Right, where was I before I so rudely interrupted myself:
I’m kind of famous for having huge gaps in my knowledge of cinema. I preferred books, and my own company, to films growing up, so there are loads of the cultural touchstones of my youth that I haven’t yet seen – and as for the “classic” era of cinema, long before my time? I wouldn’t know where to begin. While people I love have tried to introduce me to the culture that is the most precious, and was the most formative, to them, I tire quickly of dated-looking scenarios, and special effects. Plus, we are so spoiled by a surfeit of must-see television and film! My I’ll get around to this, one day list is now just about long enough to see me through until death, and back again.
Yes, what I’m trying to tell you is that I’m 35 years old, and I still haven’t seen Grease all the way through.
At the turn of the year, I started asking myself serious questions about my use, or lack thereof, of my Cineworld Unlimited card. As the name implies, the card allows you to see as many films as you like for an ever-increasing monthly fee. I mean, the cinema is so expensive these days that it pays for itself if you use it twice a month, but I wasn’t even doing that – but cancelling meant giving up the hefty discount on cinema snacks you get once you’ve been a member for longer than a year. And I really didn’t want to lose that discount.
So, I made a pledge with myself. Two cinema trips a month Lis, or you’re cancelling the card.
And that’s the story of how, this year, for the very first time, I’d seen all but one of the films that were up for Best Picture at the Oscars. So I can tell you categorically that the best one did not win.
I think I already told you about my little cinema dates with myself: the lazy joy of going out in no make-up and comfortable clothes; the pleasure of my own company; the delight of treating myself to all my favourite snacks. Plus, as I learned in March in particular, I’ve become almost cinematic myself recently with the extent to which I emote when I enjoy a film. Ain’t nobody wants to sit next to a messy crier.
Black Panther (2018): I never had myself down as a fan of car chases, but (as already alluded to) Black Panther featured the finest one I’d seen since Baby Driver. Never mind the big, superhero movie appropriate set-pieces though: thanks to Ryan Coogler’s skilful direction, even the one-on-one fight scenes carried just as much edge-of-your-seat tension. Sure, there was a bit too much zen samurai communing-with-the-ancestors woo-woo stuff for my tastes, but that’s par for the course for a comic book franchise – and a trade I’m willing to make to see more of a world as fresh, and as brilliant, and as full of such fantastic performances (Letitia Wright’s delightful, super-smart Princess Shuri in particular) as Marvel’s Wakanda. The only bum notes I heard were down to Martin Freeman’s unnecessary American accent. ****
I, Tonya (2017): I was, I think, 12 at the time of the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal (or “the incident”, as it is referred to by Margot Robbie’s fictionalised Harding and her ex-husband in the series of after-the-fact interviews that feed into a biopic-style main narrative). I was also about as interested in The Sports as I am right now, so I have little to no opinion on the historical events, or the truth of writer Steven Rogers or director Craig Gillespie’s portrayals of them. Indeed, I, Tonya is a film that has plenty to say about unreliable narrators and the nature of truth – but here’s the thing: regardless of the objective “truth” of it, I struggle to see the comedy in watching a woman have the crap kicked out of her until the point that she loses everything that she worked for, through her own actions or not. So I struggle to recommend this. ***
Lady Bird (2017): Over-emoting in the cinema, pt. 1: the Messy Tears edition. Greta Gerwig’s debut as writer and sole director wasn’t… really about anything, but this fellow centre-of-her-own-universe protagonist girl thought it one of the most beautiful, and truest, things she had ever seen. A must-see, for anybody else for whom gently affectionate, non-mocking Catholic jokes are the funniest (see also: Derry Girls), and who loves her mum. *****
Game Night (2018): Over-emoting in the cinema, pt. 2: the Literally Shrieking with Laughter edition. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams – plus bonus Lamorne Morris (Winston of New Girl fame) – are excellent as the competitive couple whose murder mystery evening goes bigger than expected on the “murder” – although, does Jason Bateman just play the same character in absolutely everything? ****
The X-Files, season 11 (Channel 5): As previously alluded, I really enjoyed this bonus season of my favourite show. And yet, like IndieWire’s Liz Miller (whose reviews have been giving me life all season), I also desperately hope that this is the end, and that there isn’t some sort of Gillian Anderson-less season 12 in our future. Why? Because I have loved these characters, sometimes more than members of my own family, since I was 13 years old, and as much as I have adored eight out of ten episodes of properly classic on-screen banter – and Anderson trolling us all relentlessly on Twitter once a week – the “mythology” is an absolute trash fire. I mean, I’ll keep watching regardless, because unconditional love is getting your heart battered by a TV show on the reg. But “more than impossible”… god. ***
Jessica Jones, season 2 (Netflix): The idea behind these posts is short, spoiler-free reviews, but season 2 of the best Marvel franchise (don’t @ me) was packed with so many, properly unexpected, twists that I have no idea how to do the usual three lines. So that, plus Krysten Ritter’s continually incredible ability to sell the titular character’s strength, pain and vulnerability, were big ticks in favour of this eagerly-anticipated (by me) second season. The crosses? Um. Come find me afterwards and let’s have a chat. ***
Search Party, season 2 (All 4): Hey, did you watch the first season of Alia Shawkat’s black-comedy drama about four deeply unpleasant people’s quest to track down a missing classmate and think god, this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen but I can’t stop watching? Guess what? IT GETS EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS. Not for everyone – see “four deeply unpleasant people” – but if it is for you, you too will become attached to your best friend’s sofa and do five episodes without so much as a toilet break. ****
Santa Clarita Diet, season 2 (Netflix): Another one that’s not for everyone, I guess; particularly those eating their dinner as it can get gruesome-with-a-capital-G. But every so often, a show or a movie comes along that perfectly taps into mine and Stringer’s wicked senses of humour, and it’s even better when it co-stars Justified’s Timothy Oliphant. He and Drew Barrymore appear to be having the times of their lives as the nice, suburban, middle-class couple whose lives are turned upside down when she develops a taste for human flesh, and long may it continue. ****
Not enough people are talking about how heinously brilliant Santa Clarita Diet season 2 is. pic.twitter.com/hB2eJvRK0V
— Lisa-Marie Ferla (@lastyearsgirl_) March 31, 2018
Caitlin Doughty – Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, & Other Lessons From the Crematorium (2014): It’s not so much the concept of death that terrifies me as the concept of… being dead. Regardless, death – and the customs, traditions and variations thereof which surround it – is a topic I find fascinating, and nobody handles it more sensitively, grippingly and entertainingly than Caitlin Doughty of the Ask a Mortician YouTube channel. Her first book combines memoir, from early life to first “death industry” job at a San Francisco crematory, with painstakingly researched detail – and is much more fun than that makes it sound. ****
SO much good new music this month. Rather than bog down this post with a load of YouTube embeds, here’s a wee Spotify playlist of my favourites. “Before We Were Together”, from Margaret Glaspy’s surprise Born Yesterday EP, finds one of my favourite contemporary songwriters in sparkling, acerbic form; and Australian trio Camp Cope might just be your new favourite band. I don’t have the new Hinds album yet, but “The Club” is enough for me to know I’ll love it as much as I did their debut; and “Eureka”, which dropped in time for the Hold Steady’s London shows, is all the buzzing guitar and fizzy wordplay I love from my favourite band.
Martha Ffion is Glasgow-based, so all the more reason to get excited about her debut album Sunday Best; as is The Great Albatross, whose debut album was released on vinyl by my favourite record shop LP Records last year. Lavender, the new album from Half Waif (Nandi Rose Plunkett, sometimes of Pinegrove) isn’t out until later this month, but since my favourite song got the pre-release “focus track” treatment it sneaks onto this playlist, too.
The Hold Steady, Scott Hutchison @ Electric Ballroom, London, 9th March: It turns out six-piece Hold Steady is the best Hold Steady, but when it’s been this long since you’ve seen your favourite band any combination is good to see back in the bar band. Sheer joy in every song, old friends down the front, and a delight that still hasn’t quite faded. I wish I could see them every week.
Daylight Music with Astrid Williamson, Carmen Souza, Andy Citawarman @ Union Chapel, London, 10th March: London’s best-kept secret – although not, surely, to readers of this blog. Tea, cake and delightful music in a North London working church/award-winning music venue, in the rare company of two of my very best friends. Carmen Souza in particular was a delight, teasing singalongs out of a not-yet-warmed-up early afternoon crowd.
Monstrous Regiment’s The Bible Launch @ Lighthouse Books, Edinburgh, 22nd March
Spoiler alert: none of these things happened when I read an essay in public about being bisexual for the first time, either. Action shot by Hannah Killoh; and you can buy the book from Monstrous Regiment.
- The Lottery Hackers – the fascinating story of the Midwestern pensioner who figured out how to game the state lottery (Huffington Post);
- Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska revisited (Pitchfork);
- Anne T Donahue on using professional jealousy to figure out what you really want (Flare);
- 6 Minutes and 20 Seconds (Longreads)…
- …and just about everything the brilliantly sassy Chloe has ever posted on her blog The Little Plum.
- WhatsApp-ing my sister while packing for a flight she had no idea I was about to take;
- Morrisson’s white peach, mango and passion fruit juice;
- familiar faces down the front – particularly when they recognise your name from your blog!
- finding great-fitting, great-looking jeans – for £13 in Primark;
- chatting feminism, journalism and yourself as your niche with Laura for an International Women’s Day special of her One Cocktail at a Time podcast;
- banana hotcakes with Charlotte on a Lenten Sunday at Potluck;
- re-gaining all my Plants vs Zombies achievements three years after accidentally wiping my phone.