not a book, tv

Not a Book: MotoGP Unlimited

It was the Japanese MotoGP Grand Prix today – time differences mean it’ll already be all over by the time this post goes up, but for today’s Not a Book, I’m writing about Amazon’s Drive to Survive rival – which focuses on the world of grand prix motorcycle racing.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the motorbike racing world, MotoGP is the premiere category in motorbike racing. The riders ride purpose built, specially designed bikes – as opposed to World Superbikes where they race versions of production models. MotoGP weekends also include two feeder series, Moto 2 and Moto 3, with smaller bikes and developing riders – a bit like Formula one has F2 and F3, except that the paddocks are all more linked – some of the MotoGP teams have junior teams in the junior categories and some of the riders themselves own junior teams. The first season of MotoGP Unlimited follows the 2021 season, primarily looking at the MotoGP action, but the other categories feature where the action crosses over.

The big difference between the actual sports is that motorbike racing is much more dangerous than F1 is. Every year MotoGP has broken bones and injuries. In fact if you look across the three categories you’d probably say every weekend has a rider breaking something. There are a number of people in the paddock in wheelchairs as a result of bike crashes. And sadly sometimes people die – and I warn you that it happens in one of the junior categories in this season although you don’t see it happen, but you do very much see the effect it has on the riders.

Then I would say there are two big differences between the MotoGP Unlimited and Drive to Survive. The first is that while English is the first language of the paddock in F1, it is very much not in MotoGP. So the producers decided to let the riders speak which ever language they are most comfortable with – which means a lot of Spanish and Italian. Initially they released the series dubbed, but there was an outcry and they added a subtitles version (much better). This means you get a real sense of the riders and their personalities and the rivalries and friendships, which I don’t think you would have got if the producers had forced them to speak in English.

The second is that while Drive to Survive picks centres each episode around one story and follows it across a couple of races or even most of the season, Unlimited takes the season in chronological order. As someone who watches both sports all season long, I think the unlimited approach gives you more of a sense of what it actually felt like to follow along, whereas the DTS approach creates more drama and tension and gives you backstage shenanigans you don’t know about as the races are happening. Both approaches have their merits – DTS has come under fire for creating drama where there was none but it has also boosted F1’s profile enormously, made Daniel Ricciardo everyone’s second favourite driver, turned Günter Steiner into a meme and boosted Haas’s profile. I’m not sure Unlimited has done the same for MotoGP, but it’s only had one season yet so give it time.

I’m not sure it will convert fans the same way that Drive to Survive has, but if you’re a casual motor bike racing fan it’s definitely worth a look – and hopefully we’ll get a second season to see it get into its stride – MotoGP is struggling a little this year with how to deal with the retirement of charismatic sporting icon Valentino Rossi which could make for an interesting side story to the 2022 title fight.

Bonus photo: We went to the Silverstone race that features in the series – and here’s my best attempt at a photo of Valentino Rossi at the end of the race.

Happy Sunday everyone.

film, not a book

Not a Book: The Red Shoes

Let’s continue the overarching themes of this month again – with some ballet and some theatre in a classic film.

The Red Shoes is all about a ballerina’s dedication to her art being tested by an impresario forcing her to chose between her career and love. Moira Shearer’s Vicky Page is plucked from obscurity to be the lead role in a new ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Red Shoes. But at the same time she’s secretly falling in love with a composer who is working with the country. And so it begins. I’m not spoiling the rest of it.

Made in 1948, it’s frequently on lists of the best British films ever – it got a bunch of Oscar nominations at the time and its reputation has only increased since then. It’s one of the sequence of Powell and Pressburger films from that period – coming after the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Black Narcissus which is one of the other really well known ones. It’s also packed full of real ballet dancers – so you can see Robert Helpmann in a role that’s not the Child Catcher!

For me, when I first saw it the opening ballet class and performance sequences showed me exactly what I had imagined Veronica’s life at the Wells to be like. The film is from just a couple of years before the first Sadlers Wells book was published – I think Moira Shearer even gets a mention in one of them – although obviously Veronica is a child and Vicky is already a trained dancer, and Veronica and Sebastian’s… situation has a positive resolution!

A couple of years back, Matthew Bourne turned the film into a ballet, using the amazing score. I saw it on it it’s first tour and it’s proper good. New Adventures rotate through their shows, and it was touring when Covid started and everything stopped, so it might be a while before it’s on stage again – but it’s worth seeing when it is. But in the meantime, you can just go an watch the original film, which was restored in 2009 and looks amazing. It’s on BritBox if you have that, or you can buy it on DVD. It also comes around on TV reasonably regularly – often around Christmas.

Happy Sunday everyone – if it’s a bank holiday where you are, I hope you’re enjoying it.

book adjacent, film, not a book

Not a Book: Parent Trap

To keep the children’s book theme going while I’m at conference, today’s not a book is one of my favourite children films – which also happens to be based on a middle grade book!

Let’s make something clear to start with: I’m talking about the Hayley Mills Parent Trap. Yes I’ve watched the Lindsay Logan version, but by the time that came out I had already seen the original and I was not about to be won over! I first stumbled over the second half of this film on tv one weekend afternoon when I was an early teen and was astonished to find a film that seemed to have the plot of one of my favourite books from primary school – except set in America. The book in question is Erich Kästner’s Lottie and Lisa – which I had been borrowing as my reading book from the school library about once a term (maybe more) since I had finished the reading grade levels. I think it might have been the first time that I’d come across a book adaptation that had really been adapted and changed for the film. Or at least the first time I realised I had! And apologies if you’ve never see the film – because the trailer does do the entire plot, but hey.

Instead of 1930s Vienna, we’re in contemporary America but our two separated at birth twins still meet at camp. In the book they’re younger than the movie’s thirteen going on fourteen, but the plan is the same – switch places and meet the parent they don’t remember and try to engineer a reconciliation. And yes, as a rational adult I know that splitting up twins when they’re tiny and never telling them that the other exists is wrong, but oh boy do I love it as a plot. And because it’s Disney their lives look glossy and fabulous. Sharon lives in a fancy house in Boston with her mum, delightful grandpa and uptight grandma but Susan lives on a California ranch with a lake that she swims in, her own horse and what would be called now an indoor/outdoor life style. It just looks so cool. Why wouldn’t the twins want to get their parents back together so they can stay at the ranch forever.

I also love Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith as the warring parents. They’re not bit characters in Sharon and Susan’s story – they’ve got proper plot and a love story of their own. In fact I’d argue that O’Hara’s Maggie is the best part – with great outfits and all the best lines as she does her part in outfoxing her ex’s new girlfriend. Just try to ignore the bit where she punches Mitch in the eye! And then there’s the technical achievement of getting Haley Mills to play two characters at once in the pre-CGI era. It was like magic – and the explainer video on my DVD of how they did it is fascinating. It’s such a technical achievement.

Honestly I could go on for hours about how much I love this film, but I’ve written enough and now I need to stop because I want to go and watch it again on Disney+!

Have a great Sunday everyone.

not a book, theatre

Not a Book: Jack Absolute Flies Again!

Back in the theatre with this Sunday’s post because I had a wonderful night out on Monday night at the National Theatre. In fact it’s one of three trips to the theatre this week, which might be a record even for me!

So Jack Absolute Flies again is the new play by Richard Bean – who was behind the smash hit One Man, Two Guv’nors – and Oliver Chris. Like One Man… it’s based on another classic play, in this case Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, written in 1775. They’ve moved the action to 1940, and our sets of not so star crossed lovers are now taking part in the Battle of Britain.

If you haven’t seen the Rivals, it’s the story of Lydia Languish, a teenage heiress and Jack Absolute. It’s all very complicated with disguises but basically Lydia and Jack are in love but she wants a big romance and when Jack’s father arranges a marriage between Jack and Lydia she rejects it. Cue much tooling and groping. Or at least that’s what I think happens…

Funny story: I’ve technically seen The Rivals, but when we went to see it at the Southwark Playhouse more than a decade ago, it was an evening production on a Saturday night, after I’d worked a early shift at the radio station (and at the end of a six day week of earlies). No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay away (and I had a nap in the interval in the hole it would improve things) and neither could Him Indoors. I’m still cross about it because it was a really cool venue and an excellent cast – including Celia Imrie – and I wish I’d managed to stay away. But it was in fact a legendary night in our relationship – where we both fell asleep on the train home and missed our stop and ended up three stops down the line, at the wrong end of Southend, three miles from home and not a cab in sight. And this was the pre-Uber era…

Anyway, back to Jack Absolute. It’s rather freely adapted, but there are still competing suitors for Lydia – this time from among the pilots – and it’s all a lot of fun, but with an undercurrent of peril behind it. And even if you haven’t heard of The Rivals, you’ve probably heard of one of its characters – Mrs Malaprop, who constantly uses words that sound like the one she means but… aren’t. Bean and Chris use this to maximum effect – often getting really quite saucy. The age recommendation is 12 plus – and I would endorse than unless you want to be trying to explain things you’d maybe rather not! Caroline Quentin is very good as the mangler of the English language – and does a good job of trying to steal every scene that she’s in.

Genuinely this was a funny and thought provoking evening and a clever update to the original which has gone it’s own way at times to add some interest and depth to some of the supporting characters. There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking which really worked for me and the projections for the flying scenes were very good too. I hope that this does really well – it was a bit empty around the top when I saw it on Monday, but tickets are very reasonably priced and it was very well worth the £20 I spent!

Jack Absolute Flies Again is at the National Theatre until September 3, and is coming to NT Live in cinemas in the autumn.

not a book

Not a Book: Commonwealth games!

As you will have spotted yesterday, I was in Birmingham on Friday – and why was I there? Well, this is why!

Yes! I was at the first day of action at the Commonwealth Games to watch the Men’s Team Competition in the gymnastics. Side note for those of you of a certain age, the competition was held at Arena Birmingham, formerly known as the National Indoor Arena, host of the Eurovision Song Contest last time it was held in the UK but more importantly the venue for iconic 1990s TV series Gladiators, teatime viewing for me and my sister for years. Did have a conversation about where the travellator would have been, and how tall the Wall must have been? Absolutely. Anyway, we’ve never been to see live gymnastics before and it was absolutely epic. Excuse my terrible photos, taken on max zoom on my iPhone, but here is defending rings champion Courtney Tulloch doing an Iron Cross in his top-scoring routine (right in front of us!):

And here is home town boy Joe Fraser during his Horizontal Bar routine that clinched team England the gold medal. Honestly, Fraser was so impressive all day – we heard some people around us say that he had a foot injury and that was why he was only working four pieces and would miss the all around final, but we found out when we got home that it’s only five weeks since he had his appendix removed. Insane.

As I said, England won the gold – but Cyprus won the bronze after missing out four years ago and were totally delighted about it – including their top scorer (and second highest in the all around qualification) Marios Georgiou who appeared to hurt his hand (dislocated a finger or thumb we thought) in his dismount from his final apparatus the pommel horse. Team Cyprus’s celebrations were epic – and fingers crossed Mario is ok for the final.

not a book

Book related: Martha Wainwright!

You all know that Stories I Might Regret Telling You is one of my favourite books of the year so far, well last night I went to see Martha Wainwright start her UK tour at Cadogan Hall!

It’s not my first time seeing her live – I saw her on the Come Home to Mama tour maybe ten (!) years ago but I was very excited to see her again, especially after her memoir. Yes it was excellent. Yes she did a few old songs as well as the new, she brought her kids out, and she read some bits from the book and sang the songs that went with them. I particularly loved her version of her brother’s Dinner at Eight.

And then at the end she brought out a special guest – who was Pete Townshend and they did two songs including Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, which of course Joni sang at the Newport Folk Festival at the weekend (and if you haven’t watched that video yet then you should).

Why am I posting this now? Well she has a bunch more UK dates over the next few weeks and so I thought I’d post it asap so you can all go if you want to – although I suspect we are particularly blessed on the added extra front tonight!

not a book, tv

Not a Book: Detectorists

Another TV show this Sunday – but this time not a new one, but an old favourite. It’s been really hot here in the UK this week, and sunny summer days always make me think of the Detectorists – of Lance and Andy wandering around in a field somewhere hunting for treasure.

Detectorists is the most gentle of gentle comedies. Andy and Lance are metal detectorists and members of a club for like minded people. They live in north Essex (near the Suffolk border) and are always on the hunt for the big find that will make their names and their fortunes. That’s it really. Some of the people in their lives don’t quite understand the appeal of spending their spare time scouring fields with a metal detector. There are rivalries with other metal detectorists. There are complications in their personal lives. But fundamentally no one dies or is at risk of dying and thus it is perfect. And the acting is perfect too. Toby Jones is great in everything he does (right back to the page in Ever After which was the first thing I ever saw him in!) and Mackenzie Crook wrote it as well as being in it. He is a detectorist in real life – and it’s got such love and gentleness about it as well as being really funny.

It started in 2014 but we watched it for the first time early in the pandemic – and we’ve watched it all the way through again twice now. It’s just so good and once you start watching it, you just can’t stop. A perfect low stakes binge watch. And there’s a new episode coming at Christmas which just makes me so happy, although I fear that some one may die/have died in that (if you watch it you’ll know who I’m talking about), but I’ll just be happy to have another hour or two in the company of the Danebury Metal Detectorists.

If you’re in the UK, you can find Detectorists on iPlayer – it says for the next four months. If you’re not in the UK, it should be available on one of the streaming services – Mr Google tells me you can buy it from all the usual suspects.

Have a great Sunday everyone.

not a book

Not a Book: The Dropout

Well you may remember that I read Bad Blood last year. And a few months back I watched the documentary about Elizabeth Holmes when it came around on Sky Documentaries. And then when I went to visit a friend for the weekend the other month, we watched the first seven episodes of The Dropout back to back – and would have finished it if that final episode had been available. And I currently have a Disney plus subscription so I’ve finally been able to finish it. And now I have thoughts!

In case you’ve forgotten, Elizabeth Holmes was the person behind Theranos, the medical start-up unicorn that claimed it was going to revolutionise diagnostic blood tests with its technology that could test for pretty much anything and everything using just a tiny finger prick sample of blood. Except as the John Carryrou book reveals, the technology never really existed the way they said it did, and the tech they had made didn’t work either. But Theranos still managed to raise billions of money from investors before it all came crashing down. Spoiler alert: Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani will be sentenced in the autumn, after they were convicted (in separate trials) of deceiving investors.

The Dropout is the dramatised version of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes – from her days at university through to the implosion of Theranos. As you can probably tell by the fact we binged it in one night, I really enjoyed it! Obviously we will never know what the actual conversations were between Holmes and her then partner Sunny Balwani, but the writers of this have had a very good go at it – it’s like the most gripping and bonkers docudrama you’ve ever seen.

As you see from the trailer, Amanda Seyfried plays Elizabeth, which is a tricky task given the prominence Holmes had when the company was riding high and the personality quirks that she had like the strangely deep voice and her Steve Jobs wardrobe. But she’s really, really good. And she’s got the Emmy nomination this week to show for it. Naveen Andrews plays Sunny, and makes him a really intriguing character – more so than you might expect if you were told it was an older man in a relationship with the much younger woman whose company he is helping to run.

And we really enjoyed dissecting how they portrayed the leading characters. If this were a Reddit Am I The Asshole question, the answer is pretty much ESH – everybody sucks here – with the exception of a couple of the scientists and lab workers. Just a warning though, there are obviously real life impacts of the Theranos saga – the people who got the wrong results from their tests, but also the workers who tried to speak out and stop what was going on. And if you haven’t read the book, I suspect one particular even will make you really sad. I knew it was coming and it was still bad.

So, if you need something to binge watch and you currently have Disney +, then this might be a good way to pass a weekend. I really want to watch it again already.

Have a great Sunday everyone.

not a book, tv

Not a Book: Hollywood Houselift

So this Sunday I have a comfort TV recommendation for you. Because sometimes you just need to watch something with very low stakes. And I like programmes about houses. And this is that.

This is basically a group of famous people getting bits of their houses redecorated by Jeff. I’ve never come across Jeff before, but he had a reality show on Bravo that followed him flipping houses and doing interior design projects and he also presents a radio show on satellite radio station in the US.

In the first series, Jeff renovates a pool house, a couple of gardens, a bathroom and dressing room and a dining room and family room and more for various people you may or may not recognise depending on which pop culture you consume (like Anthony Anderson from Blackish, Ashlee Simpson, Wilmer Valderama). Jeff has a group of people who work for him and an engagingly irreverent way of talking about his clients that reminds you that he knows exactly how ridiculous it is to be spending $5,000 on towel rails and robe hooks but is doing it any way!

It’s basically like Selling Sunset had a baby with Christina on the Coast or the design bits of Flip or Flop, but with no drinks party or brunch bitching. So more design and more houses. I’m sure it is very staged but it’s not staging fights or drama, and the people working together all seem to actually like each other. Which you can’t say about many shows like this…

You can watch Hollywood Houselift on Freevee – which used to be called IMDb TV and which I get for free bundled in with Amazon Prime. It has a few ad breaks but it makes me so chilled that I can cope with it. I’ve watched all six episodes that have been released so far and there are new episodes each Friday…

Happy Sunday!