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.

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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.

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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!

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Not a Book: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Today’s post is the latest instalment in my very loose collection of stuff about religion, which had previously featured stuff like Under the Banner of Heaven (now a tv series that I haven’t watched yet!), Murder Among the Mormons, Educated, Lula Rich and Unfinished: Short Creek.

Tammy Faye Bakker was a televangelist. Starting in the 1960s she and her preacher husband Jim were regular features on Christian TV channels – including founding their own network: The PTL network (PTL stands for Praise The Lord). This is a biopic of her life, following her from her childhood in Minnesota through the highs and lows. I don’t know how much I should tell you about the rest of the plot, because I don’t know what’s common knowledge and what’s not because I’ve read a lot about this sort of thing over the years! Jessica Chastain is Tammy – and was nominated for a bunch of awards for it. In fact the makeup department won the Oscar – and if you watch it, you’ll see why. Andrew Garfield is Jim and he’s very good too, although her performance was the one that was picked out.

It’s two hours long – and I think it’s a good watch, even if you’re not interested in the American religion nexus like I am. If you want to watch it, you’ll need Disney + in the UK – there are various trials around, and of course if you do get one, you can also watch The Dropout!

Happy Sunday everyone

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Not a Book: The Sparks Brothers

Back with another documentary this week – this time a film about the band Sparks – namely brothers Ron and Russel Mael. If you’re not sure who they are, the song that you’re most likely to recognise is This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us:

The brothers first formed a band in the mid 1960s but broken through nearly a decade later in the mid 1970s and have been constantly producing music and evolving ever since, whether people have been watching or not – and some times people really haven’t been watching. But they have a lot of high profile fans. Don’t believe me? Watch the trailer:

Directed by Edgar Wright (yes him from Hot Fuzz) this is a two and a bit hour love letter to one of pop’s most enigmatic bands. Who are still enigmatic at the end of the film, but you’ve really enjoyed watching them go through their career and making music. The film is structured by working it’s way through the bands albums and what was going on in the band at the time. But only in the band. I still don’t know if the brothers have partners, or kids or anything. But I do know that Ron has a very cool and very retro car.

It’s also totally notable that although many other musicians have joined them in the band at various points only to be jettisoned as the brothers moved on, lots of them appear in the film and seem to be absolutely fine about it. In fact Ron and Russel are often described as gentlemen and a joy to work with. So not your normal music documentary on that front either.

Maybe it could have been shorter, but why wouldn’t you want to include puppets and incredibly literal props and visual gags. It’s just a lovely way to pass the time, and you’ll end up listening to a Sparks playlist afterwards. I’ve even included on for you so you don’t have to go looking for it. You’re welcome. The Sparks Brothers is on Netflix in the UK. Enjoy.