January hasn’t been a great month, if you look at it collectively. It’s always the most miserable month, resolutions have proven to be the lies we knew they were and it’s cold and wet. (Not for me of course, I’m in Thailand and it’s hot and lovely every single day so HA). Bowie, Terry Wogan, Alan Rickman are all gone. David Cameron is slowly but surely ruining absolutely everything. Then there’s Donald Trump. I didn’t think I’d live to see the end of the world, but there you go.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to block all this misery out through the power of THINGS. Here are some of the things we’ve liked in January.
Making a Murderer. You’ve talked about nothing but Making a Murderer in your recent memory so I won’t go over it too much but it was so intense. So detailed and technical but still so thrilling. And devastating of course. I live in constant fear of being convicted of a crime that there is 0% chance I committed.
Making a Murderer. I don’t really have a lot to say about this one, except OMGGUYSTHISISONEOFTHEMOSTAMAZINGANDALSORIDICULOUSTHINGSEVER. It’s gripping (from about episode 3), and many moments will leave you aghast, and quite possible off to the sub/Reddit forums to find people who are just as confused and outraged as yourself.
If you’re a podcast listener, it’s essentially Serial in televised form.
I spent the entire blizzard weekend watching it. I have nothing of value to add here except that these exist.
The Martian. Yes, I know it came out in 2015, but I’m poor and I don’t like paying for stuff. Overshadowed somewhat by the finale of The Hunger Games trilogy and the beginning of the new Star Wars trilogy, this is actually a very good film and another classic, strong, lone-wolf performance by Matt Damon. The film goes pretty much as you’d expect: Man gets left on Mars after an accident, everyone thinks he’s dead so he tries to survive, they find out he’s alive so plan to come and get him, things go wrong… and you can pretty much guess the ending.
If you’re staying in and need something to watch, this would be a good, easy choice. It doesn’t offend, but also doesn’t excite in any new ways. Expect the Expected.
The Usual Suspects. I’m a huge Kevin Spacey fan. I just think he’s one of the best things to come out of contemporary American film culture, and should be worshipped for his mastery of on-screen emotional manipulation and range of characterisation. He can literally play any character, and this film is essentially a confirmation of this. It’s a classic that most people who profess to be ‘really into cinema’ will have probably already seen, but if you haven’t just know it’s in the top 100 films of all time on some really important websites.
If you’re into The Godfather or other pieces that spend more time ruminating and misleading than dragging you towards the inevitable conclusion feet first, this is a good’un. Oh, and if you’ve ever heard the words “Keyser Söze” but have never known what it’s referring to, that’s this film.
The Guard. Staring Brendan Gleeson (Madeye Mooney in Harry Potter) and Don Cheadle (Ocean’s 11, 12, and, I believe, 13), this black comedy a la In Bruges sees two law enforcement officers try and single-handedly take down a drug smuggling operation in rural Ireland. It’s so funny, and the clash of Irish and American culture adds a lighthearted touch to heavier motifs of international crime and police corruption. Not a Sunday afternoon film. More of a wine and Doritos on a Saturday night film. I was lucky to have my Scottish, accent-deciphering boyfriend along with my, otherwise I would have missed some of the pithier jokes. Try and find a version with subtitles.
If ever you need inspiration for a good, slightly old, non-mainstream film to watch to pass the evening, check out the lists they have on imgur, they’ve always got something you’ve either never heard of, or have been meaning to watch and forgot all about.
Thank you for Smoking. Pretty sure we found this one on the same list that we found The Guard, this is also a bit of a dark-sided comedy (though, as it’s American, it doesn’t quite reach the dark heights of the above) staring Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight). Presumably set in the 90s, the internet says it’s about “a lobbyist for big tobacco, finds it difficult to balance his duties defending the dangerous substance with those of being a good role model for his young son.” But I actually disagree with this verdict. I think it’s more about the idea of having flexible morals, and how the freedom of choice is sometimes more important than what some people perceive to be “the greater good”.
It may get you thinking. It may just make you laugh and forget all about it. Either way, it’s a good film.
Fed Up is an American documentary about the food industry, obesity and the general willing ignorance of Americans in the face of greedy, controlling food corporations. Oh and sugar. Lovely, sweet, addictive, poisonous sugar. The obesity crisis is a pretty tired subject in general and I personally get a bit sick of the various documentaries, books etc because, to me, health varies so much depending on the individual. HOWEVER, this is a real eye opener to the food industry itself and the really insidious way they are basically fuelling the crisis and how, in the US anyway, the government prioritises big profit way ahead of anything as silly as public health. (Disclaimer: the film has made me more aware of the evil addiction of sugar but I just finished a chocolate bar. THE HOLD IS REAL)
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. So the title pretty much gives it away but this book blurs together poetry and critical essays really beautifully. For example there is an exploration of Serena Williams and the ‘Angry Black Woman’ trope. As you turn page after page, there are small excerpts of internal monologues and conversations which record and try to make sense of micro aggressions. It really builds up.
The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter And How To Make The Most Of Them by Dr. Meg Jay. I know, I know, what a clickbait title. I was massively skeptical about reading this book too because I figured it was one of those ‘self-help’ books that just make you feel like a train wreck and a Sainsbury’s basics millennial. BUT it doesn’t give you exercises to work through, it doesn’t actually tell you to do anything. Instead, the author breaks down the most common issues facing our generation and uses specific client case studies to paint the picture and navigate you through it. It’s much easier to think about career goals and relationship problems when we’re talking about some girl in Idaho and not staring in the mirror….
Ours Are The Streets by Sanjeev Sahota. Okay I’m literally 5 years late on this but God this was so uncomfortable to read. It tears down the image of a suicide bomber as an almost mythological demonic figure that bombards our TV screens and brings a very real, three dimensional person with a fleshed out history right to your doorstep. There are a few things that get skimmed over that are problematic but overall there are some really beautiful moments where he really sets out that feeling of belonging but not always and not quite, that I think a lot of second generation-ers tackle growing up. It forces you to confront the assumptions you have about the radicalization process and who is most susceptible, and really drives home that totally consuming need to belong.
Camille Paglia – Sex, Art and American Culture. This book has basically changed my life. Not because it says anything that I didn’t already know, but rather because it confirms so many things that I have thought and felt myself, and makes me feel less alone in these thoughts.
In this age of online advocacy and passive aggressive militant feminism, it’s easy to feel that your opinions have no value, mainly because if you preach things like common sense then you’re a victim blamer, or that if you point out that safe spaces that exclude white people are essentially reinforcing reemerging tropes of segregation, you’re a narrow-minded bigot. If you have ever felt any of these emotions, please read this book. She will make you feel sane again.
Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure. Standard depressing literature from the man who brought you Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, this book follows the story of Jude Fawley, a stone mason who wants to go to college, but whose road is blocked at every turn, and whose life eventually succumbs to complete despair. It’s meant to be a love story, but if you were irritated by the women in Madding Crowd, get ready to get really pissed off at the actions of the ‘heroine’ in this book. She’s meant to be a great, outspoken, ahead-of-her-time character, but I just found her really annoying. Anyway, Jude falls in love, everything seems like its going right at last, then a tragedy of truly epic proportions strikes. Like. Wow. I did not see that coming. F*ck.
The book is great. Well written, surprisingly frank and depressing considering when it was written (1896), and much better than Madding Crowd. Although I just really hate everyone in that book, so maybe not. If you feel like getting depressed and possibly crying on a Saturday afternoon, pick it up and give it a go.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I finished this a few days ago and it was one of those reading experiences that temporarily ruined me for other books. I’m only just considering that maybe I can read something else now because it was that good. It certainly won’t be for everyone but I felt so involved in the story of a mysterious, travelling circus that is dazzling beyond any ‘normal’ circus and is actually a cover for something much more complicated. (No spoilers here!) There is a love story that you can see coming a mile off of course but I cared so much about the characters and the ending is not what you think it will be; it’s a relief but also heartbreaking. It’s beautifully detailed, imaginative and sensual. Read it.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I cannot believe I had never heard this woman’s name before reading this book considering how much of an impact she’s had on modern medicine and science. It’s an outrage people dont know more about her!!
I often become obsessed with music, if there’s a song I like, I will listen and listen and listen and listen until it’s dead. This time, I’m holding myself back a bit. (Maybe I’m growing up?) The current obsession? Shura. Her voice is soft but husky and has such a gorgeous 90s trance feel to it. Listen to ‘Touch’ for a taster.. However many times you want.
Alright, I’m just going to spam you with links to the 5 songs I’ve had on a loop this month.
Ray Blk – 50/50 This girl is straight outta Catford. HASHTAG GIRL CRUSH.
Kwamie Liv – Pleasure This Pain. Google image this woman and then pick your jaw up from the floor.
Mali Music – Contradiction. The lyrics in the first verse of this are beautiful. “You look like the last time/Let a new day come and greet you.”
Zhu X Gallant – Testarossa Music. I have listened to this for weeks now and I still don’t know the words because I hear the chorus and instinctively wait for Mariah to come in all breathy singing ‘Baby if you give it to me.’ Anyone else get that??
Lipstick Gypsy – The Cure. Alright maybe don’t watch the video cause it doesn’t do the track justice. Just have a listen and minimize the window.
MY DAD WROTE A PORNO. Hysterical podcast that has me in tears on the tube.
Meditation is the shit. No lie. I technically started it way before January but it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve really started reaping the benefits. I use an app called Headspace which provides a 30 day foundation course in mediation and then a variety of courses after. It’s as simple as 10-20 minutes every morning, a lovely voice on your headphones, guiding you gently through meditation, slowly giving you more freedom. It’s hard, there are times I cannot quiet my thoughts at all but generally, it’s calmed my mind so much; I’m more in control and much, much happier. I cannot recommend enough.