My Favourite TV of 2022

As someone who is still catching up on The Sopranos, I struggle to keep up with all the good telly out there. So this is by no means a definitive best of 2022 (still haven’t seen The English, SAS Rogue Heroes, or Normal People). This is merely my favourite shows from what I managed to actually see in 2022. And why not start with the biggest surprise of all…

ANDOR

A prequel to a prequel that has no right to be half as good as it is. And it’s restored my faith in the Star Wars universe. All props to Tony Gilroy who has taken some complex ideas about sacrifice, rebellion and loyalty and delivered a slow burn that pays off in spades. If you want to hear me waffle on about how brilliant this is for over two hours then check out this episode of the Authorized Podcast. Oh, and an honourable mention for Obi-Wan Kenobi. I know a lot of people didn’t like it, but I did for no other reason than Ewan McGregor finally got a chance to play that character with a decent script that had some depth!

DON’T HUG ME I’M SCARED

Did you ever see a show that was so strange and twisted that you feel like it was made specifically for you? DON’T HUG ME I’M SCARED is that show. Surreal and darkly funny this is NOT a children’s show… despite looking remarkably like a lot of the warped kids’ shows I grew up on.

FOR ALL MANKIND

A simple concept: what if the Russians were first on the moon? How would that change the space race and history? Brilliantly executed, this is terrific alt history. It gets a little soapy at times, but always pulls it back. I gobbled up three seasons this year. Can’t wait for season 4.

SEVERANCE

A man called Mark has a baffling office job that’s so soul destroying he agrees to a process that separates his non-work and work memories. Hmm… what was it about this that so resonated with me? And look at that cast: Adam Scott, Christopher Walken, John Turturro and Patricia Arquette firing in all cylinders.

OUTLAWS

And speaking of Christopher Walken… I don’t know how Stephen Merchant convinced him to do two seasons of this brilliantly funny show about a bunch of community service misfits turned drug dealers, but I’m glad he did. There are a few scenes where you can see the extras beaming because they’re in a scene with The King of New York!

BETTER CALL SAUL

So… so good. Such an emotional rollercoaster. So many shocks and surprises. And what a great ending. And the fact that Rhea Seehorn hasn’t won every acting award going should be a matter for the courts. She was robbed.

SLOW HORSES

Gary Oldman has said that he could play Jackson Lamb for the rest of his career, and I kind of hope he does. He’s having so much fun and the rest of the cast playing MI5’s rejects at Slough House are having a ball. I haven’t seen season two (yet), but I plan to savour it all very soon.

WELCOME TO WREXHAM

I rarely give two hoots about football, but as a study of a community that has its identity tied up in failing team this is binge-worthy stuff. Toss in to that the disruptive influence of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McIlhenney who buy the team in an effort to restore it to its former glories and I’m suddenly on the edge of my seat with every corner kick. This will give Ted Lasso a run for its money when it comes to heartwarming footie shows.

GHOSTS

This just gets better and better and is still full of surprises while pushing the boundaries of family-friendly telly, ‘He got sucked off!’ There hasn’t been such a brilliant writing/acting/comedy combo this good since Python.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

PAM & TOMMY

Okay, this might have outstayed its welcome a little bit, but it has a talking penis and you can’t ask for more than that, surely?

STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS & LOWER DECKS

After the too-serious mumblecore of Discovery, Star Trek decided to be fun again!

SHE HULK and MOON KNIGHT were fun if a bit forgettable.

RINGS OF POWER and HOUSE OF THE DRAGON looked like the real thing, and almost felt like the real thing, but they lacked the little something extra that Tolkien and Martin brought to their worlds. I’ll probably come back for more, though.

ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING was fun if confusing.

And I enjoyed a couple of horror anthologies on Netflix: CABINET OF CURIOSITIES and THE HOUSE. A little hit and miss as with any anthology, but these are always great testing grounds for writers and directors and I hope there are more.

And I hope to see more of WE ARE LADYPARTS…

My Favourite Movies of 2022

Now that you’ve been dazzled by my favourite ‘bangin’ choons’ of 2022, here are my favourite movies of the year. It’s been a weird year for cinema. The big hitters are drawing in the punters, but those smaller movies are struggling to find an audience. It would be a crying shame if the interesting stuff was all regulated to the streamers. Not to denigrate streaming, but there’s nothing like sitting in the dark with complete strangers and immersing yourself in a story.

These are in no particular order, although I do have one favourite above all others and that is…

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE

I’ve seen this twice now and it’s even better the second time around. Just breathtaking on every level. It’s inventive, constantly surprising, very funny, heartbreaking and had amazing action sequences. Directed by The Daniels (friends Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) who previously made the surreal Swiss Army Man (featuring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse… yes, really) this gives me hope for cinema in a very difficult year. Not only did something this strange and personal manage to get made, it also took over $100m at the box office worldwide. Let these guys make whatever the hell they want in future!

THE NORTHMAN

I’ve seen this get a lot of flack online, but I caught this in the cinema when it first came out and was completely swept away by it. It ticks so many boxes for me: Vikings, battles, blood, witches, mythology, revenge and, er, naked men battling near lava… Well, yes, the ending is a bit Revenge of the Sith, but Alexander Skarsgård is utterly compelling, Anya Taylor-Joy is always amazing, and Robert Eggers is becoming one of my favourite directors.

BRIAN AND CHARLES

I’m so glad I got to see this in a cinema with a crowd. Simply the sweetest film of the year. Brian is an inventor who creates a robot from junk lying about his home. The robot learns English from a dictionary and names himself Charles Petrescu. What follows is an adorable story about friendship, love and growing up, and flying the nest.

CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY

Based on the book by Karen Cushman and directed by Lena Dunham this is a ton of fun. When her family’s finances are revealed to be in a terrible state, young Lady Catherine must be married off to restore their fortune. It’s very funny and Bella Ramsey is superb in the lead. I particularly related to her father played by Andrew Scott who kept blowing the family’s money on useless crap like dead tigers. This has a great soundtrack too with medieval takes on contemporary hits with Misty Miller’s take on Elastica’s Connection being a favourite for me.

BELFAST

Branagh’s most personal film and my favourite of his. Young Jude Hill as Buddy is a joy as he tries to make sense of the madness around him. A child’s point of view, memory and history mingle to make something heightened and heartbreaking,

ELVIS

A classic case of ‘Print the legend’. I’ve seen some complain about the historical accuracy of this, but Baz was never going to make a gritty biopic, was he? This could have been a complete disaster, but it’s all held together by Austin Butler who does the impossible and makes you believe that Elvis is in the building. Quite enjoyed Tom Hanks as Elmer Fudd, too…

GLASS ONION

Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig are clearly having the time of their lives making these movies, but the secret weapon in this one is Janelle Monáe. Not only is she a brilliant singer songwriter and science fiction author, but as an actor she takes on a role here that’s really tricky (I can’t say more for spoiler reasons) and knocks it out of the park. We were lucky to see this in its one week in cinemas and I’m so glad we did. These films are best seen in the company of others.

FRESH

The best flesh-eating movie of the year (ignore all the hype around Bones and All. I saw that at Sitges and wasn’t impressed). Sebastian Stan is completely charming (until he isn’t), and you completely understand why Daisy Edgar-Jones falls for him (until she doesn’t). This is on Disney+ in the UK and you should definitely watch it between meals…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

I saw BOWIE — MOONAGE DAYDREAM at the BFI IMAX in London and it pretty much blew my mind. I’d like to see it on a smaller screen to see if it holds up, especially as a lot of the 80s and 90s footage was shot on crappy video and didn’t look good on IMAX.

I liked Jordan Peele’s NOPE, but for me it’s the least of his movies so far. I was hooked, but it didn’t quite stick the landing for me. But I always love anyone who reaches for something even if they don’t get it (see also: my entire writing career).

SEE HOW THEY RUN was a good laugh and I hope we get to see more adventures with Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan’s odd couple coppers.

PREY was a great surprise: a Predator movie as good as the first one (there, I said it)!

BLACK PHONE was an excellent adaptation of Joe Hill’s short story. Back to basics horror for Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill.

TOP GUN MAVERICK was basically the trench run from Star Wars stretched out to feature length. I was never a big fan of the original, but this was terrific fun and the kind of blockbuster that Hollywood does better than anyone. Best seen on the biggest screen you can find.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY is technically a 2021 movie but it was (I think) the first film I saw in 2022. I’ll just say it: Guillermo del Toro is a bloody genius and I’m so glad he’s now in a position to make a film so visually stunning and shocking. As remakes go it’s a belter. Can’t wait for his Pinocchio.

MEN started well, and Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear are always great, but it unravelled a little at the end. I went in with big expectations, so it’s one I want to come back to and see how it holds up.

My Favourite Music of 2022

Yup, it’s that time of the year when bloggers litter the internet with ‘Best of’ lists. I can only offer my favourites, however, and we’ll start with music because my lovely Apple Music app handily keeps track of what I listen to the most throughout the year. You can find the whole playlist here, and here’s the top ten with videos…

  1. HUMAN MUSIC. RICK AND MORTY. Okay, this might need some explaining. I added this to my “New Stuff” playlist as a joke and now it’s become a fixture. I’m with Jerry. “I like it.”

2. THE HEART THAT NEVER WAITS. JOE BONAMASSA. Fed up with Eric Clapton being old, reactionary and racist? Choose Joe Bonamassa instead. An incredible singer, songwriter and guitarist (arguably better than Clapton) and this is great to play along with, too…

3. TALK OVER TOWN. KATY J PEARSON. Why yes, I am that cliche of a middle-aged man who gets his music recommendations from watching Jools Holland… What else am I supposed to do? They killed Top of the Pops! This track, and Katy’s album Sound of the Morning, is so propulsive and toe-tapping. She also ends the album with a great cover of Willow’s Song from The Wicker Man.

4. ABOUT DAMN TIME. LIZZO. This is super catchy and I defy anyone not to at least bop their head to this one. Another favourite this year has been Rumors, her collaboration with Cardi B which has a video like an X-rated version of Disney’s Hercules.

5. CHARMED LIFE. THE DIVINE COMEDY. At the risk of sounding like a privileged old white bloke (which I am) this could be my theme tune. I’ve had it very good (so far).

6. LESLEY DUNCAN. LOVE SONG. I heard this in the Alex Garland movie MEN and I can’t believe I’d never heard it before. Simply beautiful…

7. HEY HEY RISE UP (feat. Andriy Khlyvnyuk of Boombox). So Pink Floyd had a number one single this year! David Gilmour took Andriy Khlyvnyuk’s heartfelt a cappella version of an old Ukrainian anthem and built a song around it. Featuring Nitin Sawhney on keyboards, I love the video’s ‘let’s do the show right here’ vibe.

8. BLACK HOLE SUN. SOUNDGARDEN. An oldie but goodie that I was reminded of it when it popped up in the end credits of an episode of For All Mankind. Chris Cornell’s voice and guitar drives this to the moon and back.

9 THE EAGLE & THE DOVE. JESSIE BUCKLEY AND BERNARD BUTLER. Now here’s a combo I never knew I needed. The genius of Butler with Buckley’s voice which soars like, well, an eagle (or a dove… take your pick). And yes this is another Jools Holland clip, but Buckley’s live voice is something else…

10 HOW DOES IT FEEL. SLADE. Another golden oldie. Just to prove that Slade are for life and not just for Christmas. I don’t recall how this got on my playlist, but once it was there I couldn’t but help play it over and over…

11. CLEOPATRA. NOVA TWINS. Okay, I lied. This is a top 11 because I had to include these two. The Nova Twins are like the bastard daughters of Muse who usurp the throne and stick their heads in spikes. Brilliant stuff.

Honourable mentions…

I’m amazed there’s no Wet Leg on here, though Ur Mum is number 12 on my list…

Same goes for Self Esteem. She should definitely be on the list as I haven’t stopped playing her new album since I saw her on… go on, guess…

Coming soon. More pointless lists of my favourite films, TV shows and books of 2022…

SJ Bennett on the Bestseller Experiment podcast

SJ Bennett is great fun on this week’s podcast. After a successful career writing award-winning YA, she made a big shift in genre and category to cosy crime with her new series Her Majesty the Queen Investigates. We talk about fear of failure, life-changing decisions, and getting publisher royalty cheques for 97p…

Star Wars Catalyst on the Authorized Podcast

Delighted to be back as a guest on the Authorized Podcast, discussing James Luceno’s prequel to a prequel novel CATALYST. This follows on from the previous episode where we discussed the excellent Rogue One novelisation.

Apart from fixating on the Poggle the Lesser, I also talk about my love of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire books, seeing Return of the Jedi when I was ten and thinking that was it for Star Wars, and much more Star Wars nerdy goodness. You can listen on any podcast provider, but here’s a link to Spotify.

Unwelcome at the Sitges Film Festival

Unwelcome, the film I wrote with director Jon Wright, premiered at the Sitges Film Festival last weekend and I’m still buzzing from the experience. Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it already…

The Sitges Film Festival has been around since 1967 and is one of the best horror/fantasy film festivals in the world, so it was a genuine privilege to show our film there last weekend. This year’s festival was the first full-blooded version of the festival since lockdowns ended and they sold over 70,000 tickets this year for 350 screenings over ten days. It’s one hell of an event, with a reputation for incredible audiences who start cheering once the production logos start at the beginning of the movie (except Netflix, apparently… their logo gets booed!).

Five of us travelled to Sitges: myself, director Jon Wright, editor Zsófia Tálas, director of photography Hamish Done-Ditmas, and VFX Supervisor Paddy Eason. We were excited/tense/nervous (delete as applicable) because this was the first time the film was going to be seen by real people. I was whisked straight from Barcelona airport to the midnight screening on the Friday night. This was in the smaller pop-up cinema with 3-400 people. Jon and I said a few words, sat to one side, and waited as the lights went down…

The Sitges audience did not disappoint. They cheered and whooped and applauded. It was simply mind-blowing and such an incredible relief. The film wrapped almost two years ago and its release has been waiting out Covid, Omicron, the collapse of Western Civilisation’s economy etc… So I had no idea if was actually any good. Would it play for an audience? Thank you, Sitges for showing us that all our hard work was not in vain.

On the Saturday morning, Jon and I did interviews for radio and press (it’s testament to Jon’s generosity that he asked me along to these… not every screenwriter gets this treatment!). All the interviewers had seen the film the night before, and loved it and asked really insightful questions. I did feel sorry for our translators (Elena Martínez for the first presentation and the press, and Aina Girbau for the premiere) who had to make sense of my often rambling answers.

Saturday afternoon meant the big premiere in the main 1400-seater theatre. It was sold out, packed to the rafters. We walked out on stage and said a few words and it was like a dream. As the opening credits rolled and the wonderful Sitges audience cheered and clapped I was finally able to relax and wallow in a little moment of bliss (I’ve struggled to enjoy these big moments in the past). The end of the film got another terrific reception, and as we got up to leave we found people still standing and applauding us. It was a bit of an out of body experience.

On the Sunday, I wandered around Sitges. A beautiful town with beautiful people. We’re all fired up and want to return with another another movie as soon as possible. Gracias, Sitges, hasta pronto!

All photos by Miguel Anxo, courtesy of Sitges Film Festival.

Babes in the Wood by Mark Stay

July, 1940. In a quiet village in rural Kent, a magical mystery leads to murder… Woodville has returned to ‘normal’ after the departure of the Crow …

Babes in the Wood by Mark Stay

Halloween Book Signing

I’m going to be at Waterstones Ashford with a pen, my library stamp and some cool free stuff as part of their Halloween Extravaganza! Come and say hello and I’ll scribble on a book for you…
https://www.waterstones.com/events/halloweek-extravaganza-author-signing-mark-stay/ashford

Book & Choc Winners

A big thank you to everyone who signed up to the newsletter for this draw. The winners have been drawn and emails have been sent to: Chris Roberts, Jayne Davis, Simon Chaffer, Sue Lumley and Nick Singleton. Condolences to those who didn’t win, but there’s always next time!

Book Review: The Ghost Of Ivy Barn by Mark Stay #GhostOfIvyBarn #WitchesOfWoodville @markstay @simonschusterUK @RandomTTours

Bookshortie

Synopsis

August, 1940.

As the Battle of Britain rages overhead, a warlock leader from the Council of High Witches comes to Woodville with a ritual to repel the imminent Nazi invasion. The only catch is it involves full-frontal nudity on the White Cliffs of Dover. The Witches of Woodville are having none of it, but when more witches arrive they realise they might have a spy in their midst, and it’s up to Faye Bright to uncover the traitor. But she’s got enough on her plate already with the ghost of a Polish Hurricane pilot who may hold the key to the truth.

My Review

When we catch up with Faye she is still trying to process and deal with the aftermath of the dramatic battle at the end of the second book, Babes in the Woods. That’s when Larry approaches Miss Charlotte, Mrs Teach and Faye because there’s something…

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