Monday, March 30, 2015

The Conquering Hero Returns





Los Angeles / Big Sur / Yosemite / Death Valley

I'M BACK.

It was an amazing trip.

The petty irritations of travel are already fading from my mind and the whole trip is crystallizing into a single vision of perfection. Portland, Seattle and Vancouver were all lovely, liveable cities where I felt almost immediately comfortable and ate excellently but the sheer scope and variety of California is incomparable. All of the above pictures are California (!!). I don't understand how a single state can encompass the extremes of LA, Yosemite and Death Valley but I'm not complaining. It was a remarkable pleasure to explore and I can't wait to return one day.

My diaries/ramblings/dispatches from our great adventure are all available here: http://tinyletter.com/roadtripping/archive. There will be a few more photos and I'm going to put together a list of food eaten (very important - obviously). I will also be retreating to the mountains and valleys of California in my mind forever.

*happy sigh*

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On Hiatus

R and I are running away to America.

For five weeks at least.

We will be travelling from Los Angeles to Vancouver and we have spent the last two months planning our itinerary. Honestly, it doesn't feel real yet but we are flying tomorrow so that should change. There is a very small pile of clothes on my living room floor and a very large pile of books. I am not planning to blog while we are away but should you wish to follow our progress you can do so here: http://tinyletter.com/roadtripping.

If you have any recommendations for the west coast do hit me up at chucksmiscellany@gmail.com. Otherwise, I suppose, I will catch you on the flipside (where I will continue to nail youth slang and will also be very fat from the enormous amount of delicious food I have consumed).

California inspiration c/o Ansel Adams.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Issue 24: Nests and Homes

Issue 24 of Oh Comely is out now and I have a piece in it about home making and nesting and my nomadic years. The piece is called 'the more my houses change, the more my bedrooms stay the same' and you can buy the magazine at WH Smith in the UK and from independents internationally. I love my bedroom(s).


Other highlights:
  • Liz Ann Bennett on lostness, love and childhood, and children's literature.
  • Jason Ward interviewing Ana Lily Amirpour about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night which I cannot wait to see. I think it may be getting a UK spring cinematic re-/release and I am happily awaiting the sullen, skate-boarding Iranian teen vampire heroine.
  • Sarah Miller's excellent piece on why not to cook.

Friday, February 6, 2015

What I Read: January 2015

  • The Vanishers - Heidi Julavits: Full post here. Very odd; interesting; excellent on the material world. Not necessarily to my taste - too theoretical/academic, frustratingly pretentious - this was probably intentional but I didn't find it enjoyable. Strange and unsettling.
  • The New York Times 36 Hours: USA & Canada, West Coast: Five weeks - L.A. to Vancouver. BRING IT ON. Any and all recommendations heartily welcomed.
  • Bright Young Things - Scarlett Thomas: Also pretty odd. I'm interested in the back catalogues of popular/hyped/acclaimed contemporary female writers at the moment. I read Popco when I was maybe fifteen and I remember enjoying it in a mathsy kind of way but I haven't read any of her bigger, more recent books. I think this was her first novel and I picked it up on a whim at the library. It's very of its time (late 90s) and prescient about the rise of Big Brother tv. A bunch of varied and feckless twenty-somethings sit around shooting the breeze + mystery element. It was pleasant enough.
  • Crown of Midnight - Sarah J. Maas: I read a fair amount of YA and will vigorously defend the genre but I'm pretty picky. I didn't necessarily love Throne of Glass (Book 1 of this series) but I liked it enough to read Crown of Midnight (Book 2) and I will probably read Heir of Fire (Book 3) if it shows up at the library. This doesn't sound like (and isn't) a ringing endorsement but, given how rarely I continue a YA series, it is something. The heroine's emotional and physical consistency is very patchy but female assassins + the possibility of magic. I have a sizable soft spot for young women in fantasy kicking arse and taking names.
  • Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures - Emma Straub: Emma Straub and The Vacationers were everywhere last year and that's great, she seems very nice, but every time I picked up the book/read the blurb I felt unenthused. Many people whose opinions I respect rated the book but, in a world of near infinite books, the subject left me flat. There are just other things I would rather read about than a family holiday. Luckily, Straub's earlier novel LL is based around an idea/world/setting that does interest me - Golden Age Hollywood and 1930s-60s L.A. Straub's writing is precise and generous and her characters are so recognisably human despite the glow of nostalgia and glamour. This is a skillful but restrained book about a fascinating time and place.
  • The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer's Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon - David Grann: If you follow me on Twitter you might have caught multiple conversations where I exclaimed about how truly (madly) deeply GROSS this book is. The Amazon is full of disgustingness. I am deeply squeamish and the gleeful descriptions of diseases and insects and decaying bodies had me feeling faint on the bus. Excellent New Yorker writer David Grann investigates the disappearance in the 1920s of Colonel Fawcett's expidition to find a lost city in the Amazon. There is mystery and obsession and colonialism and anthropology and cartography and a lot of maggots. You can read Grann's article on the subject as a taster.
  • Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers - Janet Malcolm: BOOK OF THE MONTH. I can't believe I had never read Janet Malcolm before (I don't think) - she is perfect and I love her! She might disdain this kind of ineloquent, fond worship but I can't help myself. These essays about artists and writers are just impeccable; brilliant, balanced and clever. Despite being devastatingly smart and well read she isn't grandiose or alienating and her considered interest cloaks the reader like a blanket. I read essays about artists I had never encountered (Thomas Strouth, Harriet Stratton-Porter), artists I knew only vaguely (Diane Arbus - photography is clearly an interest and Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston and Irving Penn) and artists I have experienced (Edith Wharton, J. D. Salinger) with almost equal pleasure. Admittedly, the longest chapter in the book, by many pages, is about Artforum and the 80s-90s NY art/art critic scene and I came to loathe the chapter and all the characters involved but you can't have it all. I am interested in many things but not, it turns out, the squabbles of the self-righteous, yuppie modern art world. You live, you learn. The chapter is, at least, a masterclass in allowing subjects to hang themselves with their own rope. Luckily though, most of the essays in the book are excellent and the chapter on the Bloomsbury group is perfection and I want to read it on loop forever. I also want to read every single piece of work referenced in the essay. Such a strange, progressive group of brilliant weirdos! I had a rough knowledge of the group and varying levels of knowledges about its members but my brain feel like it has been blown open. I am inspired and invigorated and curious and what more could you want from a book?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Five Gold Rings

Obviously this should have been a pre-Christmas post but Three Gold Rings did have quite the same, well, ring to it.

I used to wear quite a lot of jewellery. As a young teen I styled myself rigorously against the unexpectedly conservative environment I found myself in. I would hazily describe my 'look' as Pre-Emo/Pop-Goth/Rainbow-Tween/Weirdo and I accessorised with enthusiasm. It was a strange mishmash of skulls, plastic children's jewellery and craft supplies. Really I pioneered the 'arm party' with half-foot wrist guards of rubber bracelets, boiled sweet plastic beads and Claire's Accessories tat. I used weird clothes and cheap jewellery as a defense against the barrage of pashminas.

Either the twinsets wore me down or my new found sense of mid-teen sophistication demanded that I eventually put aside such childish delights. I traveled without my family to Mongolia and, briefly, Beijing when I was fifteen and returned with a pound of red jasper beads and a string of cheap black pearls. They were a bounteous haul and kicked off what I would laughingly describe as my 'world traveler' jewellery phase. To be fair, I stand by the jewellery but not by the neck ache or the tediously beige and adult clothes I thought appropriate to pair with it. I don't regret the neon pink fishnet socks of my thirteen year old self but I do regret the camel coloured v-neck of my sixteen year old self, even if it was both more sane and more flattering. Sixteen year olds, no matter how many Penguin Classics they've read or countries they've visited, deserve better than camel coloured v-necks. Sixteen year olds deserve Rookie. Most of us, those of us destined for office jobs and suburban mundanity, only have a short window in which you can truly embrace looking like a weirdo and it is a crying shame to squander that window on anything camel coloured, no matter how enthusiastic the necklaces.

I have a tendency to fixate upon objects/aesthetics and I find that the duration of these obsessions is stretching as I grow older. After I spent three months in India I spent three years wearing Rajhastani earrings and regretting only buying half a dozen pairs. They were beautiful and interesting and I might still be wearing them now if they hadn't slowly fallen apart one by one. It was probably India that finally won me around to gold. At some point, while I was wearing beige, I decided that gold didn't suit me. That may be true, I do tend towards the pasty and pallid, but I don't think camel really suited me either and I just powered straight ahead with that one. I would say that it is more likely that gold was out of fashion in the early-mid 00s. Whatever the cause, I only wore silver for years. But eventually yellow gold caught and kept my attention. It is very shiny after all. I received two gold rings for my 21st birthday and I have worn them together every day since then.

These days, although plenty of beautiful statement jewellery catches my eye, I find that all I really want to wear is a little interesting but relatively inconspicuous gold. It is probably another phase, my chic young urbanite phase (hah), but it has been nearly four years and it shows no sign of diminishing quite yet so I roll with it. I have three fixed points - the two rings and a small, emotionally significant necklace. That leaves a few fingers, my wrists and ears to play with. This is jewellery I wear almost every day, jewellery I live in.


Zoe and Morgan / Lasso Love Ring : This was also a birthday present and is also never removed but it lacks the permanence of my other two rings. I mean this quite literally. I love it and I've worn it every day for three or four years but I won't and can't wear it forever. It is gold fill and it is on its third iteration - I have had to send it back to the shop for replating and repair twice already. I own a couple of bits of Zoe & Morgan and I love their style, there's always a bunch of stuff on their site that I fancy, but it doesn't last. It falls apart and I get that they're making fashion jewellery not heritage jewellery but it is a pity. Luckily their customer service is really excellent.

Maria Francesca Pepe / Hoops with Spikes : I bought my first pair of these MFP earrings on eBay and wore them to death. Or, rather, I wore them until one came loose and fell out. I don't know how that happened since they have a good, tight clasp but accidents and all that. I lived without these earrings for a while and it was rough. They are perfect earrings, for me. They go with everything. They're gold and they're spiky but they're not too invasive. They're tough and a bit weird/unexpected but they're still relatively discreet. I don't want my jewellery to be pretty. I don't really want anything associated with me to be pretty. I appreciate pretty things but I don't identify with them and I don't want to wear them. R bought me a replacement pair of these earrings one Christmas and now I'm back to wearing them a handful of times each week. It is a great relief.

Dominic Jones : It makes me very happy that I own and can wear jewellery from Zoe & Morgan, MFP and Dominic Jones. These are jewellers with clear, specific styles/aesthetics that I really admire. I would happily wear barrels of each. I mean, I can't afford much of their jewellery full price but they each have some more affordable pieces and they all show up on eBay occasionally. Like the first pair of my MFP earrings, these were eBay and they appeal to the exact same part of me. They're gold and a bit sharp and not quite expected. They go with everything and I love them.

Ottoman Hands : Sometime, around when I was wearing v-necks and deciding that gold didn't suit me, I decided that hoop earrings didn't suit me. And now look - all three of my earrings are gold and hoop-adjacent. Suck it, sixteen year old me! You can't tell me what to do, you sensible young person who cares about what is flattering! I mean, I stand by your judgement, hoop earrings don't suit me (I presume it is something to do with my big round face? Circles emphasise my moon face?) but I find that I do not care. Also, small, hoop-ish things aren't quite so noticeable. These were a Christmas present from my soeur and I've worn them a lot in the last month. I think they go with my haircut. The stones complicate any lipstick decisions but they have a rough/unpolished tomboyishness that I enjoy.

Accessorize / Aztec Geo Triangle Ring : This was £10 from Accessorize! Everything about that statement is surprising. Obviously the extreme cheapness is surprising for any/all passable jewellery but, also, I don't have a particularly high opinion of Accessorize and I think this ring looks very Etsy/indie. It's super cute. Sure, the fake gold colouring wore off in about a fortnight of light wear and it is too big for the little finger that I'm wearing it on so I'll definitely lose it soon but it is very jolly. Fun origin story: this ring was purchased as part of a Christmas exchange. My grandparents very sweetly bought me two pairs of black S/M leggings and I managed to exchange them for a fine haul - this ring, a ponyhair leopard print clutch and a pair of socks covered in sloths! And the greatest present of all, of course, was their unwavering belief that I could fit into a sized S/M anything...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2014 in Films: Part 3, The Reaction - Hells Yes

Well, I am clapping myself on the back for even finishing this monster. If you managed to read Parts 1-2 please consider this your reward - films that I actually liked and even loved watching in 2014.

Actively Recommend*:
*These films are good, you should watch them and report back.
  • Searching for Sugar Man - Everyone has already recommended this. I'm a sucker for the BBC4 music doc and this satisfies those impulses. The music is beautiful.
  • Veep S1-2 - I liked Series 1, I liked Series 2 a lot. Armando Iannucci is the greatest. Not as funny as The Thick of It, I would argue, but softer and v enjoyable once you stop making comparisons.
  • Dreamgirls - I had never seen this! I don't know how I missed it. I think maybe at the time I ignored it as silly or boring or I was frustrated at Bey trying to be an actress? I don't know because it is clearly great and Bey is a fun pseudo-Diana Ross and Jennifer Hudson is amazing and the songs are great and the styling is great and what is not to like?
  • Emma (2009) - I love Romola Garai. I know there are people who hate her and I don't get it, she's lovely and she's plays interesting roles. I love Emma, it is my favourite Austen and one of my most favourite books, and I think this is a solid four hour BBC adaptation. Also, Jonny Lee Miller is a babe as Knightley.
  • Girls S1-3 - I'm not going to list all the problems with Girls. They exist and they have been discussed to the point of exhaustion. I will admit that I found Season 3 disappointing. Acknowledging that though, I really enjoyed Seasons 1-2. I gorged on Girls - I watched all three seasons in maybe two weeks. I stand by the show and Lena Dunham's talent.
  • In a World - Lake Bell writes/directs/stars/everythings in this film about a woman trying to make it in the movie voice over micro-industry. It's smart, it's fun, it's reasonable. It won't change your life but easy-watching, not-stupid, not-depressing, lady-centric films are hard to find and deserve a shout out. 
  • Safety Not Guaranteed - It is physically difficult for me to resist a film starring Jake Johnson and Aubrey Plaza. Their glorious respective network comedy performances have wormed their way into my heart and I am defenseless. I could not resist this film despite being both low key and pretty weird. I mean, those can be great qualities in a film but they can also be risky. I'm not sure everyone/anyone would agree with me but I enjoyed this odd nugget.

The British film cover for SNG is rubbish so here is the American cover
  • The Decoy Bride - This is not an exceptional film but, GOD LORD, there is a scandalous dearth of chick flicks available in this day and age. Come back chick flick, I miss you! And don't give me any of that Cecelia Ahern drivel, I want the full Meg Ryan. WHERE ARE THE MEG RYANS of the aughts and teens?? All I want is some snappy dialogue, a heroine I don't want to murder and a happy ending - is that too much to ask? Yes, there are some cute indie films with a splash of rom and a hint of com and they can be sweet and lovely but that is not what I want from a chick flick. I want silliness and some glossy unreality - I want (plausible) escapism and unlikely events. But there are only so many times you can re-watch Sleepless in Seattle and somehow The Decoy Bride passed me by at the time of release (2011). Perhaps I ignored it because I thought more and better chick flicks were around the corner. How wrong I was. The Decoy Bride might not have passed muster in the Golden Age of chick flicks but it does satisfy in a drought where even such minor treats are few and far between. The plot is besides the point but I like both David Tennant and Kelly McDonald and it is set on a Scottish island and whatever.
  • Rushmore - I am a Wes Anderson fan, whatever that might imply, but before seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel at the cinema I had to correct the gaps in my  knowledge of his early work. In 2014 I completed his directorial filmography and it was actually a really interesting experience. If your only experience of Anderson is Zissou (which I will happily admit that I loathed) or the fetishization of The Royal Tenenbaums on Tumblr then you may sneer but I enjoy a distinctive voice and I love his eye for detail. He is an aesthete and he got a bit carried away with The GBH (okay, a lot carried away) but it is great to see his style develop across films. Bottle Rocket and The GBH are very different but once you've watched everything in between you can see the connections and the progress very clearly. I don't think I have 'completed' any other directors - maybe I should? Rushmore is really and it is odd and stylized without being insane. I imagine it is the #1 for 'true Anderson-ites'. I enjoyed it a lot but it wouldn't be my top choice. For your delectation: #8 The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, #7 The Darjeeling Limited, #6 The Grand Budapest Hotel, #5 Bottle Rocket #4 Moonrise Kingdom, #3 The Royal Tenenbaums, #2 Rushmore, #1 Fantastic Mr Fox. Duh.
  • Mulan - I LOVE MULAN. Obviously this was a re-watch, obviously I can do all the songs. Beef, pork, chicken! Girls win wars, cross dressing and confused sexuality! All of my favourite things. Do I think, like Twelfth Night, that the ending is a bit of a let down? Yes. But, like Twelfth Night, I can ignore that in favour of all the fun you have in the middle.
  • Her - Everyone has already recommended this. But my personal stamp of approval makes all of the difference! Beautiful acting, beautiful soundtrack, beautiful colour palette, set design and costuming. The story, of a man falling in love with his iOS, is to close to reality to be called a dystopia but it also isn't really offered for judgement. It just happens and we understand it. I remember not loving the final third of the film but that doesn't stop it being great.

This is a beautiful cover. Spike Jonze's eye is inarguable.
  • Dallas Buyers Club - Everyone has already recommended this. I think lots of people are already over the McConaughaissance? I might be. But if you missed this first time round then it is more than worth watching. There are some representational issues but, generally speaking, I think we should make and watch all of the AIDS films. Warning: crying.
  • The Way Way Back - This was a rewatch and well deserved. I am very fond of this film. An impressively awkward teenage boy is forced to spend a summer in the Hamptons at his mother's awful new boyfriend's holiday home. He finds escape working at a poorly regulated waterpark. That's about it but it is kind and funny and everyone in it is charming. Except Steve Carrell, he's a grade A a-hole here and creepily good at it. Screw Foxcatcher - n.b. haven't seen it but whatever - you saw Carrell as a villain here first. Other great people in this film: Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Toni Collette. Alison Janney is AMAZING. It is just a lovely summery film that you can watch with anyone.
  • Bored to Death S1-2 - Buzzwords I do not generally enjoy: hipster; Brooklyn; writerly angst; man-child; whiny white boy. Still, perhaps BTD is the exception that proves the rule. It is very aware of its clichés and has fun poking at them. It's ridiculous and comic and often surreal and I enjoyed watching it. I am not very good at 'prestige TV' because I lack both stamina and the willingness to absorb 'serious drama' through the medium of television. I will read serious books, essays and the news - I reserve TV for mindless pleasure. BTD was fairly satisfying. I also retain a lot of residual fondness for Jonathan Ames, the writer, in the wake of his excellent dog observation.
  • Hercules - I LOVE HERCULES. Obviously this was a re-watch, obviously I can do all the songs. Who puts the glad in gladiator? Also, I love me some classical mythology. True talk, I took Latin at school and my favourite teacher let us watch Hercules twice a term, every term, for three years. Those were lessons well spent... Also, drowsing off to the sound of Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter read in Latin. Strange times.

Yesssss
  • Inside Llewyn Davis - Everyone has already recommended this. But my personal stamp of approval makes all of the difference! I think what is worth noting here is that I saw and admired ILD at the cinema but when we got the DVD it sat unwatched for a while because I wasn't sure if I felt up to it. In my head I had transmuted it into a dour, sad film and, yes, it is dour and sad in places but it's also funny and well paced and the music is amazing. Oscar Isaac is a dream and the film industry don't deserve him.
  • 20 Feet from Stardom - Everyone has already recommended this. A great documentary about backing singers. The music is, unsurprisingly, amazing and gave me goosebumps. They're babes, the lot of them.
  • We Are the Best! - Buzzwords I do generally enjoy: girls; adolescence; rage; Scandinavia; punk. WATB! totally delivers. Two angry 13 yr old Swedish school girls start a punk band, befriend a well behaved Christian girl and make a horrible, horrible noise. That's it. But what could be better?? This made me smile a lot.
  • The Lego Movie - You've probably seen it, you know it is great. Would I say that it is up there with the best of Pixar? I don't know, that's a big claim, but it is certainly an excellent piece of child/adult cinema. It is funny and imaginative and the attention to detail is insane. It definitely stood up to a re-watch. Also, if you did not enjoy The Dark Knight et al you will v much enjoy Lego Batman. Long may the Year(s) of Chris Pratt continue.
  • Chef - What an end of year delight. I put Chef on our list because it had a surprising cast for a little film and the posters were of a food truck. There was always going to be something for me to enjoy in a film with a food truck. But it was also sweet and funny and generally charming. There was tons of food porn but also American road trip porn. Father, son and sous chef drive around America making Cuban sandwiches and bonding. I have no particular fondness for Jon Favreau as an actor but he was fine and I enjoyed the supporting parts, of various sizes, for Sofia Vegara, Scarlett Johannson, Oliver Pratt and Robert Downey Jr. Also, the best/least grating integration of social media that I can remember. Just a v nice film that I should probably buy for myself because it will cheer me up when I'm sad.

Doesn't that look fun??

It is over. Now I can have a nap.

Friday, January 16, 2015

2014 in Films: Part 2, The Reaction - Noooo to Yeah?

Ok, so this got way out of hand... I mean, it was out of hand when I split what I thought was going to be one medium sized post into two long-ish posts but now that I'm splitting it into three giant posts... Well, this was not intentional. But apparently I can't shut up.

Here are the films I watched in 2014 that I loathed, the films that I thought I would/should like but didn't especially and the films that I thought were worth watching despite not wholeheartedly loving them.

Actual Garbage*:
*I am actively suggesting that you avoid these films. I watched plenty of bland films last year that I have no feelings about. These I aggressively dislike. I am taking a stand.
  • The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones - I actively love and defend both YA and fanfiction but this is the worst of both. Horrible clichés, predictable plotting and very clunky acting/dialogue. I haven't read the books and they've sold a packet so maybe they're great but, based on the film, I very much doubt they would be my cup of tea.
  • Now You See Me - Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson are two of my favourite actors. Zombieland is the greatest film. This, however, is straight trash. It is SUCH rubbish. I have nothing nice to say about it. I will not get those 116 minutes back.
  • About Time - Oh, Richard Curtis. I am disappointed. I have a high tolerance for romantic slush and I loved reading The Time Traveler's Wife as a thirteen year old but this film is too stupid.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Similarly, due in part to R and in part to fandom, I also have a relatively high tolerance for Marvel films these days. I am very fond of X-Men: First Class (the gayest mainstream superhero film?), there are some fun Ironman films, I am full subtext on Avengers. But Captain America is a franchise I can't get behind. The first film was awful, the second is also awful. And ridiculous. I don't care what you say, fandom! Garbage. Cap is boring and Seb Stan is a charisma vacuum. I like Anthony Mackie and I enjoyed the all too brief Cap/Tasha buddy cop moments but the film itself is just too dumb and predictable and ridiculous. Nope.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - See above. I don't mind the Spider-Man franchise but this film is so incoherent. I think Sony owns Spider-Man and they need to CHILL THEIR BOOTS. They have nothing to say. I love Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield and I love them together and I sat through this trash pile for their adorable chemistry but it was not enough. Yelling at the TV bad.
Crimes against ScarJo

CA:TWS - What have you done to ScarJo's body?? What is this insanity?

I Did Not Enjoy*:
*I don't have the confidence to say that these films are bad. I did not enjoy them at all but some of them have achieved critical and commercial success. I can see their charms if I squint but I can't like them. You might?
  • Half Nelson - I know this is very highly praised and Ryan Gosling is Ryan Gosling but, holy shit, this is depressing. The blurb or whatever review I read sold it as 'darkly comic' and it is NOT. It may be super real but it was too dark for me.
  • The Bling Ring - Sofia, I only want to love you. Why must you keep trying to drive me away? This film is so vapid and, yeah, maybe that's intentional but why would you want to inflict that on yourself for 90 minutes? Great great soundtrack and Emma Watson's moronic L.A. girl is kind of fun but the whole thing is a big waste of time.
  • Kick-Ass 2 - This is mostly disappointment. I loved the first film and was really looking forward to the sequel. Unfortunately it has none of the charms of the original. Sad times.
  • All the Real Girls - I can't remember who recommended this to me but I remember the earnestness of the recommendation. This is exactly why recommendations are dangerous things. Like Half Nelson, this is probably a great film if you enjoy being miserable but I don't. I mean, I enjoy a nice cathartic cry but unmediated grimness is no fun. This is probably a great picture of small town, rural America but it was a slog.
  • Drinking Buddies - Oh, mumblecore. I want to like you, I know I'm basically your target audience but... I just like plot. Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick are delightful human beings but nothing happens and everyone is miserable. Away with you, realness. I am surrounded by realness and it is no more interesting on film than it is IRL.
  • Frozen - Why does everyone love Frozen?? I genuinely do not understand. This is not a good film. And I say that as a lover of children's films, musicals and Pixar. Stoopid.
  • What a Way to Go! - Tumblr gave me unrealistic expectations of this film. I thought it would be all pink Shirley Maclaine goodness. I thought it would be fun and fluffy. It was long and rather wearing and not the good kind (?) of maniacal.
  • They Came Together - Amy, why?? Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Max Greenfield, Ed Helms... The list of great people in this film is impressive, I don't understand how it is so embarrassing and un-funny. It parodies outdated romcom tropes but it doesn't even do that well. I feel betrayed.
Worthwhile*:
*There were things I liked about these films and I think they should be watched. That is not a ringing endorsement but I'm glad they are out there.
  • Frances Ha - I feel like I reference Greta Gerwig often. I really like her, I think she's a great actor/writer/director and I think it is awesome that she is able to produce authentic, truthful seeming work. I am 100% on board with smart women making art about their experiences. That said, I found 80 minutes of black & white urbanite moping a little wearing. I'm glad it exists though!
  • Liberal Arts - Josh Radnor's character is kind of sleazy and Elizabeth Olsen's character is a little MPDG but she is so beautiful and warm. Alison Janney is always excellent and Zac Efron has a great cameo (surprising, I know). This film is a bit white dude emotional crisis but it is quite sweet in a quiet way.
  • Only Lovers Left Alive - OLLA is so silly and pointless! It is trying so hard to be cool! So hard. Vampires, Morocco, rock'n'roll, man. But also Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton hanging out and looking beautiful. They are inherently cool, even when Jim Jarmusch is being ridiculous, and they're fun to watch.
  • Enough Said - Tavi! You can do anything. What a hero. This is mumblecore I can get on board with, more or less. Ditto Liberal Arts actually. I only need a little plot, just a little, and if you're going to let actors improvise make sure that they have interesting things to say. Mumblecore is a bit of a meaningless category really and I'm not convinced I'm using the term right but these films have clear things in common whether you want to put a name on that or not. This is quite middle aged but the performances are lovely.
You can bite my neck. Both of you.

OLLA - Look at us brood, we are so broody, you could cut yourself on our cheekbones

Next up, the films I actually legit loved!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2014 in Films: Part 1, The Overview

I don't understand why all the 'Best of 2014' lists are written and posted in early December. Why write off December like that? I mean, sure, it is cold and grey and most of us are on the long holiday-free slog to Christmas and need cheering up... But then you get gifts and time off to consume and enjoy 2014's cultural produce. I suppose that all the lists give you a grand selection of books and films and music to enjoy over your holidays but they're missing a trick in terms of a full and conclusive retrospective. A fair amount was read/watched/eaten in the last three weeks of December that should be remembered as part of 2014 rather than being swept under the seasonal carpet.

That said, I'm going to consider 'Films of 2014' through the lens of our Lovefilm rental list which is itself pretty narrow. We're one of the seven households in the UK that probably still has a hard copy Lovefilm subscription and I highly enjoy it. In this day and age it somehow already seems old-fashioned to have DVDs delivered but I think they're an excellent and necessary supplement to streaming. We have Lovefilm Instant/Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix subscriptions and I love streaming - we have watched eight series of the American Office this year on streaming and they have been glorious. Streaming is vast and convenient but, to be truthful, I watch almost exclusively drivel online. There are exceptions, I can think of The Office and, of course, Transparent, but mostly I watch trash like Step Up 4: The Uppiest on Netflix while I do the washing up. I find it difficult to psych myself up to watch anything challenging or complicated on streaming. My applause and disbelief to those of you watching subtitles or documentaries on streaming, you are a better person than me.

Luckily (for my self-esteem and non-existent reputation) I can't find the place on Instant or Netflix that records the films and TV that I have streamed in 2014. It would, no doubt, be undignified. I mean, it is undignified to be unable to find a website page that I'm sure must exist but I'm writing this on Blogspot - clearly I make no claim to technical expertise. Of course, there is plenty of rubbish on our postal list (which I could find and you have below) but there are some great films mixed in too. I haven't edited this list because I think recommendations are most relevant within context. For the most part, you are best off avoiding recommendations from people with directly opposing taste to you. Yes, it is good to be pushed and stretched and whathaveyou but if you hate most of the films I've loved and love most of the films I've hated then you're unlikely to get much out of my other favourites. That's fine, the internet is a big place and there are many films. Also, I don't wish to sugar coat my life - I make no pretensions to highbrow cinematic taste. I watch great films, crap films, stunningly mundane films. I watch big shiny franchises and as well as indie films. I cohabit with a boy so I watch a lot of superhero films. Such is life. I don't really trust people who only watch clever, brilliant films. Perhaps they exist, perhaps the bloggers whose lives are really just all peonies and Parisian balconies exist, the world contains multitudes. But, if they do exist, surely they are rather two dimensional if smart and sophisticated?

All of the films/DVDs I watched in 2014*:
*Excluding streaming, TV, the cinema and anything else you can think of.
**At a very rough guess I might estimate that these account for 2/3 of my total viewing.
***Also, as will soon become apparent, these are not 2014 releases because no one lives like that.

Searching for Sugar Man
Half Nelson
Veep S1-2
The Bling Ring
Monsters University
The Internship
Dreamgirls
Pacific Rim
Admission
Anastasia
Kiki's Delivery Service
Frances Ha
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
Emma (2009)
Girls S1-3
Liberal Arts
The Mortal Instruments
Kick-Ass 2
In a World
Safety Not Guaranteed
Girl Most Likely...
Parks and Recreation S4
All the Real Girls
Drinking Buddies
How I Live Now
The To Do List
Now You See Me
Wolf Children
Bottle Rocket
The Decoy Bride
Rushmore
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
About Time
Before Sunrise
That Awkward Moment
Mulan
Her
Dallas Buyers Club
The World's End
Catching Fire
The Way Way Back
Kill Your Darlings
Bored to Death S1-2
Hercules
Cuban Fury
Delivery Man
Frozen
What a Way to Go!
Inside Llewyn Davis
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Two Faces of January
20 Feet from Stardom
We Are the Best!
Tracks
Maleficent
Only Lovers Left Alive
Enough Said
What Maisie Knew
Divergent
The Lego Movie
Chef
They Came Together
Begin Again
10 Years: The Reunion
Carrie (2014)
22 Jump Street
Bad Neighbours

Thoughts, recommendations and anti-recommendations to follow...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Sunday Book: The Vanishers - Heidi Julavits

Happy new year, one and all. I have some seasonally appropriate posts in the pipes (2014 in Books and Films at the least) but they are taking forever to write because there were a lot of both and I didn't keep on top of them. I let them pile up into a giant heap of stress and blurred memories. I completely forgot to even try and make any resolutions this year and I'm fine with that but a blog resolution right here, right now (already basically formulated in my previous post): regularity. Little and often. It may not be as thorough as I would like but better a slight record than no record? I will try at least.

In the spirit of that resolution… The first book I finished in 2015 was The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits. I don’t have an elegant essay to write about this odd novel (as if I ever do!) but it was deeply weird and interesting and I want to acknowledge both the book itself and my dalliance with it. I didn't love nor, I think, did I fully understand it but a lot of its ideas will be bouncing around my head for a while. There were mother/daughter relationships, psychic attacks and fossilized geodes of meat. There was illness, mental and physical, suicide and grief. The alternate vicious competitiveness and otherworldly woolliness of academics made me smile. People vanish and manipulate each other and undergo drastic facial surgery to embody the dead. Dark, surreal pornography may or may not be art. There are multiple mysteries and detectives with their own agenda. Really, it's very strange.

I wouldn't say that it is the main psychological/philosophical drive of the novel but, perhaps because it is something I have been thinking about lately, I found it's consideration of vampirism and memory, or the vampirism of memory, particularly interesting. How we mine our memories for material, experience, emotional heft and at what cost. Julavits discusses 'overrides' in terms of computer programming and method acting - how we overlay and destroy memories, how we risk sucking them dry of meaning or even existence. I suspect it is something that most writers think about a lot. I certainly do. Where do you draw the line, what do you write about, what is left? It felt good to encounter those concerns explicitly.


(Gorgeous cover by Emily Mahon)

"Julavits is at her acrobatically linguistic best here. Nearly every page contains a showstopping description or insight. [...] Julia’s narrative voice is superb. Funny, self-deprecating, exquisitely attuned, she speaks as if the entire acreage of her skin were a listening device. Nothing is lost on her, and she’s as unsparing about herself as she is of those around her. This pointed, fragile honesty makes her a winsome heroine, even in the most far-fetched of circumstances. [...] While the language remains vivid, its satisfactions are overwhelmed by the confusion of the overdetermined plot. Regrettably, “The Vanishers” becomes a victim of its own dizzying coincidences." Cristina Garcia - NYT

"Ms Julavits is a keen observer of the high drama of very smart and very anxious people. An evocative writer, she conjures up the supernatural in a way that feels plausible, and she knows just how to convey the shifting darkness of a forest at night. Occasionally a metaphor is so lavish that it slides away from the story, such as “a filament of drool catching the gray New Hampshire light…making her look as though she were seeping mercury from the mouth.” But this lends the novel a heightened awareness, a haunting Sylvia Plath-like resonance." The Economist

To Read List: Women in Clothes. This 2014 kind-of-anthology about women and clothes (no way) and dressing and fashion and possessions and emotions, the whole messy bundle, was already on my To Read List. I love women, I love clothes, I love when real consideration is given to the small choices that make up our days. I am very interested in Sheila Heti, particularly having read HSAPB?, and I've enjoyed my fleeting interactions with Leanne Shapton's art online. Heidi Julavits makes up their trio and is a founding editor at The Believer. The Vanishers certainly demonstrates that she has weird, deep, dark thoughts and an eye for detail - I can't wait to read her take on 'fashion'.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Food Reviewed: The Gardener's Cottage

I have let my Food Reviewed tag totally lapse and I regret my laziness. I have eaten out A LOT this year but when asked recently about my favourite dish I blanked. Really, I regret my poor memory and recall - if there was less of an active need for me to record my experiences there might be less of a sense of disappointment when I failed to do so. It is a strain to remember much beyond a week and although, if asked, I could probably tell you exactly what I ordered at the Modern Pantry that time I would struggle to spontaneously name it as a restaurant I ate at in 2014. Food is the greatest and it is probably my greatest luxury expenditure (I know that food is a right and a necessity, I am talking about restaurants and fancy baked goods here) and, as such, it is sad that I don't have a better record of food eaten and enjoyed. I have a book book and a Lovefilm watch list (2014 highlights to come) but I don't have an equivalent for food. I am going to try and remedy this in 2015. Starting now. Best foot forward and all that.

R and I recently spent a long weekend in Edinburgh and it was bliss. Edinburgh is a wonderful city in its own right but it is also a place where I have only ever been happy and that is a rare luxury. That sounds melodramatic, I suppose, but it is true. Home is home and I am very fond of Bristol and there are things I love about London but real life leaves scars. Home is where I cried snotty tears of adolescent heartbreak, Bristol is where I endured my own inadequacies and panicked about deadlines and grade boundaries and read books that I hated, London is where nobody paid or valued me and I couldn't afford anything and I learnt that my real life, post-recession career would not be what I had grown up to expect. Besides, London is not a city that can be loved in its entirety. Not by me. It is too big and expensive and crowded and impersonal. London is a city to be loved in villages and corners, food and art exhibitions, if it is to be loved at all. I have never studied or worked or lived in Edinburgh but I have spent enough time there to know it a little. I can objectively and subjectively say that it is lovely and we stayed, on this latest visit, in a really beautiful Airbnb.

We re-visited my favourite restaurant in Edinburgh and probably one of my favourite restaurants anywhere, The Gardener's Cottage. Double thumbs up for location. The name of the restaurant isn't ironic or designed to capture a mood - this is a Victorian gardener's cottage. A tiny bungalow in a city park into which they have managed to cram two rooms of seating and a tiny kitchen. We sat at a shared table and I was practically in my neighbour's lap. Sometimes I get cross about London's over-enthusiasm for shoving too many people into too little space but I was on holiday and I felt generous towards the world. Our neighbours were definitely not having as much fun as us but it couldn't have been the menu and although we were happy we weren't rowdy or disruptive. I got the impression they didn't know each other very well and were struggling to make conversation. They didn't linger despite ordering the full set menu. We managed to draw lunch out over about three and a half lovely hours. I think that, quite quickly, the staff realised that we were in no hurry and de-prioritised us which suited us fine. Courses came at a leisurely pace and we cuddled our red wine. To say that time is a luxury is a modern cliché but it is hard to beat a very long lunch when you have good company and nowhere particular to be.

The food at the Gardener's Cottage is local and seasonal without being aggressively trendy or sacrificing taste or elegance. There is a lot of beautiful food being grown and reared in Scotland and the Gardener's Cottage endeavours to make the most of those resources in thoughtful and delicious ways. My meal was everything you could want on a crisp December day - it was warm and rich and wintery without being overwhelming. It was a testament to why eating seasonally can be such a pleasure as well as a good deed, because what grows in any given season suits that season. Obviously there could be a thousand caveats to that statement but I don't want strawberries and salad in midwinter, I want root vegetables and bitter greens. I want foods that relish being cooked long and slow so the heat of the hob or the oven seeps out of the kitchen.

My love of sweet, carby squashes and the skill of the chefs trumped my general dislike of pumpkin and I ate it twice in one meal and it was delicious on both plates and totally different. I had pumpkin and gingerbread agnolotti (indistinguishable, as far as I can see, from ravioli but excellent nonetheless) which was creamy and spiced and sweet but not overly so. The crumbled gingerbread was crunchy and the sauce was satiny and I nobly resisted licking the plate because, whatever my mother may say, I do occasionally heed dining propriety. Mallard followed, accompanied by a plethora of roasted carrots and beetroots and potatoes, and, I think, roasted hazelnuts. Goddamn, roasted hazelnuts are a fine addition to a savoury dish. They are a fine addition to a sweet dish too. I would never pick hazelnuts as my favourite nut (a very highly contested field - the salted almond and pistachio duke it out for top snack nut, I love a cashew and I eat large quantities of peanut butter daily) but they really do enliven and perfect other foods. Also, beetroots. I came late to beetroots because a cold, boiled, vinegary beetroot is a disgusting thing but roast them until their earthy sweetness comes to the fore and they are all depth and gorgeous fuchsia joy. I have yet to cook one myself without ending up looking like a blood crazed murderer and ruining whatever I'm wearing but one day...

Pudding was smoked pumpkin cake with sea buckthorn ice cream and, I think, yoghurt cream. I don't remember much about the cake beyond a wave of pleasure and an enjoyable stickiness. It was warm and light and not disappointing in the way that cake sometimes can be. I baked many many cakes as a child and I love cake but I am only interested in it very fresh and still echoing the heat of the oven. By the time a cake has achieved room temperature I have generally lost interest. I very rarely order cake when I am out and about because slightly stale cake is both horribly common and horribly horrible. I can't guarantee that my pumpkin cake was fresh from the oven or just judiciously reheated but, if the latter, it was well done. The sea buckthorn ice cream remains the most vivid element. It was delicate and surprisingly citric. I want to say there was a slight salinity to it but I might be misremembering, romanticising, imagining windswept sea paths. It was certainly a lovely foil to the sweetness of the cake.

We swirled the last of the wine around our glasses and decided, sensibly, that we were too full for cheese or coffee. I don't really understand coffee at the end of a meal. It buys you more time but it wipes out everything you ate before it and shatters the delightfully soporific effects of a warm room and an excess of food. I suppose if you have strenuous activities to return to that might be desirable but I try and avoid such unpleasantness. Besides, the Gardener's Cottage needed us to leave - we had outstayed our welcome, there was a dinner shift to prepare. I can accept that, they did right by us food and service-wise and I am fond and grateful.

It was already dark by the time we left the restaurant. Not quite night time but well past dusk. The air was sharp and it wormed past the best intentioned scarves and gloves and socks, biting at bone; ankles, wrists, clavicles. I don't like being cold, I like to be hot all the time, wrapped in thick duvets or Sicilian sun, but there is something so particular and renewing about the contrast. That moment where you step out and everything is fresh and shocking, before you register the discomfort. It is tempting to write that you feel reborn but I don't think it is quite what I mean, it just sounds good, it is an echo of someone else's elegant sentiment. I do not wish to be insincere. Anne Carson write so perfectly about cold winds and I just want to say that it is nice to be on holiday and walking out of a lovely restaurant where you gorged yourself on lovely food and into a Scottish winter night. Oh well, any opportunity to link to The Glass Essay.

Edinburgh, as ever, was a pleasure; the Gardener's Cottage was a pleasure. We ate well. I'm not sure if I ate my favourite dish of 2014 over the course of that Friday lunch but it was certainly one of my favourite meals. And it is here on my blog and now I can't forget it.