Spider-Man and the Botanist

It was the final day of my friend T’s visit so we decided to have a chill day – she is returning to a packed Edinburgh Fringe schedule. A lazy morning (for me, anyway – she was working on Fringe stuff) was followed by a trip to the Vue in Gateshead to see Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Earlier in the weekend we had watched Into the Spiderverse, which was an utter delight – visually inventive and packed with loads of pleasing comics references and plenty of heart – so I was keen to see how she thought the film compared. Plus I have been dying to try the Vue – since it’s £4.99 a ticket! We both enjoyed it a lot, though I felt a bit like the Marvel Whisperer – having seen it already in Brighton I was on hand to stop patrons leaving before the end scenes, many clearly wondering if Endgame had marked Marvel abandoning their post-credits scenes. (Half the people around me were googling “Far from Home end credits” as the credits themselves were running!)

Afterwards we nipped over the river for a quick drink at The Botanist, as I wanted T to see one of the best interiors in the city, and though I dislike the place when it’s busy – it gets rammed – at 5 on a Sunday it was pretty civilised.

Finally, the night was rounded out by another North East institution: Indian takeaway from Saleem’s, thereby ensuring she returns to Edinburgh full for about a week (as well as being delicious, Saleem’s is not stingy with the portions!)

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Jaws at the Tyneside Cinema

I must admit I am a sucker for an old movie on the big screen. Whether it’s a beloved favourite or a classic I have somehow missed, I love getting a chance to watch a film that’s become a TV staple in a cinema.

So when I saw that The Tyneside Cinema was showing a screening of Jaws, I decided to book tickets. It’s one of those films that I feel like I have seen because so much of it has become part of the lexicography of both film and cultural life, but I realised I had never actually seen the whole thing. I suggested to my friend D – who is a massive fan, and had already seen it on the big screen as part of its 4K* restoration last year – and she agreed to come with.

This of course presented a whole load of other issues: what if I hated it? D is a real fan: she was in fact wearing not one but three different pieces of shark-themed jewellery. And when I mentioned my ignorance of the film on Twitter, another friend said it was ‘like an episode of Murder She Wrote, but with sharks’ which didn’t exactly inspire me with confidence. (Or maybe, did, since that sounds awesome.) I was slightly worried this might be the end of our friendship.

Luckily, the problem didn’t arise. The film has held up really well, albeit the imagined horrors of the shark fare slightly better than the actual, clearly mechanical one – there were still some moments that actually had the audience jumping out of their seats. Even having been turned into cliche hasn’t diluted the key scenes (there was actually an advert for Veet hair removal cream for men based on the famous ‘compare scars’ scene shown before the trailers), and the underlying themes: respect nature, listen to experts and don’t put capitalism over human life, couldn’t actually be more relevant. (The first half IS a little like Murder She Wrote with sharks, but I didn’t mind that at all…)

As ever when I watch films from that era, I feel a little sad: because I can’t help thinking none of those people would be cast today. Some of the men might do OK – though likely shunted off into character roles – but everyone else would be straight out of central casting: glossy, toned, even the older women trim and well-preserved, though they might hire a single fat guy for the sake of ‘veracity’. (This was reinforced not just by the trailer for the new Tarantino film, which features lots of toned, glossy, beautiful people made up to look as unpolished as the 60s, and watching The Meg when I got home, in which all the women look like they came to their auditions direct from the gym, and marine biologists look like Jason Statham, not Richard Dreyfuss, and spend a lot more time with their shirts off.)

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(This is my friend’s bracelet – if you like one you can buy it at Stella My Star on Etsy – they do a whole range of geeky themed jewellery.)

Afterwards we went to The Alchemist in Eldon Square for snacks and drinks – and I was impressed to see the most extra ice bucket I have encountered, overflowing with dry ice. The food was also good – very nice vegetarian selection – and the staff friendly, so I would definitely go again. I rarely think to go into Eldon Square to eat – it feels a bit ‘food court’ for my tastes – but both times I have eaten their recently have actually been pretty great, and if you sit further inside you can generally forget you are in a shopping centre, so perhaps I need to be less snobby about it…

(*I have no idea what a 4K restoration is, or if that is even what it’s called.)

Christmas in July at the Tyneside Cinema

It’s the hottest day of the year so far and I am at a Christmas party. You have to feel a little sorry for the bods at The Tyneside Cinema, which picked yesterday to launch its festive programme – I’m roasting and there is a man in a full on Santa suit having to keep up the Christmas cheer. Still, the decidedly odd sensation of being seasonally unaligned aside, there was lots to appreciate at the launch – and lots to look forward to in winter.

When I arrived just after 5 the event was still getting underway, and looking a little sparse – perhaps many of the people invited were deterred by the weather, which made doing anything but sitting on the sofa in your pants seem like a stretch. This didn’t seem to deter the friendly, glitter-faced staff (or the Santa, who maintained an impressive amount of good cheer for a man in red velour in a heatwave, though he also spent a lot of time standing under the aircon unit).

The cinema had cleared out the Coffee Rooms and Digital Lounge to make space for some stalls and a cocktail bar (where I felt obliged – obliged, I tell you – to have a Baileys espresso martini). Prosecco, soft drinks, canapes and popcorn were all on offer, and you could also get a chocolate milk from the Polar Express stand, or a green cookie from the Grinch.

The tentpole offerings of the season are around not just the films – screenings of all the usual festive suspects, from Die Hard to It’s A Wonderful Life – but the packages that come with them. The cinema is doing a number of family events, at a range of price points depending on the extras on offer – such as a screening of The Polar Express that includes hot chocolate and gingerbread, as well as a post-film visit from Santa. (A relaxed screening is also on offer.) A Grinch package can include shakes and cookies as optional extras.

Similarly there’s a whole range of It’s A Wonderful Life events – from Afternoon Tea to a festive sing-song and night out (with a bringing in baby event also on offer). A screening of The Holiday comes with prosecco, popcorn and chocolate (plus tissues, if you fancy a weep). I’m mildly disappointed you don’t get any extras with the Die Hard screening (A vest? Socks? A Christmas sweater? Duct tape?) but I guess you can’t have everything.

The cinema also, of course, has a wide range of non-festive options – you can rent out a screen for a party (something, I admit, I have always wanted to do – the hen party scene in Bridesmaid Blues is loosely based on doing this, at a fictionalised version of the cinema); you can book an afternoon tea or speakeasy night, and the cinema regularly hosts dementia friendly and bringing in baby screenings for both new releases and classics.

It’s no secret that I love the Tyneside Cinema (and the gorgeous coffee rooms) – that I spent much of my youth there, and am always happy to have a chance to go back – but getting a chance yesterday to speak to so many people who work there, and see how committed they are to serving the city was really inspiring. So why not check it out and go give them some of your money?

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Apollo 11 at Tyneside Cinema

The good thing about knowing a film critic is you get inside tips on the good movies. So having seen Caution Spoilers’ review of Apollo 11 when it was at Sundance London, I decided to go see it when it hit the Tyneside.

It’s a fascinating documentary, using archive footage of the launch, landing and recovery, most of which I had never seen before, and impressively for a story we all know, manages to cram in quite a lot of tension. My one caveat is that, by focusing again on what the camera focused on at the time, it reinforces the erasure of the people the space programme didn’t acknowledge at the time – no ‘hidden figures’ brought to life here, it’s all white guys with military haircuts. (I’m not saying of course that wasn’t most of the people involved – and I don’t know enough to know who else was involved in this particular mission – it’s just a shame that now we’ve had a glimpse at the people behind the scenes, they’ve vanished again here).

But that quibble aside, it’s a vivid and gripping film that also reinforces a message of peace, solidarity and science for the good of mankind that we could do with a bit more of today…

You can read a Good Housekeeping article about some of the women involved in the moon landing here (one of whom, Jo-Ann Morgan, is glimpsed in the film), and of course the book and film Hidden Figures are worth checking out to see the contribution African-American women made to the programme. You can also read Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Johnson’s official NASA bios here.

A busy week and then a wall

It’s been a pretty crazy month in April, but I have also, for most of it, been pretty ill. Last week my usual, ahem, failsafe plan of powering through and ignoring it did what it always does: works until it didn’t, when my body finally said enough and a three-day migraine wiped the feet from under me. So this week, work aside, I plan to take it easy: lots of green veg, lots of rest, lots of naps and nights in.

I did manage to do some fun stuff last week, though. Saw Avengers Endgame, a little movie you might have heard of, and went for cocktails at Beelim House again. Went to another gig in the Cluny – this time Cluny 2, which I liked a lot less, since it seemed to have been set up with no thought to the sightlines, and I’m never that fond of being in a basement. Still, it was to see Simone Felice, who my friend L is mad about (she was right at the front of the stage, while I sat at the back and felt a bit sorry for myself). While I am not totally converted, it was a good gig and we met him afterwards (I shamelessly insisted she took a photo with him), and he seemed very nice.

Yesterday I was back at Northern Stage to see Isle of Brimsker, a lovely wee play by Frozen Lights, a company that specialise in theatre for people with profound and multiple disabilities. It was a really well-done show: thoughtful, clever and performed with bags of charm, and I am pleased that Northern Stage is making such an effort to engage wider audiences.

But now, this week? Just lots and lots of naps.

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Baltic, cocktails and Us

After a busy and slightly frustrating week, where I had my biggest deadline of the year and, not coincidentally, my immune system finally gave in after several months of pretty much non-stop work, I was both delighted and slightly wary to play host to my friend T this weekend. Delighted, because she is always good company, wary because I had developed a hacking cough, almost lost my voice and wanted nothing more than to lie in bed with the covers over my head, so feared I wouldn’t exactly be the hostess with the mostess.

Luckily, T is both very low maintenance and very good company, so we actually had a fab weekend. Our plans were thwarted on more than one occasion – I’d wanted to do cocktails at Six in Baltic on early evening Saturday, but when we turned up the venue was booked for a private party, and the weather scuppered some of our more ambitious plans.

In the end, though, our weekend turned out pleasantly laid back. Having been to the Backyard Bike Shop several times for food, I finally got to try their cocktails, which were very nice. We had a delicious veggie brunch at the Tyneside downstairs cafe, and some seriously good Indian food at Dabbawal. And though the Baltic was a no for cocktails, we did see some art. I admit a lot of it went a bit over my head – art isn’t an area I am particularly knowledgeable about – but it’s always a space worth visiting. I was particularly taken with a couple of the shows in the Artists’ Award exhibitions: Ingrid Pollard’s examination of the figure of the ‘black boy’ in English architecture and culture – primarily through pub signs which use black figures – was fascinating, and Aaron Hughes piece on war was moving.

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We also watched a lot of films – it was a bit of a feminist film fest! T hadn’t seen Fury Road or the new Halloween so we watched those, then went to the Tyneside to see Us, where it was also nice to introduce her to the beauties of the classic screen, and rounding off our Strong Women weekend, we watched Widows, which I hadn’t seen either.

I thought both Us and Widows were flawed but fascinating, powered by smart ideas and strong performances. Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis were both incredible. I am also *very* here for Winston Duke playing a dorky dad, which was such a difference from his usual roles.

So, all in all – just the tonic I needed!

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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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