Watched – Week 5, 2021

The Revenant (2015)

Film

The Revenant (2015). Rewatch. The film that Leonardo DiCaprio finally cried in, thus winning him his first leading-man Oscar. Tom Hardy over-acts, as is tradition. But this is still excellent. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is beautiful. I think it would’ve been improved with twenty minutes of the more art-house dream-like elements shaved off though. I was very impressed by Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter throughout. Their characters felt very real and fleshed out. 83%

Birdman (2014). Rewatch. After the Revenant I watched another film by Alejandro G. Iñárritu: Birdman. I remember being utterly wowed by this when I saw it in the cinema. It felt so lively and original. But with each subsequent rewatch my love for it has diminished. It’s so visually engaging on first viewing that you don’t notice the slightly thin plot. And there’s something pompous and over rehearsed about the film. It’s still great, but not the masterpiece I thought it was first time around. 79%

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). I love an Aaron Sorkin script. They’re usually full of wit and each line says something (if that makes sense). This is his first time directing and he does an admirable job. Courtroom dramas, believe it or not, are apparently extremely hard to shoot. And overall this is very good. There’s a few minor criticisms. Such as a slightly schmalzy score, the strange use of a modern song for one big scene when it was calling out for a 60s/70s banger, some of the characters coming dangerously close to caricatures and a mildly rushed ending that doesn’t fully land. But I’m nitpicking. This is one of the films of the year. It’s on Netflix, watch it. Oh also, Sacha Baron Cohen has been nominated for a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ Golden Globe for his performance in this. I’m surprised. He was okay, but his accent was rough and he was amateurish at times. The film has a huge, fantastic cast and all the performances are stellar. Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance (always insanely good), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and especially Yahya Abdul-Mateen II all put in better performances than Sacha Baron Cohen. I would have preferred one of them getting a nomination nod instead. 77%

Zombieland (2009). Rewatch, background. Another film I was wowed in the cinema by. This is endlessly watchable and fun. 74%

The Spy Who Fell to Earth (2019). I adore these spy documentaries. And this one is edited masterfully, with lots of zip and you it never lose track of what is going on. 74%

The Power of Netflix

The landing page of Netflix is one of the most powerful influencers of common culture on earth.

If a television or film is prominently displayed on that remarkable digital billboard it will quickly and swiftly enter the cultural zeitgeist.

It can literally drag years old and forgotten content and push it onto the world stage.

I noticed this recently in the UK with “The Fall”, a mildly popular BBC TV show that aired between 2013 and 2016.

Netflix purchased the rights, advertised it prominently on its landing page, and it quickly became extremely popular. It was trending on Twitter and people were talking about it in the same way “Game of Thrones” was talked about the day after a new episode aired.

And I spotted a similar occurrence yesterday. The 2004 film “Mean Girls” had just arrived on Netflix and it was main thing presented to me – and I’m sure many other people – when I logged in. Today? It is number one on Netflix UK.

If I was the director, scriptwriter or producer of a new movie that was being shopped around I would gladly take less money to be on Netflix than more money to be on say Amazon Prime Video. Simply because the chances of my work being seen, enjoyed and entering the public imagination is far higher on Netflix than anywhere else.

The Price of Whisky

Last week the New York Times published a review [c] of a new book about the bourbon maker Pappy Van Winkle, whose bottles fetch eye-wateringly high sums in the whisky collecting world due to their high demand and limited supply (around $5,000 despite retailing for $120). The article, like nearly all New York Times book reviews, isn’t worth your time. Short, with a promising start that seems to end abruptly after 600 words (the NYT is certainly no London Review of Books). But the article did get me thinking about the price of whisky.

I like whisky. And unlike wine where I’ve never found much correlation between price and enjoyment with whisky there is usually a very linear rise in flavour with every extra pound you spend. And also unlike wine which uses nonsense like ‘terroir’ to justify high prices, the whisky world has age statements. A far simpler system. Though sadly bottlers are increasingly releasing non-age-statement bottles nowadays.

However in recent years I’ve started losing interest in buying decent whisky. Because it’s now just too expensive. Largely thanks to Diageo’s domination and near monopoly on the market. Quite simply the quality is going down while the price is rising.

But I did wonder if I was imaging these price increases. So I decided to look at the price of some whisky I purchased in 2015 (when prices were already too high) and look at the costs for the same bottles now. Here are the results (I haven’t included any companies owned by Diageo to give the whisky industry more of a chance, and there’s even a family owned one in Springbank):

WhiskyPrice Change% Increase
Balvenie 12 Year Old£36 –> £44(+22%)
Glenfarclas 15 Year Old£45 –> £55(+22%)
Glenlivet 12 Year Old£30 –> £37(+23%)
Springbank 15 Year Old£53 –> £65(+23%)
Springbank 10 Year Old£37 –> £46(+24%)
Aberfeldy 12 Year Old£30 –> £38(+27%)
Glendronach 15 Year Old£48 –> £64(+33%)

Not utterly damming, but for such a short period of time, those price jumps are high enough to notice. Inflation of the pound over this five-year period was around +13%. So whisky is handily beating inflation. Either way, pricey fancy whisky is no longer for me.

These days I have my favourite bar standards that I always have to hand and I just buy those, only when on offer: Johnnie Walker Black and Bulleit Bourbon. (Lagavulin 16-Year-Old used to be my more high-end choice, but that now retails for a silly £60, though you can often find it discounted at places like Costco.)

Watched – Week 4, 2021

Still from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

Film

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). Rewatch. I tend to watch this every year. So when it snowed recently in England I thought it was time once again, as this film is very snowy and Swedish. My last two viewings I’ve connected with it slightly less the usual for some reason. And I wish the two main characters teamed up slightly earlier. Still it’s fantastic and my film of the week. 88%

A Star Is Born (2018). Rewatch. There’s tremendous music and Lady Gaga’s acting is actually okay. A remarkable first film from Bradley Cooper. I think it’s hard to dislike this. Everyone in my family enjoyed it. It’s just a smidgen too long. 85%

Three Identical Strangers (2018). You’ll read the synopsis and you think you know the story. You don’t. A fascinating documentary. 78%

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010). Rewatch, background. This isn’t great, but there’s just enough fun to make it watchable. 53%

Television

Tiger. Rather than two 90 minute episodes I felt this deserved a full series run of five 60 minuters. I would have liked a bit more focus on his golf and a little bit less on his personal life. But on the whole, this is good. 72%

Bob’s Burgers (Season 11). In a world full of pain and suffering Bob’s Burgers is always a welcome tonic. It’s up there with “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Parks and Recreation” when it comes to comedy shows that aren’t always funny but that have a sickly sweetness that makes up for all that. Season 11 isn’t its strongest outing, but it’s still good. 69%

‘How Many Microcovids Would You Spend on a Burrito?’

Wired [c]:

Olsson thinks about risk for a living—she works for a Silicon Valley foundation on projects that seek to mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of advanced AI—and is in the habit of assessing her daily life with data and models. A few years ago, after a close friend told her about a scare she’d had while cycling, Olsson decided to reevaluate her own bike commute. Was her life span more likely to be cut short by a fatal crash biking to work or by the increased chance of heart disease from sitting idly on the train? She was happier riding her bike than squeezing in with fellow passengers, but sometimes feelings need a fact check. She did the math and was pleased that it validated her choice to cycle.

Olsson had begun applying this approach to living with the new coronavirus. The task was far more comprehensive. Unlike the risk of a bike accident, the risks posed by the virus radiated off of everything, turning the littlest things—a burrito!—into a gamble. At first, managing those risks was easy, if unpleasant. When the pandemic arrived in March, lockdowns constrained life and therefore made decisions simple. It was all of us together, in the interest of keeping hospitals from becoming overrun. But then, gradually, the world reopened, and life got more confusing.

So she and her friends created microCOVID. It’s an amazing site. You enter a bunch of variables about the activity you want to do, and it will tell you how risky it is. I love stuff like this.

And be sure to read the whole Wired piece. It’s certainly my favourite article of the week.

Pay-as-You-Go Reading

I still can’t quite believe that there’s no way for me to quickly donate to an online publication once I get to the bottom of an article.

I’ve wanted something like this for years now and I even feel like I’ve talked about it multiple times. Because I hate subscriptions you see. They’re usually overpriced for how much value I get out of them, and they’re nearly always impossible to cancel.

I just want a little icon at the bottom of each and every New Yorker article, for example, that I can tap and then donate some small amount of money.

It would have to be quick and easy. But services like Apple Pay and Stripe make that simple enough.

Someone please make such a thing.

(Though maybe people have tried in the past and just worked out that it’s not viable. Flattr has almost exactly this idea. And whilst they’re still technically still going, only a small number of websites support them).

The Man Who Invited the World Over for Dinner

BBC News [c]:

Jim Haynes was both an icon and a relic of the Swinging Sixties, an American in Paris who was famous for inviting hundreds of thousands of strangers to dinner at his home. He died this month.

[…] During the 1990s, the crowds started to dwindle at the Paris dinners, as the original hippy crowd aged. But then a new wave of younger visitors started to get in touch. The bloggers had discovered him.

[…] He explained that, in the late 1980s, he had founded a guidebook series for countries behind the Iron Curtain. Instead of the standard descriptions of sights and hotel listings, the format was like an address book, including the contact details for hundreds of in-country hosts. The idea was that if people could not easily see the Western world themselves, he would bring it to them via travellers. It was “couchsurfing”, but offline.

Interesting guy. Though he sounds like the total opposite to myself. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than having a dozen strangers over to my house for dinner every week. You can listen to a five minute audio interview with him here [c]. And here’s his Wikipedia.

Outlaws

I checked out the band the Outlaws today on the recommendation of my Dad. I’m only a few albums deep, but they’re pretty great so far. They’re country rock and fall somewhere between the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd musically. The debut album “Outlaws” is a 8/10 powerhouse, ending with the nine minute monster “Green Grass & High Tides” (Spotify / YouTube) that towards the end of the song has some of the greatest guitar you’ll ever hear. Somehow they flew under my radar until now. Check them out. Worth your time.

Open Top Sandwiches

I’m not a big fan of bread. And whenever I have a sandwich I nearly always find that the ratio of bread-to-filling way too high. So when I make myself a sandwich I just have a single slice of bread and then put all my fillings on top. And then I eat it with a knife and fork.

I thought I was very strange for doing this. But apparently I’m not. Because today I discovered that an ‘open sandwich’ is a very popular thing in the Nordic countries. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

January 26th, 2021

If You Squeeze the Coronavirus, Does It Shatter? New York Times. Was that headline thought up by a stoner at 3 AM?


Sauna culture in Finland is now part of UNESCO’s ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’. UNESCO. I love saunas. Believe it or not one of the biggest downsides of the COVID-19 pandemic from a personal point of view has been that I can’t use my gyms sauna. I love saunas so much that I have to set myself a time limit otherwise I spend too much time in there and end up making myself light-headed and giving myself a headache for the rest of the day. I have little interest in travelling. But spending some time in a pukka Finnish sauna is certainly on my list of things to visit.

UNESCO has also made a video about Finnish sauna culture. I find it interesting that they introduce babies to the sauna. I suppose as long as it’s not too hot it’s fine but I just never have imagined babies going into the sauna before. [via MetaFilter]


Looks like McDonalds UK is attempting to buff up its ‘healthy’ image by this addition to its online menu:


It’s kind of ironic that The NoSurf Activities List of things to do away from the internet includes lots of links to the subreddits for all the different activities.


Today I discovered that cucumber and red cabbage is a far better burger topping than lettuce and tomato. Honestly I can’t believe how nice red cabbage is.