Monday, 24 September 2012

Why everyone hates The Newsroom but I like it anyway

Almost everyone on the internet hates The Newsroom. Reviews of each episode range from 'this is the worst thing ever', to 'at least it's not as bad as last week'. All the commenters join in and soon everyone's agreed that it's Not a Very Good Show. I watch an episode and enjoy it, then go on the internet to learn why I didn't really enjoy it after all. The argument is that it only looks and feels like good television if you let it wash over you, but if you think about it it all falls apart. The obvious thing to say here is that feeling like you enjoyed something is the same as enjoying it. But no, it's actually bad for you, apparently.

So is it just a lot of idealistic lecturing that goes nowhere? Sort of. It's Sorkin's view of the world, and that gets on most people's nerves. It's like The West Wing was how he wants things to be, and The Newsroom is him complaining that it's not. These aren't politicians who we watch doing something to fix the problem, they are journalists with Powerpoint presentations giving actual lectures. And because HBO gives him big long episodes, he's not forced to reign it in. This seems like a good enough reason to take against the show from the start, and if you do you're definitely not going to like the rest of it. It's true that not much has changed from the first episode of the season to the last, but if you like the characters it'll be a lot more fun. And I do like them. I feel like I have to apologise for that, but I do like them. Even the ones who don't seem to do much. Sorkin has never been very good at planning a whole season, so most of the narrative thrust and character moments are in individual episodes. I think 'Bullies' and 'Amen' are some of the best things he's written, even if they don't have much impact on the overall story. Maybe I just enjoy watching people fall over.

The Newsroom is, basically, about the successes and failures of making this news show, and the changes in Will's confidence and attitude towards it. That's a familiar idea. Replace 'news show' with 'comedy show' or 'government', and you've got the first seasons of other things. If you're looking for something else you're going to be disappointed, but it still works for me. It's about the staff coming together as a family, and the parents looking after the children. It's not the The West Wing, there's no characters that compare to Josh or CJ or Toby, but it's different. It's younger and a bit unsure of itself. Some of the characters need more time and some of them need less - it's more about the group as a whole. When Will defends one of his guys, or Charlie comes down to tell them off, you can see how this family works. It's got potential.

I'm not pretending that these romantic storylines aren't hopeless, or that they don't drag on. The whole Jim and Maggie thing has become toxic. In every episode it pretends to make some progress, then goes right back to where it was before. Jim must have broken up and got back together with Lisa about three times. Three times. The end of the ninth episode looked like a natural breaking point, but then it turns out to be two months later and nothing has changed. And then it goes through the whole thing again, picking up extra characters along the way. Sorkin must have decided to prolong this, so he must think we care. I used to, but it's been played so badly that I've lost interest. Though somehow, and I'm not sure how it happened, the Will and Mac thing eventually ground me down into caring. Eventually.

Ignore all that and look for the good stuff. Like everyone lining up outside Will's office to give him a cheque. Or the dialogue that is still as good as it ever was. Or most scenes with Charlie in them. There's something in this show that's good. Not great, but promising. It's somewhere underneath the lectures, doing its best to hide. It'll be easier to see in the second season, when most of the problems will have been ironed out, and it can really settle in.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Sigur Rós - Valtari

After the album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, people thought that Sigur Rós were becoming too commercial. There were jaunty pop songs on there. And then Jónsi's side-project Go had jaunty pop songs sung in English. But now, on Valtari, they've gone a hundred miles in the opposite direction. It's ambient, introverted, and relaxing. It's calm. This is what they've come back to after a long hiatus, and it sounds a little bit like they've come home. Með suð was a departure (a very good departure), and then they went back to Iceland to record something much more patient and experimental. At times it sounds like Takk, in others Ágætis byrjun, but it is much quieter. Ambient choirs, electronic soundscapes - it has most in common with the Jónsi & Alex album Riceboy Sleeps. It is not an immediate thing, and is best listened to all at once. They occasionally turn the volume up, like on the third track, with a familiar build to somewhere loud. But they finish with three ambient instrumentals that show they're confident enough to do what they want. It goes without saying that this is all beautiful, and when all is said and done, I think Valtari will be remembered as one of their best.

YouTube videos sound flat compared to the proper deep sound quality of the actual album, but, er, yeah, here's a YouTube video.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Three things about The Grey

I haven't done this in a while. I don't know how to 'review' films in a coherent way any more, if I ever did. But here's something you should watch. The Grey. The wolf-punching film. Here's three things about it.

Big wolves are scary. These things chase Neeson and his friends through the snow. They're massive. And loud. And have scary eyes. They are always just around the corner, ready to jump into the camera and rip somebody's throat out. This is the best disaster film I've ever seen. The sort where you start with a group of people, and you have to decide which one's going to last the longest. There's a variety of ways to die out in the Alaskan woods. Including...

Staring into the void. Not a void. The void. The big one. This film is full of the void. They're walking around in it. One gets so full of the void he gives up entirely and sits on a log for the wolves to eat him. At one point Neeson shouts at the sky, but God doesn't come, so he decides to go on by himself. There is no God. There is only the void. It's not a comedy.

Liam Neeson says cool things. These days it doesn't get any harder than Liam Neeson. He can say anything about anything, and it's cool. Of the wolves, he says 'they don't give a shit about berries and shrubs'. They certainly don't. And imagine this, but in a deep menacing Irish accent: 'We're going to get a large branch and sharpen the end of it, and we're going to shove it up this thing's ass, then we're going to eat it.'

Friday, 11 May 2012

The clumsy art of trying to name a book

I'm halfway through writing a book. It doesn't have a title. One day I'll finish writing the book. It still won't have a title. The problem is I think of something brilliant, and then the next day realise that it's rubbish. The title is meant to be obvious as soon as I hear it. It's probably right under my nose. And where do I get these titles from? Random words I pull out of thin air that I think might describe the book, or just sound vaguely cool. Do I go for a neat one-word title or one that's slightly too long? There's so many options, and none of them are any good. Here's some of the ones I threw away.

The Last Children of the Mountains
Too pretentious.

The Boy in the Broken Mountains
It was pointed out to me that this sounds like 'Brokeback Mountain', and my book is not about becoming old or gay.

I like this, but it might be too vague, even for me.

It's Very Quiet in the Mountains
I thought this sounded really ominous at the time, but I've since realised it's not. 'Yes, it is quiet in the mountains, what's your point?'

If I think of one, and I might, then it had better be good. Once something's in print it's... there, in print. I'm trying not to think about it. The next chapter is more fun.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Idiot goggles

Google have presented an idea for Terminator-style glasses that make phone calls and things. It's an awful idea, but that's not what I want to talk about. I'm more concerned about this terrible video they've made.

Let's see the nauseating day in the life of a hip downtown New Yorker. He drinks coffee. He eats bread. He's just like you. Except then he opens his mouth, and it turns out he's deeply annoying. 'Yeah, meet me in front of Strand Books. At two.' I wouldn't. So he goes outside while the sickening breezy music plays as the soundtrack to his life. It's not coming from the glasses. It's inside his head. It plays in his mind as he ambles from one coffee shop to the next. But the subway's closed. How's he going to react to this? 'Aww man, really?' Yes man, really. Fortunately, he makes it to the book shop without going out of fashion. But where's the music section? Shall he not just use his eyes? No, he asks the glasses. He finds what he's looking for. An instruction book for the ukulele. Of course, of course he plays the ukulele.

Is Paul here yet? Or has he got lost in the non-fiction section? Thankfully, Paul is sharing his location, and we can confirm that he is 402 feet away. And getting closer. When he arrives our suspicions are confirmed. He's another smug git. The awful humans go to a truck to buy some products, but not before the first one can 'check in' his location on the internet. Who does this? And if there is anyone, they must be stopped. You'll find that they only 'share' the cool places they've been. It's not 'yes, I'm on the toilet now, and later I might stand in a field'. Never mind, surely the worst of it is over. No, there's just enough time for him to serenade 'Jess' on the ukulele, while seeing the wonders of a setting sun though his gadget eyes.

My real problem with this is that Google assume this is desirable. This is who we all want to be isn't it? A rich trendy man in sunny America. It's okay though, because these people will inevitably wander into traffic while checking their email.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Inside the fort

In Tenby there's always been this really cool fort on an island. It was built in the nineteenth century and, according to Wikipedia, has '4 main bedrooms, 16 turret rooms, an old banquet hall, and an armoury which used to hold 444 barrels of gunpowder'. Nobody's allowed in. I've never seen the inside. It's a big, looming, sinister structure that shouldn't really be there. I've wondered about it for so long that I forgot there's a thing called 'the internet' now, where there's pictures of everywhere and everything. A one-second search led me straight to the reassuringly-named Some people just climbed into it and took pictures.

Okay, so it's terrifying. But that only makes it better. In the middle of a sunny beach there's an old broken war machine that's falling to pieces. A relic from some ancient battle that never happened. It also used to be a zoo.

The internet ruins mysteries, but sometimes it's worth it. All the pictures are here.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

That band from Iceland

It's time to get unreasonably excited about music again. There's a new Sigur Rós album out May 28th. After the energy of the last one, this album is said to be 'ambient' and 'floaty'. Years, I've waited. Years.


Monday, 19 March 2012

A brief musical interlude

In the absence of anything particularly mildly interesting to say today, I'll just say this: The Tallest Man on Earth is very good at his job.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Four hundred pages too late

It's a shame to be four hundred pages into a book and only then realise that it's really boring. I have a choice: read the remaining hundred pages or just give up. Yes, sorry, Cloud Atlas is boring. The idea is that one soul is travelling between six different people in six different times. Which means there's six different stories. Occasionally there's a sentence thrown in like 'you know, I feel like I've lived another life five hundred years ago,' but they're unconnected and mostly, yes, boring. There's a good one in the middle about the people of a ruined world speaking in a Riddley Walker-type language. But apart from that, I wish I was interested.

Am I wrong? Everyone who's quoted on the back of the book seems to like it. And it's going to be made into a film. I'm just annoyed because I read all those words expecting something good to come of it. I could have been doing something else, you know.