Watched – Week 5, 2021


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%


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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.

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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.)

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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).

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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.

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Dressing Gowns Are Stupid

I have a strong dislike for dressing gowns. And my reasons are multiple.

Firstly, you have to wear at the very least boxers underneath. Because if you don’t your dick flops out every two minutes and you flash family members your scrotum each time you sit or squat down. So you end up wearing what you’d usually be wearing underneath the dressing gown anyway.

Always ill-fitting, it feels like 80% of the fabric is in the upper half of the dressing gown. So your upper body is boiling. But the lower extremities feel cold and exposed, like you’re wearing a child sized kilt on a winters day.

The arms are too long with wide sleeves that droop on to your plate each time you eat. And every time you move your arms too quickly you feel like Dumbledore conjuring a spell.

How I feel wearing a dressing gown

The belt is useless. It comes undone every thirty seconds, usually thanks to the slippery fabric it’s made of. So you double knot it, making it impossible to undo ever again. And of course it’s now so tight that you feel like you’re wearing a corset that Dita Von Teese would find cramped. And don’t forget the stupidly long tassels are just hanging there, getting in your way. And if the belt is done up good luck accessing anything you have in your pockets.

I mean, you could just not bother doing up the belt of course. But an undone dressing gown gives you the look of a mentally ill person who has just escaped the psychiatric ward.

And don’t ever let a neighbour see you outside in your dressing gown. A man outside in a dressing gown at any time of day stinks of unemployed and recently divorced.

The collar is a monstrous thing. Thick and wide. Which is only useful if you plan on wearing your dressing gown at a concert whilst a girl is sitting on your shoulders. And it would protect your shoulders in such circumstances to be fair.

How I think I look in a dressing gown vs. How I actually look

You will never wash it. So food stains and your dressing gowns fabric become life partners. That soup stain will still be there in five years, encrusted in time.

And you can’t wear the dressing gown in bed because it will have travelled all the way up your body before you’ve even launched Netflix. So you have to take it off. Meaning you now need a place to store it. Not on a hanger in your wardrobe, that’s too much work. So instead it’s usually piled onto the floor. You could put it on a hook on the back of your bedroom door. But now you have around 5KG of ugly fabric in your eyeline whilst in bed. And the chances of you waking up in the middle of the night and mistaking it for a creepy intruder watching you from your doorway is extremely high.

So in summary, dressing gowns are stupid.

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The Barbican Estate

In the Financial Times the other day, ‘Beauty and the Brutalists: why the most maligned style in history should be preserved‘ [c]:

But one of his [Donald Trump’s] last acts in office was to issue an executive order that new federal buildings must be built in a classical style. What they should not be, it specified, is Brutalist. This is how it was defined:

“Brutalist means the style of architecture that grew out of the early 20th-century Modernist movement that is characterised by a massive and block-like appearance with a rigid geometric style and large-scale use of exposed poured concrete.”

Brutalism is probably my favourite architectural style. And I’ll be honest, I don’t really know why.

I think a big reason is that it’s just drastic and different. Stark, and well… brutal. It has a cyberpunk and sci-fi look which I find beautiful and endearing. Would I want every building to be built in the brutalist style? No. But I love it all the same.

There’s a line in the movie The Da Vinci Code where Tom Hank’s character is asked by a police officer what he thinks of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. He says “it’s magnificent.” But the policeman replies, “a scar on the face of Paris.” That phrase often pops into my head when I’m in London and stumble on a piece of brutalism. It is in many ways a scar. But it’s a cool scar. One that adds character in my opinion.

Me at the Barbican Estate

The average person however does seem to think of brutalism as just a straight up ugly scar. And only a certain sort of person seems to be actually willing to live in such buildings. The FT continues:

There is a lot of truth in the long-running joke that Brutalism’s loudest champions — and many of the residents of London’s most famous Brutalist estates, including the Barbican and Keeling House — are all architects themselves.

It’s certainly not for everyone. And I do admit that goverment buildings built in the brutalist style certainly take on a dystopian quality. But I kind of like that. I feel like they’re not trying to hide anything from me. They’re not built to some ancient Greek ideal with white marble and curved columns. Instead they’re admiting they’re often broken and brutal institutions. It’s ugly architecture for an ugly world.

Interested in more brutalism? Check out /r/brutalism or buy “This Brutal World” published by Phaidon.

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