My Self-Isolation Watchlist
Today was a fairly big day for me, as I have just had my first face-to-face meeting since early March. All health-and-safety and social distance guidelines were followed, and I was a little nervous to be using public transport again (particular with my new 'floral ninja' mask in place), but I'm excited to be working on new film projects. This all symbolises that - providing we are all sensible over the next few weeks - Lockdown is coming to a close.
I've used the last four months as productively as possible. Sure, I didn't write the 'masterpiece novel' that people joked about writing in this quiet patch, but I did use the time well. My team and I used the opportunity to finish post-production on our latest short film, Lepidopterist, and I continued my training (online) with BAFTA Crew, Screenskills and The Prince's Trust, as well as having virtual meetings and pitching for new work whenever possible. I also did lots of fun things I wouldn't have usually had the time to do, like my long-intended painting of Kate Bush (which I'll share on my Instagram feed this week), and I had lots of long walks around the local countryside with my partner, Edward Harvey.
But by being home more than usual, by default, I have watched a lot of things. Some of my viewing choices have been educational (with some amazing livestreams provided by the previously-mentioned organisations, and also The BFI, Birds Eye View and Free The Work), and some have been slightly more frivolous (I've recently become addicted to Lindsay Ellis' geeky-but-uber-intelligent YouTube channel), but I thought it would be fun to keep a list of the films and television I've devoured over this time, as a sort of Lockdown time-capsule. With me venturing back out into the world today, now seems like as good a time as any to share that list.
And no, for the record, I did not watch Tiger King...
I technically watched this film just before Lockdown, as I started self-isolating and working from home shortly before it became mandatory. The world was already a very scary place at that point, and The Aeronauts was a film I decided to watch to distract myself for a couple of hours - plus I was sorry to have missed it in cinemas last year. The film is a bit CGI-heavy for my taste, but it worked well as a lovely piece of period escapism. Plus the scene with Felicity Jones on top of the balloon was as intense and exciting as a nineties-era thriller!
This was a show which Edward and I started watching earlier on in the year, but were able to finish it during Lockdown. Carnival Row was actually recommended to me by Growing Shadows and Lepidopterist editor Arthur Harrison, who knows I like fantasy stories which feel grounded and human. I don't quite buy Orlando Bloom as a cockney hard man, but the series' cinematography and blocking reminded me of paintings, the costumes were lush, and it handled the fantasy-as-racial allegory so much better than Bright did.
I'd been meaning to get round to watching Russian Doll for a long time, and Lockdown essentially cleared my schedule. I'm also glad that I waited until now to watch the show, as the fact that the lead character kept resetting to the same room, living the same day over and over again (a la Groundhog Day), felt all the more relatable in the current situation! Russian Doll was worth the months of hype, as it was one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. Natasha Lyonne was incredible, making a troubled character intensely likeable (her story was intriquing enough, even without the magic elements), the script is razor sharp, and the cinematography and design elements were all stunning. I only felt the last episode wrapped things up a bit too quickly, and I'm not keen to see how the showrunners will make it work for a second series.
I was excited to see Batwoman. The character has always intrigued me, and I'd heard positive things about the show's LGBT representation. Unfortunately the execution was sloppy, with the cinematography, performances and editing in particular coming across poorly. The best thing I can say about it is that it reminded me of watching Smallville as a teenager on Sunday afternoons, but that sense of fun wasn't enough to keep me watching past two episodes.
So when Harley Quinn also came onto All4, I watched it with caution. The first episode was so chocked-full of f-bombs and violence that I found it a bit off-putting, as though it were trying too hard to prove itself as Batman The Animated Series for adults (having watched BTAS again recently, I can confirm that it's actually the more mature of the two). However, now that Harley Quinn has found its stride, it's absolutely fantastic. Laugh-out-loud funny, but with enough geeky references (from the comics, BTAS, the recent DC movies and even the Adam West-era Batman series) to please the mega fans. In that aspect, it's on par with Lego Batman.
(And as a Poison Ivy fan, I will admit that I don't like her look in the series - she's very much designed to be Harley's sidekick, and not steal her limelight - but her personality and her 'voice of reason' intelligence is fantastic.)
Scream Queens is another show I've been meaning to finish for a while. No one does OTT better than Glee-and-American-Horror-Story creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, and this show is full of silliness, but it also harks back to early-noughties horror parodies like the Scary Movie trilogy, which makes the series the perfect accompaniment to a pizza night (and we had a lot of takeaway pizzas during Lockdown!). Jamie Lee Curtis has a ball on screen, of course, but the real scene-stealer is Glen Powell, whose performance as Chad Radwell had me cracking up into my garlic bread. Even so, we haven't chosen to watch the second season.
A few times, when Edward was doing his livestreams, I'd raid my DVD collection for something to watch on my own - and I took to Twitter to get the public's opinion on which DVD I should choose. Her won by a landslide the first time I did that, and its portrayal of a relationship with technology was almost as relatable during lockdown as Russian Doll! The film is as beautiful as I remember - again, I have to give a shout-out to the nostalgic sets and costume design, but Joaquin Phoenix in this film is so good that he proves he didn't need his Joker OSCAR win to be one of the best actors working today.
Edward had never seen Richard Linklater's Before trilogy, although he saw Boyhood in the cinema with me in 2014. The first film in the trilogy - Before Sunrise - felt like the perfect choice for our Friday movie night during a hot Spring evening in Lockdown. If you watch it now, the film looks so grainy, but that kind of adds to its nineties charm (which the film is full of anyway), and I still love the natural performances from the young Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I first watched Before Sunrise when I was the same age as the romantic characters the film depicts, but I'm now closer to their ages in Before Sunset, so I'll have to watch it again soon and see how I relate to it now.
This documentary was recommended to me by my friend and creative partner Tommy Draper, because its escapist visuals and determinedly positive attitude are the polar opposite of everything we're currently living through. Global Convoy is not the most professional-looking film of all time, but you cannot help but root for the young group and their message of acceptance. It's also an easy watch that you can fit into a couple of working-from-home lunch breaks.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Funnily enough, the only thing I wanted to do for my birthday this year was to stay in and watch The Lord of The Rings trilogy, so I'm one of the few people who didn't have their celebrations altered or ruined by Lockdown, and I know that makes me very lucky. I hadn't seen LOTR in years (and I've never seen the extended trilogy back-to-back), and Edward hadn't seen it at all, bar some of The Fellowship of the Ring, so this epic movie session was a long time coming. I was worried the films would have aged too much, or that they wouldn't feel as special as when I saw them as a kid... nope, I still absolutely adore them. I cried all the way through The Return of the King's many endings, and was again reminded why I got into the film industry in the first place. To make things even better, Josh Gad hosted a LOTR reunion on YouTube the very next month; it felt all the more exciting for having just watched the films again, but Edward got to appreciate the reunion with me, which made it even better.
The Flight of the Conchords
Also for my birthday, I was sent the complete box set of Flight of the Conchords by my good friends Theo and Laura Vann-Leeds. I had never seen the series before (sorry, guys!) but I loved it. The musical genre took a while to sit right with me, and I did prefer the first series over the second, but all the New Zealand (and Lord of the Rings) jokes were right up my street. The episode where the band goes on a very low-budget tour was a standout to me, followed closely by the David Bowie episode, and I've been quoting Murray's "present!" catchphrase ever since.
This was another DVD that a Twitter poll helped me choose to watch, and also something which followed on from me watching The Lord of the Rings. Heavenly Creatures proves how great a filmmaker Peter Jackson can be, when he's not stuck under franchises and big studios. Even after all this time, it's still such a great film - even if you do feel a bit guilty about rooting for the young killers!
With Dennis Villeneuve's remake of Dune coming up soon, Edward and I felt it was time to finally watch the original (and Edward also used the opportunity to do a review of the film on his YouTube channel). We only have the film on VHS, so that's how we watched it; I hadn't heard good things, but I was hoping for a nostalgic dollop of cheesy 80s fantasy, like the films I enjoyed as a child. Unfortunately, the film wasn't bad in a fun way; it's wasn't cheap and cheerful, it was clearly very expensive, but it was incredibly slow to watch. None of the characters were developed (particularly Sean Young's Chani, who was barely in the film after Kyle MacLachlan's lead started kissing her), and the blue eye effect was so badly 'painted on' that it looked like a film student had key-framed it. I soon found myself browsing my phone in bored frustration.
I'd almost forgotten about Super 8, in spite of the hype around it at the time. The main reason for this is the fact that, if I think of 80s-inspired teenager stories that homage Spielberg, I now instantly think of Stranger Things. Watching Super 8 now, it's clearly a predecessor to the series - so much so that I don't know if we'd have Stranger Things without it. There are things about the film which annoy me, and have done since my first viewing - namely the teenagers' 'hero armour' (there's even one scene where the adult characters are picked off and killed one by one around the younger central characters), and I'm still not sure the lead boy should've had to give up his mother's locket at the end. These are of course minor gripes; Super 8 is a well-made and clearly iconic film. It also helped to launch the career of Elle Fanning, who has been brilliant in pretty much everything ever since.
One of the later entries on this list; by this point, we had watched pretty much all the 'good films' we wanted to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and we were ready to dive into a bit of comfort viewing. I loved Kindergarten Cop as a kid, and it is as much fun today. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief as an adult (there is no way the school would let Arnie's character teach a class, let alone invite him back full-time with no qualifications when his investigation is over), but it's a joyous piece of viewing for a rainy Sunday afternoon. I also have to acknowledge Pamela Reed's Phoebe - a character who holds her own against her male colleagues, doesn't have to be an 'attractive love interest', and unashamedly eats whatever she wants, whenever she wants it. When I first saw Kindergarten Cop, my other female role models in films were all Disney Princesses, and she was a much-needed antithesis to them.
Top of the Lake
And finally, we come to mine and Edward's most recent viewing choice. As with Russian Doll, I had been meaning to watch Top of the Lake for a long time - and it often got pushed down to the bottom of the list in favour of more 'exciting' shows like Swamp Thing and American Gods. But we have finally had time to watch it now, and we devoured the first series in less than a week. I love anything Jane Campion makes, and this show is signature her, with a sense of neo-gothic gloominess and touches of melodramatic romance amongst the grit and trauma. As with many things on this list, it seemed to wrap up too quickly and easily (after all the foreshadowing that a 12 year old girl may not be able to give birth naturally, the end of Tui's storyline seemed somewhat anticlimactic), but the show was suspenseful and full of brilliant performances throughout. Elisabeth Moss can do no wrong, even when she's working with an accent which is not her own (and not quite spot on, but I'll let her off). What's more, the setting was so stunning, I am once again considering a move to New Zealand.
Best of the Rest
Alongside all of the above, there were a few shows which I continued to watch as I did prior to Lockdown. Outlander had another strong season, mostly moving away from OTT eroticism and instead choosing to show more dramatic plotlines with its newer characters (including Sophie Skelton - pictured above - who I was lucky enough to work with when I briefly joined the crew of Ren). There were a few shows Edward and I watched as comfort viewing, such as The Undateables, Gogglebox, Whose Line is it Anyway and my box set of Men Behaving Badly, which came out whenever we needed to leave the internet clear for YouTube uploads. I also continued my discovery of South Park, which I started watching for the first time last year, and RuPaul's Drag Race gave us some much needed joy and inclusive positivity, even in the face of the controversy and technical disruptions which impeded the latest season.
I hope you've all enjoyed my latest blog post. The next one will be my annual 'Summer update' (I can't believe we're already half way through the year! I've been stuck in a time-bubble for months), and then my posts should be pretty much business-as-usual as I hopefully push my latest film projects back into pre-production.
We may never live through another time like this. I certainly hope we don't. Whether you feel as though you used your Lockdown productively, or if you watched a lot of television, the only things that matter are what you've learnt to cherish, and what you've learned that you can live without. We need to hold onto those insights as we move forward into this brave new world.