Favourite films of 2018

It’s a testament to the power of cinema – not just the artform, but the actual theatrical experience (the physicality of holding a ticket, the anticipation as you wait to enter the cinema, the settling into your seat, the curtains opening, the darkness, the silence, the immersion) – that 10 of the 11 films I consider my favourites released this year, were seen in that setting.

This is largely due to a position of privilege I have lucked into. In working for the BFI I have access to perks, one of which is free tickets to its Southbank cinema. The sense of ‘event’ that swelled around these viewings perhaps influenced my succumbing to their powers of poetry and persuasion. Maybe I like them so much because I saw them in the cinema. Then again, many of the much-hyped films I didn’t connect with, I saw on the big-screen. So perhaps whatever resonated with me was merely amplified by the venue. 

Something else that unites these films is the experience of crying through them. I’ve always been more inclined towards ‘serious’ and sombre independent cinema than the funny-bone tickling predilection of mass entertainment. Game Night, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Black Panther were brilliant, but I didn’t ponder on them for much longer than it took for the credits to roll.

Perhaps since I declared Titanic my favourite film of all-time at the age of 12, I have placed an importance on the medium’s ability to move me. To invite my emotional investment, to encourage empathy, to demand tears – that is what good art achieves, according to my rulebook. It’s how I know I’ve fully succumbed to the world on the screen.

It appears I have a preference for darkness over levity, a disposition for difficulty and reality. And so this is how my favourites of 2018 came to be populated by stories about political conflict, the AIDs crisis, parental abuse and abandonment, brain injury, infertility, and manipulation. Which isn’t to say they left me dispirited. Another shared trait is their appreciation of humanity in all its complexities – its ugliness and illnesses, alongside its capacity for heroism, forgiveness and kindness.

So without further adieu, here are the films that gave me all the feels in 2018…

Summer, 1993

DIR. Carla Simón, Spain

I felt a profound sense of kinship with the 6-year-old female protagonist in Carla Simon’s Summer 1993. Not for the grieving process she must endure after the death of her mother, which results in one helluva emotional sucker punch, but for the navigation of a world in which she is no longer the centre. Such is the strange burden of being an only child. After moving in with her aunt, uncle and young cousin, Frida (Laia Artigas) is thrust into a bewildering rural environment and resorts to the toolbox of the very young – grandstanding, tantrums, sulking, sly manipulation, even cruelty – to beckon affection. Simon’s talent as a director, not least of which is coaxing performances of astounding naturalism from her young cast, is balancing the melancholic with the amusing. It basks in its landscape, but never dawdles and every moment of empathy feels hard-earned. Simon rewards our patience with a story that is as textured as it is tender.

Roma

DIR. Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico, USA

The personal is the political in Alfonso Cuarón’s epic, monochromatic exploration of Mexico City in the early 70s. A tale of two women amid domestic and civil unrest, there is a level of intimacy on display that feels novelistic; small moments that might have ended up on the cutting room floor in another film are given full focus. It’s painstaking detail brings to mind a line from Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Cuarón’s microscopic and memory-infused evocation of this time and era radiates with affection.

120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) 

DIR. Robin Campillo, France

A political and medical movement is given its due, and at times dazzling, attention with Robin Campillo’s drama. Following the activities of Act Up Paris in a procedural of-sorts that details the ups and downs of activism, particularly through the eyes of a new member as he falls in love with an HIV-positive one, Campillo imbues his edifying drama with scenes of passion, fury, sex and dance. Even as it deals with the inevitability of death, this is as enlivening a film as I saw this year.

The Favourite

DIR. Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland, UK, USA

Coruscating, saucy, foul-mouthed and uproariously funny. Like Marie Antoinette by way of The Thick of It, made all the merrier for the sublime ménage à trois at its expertly staged centre.

 

Cold War

DIR. Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland, UK, France

Pawel Pawlikowski returns to the palate and period that garnered him a golden statuette (for 2015’s Ida) with a story loosely-based on his parent’s love affair. Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig are the gorgeous pair at the centre (he’s the composer, she’s the star) of a folkloric musical road-show, increasingly suffocated by Communism’s grip. Jazz and jealousy spike a narrative as distilled as a shot of vodka with enough substance to match its elegantly framed style. But what a style it is. I don’t think I’ve laid eyes on anything as exquisite this year.

Leave No Trace

DIR. Debra Granik, USA

Debra Granik, who bequeathed us with Winter’s Bone, and did Hollywood the favour of discovering Jennifer Lawrence, does the world another solid with Leave No Trace. A film which quietly and captivatingly delves into the lives of a father and daughter existing, geographically and economically, on America’s fringes.

Private Life

DIR. Tamara Jenkins, USA

Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are the literary, near middle-aged couple struggling to conceive in what appear to be tailor made roles. Tamara Jenkins is the deft hand at the helm – having already proved herself a master of unflinching honesty and wit with 2007’s The Savages – documenting the trials and tribulations of IVF treatment with grimace-inducing candor. (The films opens with an ass-bound needle). Speaking of injections, theatre-kid Kayli Carter (familiar to some for her role in Netflix’s Godless, also playing a character called Sadie) is effervescent as the step-niece turned potential surrogate, mainlining charisma and chaos into the fraught (but impeccably furnished) lives of her baby-bewitched relations.

There’s a lived-in-ness to the characters, hammered home perhaps somewhat hammily by the home-movie feel of the cinematography. But this is dramedy as it should be – wry, profound and rewarding.

Also fun fact, Chris Ware, the artist behind the mind-bending graphic novel Building Stories, designed the film’s poster.

The Kindergarten Teacher

DIR. Sara Colangelo, USA

Maggie Gyllenhaal continues to prove herself one of the most intriguing, and versatile performers working today with the story of a morally dubious teacher who discovers one of her students possesses great poetic talent, and goes to boundary-pushing lengths in order to nurture it. Provocative, complex and intelligent, The Kindergarten Teacher raises more questions than it answers, but perhaps like any good educator, that is exactly the point.

Shoplifters

DIR. Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan

Kore-eda’s keen eye for the fragility, and necessity, of human connection is woven into his most heartbreaking fable yet as a ragtag ‘family’ of bandits are broken apart by the authorities. 

 

The Rider

DIR. Chloé Zhao, USA

An all too real tale of an injured Bronco rider grappling with identity, masculinity and tradition, against the spectacular backdrop of a South Dakota reservation. Chloé Zhao has the same taste for downbeat Americana as Debra Granik, the same ear and eye for authenticity as Kore-eda, but a talent for blending spirituality and majesty that is all her own.

Petra

DIR. Jaime Rosales, Spain, France, Denmark

If The Favourite was the most hyped film I saw this year, this has to be the least. After watching the delightful and sensual South Korean film Little Forest at the London Film Festival, I decided to stay put at Ciné Lumière and check out the next film on the schedule – Petra. I knew next to nothing about, and ended up having one of the most riveting cinematic experiences in recent memory.

The elaborately-structured plot – non-linear vignettes are introduced with a short precis detailing twists and reveals – is matched by towering performances, particularly that of Bárbara Lennie as the titular artist in search of her biological father. Thrilling, labyrinthine and devastating, Petra is name to remember.

Honourable mentions:

Nancy, First Reformed, Mid90s, Skate Kitchen, A Star is Born, Wild Rose, If Beale Street Could Talk, United Skates, Jeune Femme, The Tale, Game Night, Phantom Thread

Things I’m chomping at the bit to see which might have made the list had I…

Zama, Burning, The Old Man & the Gun, Western, Sweet Country, Dogman, Wildlife, Minding the Gap

Things I saw but didn’t care for as much as other people…

Widows, You Were Never Really Here, Peterloo, Shirkers, BlackKklansman, Support the Girls, 

 

 

Everything I Watched In 2017

Ok, so not everything. Like most millennials I’m prone to hyperbole and a click-bait headline. These are all the drama/fictional shows I consumed – hence why I haven’t included Blue Planet II, The Great British Bake-Off or Strictly Come Dancing and the hours of SNL sketches and US chat show interviews enjoyed on YouTube.

And before you ask about my priorities, yes I still need to see Season 2 of The Crown and Godless and Season 2 of Search Party and no I don’t care for Twin Peaks (I’ll eat my words later when I become obsessed). I never fell foul to the Doctor Foster hype and have a dozen other things on my ‘To-Watch’ list that I’ll get around to eventually (Black Mirror, Born To Kill, the rest of Halt and Catch Fire. Hell maybe I’ll eventually finish The Sopranos and Breaking Bad whilst I am it).

Other things to note: I gave up on Fargo and Rellik this year after the first two episodes, and also lost interest in This Is Us (too much schmaltz for me). I watched the first episode of Ozark and Mindhunter respectively, but found them too dour and have been intending to resume watching The Americans  for over a year, but alas the TV shows below are the only ones I found time for.

The stars denote my favourites!

 

  1. Search Party | Channel 4 (Season 1) 
  2. Girls | HBO (Season 6)
  3. Big Little Lies | HBO (Season 1) ★
  4. Love | Netflix (Season 2)
  5. Broadchurch | ITV (Season 3)
  6. I Love Dick | Amazon Prime (Season 1) ★
  7. Orange Is The New Black | Netflix (Season 5)
  8. House of Cards | Netflix (Season 5)
  9. Paula | BBC
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale | Hulu (Season 1) 
  11. Glow | Netflix (Season 1)
  12. Master of None | Netflix (Season 1 & 2) ★
  13. The Leftovers | HBO (Season 1 & 2)
  14. Game Of Thrones | HBO (Season 7)
  15. Top of the Lake: China Girl | BBC 2
  16. Insecure | HBO (Season 1 & 2) ★
  17. Atlanta | FX (Season 1) 
  18. Trust Me | ITV
  19. Strike: Cuckoo’s Calling | BBC
  20. Room 104 | HBO (Season 1)
  21. Riviera | Sky Atlantic (Season 1)
  22. The Deuce | HBO (Season 1) 
  23. Transparent | Amazon Prime (Season 4)
  24. Liar | ITV (Season 1)
  25. Tin Star | Sky Atlantic (Season 1)
  26. Halt and Catch Fire | AMC/Amazon Prime (Season 1-2) ★
  27. The Child In Time | BBC One
  28. Stranger Things | Netflix (Season 2)
  29. Peaky Blinders | BBC 2 (Season 2-4) 
  30. The Girlfriend Experience | Amazon Prime (Season 2)
  31. Babylon Berlin | Sky Atlantic (Season 1)
  32. The Trip to Spain | Sky Atlantic
  33. Easy | Netflix (Season 2) ★
  34. Howard’s End | BBC One
  35. Witnesses: A Frozen Death | BBC 4
  36. Feud | FX

      

 

Seeing Friday Night Lights with fresh eyes and a full heart

This year saw the 10-year-anniversary since cult-favourite Friday Night Lights debuted on NBC. As a fairly new devotee, I investigate what about the show sees its appeal endure…

The great thing about streaming platforms – and to be honest, box sets before them –  is that TV shows are gifted with a longer shelf life; preserved in ‘recommended picks’ for a new generation of episodic dalliances or fiercely loyal fans.

Stories and characters once banished to the past can live beyond the era in which they aired, ripe for rediscovery and newfound appreciation. Shows that I grew up around and oft heard mentioned during dinnertime discussions; The Shield, 24, Friday Night Lights, The West Wing, I have been able to pluck from nostalgia and finally understand.

I remember my parents trying to describe 24 to me. “You watch someone for an hour in real-time, so that each series makes up a whole day in their life” my mother vaguely summarised, perhaps trying to shield me from the terrorist sub-plots and gung-ho tactics of Jack Bauer. I mistook it for some kind of warped documentary, or a perverse realisation of The Sims. “So you watch them go to the bathroom? When do they sleep?”, I naively inquired. In retrospect, I can almost hear my parents smirking with superiority.

That naiveté extended to my rebuff of Friday Night Lights. Originally airing for 5 seasons between 2006 and 2011, during my prime pre-university years, I was of an age – considered mature – where I would’ve been allowed to join my parents in watching it. But I turned my nose up at the idea of high-school football, heated rivalries and sports jargon.

friday-night-lights-reunion-ew

“You watch One Tree Hill” my Dad protested, willing me to get on-board, “that’s about basketball”. True OTH had bestowed me with knowledge of what a point guard and a layup were, but “its about SO MUCH MORE than basketball” I retorted. I see now why my argument fell on deaf ears. Friday Night Lights far outstrips One Tree Hill in the reputation department, and is most definitely about so much more than high-school football.

It’s not the football games or the tantalisingly close victories that I stick around for. It’s the phenomenally well-written characters. And Taylor Kitsch’s smile.

It’s a paean to identity, morality and family. It’s about romance and first love and making mistakes. It’s about compromise and marriage and making more mistakes. And with a perhaps unrivalled earnestness it tackles the universal theme of following your dreams.

And so the love affair has begun. We spent all weekend together, and I still can’t get enough. I think about Friday Night Lights constantly, especially when we’re apart and I flirted obscenely with the notion of purchasing a Dillon Panthers t-shirt off Amazon the other day.

But why? How has this sometimes corny, slightly outdated show about small-town rituals and sporting obsession exerted a python-like grip on my attention and monopolised every spare hour since I met with the pilot?

The Guardian asserted that “its appeal lies in its optimism”. The Dillon Panthers are the underdogs from the get-go. Written off early in the State Championships, you’re rooting for them to overcome obstacles (paralysis, race, class, tornadoes, rivalry, corruption) all the way to the ten-yard line. But if I’m being honest, it’s not the football games or the tantalisingly close victories that I stick around for. It’s the phenomenally well-written characters. And Taylor Kitsch’s smile.

Across the 35 episodes I’ve watched thus far, the thing that continually astounds me is how well-drawn the individual narrative arcs are and how invested in each story I am. It would be easy for FNL to become the Eric and Tami show; Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are electrically good as Mr & Mrs Coach Taylor. But FNL routinely manages to span and interweave several storylines, without it ever feeling like characters (or at least those we really care about) are being short-shrifted or for want of a better word, benched.

married20

The fact that it excavates past surfaces, and gets to know characters like Riggins’ brother Billy, Saracen’s best friend Landry or Smash’s mother Corrina is testament to the fact that it’s not just the football team and the cheerleaders that get to bask in the spotlight. The show cares about the town as whole and each individual’s role within it. From the pilot onwards we’ve been introduced to the menagerie of Dillon residents whose affiliations to football range from supportive to exploitative. Characters from multifarious backgrounds with manifold intentions exist in Dillon, and FNL doesn’t evince a preference for any type.

Sure, there have been hiccups. Let’s not mention the Landry/Tyra murder debacle, a plotline conceived out of network pressure to amp up the drama, and subsequently the ratings. Or the ill-thought out romantic asides to keep characters treading water (RIP Carlotta and Jackie, victims to circumstance and lazy penmanship).

But the show excels when it sticks to what it does best. And that’s the little things. The frustrations of marriage, and the awkwardness of school corridor encounters with your ex. Julie Taylor’s embarrassment at having her Mum work at her school (something I know only too well), and having ‘the chat’ with her Dad (something I was thankfully spared). When Eric flies off the handle at Tami’s sister for taping over one of his games, the 90s kid in me broke into a rueful grin of remembrance. I’m sure many-a married couple can take solace in Eric and Tami’s sometimes strained, but always loving, back and forth.

tami-julie-friday-night-lights-4533494-2560-1920

What’s more it doesn’t confine its characters to stereotypes. Who can forget the tragedy-tinged pilot that sees star quarterback Jason Street paralysed after an ill-advised tackle? Convention would dictate that his status is validated with glory on the pitch, but in a show determined to set itself apart, that validation must be discovered elsewhere. It’s a bold move and it was only the beginning.

Church-going cheerleader Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly), with her shiny brown hair and perfectly plucked eyebrows is perhaps the closest thing you’ll get to cookie-cutter on this show and even she has her moments of tenacity and rebellion. FNL playfully, and continually subverts the boilerplate identities that high-schoolers are meant to fit into. QB1 Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) is painfully shy and cares more about his ailing grandma than partying on weekends. (Who else felt a bit sick when he experimented with open relationships and kissed two girls in one episode?! So not cool Saracen). Drunken, womanising fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) is part douchebag, part nicest guy on the planet. I’m surprised I haven’t gone into an arrhythmia the amount of times my heart melted at his gestures of kindness and protection.

It’s harder to like other characters. Not everyone on this show is a hero, nor should they be. Smash Williams and Buddy Garrity spring to mind, both of whom teeter on the brink of obnoxiousness on several occasions. But the writers clearly possess an affection for their characters and rather than consigning them to a certain fate, they take the time to make you reassess your judgments. For all of Smash’s locker-room smack talk and juiced up bravado, it pains him to disappoint his single mother (brought to life brilliantly by Liz Mikel), and there’s a glimmer of sensitivity in his dealings with bipolar girlfriend Waverley. Similarly, Buddy Garrity gets his moment of sympathy when, having been kicked out of his house for extra-marital indiscretions, he takes an ex-convict under his wing.

It can’t be said that every appearance is depicted with such refinement. There’s the occasional aggressive thug or opposing team offender that recalls convention, but where it matters, these characters are packed to the rafters with nuances, flaws and redeeming features.

Take for instance, Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki). The kind of blonde, lithe beauty who might as well be wearing a tiara, because she has ‘homecoming queen’ written all over her. But both the writers, and Tyra, know she has more to offer than that.

In season 1, she’s working at a diner on the eve of a Dillon Panthers game, pouring coffee and explaining the tiresome ceremonies that plague her football-infatuated town to a cute customer. “Just a bunch of overheated jocks too dumb to know they have no future, fighting over a game that has no meaning, in a town from which there is no escape,” Tyra mutters. This isn’t a girl you’ll find at a pep rally anytime soon.

fridaynightlights

It’s in these exchanges that FNL explodes commonly-held perceptions. It allows its characters to dream big, to exist beyond the boundaries that a small-town in Texas might impose. Which is true of FNL itself. The show refuses to liken itself to fellow high-school dramas and evokes classic Greek tragedies more than it does the melodrama of other cable shows.

The greatest thing about FNL is that every pass, every victory, every moment of triumph feels hard-earned. Dillon is a town tempered by struggle and the joy of watching this show is seeing the characters make it out the other side. The persistence and confidence instilled in these players by Coach Taylor, and in the students by Tami, is a lesson that we could all do to learn.  

As summarised in a Grantland piece:

In an era when sports television was supposedly at its nadir, when elite storytelling was supposedly only the work of prestige outlets like HBO and AMC, Friday Night Lights emerged as the quintessential show about American spirit and uplift at a time when the moral and economic bedrock of [the US] seemed most in doubt.

And though that optimism never extended to commercial ratings, Friday Night Lights has found a home in the hearts of many. Thank goodness – like Jason Street did Lyla Garrity – I gave it a second chance.

March Culture Round-Up

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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

Vichy_001  Vichy_002vichy_003

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Dating In London: Why I’m All In

Like most adventures, moving to London has brought with it both boundless opportunity and potential predicaments in equal measure.

Dating included.

Akin to being met with a supermarket cereal aisle, unless you know specifically what you want and can smugly beeline for those bran flakes, the choice is frankly startling and the process of choosing, tedious.

There are so many people! I would ponder to no one in particular. The streets and their restaurants are crammed full of them. How am I ever going to filter out all the debris and find a suitor worthy of my company?! Where does one possibly begin?

One word. Tinder.

I began, as so many my age do, with the careless, almost indifferent swiping of fellows that fell into my selected criteria. (24-31, 5 mile radius, in case you were wondering).

North London has thrown up some woefully inconsistent options in that arena. For every match, you then have to endure the boredom of small talk, and one you get past that stage actually pinning down a person for an actual, face-to-face date can prove tiresome. I frequently waste a week, two weeks, if not more, vaguely getting to know someone in a casual back and forth way that often peters out like a lazy basketball as it dribbles into the corner. There is no momentum or spark on Tinder; you’re free to come and go as you please with little repercussion and it’s proffered more dead-ends and disappointments than it has candidates.

It’s fun to fallback on, like a memory foam mattress, but reliable it is not. The net is cast so wide that meeting someone with similar interests or ambitions, or who even wants to message you at all, is frustratingly scarce.

Another option, however arcane it may seem, is to head out to an alcohol-serving establishment and pluck up the courage to talk to someone in person, using your actual tongue.

Since moving to London I have done this on two occasions, (forgive the bragging), both with moderate success. On the first, I was playing darts – a sport which oozes sexual allure if ever I’ve known one – and struck up a repartee with a man whose eyeball I almost had out with a rogue throw. I continued chatting to him for this anecdote alone.

He was perfectly charming and at the end of the night we exchanged numbers, if just for the confidence boost. Yes, he was a pawn in my own game of self-assurance, but I have no regrets about the fact it felt good and I knew there and then it would be nothing more. The whole process took about one hour, and it was merely a side order to the delicious main course of a fun night out.

The second night took place at a pub known for it’s retro tunes and I boldly approached a gentleman whose shape throwing I greatly admired. We twisted, shouted, shook it up and worked it on out for a good few hours and come the end of the night I knew he was merely a dance – as opposed to life, partner. Ultimately I came with my friends and I left with my friends, but it was good to know that there are guys out there and that meeting them doesn’t have to feel like a covert chore or an arduous elimination process.

Beyond that, I have plans to attend a speed-dating night hosted by The Book Club and may or may not have signed up to go on a Guardian Blind Date (watch this space….), because why the hell not. Both provide environments where you’re guaranteed to meet someone who has similar intentions and desires to your own. Sure they might not be a cat-person (essential), or enjoy lie-ins (non-negotiable), but they are there to have a conversation and asks questions about more than you’re attire or cup size, which can only be a good thing.

Like streaming platforms (because this is a film blog and I love a metaphor) there are several options to account and curate for different taste. Netflix, much like Tinder, provides you with an overwhelming sea of options – not all great. You have to scroll/swipe for what feels like hours before coming across something which still runs the risk of being subpar. Mubi, on the other hand, professes to provide highbrow, art-house cinema; like the Guardian Soulmate of the VOD world. You might be narrowing your options, but in the hopes that every selection will result in an enjoyable experience or at least a  talking point at your next dinner party.

Just as I don’t commit to one viewing realm, I’ve come to explore a plethora of ways to find a companion (if just for the night… sorry Nan) in the big city.

There is no longer a right or wrong way to meet your match. Yes I’m still more likely to whisper Tinder, than I would be if I met the future Mr. Davis at a bookstore and both our hands reached for Richard Yates at the same time, but alas if the outcome is positive and brings happiness, surely the origin of our romance is irrelevant? And if I can boogie to Bruce Springsteen with a good-looking gent or two in the meantime well then dating is something I’m all for.

Stop watching Netflix. It’s time to face reality.

An Essay on Climate Change

Leonardo DiCaprio, a renowned climate change advocate, recently signed a deal with Netflix to bring documentaries with a philanthropic or environmental focus to a more mainstream audience. He was mostly recently executive producer on the Oscar-nominated Virunga, a gut-wrenching film that explores the exploitation of Virunga National Park’s resources, and the devastating effect on its species and wildlife – most notably, mountain gorillas.

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DiCaprio issued a statement explaining his motives:

“Working with Netflix on Virunga has sparked a shared vision about projects that we want to develop and bring to viewers. There’s never been a more critical time for our planet or more of a need for gifted storytellers to help us all make sense of the issues we face. Through this partnership with Netflix, I hope to give documentary filmmakers doing urgent and important work the chance to have their films seen immediately by audiences all around the world.”

This is an exciting development.

The idealist in me feels an overwhelming joy and a completely misplaced sense of relief that there is a demand and a market for these sorts of films and that Netflix – arguably the biggest player in the online distribution game at the moment – are putting their money behind this cause.

However, it also worries me. Like a deep, sickening, in my core kind of worry. It scares me that this feel monumental. That Leonardo DiCaprio, a guy at the peak of his powers, is struggling to get money for his own climate change movie to be made (slated to star Tom Hardy and Tobey Maguire). And that our sense of a changing tide is rooted in the movies; in ‘entertainment’ and passivity. Don’t get me wrong – I completely think that films have the power to alter opinions and act as a profound platform to shine a light on the urgent causes and stories of our time. And yet there’s something askew in encouraging people to sit down and watch a documentary rather than stand up and lobby, or protest, or march down to their local MP and say ‘get your shit together’.

Because if we’re being honest with ourselves (rather than patting Hollywood’s back and saying ‘good job’, we’ll get on board with your new, green vision), we should’ve been done and dusted with this ‘raising awareness’ agenda some decades ago.

Personally I think our self-congratulatory attitude towards awareness is one of the main reasons for our relative inaction. I say this not to diminish the importance of people’s acceptance and acknowledgment that global warming is happening, but because it also serves to stall environmentally – friendly efforts. I would proffer we are languishing in a state of awareness, too content to read sobering and necessary journalism on the issue, but ultimately to turn the page at the end of it. We’re quite willing to swallow the bitter pill, and shakes our heads or rub our chins in reaction to the terrible news that ‘global warming is coming’ and in fact well on its way to inflicting irrevocable damage to our environment, but then doing little else to effectively reverse or halt these changes.

4 year olds at primary schools should be taught about melting polar ice-caps and the damaging impact of fracking. Adolescents should be keenly aware of the inadequacies of our leaders in protecting the environment, and by extension, us. It should be ingrained into early adult minds that they are inherently, inevitably unable to make good on the promises that get to them power. We should be wiping our hands of awareness by now. We should be knee-deep in overhauling economic policies, infrastructures and excessive materialism.

Perhaps the issue is optimism. We’re too damn sure of ourselves for our own goods.

We’ve watched one too many superhero movies and assume that a muscly, vegan vigilante is around the corner to reverse all those greenhouse gases we’ve been diligently pumping into the atmosphere.

the-day-after-tomorrow-20090401112955_625x352For anyone around in the Noughties we all remember Dennis Quaid in disaster blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow (2004) saving the world’s behind when the icicles started to appear. Despite the relatively prescient depiction of an abrupt and catastrophic climate change engendering the worst ice age the world has seen for centuries, ravaging New York, among other cities with hailstones, tidal waves, and tornadoes, ultimately crisis is averted. The world is defrosted and the air clearer than ever before. We seemingly can’t help but put a positive spin on the most catastrophic issue the world has ever faced. Leaders want to suggest that the crisis is solvable and balance will be restored, and that they are going to be the ones to do it.

Yes, Obama, understanding has advanced and there’s a deepening sense of urgency. But where is this head-on tackle? Where is this adaptation and repair that you speak of? Obama stands there as “the leader of the world’s largest economy and it’s second largest emitter, to say that [they’ve] begun to do something about it”. BEGUN? BEGUN?! Why on earth are these efforts only just beginning and why is this deemed to be a good thing? Leaders of the world need to climb out of their own asses, step off their podiums and get a move on. Stop tip-toeing around the issue of climate change because it doesn’t engage voters or seem popular enough, and most of all, stop preaching that the wheels are in motion. They need to be going a lot faster than that.

Another irksome trait of our most prevalent leaders is to employ the term ‘weathering the storm’ or some other such rhetoric that suggests this is something that we will endure. Despite its implications of chaos, upset and turbulence, this phrasing invokes a sense of triumph and eventual calm. Furthermore, weather denotes cyclicality and therefore a sense of inevitability, absconding anyone from blame. This is something that has happened over time, we are frequently told. Moreover, it suggests an endpoint to the crisis; if the tide comes in, it will eventually go back out. By employing this terminology, and frequently calling eco-warriors and environmentalists ‘doom merchants’ or ‘bad-news bearers’ global leaders and the media avoid words like ‘crisis’, ‘catastrophe’ ‘apocalypse’ and other such descriptions that suggest defeatism and negativity. This system of representation turns weakness to strength.

But we’re not strong. We’re very much at breaking point. Our knees are buckling under the power of these rising temperatures and dwindling resources, and it’s foolish to keeping perpetuating the belief that ‘something will be done’. It’s not urgent or clarified enough. The cycle of denial needs to break.

There’s also an issue with a sensationalised approach towards climate change. Some journalists believe that reporting on natural or freak disasters, whose likelihood increases with the exacerbation of global warming, is an effective way of galvanising change. However I would contend that climate change’s association with disaster is precisely where our proactive efforts begin to stall.

Disaster denotes the sensational, the spectacular and indeed the tragic, something we inevitably distance ourselves from. Disasters happen to people in movies and foreign countries, not to ‘us’ and it therefore becomes a scapegoat or an external threat that the government and the public are extricated from rather than implicated in. It is the people that are polluting the planet, and the climate crisis is one generated by internal issues, by our attitudes to accumulation, consumption and waste. Nevertheless, by reporting climate change through the lens of an external shock and a rhetoric of disaster, our participation and complicity in the situation is erased.

Indeed, in a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion (http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/06/the-register-reports-climate-poll-inaccurately/_) discovered that 27% of the British population still believe natural causes and processes have generated global warming.

Storms, tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes are associated with these natural processes or freak incidents, which we are little able to control. Climate change should not be reported as something that we endure and wait to pass. Our responsibility for it must be emphasised.

The actions we take now will determine our future trajectory, and currently that seems to be one of decline. Which is exactly why climate change reporting needs to remain consistent and urgent, and why leaders need to listen to activists and scientists, rather than brush the issue under the carpet in exchange for sexier platforms.

This weekend The Guardian is “embarking on a major series of articles on the climate crisis and how humanity can solve it”. Hopefully, this will spark sustained and effective media coverage of the issue, an increase in citizen action, NGO activity, national policymaker initiatives, and international agreement. It is perhaps somewhat idealistic to think that one newspaper can bring about or catalyse the untangling of such a mess. Let’s face it, we are in deep, deep shit and reading one article with your morning coffee doesn’t feel like the battle-cry that’s required. However I would urge you to read the article nonetheless…

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http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/06/dont-look-away-now-the-climate-crisis-needs-you 

Whether or not you buy The Guardian, identify with Left or Right politics or consider yourself to care about the environment, you should look at this article and the rest of the climate series in this week’s and next week’s papers.

This is our future we’re squandering and it terrifies me that climate change isn’t higher up on the political and social agenda, and that despite protestations, rallies and today’s climate march, I, along with the majority of the population probably won’t do much to change our consumer habits.

There are a lot of fantastic movements and endeavours to improve our society – the Women of the World festival this weekend being one of them. But unless we get behind the climate crisis, it seems fruitless to engage with other campaigns. Unless we do something to change, there probably won’t be genders to equalise, civilians to protect or governments to vote for.

It’s a surreal reality that we have to face. The idea of oceans swallowing up the world, or temperatures melting the very ground we walk on often feels like a fiction that we can’t relate to. But I’m genuinely getting my panic on thinking that this is the future we might be handing to our children. If we collectively panic, and transform that panic into crisis and that sense of crisis into galvanising action, maybe we’ll have reason to pat ourselves on the back after all.

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A polar-bear image never fails to drive the point home…