Month: January 2015

House of Cards

Snarky Tuesday Paul Millard House of Cards

Last Sunday morning, whilst trying to avoid my son (and yet another retelling of a dream he had about teenage turtles), I flicked on the TV and stumbled into the last five minutes of The Andrew Marr Show. On the receiving end of his shitty gaze and carefully rehearsed criticism was our much beloved Prime Minister, David Cameron. As I watched our glorious leader lie, spin and spill his stupid face all over my television, I was drawn into a brief moment of pressing enquiry.

First, I pondered the likelihood of a decent assassination attempt happening right at that moment, and whether the gunmen would make allowances and do Andrew Marr at the same time to really boost the ratings? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I wondered when House of Cards would return to Netflix.

As it transpired, no men in stylish balaclavas did bust onto my screen that morning. Marr and Cameron remained bullet-free and bullshit heavy, and I switched off the TV like all people with any sense should do when greeted with such dreck. I was, however, very pleased to learn that House of Cards is back in a few weeks.

Yes! Come the 27 February, we will all get the chance to watch another twelve hours of Kevin Spacey snarling at the camera whilst delivering a steady stream of disaster capitalism, and giving the likes of David Cameron something to truly aspire too!

Over the past two seasons, House of Cards has been nothing short of perfect. If savage political intrigue and intelligent dialogue is your thing, then I would first question why you are visiting this website… and with keener interest, whether your Netflix subscription is up to date.

The cast are beautiful, the production is sharp, and the plot is excruciating in its unfolding – and seemingly never afraid to take a few risks with its obedient audience.

Here now be spoilers!

The main protagonist, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), is the embodiment of what all vile politicians should be – corrosive, calculated and arrogantly charming. However, rather than drive you into a bout of galloping diarrhoea (just as any decent politician should do), he endears himself to us with the same devil-like manipulation he has used to reach the Oval Office in the show.

His frequent addresses to the camera coerce you into his plans, and breeds compliance with his treachery. It’s a well worn cinematic device, but perhaps never has it been so brilliantly employed than by the mesmerising Kev!

Claire Underwood, played by Robin Wright, shares her husband’s panache for being a vicious shit-bag, and perhaps due to the soft-spoken delivery, and chic appearance, manages to outdo Frank in the truly despicable leagues. Withholding critical neo-natal medication from a pregnant former work colleague, in order to win a lawsuit, is one of my personal favourites!

In short, not since the event of Big Brother, and all those other gutter-level reality TV mutations, has a show continually revealed the lower echelons of what humans are capable of, only to then dance around in its own glorious filth and pat itself on the back for a job well done. The saving grace for House of Cards is that such demonstrations are by clever design and brilliant performance, rather than out of a crass need to pitifully debase oneself for the chance to “be on da telly.

But let’s move away from the bevy of performing idiot monkeys that reality TV provides us, and back to something good.

With the third season fast approaching, can we expect House of Cards to hold back on the shocking moments of unfortunate demise? Not likely. The first episode of season two delivered perhaps the biggest to date… and it still hurts!

The loss of Kate Mara was a personal tragedy for me (see below for a partial description of my reasons), and for a few moments I thought the death of such a key figure might be a total season killer. In fact, it spun the show into a new direction, and opened up a cyber terrorism subplot that may well turn out to be the eventual undoing of Frank Underwood’s master plan. Now tell me that isn’t inspired storytelling!

Honestly, the elegance of its spiteful narrative is more engaging than crack, and during its ten month hiatus, has provided the same kind of chronic withdrawal symptoms for those hopelessly addicted.

It’s no surprise that Netflix will be hyping this into the stratosphere over the coming weeks – and rightly so. With Showtime, HBO and AMC as the more familiar names when it comes to providing game changing programmes, it was a real coup for Netflix to steal a sizable chunk of that action and deliver such an astounding piece of drama.

I’m now impatiently waiting for that familiar logo to appear on my Netflix account, announcing the arrival of season 3. Like all good addicts, I’ll binge on it over an entire weekend, twitch my way through another 10 month detox, and wait for season 4 to hit the servers. Knock-knock!

Paul Millard 2015

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A Childhood Realised in The Suburbs

This is a piece I wrote several months ago, but couldn’t find the right time to drop it here.  Anyway, with the recent storms and crappy weather, is there not a better time to read about long summers, childhood memories, and an album that inspires me to time-travel.  Hope you like it.  Paul x

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Every now and again an album comes along, is listened too on a weekly basis, carried with you everywhere you go (thanks to smart phones, tablets and laptops), and four years on from its release still manages to surprise and expose the emotional edge of a scathing 42 year-old man.

Just like a plate of your favourite food, or a certain comedian that always earns your smile, Arcade Fire’s, The Suburbs, is an album I can turn to at a moment’s notice and feel immediately better for it.

It’s a multipurpose tool. I use it to wind away tedious train journeys, listen too whilst washing dishes, and perhaps most personally, reach for in those moments when I need to disappear and realign my soul to simpler times and safer places.

It’s an album that seeks out the gainful feelings of youth, conformity, falling in love, peer-pressure, friendship, and summer months that were spent outside – and once found, turns all those remarkable reflections back onto the listener, in the hope of finding some shared kinship. A recollected time to point too and completely own.

It certainly worked for me.

Throughout this album I’m taken back to one summer in particular in the early 1980’s.

Without going all Stand by Me on you all, I and a group of neighbourhood kids spent the better part of that entire summer building a camp within the forest my family home backed onto.

Passing through a gap in the wire fence, we all entered into a place that was away from any rule or parental order. You had freedom to take on shapes and guises, to explore not only your surroundings, but also who you were… and who you were to your friends.

These memories begin with the opening track. The steady movement of The Suburbs digs deep into the exploration of childhood antics and achingly familiar hopes. The entire feel of this song, and the faultless repetition of the hook, harks to visions of children running through their yards, hot pavement and cool grass, and the memories of hilarious screams and neighbourhood battles with those kids who lived on the other street.

These themes continue throughout – from the fast-paced, living in the moment, anthems such as Ready to Start and Empty Room, to the beautifully layered Suburban War and Deep Blue.

In fact, Suburban War is a real counterpoint, and bridges the middle section perfectly.

If the opening tracks take me immediately to those childhood memories, then Suburban War fills any gaps within my internal narrative. I can’t help but swallow a little deeper when I hear lines such as,

And my old friends, we were so different then”, and “This time’s so strange. They built it to change. And while we’re sleeping all the streets, they rearrange.”

The truth is we were so different then. The world-weariness of adulthood was unknown, and the future was made up of long anticipated birthdays, the mischief of Halloween and Bonfire Night, and the hope of winter snow and Christmas presents too exciting to think about.

I don’t remember a single day away from our construction project in the forest. With that morning haze lifting away from the landscape of soft earth, snaring brambles and the huge, muddy-coloured trunks of the oaks, ferns and sycamores; the afternoon revealed high temperatures, higher times and spectral breezes that softened under the jungle canopy as if they were barely there.

The album continues with further interludes of real inspiration. We Used to Wait is a track that trembles with a relentless piano refrain, and an urgency to keep the story unfolding. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), is a siren song, and is perfectly encapsulated by the gorgeous Régine Chassagne.

Only with such a remarkable collection of musicians can Arcade Fire tell their tales.

And with the end reprise of The Suburbs (continued), I’m taken to that time when the light is fading all too fast. Around 8.30pm, and your surroundings take on new forms. What was once so familiar and native now looks strangely different and somehow threatening. And in the distance, the clarion call to go home becomes sickeningly imminent.

Trying to rush through one last game of cricket or football, one last battle between the Empire and the Rebellion, to steal one last kiss from the girl you’re sweet on – just before the pain of saying goodbye threatens to crush the feelings you’re struggling to fully understand.

This is the glory of The Suburbs, and on occasion, its curse. When listened too during a reflective mood, it becomes all too painful to revisit those past times. And as one gets older, it’s harder to stem the onset of a few tears.

For the more sensitive of us, the aging process is not without these times of fragile inflection and reassuring smiles of joyous reminiscence. However, no matter how hard you try to keep a tight grip on that lingering memory; they always seem to trickle away and are swiftly replaced with the here and now.

For my part, this album has created new memories. The album’s release in 2010 was only a few months after the birth of my son, and shaped many a sleepless night. Rocking him to contentment, and all the while accompanied by songs such as Half Light I and Wasted Hours.

Thankfully, albums such as The Suburbs help retain those memories, and capture something no camera could hope to achieve. This album makes you long for youth, with a realization that it passes all too quickly, and once gone, can never be returned too. As Win Butler hauntingly whispers to us,

“If I could have it back.

All the time we spent wasted.

I would only waste it again.

You know I would love to waste it again.”

Paul Millard 2014

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Waiting to Grow

I have a birthday fast approaching – and with it comes the familiar realisation of something I have been lacking for a long time.

You see, with each passing year I’ve been waiting for a shift in my general adultness. I have a mortgage, a wife and a kid. I’m building up a nice collection of age-related illnesses, a rampant spring of nasal hair that must be harvested every two weeks, and I seem to be shrouded by a constant weariness that I’m guessing comes from having all the stuff I just listed.

Hell, I even have a few Coldplay albums that I keep hidden in the glove compartment of my 5-door family shitwagon. I’m not proud of it, but what else am I supposed to do with them!

But despite all my middle-aged credentials and impressive nasal hair, I have a terrible proclivity that stops me from going full grown-up. It’s an unruly kink in my otherwise flawless resume of noted adult competencies and worldly wise responsibility.

I am a father, I am a husband, I am a home-owner, but I’m also a mid-life gamer?

I started playing videogames over 30 years ago, and I’ll be honest, I feel no different towards them now than I did back then. I still get excited when a game of particular allure goes gold – that’s the term used to denote the final stage before manufacturing and shipping, and is only known by the truly pathetic and virginal.

I pre-order the titles several months in advance (this is getting embarrassing!), and I pour over every morsel of leaked details until the stupid piece of plastic arrives. In fact, only a gamer would happily pay £54.99 for a silver disc and a 6 page pamphlet that spends more time discussing the potential for epilepsy, than the actual game you have just forked out on!

I get a little panicky when I haven’t spent enough time with my current obsession, and I feel guilty if I start playing another game before finishing with the last one. In essence, I’m a neurotic, two-timing, scumbag that needs to spend more time with the game I’ve already committed too, rather than the sexy bombshell that just clicked her new heels and landed on my hard-drive.

It got a whole lot worse recently when I purchased a new laptop with a nice fat graphics card that allowed me to rediscover my love for RTS’s (real time strategy – please, keep up!).

Over the past ten years, the Total War series in particular has leached more of my life than anything else I can think of – and that’s without looking at other time-wasters such as Sim City, The Elder Scrolls, Pharaoh and online searches for pictures of Kelly Brook.

Ignoring Kelly Brook for a moment (not an easy thing for me to do), with the new laptop has come my discovery of Shogun 2: Total War, a game that I have become so close with I now simply refer to it as “my son’s samurai brother who lives in my computer”.

In light of this new arrival, and as a man with true family values, I need to ensure I spend quality time with both my children. It’s all about having the correct priorities in place. When I spend 6 hours playing with my beloved oriental son, I should at least make sure my other, more needy, son gets a quick pat on the head before I send him to bed.

And if that wasn’t time consuming enough, a copy of Total War: Rome II appeared in my Steam account – thanks to those kind people at Hewlett Packard. Upon this discovery I immediately renamed it as “my son’s flighty Italian brother who lives in my computer”.

I’m not kidding, with all these children I may need to get a nanny to help with that needy one who sometimes wanders into my field of vision and moans about being hungry!

However, in spite of these good intentions, every now and again I do get a twinge of doubt towards this gaming aspect of my life. Should I honestly be spending this much time playing with these things? Is it really appropriate that a 42 year-old man longs for the moment his wife and son goes to bed, so he can stick on a headset and kill zombie clowns with complete strangers, who have names that start with punctuation symbols?

I think I’ve come up with a cunning way of getting an answer.

You see, I have built a family in The Sims 4. They are called The Millards. They live in a 3-bedroom house, with a nice garden and two cars parked out front. Everything is ticking along nicely at the moment; however, I’m going to start placing Mr Millard on his computer for 12 hours each day. He will stop talking to his family, take all meals via a straw, and have a colostomy bag fitted to avoid unnecessary time away from the keyboard.

Within a few weeks I should have some indication on how this change in Mr Millard’s behaviour affects the household dynamic. I’ll then be in a better position to decide whether I should pre-order Total War: Attila… or as I intend to call it, “my son’s argumentative brother who lives in my computer.”

Paul Millard 2015

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A Slim Start to the Year

With Christmas out of the way, and most of the food now vanquished from the extra fridge I wheeled in a few weeks ago, it’s time to tot up the damage I’ve inflicted on myself.

I fear the worst, primarily because the warning signs are already flashing like a fat man wearing a crop top.

It’s my clothes; they don’t seem to be mine. Someone must have replaced them with exact replicas, but in a size more suitable for an Action Man figure. My socks seem a bit tight, my belt has run out of notches, and I have to hold my breath in order to put my glasses on!

I’m also breathing a little heavier and get tired when faced with simple exercise. I knew things were getting bad a few weeks ago when I spontaneously broke into a sweat whilst watching the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show! Now that can’t be a good sign.

My son frequently demands I do the truffle shuffle in order to enter the house, my wife keeps asking me what it was like directing Psycho, and I find myself bumping into door frames that I could previously pass through without getting grazed or concussed.

I need to be less… people. I know I stuck on a bit of weight over the Halloween season. Popcorn, hotdogs and an orchard of toffee apples found their way into my beleaguered digestive system. I tried to be good for November, in preparation for “pulling the pin” come December, but that didn’t work out as expected.

In short, I made Halloween last until the 22nd November, and then quickly adopted an American accent in order to eat my way through Thanksgiving. I even took Black Friday as an opportunity to purchase discounted tubes of Pringles and 2-for-1 chocolate bars – I even found a 55 gallon drum of used fat that my local chip shop had mistakenly left in their bin shed. Crazy!

I know that I’ve lived well over the past few months, and have gained more mass than a supernova, but now that January is biting hard, I need to face the music and head towards the last chance saloon. It’s time to visit my old, enormous, friends at Slimming World!

But it’s such a fricking drag. I don’t want to watch what I eat. I would rather just eat it and pretend I watched it before I ate it! It’s not fair. Why can’t I have one of those fast metabolisms thin people annoyingly complain about?

  ‘Oh god! I never seem to put on weight, no matter how many of these lovely, delicious, full-fat cakes I eat!’

  ‘Fuck off!’

It would be so much easier if I had the same ability to process carbohydrates as say, an ant! I would get a lot more done, and probably not feel the need to sleep in-between meals.

I always thought the “middle-age spread” was a term invented by Paul McKenna in order to sell more fat fighting hypnosis books, or a really grim pull-out section in the over 60’s version of Playboy Magazine. I was wrong, and not only is it real, but it currently resides around my midriff – like an oversized, fleshy bum-bag!

So, I now find myself beating a path down the syn-counting highway of gloom. No more chocolate covered things for me. It’s all red days, green days, and a couple of dry-arsed Shredded Wheat for breakfast (that will no doubt get stuck in my stupid throat and kill me).

Or, I could just embrace my inner John Candy and succumb to a sweet, sugary future of swollen ankles, being hunted by whaling ships and heart disease so chronic it spreads to my place on the sofa/day bed.

Let’s face it, that isn’t the most responsible life choice to make. Whilst eating everything would be very nice, and the heart disease probably curable by a Lemsip or something, dodging harpoons could become a real drag, and would blight my trips to McDonald’s and Krispy Kreme.

No, it looks like Mr Millard will be taking the slimming route for the next few months. As such I would expect a torrent of extra snarky posts, and a fair amount of subliminal references towards cakes and hamburgers!

Roll on Easter… and a chance to eat my body weight in Mini Eggs.

Paul Millard 2015

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