What David Bowie Meant To Me

I first wrote this piece on the day David Bowie died, the January 10th 2016. I planned to share it again on what would have been his birthday, January 8th, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Now I’ve relocated it, I’m sharing again as it’s one of the pieces I’m most proud of – mainly as it’s so heartfelt and personal. Enjoy!

What David Bowie meant to me. I know there’s going to be hundreds of these, thousands even, that was the power of the man. But I equally feel the need to remember and thank the man I never knew who made such an impact on my life.

My first memory of hearing his music was in the car (the origin of most of my musical findings) aged 9 on the journey from Eastbourne to Legoland. My dad put on what we’ve since identified to be a cassette of ‘Best of Bowie 1969/1974. That moment of hearing ‘Rebel Rebel’ for the first time. My confusion at who he was singing about, his alternating of pronouns. The fact that even though I didn’t know the words (and wouldn’t for years to come) I could still sing along with the chorus, ‘Doo doo doo-doo doo doo.” I demanded that we listen to it on the way home too.

That was it for a few years. My musical allegiances (for better or worse) were with the often-barren wasteland of Top 40. A brief stint of loyalty to dance music concluding ‘coincidently’ with my growing fear of school. I hated it. Even the thought of school filled me with total and utter dread (the irony that I’m now a school teacher is not lost on me!) I feigned sickness, pretending all manner of illnesses so that I didn’t have to go into school. My attendance during year 11 dropped to 60%. Only now do I realise I wasn’t faking illness, but the fact illness could be mental and not just physical was an unknown entity. That’s when Bowie, in the form of Ziggy Stardust, reappeared.

He looked just as a strange as I felt I did, and he had the same hair colour as me! I could plug into his music and be transported, healed by his words and drift away to a world that scared me a little less than the one I lived in.A musical obsession started to form as I delved deeper into his back catalogue and idolised every song, quote and image I discovered. I even renamed (and have kept) my phone’s bluetooth as Major Tom and my laptop as Ground Control. At University when my taste started to remould, and my a petulance for the 1950s emerged, there was The Thin White Duke. A late-in-life discovery of Labyrinth soon after.

Then came the first six months of 2014. They were the darkest days I had ever felt and they had come out of nowhere. It felt like an inescapable black cloud was above me, carrying around an incomprehensible weight on my shoulders, leaving me as an empty void. A shell of my former self. I was desperate. Scared. Hopeless. That’s when Bowie proved he still had more to give me- calling out “You’re not alone” during ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. Recovering from that time in my life wasn’t made easier by that song, nothing can make that internal battle ‘easier’, but it was a bright speck, a light in a world that seemed so dark and so lonely.

So yes, I feel bitter and sad. Angry even, that I’ll never get to see him perform. The ‘what would I do if I met David Bowie’ fantasy no longer has the same relevancy or potency. But his music is still here. His art is still here. And I’m beyond thankful that I’m lucky enough to have found an artist who I connected with so strongly, who emboldened me when I felt that I couldn’t go on. Whose music possess the power to send me to the dancefloor no matter how sober I am or how empty the dancefloor is. We may have lost a legend but I, we, haven’t lost that legacy.

STWS #15

Welcome back. Lovely to see you again, even if the circumstances (what with Lockdown 3.0 and the world on fire) are decidedly less than desirable. As always, what follows are 7 film recommendations to help you with your picking what to watch.

Here’s the back catalogue: – #1#2#3, #4#5#6#7#8#9 , #10#11#12 #13 and #14.

Dredd (2012 – 85 mins – Netflix)

It’s taken over 8 years and counting, but it feels like Dredd is finally getting some of the recognition it deserves. One of the most underseen comic book movies as well as being one of the finest of the genre. It’s a fantastic take on the 2000 AD comic strip Judge Dredd with Karl Urban (currently most recognisable for his leading role in Amazon’s The Boys) playing the eponymous law enforcer. It’s brutal (strong 18) with incredible special effects, a tau thriller of a narrative and packed full of dark humour.

Pepe the Frog: Feels Good Man (2020 – 92 mins – BBC iPlayer)

I’ve slowly but surely been working my way through the Storyville series on BBC iPlayer. It’s a documentary strand that currently comprises 35 contemporary and challenging documentaries from different filmmakers gathered from across the globe. Some are familiar titles, otten with titles slightly edited, and some are unknown gems – like this one was for me. Loosely aware of the Pepe the Frog meme but knowing nothing about the context in which it was created or how it has since been horrifically warbed and used in terrifying ways, I went in totally blind with this one. Wow. Seeing this just days before the events in Washington this week added a horrific timeliness and an answer of sorts to the question ‘How did we get to this point?’

Casablanca (1942 – 102 mins – BBC iPlayer)

I started to really get into film when I was twelve. For the next few years I’d have these phases we’re I’d discover a genre/theme/actor and obsessively get into it. My discovery of Casablanca, somewhat oddly, happened in my Summer of Film Noir (yep, I was one cool kid…) If you’re yet to see it and have dismissed it as everyone always talks about it, hear me out. Give it a try this week. Why? It’s funnier than you might think, exquisitely filmed and has some sublime performances just across the board. There’s just how brave and ahead of its time it was, whilst being truly of it’s time too. This was filmed and released in 1942 – WW2 had been raging for years with no end in sight. Watch this and dare tell me it’s not audacious and revolutionary. And, I hate to carry on referring to current events but – I think we all need some hope this week.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001 – 97 mins – Netflix)

This film celebrates its 20th anniversary this year – isn’t that MAD?!?! (Answer, yes. v.mad) After watching this fantastic documentary over the festive period, I was compelled to rewatch the film with fresh and informed eyes. It really does hold up (workplace sexual harassment aspects aside…). As I grow closer to Bridget’s age, having had far too many entanglements and experience that could be described as Bridget Jones moments, I appreciate all the more just how bold her character is – with Renée Zellweger capturing her and the single woman experience so beautifully. And I won’t get started on Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in this film. The former has ruined my romantic expectations for life and the latter would just ruin me.

Gone Girl (2014 – 159 mins – Amazon)

And this week’s underappreciated romcom slot goes to… Ha! There’s really not much I can say about this film because you’ve either seen it already (and seeing it here now you know you want to rewatch it) or you haven’t seen it yet (and therefore I don’t want to spoil things by telling you too much about it as you should now go and watch it). A top-tier thriller by David Fincher, dark and wonderfully twisted.

Hustlers (2019 – 110 mins – Amazon Prime)

I once saw this described as ‘Goodfellas but strippers’ – whilst I appreciate the sentiments, that buzzphrase sort of misses the point. Director and co-writer Lorene Scafaria has made a modern classic here, expertly and seemingly effortlessly utilizing the female gaze. The based-on-a-true-story about a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients is just magnificent.

Instant Family (2018 – 118 mins – Sky/NowTv and, from sunday, Netflix )

I reckon it’s a safe bet to say that you looked at the below still and formed a judgement about this film based on Mark Wahlberg and, to a much smaller extent because of her varied back catalogue, Rose Byrne. At least, that’s what I did. However, skip this one at your peril as you’ll be missing out. This is one of the finest and funniest family dramas in recent year, following a couple who find themselves in over their heads when they foster three children. Inspired by the personal experience of the film’s director, Sean Anders, this really is a feelgood delight.

Dating Bio

A burst of inspiration made me decide to write a dating profile that most accurately represents me. Enjoy! Applications will be considered and very much appreciated.

Vacancy available for wintertime crush turned romantic interest. Option is available for the role to be undertaken virtually, until an in-person option is possible.

The potential love interest (who, from hereon in, will be referred to as PLI) you are applying to date is 6ft, has red hair, wears primarily vintage clothing, works in a secondary school and is obsessed with all things pop culture – primarily, but not exclusively, books, tv, music and films.

Things you should know about PLI:

  • Has a nifty ability to guess the song from just a few seconds of hearing, but also has an annoying habit of then announcing the name and artist to whomever they are with – even if that person has no interest in this information.
  • Is a massive fan of puns. Particularly bad puns. Has decided to keep track of their top five for reasons unknown.
  • Loves to Cross Stitch, has an impressive collection of crafting materials and constantly has all manner of them strewn about.
  • Is rarely spotted without at least one book on their person.
  • Is at their happiest in their natural habitat – cinemas and bookshops. However, PLI is also known to enjoy spending long nights at the pub with their nearest and dearest. The same applies for going to the theatre and comedy shows.
  • Is drawn to finding and trying the weirdest snacks possible. Has an usual compulsion to try blue food where possible – again, there is little apparent reasoning for this.

Should your application be successful, please bear in mind the following things that PLI must avoid at all costs (in order of causing most peril to PLI):

  • Wax Models
  • Bananas
  • Penicillin
  • Spiders

Thank you for reading this job description and for considering applying for the role. PLI looks forward to hearing from you and commencing a love affair for the ages.

20 from 2020: My favourite films of the year and where to find them

It’s the last day of the year, and I’ve put off doing this list for long enough. Instead of doing a top ten films of the year, I’ve decided to do a bumper addition. 2020 brought few joys with it but quality books (as demonstrated here) and films were not in short supply. So, in no particular order, here’s my 20 films of the year. (Two disclaimers: These are of the films I’ve seen, there’s a few I just haven’t been able to fit in yet so there are a few blindspots. I’ve gone for UK release date – either in cinema or VOD where applicable.)

FilmRunning TimeAvailable to watch Current priceMy review?
The Personal History Of David Copperfield119 minsAmazon Primeincl. in subscription Film Stories
A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood 109 mins Sky/NOWtv incl. in subscription Feature in FS #11
Parasite132 mins  Amazon Prime incl. in subscription 
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire122 mins  AmazonMUBI add-on (free 7 day trial, then £9.99 a month) 
Emma. 124 minsSky/NOWtv incl. in subscription  Film Stories
Ema 107 mins ALL4Free  
The Assistant87 mins Sky/NOWtv   incl. in subscription  
Clemency 112 mins Sky/NOWtv incl. in subscription   
Saint Frances101 mins  CurzonRent for £1.99  
Perfect 10 83 minsBBC iplayer Free  
Babyteeth118 mins  Netflix incl. in subscription   
Les Miserables 104 minsNetflix incl. in subscription    
The Broken Hearts Gallery 109 mins AmazonPre-order for Jan 4th, £9.99 to buy  
Rocks93 mins  Netflixincl. in subscription    Movies on Weekends
THE FORTY YEAR OLD VERSION123 mins  Netflixincl. in subscription   
Lovers Rock 70 minsBBC iplayer Free  
County Lines 90 mins BFI playerRent for £10  Feature in #21 of FS
Boys State 109 mins Apple Tv+incl. in subscription    
Wolfwalkers 103 minsApple Tv+ incl. in subscription     
The Invisible Man 123 minsSky/NOWtv incl. in subscription    

100 Days of Covid

As one of the leading minds in the field of overthinking, I’d given a lot of thought to if/when I caught Covid-19. I’d run through all sorts of scenarios and had – eventually – deescalated myself to the thought that if I did catch it, I’d push through it. I’d be ill but, statistically speaking, I should be alright. Ish. I was 28, walked to and from work (amounting to about an hour a day), had just started doing 3 dance classes a week (turns out 80s aerobics was the answer) and had no underlying health conditions. I hadn’t quite accounted for my knack of being the odd one out, the un/lucky one who stumbles into drama and situations that ‘probably’ shouldn’t be possible.

It started off feeling hay fever. I was near certain that was it was – it was the same kind of itchiness around the eyes and nose. Not uncommon for me, so I popped a couple of Loratadine (a specific type I have to take due to allergies that caused my face to swell up on one memorable occasion – see, I’m already proving my earlier point) and went to bed. It was a Sunday night so any not-feeling-right could be written off as the Dread.

I woke up in the early hours with the kind of sore throat that could only be described as having swallowed glass, that was the extent of the burning – as if something was ribbing at my throat. After taking some painkillers and spending several hours on failed attempts to go back to sleep, I called in sick – although I barely had a voice to leave the message explaining my absence.

 Then a runny nose joined proceedings. Brilliant. I spent hours googling Covid symptoms, but runny noses and sore throats were varying (low) degrees on the ‘uncommon symptoms’ scale.  I’d just have to roll with it.

Cut to the early hours of Tuesday and I wasn’t getting any better. In fact, I was pretty sure things were getting worse. My incredible awful habit of googling symptoms resulted in no answers and no peace. That was when the coughing started. An unwelcome arrival that has truly outstayed it’s welcome, as I still have it – I can say with some certainty and authority that 100 days straight of coughing sounds as painful as it feels, but I’ll get to that later.  

That was when I started to get a bit scared, more so on what the right thing to do would be. I’d spent the past 24 hours doing random taste and smell tests to check everything was in working order (can safely say there was a reason we left behind the cinnamon challenge in 2012). But surely, as the advice seemed to be, it was better to get tested just in case? It took eight attempts at filling in the labyrinthian form to finally get a message beyond ‘no tests available’, although attempts 8 and 9 offered me a testing centre 5 miles away – even though I’d already ticked the ‘I don’t have access to a car box.’ Attempt 10 offered me a testing centre a 30 min walk away. Over the past 100 days, there are real stand-out snapshot moments that I can think about again and just feel with every fibre of my being. That walk is one of them (a walk I did at the quietist time possible, and I avoided crossing paths with a single person). I genuinely don’t know how I got to the testing centre, at this point my body was aching, I was sweating all over yet was bitterly cold to my bones, and I was now really scared.

I’d researched the test, watched the video and read as many instructions guides and top tips I could find. The testing centre was empty, with me being the only person being tested the entire time I was there. I wanted to get it all done quickly – as observed my the person appointed to oversee my test who said ‘It’s almost like you don’t want to be here, how speedy you are!’ Any ‘duh!-ness’ I felt entitled to feel in response swiftly evaporated when he explained where in my throat had to put the swab and I asked ‘Not the dangly-dang that swings in the back of my throat?’ I don’t think he twigged the unintended WAP reference…

The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday passed by. One minute I was sure I was getting better, and the result would unquestionably be negative. The next I’d be certain that I was in fact quite ill, more so that I wanted to admit. Yes, I was definitely very tired, but the my ever-permanent wave of anxiety had been dialled to 11.

Thursday morning resulted in the text message informing me that I had tested positive for Covid-19. To describe it as a shock would be an understatement. The next 10 days are a bit of haze. I was beyond tired, now fully aware of what fatigued meant and felt like. I was permi-frustrated, at being stuck in my room and having ‘failed’ by getting sick. I was scared that I could have passed it onto anyone I’d come into contact with the prior week, which provided a weighty amount of guilt that was only lifted by hearing the few who counted as close contacts – including my housemate – had all tested negative. I’d have bursts of energy, when I’d feel fine and normal. But then, within the same hour, I could find myself unable to lift my head from the pillow.

That was when the really brutal coughing took up residence. It genuinely bogles my brain at how much phlegm (yellow, occasionally green – as I have been asked my medical professionals countless times at this point. It’s a deep cough (no daintiness for me!), it’s painful and it’s winding. Persistent is an understatement, omnipresent and omnipotent would do it slightly better justice. And, as recently as last week, it has resulted in violent vomiting.  It destroyed my sleep habits and has limited my life in ways previously beyond my comprehension.

After 10 days you’re told you’re no longer contagious and can go back to work. And, while I didn’t fell ‘well’ in any sense of the word, I thought I was ‘enough’. One major thing should have happened during this time, which would in near-certainty delayed my decision to return to work.  It was the fact my doctor should have been notified of my positive test result and been in touch to help create a care plan, or at the very least just check-in. Having been the first person I knew to get sick, I didn’t know of this fact. I presumed everyone who had Covid still felt a bit rough afterwards, but just got on with it.

I have many fatal flaws, one of which is my ability to just get on with things when everything indicates that that really shouldn’t be the case. I’m scarily adaptable to my surroundings if I’m doing what I’ve convinces myself is the ‘right thing to do’. (This does make me the human embodiment of the ‘this is fine’ meme with the dog sat in the chair surrounded by fire…) I went back to work, for 8 days. 8 days which increasingly shrank in length as I was getting weaker and more out-of-sorts. I’d returned to work knowing my newly imposed limitations in terms of walking around, how little I could do physically and how brain fog was impeding on finishing far too many sentences and trains of thought. The coughing increased and took over, the frequency of which I lost my breath and just couldn’t get it back became truly terrifying.

I was sent home by my line manager. Entering my flat at 11.30am on a weekday, I felt like a failure. I was clearly unfit for purpose. Another one of my fatal flaws is my adamant certainty and fear that I am not enough, this all -played wonderfully into that neurosis… At this point I had worked myself up into what can euphemistically describe as ‘quite a state’ and brought on a panic attack. The combination of psychologically being unable to breathe meets physically being unable to breath was a paralysing clash of the titans. All I knew was I needed medical help urgently. I talked myself out of calling 999 and went with 111, although I was reluctant to do even that as I felt like I didn’t want to be an inconvenience (third neurosis identified, writing this really is therapeutic it turns out…)

In retrospect, I find it rather darkly hilarious thinking back to that phone call, trying to speak when I couldn’t quite breathe – I promise I didn’t feel that way at the time. At all. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d call 111 – although it would be the most productive – and yet I remain baffled than anyone with a respiratory disorder has to describe their symptoms multiple times to different people. When every breath feels previous, wasting it on repeating the same answers to different people as there’s no centralised system for recording the responses is one of the many, many ludicrous things I’ve found over these months.

A call back from a local GP, who announced titbit about how my GP should have been in contact previously, resulted in my own GP giving me a call. He prescribed an inhaler, antibiotics and a sick note for the following 10 days – with the disclaimer that there was very little advice for them with what to do with patients suffering from Covid. He was, however the first person to describe me as having Long Covid. I would later ask him to look into the highly published research into Long Covid Clincs, he found and referred me to one – it took 3 weeks to get the referral from the hospital and my attempt to book informed me of the 18-week waitlist but to ‘call us on this number if you don’t hear from us by December 11th.’ I gave them a call on December 15, only to be told by a firm but frazzled nurse that they will get in touch with me in late Jan. (Side note: When reporting a fact back like this to your GP, avoid thoughtlessly accompanying it with the phrase ‘And if I’m still sick by then, I don’t know what I’ll do. It led to some difficult questions…)

After confirming with the doctor that it was safe for me and anyone I came into contact with, I returned home to my parent’s house. The past month had been terrifying on my own. It’s an understatement to say I had no energy to cook for myself, or even really look after myself. My convalescence had started at the hotel of mum and dad.

Then the Sunday night happened. That’s another snapshot moment, but I desperately don’t want to dwell on this one. It was the sickest I felt and the lowest, I was also adamant things really weren’t right. My mum stayed up all night with me, sleep was impossible. I was chucked from pillar-to-post by 111, answering the same questions to multiple people and getting no closer to actual medical advice. Come 8am I was put through to a wonderful and warm receptionist at a drop-in clinic, she put me through to the GP who told me in no uncertain terms to go to A&E immediately.

I distinctly remember the fear of not wanting to go in, as I didn’t believe I’d leave hospital. At the very least, I who knew when I’d return home. There was also the uncertainty of what I would see in hospital, I had all manner of visions of how awful the scene awaiting me would be.  The receptionists at A&E were uncertain how to categorise me so popped me in the Covid ward – alarmingly yet understandably named The Red Zone. I was escorted by a nurse to a bed which had protective curtains pulled closely tight. My fellow patients, I overhead, were 83-year-old Arthur and 95-year-old Constance.

I had an attentive doctor, busy but kind nurses, who ensured I had all my vitals checked. Lots of blood work, a chest xray and two ECG – the first resulted in concerns over the state of my heart, the second warnings from the doctor to look after my heart. The snapshot from the day I spent there, after being deemed okay enough to go home but only under the proviso I took great care, is during the chest xray. The radiographer brought a portable X-ray to my bed, setting it all up she then asked if ‘I was wearing an underwired bra.’ As I was, she politely turned around as I performed the nifty taking your bra off under your shirt trick that is instilled in anyone who ever had to use a communal changing room during secondary school pe. Except, I hadn’t adjusted my vest top back and so my right breast flopped out of the top. She ducked, almost for cover, in an attempt to protect my modesty. At this point I gave precisely zero shits about anything, I was beyond shame at that point, and just heaved it back into my top.

This wouldn’t be the last time that area of my body would make a performance. About a month later I would go onto sprain that very same breast due to coughing so much – yes, apparently that is a thing. I’m sure there’s a scientific term for the specific muscle I pulled, but my amused doctor diagnosed it well enough during a phone call when I described it as the ‘side boob.’

If I were to describe the past 100 days in chapters, in terms of mood & symptoms, post-A&E visit until now are pretty much the same chapter. It’s also experiencing this chapter that most made me want to write about it all. Having Covid, and it’s Long Covid variant, has taken over my life. In fact it pretty much blew most of it up. This year has seen everyone’s lives become smaller in most ways – limiting what we can do, where we can go and who we can do it with. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to get smaller than that, yet it has. For most of the past 100 days, the aftereffects of Covid have been the prevailing thought dictating almost everything. I’m permanently fatigued with achievable physical activity minimal. My lungs are vocal in their contribution, almost audible in their answering ‘No, you’re not able to do that.’ In answer to everything.  I have to negotiate, plan and prioritise – what needs to be done, can it wait, if I do that now I won’t be able to do that later.

I have brain fog, that comes in unpredictable hazes of varying degrees of depth. Last week I forgot the word for ‘dye’ so had to ask the bemused shop assistant where I could ‘Find the substance that turns clothing from one colour to another’ – a verbose if needlessly complicated sentence….

I’m also angry. I’m angry all of the time and with a ferocity I never thought possible. I’m angry that I’m no longer a resident in my own body, but a tenant restricted with all manner of rules and limited capacity. I’m angry that I have no idea when I can undertake a short walk without needing to sit down for hours afterwards and also not risk a vomit-inducing coughing fit. I’m angry that I’ve had new symptoms develop the past few weeks where my joints ache and my muscles sting. I’m angry that I can sit in a chair and feel some semblance of normality yet moving to another destination can be winding and require recovery time – even if the ‘journey’ was just a slow walk down corridor or hallway. Not to mention the fact I can’t remember the last time I saw a flight of stairs as anything other as a Herculean test of strength and wills.

I’m beyond thankful that there are hundreds of way it could have been worse, and that this is the hand I got dealt – a brutal one but there are others in far worse positions. I’m thankful for the amazing family and friends who stepped in – from messages to check-in through to cards and gifts in the post to supply my seemingly endless craving of snacks. I’m thankful I’ve only had to worry about getting myself better, with no dependents who rely on me.

And yet, more than anything, I just really want my life back. I want to feel like me again, not an assemblance of symptoms and broken parts that is barely held together. 100 days of Covid has been 100 days of feeling as if I’ve been stamped as ‘Unfit for Purpose’. In amongst all of this physical pain, I feel like I’d lost myself in the process. To quote my beloved The Ramones, I just really Wanna Be Well.

Something-To-Watch Saturday #14

This will be the last edition of STWS of 2020, and we’re going out with a banger of a list. Thank you so much for reading these, I do hope they’ve been useful! Here’s the back catalogue: – #1#2#3, #4#5#6#7#8#9 , #10#11#12 and #13.

Their Finest (2016 – 117 mins – BBC iPlayer)

I’m cheating a little here when it comes to this week’s Underseen Romcom – as this is technically more of a rom-com-drama. However, it features my favourite all-time favourite trope of hate-to-love with two of the UKs finest (in both senses of the word!) actors – Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin. She plays a former secretary, newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films, who joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them. He’s the established talented writer who feels put-out being forced to work with her. The fact this story is propelled by an superb chemistry, an epic supporting cast (Richard E. Grant, Bill Nighy, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irons, Jake Lacy and Rachael Stirling) and is a film about making a fim – well it’s close to cinema perfection in my eyes.

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015 – 119 mins – BBC iPlayer)

Forget Darcy. Forget Rochester. You’re sleeping on Gabriel Oak. Played by Matthias Schoenaerts in this version, he’s just wonderful. He’s one of three suitors pursing Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a woman whose headstrong and independent nature is atypical for Victorian England. Alongside Gabriel there’s the older, prosperous and dependable bachelor William (Michael Sheen) and the young, reckless & hedonistic Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge). An excellent adaptation with one of Mulligan’s finest & most underrated performances.

Bumblebee (2018 – 114 mins – Netflix & SkyGo)

When is a Transformer movie not really a Transformer movie? When it’s this movie. This is a wonderful action/sci-fi/adventure movie rooted in the traditions of Spielberg & other 80s classics. Nostalgia is dialled up to 11 courtesy of an epic soundtrack (The Smiths, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and Steve Winwood to name but a few). It’s 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small California beach town. On the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. Such a charming delight.

Stage Mother (2020 – 93 mins – Netflix)

By no means a flawless movie (Adrian Grenier being one of it’s multiple issues) this is a really sweet, low budget indie about a conservative church choir director (Jacki Weaver) who inherits her late son’s San Francisco drag club. The by-numbers fish-out-of-water culture-clash narrative isn’t the reason to watch, the reason to give this a go is the moving performances by the club performers (Mya Taylor, Allister MacDonald and Anthony Skordi) who each portray all-too real storylines. Taylor in particular is a stand-out who hasn’t been given nearly enough opportunities since 2015’s Tangerine.

Frances Ha (2012 – 86 mins – Amazon Prime)

We don’t talk nearly enough about friendship break-ups. Speaking from personal experience, they hurt just as much – if not more – as romantic break-ups. This fim, about a New York woman played by Greta Gerwig (who doesn’t really have an apartment) who apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer) and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as the possibility of realizing them dwindles, is one of the few that depicts the painful disintegration of friendship. Funny, sad and bittersweet – one of Noah Baumbach‘s finest. Also, there’s some Adam Driver for all you stans out there (I see you Bleakley!)

Mary & The Witch’s Flower (2017 – 103 mins – All4)

Based on “The Little Broomstick” by Mary Stewart, a strange flower grants a girl magic powers. The less said about this one, the better. A really charming coming-of-age fantasy story that will linger with you long after watching.

I’m Your Woman (2020 – 120 mins – Amazon Prime)

There’s something wonderfully old fashioned yet brilliantly refreshing about this one. In this 1970s set crime drama, a woman (Rachel Brosnahan, unrecognisable from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey. Arinzé Kene (a man who isn’t yet as big a star as he deserves to be) is the man tasked with helping them on their journey. A slowburn packed with unexpected moments that makes for utterly enthralling watching.

2020: The 72 books of the year

2020 has been awful on so many levels, but there’s been some truly amazing books to help escape into. With all that’s been going on, lots of authors made their debuts to little fanfare and many returning authors produced exciting follow-ups that didn’t get the recognition they deserve. So, I hope this list helps you find your next read or Christmas present – for yourself or for others! I’ve split them up into three categories – Middle Grade (9-12 year olds), Young Adult (13+) and adult (16/18+).

Middle Grade
Adult

P.S It’s only been 22 hours since I put this list together, and I’m already kicking myself for some of my omissions. (So far, special mention has to go to The Foundling by Stacey Halls (Adult)which is phenomenal).

Tv Tuesday #7

One sentence summary – 3 suggestions of tv shows you may have missed and will probably love. Are you not entertained? Give #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6 a try.

Twenties (2020- : 8 x 30 mins : BBC iPlayer)

Hattie (Jonica T. Gibbs), a queer African American woman, hangs out with her two straight best friends Marie (Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham), as they all try to make their dreams come true. The end result is as show that is as funny as it is scathing, with some of the most honest portrayals of twenty-something relationships, friendships and careers that tv has ever seen. The representation within this show doesn’t get seen enough on tv, with a show as good as this we can but hope it’s the first of many.

Home (2020 – : 12 x 27 minutes : All4)

Peter (Rufus Jones), his new partner Katy (Rebekah Staton) and her son John (Oaklee Pendergast) return home to Dorking from their first holiday together in France. Hiding in the boot of their car is Sami (Youssef Kerkour), a Syrian refugee. It is near-impossible to do this wonderful show justice – it’s so charming, compassionate and well-written. It’s feelgood without being saccharine, sentimental but honest and extremely well informed – unafraid to portray the labyrinthian bureaucracy of the UK immigration system. Staton is phenomenal as matriarch Katy, just as good as she was in the criminally underseen Raised by Wolves (which will have to be a future TV Tuesday pick). Kerkour is fantastic as Sami, countless moving moments come to mind – most involving his friendship with Aaron Neil‘s Raj. Sharp, refreshing and rather brilliant – you really won’t regret watching this one.

Upload (2020 – : 10 x 30 minutes : Amazon Prime)

Sci-fi related dramas can be a bit of a hard-sell, thankfully this one is a sci-fi romantic comedy with a side of mystery thriller. A man (Robbie Amell) is able to choose his own afterlife after his untimely death by having his consciousness uploaded into a virtual world. As he gets used to his new life and befriends his ‘angel’, Nora (Andy Allo), questions about his death arise. The fact this show isn”t spoken about really is mind-boggling. It’s speculative exploration of virtual afterlife is incredibly imaginative and thought-provoking, the relationships and character development immensely well-plotted within some pacey storytelling. Witty and winning – this is one I’m definitely counting down the days till season 2 for.

Something-To-Watch Saturday #13

It’s Saturday and you’ve come for some movie-watching ideas. Here’s 7 more and here’s the back catalogue if they’ve not scratched that itch – #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 , #10, #11 and #12.

Official Secrets (2020 – 112 mins – Amazon Prime)

The true story of a British whistleblower (Keira Knightley) who leaked information to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Along with a fantastic supporting cast (Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes and Conleth Hill) this might be one of Knightley’s finest performances, understated yet powerful. A steely and tense thriller, made all the more haunting as it really did happen.

Boys State (2020- 109 mins – Apple TV+)

A thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up – and the results need to be seen to be believed. A truly outstanding documentary that ends up revealing so much about present day politics and 21st masculinity.

Wolfwalkers (2020- 103 mins – Apple TV+)

Cartoon Saloon is an animation studio that has a truly enviable hit-rate, with Song of the Sea , The Secret of Kells and The Breadwinner each being examples of pure perfection. And now we have this addition, a young apprentice hunter (Honor Kneafsey) and her father (Sean Bean) journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack. But everything changes when she befriends a free-spirited girl (Eva Whittaker) from a mysterious tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night. The animation is sumptuous, the story wonderfully told and the performances just magnificent. There’s also some of the finest animated hair we’ve ever seen. If there’s any justice in the world, this film will be recognised in awards season as the best animated film of 2020.

EMMA. (2020- 122 mins – Sky/Now TV)

This might just be the finest Austen adaptation we’ve ever had. At the very least there’s no point ever adapting Emma again, as it cannot beat this one. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Emma, a woman who is well-meaning but selfish, who decides to play matchmaker out of boredom but ends up playing havoc with the lives of those around her. Taylor-Joy plays Emma wonderfully, every expression being layered in meaning and revealing so much about exactly what she is thinking but is unable to say. Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley has ruined me for men. A magnificent ensemble cast (Angus Imrie, Gemma Whelan, Bill Nighy, Rupert Graves, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Mia Goth, Oliver Chris and Callum Turner) all bring their A-game to deliver this superb screwball comedy.

120BPM (2017 – 143 mins – Film4)

This French film, following members of the advocacy group ACT UP Paris as they demand action by the government and pharmaceutical companies to combat the AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s, is sublime. At times funny, heart-shattering at others – it’s simply unmissable.

Wild Rose (2018- 101 mins – Netflix)

One of 2018’s best films, this story – Rose-Lynn(Jessie Buckley) is a troubled young Glaswegian who dreams of becoming a Nashville country star – is a total must-see. Buckley’s central performance is extraordinary, with an immeasurable amount of depth, balancing light and shade with ease. Julie Walters is simply fantastic in the supporting role as Rose’s mother. Click here to read my full review.

Set It Up (2018 – 118 mins – Amazon Prime)

In recent years, Netflix has been at the forefront of the resurgence of the romcom whilst also dropping some of the worst of the genre. This week’s underseen romcom is a gem, that uses the tropes we know & love yet plays around with them a little. Two corporate executive assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) hatch a plan to match-make their two bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs). Deutch and Powell have fantastic chemistry, believable and easy to root for. The end result is a charming and sweet romcom.