I know what I did last summer

Oh no, it happened again! I went for two months without writing a blog. My excuse is that I was very busy doing actual things. Having a lovely boyfriend is doing wonders for my social life and self-esteem, but is proving to be less good for my blogging career.

Anyway, here are some of those things below.


What is threatening to become an annual visit to the Shakespeare production by Illyria in Sefton Park did not disappoint. A fun romantic comedy about the night you take your Christmas decorations down (NOTE: fact-check this before publishing).

With a cast of five playing multiple roles, I had to pay close attention to follow the plot. However being in the shadow of the Palm House was a bonus, and the weather was kind to us. People who went to see their production of Pride and Prejudice a few weeks later were not so lucky.

Cast performing Twelfth Night on an open air stage in the park.

Continue reading “I know what I did last summer”

Whale of a Time

The Whale is a new film which released in cinemas a couple of weeks ago, and which I saw last Friday with Ben.

Brendan Fraser plays Charlie, an English teacher struggling with health problems caused by morbid obesity. He makes a living teaching courses online, never turning on his laptop camera. He orders pizza, ordering the delivery guy to leave it outside so he doesn’t have to interact.

Brendan Fraser wearing 'fat' make-up as Charlie in "The Whale"

Brendan’s only friend, Liz (played by Hong Chau) is a nurse who implores Charlie to go to hospital, but he refuses, not wanting to run up debts (that US healthcare system again).

Ty Simpkins plays Thomas, a Church missionary whose first encounter involves seeing Charlie in a compromising position (ahem) and subsequently decides it is his mission to save Charlie’s life, much to the chagrin of Liz who has had dealings with this church before.

Completing the cast is Sadie Sink as Charlie’s estranged daughter, Ellie, whom Charlie has not seen for years and now desperately wants to reconnect with.

The cast is great, but the star is undoubtedly Brendan Fraser, buried under a mountain of latex to make him look morbidly obese. This could easily have been a grotesque disaster, but Fraser gives an utterly compelling performance which carries the film. It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for Fraser’s character, as he wheezes and gasps his way around the apartment, struggling to even stand up. It’s fair to point out that some people have criticised the film for its portrayal of obesity – I suggest you watch and make up your own mind.

The film is set entirely in Charlie’s home, never venturing further than his bedroom or the front porch. This may be because of its roots as a stage play, but the film doesn’t need to go anywhere else. The claustrophobia adding to the tension, as Charlie declines over the course of a week.

Ben and I saw the film in a cinema where we were, shockingly, the only people in the auditorium. The people watching Magic Mike in the other screen missed something special. This film is an amazing experience, well worth two hours of your time. I hope Brendan Fraser, back in a leading role after a long time, gets some awards sent his way.

Empire State of Mind

Empire of Light is a new film recently released, focusing on the staff of a slightly faded cinema in 1980s Margate, which I saw on Saturday night with Ben.

Queen Olivia Colman plays Hilary, the duty manager of the Empire cinema. She is friendly and personable, but also has mental health issues and is prescribed lithium by an uninterested doctor. She spends her evenings alone at home, and at work she forces herself to smile and go along with the banter of her co-workers. She is having an affair with her married boss Donald (played by Colin Firth) who is rather exploiting her vulnerability. Also on staff is Norman, the projectionist, played by Toby Jones.

Promotional image for Empire of Light, showing Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman

New employee Stephen (Micheal Ward) arrives and Hilary becomes rather smitten with him. The two embark on a relationship, but issues arise because of Hilary’s mental health and the racism Stephen experiences in the town, which Hilary finds difficult to cope with. Meanwhile, the run-down cinema is chosen for a gala screening of Chariots of Fire and suddenly a great deal of attention is focused on the venue.

It’s not the most exciting film in the world, but it’s hard not to warm to the characters (well, except for Firth’s sleazy cinema manager, but that’s intentional I think). Colman is excellent as always, and Ward is great too. And the film as a whole looks gorgeous — even the shots in the cinema’s derelict, pigeon-infested restaurant look amazing.

Director Sam Mendes has cooked up a lovely tribute to the classic cinema experience, one that was on the verge of dying out in the 1980s and has now disappeared in the era of the multiplex. Meanwhile, the frank depiction of racist attitudes means this isn’t just an easy slice of nostalgia.

Also — and I hope this doesn’t make me sound too shallow — Micheal Ward gets naked at one point and he has a very nice bum.

Otto-matic for the People

On Friday night I went with Ben to see the new Tom Hanks film A Man Called Otto. There aren’t many heartwarming comedy dramas that open with the main character preparing to commit suicide, but this is one of them.

Hanks plays a recently-retired widower who finds himself increasingly at odds with the modern world. He rails at the DIY shop because they sell rope by the yard and he only needs five feet. He patrols the neighbourhood, watching for dogs who pee on his lawn and cars using the residents-only road illegally. His neighbours irritate him, as does the paper boy who leaves his bike blocking the pavement for a moment.

So far, so Victor Meldrew. But like Victor Meldrew, Otto’s grumpiness doesn’t come from nowhere. Through flashbacks, we are shown Otto’s courtship of his eventual wife Sonya, and the tragedy that struck them (the younger Otto is played by Hanks’s son, Truman).

Back in the present day, Otto can’t see a future for himself after retirement, and plans to end it all. He is repeatedly prevented from doing so by his new neighbours, a family led by the relentlessly chirpy Marisol (played by Mariana Treviño, a new name to me, but amazingly good here). Although initially resistant to Marisol’s overtures of friendship, Otto slowly but surely warms up to her, becoming a friend to her and her two kids, and even her husband, despite thinking he’s an idiot.

There are lots of funny moments here, and if you watched the trailer, you might be expecting another bog-standard “grumpy old man” film. But there is also pathos here; the ending genuinely had me in tears – and it’s a long time since a film had that effect on me. Maybe it’s because Otto, left behind in a confusing modern world after the love of his life passed away, reminded a bit of my own dad.

Also — and without spoiling things too much — another supporting character, who plays a pivotal role, is a trans teenage boy, Malcolm. He is played by trans actor Mack Bayda and it’s great to see trans representation in a mainstream film.

Twenty Twenty Two… A Re-Do

2022 will go down in history as a year. There was turmoil in the wider world and political upheaval at home.

Anyway, here are some films I watched and enjoyed.


The first gay rom-com (by a major studio). Billy Eichner plays Bobby, an uptight, slightly whiny gay man, who falls in love with Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), a straight-acting jock type. But — who would have thought it? — the relationship is rocky and punctuated by awkward moments and personality clashes before they eventually realise they are perfect for each other.

Sadly the film didn’t do too well at the box office. Maybe Eichner’s character was a bit too annoying, maybe the straights were scared off by the four-way sex scene, or maybe there were too many jokes about gay culture that only make sense to someone who has a lifetime subscription to the Advocate and has seen every episode of Drag Race. It was probably a little too gay to entice the straights in. Not that they should have diluted the gayness for more mainstream appeal. Quite the opposite: they should have gone the whole hog and left in the rimming scene.

Continue reading “Twenty Twenty Two… A Re-Do”

The Birdie Song

Firebird is a new film which has been doing the rounds on the LGBT film festival circuit for the last year or so, garnering mostly positive reviews. It has finally had a wider release, hence why I trekked out to Cheshire Oaks last week with a voucher code in my pocket.

Set on a military base in Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1977, Firebird tells the story of Sergey (Tom Prior), a young soldier in the Soviet army, who falls for his new commanding officer Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii). The pair embark on an illicit love affair, forced to keep it secret from everyone, in an era when homosexuality is very much illegal.

The film is based on the true story of Sergey Fetisov and his memoir A Tale about Roman. Sadly the real Sergey died in 2017, but he was able to provide his input to the cast and the director, Peeter Rebane, while the film was in pre-production, and the film is dedicated to his memory.

An added poignancy came from the knowledge that Oleg Zagorodnii, who plays Sergey’s clandestine lover, Roman, is not on the promotional tour for the film. Instead, he is in his home city of Kyiv, helping to defend Ukraine from another occupation.

Firebird is a wonderful piece of work. Beautifully filmed, with great performances from the cast – Prior and Zagorodnii are excellent and utterly believable as a couple.

Disappointingly, the film seems to be only on very limited release, but it is well worth seeking out.

Also… Tom Prior. Just look at him.

Firebird is on limited release in the UK, USA and probably some other places. Go to firebirdmovie.com for tickets and showtimes. It is released on DVD on 6th June.

Simon Says

I’ve been mocked in the past, because of my penchant for LGBT cinema. Pretty much every film I’ve gone out to watch in the past year or so has been gay-themed in some way, to the point where I’m starting to think I should watch a Fast and Furious film just to even things up a bit.

It helps that over the last couple of years we have been truly spoiled by a run of excellent gay films – including Holding the Man, Beach Rats, God’s Own Country, Tom of Finland, Handsome Devil, Moonlight, The Pass and Call Me By Your Name. We’re also lucky to have, in Liverpool, the FACT Picturehouse, which regularly screens these films in partnership with Liverpool Pride, offering the opportunity to watch on the big screen, rather than waiting for the films to come out on DVD or streaming services.

DVD cover of "Another Gay Movie" showing main cast

This “gay first policy” extends to my DVD collection too. If there are shirtless guys kissing, or an artfully filmed gay sex scene (one which is essential to the plot, of course), it’s sure to make it onto my shelf, regardless of quality – alongside Beautiful Thing and Christopher and his Kind, I also have dubious quality productions like Another Gay Movie. I’m decluttering at the moment, and I’d get rid of the latter film if I could, but the church bring and buy sale didn’t want it for some reason.

Continue reading “Simon Says”