June felt like a very short month full of very long weeks. Whether this was due to the constant pressure of finishing the previous “How’d it go?” post (I literally didn’t start it until halfway through May, then scrambled to finish it before the end) or because the work weeks dragged and the weekends flew by I cannot say. The main breakthrough from this month was, despite last month’s misgivings, I went to the cinema! And then, I went to the cinema again, for a double-bill! We’ll get into the films soon, but I immediately take back my lack of enthusiasm for going back to the big screen; watching A Quiet Place Part II was far better in a big, dark, loud room than it could ever have been at home. I was more engaged, engrossed and emotionally invested knowing I couldn’t pause the film or do something else at the same time, and I’d taken that for granted in the year since I’d last been. Of course, when it came to the second visit I was, as per tradition, a little late to the first film (Fast & Furious 9) but that had about 30 minutes of ads and trailers, so nothing was missed. I’d allocated 20 minutes between films to grab a bite to eat, but the extra trailers from Fast 9 and a very busy entertainment complex meant my plans ran long and I was once again a little late to the second screening (In The Heights). I figured it would be fine given the trailer quantity of the first film, but it turned out for this screening they’d opted for practically no trailers whatsoever, and I’d missed the first 5 minutes. Fortunately the entire first musical number is on Youtube as a trailer, so I’ve caught up now but I was very frustrated with myself for the first half hour or so of the film.
Speaking of films, let’s get into them, shall we? Oh, and as this is the halfway point post for the year, I’ll be providing updates for where I am with everything resolution-wise. Spoiler alert, I’m not doing well!
The main goal was to review one List film a week, focussing on those from the AFI Top 100 List, so right now you’d expect me to have reviewed around 26 films. Shockingly, this has not happened. In total so far this year I have reviewed seven films; six from the List and only two from the AFI 100 (The Best Years of Our Lives and American Graffiti). Tellingly, both of those were watched for podcasting purposes because that’s where my priorities always lie. Elsewhere I should have watched six DVD-films (a specific list of 12 that I’ve owned for a while but never seen, and which aren’t on The List), and I have done this via my Star Trek mission, so hurrah! More on this later. Also to beat last year’s score of 39 new releases I should be up to 20 at this point. I’m genuinely amazed to count up that I’ve seen 21 so far this year! Granted, a fair few of those are ones whose releases were delayed, at least in the UK, so they’d count as 2020 films for some folks, but 2021 is the earliest I could have legally seen them without using a passport, so they count as 2021 for me. I’m ahead of schedule! Wahoo!
Here’s what I watched in June:
A Quiet Place Part II (2021)
I really enjoyed the freshness and originality of A Quiet Place, but I felt I didn’t really need a sequel. A Quiet Place Part II expands the world and progresses the story whilst sticking to the core concepts and characters of the original, so if you liked that one then chances are you’ll like this too. The Day 1 flashback opening sequence is easily the highlight, but the rest is no slouch either, and I enjoyed how director John Krasinski’s main thread through the film was characters telling each other they could never live up to his character’s absence. Maybe my thoughts are a little more positive as it was my first cinema experience in almost a year, but regardless this was still a solid thriller.
Choose Film 7/10
The New Mutants (2020)
My Letterboxd says I watched this film, I’m certain that I did, but I’ll be damned if I can remember anything about it other than an ending that reminded me of that godawful King Arthur film from a few years ago. Everyone tried hard but it’s all over the place and should maybe have stayed lost.
Choose Life 4/10
An American Pickle (2020)
Seth Rogen in a dual role! When Herschel Greenbaum emigrates to America in 1919 he becomes accidentally pickled and awakes 100 years later to find a New York he dos not recognise and his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum as his only living relative. Cue fish-out-of-water hilarity, but mainly with a social media woke-ness twist as Herschel’s sensibilities both delight and inflame various groups for numerous reasons. It’s very current and probably won’t hold up once times continue to change further, but I enjoyed this for what it is, and the explanation (or lack thereof) for how Herschel survived his ordeal led to a genuine cackle from me.
Choose Film 6/10
I used to really look forward to the release of new Pixar movies, but it’s been a long time since I’ve either desperately looked ahead to one or love watching the result. I blame The Good Dinosaur, still my most disappointing film-watching experience of my lifetime. Since then I’ve really enjoyed Toy Story 4 and Finding Dory, and have found a lot to appreciate in Cars 3, Coco, Incredibles 2, Onward and Soul, but I haven’t greatly anticipated any and none of those listed would crack the upper echelons of my Pixar rankings. Whether this is due to nostalgia for the films I’ve seen the most from a younger age, or a focus on more original stories rather than further delves into the worlds I already love is unclear, but alas Luca doesn’t break this trend. Don’t get me wrong, the story of a couple of young aquatic creatures venturing into an Italian town that hates them and pretending to be human for a while is very enjoyable, but it’s slight and predictable. Again, these aren’t necessarily bad qualities, they just prevented Luca from reaching the near-perfect heights of the other Pixar films. For me, I much prefer the ones with larger casts of quirky characters, side plots and general world-building. Here it’s mainly Luca and Alberto having fun with Giulia, with Luca’s parents trying to find them, and that’s about it. I feel this is absolutely the film that Luca‘s creators intended to make, so I can’t fault them for that, but it’s not the film I wanted it to be, which is entirely my own problem, but it’s why it sits lower in my ranking. I think I’d have been more engrossed but also more disappointed if I’d seen this in the cinema.
Choose Life 7/10
The Ice Road (2021)
I really like The Wages Of Fear, it’s easily one of my favourite films that I’ve only seen once. If you’re not familiar, The Wages of Fear features a disparate group of desperate characters who must transport two trucks of extremely volatile explosives across treacherous terrain in a limited time. The tension and thrills all come from the danger of the situation at hand and the attempts to overcome it by the drivers being forced to work together. The Ice Road takes that same principle and blows it all over the place by throwing far more at the story than it needs. So yes, Liam Neeson volunteers to drive one of three rigs carrying equipment needed to save miners buried in a collapse, but we also keep cutting to the miners trying to survive, their management outside of the mine trying to resolve their own issues, Neeson’s aphasia-suffering veteran brother and mechanic (Marcus Thomas) having his problems on the journey and a potential mystery assailant amongst the convoy. Oh, and it’s mostly on ice. If you’ve seen a small handful of against-the-clock, people-on-a-mission films then pretty much every story aspect will come as no surprise and the action is at best fine but no means worthy of actually watching this thing.
Choose Life 4/10
The latest catch-up with the Gourley and Rust podcast. I think I’d seen bits of this a long time ago, but didn’t remember anything other than the infamous exploding head stuff. Turns out that’s because the rest of the film is really quite slow, dull and meandering. If this didn’t feature people being able to explode the heads of others purely with their mind, or Michael Ironside in one of the most incredible, physical, intense performances I’ve ever seen, then I highly doubt anyone would be discussing this film today. The opening and closing scenes are easily the highlights and are readily available on Youtube, so definitely just watch those and skip the rest.
Choose Life 6/10 (Explosion bits: Choose Film 9/10)
Fast & Furious 9 (2021)
The wait is over, it finally got released, and I was there opening weekend for the latest adventures of Grumble-Voice McDriveyFace and his ever-expanding cabal of increasingly super-powered cohorts. I really enjoyed this instalment, but I completely understand why some rank it lower in the franchise (I am unable to rank them, as I barely remember anything from the first 4 films and have no intention of revisiting them anytime soon because, really, who has the time?). The action is utterly ludicrous but that’s kind of what I’m here for. These aren’t supposed to be realistic dramas, and I admire how much they’re pushing that by having characters ravings about trusting in physics whilst undertaking a situation that, in our reality, physics would have put a stop to long ago. I think the cameo-stuffing of many past franchise co-stars in the teeny-tiniest of roles was exhausting, but I get why it was done. I like Shea Whigham, Helen Mirren etc., so it’s nice to see them crop up in things, but other than a “Oh hey, it’s them!” they didn’t add a lot story-wise. The magnet-action was innovative and a lot of fun, and as the primary antagonist John Cena was pretty good too. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Vin Diesel as an actor, so I appreciate that he surrounds himself with more charismatic and comedic performers to take up the pressures of being entertaining, whilst he handles the emotional main storyline, although Diesel’s reported refusal to ever lose a fight on screen is getting beyond silly now when he’s going solo against not just an entire squadron of armed, armoured mercenaries, but also a collapsing building, and at worst you could call the outcome a tie. All that being said, if you like these films you’ll most likely enjoy this one, and if the F&F franchise has never done it for you, then maybe give it a miss.
Choose Film 8/10
In The Heights (2021)
I tried my hardest not to expect another Hamilton, because this most decidedly is not that. In The Heights, the musical Lin-Manuel Miranda created prior to his global behemoth, is a much smaller, lighter and brighter affair, following the inhabitants of Washington Heights over a particularly hot few days one summer as they contend with gentrification, romance and a winning lottery ticket. The performances are all fantastic, the film looks incredible – especially the numbers set at the local pool and climbing the side of a building – but for the most part the songs didn’t grab me. I left the cinema humming 96,000, and I’ve listened to the whole soundtrack since watching the film, but only a couple of songs have really stood out to me without the visual component to accompany them. Regardless, I had a great time watching the film, there’s a sequence in the middle that hit me hard and had me welling up, and I’ll definitely watch this again when it hits streaming.
Choose Film 7/10
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
We’ve made it through the Kirk years and into the Picard era, but so far this has been a regrettable turn of events. Generations might be the worst Star Trek film so far! No, wait, I forgot The Final Frontier, my bad, but this one is definitely down in the dregs. Given that this crew is supposed to have served together at this point for many years, why does it feel like only Data and Geordi have any kind of history and friendship? The plot is beyond contrived in an attempt to wrangle Shatner and Stewart on screen together, overlapping with timey-wimey nonsense in a story that I couldn’t keep straight if I tried. Also, the film opens with Kirk, Chekov and Scotty accompanying a new crew that includes Jenette Goldstein, Glenn Morshower and the great Alan Ruck, but they’re all gone from the film after just a few minutes! Given the lack of chemistry between the main new crew I’d have rather hung out with those opening folk. Also, and I understand that these films are mainly for the fans, and that this crew had been on TV together for years prior to this film, but for the uninitiated like me there was very little in the way of character, ship or premise introductions for anything going on. If it wasn’t for things like Family Guy I’d have been completely mystified by the holodeck boat adventure, for one. In the positive column I enjoyed emotional Data, but I’ve got no frame of reference for what he’s been like in the past, so I remained lost.
Choose Life 4/10
My only TV aim this year was to finish watching Buffy and, maybe, Angel too. Well, that’s something crossed off, because we’ve done it, hooray!
Angel (Season 5)
I haven’t dug into when or why it was decided that season 5 would be Angel’s last outing, but it really feels like the writers got wind that the show was ending and decided to just throw everything they liked at the screen, leading to some odd storylines – Fred’s arc at the end came out of nowhere and went just as far – and utterly bizarre episodes including cyborg assassins, an episode all about Harmony, and of course the one where Angel gets turned into a puppet. That might be my favourite episode of Angel across the whole run, and maybe most of Buffy too. Bringing Spike into the mix was a stroke of genius, with the Angel/Spike dynamic providing a lot of opportunities for friction and comedy, but setting this season predominantly within Wolfram & Hart gave it the feel of a whole different show in its own right. That being said, every season of Angel has been easily distinguishable from the others, but this felt like more of a drastic change that I wasn’t fully on board with, as it distanced the team from each other and required Gunn to be completely rewritten (but diegetically, at least).
Mare of Easttown (Season 1)
Kate Winslet’s in a critically acclaimed mystery crime show, of course we watched it! If you’ve seen Broadchurch, this is very much that but colder and with different, harsher accents. If you haven’t seen Broadchurch, watch Broadchurch, it’s great. The second season gets a little slow, but stick with it as the third picks right up again. Mare of Easttown follows Winslet’s Mare, a former basketball star turned police detective, attempting to solve the murder of a local girl with a fairly standard bunch of potential suspects and other town mysteries lying in wait too. It’s very good, with enough red herrings and surprising revelations to keep you engaged, and at the unusual length of seven episodes you get the feeling this hasn’t been stretched or compacted to fit an arbitrary length. It’s a solid crime drama, everyone is fantastic in it and I highly recommend it.
We’ve started watching season 2 of Breeders, season 1 of Loki, season 5 of Inside No. 9, season 5 of Rick and Morty, the rest of Man Down and, as our apparent next binge-watch, season 1 of 24. This was not my choice, I’ve seen it before, but Aisha picked it and I don’t mind one bit. Expect updates in the coming months.
Reading one book a month is not a target I think I’ll ever be able to stick to. So far this year I’ve read two-and-a-bit books, and it’s honestly not looking good that I’ll even finish the third one any time soon. I used to read so much, now I’d just rather sleep.
I’m still reading Bill Bryson’s The Road To Little Dribbling, by which I mean I’ve taken the book with me to work a few times, on a picnic, to the cinema and had it sat next to my bed for the majority of the month, but I have not opened the book that entire time. This isn’t going well.
Above, I almost said that reading a book a month was the aim I was doing the worst at, but that wouldn’t have been true because this one exists. Currently I’m zero-for-twelve on planned site updates. If anything, the situations have gotten worse on some of these as new LAMBs have applied for applications and I’ve yet to process them. Lambscores are dormant, more Lambcast shows are released every week and the archive remains unchanged etc. I did make some progress on the LAMB spreadsheet for a bunch of the more recent LAMBs, but going back through and cataloguing every previous LAMB, their contact details etc. is such a monumental task that I can’t muster the enthusiasm for it, and the same goes for everything else on here. Occasionally I’ll get flashes of inspiration for the LVF header image, but invariably it’s when I’m at work or cycling home, and by the time I get back there’s something more pressing to do and it gets forgotten.
OK, here we go! Of the twelve planned jobs so far we have completed:
Carpet the lounge
Finish lounge shelving
Finish under the stairs cupboard
Patio rear garden
That’s five, only one short of where I should be. Technically we’ve also had the lounge window replaced, but we still need to paint the wall directly below it so I think that should be done before it can be officially crossed off. Still to go we have:
Finish rear garden
Finish rear fence
Paint the shed
Strip the hallway
Redecorate the hallway
New front door
I’ve been doing really well on this one. My goals were to run every other day, including at least one half marathon a month, building up to a full marathon by the end of the year. Non-running exercises like weights or yoga on the off days, eating better and sleeping at least 5.5 hours on average a night. Other than the eating and non-running exercises I’m technically on track still for all of these, but only just, because towards the end of June I got hit with shin splints. It’s not my first time, as I’m heavy and run on tarmac a lot, but I always stretch before and after running and if my legs hurt a bit I don’t run on them until they feel better. Usually. The day before I went for my cinema double bill I went for a run, and my legs hurt a little, but prior to the cinema I did a cheeky 10km, and the next day I could barely walk. It’s been three weeks since then and I’ve not so much as jogged round the block. By this point my legs feel better, so I’ll be tentatively trying them over the local grassy park in the morning, but only for a short distance and at a slower speed. If they’re fine I’ll have to slowly build my distance back up again, but safe to say there’ll be no half marathon in July, and my 2021 marathon distance chances are slim-to-none. I’m not throwing in the towel just yet, but I don’t want to injure myself more permanently either.
Not going for my regular three-to-six runs a week has left me increasingly annoyed and grumpy at pretty much everything. I’m missing the adrenaline and dopamine hit of the runs, and I’ve found myself snapping at people more frequently and generally being more depressed than previously. I still cycle to work every day, but that’s more of an obstacle slalom around cars and road works than actual exercise, and my couple of recent yoga attempts have left me more frustrated than energised or relaxed, mainly because I’m approaching them from a state of bitterness. Hopefully once I get back into the running, however slowly, I’ll feel better again, but these past few weeks have been awful for me, and probably worse for anyone in my orbit. Apologies all round.
I have started eating more fruit, though. Just because I’m not running doesn’t mean I’m not hungry all the time, so I’ve tried to swap out some cereal bars and crisp snacks with grapes and pineapple (two of the very few fruits that I find edible). Other than sending out invitations for a small ulcer party on my inner cheek this seems to be working so far, but I’ve definitely put on weight recently. It’s fine, I’m fine, let’s not dwell on it, OK? My sleep has also taken a hit. Any progress I’d made sleeping more when I was working from home has been frittered away since I’m back at the office, and I think my average sleep for the past month or so is probably less than 5 hours a night. I can almost feel the grip of mania slowly twisting my brain apart. Fun times.
Mental-health-wise I finished the Lego Jurassic Park Gate and T-Rex set, which I’m very happy with, although I need a new shelf in my office as the Star Destroyer has been temporarily relegated into the attic due to lack of space. The Rex is one of the best Lego sets I’ve built, maybe rivalling WALL-E, as they’re both exceptionally posable and characterful. I love the little details too, like a small frog inside the Rex’s belly as a reminder of where that DNA comes from.
Deep Blue Sea: The Podcast continues to be a delight, but I’ve not gotten any better at editing the shows earlier than the night before they’re posted. Similarly Lambpardy questions are often written the day before, but I love that the shows give me a reason to talk to my online movie friends, as I’m pretty awful at maintaining social relationships without a schedule.
Look at that, I got out a monthly post less than halfway through the following month, now that’s progress!