Cocktails and Captain Marvel

Thursday, my friend M and I went to see Captain Marvel. It was my first trip to a mainstream cinema since I moved back – the Gate, in Newcastle – since unlike the Picturehouses I was used to in Brighton (where I saw pretty much all my movies) the Tyneside Cinema doesn’t show all the big films. I liked the Gate – the neon decor makes you feel a bit like you are in Tron, and when it’s quiet it feels a bit post-apocalyptic, but the seats were comfy and the screen was huge. (So much so that I had misjudged and booked seats far too close to the screen – we were both a bit woozy by the end.)

The film was also great – like most of the Marvel origin movies, it took too long to get going, but once it hit its stride it was enormous fun. Goose the cat rules!

Before the film, we had cocktails in Bealim House, on Gallowgate. An old stationers, so close to my heart already, they specialise in gin, though of course I had to try their espresso martinis, my usual drink, and they did a decent job of that (plus, there was a two-for-a-tenner offer on. Bargain!)

Walking to the film, though, I realised there was another pub I should have tried…

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Sex at the Tyneside

OK that’s a flashy headline for actually a not very exciting blog! Having seen RBG, the excellent documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the Tyneside, I found myself back in the very same screen to see the film based on her early career, On the Basis of Sex. 

It’s a charming and insightful film, with a raft of great performances – the leads Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer are real stand outs, the latter simply oozing charm while Jones captures the nervy energy of RBG well – and is very good at illuminating the fact that even so-called progressives often didn’t take ‘women’s issues’ seriously.

Worth your time.

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Two Trips to the Tyneside

Having had my membership for months and barely used it, as is the way of things this week I made two consecutive trips this week, both to see great films.

[Contains spoilers]

If Beale Street Could Talk was first – the exquisite new film by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins. A powerful, painfully relevant story of black lives with a strong cast (Kiki Lane and Stephan James as the young couple at the story’s centre were both new to me, but it also features standout turns from more established actors such as Regina King, Colman King and – a long-established favourite of mine – Aunjanue Ellis), it’s a gorgeously shot and achingly romantic film, and one that will haunt you long after you’ve seen it.

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A lot more fun, though still tragic in many ways, was Can You Ever Forgive Me? Based on a true story, it’s smartly written with two incredible turns at its centre in Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant (and, to my joy, has appearances by some of my favourite actors, including Jane Curtin, Anna Deveare Smith and Marc Evan Jackson). (For a more detailed review, why not pop over to Caution Spoilers?)

In some ways it was a jarring combination – it’s a little tough to watch a movie about a white woman basically getting away with her crimes the day after a film that shows a black man incarcerated for something he didn’t do – but both are examples of film-making at its finest.

RBG at The Tyneside

Back to the Tyneside Cinema yesterday, having negotiated their slightly annoying system for redeeming free members’ tickets (you have to buy them in person, or book them over the phone and then collect them at the box office, so in effect queuing both on the phone and in person, which is kinda irritating). The irony that I was allowing minor stuff like this to annoy me while going to see a film about a woman who has more backbone and grit than I could imagine was not lost on me.

RBG is a fascinating documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court Justice who has become something of an icon in recent years. Being English, I was less aware of her formative – and formidable – career standing up for gender equality (including taking on a key case where a man was being discriminated against, a widower not eligible for the same survivor benefits his wife would have been given to support the raising of their son).

It’s unashamedly partisan, though not a hagiography, with plenty of input from the lady herself, her friends and family, as well as some of the people she has helped, and the younger generation who made her a meme. Senior figures like Bill Clinton feature (some of them Republican), and it doesn’t gloss over some mis-steps, or some things that baffle her friends (for instance, her ability to be friends with the late Justice Scalia, a man at the opposite end of the political scale).

It was well worth the trip, and I was pleased to get a chance to see the Tyneside’s Gallery Cinema – a tiny screening room (3 rows of seats) that is perfect for smaller films like this: on a Tuesday afternoon there were barely half a dozen of us in the room, but it’s great that the cinema is showing these kinds of films knowing they won’t get sell out screenings. Maybe I’ll forgive them for their Membership ticket scheme after all…

The Favourite (and some favourite memories) at The Tyneside Cinema

Yesterday marked my first return to the main screen at the Tyneside Cinema for probably 20 odd years. The Tyneside was actually my first ever screen visit – when I was a young child, my mum took me to see Bambi at the Odeon, but either it was sold out or she got the times wrong, and we ended up (literally, in those days) across the road at the Tyneside, and watching old-timey drama The Amazing Mr Blunden. (We went to see Bambi afterwards, which made for an odd and slightly traumatic day).

In my teens I became a regular visitor. I grew up in what in many ways was a great era for going to the cinema. I saw all the Star Wars movies at the Odeon on Pilgrim Street, (and queued, outside, for HOURS, to get into Return of the Jedi, SEVERAL TIMES – these days I wouldn’t queue if a shirtless Chris Hemsworth was giving out hugs and tenners). I vividly recall my mum having a crush on Christopher Reeve’s Superman – she was quite flustered by him (“he’s so tall!”) and this being one of the first instances I realised my mum was an actual woman with human feelings, not some nebulous, asexual mum-figure.

I remember the audience in the Westgate Road ABC cinema bursting into spontaneous applause when Marty McFly made it back to the future. I recall winning tickets to see a preview of Desperately Seeking Susan and turning up on a Sunday morning to join the line at the Odeon – another queue! – and being virtually the only one not wearing a crucifix and lace fingerless gloves, people dressed to the nines in honour of their icon, even at such an unreasonably early hour.

But the Tyneside Cinema will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first place I encountered LGBT films, and got an insight into a world beyond my own (fairly sheltered, not-that-well-educated) upbringing. Through the initial medium of my crush on Daniel Day Lewis (I forced my friend C to come and see My Beautiful Laundrette 4 times in 2 weeks so I could see him on the big screen, and there are still bits of it that make me swoon), I became interested in all things LGBT. (Like many 80s teens who felt like outcasts, I felt – probably insufferably! – a kinship with any group I saw as outsiders: it would take (ahem, quite a few) years to realise that the struggles of marginalised groups didn’t just exist to reflect my own insecurities and issues. But hey, cut me a break: this was before the internet, so it took a long time to figure out something these days you could get from 10 minutes on Tumblr) .

At a time when Clause 28 was making ignorance and hate popular policy, it was no small thing to have a steady stream of films about gay lives and the AIDS crisis on screen. It was here I found out who Harvey Milk was (a double bill screening of, if I recall correctly, Longtime Companion with the award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk). I saw – twice – Parting Glances (one of Steve Buscemi’s first films) which remains one of my favourites and, perhaps bizarrely, was one of the first films to make me fall in love with New York. I loved the way it is a rather pedestrian backdrop to the film, rather than a glamorised soundstage: on a recent visit I found the monument featured in the jogging scenes and had a jolt of familiarity it took me a moment to place.

It was here I marvelled over the beauty of Desert Hearts – the first time I saw two women in love on screen. And here where, after a cheese stottie sandwich in the Coffee Rooms upstairs, I skived off a college lecture to cry my eyes out over Torch Song Trilogy with some friends, one of whom later told me that had shaken her at-the-time blinkered (and mostly negative) views of what gay people were actually like (her having had no idea of what the film was about when we went in, except that it featured Ferris Bueller).

It was here I discovered a love of foreign films, and a world outside my own – a love that would, eventually, lead me to a job subtitling foreign language movies, where I got to work on making those very films accessible to an audience like me.

I was also lucky enough to grow up at a time when working class stories were considered to be worthy of showing – when we could be more than a throwaway character offering grim contrast or comic relief. Films like Prick Up Your Ears, My Beautiful Laundrette, Letter To Brezhnev and Rita, Sue and Bob Too centred working class experiences in all their variety, and showed me that stories could come from anywhere – even from people like me.

So I have much to thank the Tyneside for, and when I moved back, I became a member, not least to pay that back. However, it’s taken me this long to get around to actually seeing a film on the main screen – though it was most definitely worth the wait. Although – perhaps inevitably – it seems smaller than I remember it, it’s still a gorgeous cinema, retaining much of its Art Deco beauty, lovingly restored. In a world of faceless multiplexes, it’s worth a visit for that alone.

It was a bonus that I really enjoyed the film. The Favourite is the kind of thing I would have gone to see in this cinema back in the day: a clever, complex film that centres on women’s lives and loves, with astonishingly good performances at its core (Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are all standouts – though Nicholas Hoult deserves special mention for a deliciously bitchy turn).

Ah, Tyneside. It’s good to be back.

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Tyneside Cinema

As I said in my previous post, I made my first trip to see a film at the Tyneside last night. It really is a delight of a cinema, and boasts not just one but several great cafe / bars, one of which hosts free movie screenings. Expect more posts, as I joined their membership scheme!

They also stock some beers that I feel my friend Linda over at Raven in A Graveyard might approve of.

Chile comes to Newcastle: Nae Pasaran at the Tyneside Cinema

I’ve been in the Tyneside Cinema bar and cafe a few times since my return, but have been keen to actually start going to see films there again, and a screening of Nae Pasaran seemed a good opportunity to start. A documentary about the solidarity between Glasgow workers and Chilean citizens post-Pinochet’s coup, it hit a number of my sweet spots: working class stories, Glasgow (I miss you guys!), smart documentaries, and Chile – a subject I became interested in when I did some of the subtitling on Adrian Goycoolea’s fascinating film Viva Chile Mierda, which looks at the coup and its aftereffects through the lens of how it affected his extended family.

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It was a sold-out screening in one of the smaller screens I hadn’t been in before, the Roxy (hell, which didn’t even exist when I last went), and was attended by the director Felipe Bustos Sierra (with a Q&A I skipped out of – I can’t take one more ‘well, it’s more a comment than a question’ moment at one of these things, charming as the director himself seemed.) The film itself, based on the Scottish ‘blacking’ of Hawker Hunter jet engines at their East Kilbride factory so the Chilean military couldn’t use them against their own people, was a joy – passionate, funny, moving, humbling, and with a social message that is still as relevant, if not more so, now as it was then. Both the Scotsmen and the Chileans were dignified, wry and fascinating, and there were some real ‘I have something in my eye’ moments.

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I didn’t love the almost total lack of female voices in the film – I get that it was, primarily, about working men, but feel like there could have been more commentary from either the women affected in Scotland (the spouses of men who were risking their livelihoods / faced potential violence for a stance they didn’t know would have any impact) or in Chile, since women tend to be at the sharp end of any political struggle, albeit often in unacknowledged roles, and it would have been nice to hear a little more from those voices.

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But that aside, it’s genuinely worth your time and money – see it if it comes anywhere near you. (And do check out Adrian’s rather more female-populated film, if you fancy: it’s fascinating and free to watch at this link.)