film, not a book

Not a Book: Glass Onion

Happy Sunday everyone, another Netflix recommendation this week – but this time it’s a film not a documentary series so I am mixing it up a little bit, even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface of it.

Glass Onion is the sequel to Knives Out, which you don’t need to have seen to understand this because it’s standalone and the only character who carries over is Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. If you haven’t seen is well worth a look though. Anyway moving on: the plot. A tech billionaire invites his closest friends to a party on his private Greek Island. He’s planned a murder mystery weekend and famed detective Benoit Blanc is invited too. Then a real murder happens and that’s about all I can tell you without spoilers because I double checked the trailer!

It’s very funny and more than a little bonkers – Daniel Craig’s southern accent is as mad as it was in the first film – and as well as him it has a great ensemble cast who seem to be really enjoying themselves. And contrary to the usual thing of fun shoot bad film the movie is really good. Or at least we enjoyed it! And if you want to draw some comparisons with real life figures, then that’s your prerogative.

Anyway if you’ve got Netflix, it’s a good way of spending a couple of hours. It did have a limited cinema release – but I missed it because work was insane at the time. I think it would have looked really good on the big screen too. And in a fun connection between a couple of my interests, director/writer Rian Johnson (of Last Jedi fame) is married to Karina Longworth, who wrote former Book of the Week Seduction and is the writer/presenter/creator of one of my favourite podcasts – You Must Remember This – which is one of the ones I save for running. Except for the Erotic 80s series which we binged on our last holiday – the 90s series is coming soon too.

Anyway, have a great Sunday everyone.

not a book

Not a Book: Madoff – Monster of Wall Street

The latest entry in my catalogue of media about scams is the new Netflix documentary about Bernie Madoff which we binged last weekend.

If you’re not old enough to remember (lucky you!) Bernie Madoff was a Wall Street financier who was sentenced to more than a century in prison after it was discovered that the investment business that he had founded and ran was just a giant Ponzi scheme.

A Ponzi scheme (named after an Italian businessman who ran a fraud on this basis in the 1920s) is a scheme were early investors are paid dividends using money from new investors. The investors obviously don’t know this – and the schemes can keep going as long as new investors keep bringing in money. In the case of the Madoff scheme, he took in billions of dollars from investors and kept the scheme going for close to 20 years (in its final form at any rate) despite nearly being caught by regulators at various points.

This is a four part Netflix documentary that takes you through Madoff’s entire business career, complete with interviews with people who worked at the firm, investors and people who tried to expose what he was doing. It’s a mix of dramatisation, interviews and archive footage and it has one of the clearest explanations that I’ve seen of exactly how he pulled the scam. It should come with a warning though: at one point it shows the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11 2001, which is not something you see often on TV here in the UK and I find really quite upsetting every time I see it.

Anyway, that aside (and I really don’t think they needed to show it), it’s an excellent documentary about one of the biggest financial scandals in history, but also about how it fits into the wider financial system of the time. Very much worth your time.

not a book, tv

Christmas bonus post: Festive TV

It’s the final-final run towards the big day and the TV schedules are starting to look awfully festive, so today I’m back with some suggestions about what to watch out for this year.

Obviously the first thing and the programme that I’m most excited about is the return of Detectorists for a Christmas special. We’ve actually started another rewatch ahead of the feature length special on Boxing Day. If you haven’t ever watched the show, go read my post about it and then start at the beginning!

But before we get to Boxing Day there are a few other shows to mention – namely Ghosts. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Ghosts here before, but this is the BBC One comedy about a couple who inherit a dilapidated stately home complete with ghostly residents that only one of them can see. I love it. It’s funny but not mean and I find it so hard to pick who my favourite character is. There’s also a bunch of reruns of various of the Mischief Theatre Christmas offerings – if you’re in the UK and have missed them you can find them on iPlayer. And if Mischief are doing a show anywhere near you next year, do go and see it. I think that The Play That Goes Wrong is one of the funniest nights out you can have.

I’m also recording the repeat of the Sky adaptation of Going Postal, which although it is not as good as the book is still a pretty good go at it, and has Claire Foy (pre the crown) and Richard Coyle as Moist – who is about to read the new version of the audiobook, which I have preordered, even though I love the Steven Briggs version!

If you want more pre-Crown Claire Foy, BBC Four is repeating Wolf Hall at the moment – which is one of the best TV adaptations of a novel I’ve seen in ages. It’s in memory of Hilary Mantel who died earlier this year – and ahead of the first part they had an interview with the director, who revealed that the adaptation of The Mirror and the Light is in the works, although whether I’ll be able to bear watching it I don’t know. If you know your history, you’ve known from the start what is going to happen but that doesn’t make it easier. And they did such a powerful job of Anne Boleyn’s execution, I can’t imagine how they’ll do Cromwell. And Mark Rylance is possibly the best actor I have ever seen live. To the point where I would go and see him in anything.

I’m sure there were more new things I meant to write about, but I’ve got a bit carried away with the repeats! To be fair, the TiVo recording schedule hasn’t made this any easier. Maybe I’ll have to do a part two of the bits I forgot?!

film, not a book

Not a Book: Mary Poppins

I mean who doesn’t watch Mary Poppins at Christmas right? Surely it’s not just me and my family? A roaring fire and a Sunday afternoon and Mary Poppins on the TV…

I mean this is an all time classic. The Banks children have scared away another nanny in their efforts to get their parents attention – their workaholic father is a banker, their mother a militant suffragette. In flies Mary Poppins, who will put the family back together through singing and dancing, chalk pavement pictures and chimney sweeps. Dick van Dyke’s cockney accent is legendary in all the wrong ways, but Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way.

It’s well known how unhappy P L Travers was with the way Walt Disney changed her character from the original books, but for most people the movie version is all they know so it’s made that interpretation of Travers’ nanny immortal for better or worse. And for me it’s very much for better. I can sing all the songs (although many would ask me not to) and I could probably recite the script. I’ll be getting it out to watch again this Christmas. And if you want to find out more about P L Travers and the making of the film, there’s a movie version of that too – Saving Mr Banks.

If you want to watch Mary Poppins, it’s on Disney+, or it will be on TV at some point over Christmas for sure. And I’ve still got it on DVD…

Enjoy!

film, not a book

Not a Book: Singin’ in the Rain

I have series of films that I always watch at this time of year, so I thought I’d feature them here too. And as I kicked off my Christmas by watching this last weekend, we’re starting with the immortal classic: Singin’ in the Rain.

In case you’ve never watched it, it’s the story of a Hollywood leading man as the movie business transforms from silent films to talkies. Don Lockwood is an ex-Vaudeville song and dance man who got his start as a stunt man who then got paired up with a glamorous leading leafy, Lena Lamont. Lockwood and Lamont have been a marquee double act ever since. The problem is that Don can’t stand Lena – and now the bigger problem is that Lena’s voice is… not suitable for the talkies. Early in the film Don meets Cathy Seldon, a hopeful actress with a great singing voice, searching for her big break. And it all goes from there.

This has a great cast – Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor – a great story and some of the best song and dance numbers you’ll see – and not just from Gene Kelly.

And the final sequence – starting with Lena’s attempts to take over the studio (I will never tire of Jean Hagen as Lena saying “detrimental and deleterious”) all the way through to the end is just *chef kiss*. And like many of these old Hollywood movies, you can dig into the making of it and the stories behind it and it just gets more fascinating. I’m not going to say any more here though – because I know some people think that spoils the magic.

It’ll definitely be on TV at least once over the next month, but you can rent it from all the usual places too

Enjoy!

theatre

Not a Book: Best of Enemies

Getting this in quickly before the barrage of Christmas posts as I went to see this the other week when it was in late preview stages and it’s now open and has been reviewed.

Best of Enemies is a new play by James Graham about the televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jnr at the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1968. The two men represented the new left and the new right respectively and hated what each other stood for. In real life, they remained enemies for the rest of their lives – with lawsuits and counter suits – extending even beyond Buckley’s death when Vidal was still happy to insult him. The play uses transcripts of the dialogue from the TV debate for those sections and imagines what was going on behind the scenes.

In the play Buckley is David Harewood and Vidal is Zachary Quinto. Casting a black actor as the white Buckley does highlight the times when Buckley is talking about race – but that’s not the main focus of the clashes between the men shown in the play. Quinto is excellent as Vidal – arch and snarky and supremely confident in his own abilities and beliefs. The staging – as you can see from the photo has TV like windows – that can show you the control room behind or be used as TV screens to project the actors during the debates, or the sections of rival newscasters talking you through the events of the day.

The play is making the argument that the debates are the start of the commentator-led, TV politics that has turned into the polarisation you see on social media – and while that may sound like a bit of a reach, the debate sections of the play feel very timely – almost spookily so at times. I thought it was really, really good – and if you’re in London before the 18th of February and fancy a show, this would be a good pick.

not a book

Not a Book: Bad Bets Trevor Milton

As long time readers of this blog will probably be aware, one of my non-fiction areas of interest is business scandals or frauds of various kinds. I’ve written about Bad Blood – and the TV series The Dropout based on it – as well as We Work and Empire of Pain. And over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading about the collapse of the FTX crypto exchange, which is absolutely going to be the next big book and TV series on the subject – not the least of which is because the guy who wrote The Big Short was been embedded there for several months ahead of the collapse (which should probably have been a warning sign.

Anyway, I’m a big podcast listener, and on my way back from Essex in mid-October, there was an episode of Vox’s Today Explained called Nikola (not Tesla) about the conviction for fraud of the founder of an electric truck start up. It was fascinating and the main interviewee mentioned that he had his own podcast coming out about the case – and so off I went. And that’s what today’s Not a Book post is about – the latest series of the Wall Street Journal’s podcast Bad Bets, which is about Trevor Milton and the rise and fall of Nikola.

The basic outline is this: in mid October, a federal jury found 40-year-old Trevor Milton guilty of defrauding investors over statements he made about his company Nikola. Prosecutors said that he had lied about the techical achievements of the company to make it sound like their hydrogen powered lorries (or trucks if you are American) were closer to being production ready than they really were.

In Bad Bets, reporter Ben Foldy takes you through Milton’s life and career and unravels the story behind that conviction. And oh boy is it fascinating. I’m trying not to give too much away about any of it, but this is the intersection of my interest in big buiness failures and stuff about religion in America and particularly the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints aka the Mormons. I’ve posted a fair bit about the latter before – whether it’s books like Educated or series like Murder Among the Mormons and Lularich – and this fits into that oevre quite neatly. If you like any of them or any of the books above (or both) then this might well be the six part series you need to binge while you’re doing whatever it is you do while listening to podcasts.

Happy Sunday everyone.

film, not a book

Not a Book: Enchanted

Oh yes. The sequel has just dropped on Disney plus so how could I resist talking about another Disney movie – and another opportunity for me to tell you how much I love a movie musical. Also this is a mad displacement exercise because this weekend is the start of a World Cup that I feel deeply conflicted about as well as the fact that this is Not The Right Time Of Year for a major football tournament and it is also the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix aka the last race of the F1 season, aka the first anniversary of the most controversial F1 race of all time and I really can’t deal with the stress of it all and also the fact that as the MotoGP season has already finished we’re about to enter the period of the year where there is no motorsport for me to watch. Anyway… Lets start with the original trailer for those of you who haven’t seen it…

Yes, Enchanted is a Disney princess movie and a very meta one. Unlike Mary Poppins or Bedknobs and Broomsticks where you start in the real world and have an interlude in animation, this one has the animated people visiting the real world and I love it so much. It subverts some of the princess tropes, reimagines others and it works for kids and adults. It’s also funny, the songs are great and the big production numbers are fabulous.

And that’s all before you get to the fact that that the cast is amazing. If you only know Amy Adams from her Oscar nominated stuff, it might be a shock to you, but this was her first big success as as leading lady. She had already got her Oscar nomination for Junebug at this point and my memory says that even then this seemed like a risky move. But she’s amazing in this – playing wide eye naiveite brilliantly without making you want to punch her for being so sunny and optimistic and irritating. Patrick Dempsey was pretty much at the peak of his McDreamy Greys Anatomy fame when he was cast as the real world leading man and he’s brilliant, as is James Marsden – who came off the back of playing Cyclops in three X Men films, to do two movie musials in 2007 – he’s also in Hairspray (which I also love). And of course before she was the voice of Elsa in Frozen, Idina Menzel was in this too. I’m a big West End/Broadway musical person (have I told you all that before?) and by the time this came out, Menzel was already a Big Deal on Broadway but hadn’t done a lot on screen so this felt like a big moment for her – especially because she didn’t sing in it. She was the original Maureen in Rent (she’s in the film of that too, but I can’t really recommend it unless you’re a mega Rent fan) and then originated Elphaba in Wicked, which she won a Tony for. I saw her play Elphie when she opened the West End production in 2006 and can confirm that it was epic.

If I haven’t convinced you to watch it yet, then I don’t know what will. I love the original so much, I hardly dare google the reviews, but I probably will to see if it’s going to be worth watching or if it’ll spoil my memories of the original. But all four of the two original couples are back and the trailer looks promising – even if the fact that it’s going straight to Disney + is a concern – although of course post covid, that doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to.

Have a great Sunday everyone.

not a book

Not a Book: Grand Prix Figure Skating!

Very not a book, but this weekend I’m in Sheffield watching figure skating. I’m having the best time, even though all the pictures I’ve taken are terrible but then I don’t think I was expecting an iPhone to take the best figure skating photos! I’ve even popped up in some of the photos of the event…

Yes, that’s me, sitting behind the Lilah and Lewis banner (not line, belongs to the people sitting behind me) and concentrating fiercely on something – I think probably on one of the male skaters practicing their jumps.

Anyway, in case you don’t know, the Grand Prix of figure skating is a six event series that leads to a grand final and this year because of Covid restrictions in China (and Russia being banned), Great Britain is hosting an event for the first time. I haven’t been to see skating live for a decade – since the European championships came to Sheffield – so I was first in the queue for tickets. And so far it’s been amazing. If you see this before the events finish today and happen to have a look at the coverage, you might be able to spot me (and that banner) right behind the skaters as they start and end their routines – I’m right opposite the judges:

I hope you’re all having as wonderful a weekend as I am – check out my Insta stories if you want to see my terrible photos – and see you tomorrow for Week in Books!

not a book, tv

Not a Book: What We Do in the Shadows

The fourth series is finally available to watch in the UK this week – via Disney + this time sadly and not on the BBC (yet, she says hopefully) and it’s one of my favourite tv shows so of course I’m going to write about it.

The show is a mockumentary spin off of the film of the same name that follows a group of vampires as they navigate life in suburban America rather than New Zealand. I’ve mentioned before that I have a slightly strange relationship with vampire and supernatural stuff but this is exactly on the end of things that I really like.

Lazlo, Nadja, Nandor and Colin Robinson are Staten Island’s resident vampires. With the help of their familiar Guillermo they try to stay inconspicuous and yet keep on top of the supernatural hierarchy. I was trying to pick a favourite character, but I couldn’t because they’re all great and every time I think I’ve picked one, I remember something brilliant one of the others does or says. As the series has gone on (and budgets have increased!) their world has increased in ways that I can’t really explain without giving huge plot spoilers, but I am very excited to see what happens this season given the way the last one ended. Tell you what; have the season four trailer, but seriously only watch this if you’ve seen the first three series and use it to increase your excitement levels. The rest of you don’t spoil it!

So in summary: The Office but actually more Parks and Rec in a way, but with horny vampires who incompetently try to take over the world. It’s very, very funny.