Serial

 

Serial is the most listened to podcast in the world right now. A spin off of This American Life, it follows Sarah Koenig’s investigation into the murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore in 1999. The case focused on Hae’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed who was ultimately convicted based on the testimony of his supposed best friend, Jay, who was also an accessory to the crime.

 

The show is a runaway hit.

It’s fascinating.

It’s horrifying.

Often not for the right reasons.

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Al Dente: Saffron Risotto, Hold The Risotto

Hi everyone and welcome to Risotto City! Population…US!

And Risotto. Obviously. Otherwise why would it be called Risotto City? And by extending that logic you’d have to conclude that not everyone in Giggleswick laughs all the time and Blubberhouses is not a time lost and landlocked 19th Century whaling village.

 

SHUT UP.

 

LET ME HAVE THIS.

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Criminal Thoughts: Season 10 Episode 4 ‘The Itch’

 

Welcome to this week’s Criminal Thoughts, with my learned colleague Vic Linde and myself. This week’s episode, ‘The Itch’, was written Breen Frazier and Larry Teng. Here are some thoughts about it.

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Review: A Walk Among The Tombstones

 

Liam Neeson has become visual shorthand. You cast Neeson in a movie and you’re hanging out a very specific shingle. This is a film about a good, troubled man who has problems with technology and who will calmly and methodically beat to death anyone who stands between him and his family.

Or his prey.

Or often both.

Either way, there’s going to be punching. Large, angry, Irish punching.

It’s a compelling image and its given rise to some of the most entertaining action movies since the turn of the century.

It’s also not strictly true. A Walk Among The Tombstones proves why.

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Review: Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name Is Paul Heyman

WWE DVD releases are always interesting to review. Their production crew is one of the best on the planet and each one of these discs manages to present an intimate, often entertaining snapshot of a career. The fact those snapshots are often carefully constructed versions of history makes them interesting for very different reasons. Stalinist history-making is alive and well and churning out 12-15 discs a year from deep in the wilds of Connecticut.

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Criminal Thoughts: Season 10 Episode 3 “A Thousand Suns”

Welcome back to Criminal Thoughts. Every week I and my friend Vic Linde will ask each other a single question about that week’s episode of Criminal Minds. Sometimes it’ll be arc plot, sometimes character-based and sometimes it will be ‘Just how magnificent is Penelope Garcia?’

The answer to that one is always, without exception, ‘Completely.’

With that in mind, here’s our thoughts for episode 3 of Season 10, ‘A Thousand Suns’, written by Sharon Lee Watson and directed by Rob Bailey.

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Review: Storm by Tim Minchin, DC Turner and Tracy King

 

Tim Minchin is a stand up comedian, a musician, a writer, a poet and a skeptic. His work on the musical version of Matilda is genuinely brilliant and the fact he’s currently writing a Groundhog Day musical has me positively giddy. He’s an immensely talented, versatile figure.

But he’s also one that I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with. This new graphic novel version of ‘Storm’ both shows why, and shows it’s time for me to move past that.

Adapted by DC Turner and Tracy King from their superb animated version linked above, ‘Storm’ is the story of a disastrous dinner party debate between Minchin and Storm. Storm is a believer in every sense of the word; a tattooed new age tornado of aromatherapy, auras and the afterlife. Minchin is the increasingly drunk, increasingly annoyed embodiment of scepticism. The battle line runs neatly down the middle of the table.

Superficially, it’s everything that drove me away from a lot of Minchin’s work and the skeptic movement in one beautifully illustrated package; an all out Kaiju war between two equally entrenched and self-righteous viewpoints. Intellectually, I sit a lot closer to Minchin than Storm but it’s a pretty uncomfortable side of the table at times. I’m a resting liberal Catholic and have a healthily skeptical interest in elements of the paranormal. Both of those were cited by an author on Minchin’s side of the table (But not Minchin to be clear) as being symptoms of mental illness a few years ago.

Like I say, uncomfortable.

The reason is that for both sides ,it’s a debate that assumes a binary state. You’re either 100% skeptic or you believe everything without question. Both sides are wrong and both sides push people away as a result.

That’s the bad news.

The good news you get a pretty great view from the middle of the table.


Minchin mines a rich seam of self-deprecation throughout and the first half of the piece is more about him trying to control himself for the sake of the other guests than Storm’s credulity tsunami. This is both endearing and remarkably well observed. This sort of situation, where civility is balanced on a knife edge, is one a lot of people have encountered and it’s explored really well. Turner and King have a great eye for physical comedy and you get the same increasingly desperate (And funny) eyeline conversations we’ve all had that end about as well as you could expect. Even the final line, which is about as epic a ‘Fuck You’ as anyone could manage in these circumstances works in this context. On the one hand it’s intensely arrogant. On the other it’s an upfront acknowledgement of how little the conversation has achieved. It’s a closing joke, but one with barbs that fire across both sides of the table.

But the highlight of both poem and book is the section that opens at around 7:40 on the video above with the line ‘Isn’t this enough?’. On the page that absolutely sings, opening with a double page starfield that draws your eye across its full scale before letting you move on. That entire section is full of the one thing some sceptic writers can’t seem to get to; emotion. There’s pure unalloyed joy in everything Minchin says there and it’s communicated on the page through wonderful, friendly, expressive artwork.

This is vital. Turner and King have an elegant, accessible approach and style that emphasizes just how inclusive Minchin’s world view is. It isn’t Storm’s views that offend him it’s the fact they’re blinding her to the incredible world around her. The second you realize this, the argument becomes more of a debate than an intellectual shoving match. It’s not that Storm isn’t thinking big, it’s that she isn’t thinking big ENOUGH.

 

Storm embodies everything that works about comics. Turner and King’s easy going, accessible style takes in the epic scope of the conversation but keeps it grounded and, crucially, more even handed than the original monologue. In doing so it not only ensures that the point is made but it shows both sides in a very different, light. It may not be the most relaxed dinner party but, thanks to Minchin, Turner, King and Storm it’s a far more welcoming one than it first appeared to be.

 

Storm will be available from the 16th of October priced £12.99

In bocca al Lupo-Gotham Episode 1

There’s a critical trajectory that every first season of superhero-based TV shows seems to follow. Good premises and interesting casts that are forced to run in place for a half season until the show figures out what it wants to be or, in the case of Agents of SHIELD, the movie the show’s entire arc plot is dedicated to is finally released.
It’s a tough gig. James Gordon and Harvey Bullock should be used to those but, based on last night, Gotham is going to be a tough case to crack.

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Sunday Moment of Zen: The Blurred Frontier

It was my birthday last weekend. I’m 38 and we celebrated it by going to see a fantastic show (Ghost Stories), eating a fantastic burger, buying lots of fantastic shoes and Lego and going to an exhibition of fantastic NASA photos. It was great. Especially the photos. They were at the Breese Little Gallery in London and are still there until the 25th of October. If you can, get out there because there’s some beautiful shots in the collection. If you’ve got £1000 or so spare, you can buy an original too.

There are some of the usual suspects on display, from the first Martian sunset photographed by the Viking lander to some breathtaking Apollo shots. It’s exactly the sort of stuff I love, all functional 1960s tech that’s largely made of tinfoil, endeavor and stark, beautiful landscapes. I’m a mark for manned spaceflight, that’ll never change and these photos are a big reason why.

But, in amongst the usual shots are a few less well known ones. Less well focused too. These are shots taken by astronauts in mid-flight and they’re, I think, more affecting than the perfect ones. Take a look at this:

That’s Ed White, who would die a few years later in the horrific Apollo 1 fire. He’s being filmed by James McDivitt during a spacewalk on their Gemini 4 mission in 1965. He’s in space, tethered to what amounts to the world’s first and to date only convertible spaceship, pointed nose down at New Mexico traveling at genuinely astonishing speeds around the planet he was born on. It’s an extraordinary view, from an extraordinary craft of an extraordinary moment and the thing that makes it for me?

It’s a bit of a crap shot.

White’s off to one side, there’s a hint of motion blur and the whole thing’s out of focus and that makes it truly beautiful. This isn’t just a photograph of an amazing moment, it’s a photograph of an emotional state. This is the fizzing joy of discovery and adventure and pushing the envelope encoded into one man’s excited, gauntleted hand and caught in amber. This is the spirit of adventure, jittery and excited and desperate for more even as it stops to take in the amazing world around it. This is why I love spaceflight and this is, of course, this week’s Sunday Moment of Zen.