Sunday, May 10, 2020
Recently On...Netflix

More than ever we're watching shows and movies online, being stuck at home day in, day out - like Groundhog Day! Here are some interesting documentaries, films and tv shows I've watched on Netflix lately. Maybe you'll find something you like too.

All The Bright Places

This romantic teen-drama is based on the bestselling novel of the same name - about Violet and Theodore, who meet a bit how Rose and Jack meet in Titanic - Violet, potentially about to jump from a bridge, following the grief and loss of her sister, but saved by Theodore before its too late. Both are struggling with deep emotional scars of their past, but find a sense of healing as they both fall in love with one another. It's an intense story to watch but beautifully done, giving a fresh, true-to-life perspective on the experience of mental illness, grief, and how this impacts relationships. For fans of The Fault In Our Stars or To All The Boys I Loved Before - you may enjoy this!

Miss Americana

I always love getting a behind-the-scenes experience into the life of an artist or a prolific celebrity. I'm not a massive Swift fan but I actually enjoyed this. The documentary delves into the many facets of Taylor Swift's career - from the big decisions and board meetings with her managers and publicists to her more vulnerable side and struggle with her body image. We see the ups and downs of her career in the late 2010s from that Kanye scandal to her dazzling tour costumes and her early rise to stardom as a determined and eager-to-please teenager. I found it to be a very honest look into one of the biggest female pop stars of today and the kind of challenges she faces on a day-to-day basis. If you enjoyed 5 Foot 2 about Lady Gaga, then you will like this too!

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

I stumbled across this and the name Joan Didion rung a bell, but I didn't know exactly much about her. This documentary was a revelation to me and exposed me to this hugely talented woman. Throughout, we delve into an archive of her essays, novels, and screenplays - where Didion provides us with observations on her personal experiences and state of mind. Directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, The Center Will Not Hold explores a treasure trove of footage and spends time talking with Joan about her eventful life - from writing for Vogue to her life in California, the writing of her books and marriage to the writer, John Gregory Dunne. If you want to be inspired, this documentary does a great job of honoring Didion's impactful career in the world of literature and culture.

Living With Yourself

Paul Rudd plays Miles, fed up with his life, and on the brink of burn-out in work and his love life. Miles heads to a 'spa' where he is promised a new, improved version of himself. The procedure doesn't quite go to plan, and Miles ends up having to live with his clone whilst trying to maintain normality at work with his colleagues and at home with his wife. There are only about 8 episodes at about 30 minutes max so this is what you would call a 'binge' worthy series if you're that way inclined. I really enjoyed this series and found it both funny and entertaining. It was an interesting look at how we view the self, and the desire for self-improvement - a dark, satirical but weird and bizarre comedy - if you like Black Mirror, this will be up your street!

Camino A Roma

Whilst on lockdown, I've been trying to learn as much about filmmaking as possible. If you've seen Roma by Alfonso Cuaron, then you may just be interested to see what goes into the production of the movie in this insightful documentary. I genuinely sometimes find behind-the-scenes features more interesting than the films themselves - I just love seeing the cameras, the actors, and production design, and everything that goes into making a film. We get to see how the director works on set, and lots of little details you wouldn't know from just watching the film. For example, a lot of the cast aren't experienced actors, the story is about Cuaron's childhood growing up and a lot of it is pure memory and not a lot of research. Fascinating and insightful, a must-watch for film buffs!

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

What stings the most about this documentary is the ending, where viewers are told that Bikram, the man, and focus of this whole documentary, is still teaching students today. Bikram rose to fame in the '70s for his 26-pose hot yoga classes and teacher training, which catapulted him to dizzying heights of success, wealth, and power. Not the first to do so, Bikram uses his status and abuses it, and throughout the documentary, former students reveal they were sexually abused by him. I found it both fascinating and scary how people, ie. the students, were so swept up by it all that his behavior was ignored, even tolerated. A man who lives in contradiction, promoting a peaceful and healthy lifestyle through yoga but his actions don't reflect those values.

Feminists: What Were They Thinking?

Last but not least! This documentary was really moving and emotional for me. Directed by Johanna Demetrakas, she revisits photos from a 1977 book capturing women shedding cultural restrictions. We meet the women from the book over 40 years later, such as Jane Fonda and Michelle Phillips (The Mamas & The Papas) who talk about what it was like growing up a feminist and their careers in the arts, music, acting, comedy, literature and more. Though the documentary is made over 40 years since the photographs were taken and assembled for the book, what I found so emotional is that women are still fighting the same fight. Initially, I found it a little despairing but also motivating and inspiring to continue pushing for change and gender equality.

Thursday, April 23, 2020
38 Days Later
Spring blossoms on a daily walk!

38 is the number of days I've been at home now 'self-isolating'/on lockdown/quarantining - whatever you want to call it or 'confinement' as the French say. Also well done if you got the play on words! If you didn't, 28 Days Later is a post-apocalyptic horror film by Danny Boyle featuring the gooorge Cillian Murphy who wakes up in a hospital and goes outside to discover London is completely deserted -  I highly recommend! 

My version, 38 Days Later, involves 0 actual zombies but the state of the supermarkets in the first couple of weeks wasn't far off looking like a set from the film though. Currently, outside my window cars are still driving by, people are out enjoying the sun, on their own though, I should add. However, normality feels like it could be in the hopefully not so distant future?

I've kept up the same attitude since my last post, enjoying the little things and mostly avoiding the news only when necessary. I tuned in for the most recent speech from Emmanuel Macron who then announced a further lockdown till the 11th of May. It's funny how I'd been going days without thinking about the news and the severity of the illness, and one speech put my mind in a negative space. The reality of what's going on hit me all over again like it was news I was hearing for the first time. Selfishly, I also noticed my 25th birthday will be spent at home.

To be honest, I didn't have plans yet but they most likely wouldn't have involved staying indoors but here we are! I like being home anyway and if staying in saves lives then I'm happy to do that. I've decided I'll make cocktails - my roommate isn't big on the booze, so I may be solo boozing while she sips on a mocktail. There'll be cake and I've booked time off work so it's shaping up alright for a 25th birthday.

Work has been keeping me busy. I've been researching new music and interviewing an Italian artist who's stuck in America for her quarantine. I find it fascinating how everyone's experience with this will be so unique. You can read the interview (in French) here if you like. It reminded me of how nice it was to talk to a stranger and share stories. It made me realize one of the things I've loved the most about my job is talking to people and asking questions (I like to do this in general so as a job it feels like a bonus).

Other things I've done include: painting my nails, cutting my own hair (it happened), watching documentaries, going for walks, playing my Nintendo, reading my book, making several quiches (some good, some epic failures) doing a 'Houseparty' app call with my cousins and doing two easter egg hunts in my flat and proceeding quickly to eat all of the chocolate. I've hoovered several times and it actually helps calm my mind a lot so there's an obvious wellness tip for you if you needed one.

I've also got very into meditation, to the point where, if I'm feeling rubbish, my first thought now is 'I need to meditate'. If you'd told me a year ago, that meditation would be so beneficial if I just gave it a go, I would have made an excuse or said I'll just 'get round to it'. I've finally started making the effort and I couldn't imagine going without it. I'm planning to write a blog post about mindfulness/meditation tips in the future so keep a lookout for that.

38 days later and the start of all of this feels like a lifetime ago. I'm slightly apprehensive about when life goes 'back to normal' - how will it feel to be in a crowd again? On a crowded commute? I think in a weird way, there will be parts I miss about being at home. I especially like not having any FOMO (fear of missing out), but I realise that's on me, and not on others. I'm learning to enjoy going by my own schedule and timetable, and if being at home suits me more than going out, or if I simply can't then I'm learning to be at peace with that. I sometimes like working from home, having everything I need around me, and the ability to roll out of bed! It's great that once I 'clock off', I'm already home.

I like that I'm now making time to do things I would make excuses for before. I'm excited again to learn, to be creative, and to cook! Can you believe that I chopped a ton of veg and made my first ever homemade soup of... my life?!

I'm not sure who I'm writing this for exactly, or who will enjoy it, but mostly I'm writing this for my future self. When I'm an oldie, and hopefully still know how to find this part of the internet, I can look back at this and show it to family and say "This is what happened when I was in my 20's!". 
Friday, April 10, 2020
The Film Club #11
Well, it's not like any of us are getting out to a cinema any time soon. Most of the films I was looking forward to seeing this year (The French Dispatch, No Time to Die, Tenet...) have all been postponed so I guess we'll just have to make do with the wonderful films that are already available. That's the great thing about cinema, it never really ages and films will always feel relevant at different points in our lives. 

Whilst stuck at home, under different circumstances, I caught up on some films in my spare time. Here are some films I recommend...

Parasite (2019) by Bong Joon-ho

Ok ok, this is obvious and barely necessary of a mention. Everyone has heard about Parasite by now, right? On the off chance you haven't heard of it, it's bloody brilliant and that's all you need to know. I rented it on Google Play after seeing a bazillion tweets/article headers about the movie and eventually caved, I couldn't wait any longer! I read no reviews so nothing was spoiled beforehand. I was truly gripped from the first frame and felt like I was constantly being revealed surprises throughout, whilst the characters couldn't quite believe what was unfolding in front of them, neither could I. On very basic terms, it's a social satirical masterpiece about class and greed, where a poor family cons their away into and quickly infests, like a parasite, the lives of a very rich family. I recommend these articles (1, 2, 3) and this video about the film (to consume after viewing to avoid spoilers!). Parasite marked a pivotal moment in cinematic history as it was the first EVER non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in history. A must-see!

1917 (2019) by Sam Mendes

I mainly wanted to go and see this because I knew Roger Deakins was the cinematographer behind it all and that is was shot in one take - or made to look like it as much as possible anyway. What's also really great about this movie is that it was co-written by a woman, Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Director, Sam Mendes wanted to honor his grandfather, Alfred Mendes, in 1917, who was a native of Trinidad and a messenger for the British on the Western Front. Mendes said that "it's important to remember they were fighting for a free and unified Europe and it's good to be reminded of that now". I'm not usually a mad fan of war films but this one felt particularly unique, mostly thanks to the way it was filmed - as you follow the two lead characters on their journey from the very first scene to the last. The camera felt very up close and really there was no way of escaping what was going on in front of you. An intense and captivating perspective of the first world war.

Midsommar (2019) by Ari Aster

Something very different here, but equally as intense as 1917. I can't say I really enjoyed Midsommar, maybe the better word is endured. Though beautifully shot, interesting and with brilliant acting from lead Florence Pugh, it just left me feeling a little uneasy. It's a horror film but set in broad daylight which makes it all the more eery. No jump scares, darkness or ghosts here but a very different kind of horror film. A young couple embarks on a 'trip' to a midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. It all starts off as a nice, carefree summer holiday and looks pretty idyllic, however it takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite the guests to take part in certain festivities. Think The Wicker Man but even more confusing.

The Lighthouse (2019) by Robert Eggers

Cabin fever might be beginning to feel a little too familiar for us all, right? Maybe save this one for when you're out of isolation, so you don't feel more claustrophobic. Two lighthouse keepers, played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, are stuck out on a remote and mysterious island in New England in the 1890s. They both struggle to maintain their sanity as they are confined together day in and day out on this island. For four weeks, the men face back-breaking work in miserable conditions with no one else for company but each other. They must endure one another's odd quirks and behaviors, resentment and hatred. In the unfortunate weather conditions, the two are forced to spend more time in hunger, agony and manic isolation with nothing but booze and telling old tales to keep them entertained. It leads the pair down a slippery slope into odd hallucinations. Visually this movie is a gorgeous, gothic horror sensation all shot in black and white, adding to the soulless atmosphere on the island with mad but brilliant performances from both actors.

The Farewell (2019) by Lulu Wang

It is not uncommon in Chinese culture, for example, to keep a loved one in the dark about an illness, like in The Farewell. The film tells the story of a Chinese family, who discover that their Grandmother has only a short while left to live. In order to get all the family together for one last time, they decide to schedule an impromptu wedding for a reunion. We meet Billi, a Chinese American, who quickly gets on the next flight from her home in New York back to her home country of China when she learns the news. However, she struggles to fit in with her family again and is against her family's decision to hide the truth from her grandmother. I really loved this film and thought it was a beautiful story about messy and loving big families, cultures and 'home'.

The Irishman (2019) by Martin Scorsese

Lastly, The Irishman! How lucky are we to have a director well into his seventies still making movies like this, and at such a length too. This movie is a crazy 3 hours and 30 minutes long but i'll be honest I didn't feel like i'd been watching it that long. I've watched shorter movies that felt longer but this one keeps you entertained with no need to check the time. In short, it's set in the 1950s where we meet truck driver, Frank Sheeran (played by longtime Scorsese companion, Robert De niro). He quickly gets involved with the Pennysylvania crime family and then goes on to work for Jimmy Hoffa, an American labor union leader and president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and is largely tied to organized crime. These are exactly the kind of stories Scorsese does best but Casino is still up there as my all time favourite of them all. What I did find interesting though was the use of special effects to make certain actors look younger - you can find out more about this in the 20/30 minute follow up episode 'In Conversation' featuring the director and lead actors from the movie on Netflix. It's amazing what we can do with technology in film, but for me it looked like the style used in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, and felt out of place. Nevertheless, it was as expected flawlessly performed, with amazing costume design (another interesting video here) with a great soundtrack too.

What movies have you been loving lately?