Mid-2020 Update

I think it’s safe to say that 2020 isn’t exactly going to plan. It’s not been a stellar year for anyone, and listing off the many and numerous trials that either have been or are still testing the world at large isn’t going to do anyone any good. Suffice to say I’ve found myself home a lot recently, not that the activity on Life vs Film would have led you to such a conclusion. It turns out that being stuck inside for almost three months with nothing but a bunch of streaming services and a decent sized DVD collection still isn’t enough to actually make me watch and review more films. In fact, compared to this time last year I’ve only reviewed a third as many! How is that even possible? So what have I been doing? Good question, and to answer it let’s run through my 2020 goals at this roughly half-way point through the year:Review one List film a week.
A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Oh. No. Nope. Nopity-nopity-nope. No. I’ve reviewed two films so far this year, Rio Grande and Her, the former for Blueprint: Review and the I only reviewed the latter because I watched it for a podcast without taking notes, then discovered it was on one of the Lists, so quickly did a write-up before it fell out of my head. I have watched an additional eleven films that I’m supposed to review, almost all for podcasts, but even if I had reviewed them all at this point I’d still be about 13 films behind where I allegedly should be. Here’s the other List films I’ve watched:
The Great Escape – Still an absolute favourite, watched in preparation for a Lambcast on Chicken Run.
the great escape
The Pillow Book – Second time I’ve seen it with the intention of reviewing, second time I’ve so far failed to review it, I do not want to see this a third time. The problem is I’m reviewing it for Blueprint: Review, for which I prefer to try and find some positive things to write about, but for The Pillow Book there are very few.
The Third Man – Watched so I could listen to some podcasts in my queue. I was underwhelmed, but only because it’s heralded as an all-time great.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Watched in preparation for the Pop Art podcast, this was my choice, a childhood favourite I still very much enjoyed far more than my wife did.
The Seventh Seal – Howard’s choice to pair with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it’s fair to say The Seventh Seal is not my kind of film, as is the case with pretty much every Ingmar Bergman film I’ve encountered so far. This again was a second watch, and again I don’t want a third.
Congo – watched for the Movies, Films & Flix podcast. It’s dumb, silly fun.
congo
Lost in Translation – like Her, this was watched for the Scarlett Johansson Lambcast. It’d been a while since I last saw it, and in that time the film had gotten a lot duller.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – a Lambcast Movie of the Month, I love this movie.
Lady Bird – Another Lambcast Movie of the Month, I do not love this movie. Not terrible, but I’m also not the target audience.
Gone With the Wind – I genuinely watched this as an almost random choice on the same day the film became a newsworthy controversy. This level of coincidence is insane. It’s a very impressive film, but that gargantuan runtime is pressuring me to review it soon, who knows when I’ll have four hours to dedicate to it again?
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – The most recent Movie of the Month, a fantastic film if a little slow.

Watch one non-List blind spot DVD a month.
Some progress has been made here, in that I’ve watched four of the twelve designated films. Unfortunately I didn’t really like any of them:

Beasts of the Southern Wild
beasts of the southern wild
I had high hopes for this, and it ended up being mostly just fine. Quvenzhane Wallis was very good as Hushpuppy, the little girl living with her wildcard father (Dwight Henry) in a bayou community trying to survive a storm, but not Oscar nomination-worthy. The story is thin and didn’t captivate me enough, so I’m not keeping this DVD.
Choose Life 6/10

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
confessions of a dangerous mind
I love Sam Rockwell in pretty much anything, so a film starring him as a game-show-host-slash-international-assassin sounded great, but I think it’s hampered by the source material/alleged true story. Rockwell is good, with a great supporting cast (George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Rutger Hauer) and some fun cameos, but direction-wise it’s a bit of a mess. I wanted this to be so much better.
Choose Life 5/10

The Station Agent
the station agent
Peter Dinklage plays a man who inherits his friend’s disused train depot and heads there in the hope of a quiet life. He doesn’t account for the chatty food vendor (Bobby Cannavale), bereaved artist (Patricia Clarkson) or sweet librarian (Michelle Williams) with whom he finds his new life entangled. I love the cast, I just would have liked something – anything – to happen at any point in the film. I kept thinking I’d drifted off and missed a scene or two, but apparently not, it’s just a very boring film.
Choose Life 5/10

Triangle
triangle
It’s a low budget horror, so I didn’t expect it to be fantastic, but I’d heard it was at least inventive and something that had to be experienced, but this was the most disappointing and predictable piece of nonsense I’ve seen in a while. I’ll avoid spoilers because I seem to be in the minority with this opinion, but maybe I’ve seen too many films in this specific genre, because everything was blatantly and painfully obvious to me before any character seemed to have any idea what was going on. I did not care for this at all. Choose Life 3/10

There’s still eight to go, and hopefully some of these will fare a little better and make me at least consider keeping the disc: Blue Ruin, Way of the Gun, The Skin I Live In, Pontypool, Rare Exports, The Dead Zone, Marathon Man, Kelly’s Heroes. Unfortunately I’ve watched the three that my wife didn’t mind seeing, so the rest will be (hopefully) watched at some point, just on my own.

Start watching Deadwood and Twin Peaks.
I have seen the first episode of Deadwood! So has my wife, she didn’t care for it (the same happened with The Wire), so I’ve not yet found time to watch the second episode, but technically I can tick that box off. No word on Twin Peaks yet though. However I have seen a bunch of other TV shows instead:
Watchmen – Loved it, excellent extrapolation from the source material. I’d like a Lube Man spin-off.
watchmen
Derry Girls – Hilarious, seek it out.
Dead To Me – Also fantastic, nicely balancing comedy and drama. Some ridiculous coincidences, but entertainingly so, and the second season fleshed out what could’ve been a very typical supporting role from season one. Recommended.
Floor is Lava – Trash, utter trash, but fun. More of a diversion or background watch than something you should spend time on. The contestants and host are equally annoying, and each episode should be at least 5 minutes shorter, but a nice concept.
After Life – Good, but not the happiest comedy in the world. I’m not often a Ricky Gervais fan, but his lower-key comedy here worked for me as the mourner of a dead wife struggling to not kill himself, assisted or exacerbated by the relatives, colleagues and strangers around him.
Schitt’s Creek – High recommendation. We’ve watched at least one episode a day since we started this, and are now mid-way through season five. The end of season six is depressingly close. Don’t be put off by the “poor little rich people” premise, there is a lot of fantastic stuff here, particularly all of the character work from the main four and, generally, everyone else as well.
ER – We finished ER! Fifteen seasons is too many! 331 episodes! Ridiculous! If it wasn’t for Angela Bassett and some fan service episodes the last season would’ve been a real struggle. There are certainly worse shows you could dedicate maybe three years of your life to catching up on, and it was fun seeing a lot of before-they-were-famous actors cropping up.
The Walking Dead – The lockdown delaying the final episode of season ten is a bit frustrating, but so be it. Samantha Morton is a fantastic villain, and I don’t regret sticking with this show over some of the drier seasons.
Westworld – Season one remains the best season. I love everything involved with a theme park full of robot cowboys. That sounds awesome. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of robot cowboy action anymore, and the park is now a distant memory. I feel like the events of season three could’ve maybe been condensed into at most four episodes. Overall it’s better than season two, but that season had a few better episodes.
The Good Place – Seriously, when this ended I spiralled into a little depression for a while, regardless of how incredible the finale was. It’s easily one of the best shows I’ve ever watched, and I miss new content regularly.
Brooklyn Nine Nine – A shorter season was disappointing, but still allowed for some fantastic episodes. Pimemento was a particular highlight, as was the season finale.
The Mandalorian – The reason I have Disney+ was certainly worth the money and the inexplicable, torturous wait. God damn this is an awesome show, maybe amongst the best Star Wars projects ever created, including the original trilogy. There’s such an even blend of new lore and building upon existing fan service, with incredible practical visuals and a hell of a cast. IG-11 is the best, and it makes me even angrier that we’ve been lumbered with so much time devoted to the pathetic Boba Fett when IG-88 was right there, getting nothing to do. Roll on season 2, after a season 1 re-watch of course!
the mandalorian
Rick and Morty – The tail end of season four kept up the usual high standard I’ve come to expect of Rick & Morty.
And no, I haven’t watched Tiger King, and I don’t really plan to. I’ve heard bits about it and frankly I don’t want to spend over five hours watching that sort of thing, it sounds more shocking and unpleasant than actually enjoyable.

Read a book a month.
By now I should be on my seventh book of the year, but really I’m on my fourth and fifth simultaneously. Here’s what I’ve read so far:
The Understudy (David Nicholls) – my wife recommended this, mainly because of all the film references and because I love the film of Starter For 10, the book of which was written by the same author. The Understudy follows an aspiring actor named Stephen McQueen whose acting career is thwarted at every turn by numerous elements but, primarily, himself. It’s witty and, from what I’ve heard, pretty accurate with regards to the acting experience in some ways, but overall was too predictable.
Raptor (Paul Zindel) – sometimes I’ll buy a book just because it’s got dinosaurs in it. Sometimes they’re good, and sometimes they’re Raptor. It probably didn’t help that immediately prior to this I read Stephen King’s excellent Under the Dome, whereas Raptor seems more aimed at younger readers. Either way, everything about the book is terrible except for the length.
How To (Randall Munroe) – I love Munroe’s webcomic XKCD, and also his earlier book What If. How To offers ridiculously over-thought and science-based answers to relatively simple problems, such as how to throw a ball or how to take a selfie. I didn’t find it as inventive or entertaining as What If, but it’s still a good and insightful read that’s educational along the way.
Right now I’m still struggling through Richard Ayoade’s The Grip of Film (I hate not finishing books), but enjoying Nikesh Shukla’s The God Immigrant, a collection of short pieces by minority ethnic voices in the UK including Nish Kumar, Riz Ahmed and Himesh Patel, which so far is proving very insightful of experiences I’m otherwise unfamiliar with.

See 24 films at the cinema.
Shockingly, given the cinemas haven’t been open for three months, I’m not doing too well here and have only seen six films in the cinema so far this year. I imagine this will be the hardest goal to complete. Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

Jojo Rabbit
jojo rabbit
Taika Waititi is becoming one of my favourite active directors. This is one of those comedies that has a couple of scenes that absolutely crush your soul, but the overall film is still extremely funny and often heartwarming. Great child performances aided by an eclectic but solid supporting cast (Stephen Merchant steals his scene with aplomb).
Choose Film 8/10

1917
1917
Wow. Just wow. 1917 is epic in terms of it’s aim and execution, but it achieves far more than the mock-one-shot gimmick. Sam Mendes delivered a taut, gripping war drama with some of Roger Deakins’ most beautiful cinematography (and that’s saying something). George Mackay was robbed of an Oscar nomination, and this would’ve been my pick for Best Picture.
Choose Film 9/10

Parasite
parasite
That is, right up until I saw Parasite, which I was fortunate enough to catch at an advanced screening, else I’d not have been able to see it before the Oscars ceremony (which, admittedly, I didn’t watch, and of the Best Picture nominees I still haven’t seen Le Mans ’66 [Ford V Ferrari] or Little Women). 1917 is an impressive, effects-and visuals-driven thrill ride, but Parasite is almost the polar opposite. It’s grounded, current, vital viewing for 2020, highlighting universal ideals of classism and social differences, wrapped in a thrilling, emotionally wrought story that miraculously takes place in predominantly just two locations. The cast are all exceptional, the plot kept me guessing and I’m looking forward to seeing it again soon.
Choose Film 9/10

Birds of Prey
birds of prey
This was for a Lambcast, and I wasn’t overly looking forward to it because Suicide Squad was a flaming turd and the recent DC films have left a lot to be desired, mainly entertainment value. Birds of Prey ratchets down the stakes and up the delirious oddness with egg sandwiches, a bleached blonde Chris Messina and a hyena for good measure. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress was the standout for me, but to be fair everyone is doing great work here.
Choose Film 7/10

Onward
Onward
Pixar’s latest isn’t their best, but there’s still a lot to love about this alt-fantasy world of elves, centaurs and other mythological creatures living in a realm where magic used to exist, but electricity is so much easier. As with most Pixar films the supporting characters are often the most entertaining, and Mel Rodriguez’s Officer Colt Bronco is delightful, but I could’ve done with more scene stealers like him. Still, the ending got me harder than I was expecting and I cannot fathom why this still isn’t out on Disney+ in the UK yet, because I want to see it again! Now!
Choose Film 8/10

The Invisible Man
the invisible man
The last film I saw in theatres stars someone you often can’t see, and is awesome. The 1933 Invisible Man is my favourite classic Universal monster movie, and this update is a refreshing take of seeing it from the perspective of a potential victim rather than predominantly from the eponymous character. It was great seeing this with an audience, as some scenes were genuinely surprising and experiencing those moments in a large group increased the enjoyment immensely. Elisabeth Moss is fantastic. Strong recommendation, even if you can only watch this at home alone.
Choose Film 8/10

Update my sites, one a month.
I have done so little to either this site or the LAMB this year, other than keep posting the regular features of the Lambcast, Lambscores, Movies of the Month etc. Practically none of the behind-the-scenes stuff has happened except for some of the smaller bits (Lambscores purge, Lambcast archive up until a few months ago, Lambcast spreadsheet and some of the new LAMBs, but these have mostly all stacked up again recently). The weather has just been too nice recently to spend behind a laptop when my garden needs tending to (not a euphemism).

Life improvements, one a month.
Speaking of which, progress has been made on the IRL improvements list!
Fix crack in dining area. – DONE! (Literally this past weekend, but it still counts.)
Strip plaster from lounge area. – Half-done. It’s been stripped from the dining area, because that’s where the crack is. We’ll get the lounge re-plastered maybe next month, so I’ve got until then to strip the rest of the shoddy plastering off.
Redecorate lounge-diner. – Not done. Kinda need the previous step done first.
Shelving in lounge-diner. – Same as above. We did put some lovely shelving in our under-the-stairs cupboard for shoe storage though, as Charlie has taken a liking to eating my Birkenstocks. Look at him, the contriteless devil gremlin that he is.
IMG_2545
Re-patio garden. – Not yet, more on this shortly.
Re-do rest of garden. – Progress has been made. I’ve dug a trench and sawed a bunch of sleepers (by hand in a solid 4-hour block of therapeutic angry sawing that my arm still aches from). Next step is to line them up, screw ’em together, cement them in place then fill in the raised border with soil and plants. I’ll leave that last bit to the wife as I don’t know what most plants are, or indeed what they’re for. We also need to put up a fence between us and our neighbours as the 3-foot dividing wall has become no longer enough to prevent the dogs from literally jumping the wall and going into their house. I wish I was kidding. The patio will be done after the raised border.
Paint kitchen. – DONE! Just not by me. I helped a bit, mainly with the prep, but painting is not my forte. Regardless, it’s crossed off.
Fix plumbing (you don’t want to know). – DONE! Kind of! Not sure really. Some unblocking was attempted, but some things seem to sort themselves out now and then. Will the problem return? Probably. Will I explain further what it is? No, and for that you should be grateful.
Sort shed – Half-done. The big shed sort out was amongst the first things completed in lock-down, and resulted in a large pile of random crap that sat in the garden waiting for the dumps to open. They now have, so it’s now gone. We still need to put some shelving in though to replace the rotten and bowed shelves we currently have.
Sort attic – DONE! The one thing I did on here almost by myself, mainly because all the crap in the attic is mine. Plenty of charity bags were filled and dump piles were created. Also I put a couple of spare bookcases up in the attic (this was a challenge, especially in the recent heatwave) so all my DVDs are no longer confined to plastic boxes and can now be seen and rifled through, albeit after you’ve gone up a ladder.
Sort house exterior (plaster is cracking etc.). – Not done. Not even started. This is a very daunting one and will likely be the last thing ticked off, probably next year.
Sort/tidy front garden. – DONE! As long as we’re just talking about the garden and not the driveway. We’ve knocked down a small border wall, dug out the border several times (the plans kept changing), added some wooden cladding and painted it white to make the remaining wall look unintentionally like a beehive and installed several garden centres’ worth of plants around the border. Plus an unsightly rock circle in the middle of the lawn has been removed and replaced with more grass, so it’s now much easier to mow. Unfortunately we need to get the driveway levelled as we want it to be gravel rather than shoddy bricks, and gravel doesn’t do too well on a slope. The required job was all about the garden though, so this is done!

Prioritise my health.
Some efforts have been made here. The pilates-esque back exercises didn’t last, but I am drinking far more water than I used to, and relegated alcohol to just weekends. It’s not good enough, but it’s better than it could be. The abundance of biscuits, toffees and cake in the house remains a concern, but given I’m the one who buys them all and makes some of the cakes, you’d think it’d be clear how to solve this problem, but I just can’t figure it out. Anyway, here’s some pictures of baked goodies I’ve made in lockdown:

 

Run every other day.
Yes! I’m still doing this, and for the most part I’m still enjoying it! I screwed my foot up in March which led to about a month of not running, which was almost agony as that was my daily exercise for every other day, but since that’s healed I’ve increased the regularity a little so right now I’m slightly over this average. Were there a few days in there where the dogs and I ran for about 1km? Sure. But there’s also a few half marathons and the like, so I don’t feel like I’m cheating. I’ve set a couple of sub-goals of running 100 miles a month (in March I only hit 56, but I made up that 44 mile deficit over the past 3 months) and the slightly trickier goal of running 2,020 kilometres in 2020. I’m just shy of where I should be for that, but I reckon I’ll make it. Also I’m very proud that despite being in lockdown and only being allowed out once a day for exercise (including dog-walking) I still hit my daily step target of 15,000 steps every damn day. No-one else cares, but hey, this is my blog, and if I want to brag that I didn’t spend a single day entirely in pyjamas, then dammit I will. Anyone reading this who did spend the odd day/week/month in pyjamas, good on you, I’m secretly very jealous.

Eat one fruit or vegetable a week.
I’ve still been eating the odd carrot and/or parsnip with the appropriate dinner, strawberries are in season so they’re a regular dessert right now and I’ve had butternut squash risotto for three lunches in a row, but I feel I could be doing better, I just don’t want to. I need more plant-based meal inspirations. Any suggestions are more than welcome.

Sleep more.
My aim in 2020 has been to sleep at least 5 hours a night. That may sound ridiculously low to some of you, but that’s actually pretty challenging for me. However so far this year, on average, I’m achieving it, with an average of 5 hours and 42 minutes a night. Do I have a spreadsheet? You betcha. How many graphs does it have? Three! Why? Who knows. I’m hoping to get the average up to 6 hours, and the lockdown has certainly helped. In mid-March the average was barely over five hours, but when you don’t have to get up at 6am to walk the dogs before going to work, after staying up until 2am helping your wife with a work project, it turns out you can get more sleep in! There are two days where the line peaks over 8 hours! In a single night! I’d no idea such things were possible.

So that’s my goals covered, but is that all I’ve done so far this year? No, I’ve also watched a bunch of other films, and recorded a heap of podcasts, but this post is long enough already so I’ll move those onto separate ones. Keep watching the skies for future posts!

2 thoughts on “Mid-2020 Update

  1. wow. a very thorough update. pleasure reading and hearing about all of ur endeavors (even if movies have a lower priority 🙂 )

    Im quite impressed at the amount of housework u do urself. I’m not able to do any repairs in the house and leave it all up o experienced people.

    In the past, whenever I would do something on my own… I’d still need to call a professional to fix what i broke/ruined, so I’ve learned to just let them do it from the start.

    keep up the great work Jay!

    • Thanks Rob. I don’t do much DIY, but I like to give it a shot. Often it goes wrong, sometimes you need to style is out as “added character”. I leave the bigger jobs like plastering or electrics to the professionals, but often that’s so expensive that we have to do the rest ourselves or we can’t afford to get it done!

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