02 November 2015

October Favourites

1. The BFI
I've been a member of the British Film Institute for seven or eight years now. Membership costs £40 per year, which gives you discounts on film tickets and priority booking for the regular programmes and the London Film Festival, among other benefits. Even when I don't get the full £40 of value, I am still happy to be supporting such a great cultural institution. I've really got back into the swing of attending BFI screenings over the past month or two, first with the London Film Festival and then with their Love season: a collection of dozens of classic love stories, including comedies, dramas and tragedies. The Brooklyn screening I attended recently kicked off the season, and I'm definitely keen to try to get to one of the screenings of Casablanca, True Romance and maybe one or two others. I try to keep up with new cinema releases, but the BFI helps me rediscover great films from cinema history.

2. Callooh Callay
This Rivington Street bar has been on my Top London Cocktails list for quite a few years. They serve an eclectic range of creative cocktails in a fun, whimsical Shoreditch location. I went last month for a friend's menu and the menu was styled like a sticker album from the 1990s. Our group didn't quite manage to collect all 28 stickers, but we did pretty well. My favourite drink was the Coveted: coconut tequila, lime, sugar, egg white and a garnish of Nerds (yes, Nerds!). But the most exciting component, which was why I ordered it, was the colour-changing rainbow ice cube. Very cool indeed. The Zymology (gin, burdock bitters, green apple juice, black sesame and honey) was also delicious.

3. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
I bought a copy of Groff's novel when I saw it on this year's National Book Awards longlist (I hope Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life wins; it still haunts me) and then completely forgot what it was about until I started reading it. This worked in my favour: it's the kind of novel where it's best to go in knowing as little as possible. Essentially, though, it is the story of the 20-year marriage between Lotto and Mathilde. He is a golden boy who grows up handsome, talented and blessed and becomes an actor before finding success as a writer. Her past remains more mysterious, but she is intelligent and beautiful, if more self-contained and reticent than her husband. Their friends think that they are the perfect couple, but, as we discover through a slow, steady drip of revelations, nothing is quite as it seems. Just when you think you know where the novel is going, a huge change in narrative structure takes place that makes you question your previous assumptions.

Fates and Furies is beautifully written although not always an easy read. The characters are not always very likeable and it took me a good 100 pages to get into the novel, but once I did, I felt so drawn into the lives of Mathilde and Lotto that I couldn't put it down. [Image credit: Penguin Random House]

4. Montes de Cristo coffee from Monmouth
Unless I've been travelling to somewhere with good coffee, the coffee I brew at home almost always involves Monmouth beans. For a long time, I stuck to Colombian, Guatemalan and Costa Rican varieties but then started to experiment a little more. Unfortunately, this meant that I had a couple of bags of beans in a row that weren't really to my taste. This is entirely my own fault as I could have sampled the coffee before buying. Last week, then, it was time to put this right and I tried a few different varieties, including a lovely coffee from Ethiopia that would have been perfect for summer, when I prefer a fruitier taste. My new favourite, though, is the Montes de Cristo Costa Rican variety, which has a little fruitiness that is perfectly balanced by a sweeter smoothness. I don't know how long they'll keep it in their rotation, so I'm doing my best to enjoy it while it lasts — a perfect autumn coffee.

5. Sicario
While I was in Lisbon, I decided to take advantage of the €6 cinema tickets and went to see Denis Villeneuve's Sicario, which had been on my to-watch list for a while. I really enjoyed Villeneuve's Incendies and had hoped to see Prisoners but never quite got round to it. In many ways, Sicario, a crime drama set around the US–Mexico border, isn't exactly pushing boundaries, but the unfolding of the story and the strong performances, particularly by Emily Blunt, who plays a young and idealistic FBI agent brought in to join a cross-departmental task force that will have a crucial role in the war on drugs, and by Benicio Del Toro, a charismatic and enigmatic consultant whose motives are rather less certain. Gripping, action-packed and thought-provoking, Sicario is a better watch than your average crime drama.

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