What I learnt from watching ‘Brain on Fire’

I’ve been doing a lot of lying down browsing Netflix recently so have been watching some random documentaries and films. One of the ones I watched was a film called ‘Brain on Fire’.It’s about a woman who starts to experience neurological symptoms like seizures, absences, psychosis, mood swings and eventually stroke like symptoms. But no one can work out what’s wrong with her and they go down the ‘it’s psychological’ route and try to get her committed to a psych ward. Her parents keep fighting for her and found one doctor who believed her and eventually she gets diagnosed with a rare autoimmune brain disorder. It’s treatable. It’s also based on a true story. The reason I found this interesting was because before I got diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency, I had many doctors tell me that they thought my problems were psychological and refused to treat me- I got made out to be a drug seeker for steroids at one point. Like her, I felt like I was dying and no one was listening. And, in the same way, the only reason I got diagnosed was because one respiratory doctor said ‘I believe you’ and spent 2 weeks running every test possible until a completely random one showed I had adrenal insufficiency, which wasn’t even his field of practice. But before that, I was treated like I was mad. People ‘humoured’ me when I went to a&e for a while, but the more I showed up (every week at one point) and the fact that one doctor wrote about my ‘clear psychological issues’ on my file meant that people became more and more rude and point blank refused to treat me. But even if I was experiencing psychological symptoms, there’s no need to treat me like that, clearly I still needed help which I wasn’t getting. Although, chronic illness humour, it did turn out that the problem was ‘all in my head’ since my pituitary gland is pretty defunct and it’s located in my brain… 😉 It’s still difficult for me to look back and say ‘I was treated badly’, even though I now know I *was* treated badly. It’s left a lot of (now, ironically, psychological) damage about seeking help in healthcare because I really was dying and no one would listen. I’ve always tried to see it from other people’s perspective and think maybe it’s because I didn’t look sick enough, or maybe I didn’t use the right words to describe it, or maybe someone was having a bad day and missed something, or they lacked experience or I said something wrong which threw them… But there’s empathy for other humans and human error and then there’s taking responsibility for something that wasn’t my fault. Watching Brain on Fire meant that I could see some of my experiences portrayed from an outside perspective. And, actually, there were many opportunities for people, whether it be colleagues, friends, family or doctors, to see that clearly she wasn’t right. Yeah, some of her behaviour might have been weird or ‘lazy’, but instead of showing some empathy and sitting down and saying ‘this isn’t you, what’s going on here’, she was told she was being selfish, that she needed to try harder, she was shouted at to see if she would ‘snap out of it’, people were impatient and she was ultimately worn down to a point where even the inherent natural instinct to fight to survive got turned off. But the scary thing is, that her and my experiences aren’t all that uncommon. When doctors can’t find answers, they turn to psychological problems. Lots of people with adrenal insufficiency are committed to psychiatric units first and then are only diagnosed when they’re in a coma. Part of it is that doctors don’t like things they can’t solve, and mental health has a nice broad spectrum, but part of it is that some are too arrogant to admit that they don’t know everything. I find this really baffling in this day and age since more and more people are surviving things they didn’t before which means there are going to be new and rare diseases being diagnosed which we didn’t have before. Therefore, just because it doesn’t fit into one doctor’s experience of illness, doesn’t mean the problem isn’t a physical problem rather than a psychological problem. So what I learnt from watching this film is that I’m not responsible for the way my doctors treated me. Even if I had said something wrong or acted weirdly, they were my doctors and I was the patient- they had a duty of care to me regardless of the root cause and they really let me down. Seeing someone else experience it first hand in visual form (rather than just reading similar experiences) gave me the chance to fully acknowledge that.

Harry Potter in Concert

The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra is currently touring the UK performing the Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone film score live at the same time as the film is played. I’m a massive Harry Potter fan and particularly love the Harry Potter film music, so I loved it! 

We went to see it in the Albert Hall. There were performances closer to us, but I incorporated it into part of my 30 things list and I thought the atmosphere would be amazing. And it was. It was a great mix of people- film lovers, orchestra fans, Harry Potter geeks dressed in robes, children… it was really good fun. And audience participation was encouraged! 

I studied conducting at university, but never did any film or screen conducting. I found it interesting to watch it being performed live with the film, because it obviously has to be really precise, but usually when the film score is recorded, it’s done with cues and times. This conductor must have really internalised his score and the film to be able to get it so spot on in front of a live audience. Incredible. And the musicians were amazing too. An entire film score, especially the length of a Harry Potter one, is a lot of playing to do in one concert! 

There was also a choir with wordless parts throughout. You know their bits exist when watching the film, but because it was live their parts added more depth to the soundtrack. In fact, in general there was more depth to the music, especially in the lower brass. I guess it’s partly because I haven’t watched the first HP film on a large screen since it originally was released and the sound gets compressed a lot when it gets turned into a DVD. I also noticed a lot more of the musical devices used and our perception of some of the characters was different, which was interesting! All because the music was played live and more of a focus rather than in the background. 

I think my favourite bit was actually the credits because they played them in their entirety and people stayed in their seats and listened unlike at the cinema. The orchestra played all of the themes we’d listened to for the last few hours and it just rounded it off nicely. And also got a really loud round of applause. 

It was a great day out. We managed to get street parking right outside the Albert Hall (£14 ish for 4 hours), and the congestion charge doesn’t apply on weekends. Because I’m not up to walking far, we decided to have lunch in the Italian restaurant at the Albert Hall, which was a bit of a gamble because we hadn’t reserved and it could have been ridiculously expensive, but it turned out to be really reasonably priced and a nice meal. Plus we didn’t have to rush because we were already at the venue. I’ve only been to the Albert Hall once before so I loved being in such a historic venue. The same orchestra are performing the Chamber of Secrets next year so I’m tempted to see that too! 

Banner photo: taken from the Albert Hall box office 

Their Finest

I really liked this film. I love films and stories that are about WWII because I find that period of history really interesting, but it’s not often I get so absorbed in a film that I forget that I’m in the cinema surrounded by strangers (I get really annoyed by other people making noises very easily!). 

By way of a brief synopsis, Mrs Cole finds herself offered a job in London as a film writer for the war effort. The government is concerned that people aren’t having access to ‘authentic and optimistic’ stories when they watch the news or films at the cinema, and they want someone who can get across their important messages, but do it in a way that people can relate to. Mrs Cole is that person, along with a small team. The film follows the team through the process of researching, creating, writing and filming. I won’t write any more because there were actually a lot of twists and turns and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! 

Mrs Cole is (obviously) a woman, so the aspect of women ‘being allowed to work’ was covered as part of the film as well. It was quite nice to watch a war-time film that followed the ordinary people during the war, as a lot of movies recently have focussed on the bloody and violent parts of war where all of the action takes place. But actually, being constantly under siege by bombs and having to make do with rations and poor living conditions is also a challenge. 

Because Their Finest is about making a film, it was quite artistic in the way it was communicated to us. So the film they were making became intertwined with the characters’ storylines and you could make links between what the writers were thinking and feeling and how it impacted directly on their work. As an ex-head of faculty for the the creative arts, this appealed to me massively because the creative process often gets left out of or forgotten about, with the focus being on the final product. I enjoyed watching the brainstorming sessions and seeing where ideas came from, as well as how they adapted their ideas when things were going wrong. I did find myself thinking two thoughts a lot throughout the film: firstly ‘I’m so glad laptops don’t weigh as much as typewriters- can you imagine having to lug that thing around?!’ and secondly, ‘I’m so glad we can edit things on laptops rather than having to type the whole lot out again if it needs redrafting!’

There were some funny moments with typical British humour – self depreciating/sarcastic with a good measure of ‘keep calm and carry on’. The Norwegian/American actor who really couldn’t act and Bill Nighy’s eccentric character both provided lots of humorous bits. And what would a war film be without a sing-song around the piano and a bit of a love story? I don’t cry at films, but this one nearly caught me out- like I said, I was absorbed fully in what was going on. A really good film! 

Photo: Film Advert 

Power Rangers

I think that nostalgia played a part in why I liked this film. It was ‘alright’, I was kind of indifferent about it, a bit like I am with most action films. But because I grew up with the Power Rangers on tv, played with the action figures and even owned a Power Ranger costume (when I was 6, I hasten to add), it seemed quite a fun film to see. I was the pink Power Ranger, obviously. 

There were a couple of things I really did like about it. Firstly, it wasn’t filled with endless fight scenes and battles which lead nowhere. Of course they had to save the town (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that), and naturally the baddy rose from the dead and they had to re-pool their resources and learn important lessons about collaborating, but it wasn’t hours and hours of endless bangs and crashes and peril. Plus the fight took place outside Krispy Kreme’s to save the contents hidden there, which, in my opinion, is a very good reason to defend something. Even if it was a crystal and not the doughnuts! They might have saved the town, but like every action film, it was completely flattened. Why does no one ever get annoyed at the super heroes for destroying their town entirely?!

Another good point was the fact that there wasn’t any romance between the characters. It really irritates me when film makers feel the need to create a love interest as part of the storyline, particularly when it usually results in girls being ‘protected’ by the male characters. They looked out for each other, but as friends. Friendships and the relationships formed from them don’t always get enough storylines! 

It also showed that jocks can be nice and stick up for the little guy, the little guy, who is also autistic, can be popular and have a great sense of humour, and the ‘bad guy’ and ‘moody girl’ who everyone steers clear of do have backstories that make them who they are- don’t judge a book by its cover. I Also liked how an underlying ethos was ‘labels can be useful to work out what you are but you don’t have to stick to them or even associate with one at all if you don’t want to’. Billy was autistic but his friends didn’t make a point of it- that’s just who he is. Trini isn’t perfect and may or may not be gay, but again, that didn’t matter. 

Random side note, thanks for including a cover of ‘Stand by Me’ as part of the soundtrack. I don’t think a year went by when I was a music teacher where I didn’t use this song while teaching pop music or covers, so music teachers everywhere will be glad for an up to date version! 

I didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t enough fake karate chopping and silly ‘it’s morphing time’ phrases like in the original. Maybe they’re being saved up for the sequel or perhaps it’s because it’s a reboot and modern kids aren’t impressed by dodgy acrobatics and fake smoke like we were but an enjoyable part of watching the Power Rangers was the quirkiness. The ‘go go Power Rangers’ theme didn’t feature enough for my liking either and instead we had a random theme that sounded a bit like it should have appeared in Tron. 

I was grateful for a storyline which wasn’t just ‘we have to save the world’ like other action films and I liked how the characters and their sub-plots were relatable to today’s kids. We also spotted 2 of the ‘old’ Power Rangers masquerading as normal people after the battle scene, which amused us. I wouldn’t say I’d watch it again, but it was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon (providing you liked the original series!). 
Photo: box office poster 

Beauty and the Beast

My blog is a year old today, so I thought I’d write a review to celebrate, as that was the first post I ever wrote! 

I loved Beauty and the Beast, and I wasn’t the least bit bothered that we were a bit out of place in the cinema filled with small girls dressed as Belle (although my husband might have been a bit put out!). If you’ve seen the original cartoon, much of the storyline is the same with a few added extra details. I liked in particualr how Emma Watson playing Belle says ‘I only wanted to teach a child to read’ and other, like-minded feminist statements. She most definitely can look after herself and didn’t need to rely on men to ‘save’ her, more she allowed them to fight alongside her.

It made me happy that all of the French was accurate. I can’t tell you how much it annoys me when it gets translated wrong! It also made me realise that all the random character names I thought were just silly words as a child watching the cartoon are actual words in French- it makes a lot more sense now! 

There’s been a bit of controversy with some countries not wanting to show a gay scene in the film. In the original cartoon, Le Fou was so admiring of Gaston that he may as well have had romantic designs on him, and this idea was carried on in the reboot. I got the impression that le Fou was gay because there were a lot more hidden messages conveyed in throwaway phrases and glances or body language (I thought le Fou was great and well played), but it’s not until the very end when you see him dancing with a man at the final ball that it’s confirmed for sure. Although he did also dance with a woman, so I guess it still could be open to interpretation. Somehow, the countries making a fuss have forgotten the original cartoon’s portrayal and have missed a couple of points. Maybe they’re not bothered because the original is a cartoon and ‘not real’ but the film is still about singing and dancing furniture, fantasy and magic. Le Fou being gay is definitely not a shocking thing in the film! Plus a lot of his comments are jokes aimed at adults, which lots of Disney/Pixar films do to make sure their films appeal to the adults in the audience who are experiencing/enduring the film with their children. I thought le Fou was a great character and the interactions between him and Gaston were brilliant. 

I wasn’t a big fan of the female lead vocals in this. Emma Watson was alright singing but some of her phrases weren’t as easy-sounding as they should have been. And I don’t think anyone can compare to the original version of ‘tale as old as time’. The male vocals impressed me though. 

My favourite character was probably Lumière. I didn’t guess he was played by Ewan McGregor until the very end. I loved everything about his accent and intonation. I also really liked le Fou, Belle and Beast and how they interacted. 

I really enjoyed this film and would quite happily see it again- I’ve been singing the songs on repeat in my head ever since!

Photo: Disney 

Finding Dory

Finding Dory was mostly intended as a ‘friendly’ alternative to seeing the latest Bourne film (totally not my scene). However, once we got past the first half an hour, which was quite slow, it turned out to be a pretty good film!

Finding Nemo obviously was about Nemo, so there had to be some ‘catch up’ involved to set the scene in order for Dory’s story to make sense. This bit was a tad slow, although the film is aimed at kids, not adults, so it might have been the perfect pace for them. In general though, it was a long film for a children’s film. The gist is, Dory gets lost and and Nemo and his Dad have to find her. But, as the story unfolds, it turns out that Dory got lost years ago from her parents, so it becomes a story of her finding herself as much as about her being found.

Once the story moved to the ‘fish hospital’, the pace picked up and a lot happened. (Spoiler: they find Dory). I liked the octopus character, an unlikely but warming friendship, and the perfect ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ moral right there. There was some pretty awful parenting from Nemo’s dad, with a clear reminder that adults do get it wrong sometimes and can learn a lot from their children. Plus some great team work involved with the help of a shark and a whale (I loved these characters) showing that help can come from even unlikely or unexpected sources.

Two main lessons came out of the film for me: everyone has value and a ‘place’, even those with poor memory (or SEN if I put my teacher hat on); and family is just as much about who you choose as who your parents are. There was a lovely moment at the end where Nemo said something along the lines of ‘Dory would work it out, she never gives up. Think about what Dory would do and we’ll solve the problem’. And he was right- everyone came together as a team to help find Dory and for Dory (and everyone else) to realise her value is worth more than being ‘just another fish in the sea’.

Star Trek Beyond

I’m not a fan of Science Fiction films. I find them to be pretty much the same- aliens take on humans, long fight scenes, someone has to sacrifice themselves for the ‘good of humanity’ because the only way they can be saved is if someone is left behind/goes outside/gets locked in with *the* button (or lever) which the fate of humanity is hinging on. I have way too much empathy to cope with that, and all the other people dying.

That said, Star Trek Beyond was a pretty good film. The crew of the Enterprise go on a mission to find a distress signal, where they end up being attacked by evil aliens led by Krall, and crash land on a planet. They then have to get off the planet and get back to the space base before the aliens destroy that too. The Enterprise crew wins. There was a hint of ‘sacrifice’ a couple of times, particularly at the end, but it was all fine (phew).

I liked this film because the characters actually have character-lines and a sense of humour. It wasn’t just lots of fighting which my eyes can’t keep up with, and I found it quite interesting how they portrayed a futuristic civilisation in space. They introduced a new charatcer, Jaylah, who was also in the same boat (or ship)- crash landed on the same planet, trying to get off. She helped the team, and will most likely be in future films. I liked her description of rap as a ‘beat with shouting’. Her ship ended up being the very old USS Franklin, which helped Starfleet put to bed the mystery surrounding its disappearance.

Some of the reviews said the film was a bit predictable, which I would agree with in the sense that most Sci-fi films follow the plotline outlined above. But it was easy to follow and understand, and had sub-plots which made sense: there’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a film and thinking ‘yeah it was good, but I have no idea what the point of half of it was’. Some critics also disapproved of Sulu being portrayed as gay, but it was so subtly indicated in the film that I barely noticed. And also, why can’t he be gay?!

I didn’t get bored, the opposite actually, and I didn’t feel traumatised by the amount of deaths and sacrifices going on (although I did shut my eyes a few times), so overall, I enjoyed this film!


I loved this film. It was funny, had a good balance of action to dialogue, wasn’t too long and had some awesome characters.

When ghosts start to appear in New York, Scientists Abby and Erin join forces with Holtzmann, an engineer, and Patty, a New York City expert to firstly convince officials that ghosts do actually exist, and secondly, to eliminate them from the city. They hire a lovely but pretty useless receptionist, Kevin, to ‘help’ them with their work, who later becomes possessed by a ghoul, which complicates their power-struggle with the phantoms somewhat.

I read several online blogs beforehand about the film, some saying that they approved of the ‘girl power’ gender-role reversal, some saying they thought it ruined it. I’m all for females being strong characters and existing in films for more than just the purpose of being ‘saved’ by a male leading character, but I didn’t actually see them as four women kicking out ghosts. Gender didn’t really come into it for me, they were Ghostbusters doing a cool job, who also happened to be women. Likewise with Kevin, there was nothing weird about his role or his job as the receptionist, he was ‘just Kevin’. This was clearly down to great directing and producing.

The music score was great. It kept the original theme, which appeared throughout, with hints of either the bass riff or the main hook in the score. I thought it was a great mix of more ‘popular’ sounds and an orchestral backing.

Holtzmann was my favourite character because she was clever, witty and completely unafraid. There were glimpses of the original film, by including the actress who played the original receptionist as a new character. I loved the dance scene, which is shown in the end credits, starring Kevin. This was originally supposed to be in the main film itself, but didn’t go down well in test screenings, so it was cut. I’m glad it wasn’t cut completely though!

Now You See Me 2

I liked the first film, and the second had Daniel Radcliffe in, so I was always going to enjoy it. The two films tell the story of the Four Horsemen who perform large-scale ‘magic’ tricks for audiences, with a kind of Robin Hood ‘steals from the rich to give to the poor’ mentality. The Horsemen are ‘controlled’ by Dylan Rhodes, an FBI agent working for the Horsemen, and an ‘all seeing’ eye. 

At the start of the film, two of the original magicians (because one of them faked his own death in the last film) and a different female magician (what happened to Isla Fisher- did I miss that bit??) hijacked a technology launch keynote, only to find that they got kidnapped, hypnotised, and transported to Macau. Here, they were tasked by Daniel Radcliffe’s character to use their skills to steal back a computer chip someone else stole from him. 

The first film had lots of ‘magic’ in it- there were lots of exciting tricks, which I quite enjoyed. The second film, as Daniel Radcliffe said a few times, was about ‘science always beating magic’. Which messed with my head, the ‘World’s Greatest Wizard’ (Harry Potter) saying that…although clever irony by the screen writers. I’m not so interested in science, I like the ‘oh my god that was amazing‘ response you get with magic. And some of the things they’d apparently ‘rehearsed’ or achieved were too far fetched and random even if science was involved. 

Then there’s Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman). In the first film, the four framed him and he went to jail. His plot line made sense to the bigger picture and I won’t say anything more about him because it’s a big spoiler. The film opens with him reporting on Dylan’s father’s final trick. Which is another sub plot to keep track of- Dylan searching for an explanation for his Father’s death.

So when they actually got down to the big reveal, via 3 countries, I was left feeling a bit confused, to say the least! I liked the street tricks they did more than the actual final performance- that was definitely one of the more far fetched ones. I could see what was intended with the story, how it was almost an inversion of what you’d expect, but I didn’t feel as excited by it as I did by some of the other performances. Plus it was based on science again. 

I thought Daniel Radcliffe was great in it and was amused by the fact that they got the typical London rainy weather spot on. Some of the magic was great to watch, but my overall feeling was they tried to cram too many sub plots and character developments in, making it a bit crowded. On face value, it was a great film. It’s only when you sit down and think about it properly that you realise how twisted it is! 

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

This movie was ridiculous in every possible way, but a lot of fun. Absolutely Fabulous revives Joanna Lumley’s and Jennifer Saunders’s characters, Eddy and Patsy, from the 90s BBC sitcom with the same name. The film starts placing them in the present day, with lots of passing comments that they’re failures because they’re old, while they still try to maintain their ‘fabulous’ facade. 

I missed the hype of the TV series, as I wasn’t old enough to watch it when it first aired, so I only had a vague idea as to the characters and their stories. It didn’t take long to catch up though and I liked the classic British humour throughout- basically, the characters make fun of themselves/everything but still come across as genuine. 

Stereotypes were over exaggerated completely and there was serious outrage over Kate Moss’s accident in the Thanes (inadvertently caused by Eddy). Naturally, this meant the pair had to flee to the French Riviera, chauffeured around by Eddy’s nowhere near old enough but somehow more mature granddaughter. Oh and Patsy pretended to be a man in order to get married to the world’s richest ‘woman’. 

I enjoyed how a lot of the celebrities featured were actually celebrities in real life playing themselves from different industry sectors, and there was a great soundtrack. The plot was so dramatic and OTT that it didn’t matter if you hadn’t a clue what was going on, it kind of fitted in with the characters’ own melodramas. It wasn’t a film I was ‘bothered’ seeing, but it surprised me and was great entertainment. 

Box office image.