with him on his book tour. It seems pretty terrible, Segel at one point says "I think if the book is about anything, it is about the question of 'Why?' - Why am I doing it and what's so American about what I'm doing?" - and it completely doesn't earn the spark that it get when REM's Strange Currencies screams and shimmies in about halfway through. But it did remind me to go listen to the song a half-dozen times, so thanks, I guess..

Except on rewatching the trailer, I realised that I'd missed that this was based on a true story, and Segel's character is actually David Foster Wallace, touring Infinite Jest. I don't honestly know how I feel about this - I've never read a word of his work as far as I know, but I've had a lot of people tell me that I'd like it. Here's the trailer, and any thoughts or recommendations on DFW are welcome. I assume that unlike Pynchon, the test is just to dive into his most famous work, Infinite Jest.

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015
3:31 pm
Well, I was planning on getting something done today
I didn't go home to vote - it was only on Thursday that I was asked if I had been over here too long to do so. I hadn't really thought about it to be honest, I think apart from anything else it would feel odd, having just voted in the UK general election a fortnight ago.

But today, so much joy - I don't have access to RTE and so I took to Twitter, ended up posting there for the first time in ages. And there's a torrent of joy, 20/40/60 tweets on the #MarRef tag every time I finished reading one.

And great results across the country, the rural as well as the urban. And the study of these has been great too - it's not a fair comparison because I wasn't experiencing the English general on Twitter (and also because I am overemotional at the moment), but I am feeling a pride in all the tweets of box counts, photos of tallies and per-county totals, a feeling that I'm from a country that just has more interest in democracy than the one I live in, the one where it seems like people by and large want it to bugger off for another five years and leave them alone.

The one that got me sobbing though, was one that just read "Off to buy a hat" - this is an extraordinary day, but tomorrow will be an ordinary day in a new world for a lot of people.

Addendum 1: I am aware that the populace of Ireland didn't wake up today as beings of pure light, and even 2:1 is 33% too high. There's much to be done, but man, what a day.

Addendun 2: For the sake of our economy, probably a good thing that Ireland didn't make it through to the Eurovision semifinals - the grim spectre of victory would have loomed pretty large.
Thursday, May 21st, 2015
1:46 pm
Commute frustrations
I see this every day, I might as well get a post out of it.

When I cycle to work, I travel over London Bridge as all Londoners must by law - you can see the river on the north of the map here. I get to the south end of the bridge, and then head left (east) down Duke St Hill, which rolls gently down towards work. You can see a tree just a little down the hill, and there's a traffic crossing next to it at the top of the hill - particularly in the morning, passengers pour forth from the many exits of London Bridge Station and swell on the little peninsula just to the south.

There's also, as you can see, a lot of buses on the bridge, clogging the lanes up and slowing things down to their speed, and so I'm nearly always waiting at the traffic lights at the end of the bridge, while the traffic flows west up the hill and on north / south as it will. And then the lights change there, and the buses head into the station, south of that peninsula, and the bikes head down Duke Street Hill - except that the pedestrians have spotted that while their light is red, the light for traffic coming up the hill has just switched from green to red, so they pour over the road, unaware that the approaching bikes have a green light, becaue you know what bikes are like, right?

I think it's a very English situation, and indeed a very London one - no attention paid to the red lights by the commuters, but nothing more than scathing glares from them when the bikes try to get through a green light (there's something stronger than glares generally coming from the bikes. Well, from mine, anyway).

ANYWAY, that's my commute frustration - what's yours?
Saturday, March 7th, 2015
9:31 pm
TV of 2014
(Yeah, I'm still catching up on stuff)

The general tone of last year was a little sedentary - we got Virgin Media in late January, and I spent a fair amount of time with it on in the background while at the computer. I think I'll do less of that this year, but I don't regret it at all.

[Adventure Time]Adventure Time: The list's alphabetical, but this is still the best - 10 minutes of candy and surrealism and occasional feels. They're shown in what appears to be 2-3 random episode chunks on Cartoon Channel, so my TiVo still picks up about 20 of them per week, and I'll always end up watching some of them over and over (I Remember You in particular, where there is generally something in my eye). This is the funniest and most inventive thing I've seen all year.

[Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.]Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: This is solid background TV, a covert team trying to make sense of a world where superpowers exist, and are being weaponised by various nefarious organisations, who may or may not have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. There are twists, there are counter-twists, there are feelings and explosions.

[A Touch Of Cloth]A Touch Of Cloth: I begrudgingly took this on, I've not been an enormous fan of Charlie Brooker's output - but it's great! If any of you remember Police Squad, the TV series that became The Naked Gun, this is that, but for Shouty UK Police Miniserieses. It is the sort of script where Julian Rhind-Tutt's none-more-posh Max Boss gets a lot of joy out of interrupting John Hannah's Jack Cloth for re-emphasis: "By now she could be half way to Monterey" "Aye sir, but.." "Monterey, Jack!". It's one 'failing' is that it's not great background TV, because, like its antecedent, it's full of visual gags as well.

[Babylon 5]Babylon 5: This turned up on Watch - naturally in the middle, so I had to wait until the end, and then they started again. It is still completely great - the acting isn't always great, but to me just makes me appreciate the towering achievement of one person manhandling into existence this 5-year 110-epsiode epic with the materials to hand, an enormous sci-fi story of the galaxy's future, set still among the echoes of wars long since past. Here's a question though - there is a lot spoken about it as the precedent for today's Long Term TV, but even with things like The Wire, it seems a lot like they make a great series, look at where everything's ended up, and see what they can do from there next series. Babylon 5's main adversary turns up in episode 5, and it isn't until about a season later that they really come to light. And so much of the long-term character advancement is plotted in long term - is there actually any other series that actually does do that with so much chutzpah, making a years-long bet?

[Lost Girl]Lost Girl: I need to get back to this, I've only really seen to the end of the second series (in fact being a bit too spoiler-happy, I didn't really realise until just now that I stopped just before the end), but it remains solidly entertaining - a lady who learns that the reason her sex partners keep dying is that she's a succubus, at the same time as learning that there is a whole 'fae' world, and that it's split along Light and Dark lines that she has no time for. PI hijinks and a great sidekick ensue.

[Parks and Recreation]Parks and Recreation - not much more to report than last time.

[Resurrection]Resurrection - I don't know if I talked about this? It came up during an adbreak on one of the other shows, and I thought "Oh that looks interesting", and interest paid off. The show opens with Omar Epps as a US Immigration agent, returning a lost kid back to their home town. The kid's parents have no idea that he's coming though, as he drowned 20 years ago. It's very short by US standards, and so is probably the least episodic thing on this post - it moves quickly, and when it escalates it does so dramatically. Also bonus point for not a final scene but a final shot that may well cause you to flip your wig.

[Sherlock]Sherlock - I went and properly watched a few of these this year - The Hounds of Baskerville / The Signs of Three / His Last Vow - as well as seeing half of A Scandal of Belgravia in G's. I don't know that I have much to add to common wisdom: they're well-plotted, well cast (Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Mads, is particularly great as the Napoleon of Blackmail, and I should really get around to House of Cards if he's playing the Russian premier), well acted (Freeman and Cumberbatch's comic timing in particular is well-suited to the gags), and oh lord I hope Amanda Abbington and Lara Pulvey end up in big roles not written by Stephen Moffat.

[Sleepy Hollow]Sleepy Hollow - as per previous, fish out of historic water + very silly supernatural goings-on + Relationship Peril. It veers a little towards "Were you aware that 200 years after we sat down at the continental congress, society still has problems?", but as long as the kids aren't getting their history entirely from it, it remains good fun - and impressively diverse (though the subtext appears to be Never Trust a German).
Thursday, November 20th, 2014
2:03 pm
Ridiculous Clovember day 20
This is me wishing that yesterday's sunny slobbing around the house t-shirt wasn't as ridiculous as it is in the current non-economic climate.
Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
8:40 pm
Ridiculous Clovember day 18
There is actually a particular piece of clothing today, a lovely grey top from Dockers Khaki, which is old enough that they are very excited about having 'www.dockers.com' printed - in a monospace font! - on the label.
[Clark Kent]

[The other fella]

Friday, November 14th, 2014
7:31 pm
Ridiculous Clovember day 14
Ridiculousness is also contextual

[Spoiler (click to open)]
Today I went to talk to people who do the same job as me in another company, and so I had to wear this, which I felt was slightly ridiculous:

But if you saw me in this tomorrow, in a different context, it would not be ridiculous.
Thursday, November 6th, 2014
5:52 pm
Ridiculous Clovember day 6
Today's been a working from home day, so I thought I'd have RidCloVember sorted out hours ago - and in sunlight! - but it turns out a) that I've done away with my sky-blue jumper that I had been thinking of as the highlight of the month and b) work was engaging for a bit and then it was nighttime.

This one is not in and of itself ridiculous, I admit: It's a big solid coat which I inherited from my Dad. It's enormous solidity isn't necessarily coming across in the photo, and I don't wear it out that much - even in London you'd need an actual snowstorm. Cycling in it might well end up with a 2D bike.

I did wear it to NYC in July 11 years ago - now that was ridiculous. Actually that reminds me of its other function, now largely lost to me - it makes sleeping on people's floors far more doable.
Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
10:35 pm
Ridiculous Clovember day 4
I think about every other day should do - and this is probably what I wear the most outside of work / home.
[The cyclist]
Sunday, November 2nd, 2014
8:42 pm
Ridiculous Clovember day, er, 2
I am in no position to promise to do a proper Clovember, but I do have enough clothes that I can try some examples of lesser-seen ones, or common ones in odd configurations. We start with: [The Wrestler]The Wrestler


T-Shirt: Twin Peaks conference t-shirt, won on my first attendance at The Double R club, Lynch-themed cabaret that I have occasionally talked about here.

Obviously I am very fond of the way that perspective and lighting makes it look like not one but both arms have been clumsily photoshopped in from other pictures.
Monday, July 21st, 2014
12:10 am
Films I've seen.
[Edge of Tomorrow]Edge of Tomorrow
  • I wasn't entirely sure about this, but the director of Mr and Mrs Smith still has a few benefits of the doubt in his account.
  • It is, in a nutshell, Groundhog Day directed by James Cameron - and as blackly funny at times as that suggests.
  • Tom Cruise continues to be extremely watchable when on the run and bewildered (See also: Minority Report, War of the Worlds)
  • Also there is an inspiring montage of him being shot in the face.
  • I thought Emily Blunt was good at her role (the details of which are one of the plot best twists), though my companion, the excellent oddnumberever, thought she could do with more Sigourney in her spine.
  • Also there is bonus grumpy Brendan Gleeson! What film is not improved by him?

    • This is not at all subtle about being a post-Fukushima version of the aul' atomic terror.
    • Except - we're not post-Fukushima: things are still pretty bad down there, and not really getting anywhere near better.
    • I wonder if this actually affected the planning of the film, whether it'd be set back, or scuppered, if things turned worse.
    • Anyway, this is a fine film, more than enough to wash out the memories of the Matthew Broderick version - it takes on the chest the fact that it's the also the first post-Pacific Rim film which bears direct comparison. It's not as good, but there's a lot of distance between 'as good as Pacific Rim' as 'a very entertaining film'.
    • Being a Godzilla film, from Warner Brothers, in 2014, does odd things to its politics: it's anti-military but pro-soldier, scoffs at nuclear solutions but features the world's gentlest megaton explosion.
    • Considering that it's set in Japan and Hawaii (and for that matter San Francisco), the film does seem terrified that we'll lose focus unless it cuts back to a pretty, white character* in peril every few minutes.
    • Which would generally be the lead character and his wife - who bizarrely appeared as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in the post-credits sequence in the second Captain America movie.
    • Hopefully that was a one-off, as they're dull as hell.
    • But at the end of the day, this is a film that understands the beautiful music made by giant lizards and cities.
    • * okay, a pretty, white character or Bryan Cranston.

      [The Wind Rises]The Wind Rises
      • This is Hizao Miyazaki's last films - or at least his latest last film, he has thrown this smoke bomb a few times before.
      • It's the story of a young airplane designer in the first half of the last century, from first dreams to making the Mitsubishi Zeroes.
      • In a lot of ways it'd be a shame if it was his last film.
      • Firstly, he remains an amazing film maker - a lot of his signature animism isn't on display here (apart from a set of snarling writhing bombs in an early dream sequence), but just watching him depict wind across a grass field is beautiful.
      • It's also the first sign of a new direction, a historical piece, featuring an adult as a protagonist for the first time - it would be interesting to see where he goes from this. It's also obviously a very political film - partly because WWII remains immensely political now in Japan.
      • And lastly, it would be a shame because although it's an experiment, it's not a very successful one. Interestingly it's not that Miyazaki can't write adult characters, there are a number of them around the place. They stand out too, as rendered in more detail, while a couple of characters who only appear as essentially the protagonist's spirit animals, dispensing cryptic advice when he needs to hear it, always seem on the verge of turning into actual animals.
      • But while he can write adults, it's clear that he's never really on their side - the protagonist has all the focus of a child at serious play, tongue out of the side of their mouth, and the world shifts around them as they barrel through the story. The troubles that beset them are a child's view of what might happen to a grown-up, and their responses, while true to the fable-like nature of his other films (where persevering is the only truth) are disastrously self-centred here. This would be devastating self-critique if it was intentional, but I never got the impression that it was.
      • None of this makes it a bad film, or in any way a waste of time! We look forward with eagerness to further works from this promising young director.
Saturday, July 12th, 2014
6:07 pm
I have, over the last week, when chatting to the Irish here or at home, been curious to know if they have an answer to a question that I'm curious about: whether the entire country has lost its fucking mind.

There's a decent account of it in the Washington Post(!) but the short version goes:

  • Garth Brooks is returning to touring after 13 years!
  • He'd like to start with 5 concerts in Croke Park!
  • And so he met a nice man, and the nice man said he'd set them up, and the nice man took 5 concerts' worth of money (off 400,000 people)
  • Except the nice man hadn't actually arranged a licence to do this at all!
  • Because Croke Park is actually in a residential area, and there's a long-standing agreement that the GAA, the sports body that owns the venue, will only allow 3 non-sporting events per year to avoid pissing off locals.*
  • So when the application went in April, 10 weeks after the concerts sold out, Dublin City Council agreed to allow only 3 of the 5 concerts.
  • And in fairness a good day's sleeveening for whoever thought of that, as they must have realised that this would get elided into a fair offer: in fact One Direction took the three nights earlier in the year, and the appropriate amount of days would be none; Hibernophiles will recognise the sensation of the ground sliding away on first contact.
  • But Garth won't have it! How can he only entertain 240,000 people, when he's ready to thrill 400,000? It would tear the heart right out of him, so it would.
  • And so, this has been front page news for the last week in Ireland, and the Mexican Ambassador has been willing to help if he can, and An Taoiseach will look into it, and people get to cover their face again and admit that we had you all going for a while there, with this idea that we were a real country.
  • And the worst bit isn't that the disgraced and finally removed former Party of Government has sensed that there's an opportunity here, for a blow to be struck in the name of their guiding principles of a quiet word and a handshake and a bulging envelope, and has put forward emergency legislation to allow the overturn of a county council decision where necessary for the global good.
  • The worst bit is that they're right, that there's something buried down in the nervous consciousness of the race that is always ready to bend or blunt the law at the whisper and glimmer of Money For The Economy, especially that which can be fleeced from tourists. I got it full blast when I rang my sister, who is scornful that they'd throw away this money, just hanging there, fully €200 million according to no less an august figure than An Taoiseach.
  • Don't really have a punchline here, I'm afraid. Moral seems short on the ground, too.

* An article from the BBC has what is perhaps the quintessentially Irish facet of this: This was broken in 2009, when 4 concerts were arranged, there were pickets at the 4th concert, there "was then an agreement made between them and the GAA about the future staging of concerts", except that it was later found that there was "no written evidence" of any such agreement _that they would actually properly from now on, scouts honour, abide by the original agreement_.
Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
11:06 pm
More TV
I've been watching (well, mostly 'having on in the background while I'm on the computer') some of the stuff on my Tivo:

[Agents of Shield / Sleepy Hollow / Adventure Time / Parks and Recreation]

  • A bunch of old Doctor Who, as the Horror channel has been gleefully getting through most of it - I'll blog this separately, I think.
  • Marvel's Agents of Shield: This is not very good as such, but it has some engaging characters and some touch of superheroics in its hourly crosses and double crosses - and Bill Paxton thoroughly enjoying himself being cynically evil.
  • Sleepy Hollow: This (Ichabod Crane transported to the future, enmeshed in prophecy after his waking also rouses the Headless Horseman) pushes a lot of my Angel buttons, except Angel even at it's goofiest wouldn't have managed a Zombie George Washington. Nor to be honest was the cast as diverse. I actually watched the finale with the computer off - no greater tribute!
  • Adventure Time: I have actually watched about 100 of these 10-minute episodes - a lot of them are cheery bursts of childish surrealism like Goliad, but the scope varies considerably, and there's some that will handily punch your heart out.
  • Parks and Recreation: My first impression on seeing this was "Oh, that's where all the new people have been coming from!": over the last few years I've seen trailers that are proudly displaying Aziz Ansari / Rashida Jones / Nick Offerman / Aubrey Plaza / Chris Pratt / Adam Scott and I've been aware contextually that they've been from somewhere but not really known (or been bothered to Google) where. Anyway, this is the greatest motherlode of Mysterious New Stars since Arrested Development. And it's pretty good, though I have a theory about it being as close as the US can get to making Yes Minister - it's equally cynical about government, but here it doesn't work, not because the system is rigged, but people people are idiots, and kissing.

Four I eventually gave up on without watching were Revenge, The Good Wife, Justified, and Person of Interest - they all strike me as likely to hang around either on regular channels or Netflix for a while.

And as before, a poll for what remains:

Poll #1973123 Battle of the Telly

Which series should I watch?

Almost Human 1:1-1:8
Babylon 5 1:1-1:22, 3:19-5:22*
Believe 1:5-1:11
Elementary 2:10-2:24
The First Georgians 1-3
Lost Girl 4:1-4:13
My Mad Fat Diary 2:3-2:7
Orphan Black 2:1-2:8
Parks and Recreation 1:1-2:15**
Prey 1-3

Any recommendations / warnings?

* This went on to the end, then restarted from the beginning! Stopped after the end of the first series, but then I've never actually seen that one.
** The ones I'd seen before were season 3, I think.

Also London folks: I'm self-socialising these days, so if you'd like to come around and watch any of this with me, let me know!
Saturday, March 1st, 2014
11:21 pm
Writing about reading about writing.
I'll start with a plug: I've been listening on and off to a podcast story called 'Valentin and the Widow', a Victorian pulp adventure story about a lady, who discovers that her angelic ex-husband is in fact one of the leaders of a world-spanning criminal gang, and a burly Russian sailor who saves her life and becomes her bodyguard. It's a very solid two-fisted action story, short of sexual tension between the leads - she is very much not looking for companionship, he is not adverse to it but generally finds it with other burly men. If it sounds like what you might enjoy then I recommend it highly, it is 100% what it says on the box - the only note of caution is that it's read by the writer, Andrew Wheeler, so there is an occasional inadvisable accent.

Anyway, the writer also has a tumblr, and it was through a reblog that I came to read a post of his - or rather a response by him to an earlier post of his.

His first post includes some of the history, when someone asked a writing question of Brian Michael Bendis, who generally manages the tricky feat of combining being a famous comics writer with being a rude arsehole. The question was originally about writer's block, but quickly became about the assertion that you're not a writer if you don't write every day - which obviously some people took considerable objection to. Andrew Wheeler's point was that there were two groups involved in the discussion, and the one being more prescriptive was the one that contains all the professional writers. Which is true, though it struck me that the writers in question were largely comicbook writers, IE spirit of a novelist, form of a columnist - they can cover the same subjects, but unless you're Alan Moore-level, you need to produce 24 (or 48 or 72) pages a month or baby doesn't get fed. Self-selection/-survival would probably be a large factor in what side they end up on.

Anyway, the analogy Mr Wheeler used was between someone who really likes cooking, possibly blogs about it, and a chef - which I think is an interesting way of looking at it, though there people continued to disagree. (It would of course be nice to have some way of seeing, say, all the responses to his first post a) in one place or b) without having to read down past the full text in each page, but unfortunately Tumblr is terrible).

His second post was a response to one of those, and took it off to more metaphysical You've-got-to-have-the-hunger territory - this of course also had it's discontents, though it's this one that I first saw, through the writers that I follow on Tumblr recommending it.

And since then - well since then the discussion has tapered off as per - people reblog people they follow, and follow people they reblog, an reblog from a stranger gets no response, and have I mentioned yet that Tumblr is terrible?

I think I'm basically just asking what ye think of this, I know I have a few writers on my friendslist. I am not a writer myself, I mean I am capable of it (and one thing that I forgot in my end of year post was how nice it felt when something I wrote on Facebook ended up being shared 29 times - 15 of which weren't even visible to me!), but I certainly don't write daily, my time is circumscribed by everything else I'd rather be doing (and my job) - see for example the fact that I'm only writing this up now because the articles in question were about to drop off the two-month cliff on my RSS reader. I would like to think that I would take to it naturally and with great verve, but then I'd like to think that about a lot of things, and have long ago reached the conclusion that I'm by and large happier as Walter Mitty.
Saturday, January 18th, 2014
10:06 pm
Four films
I took a week off in the middle of December (because I had holidays to burn before the end of the year) and generally had a nice relaxing time after the months beforehand. I took one day to go to the cinema though, and saw four films - ironically I could probably have fitted in more on a weekend - you get more 10am/10pm shows then.

The films I think largely cover the points of the cultural spectrum:

[Gravity]Gravity starts with a long shot in a couple of ways, a full 17 minutes without a cut. Alfonso Cuarón isn't new to that - there's a half-hour compilation* of all of his takes from his previous film, Children of Men, which run longer than 45 seconds - but this really is a masterwork, moving from an image of the earth in space towards the Hubble, introducing the characters, and then setting things in (sorry) motion. It'd be great to watch in any context, but assuming you know going in that it's not 90 minutes of pals pal around in space, it's also a great ratcheting up of tension - the perspective seems forced by the imaginary camera rather than the character or the normal plot beats, so you get to see some things in the background which the normal contract of film would demand that the camera follow, or acknowledge, even if the characters don't.

After that, the film continues on its path, not diverting very much from a series of predicaments and how the leads get out of them - not much in a sense happens but it's consistently gripping (and occasionally funny). Sandra Bullock is effective throughout, which is pretty much all the role calls for. By comparison George Clooney is used effectively as his own shorthand, cocky and twinkly with hidden depths. I'll be interested in contrasting it to All Is Lost when I see it.

Also it's worth pointing out that it's very very worth seeing it in 3D - it's an amazing show of masteryby Cuarón, and will hopefully be very influential as it's turning from gimmick into medium.

*Obviously you shouldn't watch that if you've not seen Children of Men. You should go see Children of Men as soon as possible instead.

[Escape Plan]Escape Plan is a fairly straightforward sell - Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger sharing billing at last (after a few brief cameos by Arnie in Expendables movies). The problem unfortunately is that when they're actually on screen together, only one of them has the charisma to actually propel the scenes through the dialogue. It's effectively a heist movie - Sly is an expert in prison security who tests them by breaking out, until he's tricked into a prison that has been built to the handbook he's produced, and has to rely on the genially deranged Arnie to help him get out.

Most heist movies are, like sci-fi, logic oriented, and so we get an origin sequence, Sly breaking out of a prison and then explaining his feat to the Governor - here's what he can do, here's how he works. And then, like any good magic trick, the situation adapts to nullify his powers (literally codified as his handbook on the serious prison's Governor's desk), and then the restraints are further defeated, or ideally turned on themselves. The problem I had with this is that, past a certain point, Arnie and Sly get access to guns, and it switches from a magic trick to magic - they have the protection of a pure soul that they are used to, their bullets never miss while the baddies' always do.

It's still a largely entertaining film though, some of that coming from Arnie cheerily playing a nutball, some of it a christmas pudding of casting - Jim Caviezel! Vinny Jones! 50 Cent! Vincent D'Onofrio! Unsurprisingly, if you think you might enjoy it, you probably will.

[Leviathan]Leviathan also starts very slowly, in complete darkness and a growing mechanical noise. Eventually something starts to appear in the bottom right of the screen, bright orange and indistinct, and then eventually slowly it becomes clear that you're in a boat, viewing the scene from a spray-covered camera perched on a hat worn by one of the crew, looking over at his co-worker as they silently drag in a chain, connected to a larger chain. Our point-of-view man yells over to tie the chain around the metal post nearby, which his colleague doesn't do, and already the overwhelming sound and grimness of demeanour causes me wonder, partly from having seen Gravity, whether this film would also open with a death in the first shot. But it doesn't, and instead the machinery continues with it's purpose, dragging in another enormous catch of fish to be processed.

It's billed as a documentary, but to be honest, I'd describe it more as an art film which happens to be about stuff that's actually happening, similar to the Andy Warhol's work. The comparison to Gravity is strengthened a bit by the length of the shots - I would describe it as meditative, if you were up to meditating on the noise of heavy machinery and gurgling waters. I may have fallen asleep a few times (in the very cosy second ICA cinema), but each time when I woke up, the scene was still going on. There was a laugh in the cinema right a the start for the announcement that the film's rating was due to "One use of strong language", but to be honest I don't remember one use of language.

Also like Gravity it's worth seeing* in a cinema, not for the video but the audio this time. The trailer gives you a good idea.

*I am aware that there's not a lot of use in me saying this now, as opposed to a month ago when I saw it.

[Frozen]And the last film of the day was Frozen, which I'd been a little apprehensive about, but went to on the grounds that it was boasting a pedigree of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, and as tattered as the claims of "from the makers of" usually are, being willing to claim those films at least seemed worth rewarding. In fact it's co-written and co-directed by Jennifer Lee, who was one of the writers on Ralph, which is actually (and appallingly) the first Disney film with a woman in a director's chair.

It's a (considerable) reworking of the The Snow Queen, where the queen is Elsa, one of a pair of princesses, some of her later actions forced by her love of her sister Anna and wish to protect her from Elsa's powers. If you might be thinking that this sounds slight familiar, the casting director has got there ahead of you, and so Ella is played by Idina Menzel, the original Elphaba from Wicked:

In fact if there's a problem, it's that the film sets this up all so heart-breakingly, and then leaves most of the time to Anna's love triangle / attempts to reach Elsa / funny snowman sidekick. None of which is bad at all, and it's definitely enjoyably on it's own terms (plus, songs by the song-writers of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) but a film with more Elsa would have been great.

Sunday, January 5th, 2014
4:49 pm
The Drowned Man
So, myself and G went out at the end of November to The Drowned Man, the latest Punchdrunk piece, in an abandoned (and soon to be knocked down) Royal Mail postal office.

[What Punchdrunk productions are usually like, I understand - half of you will already know this]I'm not sure which genre Punchdrunk is generally situated in - I heard someone describe it as Immersion Narrative, which is a pretty good start. It takes place in a large multi-room multi-story space, through which the actors move, coming together for the bigger scenes and then wandering off with their own motives. All of the audience are wearing masks, and are instructed to remain silent throughout - and ideally to explore by themselves alone. Certain actors may certain times turn to any following audience and pick one to take away to a private space for a "1-1", which may involve taking their mask off and an interactive (this covers A LOT) experience. There are also black-masked staff around, as security-cum-stagemanagers. One thing that I don't know if it is or isn't specific to The Drowned Man is that the story is in a loop that repeats 3 times over the three hours - at the end of the last loop the black masks will usher everyone towards one space for a finale.

The (non-spoilery) story of the Drowned Man is that it's twin main stories - one in a Hollywood studio, one among the denizens of the desert town outside. Some characters move between them, some just stay as their own. There's a lot of sources but one is Woyzeck, so laughs abound.

[What I found - spoilers ahoy]Dudes, it was amazing. The set dressing for a start is incredible, apart from the main areas (Sounds stages, saloon, town main street, terrifying Lynchian red-curtained chessboard dancefloor), there's a lot of tiny nooks each, with some hint or other to one of the stories. I did spend some time acting on the principle of "If an actor is rushing one way with their comet-trail of audience behind them, I'll see where they're coming from". This in not in fairness a great principle, but I did get to see a fair amount of the set.

This amount of passive detail is also useful if it turns out that parts of the performance are in an idiom you are not fond of EG dance. Actually that's not fair - there's a lot that I found fascinating, including both* chessboard set pieces, but I early on made my way over to the town side to see some people dancing "I am so in love with you!" and later two fellows dancing "We are friends but we are having an argument!". I did also later get slammed into a wall by a couple dancing some vigorous sex, but I didn't mind so much at that stage.

I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy it, G had sent me link to a gradated-spoiler guide and I wasn't very certain about the instruction "If a character starts to stare at you, hold the gaze, if they offer you their hand, take it, if they open a door for you, go through". Of course one of the first things that happens once you put on the mask is that you become an anonymous member of a (well-mannered) mob, and when my chance came - I flinched and someone else was chosen. But I regretted it!

One of the other effects that can happen is as one of the main actors rushes off to another scene, their trial of audience will get longer to navigate stairs and corridors, until it turns out that they have unbeknownst to themselves merged with another actor's trail, or just got lost entirely. I generally found this amusing.

Time flies in there though - when first I saw the same scene repeated I thought "that can't possibly be an hour", and when the black masks impassively ushered me towards the finale I was amazed that it was three hours. I enjoyed it a lot and I'll be back, I hope.

*that I know about.

Also I got a great story as a present on my birthday - one of the actors, when the time came for one of his 1-1s, selected a lady from the audience and gestured to take her hand. The large man standing next to her, though, indicated that this was not a good idea. The actor, being in his place of power, and checking that the lady seemed up for it, tried again, to a more serious (but still silent) refusal from the man. So, the actor took both of the into the room. It's obviously not usual, but the actor is firstly a professional, and secondly is due somewhere else in 5 minutes. So he removed their masks and delivered his usual routine about how Hollywood is a terrible place that will grind you up and spit you out, and how you yes you should just give up now and return to where you came from - to Madonna. Who was completely into it (far more than her bodyguard) - indeed when you think about it, getting to assume anonymity and wander about for three hours for £50 must be something of a bargain for her, whatever else is happening around.
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