The Readlist: February 2017

9781780226088Going Off Alarming by Danny Baker

Baker’s initial memoir, Going To Sea In A Sieve, was by far my favourite non-fiction read of 2016. His completely madcap life, his brushes with celebrity, his storytelling all came together to form the perfect autobiography and I feared all others I read would pale in comparison from then on. How then would Baker’s second memoir fare?

It’s not as good – that’s a kind of given – but it doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. The first dealt mainly with his early life up to his mid-twenties or so, and featured some quite amazing anecdotes. The best stories spring to mind straight away of course so there was always going to be a ‘runt of the litter’ element to book ii. A little wanky in places, but that’s a given.

I actually went to see Baker’s stage show this month, coinciding with my reading of Going Off Alarming. He repeated a lot of the anecdotes within it on stage (more from book ii than i) which meant they lost their sparkle a little given I had read the punchline just days before, but I only have myself to blame there. I was intrigued to see how he presented himself on stage – as one of the youngest people in the audience, I am of course not as culturally of him as those aged 35+. I’ve never really seen anything he’s been involved with and, to be honest, he always came across as a little up himself. Viewing him on stage though, he’s just honest about his bizarre 20170401_202744-01success – his frankness and vivacity and knowledge that he has talent and is watchable is so alien to me that I think that’s what must have made me think he was a little obnoxious previously. Book iii is in the works (delayed!) and is apparently more football focused. A shame for me, I wasn’t keen on the football elements in book ii… tales of his career in the media were obviously more interesting to me, but I’ll inevitably read book iii anyway.*

Baker was more than willing to meet with anyone and sign anything post-show even with his Radio 5Live show mere hours away. He signed Going Off Alarming for me…

Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin

I’ve waxed lyrical about the little known Edmund Crispin novels many times before on this blog. This was the final one in my collection to read – there are others but annoyingly, their covers won’t match those of the collection. I will have to bite the match and order them though!

This tale follows the classic Crispin dynamic – Gervase Fen is temporarily in a setting, we meet the characters, there’s a murder and the plot proceeds over the course of little over 48 hours. These are jam packed crime novels and much like Shakespeare’s plays, confine the story to one broad setting and a fairly short period of time. Broadly it’s more of the same good stuff, great writing, wit and descriptions. The actual wrap up of this particular plot is a little convoluted. You can understand it broadly, but the necessity for such a long ‘this is how it happened’ conversation section at the end probably should point towards there being a few too many unnecessary elements added in.

Long Reads & Articles

Direction, One This is lengthy but a great read – it’s a write up of a talk given at a tech conference about what the writer learnt within the One Direction fandom and the power that a new generation of teenage girls hold and should, but often don’t, utilise to its full potential going forward as adults.

Strike A Pose If you’re an active Twitter user you’ve probably seen a whole load of Teen Vogue stuff in your timeline even if, like me, you don’t follow them or follow a whole bunch of teenage girls either. And yet, their reach is increasing at a rapid rate with a new focus on politics and cultural affairs with an ever switched-on and connected teenage audience. This is the story of the changes and Teen Vogue’s increasing importance.

Mysteri DeatH Subterfuge. Death. Russians. Americans. Real life.

Flung Do you remember Fling? It was ‘big’ for a while; I downloaded it and deleted it pretty soon after. This is the story of how a tech start-up becomes an overnight success, struggles to keep on top of it’s problems its sycophantic CEO and collapses. Notable line:

He swore at his father before hurling a partially-open Pret a Manger baguette in his direction. The baguette, believed to be prosciutto ham, narrowly missed and collided with a glass window above his head.

What more could you want?

*P.S if you’ve read Going Off Alarming and are still wondering who the nameless celebrity is in one of his anecdotes, Baker accidentally let slip on stage… initials (stage ones anyway) are HH. I’ll let you ponder.

Advertisements

The Watchlist: February 2017

Quite a light Watchlist this month. I know February is the shortest month but that’s not really an excuse – I just happened to have one of my cultural lulls.

Television

The Moorside

A few months ago there was a thing doing the rounds on Twitter: what was the first news story you remember? For me, I’ve an awareness of Dr David Kelly’s suicide back in 2003, the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, the looting of the MSC Napoli in 2006, the Securitas depot heist (which I was fascinated by) also in 2006 and of all things, Dr Martens going into administration in 2003. Not all exactly major stories but those are the ones I can remember from being under the age of 10.

A lot of people around my age, however, were stating the Shannon Matthews case from early 2008 as one of their strongest news memories. I had no recollection of it whatsoever and had to ‘do a Google’. It still rang no bells. I’ve no idea what I was up to in Feb 2008 but clearly I wasn’t paying that much attention, even though I “read” the newspaper every afternoon after school religiously between the ages of seven and fourteen.

This drama based on the circumstances surrounding Shannon’s ‘disappearance’ was superb, a really great period piece and, from what I can gather, incredibly true to real life events. Hell, the casting and costumes were outstanding too – compare and contrast the genuine protagonists in the saga with the drama cast and you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which. At no point did the version of events appear over-dramatised either, which is worth congratulating. If this was a Channel 5 drama (do they even still do them?) I imagine it would have had a very different feel.

Further Back In Time For Dinner

Words cannot describe my love for this programme. Casting really hit the jackpot when they found the Robshaw family. We first met them a couple of years ago when they time-travelled from the 1950s to the 1990s, exploring family life through cuisine; there was a subsequent Christmas special exploring the festivities through the ages and when I had accepted that I’d never see them again* – up they pop! This time they’re heading back to the start of the 20th Century, travelling from 1900 to 1949. It’s an absolute treat to watch – and there’s a new ‘character’ too. It’s fair to say the Robshaws are middle-class** and given the period they’re travelling through they’d have a maid so up pops Debbie! Representing the working class, Debbie’s a Northern lass who represents the change in fortunes for women through their expanded roles in WWI and WWII, their liberation, expanded horizons and gaining of the vote.

I assume this will be the last time we see the Robshaws but I desperately hope it isn’t. Rochelle is an icon for the ages.

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-23-40-31

*Back In Time For The Weekend, charting leisure activities through the ages, tried so desperately to replicate the success but the family just weren’t as great as the Robshaws.

**it was pointed out during the series that tracking working class diets and advances sadly makes less interesting television because there aren’t that many changes. Fair enough.

The Tracey Ullman Show

You wait for a half-decent impressionists show on the BBC and then two come along at once.* There seems to be a dirth of comedy sketch shows these days after they bred like rabbits again in the mid-00s, but if there was a venn diagram of sketch + impressions, the Tracey Ullman Show would be bang in the middle. I enjoyed S1 having barely been aware of Ullman’s work up to now, and S2 seems to have been commissioned and made surprisingly quickly – or possibly S1 was just on the back burner, made but not-aired for a while.

Obviously with any show of this nature there are weaker and stronger characters, but Ullman really does deliver with aplomb. Her Adele when speaking may not be as great as Robinson’s in The Agency but Ullman has a trick up her sleeve: each episode features one or two sung sketches and these are superb. The lyrics are great, the cinematography is great – it all looks the part and really sets it apart from other comedy series of a similar ilk, I’d say. Enjoyable half hours, get on them.

*the other being Morgana Robinson’s The Agency from a few months ago

Grandma's HouseGrandma’s House S2

Whenever I’m in a cultural lull (or indeed a general life lull) I often return to an old favourite. I tell myself that I’ll only watch the one episode or, if I am going to watch more than one, I’ll space it out over a period of ten days. Once again that didn’t prove true here – I rewatched S2 over a couple of days. Grandma’s House S2 has the aura of being an improvement on the first. Some people didn’t like S1 and I’m not sure they’d necessarily change their mind with S2 but it remains understated, slightly plodding and with a great amount of pathos. The situations seem somehow funnier even though their appears to be less of ‘them’ than in S1. I suppose that’s based around Simon now living at Grandma’s house, rather than relying on people to pop round at a similar time. The characters are once again as incredibly well perceived as S1 and delivered as impeccably (Sam Spiro tho!). A must watch, I’d recommend it to anyone.

netflix-original-abstract-the-art-of-designAbstract

Netflix, for all its faults, does like surprises and drops shows out of nowhere. Also, to its credit, it invests in things other than just drama and comedy shows. Chef’s Table has had rave reviews for years, for example. The latest documentary series is called Abstract and focuses on various different elements of ‘design’, be it interior, graphic, illustration etc. Each episode focuses on one designer in that field and often someone at the top of their game. Not necessarily someone you’re aware of, but you come away almost in awe of their work and what they can achieve. They’re lovingly crafted episodes featuring great animations and interspersed with the designers work, interviews and shots following them in everyday life. 45 minutes long, a pleasure to sit through, very relaxing and engrossing at the same time. If you need an in – start with the graphic or illustration ones.

SS-GB

Sorry, what was that? Can you speak up, I can’t quite hear you… oh, doesn’t matter, it wasn’t worth listening to anyway.

SS-GB is the Beeb’s big new Sunday evening drama set in the alternate universe where the Nazis won the Battle of Britain in WWII and occupy the country. There’s been a lot of comparisons in the press to Amazon’s The Man In The High Castle as you’d imagine (something, months later, I still need to get round to watching after reading the original novel last year). This should be right up my street but there’s something about it that makes it difficult to get into or care about. With any drama like this, you have to power through the first episode – you don’t know the characters, you don’t know the situation and it was just about watchable (bar the complaints of mumbling. Personally, I didn’t notice but everything was very softly spoken, as you’d imagine give it’s a show about war and the resistance etc). Episode Two, however, completely lost me. Slow, laboured, incredibly lengthy scenes and the plot starts to become difficult to understand. It might be the case that this series is one that implodes in the final two episodes and you have to power through the first few but I imagine (talking to people in the office) a lot of people will give up on it. I’m certainly tempted.

On that note, I have given up on This Is Us, as discussed last month. It can’t have been much of a loss – I haven’t even thought about it until now.

NB: I feel I watched so many YouTube videos during this month from one particular show it warrants inclusion here. Last month saw me watching almost every bit of Billy On The Street available on YouTube (Elena though!) and this month I delved deep into Conan, and watched many, many of his remotes and bits and pieces from over the years.

Films

To be honest, I’m writing these with very little inclination to do so and no one gives a monkeys what I think so let’s make them short and sweet.

logo2Birdman

Finger on the pulse as always, I got to round watching this when it appeared on the Netflicks and enjoyed it tremendously. I kind of had to given I used up my mobile data to watch it (internet was down, I had to personal hotspot). The one track shot throughout (stitched together, but still), the way we the viewer enter Thomson’s mind, his struggles and desperation for success. It’s all well done – but you don’t need me to tell you that. Worth a watch, obviously.

Annie Hall

It’s one of my aims this year to watch more Woody Allen and Wes Anderson films – Annie Hall being one of the most famous by the former, and I was culturally aware of the balcony scene prior to watching the film. Allen is of course playing a version of himself here (surprise!) and the script is really sharply written so it’s no surprise that it’s included in so many ‘100 Best Comedy Movies’ lists.

This is New York in the rather more dangerous 1970s, although that doesn’t feature in its presentation. It just has an aura of being more real and less gentrified even though we’re following liberal minded artsy people. I also quite enjoyed the way the film is woven; Allen interjects, narrates parts and time jumps a little as he looks back retrospectively on the relationship.

Layer Cake

This film has been on my cultural radar for years but I’d never taken the plunge until now. Tapping ‘Ben Whishaw’ into the Netflix search engine presented this as one of the options so I dove straight in. My first overwhelming thought: there’s a fair few EastEnders actors in amongst the British cast. My second thought: I’m quite enjoying this. I’m not usually one for films with any form of action whatsoever (my life has no action in it in any form, so I’ll be damned if my watching habits will override this) but this was right up my street. Solid, tick tick tick.

The Readlist: January 2017

Room by Emma Donoghue

I am nothing if not late to the party when it comes to reading hit novels. I’m still yet to see the film adaptation of Room but I was keen to at some point read the novel itself prior to doing so. I went in mostly blind: I was aware of the very basics of the plot and was pleasantly surprised to discover the entire novel is narrated from the perspective of 5 year old Jack, trapped in the room with his Ma. He’s never known another life or the outside world and this comes across beautifully within the clearly carefully crafted narrative. The naïvety of youth coupled with his situation presents a really interesting way of slowly bringing the facts to the reader. The creaks he counts at night? Oh, yes that makes sense. He wants some ‘more’ and left is better than right? Ah, yes I see. Snatches of song lyrics pop up occasionally and it’s nice to try and work out which ‘pop hit’ he’s trying to describe.

Obviously, I’m not trying to compare my situation to that of the protagonists here but I am glad that I decided to read this book at this stage in my life. I’m living in a house-share currently*, having the smallest room in the house and I spend a lot of time pottering around in my four tiny walls. Obviously, I get the opportunity to go to work, go out, do things and don’t feel constrained by my four walls but I kind of understand the whole semblance to ‘my space’ that’s in the book.

This novel clearly has two distinct halves and it doesn’t try to shy away from any ‘reality’ of the situation. Although it’s presented from a child’s perspective, we are given enough of the facts, enough of the past to understand the situation and the difficulties presented, including those on the Outside. A good read, now onto the film (eventually).

A Portrait of an Idiot as a Young Man by Jon Holmes

I think I might be the idiot here, not Jon Holmes. I’ve got a media shelf at home which seems natural given that’s my predominant interest and my job, and I’ve got lots of autobiographies and non-fiction books about the industry and those working in it. This seemed to be the next natural addition to my collection: I’ve been a fan of Jon Holmes for a while. I wasn’t massively aware of his Radio 4 work, but in more recent years I listened to him on Radio X and was always a fan of his ‘style’. He’s a man with personality working in radio, why wouldn’t I want to read his memoirs full of tales of his work such as the infamous Dermot O’Leary desk drawer incident?

Yeah, turns out this book isn’t that. The title wasn’t just a title, it truly refers to the fact that the memoir is 90% all based around Holme’s early life, the bit that is usually the worst in any biography. That’s not to say there aren’t some decent anecdotes here- there are but they’re not gripping. At no point did I think “I really want to pick that up again and read some more”, I found it quite taxing to be honest. There’s also a *lot* of teenage sexual content… I’m up for a bit of funny ha-ha sex talk as much as the next person but CHRIST there’s a lot. Huge swathes of the book are incredibly detailed about almost every aspect of his adolescent fumblings. I had to start reading another book mid-way through to try to exorcise all the images from my brain.

I think where the book falls down is that there hasn’t been enough cherry picking. It’s impressive that Holmes can remember so much of his early years** but there are some incredibly terrible, dull anecdotes littered in the pages. They’re a level that are so poor you wouldn’t even bother telling your friends down the pub even if the conversational lull had reached such a point that everyone had been sitting in silence for five minutes. It got to the stage where I was skimming large portions of pages, trying to find a decent bit. The few adult tales towards the back end of the book leave a lot to be desired – c’mon Jon, there’s far better ones to tell!

Read it if you must and you’re a fan but I wouldn’t rush to grab a copy.

*although the situation will be changing imminently, thank the LORD. It’s like living with infant children. In fact, one of my housemates often has a crying infant child round ffs.

**one of my great fears, should I ever become notable enough that someone will pay me £3bn to write my memoir, is that my memory is so shit that I can’t remember anything from my childhood and it was only ten years ago. God knows what I’ll be like when I’m 50.

Long Reads & Articles

James O’BriAGAIN There’s been a load of James O’Brien LBC profiles in recent months but hey, here’s another from The Guardian

Meme Me Up Scotty What’s it like to go viral? To become a meme? Amelia Tait tracks down some of those who became unwittingly ‘internet famous’. One article refers back to this old one from Vice.

Letter Scent Imagine being surrounded by letters all day, reading and digesting, getting paper cuts… this was widely shared at the time. It’s an NYT look at Obama’s White House letters department.

‘ol Swifty Boots Hot take, hot take, get your hot take! This isn’t the first article bashing Swift (although it is notable how more crop up when she’s *out* of the limelight, like she’s untouchable when in it) but it’s a good read nonetheless and links more to her music than others

Arcade Raid This is *fascinating* and something I had no knowledge of before – there’s swathes of people around the globe on the hunt for abandoned arcade machines and there’s some fascinating tales on this blog. Nicely chosen blog theme, too…

 

The Watchlist: January 2017

Woah now! I am fully aware of the fact very few people read this blog (other than you obviously. By the way your hair looks LOVELY today), and I kind of do it for myself as a record of my ‘cultural engagement’ but I’m quite chuffed that it’s now successfully been running for a year. Here’s January’s rather lengthy watch list…

Television

Search Party

I LOVED this so much. It stars Alia Shawkat who most people know as Maeby in Arrested Development (I still love the fact that they committed to one joke in S1 Ep1 so much that they were willing to set in stone a character’s name for the entire series), as Dory, a stuck-in-a-rut 20-something looking for something more meaningful. She ends up taking an interest in the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of an old school-peer, and one that in reality, she barely spoke to. She’s joined on the merry ride by her hapless boyfriend, her self obsessed gay friend (Elliott) and insipid blonde-actress friend (Portia).

sourceWhat I found really remarkable about this was how well Episode 1 was done – it’s an absolute masterclass in introducing characters and plot in the space of little over twenty minutes. I went away from it feeling like I knew each and everyone of them incredibly well already, even though there weren’t any unsubtle “this is my friend Nick, who happens to own this expensive house and has a job and two dogs and a mother who hates him and did I mention he bakes cakes which will become relevant in ep 3”-type lines.

The characters aren’t meant to be flawless but it’s such a rollicking good ride along the way. They’re twenty-something millennials looking for meaning in their lives. Yes, they’re incredibly vacant at times, desperate for fame or something tangible but mostly they’re trying to get by. The mystery element of the whole piece makes it so difficult not to binge immediately – I tried to savour a couple of episodes at a time but did do a straight out five episode binge at one stage. I can’t recommend this highly enough – even if you think a mini US drama about Brooklyn millennials won’t be up your street I promise you this is not to be missed.

This Is Us

This show seemed to tick the box of being “the hit new US-sensation”, and me, ever desperate to be seen as being #relevant, decided to leap in feet first. I mean, with the premise summarised as being “US drama series charting the lives of individuals who happen to share a birthday and whose paths cross and stories intertwine”I thought “ooh, that sounds interesting”. It turns out minor spoiler their stories intwine because they’re part of the same family. They’re three siblings that just so happen to be born on the same day as their Father. That was disappointment number one – disappointment number two is that it just feels like an incredibly plodding, expensive soap opera. I realise it’s meant to be a light drama but the ‘cliffhangers’ are all based on the viewer not yet knowing the whole truth which I think is a bit of an easy get-out. Where’s the real drama? The realisations? In fact, by around Episode 4 they just gave up on cliff-hangers altogether and the episode simply ends, as do many subsequently. I assume some focus group research on US TV showed that by Ep 4, viewers will generally stick with a show if they’ve reached that point. And it’s been true for me, thus far. I’ve wanted to bail, particularly once I learned how many episodes there were in the season but I’m sticking with it at the moment even if I’m not necessarily enjoying it.

On a side note, it seems Channel 4 have grown bored of it too – initially scheduled for Tuesdays at 9pm, it’s now been pushed to the graveyard 11pm slot and will undoubtedly be shoved on to More4 in the near future. I am being a bit of a negative nelly here, but there’s nothing wrong with the actual performances of the actors and it’s nice to see Sterling K Brown (who we met in The People vs OJ Simpson this time last year) in something else. This Is Us has been greenlit for a two more seasons – I doubt I’ll watch them, but I realise that NBC can’t exactly sniff at something that gets more than two viewers these days.

fanartBarracuda

An Australian drama featuring lots of men in Speedos with a subtle gay undertone throughout the series… what a shock I ended up watching it, eh? I actually thoroughly enjoyed this. Each episode charts a portion of a year in the life of Danny, a champion swimmer in the making. Danny’s not a perfect underdog character that we’re meant to fully support – he’s a teenager full of bravado once he realises his ability; he’s a bit of a knob but he’s well intentioned. It’s a solid teen drama and the beginning of the Episode 4 finale really packs a punch, both literally and metaphorically. It makes you go “oh shit, oh shit, oh no!” as you watch through your fingers.

For those playing “Aussie-drama Bingo”, much like “Nordic-Noir Bingo” where you keep an eye on the actors appearing in other things, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor pops up. We met him last month in Deep Water.

Sherlock

Ah, Sherlock. A show that has an unbelievable amount of hype for something that’s barely on a TV screens. It started off so well, great episodes, great cases and conclusions that made you go “ohhhhh!” as everything became clear, like a high brow Jonathan Creek. Nowadays, my end of episode reaction is more of a disappointed “oh”. There’s been enough criticism levelled at the show so I don’t feel like I need to go into great detail here. Toby Jones appeared in Ep 2 (Toby Jones in a BBC One drama? whatever next!) and I thought things were going to get back to normal – it seemed like a cut and dry case that Sherlock had to solve. Alas, even that proved to be a little disappointing in its conclusion but I had strong hopes for Episode 3 if the formula was back in play. It turns out it wasn’t. The entire series now seems to revolve around the ‘myth of Sherlock’ and his character, which is delivered slowly throughout an entire episode. I’d much prefer if his character and past were recognised and revealed throughout the course of a case that makes some form of sense but alas. Everything just feels a bit pants and from what I gather from Moffat/Gattis interviews, they’re not planning on changing that anytime soon. It sure is dark and difficult to see when you’ve got your head up your own arse, I suppose.

a-series-of-unfortunate-events-review-netflix-02_1484209999522A Series Of Unfortunate Events

There was a lot of pressure riding on this from my perspective. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I was obsessed or loved the books above all else when I was younger, but they were a big part and constant during my childhood. In fact, I’d say the release of The End was bigger for me than the release of any Harry Potter book. I’ve never actually seen the film adaptation in full but squeezing three books into one feature-length does seem a bit tight. This series stretches each book to two 45 minute episodes, which I think works far better.

I did enjoy the series but I think it struggles with what it wants to achieve. The performances are good but parts of it do seem a bit rushed and I can’t tell if the terrible, terrible CGI at points is meant to be an affectation or not. (I realise a non-CGI baby may have proved difficult at points, and credit where credit’s due Sunny could be a lot worse) The way they’ve tried to intwine green screen elements with actual sets and props is interesting but at times is a little jarring. Parts feel steam-punk influenced (a token to the nature of the books, which are set in some bizarre mix of the turn of the millennium and way-back-when olden times) and others like a poor man’s Wes Anderson movie. Everything is highly stylised. It’s also a shame that they went down the route of Count Olaf being a farcical character – the books add some real depth of creepiness and terror which I think is lacking here.

The tales are narrated by a Lemony Snicket character, interjecting at points and helping you pierce together more of the facts and mysterious back story, which is a more drawn out process in the actual books. These are nicely done. There’s also some moments where the fourth wall is broken within the ‘drama’ itself which I love obviously (one way that’s guaranteed to win me over is a tongue in cheek reference or joke). If you don’t take it all too seriously, it’s a great piece of fun and no doubt one of my favourite things Netflix has commissioned. I look forward to the next two series. Some viewers were complaining that the episodes became a little formulaic and repetitive after a while but that’s part of the books’ charm. It’s the same basic plot explored in a variety of different settings.

Other things of note: in true Netflix style the episodes have proper opening credits over a minute in length. The second of each double bill opens with Count Olaf singing as his ruse character. Also, my dress sense is scarily similar to that of Klaus Baudelaire, particularly in the first few episodes. Same glasses? Tick. Same suede shoes? Tick. Hair to the left? Tick. Shirt and jumper combo? Tick. If only I’d looked that good when I was thirteen.

brooklyn-nine-nineBrooklyn Nine-Nine

Unquestionably, B99 (is anybody calling it that?) is one of the best mainstream network comedies out of the US right now. The Big Bang Theory is a congealed drop of condensed milk by comparison. Season 3 finally appeared on Netflix and it’s a great show to fill your day – spare twenty minutes? Stick on an episode and all is well in the world again. The jokes are good, situations funny, characters well written and well delivered. It has everything and never manages to feel rushed in twenty two minutes or full of ‘filler’ mid-season either. Andre Braugher is a tour-de-force (in fact, as is everyone) and the line in the finale along the lines of “I should have known he was a bad egg. I once saw him… wearing a V-neck” *gasp* “And you did nothing?” perfectly describes my opinion of V-necks. Have some self respect. I’m in two minds as to watch Season 4 on All 4 but I think 22 spaced out episodes and the same tired old ads might grow a little wearisome for me.

First Dates Hotel

I am an unashamed First Dates stan. I love it… but I can’t seem to click with this version of the show. It strikes me that there was some terrible, terrible meeting somewhere where someone said “First Dates is great and all but what we’d really like to see is like… a second date?” and thus this format was born. I hate it so much I’ve stopped watching, which is a shame really.

Streetmate

And with First Dates Hotel disappointing it was back to me watching this for some light kicks. And it’s meant to be coming back soon too! Sadly not with me hosting but you can’t have everything in life.

Films

Spotlight

I always feel like a fool ‘reviewing’ (that’s not really the point of this blog, but…) films that have won a load of awards and been written about to death by critics. What could I possibly add that’s relevant or even vaguely insightful? Not a jot. That doesn’t stop me being able to say something incredibly simple, however: I enjoyed this. You’d think given the subject matter it might be tough watch, or have a dull mid-section, or be over dramatising elements for effect. It isn’t and doesn’t have any of these things. It’s an incredibly well put together film that at no point feels plodding. Sure, there’s very little in the way of actual action and it could no doubt have been a little shorter but it didn’t feel like a mountain of movie you had to climb. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was a relaxing Sunday afternoon watch, but it was worthy of my time and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. Also, and I assume this is down to me being a #mediageek but I genuinely cried at the end. When everything comes together and you realise the impact for good that the media can have when it puts its heart into something, it all got a bit overwhelming. It’s precisely like when I was fifteen/sixteen and I was watching the BBC News Channel and started crying during the countdown up to the top of the hour as the music built to a crescendo. I’m a freak.

henryorient1

The World Of Henry Orient

This has been on my Netflix to watch this for a long old time and I couldn’t quite work out why and then it hit me – it’s one of the few things on Netflix UK starring Angela Lansbury. Sadly, there weren’t any good gifs I could get from this film (wonder why I’d need them, cough cough) but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It charts two teenage girls who become close friends and bond over a shared obsession with a middlingly successful (and in reality quite terrible) womanising pianist. It’s good fun and the two young actresses are stand out… there’s a really fascinating New Yorker article on what became of them, including a look at the movie and how it was made. Worthy of a read even if you don’t intend to ever watch it.

Royal Tenenbaums

Treat myself to a Wes Anderson movie. This isn’t my favourite one but I still broadly enjoyed it. This instrumental version of Hey Jude at the beginning is so great and so’s this exchange towards the back end of the film…

– I’ve always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That’s just my style. But I’d really feel blue if I didn’t think you were going to forgive me.

– I don’t think you’re an asshole, Royal. I just think you’re kind of a son of a bitch.

– Well, I really appreciate that.

lalalandLa La Land

It wasn’t long before the La La Land backlash set in. There was an enormous amount of hype around this film which is always a little worrying and I went in fully expecting to be disappointed – but I loved it so much. It was light and airy and a joyous watch. Bitter sweet rather than cloyingly sweet but it was still great. Don’t go into the cinema expecting miracles and you’ll come out pleased, feeling like you’re walking on air and with a desperate urge to leap out your car and start singing whenever you’re next stuck in traffic.

My feet were tap-tapping away in the cinema and I was properly mouthing along when out of nowhere A Flock of Seagull’s I Ran randomly appears. It was a fairly empty screening, don’t judge me.

Love Is Strange

I watched this on a Sunday evening and was only half paying attention. It was okay, maybe worthy of a rewatch in a few years time but it didn’t set my world on fire.

Blind Date

(ctrl-c, ctrl-v) I watched this on a Sunday evening and was only half paying attention. It’s a French romcom.

Little Men

(ctrl-c, ctrl-v) I watched this on a Sunday evening and was only half paying attention. It’s a French romcom. Someone on Twitter said this was one of their favourite films – I can’t for the life of me understand why.

Christine & The Queens

I don’t think I really need to introduce Christine & The Queens, or at least if I tried to I wouldn’t be able to really do her justice. For all the things 2016 took from us, giving us Héloïse Letissier and everything she represents was one saving grace. To be catapulted into the limelight can ruin some pop stars, destroyed by insinuations about their looks, their mental state, their status. Christine subverts this – she almost seems pure in the world of pop music. To hear her songs played on Local FM next to Jessie J and Ed Sheeran is both an achievement and a refreshing change.

I first became aware of her around this time last year. A blog was collating a list of possible future hits and I was hypnotised by her style of dancing in the Tilted video. Almost immediately after watching it I’d forgotten all about her and it wasn’t until she popped up on the Graham Norton show a few months later that things started to really get going for her in the UK. We don’t really think of a TV performance being able to make or break an artist in this day and age, and yet Christine’s GN performance led to immediate sales increases and big chatter on my Twitter feed from people who had never seen her before and were as hypnotised as I was the first time I watched her.

I interviewed Christine in the classic regional radio fashion: down an ISDN line connected to a booth in a studio down in London with a watchful producer and engineer close by. No doubt I would have been one of umpteen promotional things she was doing that day (it was the day of her very well received Radio 1 live lounge performance, if I remember rightly) and yet she seemed to give all of herself to me. It was clear she was a genuinely lovely, affable person. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing over whether I had an acceptable French accent (Héloïse gave me the metaphorical thumbs up after I struggled to say the phrase ‘je voudrais un baguette’)  we got stuck into the questions. Obviously, I was aware of the job I had to do here. This is an interview for an audience who might not be as aware of Christine as I was prior to it, so we start with the basics.

A lot of people don’t know that you’re actually a solo artist: you’re called Christine & The Queens – the Queens don’t exist but did?

Well they’re still alive, let me reassure you! But, yes, it’s not really a band name. People expect me to perform with Queens (whatever that means!) but it’s actually something that happened to me. I’m talking about drag queens I met in London, six years ago now – oh dear! – when I was searching for inspiration. I didn’t make any music before that and I met drag queens at this club in London called Madame Jojo’s. They were performing a really extravagant musical number and this was the first time I actually had the idea of having a stage character myself and maybe trying to write songs for myself. It was something that happened in my life that felt like a novel – I spent three weeks with them, they showed me incredible movies, they taught me to express myself a bit more, to sing louder, embrace everything I had and since then we’ve never seen each other again. It was so special to me it feels weird to kind of see them again for coffee or something – it was too intense. They’re still around in London, doing their own thing and now I’ve became this tiny French dancing thing.

And what incredible dancing it is! What always gets me about your dancing is an ability to have some kind of centre of gravity I just don’t have! You’re very graceful but you can lean forward, lean back; you do all sorts-  how do you do it? 

She laughs. I have no idea, I have to be honest with you, it just comes like that. Basically I try to lose balance all the time but for some reason I’m not falling. Dancing has always been some important part of my life and actually I feel really awkward otherwise but when I’m dancing my awkwardness becomes my centre of balance. I don’t know how it works, it’s really mysterious even to me. I kind of need to dance all the time.

christine_and_the_queens

Did singing and dancing come late to you or was it part of your childhood?

The dancing part was something I did really early on. I did classical ballet really young and I’ve never stopped dancing since I was 4 years old. The singing part is quite different – before meeting the drag queens I didn’t want to sing, I was totally sure my voice was terrible – I don’t know why. I suppose that’s something interesting because now it’s my job!

I was always afraid and reluctant to sing and I think it was something to do with intimacy because when you sing its really intimate, isn’t it? It comes from within, you’re projecting your voice, you’re being kind of naked and I think at some point in my life I wanted to be exposed and vulnerable and true to myself so singing feels raw and honest, so it came like that.

Do you feel comfortable as yourself or do you see your stage presence as something you yearn for to be able to escape?

Well, Christine is not different from me, it’s just me being unfiltered and uncensored and me forgetting about the norms and social codes and everything. It’s really, really intensely me. I crave being on stage because I get to be myself oddly enough, and it’s off the stage that it sometimes feels like I’m playing a part because I’m quite shy and social interactions can be quite tough for me. I’m actually really honest on stage and easy; I can share easily and then I’m back to my shrinking little self off it.

You’ve spoken a lot about gender, how you view yourself and your sexuality – growing up was that a struggle for you, getting to a stage where you feel comfortable knowing who you are?

Yes it was a struggle, but it’s weird because I grew up in a really welcoming and nice family. I didn’t have to come out or battle for my parents to accept me for who I was. Actually my parents accepted me even before I could! I think I internalised a lot, lots of self hatred – growing up being queer was difficult for me but also being a girl as well. As a girl I felt I received silent injunctions all the time; be pretty, be sexy (but not too much) and I couldn’t deal with that and I didn’t know how to deal with that. Christine is a way for me to deal with that as well, I kind of like to think about her and leanings – it’s almost the same thing as being gender neutral. It’s fluid for me, I don’t really see myself as a fixed identity. I kind of like to play with different ones. I think accepting who I am now is just accepting who I am all the time and it feels better like that.

Do you think society is starting to view gender in a different way? I feel like we’ve come a long way in the past few decades.

Yeah true, it’s definitely in the conversation now. We get to see a lot more ways of being a human being. I’m just a bit cautious because I feel like it’s fashionable now and I’m always cautious about what’s fashionable because you know, David Bowie in the 70s was ‘fashionable’ for the same reasons. I just wish it would stop being fashionable and just be normal. I think the next step would be for it to be normal and we could experiment on other things.

saintclaude-clip

Now your album Chaleur Humaine, (she compliments my terrible french accent again) translates as human warmth – do you crave human interaction in anyway?

Well, you know, I think I want to relate still – I’m kind of shy and a loner but in the end I think singing and writing songs is me trying to relate to people still – I think we all need to relate  at some point. Even if we like to be alone we don’t want to be totally lonely. The French ‘Chaleur Humaine’ expression is kind of ambiguous and beautiful because of that – it’s kind of abstract, it means something but every French person has a different definition of ‘Chaleur Humaine’ and that’s what’s interesting to me. I wanted to have this word that could suggest how to relate to others but it could be abstract enough for people to project really personal things onto it. I think that is what a pop song is, it’s a kind of vessel that’s sent through radio to many different people. You know, a granny could have a version of this pop song and young people, a version for who they are.

It’s nice to have a French artist in the charts for a change, with some French within the songs – you wrote most of the songs in French before hand and then translated them for the English version of the album. Did you struggle to do any translations, did anything get lost?

Translating is definitely you having to renounce back to being literal to the original – something can be lost but something else gained because English is so different. It wasn’t a struggle as such, it was kind of a cool magic trick for me to have because to be honest with you, some of the songs in French on the original album were initially drafted in English. I like how English sounds, so it’s always interesting for me to write a draft in English and try to find French words that could bounce as well. It’s kind of a back and forth for me, I don’t have anything fixed y’know – I like a pop song to be a work in progress, I like the old fashioned way Michael Jackson would do a song in Spanish and a song in French, it’s always evolving for different people to get what you mean, as well. I think I wanted people to know what I meant – it motivated me.

On that note I feel like ‘doing my face with magic marker’ must be one of the best lyrics of the year – but what does it mean?!

She laughs You know the original French is really weird as well. I’m talking of doing my face with mercurochrome which is something you put on when you hurt yourself to heal and it marks the skin. I was searching for an image that could be really fun or creepy depending on the way you would take the sentence, it’s either really playful because magic marker is related to childhood and the games that a child could play, y’know – or it could be really creepy, like what’s she doing? What’s she doing to her face? Is she out of control? It’s two ways to interpret the song and I think Tilted is ambiguous to me as well, it can be a really playful song if you want it to or it can be about being out of place and depressed – it depends on what your mood is really.

You had a run-in with Madonna very recently, talk me through that.

I still have to talk myself through that as well! Sometimes I don’t really think it happened to me, but yeah, I just received this call two days before her big arena show in Paris and it was like ‘I’m Madonna’s choreographer, do you want to jump on stage with her?’ I was like, ‘is it a joke’ and it was not a joke! I’d never met Madonna before, ever, so the first time I actually saw Madonna she was two inches from my face on stage in front of many, many people. It struck me how in charge Madonna is – you’re basically her objects but it feels good because she’s just dripping with power and I was all “oh wow, I wish I could be this powerful as a woman and as a performer” – it was really inspiring and she’s really witty as well, really clever.

Let’s talk about the new single Saint Claude

It’s actually one of the songs that melts my heart live because I can vividly remember why I wrote it. I wrote it quite quickly after I witnessed something in Paris – quite an upsetting thing. I was on public transport and there was this man, a young man sitting on the bus with an incredible look. Quite extravagant, quite flashy – he was kind of drifting away with words, speaking to himself and we didn’t know if he was on drugs or really happy or totally lost. I thought he was beautiful but then people on the bus slowly started to point at him and mock him. Everyone rejoiced together by mocking him, it was kind of frightening to watch and because I didn’t stand up for him I was really uncomfortable and just decided to get off the bus. I actually got off at this station called Saint Claude, so that’s why it’s called that. It’s basically me trying to write a love letter to that guy and apologising for not standing up. I wish I could have said something but I didn’t so I tried to mend it afterwards with the lyrics.

The Readlist: December 2016

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

You know what you need to do occasionally? Treat yo self, as they say in Parks & Rec. Thus, on that notion, I did treat myself to a lovely hardback edition of the first three Ripley novels. It’s hardback! It’s got a bookmark ribbon! It looks, for want of a better word, lush.

I’ve been meaning to get onboard the Highsmith train for a while now. I’ve seen numerous of her novels in film form (namely The Talented Mr Ripley with Matt Damon and Jude Law, The Two Faces Of January with Oscar Issacs and Carol with Cate Blanchett) but this was the first time I’ve sat down to read her. She seems (the anti-semitism aside, which is swept under the carpet) an interesting character in herself. A hard and fast misanthrope who despised company, surrounded herself with cats and got lost in her own writing.

The Talented Mr Ripley is a classic case of the anti-hero: we become incredibly sympathetic towards him as a reader, with the book opening with recollections from his time growing up, his inherent loneliness and search for something more meaningful, which leads to us willing him to get away with the crimes he commits.

There’s a lot of gay undertones here which have been well documented before and appear more explicitly* in the 1999 film. There’s an interesting video taking a look at this here. Within the book, it’s both a case of him wanting to be Dickie and all he has and is and also be friends/platonic lovers with him.** The interesting thing here, of course, is that he’s not pained by Dickie’s death. There’s barely a touch of guilt, there’s more panic at being caught in the immediate aftermath. The fact that Ripley can manage to go from being obsessed and infatuated with someone to murdering them in such a short space of time, purely because their attention in him has waned is quite the step!

I really enjoyed reading this and, in fact, it’s probably the first novel I’ve legitimately enjoyed reading and wanted to continue reading in a few months. I did have some issues with it: the actual murder of Dickie was remarkably short, but I appreciate that was probably an authorial choice there, to make it seem as sporadic and unhinged as possible. It’s over and done with in a paragraph. The final quarter of the novel, based around Ripley’s merry dance with the police forces and Dickie’s friends and family, starts to get a little ploddy and repetitive and then BAM the novel seems to end rather suddenly. There’s a  real rushed feel to the ending, where everything feels like it’s coming to a sudden head for Ripley, everything is going to unravel and almost immediately everything’s fine and no more questions are asked. Really?! Even with the will situation?

Another interesting notion I took from the novel comes about mid-way through, before the police start asking too many questions, where Ripley decides he’s quite happy to travel the word alone with money and wealth and Dickie’s name over any companionship, for fear of being discovered. I understand that Ripley, being mildly sociopathic, has a misanthropic element to him but I believe he does likewise crave attention and relationships. He’s clearly been looking for something for a while: the way he moves around New York between different people, quickly realising he’s growing irritable and tired of them. He’s in part after their material goods, as if association is enough for him, but I believe he still desperately wants something more meaningful. There’s one brief glimpse of a genuine friendship with someone which has no ulterior motives – Cleo, in the novels first pages, but very little else. Ripley wants to feel part of something, to be appreciated but likewise, needs to spend time in his own company too. He seems to fail to understand that being and having both is fine: it’s exactly the kind of way I am; I enjoy my own company but do also need people around me – I’m not a social animal but I thrive off other people in the right scenarios.

*explicitly in terms of clear inclusion, not sexually
** which is oh so familiar with me and my crushes, minus the murdering (touchwood). Simon Amstell has expressed this similar thought before with his obsession with Ben Whishaw sorry, Ben Theodore in Grandma’s House “Do you want to be him or fuck him?” “Both? That’s normal, isn’t it?!”

Long Reads & Articles

Sugar, Sugar This is a fascinating insight into nutritional health and how we blindly follow any advice given to us because “they must know best”. Sugar is worse than saturated fat and evidence clearly shows its link to obesity. And when sat-fat is removed from foods, what’s added to maintain flavour? Sugar and salt.

Red Tops Revenge Newspapers would probably claim they follow the public mood – they’re just pandering to how people feel and what they want. The opposite seems more true; their readership may be declining but their voice is strong, and shapes public perception. It’s not immediate: but if you keep saying immigration is the biggest problem in the UK today, after a while it’ll seem unarguably true. This will obviously change over time – ‘news’ consumption online on these tabloid sites is fairly minimal, they give more homepage space over to viral sensations in the hope for clicks. Actual ‘news’ can be hard to come by.

False Memovies Do you have any false memories? Or things you seem to remember, try Googling and nothing pops up? If it’s not on the internet, can it have existed? We think of the internet as a know-it-all tool, but there’s so many swathes of cultural history just missing from it. This became incredibly apparent to me when I tried Googling information on old chain stores and supermarkets and little pops up. What about if people collectively remember something, or believe they do, but there’s no proof?

Diamonds Are For Trevor I read this article agessssss ago (it’s nearly a year old now) but I don’t think I ever posted a link on the blog.