New Year’s resolutions 2018

2017 was a bit of a wash out on resolutions. Buying a house and starting to renovate it took up too much time. In 2018, the house work continues, plus we’re getting a puppy in a couple of weeks. So I don’t hold out much hope for these:

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

2. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

3. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

4. Watch 13 specific films:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Ben-Hur (1959)
Cleopatra (1963)
Zardoz (1974)
Sholay (1975)
Network (1976)
Logan’s Run (1976)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Tron (1982)
Apollo 13 (1995)
Contact (1997)

New Year’s resolutions 2017: end of year review

It’s time to see how I did with my 2017 New Year’s resolutions. And the answer is: very poorly.

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

Status: failed.

2. Use DuckDuckGo at all times.

Status: largely passed.

DuckDuckGo is a search engine which doesn’t track you. You should use it.

3. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

Status: failed.

4. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

Status: failed.

5. Switch to a better solution than takeaway coffee cups.

Status: mostly passed.

I was gifted a Keep Cup which helped me to achieve this one.

6. Watch 13 specific films.

Status: passed, barely.

I say barely because I watched the last one, Gandahar, on 1st January 2018. But I achieved the higher goal: knocking a good chunk out of the “films I want to watch” list.

What next?

I’m going to carry 1, 3 and 4 forward to 2018. A bit shamefully, this is 1’s fourth year as a resolution. I’ll carry forward 6 as well, with a new list of films.

Cultural Highlights of 2016

In a year of relentless tragedy and despair, here are a scant few things I enjoyed.

BOOKS

Malcolm LowryUnder The Volcano

This was my third attempt at tackling Lowry’s famously impenetrable novel. The first chapter is particularly gruelling, but after breaking through it for the first time, the dark humour and self-flagellating wisdom which follow make it all worthwhile. For anyone tempted to have a go themselves, I found these notes very helpful in decrypting the dense symbology.

Keith RobertsPavane

The best thing I read all year though, by far, was Pavane. It’s an alternate history novel, in which Elizabeth I was assassinated, the Reformation was quashed, and a triumphant Catholic Church retarded scientific progress. In the 20th century setting of the novel, England has steam-powered road locomotives, a network of giant semaphore towers for cross-country communication, and new stirrings of political and religious revolution.

But the appeal of the ahistorical premise isn’t what makes Pavane such a great book. This year, I also read S. M. Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers, in which a late 19th century meteor shower destroys civilisation in the northern hemisphere, the British elite relocate to India, and by the early 21st century, a steampunk Anglo-Indian empire is in conflict with a devil-worshipping Central Asian Tsardom. This premise is equally interesting. However, Stirling’s novel turned out to be a huge disappointment: a poorly-written mediocrity, no more than a third-rate Raj adventure story with added airships.

Roberts’s, on the other hand, is so beautifully written it’s almost poetry. By the time you’ve read his description of a steam wagon making its way across the Dorset heath on a foggy night, oiled pistons hammering and scalding water dripping from the tank, or of a semaphore tower, its clacking wooden levers, and the blistered hands of its Guild apprentice operator, it’s impossible to believe that such things never even existed.

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New Year’s resolutions 2017: Part 2

I’ve decided to add another New Year’s resolution to the previous set. It’s simply to watch all of the films on the list below. The intention is to knock a number of “must see” films off my own “haven’t seen” list. The films are a mixture of all-time classics that I’ve somehow missed, cult films I’ve been wanting to watch for ages, and unwatched DVDs I have sitting on my shelf.

The original idea was to list 12 films, so that it would be easy to monitor progress: if I watch one a month, I’m on track. But since it’s 2017 and everything’s topsy-turvy, I’ve added a special choice for number 13.

  1. The Third Man
  2. Gone with the Wind
  3. Doctor Zhivago
  4. Where Eagles Dare
  5. North by Northwest
  6. A View to a Kill
  7. Gandahar
  8. Fucking Åmål / Show Me Love
  9. Grave of the Fireflies
  10. Once Upon a Time in America
  11. Mother India
  12. Suspiria
  13. The Manchurian Candidate

Cultural Highlights of 2015

I know it’s a bit late, but here’s the best stuff I read/saw/etc in 2015.

BOOKS

Railsea by China Miéville

By the same author as the superb The City And The City, Railsea is a post-apocalyptic riff on Moby-Dick. A young cabin boy joins a train crew rattling about on a vast dried sea-bed covered in criss-crossing railway tracks and inhabited by ferocious burrowing monsters, while the captain obsessively hunts her great yellow mole. Ripping stuff.

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang

Since the era of Thatcher and Reagan, mainstream economics has been dominated by the ideology of the free market, championed by the right wing as the driver of economic success. Meanwhile the left wing has either opposed it on moral grounds of fairness and compassion, or accepted it while trying to mitigate its worst effects. The basic economic argument has never been challenged in public debate: the free market creates a prosperous economy. However, in academic economics, this truism is widely known to be false, and the contradictions and failings of the free market are well understood. Ha-Joon Chang is one of the leading voices attempting to bust the free market myths of public consciousness, and this book is a perfect primer.

One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One of the hallmarks of a great book for me is how much is lingers in your consciousness after you’ve read it, and for weeks after finishing One Day In The LIfe Of Ivan Denisovich, I often found myself thinking, ridiculously, “this is just like in the Gulag.”

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Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 4

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 1

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 2

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 3

By the end of Saturday night, we’d watched a total of nine films. Some might say that’s enough zombie films for anyone. But not for the hardcore attendees of Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead. There was still time on the final day, before people had to go home, to get the tally into double digits.

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Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 3

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 1

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 2

SATURDAY EVENING

After a gruelling first session on the Saturday afternoon of RotWotLD, we desperately needed something to revive our flagging spirits. First, booze:

Zombie cocktail in a zombie head bowl!

Delicious zombie head juice.

Second, a series of high (and not so high) quality zom-coms Continue reading

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 1

A couple of years ago, I hosted a zombie film marathon. Over the course of Weekend of the Living Dead, we watched the first ever zombie film, White Zombie (1932), and the entire George A Romero series (Night, Dawn, Day, Land, Diary and Survival), as well as a couple of more recent examples of the genre (Rec and 2004’s Dawn remake).

Last weekend was the sequel: Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead (or #RotWotLD, as no-one except me was calling it on Twitter). The aim of the second marathon was to move away from big studio productions and well-known classics, and move into the murky realms of low-budget gore, video nasties and forgotten cult gems. Here’s a round-up of what we watched.

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