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.

  • 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.
*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
Pacific Rim
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
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
About Time
Before Sunrise
That Awkward Moment
Dallas Buyers Club
The World's End
Catching Fire
The Way Way Back
Kill Your Darlings
Bored to Death S1-2
Cuban Fury
Delivery Man
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!
Only Lovers Left Alive
Enough Said
What Maisie Knew
The Lego Movie
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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Haircuts, K-Stew, Girlgangs

About a fortnight ago I had a fairly drastic haircut. It might have been three weeks ago - I'm not very good at keeping up with time passing. This ties in pretty neatly to why I'm not very good at haircuts. I think it has been a year since my last haircut. It might have been ten months, I'm not sure and I don't really care. It has certainly been long enough that whatever discipline that last hairdresser tried to impose on my hair has long since disappeared. I let my hair do its own thing for the most part - I wash it, I tie it up, I forget about it.

For me, the amount of time and effort I put into any given part of my body/appearance/self presentation is pretty much directly inversely proportional to the  'goodness' of that thing. Obviously that's super freighted and societal pressures and all of you is perfect just the way it is... blah blah. But, subjectivity aside, my skin is BAD so I put a lot of my energy and vanity budget into skincare and makeup. My makeup routine is pretty settled at the moment, I've come to a happy place with an affordable primer, foundation and concealer that I'm basically content with, but my skincare is in fairly regular flux. I find reading and watching videos about skincare legit fascinating and I always want to try new things in the (mostly) specious hope that this will be the product that changes everything - the holy grail of skin. My hair though, my hair is objectively GOOD. It is thick and soft and it grows fast. It isn't prone to split ends or noticeable damage (although this might be because I rarely tamper with it) and it is healthy and shiny (although not shiny like famous people and beauty spreads). My hair is nice and so... I totally disregard it. I use cheap shampoo, I never heat treat it, I rarely even brush it. I run some hair oil through it when it's wet but otherwise I just tie it up and keep it out of my face. Why waste effort on something that is fundamentally satisfactory? This possibly says alarming things about my thought processes and self esteem but bigger fish, ya know.

That isn't to say I don't mess around with my hair. I had a fringe for a long time and then I spent a long time growing it out. I first dyed my hair pink when I was thirteen and it has rarely seen its natural colour since then. I dyed it dark once, in an attempt to look like Kristen Stewart, but it washed me out. I henna-ed it a powerful orange for a long time, channeling Karen Elson and Florence Welsh and every red head I've ever loved (and there is no doubt that red is the greatest colour), and then spent a long time growing that out. The process of growing these things out, the ginger ombré, was undignified but I didn't really care. It was still basically good hair. I wish it was curly. I wish it held a 'do', the three times a year I actually try to style it, but whatever.

I had been considering cutting it short approximately forever. Why not? I procrastinated because I didn't think it would suit my blob face and I enjoy the convenience of a bun and it might puff out into an awkward triangle without the weight of x feet of hair. Also, I'm very wary of hairdressers and their repeated, apparently irresistible, urge to cut me a mullet. Historically I have asked for everything but a mullet and that is the only haircut I have ever received. Variations on a mullet, sure, a floppy 90s boyband mullet, a kind of fashion punk mullet, 'The Rachel' mullet, but a mullet nonetheless. All bad. It is no wonder I tie my hair up so much. There has been a lot of unwanted feathering. Still, I was sick of the sameness and I wanted a change, however badly it might go.

It's not really that short. I had about a foot hacked off and it is still only about collarbone length. What I really fancied was the full K-Stew but I wasn't bold enough. Baby steps for the lethargic. I was in love with Kristen's old hair, I am in love with Kristen's new hair. Much like Mallory, I am basically in love with Kristen. She is the greatest. I love her beautiful sullen face, I love her dirty tomboy style. I think she is fabulous. I tried to explain my love to a non-believer the other day and couldn't convince them that angry, angular and androgynous are the dream adjectives for a young woman. They were WRONG obviously. K-Stew's style is in a particularly glorious place at the moment. Because I am a stalker I have recently started following kristenstewartfashionstyle on Tumblr and it is the best decision I have ever made. Possibly, it is the best website on the internet. Look at her rugged, lesbian, hipster chic! The hair, the beat up trainers, the ripped jeans, the many perfect jumpers. She is the scruffy indie rock god every teenage girl lusts after. And she has many similarly cool lady friends. I WANT TO BE IN THEIR GANG/BAND/WHATEVER. They are all delightful. My new hair, nice as it is, will not do the trick. One day I am going to accept that nothing I can do with my hair will turn me into Kristen Stewart but that day is not today. Nor is it likely to be a day anytime soon...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tonight and Every Night

As an internet dweller and person-who cares-about-stuff it seems impossible to read/write about anything other than Ferguson right now. I can't sit here and browse or write about soup or fashion editorials. But it is also impossible for me to write about Ferguson. Everything about the situation is impossible. As a white British woman there is nothing I can usefully add to a conversation about the experiences of black American men facing police brutality but I can't be silent. I don't write much here about current events or international politics but my corner of the internet has been subsumed by Ferguson and everything it represents in terms of unarmed black children being murdered by the state that should be protecting them and I can't ignore that. At the very least I feel obliged to bear witness and link to those better equipped to speak.
“Atticus–” said Jem bleakly.
He turned in the doorway.
“What, son?”
“How could they do it, how could they?”
“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — seems that only children weep.” 
— To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Talk: Bijan Stephens
Different Rules Apply: Matt Zoller Seitz

The Case for Reparations: Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Racism Beat: Cord Jefferson

Is This Working?: This American Life

The Parable of the Unjust Judge or: Fear of a Nigger Nation: Ezekiel Kweku
Words: Roxane Gay

Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?: Jaeah Lee

#Michael Brown #Tamir Rice #Trayvon Martin #Jordan Davis #Renisha McBride #Roshad McIntosh #Laquan Macdonald #Carey Smith-Viramontes #Qusean Whitten #Dillon McGee #Diana Showman #Akai Gurley #Kimani Gray #Kendrec McDade #Amadou Diallo and on and on...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Summertime Gladness

Once upon a time, seemingly aeons ago, it was summer and it was happy and it was beautiful. On one particularly golden morning and/or afternoon (I can't remember, it doesn't matter), R, mulp and I went to Great Dixter and it was glorious. Clearly I am prematurely turning into my parents whereby an afternoon spent visiting a garden rates as a good time but what can you do? You like what you like and I frickin' love Christopher Lloyd. The original garden design was Lutyens but the insanely luscious, almost chaotic but carefully considered planting scheme is pure Lloyd, now maintained by Fergus Garrett. Flowers upon flowers upon flowers. The long borders and the wild flower meadow. So much colour and texture and barely contained botanical exuberance. It is everything I would want an English garden and my one-day dream garden to be.

I smile every time I see this Venetia Scott Vogue editorial that was shot at Dixter so I thought I would share it here to remind us all that summer happened and it will probably happen again. I think I am going to try and establish an annual pilgrimage to Dixter.

Dream a Little Dream
Vogue UK October 2013
Photgraphy: Venetia Scott
Stylist: Bay Garnett
Hair: Tomo Jidai, Make-up: Sharon Dowsett 
Model: Georgia May Jagger

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Friday Sound: Le Déluge

There is a lot of music around at the moment. I mean, sure, there is always a lot of music around. We live in an age of CONTENT. I always find the YouTube statistics particularly shocking - 100 hours of uploaded to YouTube every minute. That's insane. This might just be because they are more widely publicised and monopolistic than other sectors. I'm sure if Soundcloud/Bootcamp announced how many minutes of music were uploaded per hour or there was some book/news/web writing conglomerate that could give any meaningful estimation of how many words were published every day it would be just as overwhelming, if not more. There is a lot of stuff out there and it is easy to freak out about missing something important and just climb under your duvet and re-read your favourite book from childhood while eating chocolate biscuits and listening to an album from 2007 in an attempt to distance yourself from the horrifying imbalance and existential knowledge that you will never be able to keep up, that you are just a minuscule dot in an ever increasing flood of human culture, and that you will one day die still basically ignorant and alone. YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE. DON'T JUDGE ME.

That said/panicked, it does feel like there is a lot of music worth listening to right now and that is probably a good thing. Some of these are legitimately new (as in, the last month, obv this is not the home of the hot take), some of them are older and that's ok. All in your own time. Some of these are from albums but I'm only featuring a single track because albums can be overwhelming. Everything can be overwhelming. I'm clearly feeling overwhelmed at the moment. Here is some music to take my mind off things...

Love Again - Run the Jewels. Heads up, this is RUDE and maybe offensive? It certainly starts out pretty gross but Gangsta Boo brings some great balance in the later verses. And the lyrics are sharp and the production is great and the underlying beat is addictive. I have had this stuck in my head for ages and it is just so inappropriate to even hum at the office.

Twengerbibbytwo - Aphex Swift. Unlike most of the internet I am not a Taylor Superfan. I know, it's controversial, but I cannot wholeheartedly embrace that level of pop/country. It is not where my heart lies nor will it ever be. However. I do have a huge amount of respect for her as a business woman and a craftsman (some weird gendering going on there - business man and craftswoman both sound wrong and business person + craftsperson sound hokie. Language is hard. Businesser and crafter?). I think she makes basically perfect pop songs and, sweet jebus, they are catchy and persistent. Once a Tswizz song has got inside your brain it will not let go, to the point of mild hysteria. I love how reactive and engaged she seems. Her creation of herself as the biggest selling artist of the decade seems super conscious and I admire that even when it kind of creeps me out. She puts in the work and she lets you see (some of) that and that's awesome. I love a hard worker. Anyway, the Taylor I most enjoy is creeper-Taylor, murder-you-in-your-sleep Taylor, if-you-hurt-me-or-my-best-friend-I-will-end-you Taylor, who seems to be a predominantly internet creation but who, I like to think, is based in something real. The Aphex Swift mashup album by David Rees really draws out the creepiness and it's great. Taylor's voice modification is pushed and stretched and cut every which way and it is weird and hilarious. It's. Tiiiiime.

Younger - Seinabo Sey. I managed to listen to a lot or, at least, many repetitions of Seinabo Sey before I saw what she looked like and obviously it doesn't matter what a musician looks like but also she is gorgeous and unexpected and adorable. I like her face. Music crush blown out into full blown girl crush. The video for Pistols at Dawn just came out but I can't resist the folksy hipster charm of the Younger video and it is catchy as hell. Mostly this post is just going to be about amazingly catchy songs. Her voice and register will blow your mind. I can't wait for whenever her album comes out.

Lady fronted girl pop. No, I can't love bubblegum pop but I do love me some less commercial/less tween oriented pop. Whispy girl pop, spacey Scandinavians, 60s girl bands, Fleetwood Rock blues-rock-pop (what genre is Fleetwood Mac?? All music should probably just be that genre). And there are loads of great girls/girl-led bands around at the moment. I haven't had a chance to really get involved with Haerts debut album but I'm very excited that it is here. I think they make pretty perfect pop. 27 Club is trying very hard to be Lana Del Rey but I'm enjoying Ultraviolence/todestrieb/murder-teen era LDR and the lyrics are fun and silly and it is hella catchy (again). I don't have a bunch to say about Vérité but Heartbeat is also catchy and girly and great. All the girls.

To Do List:
  • Gay Dog Food - Mykki Blanco. Mykki's new mixtape is out and I've downloaded it but I haven't had much of a chance to get into it. I love her and I'm psyched for the new release but it is quite... abrasive... and it's going to take some work. I have faith though.
  • Broke with Expensive Taste - Azaelia Banks. Well, I will be goddamned. I genuinely didn't think this album was ever going to be released and now here it is. Only three or four years late? And AB's sound has changed a lot in the lead up time. I've heard a couple of tracks and liked them but I can't imagine how 212 is going to sit next to Heavy Metal and Reflective. Her new sound is pretty aggressive (I mean, it's always been lyrically aggressive but sonically) but HM&R really grew on me so I presume I'll enjoy the album at large.
That's quite a lot of things but if there are other new/not new musicz that I might/probably have missed then do let me know. Only in manageable chunks though, please.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ramblings: Songbirds and Cashmere

If wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds.


But… Ok? Hang on. No. I understand that if wishes were thrushes beggars would have a lot of thrushes but I can't imagine it is a lack of thrushes that is keeping them from eating birds. They probably lack proper bird processing and cooking facilities and an excess of thrushes isn't going to change that. If anything, it will probably exacerbate the problem.

Thrushes, songbirds generally, were a delicacy once (maybe they still are somewhere) but I imagine it takes time, attention and careful handling to derive much nutrition or pleasure from a thrush. They are not very big birds. They would be very fiddly to eat on the bone and I can't imagine there is much of them left off the bone. They must have been cooked on the bone (whole?) in those fancy pies. That would be a lot of tiny bird bones amidst your pastry, just waiting to spike you viciously in the gums or stick in your throat. Perhaps you ate the bones like those terrifying Filipino fetal eggs. You do you but even the thought of balut makes me feel a little queasy. Raw-ish egg and crunchy skull and tiny, sharp, choking bones and quills... That is a lot of texture right there. That is more texture than I can cope with. I love food; I love exploring food and new cultures and histories through food; I wish I could be one of those travelers who will excitedly try anything that is put in front of them but I don't think I could eat the most authentic balut in the world. I am too much of a coward. Or I am too repelled. I read or watched or heard an interesting talk about disgust once; about how (from my garbled memory) disgust, social or physical, is, at its most basic, a biological response designed to protect us. Humans are almost universally disgusted, across cultures, by the faeces of carnivores and incest because these things will cause us harm, they will poison us and damage our progeny. You are repulsed by rotten food because it can make you sick. That seems to give a lot of autonomy to the physical body but if you can flinch away from pain then I guess why not? QUASI-SCIENCE, Get It Here. I question how much you can expand on disgust-as-biology because so much of disgust is clearly cultural and because I am deeply wary of 'status quo disguised as evolutionary biology'. [Men's rights activists have really, horribly undermined the possibly sometimes legitimate field of evolutionary biology. OBVIOUSLY I am not a creationist but I nearly punched my computer that time I read that women like pink because they are used to searching for berries and men like blue because they had to watch the skies when they were on a hunt. Oh sure, just blithely ignore like 1200 years of Western history when pinks and reds were viewed as masculine colours and blue was for girls and Madonnas.] Raw eggs can give you salmonella but I don't think that is the heart of my discomfort and clearly it hasn't swayed balut eaters. I don't enjoy handling raw meat but people love steak tartare and Scandinavians like to bury food and eat it putrefied (#NotAllScandinavians). The world is a weird place and people have strange tastes and I should embrace that more but I struggle but I should try. But but.

I think they should have made thrush pies on the Great British Bake Off. I would swear blind that I saw pictures once of thrush pies that looked a little like crowns and they were rather beautiful. Can I find any photos? No. But, theoretically, they would be complicated, obscure and deeply British, i.e. perfect GBBO fodder. I mean, there would have been uproar but whatever.


I just realised that feathers are super pimped out hairs. Or rather, they are both integumentary systems. Bizarre. I quite fancy the idea of feather eyebrows but it also seems painful. Do birds get in-grown feathers? Asking the important questions.

If wishes were thrushes, beggars would eat birds. If wishes were scarves, I would be snuggled in cashmere? Certainly, if money was no object, I would be wrapped up in a Begg & Co. scarf. Their Arran cashmere scarves look lush. £240 might be a perfectly reasonable price for goats raised and wool spun and knitted in Scotland, I don't know, but it is sadly out of my price range. [N.B. The scarves are definitely made in Ayr but I can't see the source of their wool on the website and this post is quite long enough without going on another research binge.] Either way, they look lovely and local(ish) and I fancy one. I love their colour palette and apparent ethos. I would wear the hell out of that slate grey number. All I really want from my clothing is for it to be soft and warm - all cashmere everything. A cashmere cocoon. A cashmere sleeping bag perhaps? That would be the (possibly slightly sweaty) dream...