7 Tried & Tested Christmas Gift Ideas

Christmas bells are almost ringing, and with it comes the groan of your bank account in racking up the names on your gift-recipient list. However I like to think of myself as something of a gifting guru and with that power comes great responsibility, so onto you I bestow my certified wisdom.

Photographic print canvases

Gone are the days of getting photos developed and storing them in actual physical albums with those flimsy plastic wallets that are really hard to open. Photos exist merely in the digital plane, on our cameras, our memory cards, our laptops, our clouds. It seemed to me then, that the idea of getting something printed, would be even more special. Especially if done on proper, tangible, hang-able canvas. For a couple of years running, I’ve done just this with scenic photographs taken on family trips to Copenhagen and Nice. I use Photobox who frequently have some kind of discount offer going (not that I’m cheap or anything) and the quality of their products has always been high. Equally this gift fulfils my dream of having something I snapped exhibited for an audience (the above photo is currently on show in my parent’s hallway).

A coffee table book

Christmas is as an opportunity to purchase something that people wouldn’t ordinarily buy for themselves. For me, that encompasses a present as basic as a bottle of Baileys, fancy hair products, or even a brand new notepad, which seems a bit insignificant, but just isn’t something I consider necessary when shopping for the essentials (a.k.a. what I can justifiably afford). Therefore a coffee table book – surely the marker of twenty-something sophistication (it means you have a coffee table and probably a flat in which said coffee table resides) – which usually retails at a price upwards of £25, is an immensely great idea. Plus, they’re often pretty hefty, so you get points for showing up to Christmas looking like a baller, AND they’re square or rectangle, making wrapping them up piss easy. WIN WIN WIN WIN.

Here is a lovely list of examples if you need further inspiration.

A hot water bottle

Hold up, I know what you’re thinking. A hot water bottle is not a sexy present. It’s functional and trite. It’s on the same level as socks or towels or shower gel. You might need it, but it exists merely as interim present before you move on to the electronic goods and sparkly things in small boxes. Let me expostulate. (I’ll make it quick whilst you’re looking up that word). A hot water bottle is literally the gift that keeps on giving. Every time the recipient refills their rubbery pouch (that got weird), they’ll think of you (hopefully) and the warmth you bring to their lives, physically and metaphorically. Still skeptical? As I said, these presents are tried and tested and just last year I bought a friend a superbly fluffy number and it was greeted with rapture.

Event tickets

The idea of giving something intangible is often frowned upon at Christmas, because it eliminates the possibility of ripping open wrapping paper with expectant delight. However, I’m a big advocate of gifting an excursion or activity to do with someone, simply because it’s like two presents in one. You get the joy of telling them what you have planned, and then, if you’ve been smart enough to wrangle the other ticket for yourself, you get the joy of sharing the memory with them.

Something personalised

Kind of not cool that I typed ‘nutella’ into Google Images and it knew to fill the blank with my name.

Claudia Winkleman recently wrote about the joy of receiving, and giving, a personalised gift. Whilst I would be a little bit underwhelmed if a jar of Marmite with my name on it were all that lurked in my stocking, I wholeheartedly endorse her sentiment. Exhibit A, I once bought my Dad a Boston Red Sox baseball shirt that has his own surname, rather than a player’s, inscribed on the back. V. v. well received. Exhibit B, I bought my Mum a glass from Not On The High Street (I return to them time and time again when look for something a little bit unique and a little bit chic) that you can personalise to read ‘Mum’s Gin & Tonic’ or ‘Tracy’s Bacardi & Coke’, depending on their preferred tipple or if they like to be called by their actual name rather than defined by the fact they birthed you. Just a thought.

Something homemade

One year when I was particularly skint and feeling more Nigella than usual, I decided to make a little Christmas hamper of sweet treats for my nearest and dearest. I toiled over stove and pan to whip up a selection of chutneys, jams, biscuits and fudge, hand-decorated the labels, tied them up with brown string and in little gift bags and smiled smugly as I bestowed them upon relatives and roommates alike. No-one’s ever told me that the box of shop-bought chocolates were the best they ever tasted, but I have heard that my raspberry jam is a superlative among preserves. (They also told me the fudge was a bit hard, so you can’t win them all).

Stationery

Circling back to the aforementioned brand new notepad, if you’ve a stationery fiend friend (as I am – my go-to childhood make-believe game was ‘offices’, complete with memo pads, appointment lists and a Filofax for my abundant agenda), then some writing implements and a Moleskine journal is an easy way to their heart. I once bought my BFF, who shares my love of the Nora Ephron film You’ve Got Mail, “a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils”, and I like to think it has cemented our bond in more than just writing. Plus, with December generally declaring the resolution of another year (depending on what calendar you subscribe to), there’s no better time to write down all your achievements and everything you’re excited for with the dawn of a new year.

 

 

Film Review Round-Up: Oct/Nov Releases

The autumnal season is, historically, a joyous time for film-goers, anteceding awards season as it does and thus bringing with it a crop of critically-acclaimed cinema. And the last fortnight has been particularly fruitful in dishing up some of this year’s most highly anticipated movies.

So here is a round-up of thoughts on what I’ve seen recently.

N.B (Call Me By Your Name is reviewed in full here and has undoubtedly secured a place in my 2017 Top 10).

The Death of Stalin (released Oct 20)

Armando Iannucci, the creative genius behind The Thick Of It, In The Loop, and Veep turns his attention to Moscow in 1953. Stalin has died and his cabinet of excruciatingly incompetent cronies are climbing over themselves to take his proverbial crown. The stellar ensemble of said cronies includes Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin, and they clearly relish the chance to put on this absurdist pantomime, with gags and awkward moments aplenty. However it’s Jason Isaacs as the army general, Rupert Friend as Stalin’s son and Paddy Considine as a concert-hall attendant who steal the show, and sadly the laughs dry up whenever they’re off-screen.

Breathe (released Oct 27)

A touching tribute to Robin and Diana Cavendish, a British couple who when faced with Robin’s polio diagnosis, decide to liberate themselves from the condition’s constraints. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy are good, but never surprising, as the loved-up duo inspired to tackle any obstacle that comes their way. Andy Serkis’ direction is expeditious and proficient, if a little paint-by-numbers. And strangely, despite the heart-wrenching goodbyes, soaring music and hues of golden-brown that colour the titles and the Kenyan landscape where the Cavendish’ spent their early years, I was left feeling a little cold.

Take your mother, she will love it.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (released Nov 3)

Yorgos Lanthimos continues to hold the mantle as the most devilishly absurd filmmaker working today. Expectations were high after the critical success of 2015’s The Lobster and here he returns with humour even bleaker and blacker, and satire even more biting. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman (a duo I didn’t know I needed until Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled) are husband and wife, forced to make an incomparable decision when a strange boy (Barry Keoghan) exacts his revenge. This is perverse and unnerving cinema (the score, particularly, had the latter effect) and will likely rub a lot of people the wrong way. Still, Lanthimos has an impeccable ability to create bizarre, yet somehow believable worlds in which the stakes are never higher and however grotesque, you are gripped. The script, as with The Lobster, is acerbic and unerring, with lines that include “My daughter started menstruating last week” serving as cocktail party chatter, and the performances incredibly fine-tuned. I doubt it will have the same success as The Lobster, if just for it being less accessible, but it should never be said that Lanthimos doesn’t push the boundaries of cinema.

P.s. Don’t take your mother, she will hate it.

Thelma (released Nov 3)

Joachim Trier, whose name you might know after 2015’s Louder Than Bombs (starring Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and Jesse Eisenberg), is clearly a connoisseur of cerebral and muted cinema. Thelma sees his return to the Norwegian-language of his origins, and with it comes a more assured sense of place and mood. He breeds and builds a rattling disquiet, as a young woman with supernatural powers begins her first term at university, desperate to fit in, but prohibitively unique. Yet despite all the sinister symbols – snakes, shattered glass, perilous swimming pools – Thelma never manages to make a splash. It’s classy and intriguing cinema, with some tender moments between its two female leads, who embark on a tentative relationship, but I’d really love to see Trier go for it with his next directorial endeavour.

Murder On The Orient Express (released Nov 3)

A lavish reprise of Agatha Christie’s vengeful tale, which sadly, chugs along at a glacial pace and fails to ignite. More of an exercise in exposition than thrilling storytelling, and considering the main draw is its glittering cast, it’s a shame that they’re given little to do but glance around the train suspiciously and spew their backstories when convenient. Still, if you’re looking for grandeur and glamour in your undemanding entertainment, then climb aboard.

The Florida Project (released Nov 10)

Sean Baker, director of ‘the iPhone movie’ Tangerine, returns with a kaleidoscopic, kitschy and blistering tale of fantasy and poverty. 6-year-old Moonee and her barely-functional, if tenacious mother Halley live on society’s fringes, specifically in a colourful motel just outside of Florida’s Disney World, and are barely managing to get by.  In spite of their tough economic circumstances, the film never loses its vibrancy, nor is Moonee’s imagination ever blighted by these realities, and aside from the strikingly, garish set-design and cinematography, this is down to Brooklynn Prince’s rascal of a performance. Moonee and her merry band of mischief-makers are a joy to watch as they amble about the grounds of the motel, cursing, dropping water bombs on tourists, scamming money for ice-cream and generally causing mild mayhem for the motel’s manager (a compassionate Willem Dafoe). As Halley continues down a path of deviance, disenchantment threatens to prevail. But Baker, having explored this world through Moonee’s eyes, allows her innocence to survive for that bit longer.

It’s a world you don’t want to miss.

Ingrid Goes West (released Nov 17)

It’s particularly apt for a film about an Instagram-obsessive (Aubrey Plaza) who moves to Los Angeles to stalk/befriend a social media influencer (Elizabeth Olsen), to be so surface. Writer-director Matt Spicer doesn’t say anything particularly new about the loneliness and hollowness of a life lived online, and the ending feels more neat than authentic. It’s equal parts savage, sad and insightful, if ultimately forgettable. #basic

Coming Soon: Nov 17 – Good Time, Mudbound, Nov 24 – Battle of the Sexes, Beach Rats

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Dir: Luca Guadagnino. Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel. Running time: 132 mins

★★★★★

A timeworn quandary that has haunted us all – to reveal a crush and risk the humiliation of it being unreciprocated, or not to reveal a crush and regret a missed opportunity – fuels the fire at the centre of this (surely?!) golden-statuette bound love story.

Luca Guadagnino, an Italian director, who forayed into English-speaking filmmaking with last year’s A Bigger Splash, further proves himself a maestro of sensual, simmering cinema with Call Me By Your Name, starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Based on Andre Aciman’s novel, this is the story of Elio (Chalamet), a 17-year-old living a placid, almost palatial existence ‘somewhere in Northern Italy’ with his affable, academic parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar), whose affection for their son is abound. In fact, everyone who encounters Elio appears to be smitten, including his on-off girlfriend Marzia. He’s a good-looking boy who transcribes piano concertos and plays them just as beautifully, and drifts around with a nonchalant sulkiness that’s like catnip to teenage girls. However his command is thrown off-kilter when a new student arrives to assist his father, in the form of Oliver (Hammer), a statuesque man of seraphic beauty. And little does he know, as he shows Oliver to his room, but Elio’s life is about to be transformed.

Timothée Chalamet has a natural liveliness onscreen reminiscent of Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, or Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now and certainly he deserves the same recognition granted to Lucas Hedges with his performance in last year’s Manchester by the Sea. His Elio is a hormone-fuelled fusion of braggadocio, playfulness and naiveté, and the more his fascination with Oliver grows, the more we are treated to a cornucopia of emotions, which Chalamet nails every time. He is an intensely watchable actor, and as the camera lingers on his face at the end of the film, in a moment of sheer distress, you sense that Guadagnino is equally aware of this fact.

At once nostalgic and stunningly contemporary, Guadagnino’s 80s aesthetic – hi-tops, Talking Heads t-shirts and Armie Hammer dancing emphatically to The Psychedelic Furs – never overwhelms to the point of pastiche, but instead flavours the film with a greater sense of taboo and restraint. Necessary too. If this had been set in the modern day everything could’ve been set in motion with the coy use of an aubergine, and then a peach emoji. And the film would’ve lost its sense of aching sadness, of precious time being frittered away in the to-ing and fro-ing of pride and desire embattled. Amplifying this heartache is the soundtrack, as supplied by Sufjan Stevens and his soul-baring strumming.

Indeed, language of the spoken and not the texted kind is of great importance to Call Me By Your Name. An early scene in which Hammer’s Oliver distinguishes himself as more than just a thoroughly American, borderline arrogant interloper – all chiselled abs and nonchalant goodbyes – involves the etymology of the word ‘apricot’.

And the film plays up the theme of language and speaking throughout a beautifully subtle script, penned by James Ivory. Elio’s father says “Remember, you can always talk to us”, signalling that both parents are wiser to their son’s maturation than perhaps he gives them credit for. Whilst Elio’s own mastery of French, Italian and English and his glissade between the three only serves to highlight the inability of language to sometimes express what we feel. Guadagnino skilfully depicts these moments of erotic silence; glances across food-strewn tables, glimpses between their adjoining bedrooms, snatches of possibility. Each of these moments is imbued with an almost suffocating intensity, until a crescendo to confession – a beautiful dance of scene, in which the truth is blurted and Oliver asks Elio “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

A rush of ecstatic discovery follows, as Elio and Olivier gorge on what they’ve denied themselves for the past few weeks. It’s thrilling, throbbing cinema, in which romance done incognito can only really achieve. And yet, their bond is less tortured and forbidden than gay romance might ever have been on film; secretive, yes, but with a lightness and joyousness that ripples across the screen like the Italian waters which feature so prominently.

This is genuine and generous filmmaking, in the sense that no one here is a villain capable of malice or even unkindness. The characters are human, sure, and with that come flaws and foibles, but there is a deep, warming feeling of goodness that ripens throughout the film and culminates in a tender scene between father and son. And just as you imagine that this a summer Elio will replay in his mind forever more, an apex in which leisure and pleasure coalesced to spine-tingling effect, this is a film you want to luxuriate in forever. If not just watch repeatedly.

Every frame is dripping with vivid colours and textures; the sticky juice of a peach, the oozing overspill of an egg yolk, the crimson deluge of a nosebleed, the cerulean splashes of the river. It is a world enriched by the halcyon glow memory, spellbinding in its every breath and kiss and quiver.

What with Carol, Moonlight, God’s Own Country and The Handmaiden, queer cinema is finally prospering, and proving to be some of the most romantic films of all.