28/02/2022

Watching - February 2022

The Good Place (Season 1, 2016)
B told us to watch this - specifically not to look up anything to do with it, just watch it. I'm pleased we didn't get any spoilers or even an idea of what it was about, as this seems to be a show that thrives on plot twists. Accordingly, I won't spoil it for you either, except to say that it's a series well worth watching  - very imaginative and amusing, and not too heavy on time commitment either.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010)
I've known and enjoyed Rush's 1981 album Moving Pictures since my teens, I believe, but only occasionally ventured into other parts of their back catalogue - to my shame. It's a bit like only listening to A Night At The Opera or Led Zep 4 - only knowing a band's most well-known album. I thought I'd see if this documentary inspired me to listen beyond this. It's a really interesting film, always engaging, and it's nice to see three people that were only interested in making good music, not in any of the excess or stupidity associated with rock. It also highlights how varied their music has been over the forty-odd years of their existence. I think their 70s output is probably less to my taste, but I'll be looking into the other 80s and 90s albums.
The Good Place (Season 2, 2017)
The big surprise at the end of season 1 seems to have inspired the writers, as this season is more full of twists than a Chubby Checker convention. As a result, although it's entertaining, it's a bit breathless and disjointed us. It's very compelling though, and the cliff-hangers at the end of each episode really keep you skipping to the next (not that Netflix gives you much time to decide otherwise). We started season 3 straight away and we're all watching it together. Which is nice.
Red Notice (2021)
If they've missed any action/buddy/heist movie clich├ęs in making this, I didn't notice. All somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as befits the presence of Ryan Reynolds (who is why I watched this in the first place), with some knowing nods to the ridiculousness of it all, some cute lines ("What are we looking for?" - "A box labelled 'Macguffin'?") and a plot twist at the end that I didn't see coming - although in fairness, I never see them coming. Anyway, not 100% sure why I persevered with it but it passed a Sunday afternoon well enough.
The Good Place (Season 3, 2018)
I rarely, if every, binge watch anything, because it's a massive time sink and I always end up feeling that I could have done something more productive with my time. As David Hepworth says: "[...] they're clever enough to keep me watching but not substantial enough to make me glad I did". However, I've made an exception for The Good Place, as we've all watched it together, the episodes and seasons are actually quite short - and it's entertaining. I have been drawing the line at more than three episodes in one go though.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 1, 2013)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a series that had completely escaped me until my kids starting going on about it last year, describing it as "like Scrubs set in a police department" - which is a good recommendation in my book. Inevitably, they've already ground their way through all eight series or whatever, whereas I've been watching it only occasionally, so it's taken me a few months to finish the first season. I'm glad to keep coming back to it though. It's obviously not in the least bit serious or realistic, but it's very well-written and funny, and the characters are entertaining (although I could mostly do without Gina). 
Ode To Joy (2019)
Once I got past Martin Freeman doing an American accent, this was very sweet; a bit more complex than a standard romcom, but not a lot really. Nevertheless, it was nice to see reasonably believable characters, not least Freeman, who has always does an everyman role to perfection. It's nice to see a happy ending for someone with an unusual medical condition, even if, when you start to think about it, it seems more and more unlikely that it would actually work the way it does in the film (see also 50 First Dates). Still, a nice enough film. 

Reading - February 2022

Falling Hard by Stacy Finz (2017)
I can't quite believe I've made it to book eight in this series, but here I am anyway. There's plenty to like about the stories, and the characters are now familiar, which is nice, and means I can overlook the similarities between novels. I get the impression that Ms. Finz is getting a bit bored herself though, as the non-romantic elements of the plot are a bit more prominent, including in this case an extended and rather out-of-place coda that's more like a mediocre crime thriller.
Hope for Christmas by Stacy Finz (2017)
This is an interesting (for relative values of "interesting") aside in these "Nugget romance" books - not actually a romance, but a closure on something that was probably intended to be merely backstory in Finding Hope - a missing child from years before the story itself. My speculation is that enough people got in touch wanting to know how it panned out, and so this: book 8½. Shorter that the other entries in the series and a bit perfunctory, but resolution for those who need it.
So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (2016)
I'm not quite sure why I chose this book, as it is predictably disheartening. Intelligent people can be incredibly stupid - not just sometimes, but very, very often. Here Ronson describes how the indiscriminate, self-righteous fury of the Twitter mob has had disproportionate, real-world effects on those who happened to catch its fleeting attention. Even more depressing is the coda for this edition, which describes how the same twerps, with a complete lack of self-awareness, turned on Ronson for having the temerity to suggest (in this book) that perhaps their targets might not deserve an online lynch mob. Well and engagingly written, but, as I say, unfortunately this doesn't stop it being depressing.
What If? by Randall Munroe (2015)
Most striking this time round is a question that ask, presciently, "If everyone on the planet stayed away from each other for a couple of weeks, wouldn't the common cold be wiped out?" Turns out the answer is "no". What If? 2 is due out in September; B and I very excited.
Jews Don't Count by David Baddiel (2021)
This slim book was simultaneously an easy and hard read. Baddiel is an entertaining and acerbic companion, but the behaviour he describes is depressing. I've felt for a long time - in my usual, "I can't really be bothered to look into this properly" fashion - that the political left wing is just as intrinsically anti-Semitic as the right wing, just in a different way. This is the focus of the book: how the "progressive left" (whatever that is) dismiss Jewish concerns as unimportant or invalid, using a range of reasons. Baddiel deconstructs those arguments easily and the points he makes are irrefutable. Unfortunately that doesn't stop ideologically one-dimensional nitwits trying - the kind who can't understand how they can possibly be guilty of any kind of discrimination because, hello, they are anti-racist and anyway aren't all Jews rich white people?
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (1988)
As always, just an astonishing vision of another world. Peerless SF.
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (2021)
As I said about the first of Osman's books in the Thursday Murder Club series, this is a very well-written, engaging and compelling book that nevertheless has a feeling of having been precisely engineered to maximise its appeal. This time, the mechanisms feel a little more obvious and Osman leans on two characters in particular: Elizabeth, who can outwit anyone, and Bogdan, who can defeat anyone. Basically, any time the characters get into a scrape, one of these two will sort it out. It doesn't stop the book being a great read (I charged through it in about two days) but it's not quite as good as the first.