Cultural Highlights (2022)

BOOKS

I don’t think I read a single thing that came out in 2022, so this is simply a list of the things I read that made me think, cry, laugh, feel seen, furiously turn down pages and seethe with envy.

Favourite Fiction Reads: My Phantoms – Gwendoline Riley, Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney (would love to see another Element Pictures adaptation of this one, can see White Lotus’ Leo Woodall as Felix and Stacy Martin as Alice and James Norton as Simon and Aisling Franciosi as Eileen), Sorrow and Bliss – Meg Mason, America Is Not The Heart – Elaine Castillo, Oh William! – Elizabeth Strout, A Passage North – Anuk Arudpragasam

Favourite Short Story Collections: Self-Help – Lorrie Moore (just wow, I think I’ll be trying to get Lorrie Moore imitation stories out of my system for a while), Send Nudes – Saba Sams, Certain American States – Catherine Lacey, Whereabouts – Jhumpa Lahiri, Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado

Favourite Non-Fiction Reads: Happening – Annie Ernaux (also loved the film adaptation), Experiments in Imagining Otherwise – Lola Olufemi, Little Weirds – Jenny Slate, These Precious Days – Ann Patchett, Aftermath – Preti Taneja, On Freedom – Maggie Nelson

Reading intentions for 2023…

Trying to read a book a month that defies my usual boundaries or preferences, i.e. an author I’ve never read before, a genre I rarely dabble in, a subject matter new to me. Lining up some Emily St. John Mandel to get more acquainted with speculative fiction and thinking about getting Lizzy Stewart’s Alison to dip my toe into the world of graphic novels. Might even see about reading some crime novels and trying to squeeze some more male authors into the mix.

MUSIC

  1. Hold The Girl – Rina Sawayama
  2. Wet Leg – Wet Leg
  3. Dance Fever – Florence & The Machine
  4. Preacher’s Daughter – Ethel Cain
  5. Big Time – Angel Olsen
  6. RENAISSANCE – Beyoncé
  7. Harry House – Harry Styles
  8. SICK! – Earl Sweatshirt
  9. Lucky Me – Phoebe Green
  10. Surrender – Maggie Rogers
  11. Being Funny in a Foreign Language – The 1975
  12. Ramona Park Broke My Heart – Vince Staples

This was the year I succumbed to the hype around Harry Styles (purely on a musical level, to be clear); fell back in love with musicians who defined my late teens and early twenties: Florence and Earl (hello, names for hypothetical children); listened to a handful of songs on repeat: This Hell, King, That’s Where I Am and discovered a new love in the form of Ethel Cain.

TV

Severance and Pachinko were early favourites, having watched them back in February and March and cementing Apple TV+ as the MV(S)P – most valuable streaming platform – of 2022, with HBO Max a close second. They felt to me like two of the most complete TV series I had ever watched. White Lotus meanwhile was a joy from start to finish and was even more joyous in that it felt like people were watching and speculating together.

There were a bunch of big shows I missed because I have yet to splash out for a Disney+ subscription: Andor, Moon Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobi. And I still haven’t watched a single episode of Better Call Saul because I still haven’t finished Breaking Bad.

In other TV watching news, I finally saw all six seasons of Line of Duty, Couples Therapy is genius and I’ve watched both seasons twice, The Crown was infinitely watchable and instantly forgettable.

And my favourite TV performances of the year include:

  • Julia Roberts and Betty Gilpin in Gaslit
  • Gabrielle Creevy in In My Skin (which was released in 2021, but I only saw this year. Hers and Gilpin’s casting in the upcoming Three Women adaptation is hugely exciting).
  • John Turturro, Britt Lower and Tramell Tillman in Severance
  • Alison Oliver in Conversations With Friends
  • The whole cast of Pachinko
  • Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bacharach and Ayo Edebiri in The Bear
  • Gbemisola Ikumelo in A League of Their Own
  • Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy in House of the Dragon
  • Meghann Fahy, Aubrey Plaza and Tom Hollander in The White Lotus
  • Amrit Kaur in The Sex Lives of College Girls

FILM

I always struggle with film lists because one of the privileges of working in the ‘industry’ is you get early, pre-theatrical release access to many films, so this list is indicative of what I saw this year, rather than what officially came out in cinemas this year.

The full list…

  1. Aftersun (Charlotte Wells, UK)
  2. The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier, Norway)
  3. Happening (Audrey Diwan, France)
  4. Close (Lukas Dhont, Belgium)
  5. Corsage (Marie Kreutzer, Austria)
  6. Godland (Hlynur Pálmason, Iceland)
  7. Decision To Leave (Park Chan Wook, South Korea)
  8. Alcarràs (Carla Simón, Spain)
  9. One Fine Morning (Mia Hansen-Løve, France)
  10. Compartment No. 6 (Juho Kwosmanen, Finland)
  11. Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, Croatia)
  12. Blue Jean (Georgia Oakley, UK)
  13. The Quiet Girl (Colm Bairéad, Ireland)
  14. Broker (Hirokazu Kore-eda, South Korea)
  15. All The Beauty and the Bloodshed (Laura Poitras, US)
  16. The Blue Caftan (Maryam Touzani, Morocco)
  17. Bones and All (Luca Guadagnino, US)
  18. Fire of Love (Sara Dosa, US)
  19. Emily the Criminal (John Patton Ford, US)
  20. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (Dean Fleischer Camp, US)
  21. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)
  22. Everything Everywhere All At Once (The Daniels, US)

Film-watching intentions for 2023:

Thanks to BFI Southbank programming Sight & Sound’s 2022 Greatest Films of All Time Poll I should manage to tick off a few classics that have long been on my to-watch list, including the one that claim a number one spot: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

Elsewhere I’m going to try and pick a decade each month to theme my ‘first-time watches’ around, i.e. for January I’m time-traveling back to 2002 and aiming to watch 25th Hour, Infernal Affairs, Adaptation and Punch Drunk Love.

OTHER MEDIA

Podcasts I loved: (in no particular order)

Thresholds, an interview show with writers and artists, hosted by Jordan Kisner. Climavores, which explores how what we eat affects our planet. Ologies with Alie Ward, hands down one of the best podcast hosts out there and a gorgeous resource for learning about our weird and wild world. Still Processing, J Wortham and Wesley Morris’ cultural criticism podcast, which always holds space for empathy, evaluation and re-evaluation. Finding Our Way, a podcast about imagination, abolition, power and change. The Town with Matthew Belloni, my go-to for understanding the latest trends and headlines in Hollywood. Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, probably my favourite interview podcast both for the calibre of guests he secures and the gentle way he probes their minds. Literary Friction and its hosts Carrie and Octavia are who I call upon for book chat and recommendations. Anthems, short, empowering manifestoes themed around a particular subject. I also regularly listen to Code Switch, The Ezra Klein Show, Death Sex & Money, The New Yorker: Fiction, Adam Buxton and Criticism Is Dead.

Newsletters I loved: (in no particular order)

Haley Nahman’s Maybe Baby. The Ann Friedman Weekly. Story Club with George Saunders. Nicole Donut about the writing process and creative practice. HEATED, Emily Atkin’s updates about the climate crisis. Austin Kleon’s creative inspiration. Dense Discovery.

Long-form writing I loved: (in no particular order)

Sophie Gilbert on the Will Smith slapping Chris Rock incident for The Atlantic. Jia Tolentino’s commentary on the overturning of Roe vs. Wade and abortion for The New Yorker. Sarah Polley’s piece for The Guardian about starring in a Terry Gilliam film as a child. A New Yorker piece on pickleball! The absolutely devastating piece Merope Mills wrote about losing her 13-year-old daughter for The Guardian. Simran Hans diving into the role of the critic-influencer for WePresent. No profile could quite top Jeremy Strong’s in The New Yorker (December 2021), but I continued to enjoy Michael Schulman’s work regardless, especially this piece on Elisabeth Moss. Imogen West-Knights on ‘the Queen of crime-solving’ for The Guardian. And although it came out five years ago, I did revisit Sam Knight’s piece about what happens when The Queen dies, also for The Guardian.

May Culture Round-Up

TV 

I Love Dick, Series 1, Amazon

Arresting and squirm-inducingly intimate, this is a defiant depiction of obsession and desire, in all its forms – ugly, unrequited, unruly. Based on Chris Krauss’ memoir of the same name, Transparent’s Jil Soloway is arguably the perfect helmer for this provocative source material and in her hands it becomes even more cerebral and transgressive.

The art world might be alienating to some audiences, but Kathryn Hahn’s aptitude for awkward charm and Kevin Bacon’s aloof roguishness are enough to keep you enthralled. (If you need more convincing there is a scene where he is shirtless and carries a sheep.) The soundtrack, cinematography and direction are also astonishingly good, with Andrea Arnold taking the ropes in a few episodes, utilising the raw-nerved, hypersensitivity on which she has made a career to sizzling effect.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Series 1, Hulu

Reed Morano has long been a favoured cinematographer of mine. Since seeing her work in Frozen River, Little Birds & For Ellen I have been enchanted by the visceral, vérité-style of her shots and her gorgeous attention to detail. It was exciting news then to hear she’d be given her biggest platform yet directing and executive producing The Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu.

A damning and darkly modernised version of Margaret Atwood’s novel, there’s a spiky wit and stylishness which pulsates throughout. Its self-reflexive, pop-cultural nods are put to particularly good use in the soundtrack department, as seen in the first two episodes when Leslie Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ play towards the end. Its spine, however, never loses its morality or for that matter, its chill. Despite the hubristic sense of humour, The Handmaid’s Tale sadly remains a timely tale of female subjugation and exploitation.

The casting is also cunningly brilliant. Elisabeth Moss might just be the hottest property in television right now, what with Mad Men and Top of the Lake also on her CV, and her Offred is another bastion of strength, smarts and vulnerability. Samira Wiley and Madeleine Brewer, of Orange Is The New Black fame, also appear as fellow handmaids, whilst Alexis Bledel as the mutilated Ofglen will make you forget she ever played Rory Gilmore.

This is tense, imaginative and rousing TV. Poignantly performed and executed with exacting technical precision, it’s hard to watch but you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.

FILM

Berlin Syndrome (DIR. Cate Shortland, 2017)

Teresa Palmer plays a nervous solo traveller in Cate Shortland’s third and most accessible film yet. As a Berlin-based romance turns sour, and as the title alludes to, escalates into a hostage situation, what begins as moody indie fare turns into something weird, intense and cerebral. The muted performances and consistently menacing, irresistibly mounted cinematography breathe life into a somewhat spare plot. However, predictable this is not. Shortland explores the predator/prey dichotomy with a startling empathy, and eschews the cliché of villain/victim to summon something as sensitive as it can be sickening. As in her debut Somersault, and follow-up Lore, Shortland continues to prove herself a brilliantly tactile and evocative director, weaving a texture at once sensuous and suspenseful. It might be minimalist in design, but the effect is resounding, with the last 30 minutes especially thrilling.

In cinemas now.

BOOKS

The Girls – Emma Cline

I finally got around to reading the wunderkind Emma Cline’s literary sensation The Girls. A novel so talked about its pages were practically curling under the weight of expectation. And sadly, I wasn’t wowed.

The narrative concerns 13-year-old Evie Boyd and her fleeting, though formative experience of a Charles Manson-esque cult, where a ragtag group of women worship their mysterious leader Russell. Cline is especially good at evoking the sun-drenched and soporific landscape of 60s California, as well as the bewildered internal landscape of adolescence that tempt Evie into this world. However, as a reader we’re always kept at a frustrating distance. Evie’s perspective is curbed by her half-hearted initiation into the group. She experiences some, but not all of their deviant activities and in firmly sticking with Evie’s viewpoint, Cline rather limits her own ability to delve deeper into the savagery and sadomasochism of the cult.

As The New York Times so succinctly put it:

What results is a historical novel that goes halfway down the rabbit hole and exquisitely reports back. Then it pulls out, eschewing the terrifying, fascinating human murk…Still, it’s a spellbinding story.

 

First Love – Gwendoline Riley

At a lithe 147 pages, Riley’s thoroughly British novel(la) is all the more intriguing when you consider its being shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction and that other such novels to have been nominated include Hanya Yangihara’s behemoth A Little Life and Donna Tartt’s equally weighty The Goldfinch. It says a lot about the particularity and potency of Riley’s writing that she’s considered among them. And not wrongly so. This lovely, if mordantly sad book, concerns Neve and her strained marriage to the ailing Edwyn. In vibrant brushstrokes Riley depicts quite how she ended up there and in doing so, proves herself an absolute fiend for tight, lucid prose. Take the following:

Back in the summer she’d had a birthday M&S voucher she said she wouldn’t use: did I want it? I did. She’d started her turn then as we crossed the floor to Hosiery: surrounded, as we were, by strange statuary. My mother blenched extravagantly at the gussied-up torsos, blinking hard like someone had flashed a torch in her eyes, saying she couldn’t understand why anyone would buy, wear, matching underwear.

For her sheer powers of observation and her ability to locate humour, tenderness and melancholy in the gut-wrenchingly ordinary, Riley must be commended. It’s perhaps a bit on the scant and under-sketched side for my taste, but it’s easy to relate to her exploration of muddied relationships – whether parental, platonic or romantic.

THEATRE

Woyzeck at The Old Vic

I saw this Jack Thorne penned revival of Georg Büchner’s classic on its first night of previews, which means I had the advantage of being completely unswayed by public opinion, but the disadvantage of seeing quite a nervy and fluctuant production. John Boyega takes on the titular role of a hard-up soldier, struggling with past traumas and drug-induced paranoia, though the setting has been relocated to 1980s Cold War Berlin. He’s a charismatic actor and can more than carry himself on stage, and here he delivers a committed, if somewhat gauche performance. Surpassing Boyega in subtlety and charm is his Irish Catholic girlfriend Marie, played by Sarah Greene (Poldark’s former squeeze apparently!), whose got the tough job of being the stable axis around which Boyega erratically rattles. The supporting actors likewise, bring presence to their occasionally stereotypical characters.

Ultimately this is a fierce and robust play about poverty, masculinity and mental-health, and the set design, music and direction all do well to limn the claustrophobic environment and its increasingly malevolent protagonist. However it struggles to reach the levels of gravitas its so desperately striving for.

ART

The American Dream: Pop to Present at The British Museum

Warhol, Liechtenstein, Pollock – the greats are all on display in this exhibition that claims to chart ‘The American Dream’ in all its monolithic, prevailing and consumerist glory. And certainly its scope is extensive, and impressive: there are more than 200 works from 70 artists working between 1960 and 2014 on displays and art movements including abstract, minimalism, photorealism and portraiture are all touched upon. Ed Ruscha’s pleasingly geometric gas station prints and the orange glow of the California room were particular highlights.There are political allusions – AIDs, gender equality, civil rights, the Vietnam War – but the exhibition as a whole felt too hurried and surface to be exploratory or penetrating.

On reflection, I don’t think pop art is my thing.

MUSIC

Angel Olsen at Camden Roundhouse

Angel Olsen knows how to make an entrance. As the woozy backbeat of ‘Heart Shaped Face’ is kickstarted by her suited-and-booted band, she appears, a few bars in and lets her soaring vibrato fill the room. It’s almost better to have not listened to her latest album in a while; to have forgotten how good Angel Olsen is, because her live performance more than reminds you. The show as a whole is muted and magical, with the volume turned way down low on theatrics or distractions, and the focus solely on Olsen’s enthralling, transporting vocals. ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’ and ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ provided energetic interjections, but ultimately this show was an extension of her album: subdued, smouldering and sublime.


April: Culture Round-Up

symbols

Watching

Vinyl, Series 1, HBO

Hedonism is the beating heart of HBO’s Vinyl. Set in 70s Manhattan, it follows the tribulations of a fictional record company ‘American Century’ as they posture to bring themselves back from the brink of insolvency. Bobby Cannavale is Richie Finestra, the coke-snorting maelstrom at the eye of the storm, whose been sucked into commercial quandaries, but wants to restore the heart and soul to his floundering business. And just get back to the music, man.

It’s jarringly uneven and a little bit too full-throttle, like what you might cook up imagining what music industry moguls got up to, as opposed to feeling authentically like that story. Which is weird considering Mick Jagger co-created the show with Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter (of Boardwalk Empire fame). It would do better to leave aside some of the crazier plot-lines and focus on the details; like how an artist is ‘discovered’ and then packaged and peddled to the masses. Watching the rise of the fictional band The Nasty Bits (whose loose-canon frontman is played by Jagger’s own son James) are where some of Vinyl‘s better scenes lie; less The Godfather, more Mad Men. But perhaps the creators are just as keen to cling onto that sense of fable and legend and nostalgia.

The show’s appeal mostly lies in the costuming and soundtrack, with rock, soul & funk anthems belted throughout and some artistic musical interludes providing brief respite from the crazy antics. Olivia Wilde (as Finestra’s long-suffering wife and Warhol’s muse) and Juno Temple (a go-getting, drug-dealing assistant at the record company), meanwhile, look particularly fierce in their 70s garb. The first series of Vinyl was a bit like trying drugs for the first time. Good fun, but I’m not sure I’ll come back for more.

0219vinyl01

READING

book-cover-500Grief Is The Thing With Feathers – Max Porter

Enchanting, devastating and unlike anything I’ve ever read, Porter’s Dylan Thomas Prize nominated novella, is an exquisite, pitch-black depiction of what it is to lose someone. That someone in question is a mother to two young boys, and a wife to a Ted Hughes scholar, left to pick up the pieces and adopt the role of sole caregiver. What ensues is something meditative, symbolic and lyrical, as the father imagines a crow who visits the family during their time of grieving. But simultaneously it gets right to the heart of what it means to experience bereavement; you’ll chuckle with recognition and perhaps even shed tears over the truth contained within its pages.

Listening to

The Talkhouse Podcast – http://thetalkhouse.com/podcast/

A great website where filmmakers, actors, writers, musicians, composers and other artists get together to discuss all things cinema/music/culture. It’s much more conversational and thus insightful than your standard interview, often because the subjects are friends already, or because the pairings are well thought out.

Recent highlights include Melanie Lynskey and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as well as Haim and Lauren Mayberry of the Chvrches.

 

Doing

Funny Girl at the Savoy Theatre

Last night, courtesy of Mum Davis, I saw Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice in The Savoy’s run of Funny Girl. Amid rumours that she’d canceled a performance the night before due to drunkenness, Smith had a lot to prove, and sure enough she came out swinging. A phenomenal entertainer, she never misses a punchline, nailing both the slapstick nature of the choreography and the goofy expressions, but never neglecting the pathos and brio that make Brice such a brilliant heroine. Of course everyone’s waiting for ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, which was rightfully spectacular, but every number was delivered to near perfection. Plus Darius plays Nick Arnstein, so there’s that to enjoy as well. The plot doesn’t quite flesh out the struggle Brice endured to achieve her Broadway stardom and smooths over many of the scandals to make for a more stream-lined show. Still, the mischievous, ground-breaking talent for which she’ll be remembered is radiantly captured.

N.B. Interesting to note that Sheridan’s understudy has stepped in whilst “Smith takes 2 – 4 weeks leave of absence from the production due to stress and exhaustion”.

funnygirl

 

The Wonder Women Talk: Do young women really have it harder today?

The Telegraph hosted a talk at House of St. Barnabas posturing the question as to whether women of the current generation are faced with greater, and more struggles than women before them. The discussion probed whether or not millenials, with our self-imposed vanities, grandiose aspirations, sky-high rent prices and myriad quandaries (online dating, depression, student debt…the list goes on) amount to increased hardship.

I would argue that whilst ‘we’ (speaking from a white, Westernised, middle-class, female POV) have claimed a greater stake in society; politically, economically, culturally and have a voice that’s listened to more than ever before, never has there been a greater disparity between aspiration and realisation, and therefore a greater opportunity for discontent.

Because whilst we have the vote, and have been afforded hard-won rights, we’ve also been sold on the idea that this is the generation in which our success as a gender is inevitable. That women can ‘have it all’, that the limitations hitherto in place have been removed, the glass ceiling shattered and so forth. The trouble is, ‘all’ hasn’t really been defined, nor how we actually achieve it. So whilst we struggle to close the gender pay gap and progress in our careers, all without trying to seem too ‘bitchy’ or ambitious because funnily enough there’s still a stigma attached to those traits in women, we also have to contend with juggling the call of motherhood, inadequate childcare support or unjust paternity leave provisions.

Being a millienial woman is unsurprisingly, overwhelming. It’s all very well telling us we’re allowed to scale mountains and that the peak is there for us to reach, as it has been for men for centuries. But we still require the equipment to get ourselves there. And I don’t know about you, but it often feels like there just isn’t enough rope to get me to the top.

Oh, and in case that weren’t enough our bodies are more politicised and scrutinised than ever before. Our lives are increasingly spent online and it’s become harrowingly easy to degrade women with very little consequences. (But more on this in another post…)

The panel of women at the talk (Charlotte Proudman, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Zing Tseng and Judith Woods) shed light, or at least extrapolated on the many obstacles that women – especially of the younger generation – must confront. Answers are hard to come by and definitive change needs to be significantly more than theorised. That being said, I haven’t lived during any other era than this one. And perhaps if I were 90 years old, looking on at these twenty-somethings with the world at the fingertips I’d be laughing at how easy they have it.

 

BuyingIMAG0320

These trousers. ASOS Premium Check Boyfriend Peg Trousers at the bargain price of £16 in their sale.

When I was around 18 I purchased a brilliant pair of teal tapered trousers and like the purple cords I wore endlessly during my pre-teen years, they became an absolute staple of my wardrobe. I could dress them up in a blouse and brogues and I’d have an interview ready outfit, or dress them down with Converse and a t-shirt and still feel more fashionable than if I’d flung on a pair of jeans. What’s more, for the slightly wider-hipped wearer, they were tremendously flattering – cinching in the waist and gently grazing the thigh, without any around-the-crotch tightness, or figure-hugging exposure. Inevitably, these trousers that I cherished so dearly tapered off into non-existence. Having grown thin from repeated sartorial service, they had to be disposed of. It was with great sadness I mourned their demise, as I sensed I would never find a suitable replacement and would be left utterly bereft of the perfect trouser. I looked far and wide for a stand-in; dabbling for a while in more bohemian silk trousers, garishly patterned and great during the summer, but never as chic as their predecessor. I bought a pair of herringbone trousers during university, that were marvellously elegant, but missing the all important belt loops, which for my body type are a must (anything that fits over the hips is ridiculously too big for my waist). After a while I gave up, finding solace in reliable black skinnies or navy corduroys, occasionally reminiscing about their gorgeousness when I looked at my overwhelmingly sombre wardrobe and wished intensely for a splash of colour.

Then I found these bad boys. Regardless of what a certain Netflix series might have you believe, grey is the new black, and this came with a subtle nod to their teal originals, without being so eye-catching as to attract unwanted attention (that being said the first time I wore them, two separate people went out of their way *IN LONDON. ON THE TUBE. WHERE PEOPLE NEVER MAKE EYE CONTACT LET ALONE SPEAK* to compliment said trousers). I was elated. Not just because of the price-tag, but because finally, after years my perfect trouser has found it’s way back to me and I can attempt to be chic once again.

 

Eating

Or rather drinking. I’ve been making a delicious peanut butter smoothie at work recently that satiates my appetite and peanut butter obsession, as well as providing that all-important morning protein hit.

  • 2 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • A generous dousing of almond milk
  • A handful of almonds
  • A handful of oats
  • Chia or flaxseeds

Whizz, and watch the magic come together.

March Culture Round-Up

symbols

WATCHING

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a couch potato kind of month.

TNM

The Night Manager – A suave, and savvy rendering of John Le Carre’s political thriller as Olivia Colman’s Angela Burr is forced to use backwater channels and sly tactics to bring down the villain of the piece, played with debonair wit and a sinister fickleness by Hugh Laurie. Susanne Bier and the BBC brought out the fireworks for all but the finale, which was a little too polished for my liking. Still, when you’re treated to six concurrent weeks of taut, titillating drama with the added benefit of an oft-shirtless Tom Hiddleston, then I’d say that’s a production budget well-spent.

Girls, Season 5 – Girls is back and on top form. Aside from THAT wedding episode, their narratives have been much more disparate of late and it’s a storytelling technique I’m very much enjoying. With the news that this will be the penultimate season the writing has appeared to possess a renewed sense of purpose and certainly the characters feel less aimless (aside from Shoshanna whose taken to working in a Japanese cat cafe) and more as if they’re finally learning from their mistakes rather than accumulating a string of ridiculous anecdotes. The maturation of these four women (and the men who populate their lives) has provided as much awkwardness as it has entertainment, but one’s investments in their unravellings has finally started to feel like its paying off.

House of Cards, Season 4 – As the Underwoods reign appears to unravel, the 4th instalment of this wickedly smart Netflix series feels like a resurrection of sorts. The show had become a little dense, and dare I say it, boorish. This time around, whilst retaining the tongue-and-cheek wit for which the show has become renowned, it sheds flabby sub-plots and political minutiae in favour of character development and sees Claire come into her own. With the added benefit of new cast regulars (Neve Campbell as a campaign manager, Joel Kinnaman as a Republican rival and Ellen Burstyn as Claire’s mother), there’s plenty to get your teeth into. Perhaps the highlight is the show recognising that it truly soars when the Underwoods are allowed to do what they do best; scheme.

 

READING

wheelemenWheelmen – Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell

If you’ve ever founded yourself lacking in knowledge on the topic of Lance Armstrong and the doping scandal, this is the book for you. Comprehensive doesn’t quite cover the level of detail and context that journalists Albergotti and O’Connell (of The Wall Street Journal) provide in outlining the endemic culture of cheating that plagued cycling in the late 90s and 00s – and the profit that was to be made as a result.

The tone is sometimes wistful, sometimes stern and shows a deep-seated admiration for Armstrong as an athlete, regardless of his Machiavellian reign and devilish manipulation of cycling authorities and public opinion. But with the facts, stats and science laid bare Wheelmen offers invaluable insight into the story, no matter how much you think you’ve heard before.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/

I also read this brilliantly insightful report; ‘The Obama Doctrine’ in The Atlantic, whereby Jeffrey Goldberg examines the current President’s handling of foreign policy since his election. It contains excerpts of conversations had with Obama himself, but never feels like its airbrushing or acting as a mouthpiece. There’s a refreshing frankness to its exploration of Obama’s reticence when it comes to military intervention. And if nothing else, you came away with the keen sense that for all his perceived failings, Obama is a measured and intelligent pragmatist, and regardless of whom replaces him the US will be a lesser country without his guidance.

 

LISTENING TO

MEGMAC EP

MEGMAC-EPI caught wind of this Australian songstress after the song ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’ from her eponymous EP appeared in an episode of Girls. If Lena Dunham’s paying attention, then I figured ought to be too.

The five-song-strong EP is deliciously anthemic and optimistic. Exactly the kind of music you’d want to soundtrack a strut down a busy street; sultry, stomping and soulful, with the empowering vocals of Macy Gray and the earnestness of Laura Marling. Mesmerising.

EATING

Madeleine Shaw’s Raw Chocolate Tart.

The recipe can be founScreen Shot 2016-04-03 at 14.33.15d here.  I altered the ingredients slightly, adding dates and banana to the chocolate cream centre instead of in the base and forgo-ing cashews. The result was insanely good. The two textures compliment one another beautifully, with enough crunch in the base and smoothness in the centre to differentiate the layers. It was both sweet and rich enough to satiate dessert cravings, but without the sickliness of some chocolate recipes that prevent you go back for seconds. Or thirds. I even ate a slice for breakfast because it was there, and it has banana in it and well, who gives a fuck.

 

DOING

Curtain Call at Queen of Hoxton.

Sponsored by DIY Magazine and located in Shoreditch, this undeniably hipster band night gives the up-and-coming Kodaline’s and Wolf Alice’s of the world a chance to show a bearded and Vans-wearing crowd what they’re made of. The bands in question this time were Cut Ribbons (think Two Door Cinema Club or Of Monsters & Men) and headliners Tall Ships.

Cut Ribbons kicked proceedings off with ‘We Want To Watch Something We Loved Burn’ which made up for the lack of catchiness in its title with a soaring, synth-laden hook. The set continued to showcase their talent for energetic, electric songwriting, even if their performance demanded slightly more of these qualities. Still, it’s always a good sign for a band to leave the stage with the crowd wanting more. New to the circuit they may be, but this Welsh quintet sure as hell know what they’re doing.

Tall Ships came to the stage with the tall order of doubling-down on the effervescence that preceded them. And like all good men, they followed through. Their tunes are more meditative and sway, than crowd-surf, inducing. The set continued in polished, percussive fashion and the Cornish four-piece showed a serious capacity for delicate dynamism.

BUYING

Vichy Skincare

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Writing about skincare is overwhelmingly banal. The fact that Beauty Editors make an industry out of it is incredibly admirable (what else do you write other than moisturisers smooth your skin and facial wash cleans it?) But this month I decided to grow-up and invest in some beauty products other than the Simple range, so here I am writing about skincare.

Confession – I am one of those people that will ‘borrow’ expensive ointments and treatments but never purchase them myself. Whenever I go home I delight in using my mother’s Body Shop Vitamin E facial wash and luxuriously rich anti-ageing creams (I like to tell myself it’s the reason I still get ID’d) and it excites me no end to use the expensive hand-creams that are oft a feature of fancy establishments. But to part with £50 for the sake of using them regularly? Out of the question!

But recently, my usually reliable complexion has been a bit erratic, so I decided to splash out. Armed with very little knowledge and limited time, I dallied in the expensive aisle before settling on Vichy for no other reason than it looked nice. I bought the Normaderm cleanser, the Idealia Life serum and Aqualia Thermal Rich Day Cream because they promised to hydrate and revitalise and repair stressed skin and basically they sounded like little miracles in little bottles and it was too early for any other kind of de-stressing fluid that comes in a bottle so I chose them.

It claimed that it was good for both sensitive and dry skin, which translated to win-win from my ignorant perspective. And since trying them? So far so good. The products are all very fancy. They feel expensive and indulgent, and lo-and-behold they leave my skin feeling clean and soft. I have no idea whether it’ll impact the inconsistencies in my complexion, but damn do I want to keep touching my cheeks. 

Ps. If you happen to be using my bathroom in the next couple months, hands off.

February Culture Round-Up

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Watching…

 Love (Netflix)

After watching 10 episodes in 12 hours, I can safely say I was addicted to Love.

Veering away from the much-chartered and turbulent 20s that forms the epicentre of Girls, Love focuses on Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) as they grapple with their early 30s.

Created by Judd Apatow, Love reveals a contentedness to revel in his comfort zone, surrounded by slackers, stoners and lost souls. The comedy is perhaps less provocative or smutty as in some of his projects and there are moments that feel a bit ‘been-there-done-that’, but it’s perceptive and subtle humour nevertheless. A kind which probes, but never taxes.

It’s not easy to watch characters so intent on self-sabotage. Mickey is a radio programmer who sleeps with men way below her station and drinks away her self-hatred for doing so. Gus, meanwhile, wants to be a writer on the show where he tutors, but lacks any of the ambition or the guts to make it happen. Woe is them.

Yet in each episode, I found myself won over. The chemistry between Jacobs and Rust is well, a little bit rusty. I’m not sure if I’m rooting for them to figure it out as a couple, or just as individuals. But for Jacobs’ detached, destructive performance alone I’d stick with it. Through her, the writers very effectively disseminate the ‘cool girl’ trope and create a character as messed-up as Hannah Horvath but whose issues are dealt with in a thoroughly authentic and original way.

Highlights include: Bertie, as brought to life by the adorable Aussie comedian Claudia O’Doherty, is one of the most fully realised ‘best friend/roommate/supporting’ roles I’ve seen in awhile. Though winsome and eager to please, she’s also admirably astute. The date scene between her and Gus is one to relish. Also look out for Andy Dick playing himself in a wickedly wacky and emotionally stirring cameo.

Love isn’t the kind of show you fall head over heels for, but you’ll be glad to have let it into your life.

 

Show Me A Hero (HBO)

I don’t need any cajoling to watch 6-hours of Oscar Isaac. See below for evidence as to why:

But if I did, mentioning that it entails a New-York set miniseries, penned by The Wire’s David Simon and helmed by Crash’ Paul Haggis would probably do the trick.

That along with a Bruce Springsteen themed soundtrack, 80s costume design and complex politics undercurrents surrounding Mayor Nick Wasicsko and the public housing debacle, make for a charged and compellingly multi-faceted drama. It’s exactly the kind of drama that serves TV’s reputation so well.

RoomReading…

Room – Emma Donaghue.

The potent, poignant and expertly crafted novel upon which the dark horse of the Oscar’s Best Picture category is based. Room is written from the point of view of 5 year old Jack and details his experiences of the 12-foot-square room that forms his existence. Since his ‘Ma’ was kidnapped 7 years ago, Room is all they have ever known.

It’s a harrowing fairytale of sorts. One which celebrates the cavernous potential of a child’s imagination and the triumph of the human spirit, but without first exposing the trauma and suffering it takes to unleash that will to survive. With delicacy, ingenuity and a mastery of language, Donaghue – who also adapted the film’s screenplay – creates a world that is at once vivid and claustrophobic, both inside Room and after Jack and Ma are set free.

Listening to…

Serial.

I’m so late to the party that this recommendation serves little besides my memory. Still, if this is the heads-up to push you over the edge I’ll be glad to have done it. Serial is a brilliantly addictive and concise account of a mysterious murder in Baltimore.

Spearheaded by journalist Sarah Koenig, the investigation drip feeds a meticulous presentation – and dissection – of interviews, interrogations, phone-calls, observations and recreations that relate to a puzzling crime committed in 1999 and culminated in the supposedly wrongful conviction of Adnan Syed. It’s riveting stuff and you often forget this charts a very real case.

The best thing about the podcast format; aside from really forcing you to engage and concentrate and listen, is that you can unleash your inner True Detective AND at least make as if to be doing other things too.

OppoEating…

Oppo Ice-Cream.

The brainchild of the Thullier brothers, Oppo – which refers to ‘opposites’ – is a brand of ice-cream like no other. Blending the taste of a luxury dessert with superfood ingredients, such as lucuma and baobab, as well as replacing sugar and cream for stevia leaf and coconut oil, Oppo is a mouthful of magic. It’s hedonism for the health-conscious. Whether or not you can justifiably consume a tub in one sitting is very much up for debate, but believe me, after one spoonful, you’ll want to.

Doing…

Painting the Modern Garden at the Royal Academy.

Traversing modernist landscapes from Monet to Matisse, this intricately curated exhibition is sumptuous, salient and surprising in its depth. The context of World War 1 provides a harrowing and ironic backdrop to canvas’ that are alive with colour. Structured around Monet’s career, the exhibition delves into the inspirations behind his paintings and the influences they would subsequently have.

From his much-loved water lilies to photographs of the artists themselves – trowels in hands – this is an immersive, compelling experience,  offering healing powers as much in a time of suffering as they do today.

From 30 January to 20 April.

cd3b4cfbf2268f1c0b5bada6f9378d4fBuying…

Bloom & Wild flowers.

Perhaps inspired by my sojourn to the Royal Academy, for Mothers Day this year, I’ve decided to try out online florists ‘Bloom & Wild’, a startup that picks, arranges and sends flat-pack bouquets direct to your door. It’s a bloomin’ great idea for those who want to gift fresh flowers without the hassle of carrying them. I’ll admit I was predominantly swayed by the idea of 3D flowers springing from an envelope as if in a magic show. I’ll have to wait until the 6th March to see if they deliver.