Mid-March isn’t too late for a 2014 roundup, is it?  It’s still the same financial year… and I’d hate to break the chain now that I’ve done this for 2011, 2012 and 2013!

So, with that, here’s the 2014 Media Lists. With a rudimentary thumbs up/down system, just for giggles.

Books

I did absolutely bugger all in the way of reading in 2014.  This could be in part due to my rediscovery of various games on the iPad (and subsequent brain decay as a result NOT PROVEN), but having moved to Bristol I now spend far less time on public transport*.  There was something about the London bus/tube trip which really promoted getting out a book for a quick read.  Also last year I announced with excitement about having downloaded the Kindle app for the iPad and how this was going to revolutionise my reading input: utter tosh, it transpires.  Of the 5 books I managed to read this year, only 1 was on the Kindle.  So nanner nanner boo boo to that theory.  The thing is – once you’ve got the iPad out and it’s likely to be a short journey, it’s only Self Discipline that stops you firing up a game instead.  Or, a feverishly compelling book.

  • Peat, Smoke and Fire (Andrew Jefford) – utterly, utterly splendid book about the island of Islay, capital of the Western Hebrides and producer of some of the most delicious and distinctive whiskies in Scotland. While Islay has a huge whisky focus, the book talks about much more: interleaving chapters on each distillery with a chapter on another aspect of the place, such as history, botany, wildlife, geology, and soforth. 👍👍
  • Man Walks Into a Pub (Pete Brown) – I’m not the first to describe Pete Brown as the Bill Bryson of beer writing.  It’s a lazy comparison: in fact I enjoy Brown’s books far more, and he’s a generally more upbeat fella to read.  This book (his first) is a gripping social history of the Pub, and its place in British society.  It starts with the inception of the idea of alehouses, taverns, inns and the clear differences, takes the reader through drinking history and the industrial changes over time, all couched in the writer’s relaxed & amusing vernacular.  It’s where I learned that the Canadian bloke who invented the pop-up toaster was also responsible for the wave of lager which nearly decimated the UK ale industry.  I’ve a good mind to read this again when I get a chance. 👍👍
  • Phoenix From the Ashes (Justin Ruthven-Tyers) – I bought this book from the author at the Islay Whisky Festival this year having met he and his wife a couple of years before.  It’s the tale of how they lost everything when their house burned to the ground and then decided to build a boat and live on that, learning how to sail as they went.  I don’t know what I was expecting but there was certainly no theme or narrative arc to the piece – instead providing more of a series of blog articles or anecdotes about things that happened along the way.  Mildly amusing but not compelling, I kept wondering how much money this bloke must’ve had stashed away prior to embarking on the adventure or what it was he was doing in between anecdtoes to pay for it all.  But that’s possibly a proletarian shoulder-chip. 👎
  • Them (Jon Ronson) – When I try to picture Jon Ronson the face my brain keeps giving me is Louis Theroux, which is probably because they both wear glasses and get involved in the “going to live with a certain group” gonzo thing.  In Them Ronson is getting to know various “fringe conspiracy theorists” (hard to come up with a better label), such as people infiltrating the Bilderberg Group, or the Ku Klux Klan.  As with his other books he does a great job of giving the reader an idea of just how rich the light and shade of life’s rich tapestry goes. 👍
  • Cheeky Monkey (Tim Ferguson) – a practical guide to sitcom writing techniques by former Doug Anthony All Stars member Tim Ferguson.  And incredibly well-referenced book, full of exercises for the reader to complete if that’s what they’re after, which breaks down comedy TV into component parts to understand how the storytelling works and for the budding writer to use to craft better scripts.  As with any single author’s take on a topic like this it’s not necessarily canonical (I’ve spent time in storytelling workshops with Deborah Frances-White and Tom Salinsky which equally capapbly split ideas up in different ways), however with a couple of these “methodologies” on board you’d be off to a good technical start! 👍

Movies

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I & II    – I felt I needed closure on this bit of escapist wand-waving malarkey, and it’s fascinating to compare these with the first film to see the development of teen angst.  Couldn’t help wondering what the principal cast were all going to do next (should they ever need to work again, that is).  I very much enjoyed the “adult cast” of Proper Actors who make up the complement in these films too.  Great! 👍
  • A Hijacking – Following our interest in all the Scandi series of late I thought this film starring a couple of the actors from Borgen might be worth a look.  It’s really been impressed on me that with subtitled films there’s a great deal of artistry in the translation and it’s crucial that whoever’s writing the titles needs to accurately convey the dialogue, maintaining the light and shade of the original, without being so wordy that you spend the whole time reading and not looking at the actors.  This fell just short of the mark: a story about a merchant ship taken by Somalian pirates and the owning company’s response. 👎
  • The Wolf of Wall Street  – The “must see” of early 2014.  I was baffled at how anyone could possibly be celebrating the antics of Mr Jordan Bellfour as newspapers would have you believe.  This piece was an incredibly well-shot disturbing look into the depravity, ego, and carnage of the financial sector through the story of one man’s journey.  It made me think of Liars’ Poker (also a must-read), and if anything helps to support the view that life is just unfolding chaos, because no divine power with any sense of moral code would ever let these orgies of greed and deprativy take place. 👍
  • Burn After Reading – I’m perpetually fascinated by the Coen Brothers, because their films rarely fit into any one genre on their own let alone providing much of a cohesive front as a suite.  This was a quirky and irritatingly odd film involving a spy losing documents and the ensuing web, which is crashed into by a romance/divorce plot and an inept extortion plot: all masterfully carried by a great cast (Clooney, Malkovitch, McDormand, Pitt, Swinton). 👍
  • Warm Bodies – Another film about zombies, this time playing on the idea that zombie plague can be affected by love.  Y’know, boy zombie has crush on girl and implausibly manages to convince her that he cares rather than the usual terrifying thing of trying to eat her brains.👎
  • The Running Man – absolute diamond-studded solid-gold nostalgia classic which in my mind bore countless similarities to The Hunger Games.  Upon re-watching this I realise that I should have left it in the Fond Memory Vault.  Although it certainly upholds many of the derisory statements my mother used to make about the acting talents of one Mr A. Schwarzenegger.👎
  • The Dallas Buyers Club – I’m normally very skeptical about Performance films where Actor Of The Day goes through Physical Modification to convincingly carry off Performance and be certainly in line for an Oscar.  I more often than not leave the cinema wondering if I’d missed something, because it seemed that the film was all about the performance and not the story.  Not in this case! 👍
  • The Man Who Wasn’t There – Off-kilter Coen brothers film (redundant statement) noir featuring Billy Bob Thornton and a gaggle of the usual suspects in a story about a barber who kills a man having an affair with his wife. 👍
  • Zodiac – serial killer thriller which I was interested in purely because it had David Fincher’s name attached to it, and I was all excited about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and House of Cards at the time. 👍
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Another overly long and embellished Hobbit film which I watched primarily out of completism, with a hint of optimism.👎
  • About Time – Fun Richard Curtis film about a time-travelling posh kid; a slight twist on the Groundhog Day principle in that the time travel’s voluntary, and the ongoing time flow isn’t carbon-copy.  So, nothing like it, really. Although it does have Bill Nighy, which immediately makes it awesome. 👍
  • Kung Fu Hustle – bizarre Hong Kong kung fu action/comedy, which I couldn’t possibly try to sum up or even interpret the plot of.  I remember it had a weird ass-kicking landlady in it, and fundamentally it was a series of fights.  Probably good for a lightly-hungover Sunday when you won’t be capable of processing anything meaningful and won’t be to upset to not recall anything about.👎
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – the romcom film with Ben Stiller not being a dick.  Photo processor for a magazine gets sent negatives for the cover shot and instructions to use one as the best photo, but the negative’s missing, so Stiller chases around the world trying to track down the photographer who took it, discovering all sorts of things about himself, etc. etc.  Not a bad flick! 👍
  • Anchorman 2 – I don’t know why I had such high hopes for this given how puerile I found the first one… it’s just the first film wormed its way into my cultural tapestry via repeated references by other people.  Borderline amusing.👎
  • American Hustle – ALL I remember about this was that Christian Bale had one of those 1970s bald on top, long hairstyles.  I think they were all con artists.  Seemed a good premise, but I couldn’t stay awake.👎
  • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – Not the worst Avengers film I’ve seen (yet). But had that bullshit “almighty dark force” deus ex machina thing going on. And there was a tachyon pulse.  Or something. 👎
  • Admission – Tina Fey as an admissions officer for Princeton, bending the rules for love interest. Etc.  Bullshit! 👎
  • The Book Thief – Excellent piece about a refugee in WW2 hiding with a compassionate family and taking on a Jewish fugitive.  Geoffrey Rush again being amazing. 👍
  • Runner Runner – Direct-to-video shite with Justin Timberlake getting caught up in some casino nonsense.  Not a great career move for Ben Affleck.  And not a wise investment of 91 minutes. 👎👎
  • Gone Girl – Having soiled our brains in Runner Runner, Ben Affleck totally redeemed himself with Gone Girl: a psycho thriller about a domestic violence investigation that really kept us on the edge of our seats. 👍👍
  • Edge of Tomorrow – The Groundhog Day trope returns again, this time in a “Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day starring the squid things from The Matrix” film.  At the risk of sounding like a miserable tit, the thing I enjoyed the most about this film was the idea of Tom Cruise getting repeatedly killed. 👍
  • A Million Ways To Die In The West – now, the critics didn’t really like this spoof Western starring Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane, and Liz found it a little tedious too… but for some reason it really hit a spot with me and I watched it once on the flight to Australia and then twice again on the way home.  So much happy.  Quite why I was so rapt at the idea of Charlize Theron sticking a daisy in Liam Neeson’s arse, I don’t quite know. 👍
  • The LEGO Movie – it’s tricky for me to be objective about a film centred around a wildly popular and successful toy which has steadily flexed its marketing muscle over the last couple of decades, tying in with key entertainment properties and platforms.  Harmless enough stuff, but I felt it was an incredibly calculated film designed to get maximum recognition and quotability, probably with the help of many, many focus groups. 👍
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – a film I picked from the in-flight offerings on the way back from Australia, and by weird coincidence starring the same actor as the film I’d just watched.  Quite enjoyable space comedy/action. 👍
  • The Prince – Hard to know whether this or Runner Runner was the worst film I saw this year.  Probably this, because we got to 15 minutes from the end, and Liz switched it off, shouting “Oh, who GIVES a shit!”.  Hard to know how Bruce Willis and John Cusack got talked into this one. 👎👎👎👎👎
  • The Hobbit part 3: The decline of Peter Jackson Battle of the Five Armies – Again, an exercise in closure which tested my patience to its limits.  Pondersome and fractious storytelling was the key problem with this effects-driven romp, and you got the feeling he was thinking “Fuck it, I’m done now.  I’m rich anyway.”.  The thing is, where the title basically says that the main point of the film will be a fight, you know you’re in for some non-storytelling.  I think the nail in the coffin for me was when Billy Connolly turned up as a cameo dwarf king.  When the hell did Peter Jackson have to resort to that? 👎👎
  • Pride – nice British film about a Gay & Lesbian alliance in London supporting a group of striking coal miners in Wales, and the inevitable cultural friction inherent in such a pairing.  More Bill Nighy, and a selection of other names.  I think I picked this one because we’d been watching The Wire and I liked the idea of seeing Dominic West speaking with a British accent. 👍
  • Saving Mr Banks – Another film selected based on a castmember from a series we’d enjoyed, this time Bradley Whitford from The West Wing.  I quite enjoyed the idea of Emma Thompson playing an obstinate English author refusing to bow to the pressures of Walt Disney.  Excellent film. 👍
  • RED – Having seen the sequel to this some time ago it seemed sensible to find out what the opening gambit to the tale was, and though not quite as much fun as RED 2 I still very much enjoyed watching the adventures of Bruce Willis, John Malkovitch, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine and selected other “has-beens”. 👍
  • Gangs of New York – This I picked out purely on the strength of the fact that one of the producers is a mate of mine through Soho Whisky Club.  THough critically acclaimed enough I found this one a bit hard to get into.  It certainly featured loads of big scale fights, but perhaps the thing that toppled my interest the most was that it had Daniel Day-Lewis wearing an implausibly (though probably period-correct) moustache.  Made me think of There Will Be Blood, which I also missed the point of.  Oh well, I’m sure it’s a good film. 👎

TV Series

One of the reasons I think we saw fewer films this year was because of our increased interest in TV series, which ultimately soak up loads more time.

House of Cards US 1 & 2 – Oh.  Hehehehe… Whoa.  So, in 2013 we mainlined The West Wing, and then to keep up with our fix of political intrigue moved on to the Scandiwegian “Borgen”.  And so to the much darker and more Machievallian progression, House of Cards.  Probably the best thing about this show for me is the theme music – the foreboding, underground/underhand bassline that so captures the iron-fisted-Southerner-in-gentlemanly-velvet-glove masterfully played by Kevin Spacey.  Reading up on it, comparisons were drawn between Frank Underwood (and the original UK incarnation, Francis Urquhart) and Richard III – and I wondered if perhaps the idea for this had been conceived as a consequence of Spacey’s by-all-accounts triumphant turn as the twisted tyrant at The Old Vic some years ago.  Or maybe it was just more wishful thinking that I’d been able to see that too.

Just get a load of that theme music:👍👍

  • House of Cards UK 1-3 – Completist that I am, I felt I now had to see what it was that the US series had been based on, and how such intrigue and malfeasance might play out in a post-Thatcher Britain.  I was utterly transfixed at how much Blair’s “Cool Britannia” had transformed Britain from what was portrayed here to what I discovered upon arriving in 2004.  As a result of the social norms of the time I felt the UK series seemed a little campy, although simultaneously more ruthless. 👍  But ultimately it’s hard to take too seriously when its contrasting theme tune went like this:

  • Game of Thrones 1-4 – Having already seen these, this was the first time I’d started from the beginning as I introduced Liz to them.  Just luscious.  Great production values, great story…  not too tongue in cheek but not TOO earnest (e.g. Lord of the Rings and its endless “BEHOLD! The [noun] of [person]!” type bollocks).  Fantastic performances, even with the ropey accents.  Roll on April 2015 for Season 5!! 👍👍
  • Madam Secretary – Tea Leoni doing a great job in a more West-Wingy style White House show, somewhat more focused on the travails of a working mother.  I simultaneously marvel at what a comprehensive job they’ve done styling her to resemble Hilary Clinton, and also at the amazing transformation that’s made her utterly compelling, versus her completely irritating turn in Jurassic Park III. 👍
  • The Bridge 1 & 2 – More Nordic Noir, this time focussed on a join police investigation between Danish & Swedish cops following the discovery of a body straddling the halfway line on a bridge between the two countries.  Rich characterisation and psychological plotlines, and utterly, utterly compelling.  This series was the move which prompted me to buy a DVD player. 👍👍
  • The Wire S1 – Going back and revisiting boxed sets from years gone past, we ripped into The Wire.  Again, rich storytelling and characterisation with great plots and a wonderful ensemble. 👍👍

It’d be easy to set a goal to read more in 2015, so that’s exactly what I’ll do.  I hereby challenge myself to read more than 5 books in 2015.

* he says, whilst typing on a laptop on Yet Another 2.5 Hour Coach Journey