My favourite bit of feedback I ever received with regards to this newsletter was:
“The meta bit, it’s a bit self-referential isn’t it?”
I love that.
This last week has seen initial responses come in from the questionnaireI sent out. It’s still open if you haven’t taken part, I love the feedback!
Analysing the responses so far has been entertaining, and insightful:
- Happily, there’s nothing that people seem to dislike outright
- With regards to the podcast, a third of people would like it to continue only as a newsletter read through, a third would additionally want extra, unscripted episodes, and a third of answerers would like only podcast episodes that don’t involve reading newsletter at all as they already read them
- Almost every segment of the newsletter is somebody’s favourite, an even spread again
- In short, your individual (anonymous) responses are full of insight, but collectively your responses all pretty much even out
- I say anonymous, and I mean it. But there’s only one person asking me for recipes and I see you! <3
There’s a question I should have had in the survey: Are you willing to be surveyed again? I love hearing what you think. What you agree with. What you disagree with. What has inspired you, or dismayed you. I also love to hear your recommendations in film, TV, music, books, restaurants, anything really.
So please, do always let me know your thoughts; replies to this email will be read with delight.
In My Ears
The Commons DMCS report on the effect that streaming has had on the music industry is the big story this week, the biggest element of course being the money paid per stream to the artists. I agree, that the money paid out is incredibly low, but in Spotify‘s case it’s partly due to how they collect and distribute the money.
It’s not, like some assume, because they’ve decided to only pay 0.04p per stream, it’s that the payout is proportional to Spotify’s revenue, divided by total number plays. That payout is then further divided between artist, record label, producers, writers etc.
How could that payout be increased? By more people paying for Spotify Premium. The bigger the pot of money, the bigger the artist payout. Would that totally alleviate the issue? No. The monthly subscription cost would also have to increase dramatically. £8 per month for unlimited music is nowhere near high enough to pay performers the level of royalties they’d need for the model to be sustainable for them.
So while Spotify could be mandated to pay out a higher percentage, they would either shut down, or have to increase their charges dramatically. And in the latter case, most people would unsubscribe, so they’d have to shut down. And if they shut down, people would go back to pirating music, or just watching Youtube and watching the adverts.
And YouTube Music is a whole different bag of snakes.
What’s the solution? Short of record companies changing their models and/or taking a much smaller cut? Sadly I don’t know – I wish I did.
So… New playlist? New Playlist!
On My Screen
Right, I did warn you there’d be spoilers for Black Widow and Loki. And there will be, but first these important messages:
The Green Knight
Just two weeks before the film was scheduled to open in United Kingdom theatres on August 6, The Green Knight has been pulled from U.K. release. The distributors have provided no new release date and have asked cinemas to pull all trailers and promotional materials. Apparently this is due to COVID concerns, and that there won’t be enough of an audience for the movie. This likely means that, if all things work out, studio A24 are hoping for a big audience for this one and are cautious about endangering their narrow chance at box office glory.
I’ve spoken of my excitement for Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune repeatedly, so it’s no surprise that I was stunned and thrilled by the new trailer.
What was a surprise was the news that a spin-off show, called Dune: The Sisterhood, is already in the works for HBO Max. The series will take place before the events of the new movie, and the focus will be on the Bene Gesserit. Villeneuve will direct at least the pilot episode, while Jon Spaihts is writing the script.
Black Widow – Spoilers!
Look, I’ll be honest: I watch the MCU movies and TV shows, I enjoy them, but I’m so often disappointed by them. It’s fine, not everything is for everybody. The outings I particularly enjoy are rarely found near the top of ranked lists of fan favourites, I am often disappointed that topics of any weight are at best given a glancing blow, and they often suffer from bloated and incongruous final acts.
I am happy to report that I loved Black Widow. It was an espionage action thriller that remembered its humanity. It was a found-family drama with lovely moments of levity and well-executed humour. The inevitable exposition scenes were lifted with an appropriate stillness and wonderful lighting. Florence Pugh is every bit the talented actor I expected, and she invested no less of herself in this than she did in A24‘s Midsommar. (Aside: I have a who segment planned about A24 for next week, this newsletter is already getting long!)
Black Widow’s third act was obviously still a big CGI-fest, but I was never pulled out of the film. I was never so distracted by the spectacle that I was no longer invested in the characters’ journeys.
I do have a question about how many Super Soldiers there are or were. It used to be that there was only one Captain America because the Super Soldier Serum was impossible to recreate. But between Winter Soldier, Red Guardian, Isaiah Bradley, The Flag Smashers, John Walker and who knows who else, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of them across the world. To me, this diminishes and dilutes the whole concept, and I think this trend towards dilution could be an eventual millstone around the MCUs neck.
The first third of Black Widow, especially the events of Budapest, really reminded me of how influential The Bourne Identity still is in this genre. Films like Black Widow that wear this influence proudly are improved by it, and in my opinion the films that try too hard to steer away from it suffer from it. I think Bourne’s influence will be felt for a long time.
Loki – Spoilers!
I enjoyed a lot of elements of Loki, the stranger the better. But there’s a lot of it that felt thin to me. While not universally enjoyed, I did like the Mad Men meets Brazil aesthetic of the TVA. I thought Own Wilson‘s performance was warm and enjoyable. I really enjoyed Sophia Di Martino‘s Loki. I loved the fact that if there was one person in the whole Multiverse that Loki was going to fall in love with, it was going to be himself. I love that there’s to be a second season of Loki strangeness and I will absolutely watch it.
For the fact that the entire second episode was originally going to be about Sylvie and her background, but was canned as it didn’t centre around Hiddlestone‘s character, it still felt like Loki was a sidekick throughout. A Companion for Doctor When‘s adventures in running and talking.
There was so much exposition throughout, the first two episodes and the last one especially. I know Loki Prime isn’t an action character, but I just felt it weighed everything down.
I didn’t have too much of a problem with a lot of the silliness, Richard E. Grant‘s Classic Loki was fun, I kind of wish that Presidential Loki had survived, and I still hope that Kid Loki can escape The Void. The design of the Castle At The End Of Time was stunning.
But for me, everything that happened in that castle felt unsatisfying. The Kang we were given felt smug and camp; the feeling of threat that should have been imparted was absent. If it hadn’t been for that, I think I’d have glossed over any other criticisms. But while I didn’t not enjoy the show, it brought the whole experience down a notch for me.
In My Face
The last 10 years have seen a renaissance in burgers in the UK, radiating out from London. Bit by bit, the idea has been eroded that this humble hot meat sandwich could ever escape the evil triumvirate of:
- The Cheap Fast Food Cardboard Burger that makes you feel unsatisfied
- The Greasy Post-Nightclub or Car Boot Sale Van Burger that makes you feel sick
- The Dense, Over-Priced “Gastro”-Pub Burger that makes you feel bloated.
In the last decade we’ve enjoyed the arrival of US chains like Five Guys and Shake Shack, the founding of UK chains Patty & Bun and Honest Burger, and the unbeatable taste experience that is Bleecker Burger. Seriously, come to London, I’ll buy you a Bleecker. If it’s not the best burger you’ve had, I will be amazed, or just assume you prefer one of the above three categories.
(Apologies to my veggie and vegan friends for this topic, but let me offer you this by way of an apology: In my opinion, the best plant-based burger is from Temple of Seitan, though the one at Honest Burger is more than decent.)
So, because of this shift in burger appreciation, establishments have had to up their game. The burger has had some attention thrown at it. Some have done this by gilding the lily (honestly, nobody needs a wagyu and stilton burger, on a brioche bun, with horseradish relish). Others have, heaven forbid, upped their game by focussing on quality meat, prep and cooking methods. But however you look at it, while the Evil Triumvirate still exist, they are increasingly crowded out.
What’s my point in all of this?
Well. Last week I found a burger restaurant I had not been to before: Gordon Ramsay‘s Street Burger. With everything I’ve written above, about rising standards, and with them rising expectations, with everything Ramsay is supposed to stand for: Even with my measured expectations for a burger restaurant aimed at tourists, I was still disappointed.
I could have had a burger of comparable quality at Wetherspoons, and paid a fraction of the price.
Ramsay took a market opening, the brand value of his name, and a shift in consumer expectations and utterly phoned it in. I’m sure the ingredients were fine, but by the time it arrived at my table it tasted bland, stodgy and unsatisfying. It was £15 that was not well-spent, and I shall never go back there again. I should have seen the writing on the wall, when they opened a branch in Woking!
Still, at least the fries were okay.
Rice Pudding Recipe
Sometimes recipes are considered, sometimes they’re cribbed off a few places and adapted, sometimes they’re just stolen outright. And sometimes, your nearly 4-year old daughter asks you for something you’ve never made before and you’ve just got to wing it. That’s what happened this week, it was delicious, and didn’t take two hours to make.
- 600ml whole milk
- 65g pudding rice
- Pinch of salt
- 1 large egg (room temperature)
- 50g dark sugar (muscovado, Demerara or golden caster)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Optional: 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- In a milk pan or medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan bring the milk, rice and salt to a boil over high heat
- Reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered until the rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes
- Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed
- Add a few spoonfuls of hot rice mixture to the egg mixture, vigorously mixing to incorporate
- Add the vanilla extract (and the optional cinnamon) and mix in
- Add the egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk
- Cook, while stirring, on low heat, for 5 to 10 minutes, until thickened
- Do not let this boil!
- Remove from the heat, let it cool down for a little bit, and serve!
Well, if you were wondering how my time off has affected my ability to think and write, the last three newsletters had an average of 1000 words of what, to me, felt like nigh-formless rambling. This week’s has more than double that.
That’s not even the reason it’s late, that was entirely due to work commitments. That’s also the reason the podcast will be even later today, I’ll have to record that this afternoon.
So, after today’s late, bumper newsletter, it’s time for me to sign off.
Have a good weekend, have a good week, and be careful out there.