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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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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