Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Laughing Gear

It all depends on what you find funny, I suppose. Which means in my view, most of the BBC output for the past couple of years – particularly anything involving French & Saunders or the asinine nonsense put out on BBC3 - has pretty much been dead in a ditch from the get go.

Of course there have been notable exceptions like Lead Balloon and Not Going Out – which at least had the very good sense to either model themselves, or take inspiration from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, respectively, and therefore kept the laughs coming – along with various panel shows like the always welcome QI and the extended version of Have I Got News For You which now uses its additional ten minutes to go off the rails into madness most times.

Then on Sunday night, Top Gear - which is always good for a laugh anyway - had a review of the Peel P50 Microcar. The piece had me doubled over and laughing so hard I actually thought I was in danger of vomiting the chili I’d cooked and eaten earlier.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Do-Do Doom

After putting it off, I finally watched Doom. It would be easy to blow it off as a steaming pile of poop, make a few glib remarks, and then leave it at that. After all, that’s far more than it deserves.

The thing is, the night before I finally got around to catching Smokin’ Aces. The trailer had looked like a load of nonsense, but I’d really enjoyed Narc, Joe Carnahan’s previous film as writer and director. There was always the possibility that it could be enjoyable nonsense.

Maybe other people saw it that way. Maybe I was tired and should give it another shot somewhere down the line. I pretty much sat blank-faced through all the wild gunplay and mayhem. The only time I really registered any interest was when I figured out, pretty early on, the big twist. Oh, and Jason Bateman’s cameo made me laugh.

The spotty little oik behind the counter enthused about it as he took my money. He probably would have been in much the same rapturous state over Doom. I say I watched Doom. What really happened was that probably within five or ten minutes of slipping the disc into the player I was reading A.A. Gill’s restaurant review in The Sunday Times, then making a sandwich and a hot chocolate, checking websites while it merrily carried on in the background.

I’d look up occasionally to see the bunch of characters wandering around dark corridors blasting away at just about anything that moved with their ridiculously big guns before getting picked off. It just felt like I’d seen this film before, back when it was called Aliens, or even long before that.

Maybe it’s coincidental that British Summer Time is now over and today was gloomy and overcast. These kind of films – based on a videogame or shot to look like a videogame – just make me feel tired and old.

Within reason I’ll give anything a shot as long as it’s got a decent story (which obviously narrows the list right there). But more and more I get the feeling that I’m outside not just the audience but the age range of a large portion of the new films rolling into cinemas.

I’d watch any kind of nonsense when I was in my teens and could get to a cinema. Those films might not have been as slick but I just don’t remember them being so stupid and noisy and utterly fucking empty.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What The Hell?

So here’s the thing... I’m up to my eyeballs in work at the moment, what with the Flash animation and the brutal hours I'm putting in at this media company. Which means I’m seriously behind on all the writing that's supposed to be done by now.

Which makes me wonder why I spent most of this morning – well, technically yesterday morning now – on goddam Facebook either buying drinks for people and then either tickling and goosing friends or throwing sheep, chickens and fish at them.

I mean, what the hell?

...Long Island Iced Tea anyone?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Final Cut

For anyone expecting me to rupture myself as I bellow long and hard, tearing my internal organs in two as I watch Doom, you’ll have to wait a little longer. I didn’t get around to watching it over the weekend. A crying shame, I know.

Early Saturday I had to scoot into Central London to pick up a few things. Accidentally stumbling into an HMV on the way back, I happened across Birth and The Big Easy. Who knows what I would have found if I had carried on to the C-section [insert your own joke here], but I paid and made a hasty exit.

Given the year-round sale, both films were knocked down in price, the former only because, I later found out, had been incorrectly labelled. On the receipt it was listed as ‘Merlin DVD’ but then who bothers to check when they just scan the barcode.

I’m not a great fan of Nicole Kidman. As far as I’m concerned she’s in the same category as Meg Ryan, and everytime I see her on screen I just want someone to punch that big gurning grin off her smug face. But I’d been meaning to catch Jonathan Glazer’s polar-opposite follow-up to Sexy Beast when it was on release and, typically, never got around to it.

As a young widow on the verge of reclaiming her life, thrown into turmoil when a young boy arrives at her door claiming to be her reincarnated husband, she gives an astonishing performance in what is an utterly remarkable film. Starting with Harris Savides‘s jaw-dropping cinematography, in an opening sequence that takes place in an almost unrecognisable Central Park, Birth deserves every superlative thrown at it.

Of course, for me, the icing on the cake was that Birth is very Kubrickian in tone along with nods to a couple of the late, great Stanley K’s films. None more so than an outburst during a family gathering that is respectfully lifted straight from Barry Lyndon.

While Birth has the most utterly devastating film scene, by comparison, The Big Easy had no final scene, which was bizarre. Right after the explosive finale it cuts straight to the end credit sequence, omitting the coda that, if I recall rightly, takes place in the hospital.

Years ago, I’d taken The One That Got Away to see the film when it was released back in the 1980s. We’d only recently been going out. While we’d enjoyed the zesty little thriller that didn’t take itself at all seriously, I do remember her tensing up in the seat next to me when Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin get it on. Bless her.

Why the last scene has been cut from the DVD I’ve no idea. It’s not as bad as the legitimate copy of Lawrence of Arabia that I bought on VHS, before the arrival of shiny discs, that had the whole attack on Akaba missing, which made it seem a bit of a let down that Lawrence would cross the desert just to water his camel at the sea.

Taking it back to the store and offered a replacement copy, when I asked it that one would have the attack on Akaba in it the shop assistant was pretty much rendered mute. Eventually he asked if I'd like something else.

Obviously the omission from the end of The Big Easy isn’t as important. But I’d hate for it to set a precedent. How about if 2001: A Space Odyssey dropped the Star Child sequence? Or if North By Northwest ended on Mount Rushmore, without the newly-wed Mr and Mrs Thornhill aboard the train?

Hell, what if Blade Runner dropped the sequence with Deckard and Rachel driving through the countryside? Ah......

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"You Can’t Make This Shit Up"

If, like any sensible human being, you’re counting down the days until the fifth and final series of The Wire starts airing on HBO in January, The New Yorker has a great article by Margaret Talbot about the show and it’s creator David Simon.

Simon makes it clear that the show’s ambitions were grand. “‘The Wire’ is dissent,” he says. “It is perhaps the only storytelling on television that overtly suggests that our political and economic and social constructs are no longer viable, that our leadership has failed us relentlessly, and that no, we are not going to be all right.” He also likes to say that “The Wire” is a story about the “decline of the American empire.” Simon’s belief in the show is a formidable thing, and it leads him into some ostentatious comparisons that he sometimes laughs at himself for and sometimes does not.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


If you have a spare moment take a look at this.

Written, produced and directed by Jason Wishnow, it’s, as the website says:

The story of Oedipus, in 8 minutes, performed by vegetables.


Monday, October 15, 2007

From The Earth To The Doom

Work Buddy has been threatening to unleash doom upon me for the past few months. Not that he’s going to sneak up on me with a sledgehammer, while I sit blissfully unaware at the computer, and flatten my brainpan. Instead I mean the film of the computer game – a brilliant idea if ever there was one.

Friday evening I had headed up to see Work Buddy, to transfer one part of some very profitable work onto my external hard drive. The next morning, before we all scooted down to Heathrow to meet up with Canadian Caroline (who was on her way back from MIPCOM in Cannes and had an afternoon wait before her connection to Toronto) he took the DVD off the shelf and pushed it my way. I looked at the cover, figured what the hell.

To be fair I should point out that he picked up the shiny disc – an extended edition to the theatrical release, no less – because it was cheaper than a box of Special K cereal, or it came free with a box of Special K. Or it was the equivalent cost of a foam-filled grande bucket of mocha latte from a Starbucks.

I would have sat down to watch it yesterday, except I went into Central London and, trawling around the aisles of Virgin found, tucked away on the shelves, the new signature edition DVD boxset of HBO’s 12-part miniseries From the Earth to the Moon for a tenner. Given that we’ve just had the fiftieth anniversary of Sputnik’s launch, allowing numerous publications been discuss the Space Race, how far we’ve come and who far we have to go, it seemed the perfect purchase.

Doom will have to wait. When I get around to watching I’m sure you’ll be the first to know whether you want to or not.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Whenever it was last month, I tuned in to watch the first episode of the new series of Casualty. The reason for catching it was because the BBC had been bigging it up as having been retooled to make it faster paced and more gritty.

It wasn’t, of course. Instead it was a bit rubbish. They’d splashed some cash on the pyros for the coach explosion but it wasn’t enough. Worse the episode followed a new doctor, not sure if he was up to the task, on his first day on the job. Which is exactly what ER did fourteen years ago and, it goes without saying, did it a whole lot better.

The past few weeks the Beeb have been filling the gaps between programmes with the most god awful annoying promos, relentlessly pushing Thursday night as the new night for comedy. All that “Thursday! Thursday! Thursday!” crap has had me bellowing “Fuck the fuck off!” from behind the computer monitors.

Contrary son’bitch that I am, if someone starts waving and shouting, telling me just how utterly ace something is, I’m bound to give them the finger and stroll in the other direction. Pushing something so relentlessly gives off an air of desperation more than anything.

Last week I was out so it made no matter. This week I was home. While running a bath, I caught the opening ten minutes or so of the “comedy” hour and the last five minutes, spending the rest of the time, more enjoyably, solving the crossword while in the tub.

You really don’t want to get me started on French and Saunders. I’ve never particularly found them all that funny. The humour has always appeared lazy and obvious. The only thing that made me laugh was that the recent "victory lap" A Bucket o’ French & Saunders was, according to Radio Times, supposed to run for six episodes but only five were broadcast before it was replaced with the new series of Have I Got News For You.

While Dawn French seems to be under the misapprehension that if fat is funny, being morbidly obese must be fucking hilarious, Jennifer Saunders seems to be more interested in creating characters she can wholly disappear into, forgetting to take any jokes with her along the way.

So when it came to The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle... I'm sorry but aren’t these bare-all daytime TV freak shows with titles like “My girlfriend is my sister’s nephew’s niece” or “Our daughter does Dobermans” beyond parody? To successfully make fun of this strand of pornographic voyeurism surely you’ve got to go far, far beyond the extreme to get the point across.

From what I saw, Vivienne Vyle didn’t do that. Instead, away from the talk show segments, it came down to a vile-by-nature host that was an absolute cunt to her production staff... which was already done to absolute perfection back in the 1990s in The Larry Sanders Show.

I’m not saying that because these kind of shows have already been done before, people should leave them well alone and go plough a different furrow. Just simply, anyone following in someone else’s footsteps really needs to raise their game. Otherwise you get the likes of Broken News from 2005, a show that was positively redundant compared to The Day Today, which wrote the book on news and current affairs parody.

Towelled down, I caught the end of The Peter Serafinowicz Show. Compare a sitcom to a light meal and I suppose that makes a sketch show a smorgasbord. If you’re lucky most of the cold collations will agree with you. In most cases, for me, they'll tend to contain olives, anchovies and nuts, which I actively dislike or can’t eat.

Running the digital department at the animation studio, the five words that made my blood run cold were: “We’ll fix it in post” – coming from a director who hadn’t made up his mind about how some element of the commercial should work. I’d try to convince them to figure it out there and then, rather than wait until we were in a facilities house costing ten times as much as back in the studio.

The danger with sketch show sketches is that, if they’re not very good, the programme makers seem to be under the misapprehension that building a set and having everyone in costume will make up for a deficiency in the actual funny. Which means jokes that a stand-up would discard for not being up to snuff are suddenly perfectly acceptable in a show that indulges the performers’ proclivity for rummaging around in the dressing-up box.

Now though, it seems that being buried under mounds of prosthetics is de rigueur. Except latex still doesn’t make it any better. (Steady!) Neither does relying on irritating catchphrases. Or piss-poor parodies of films and other television shows that rely on the familiar or bleeding obvious. Still, I always live in hope that if we give these performers the attention they so obviously crave they’ll do the decent thing and fuck off out of sight once the series is over.

Anyway, on their second outings both The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle and The Peter Serafinowicz Show underperformed, losing pretty much one third of their first week’s audience. That said, the BBC are still right in promoting Thursday as comedy night. Later in the evening, Five kicked off their double bill of Californication and 30 Rock. Now, they were funny.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Willkommen, Pet

When I was a wee kiddie I had a goldfish. It swam around its bowl, and that was pretty much it. The only time the fish showed any real activity was the night it leapt out of the water and was found the next morning, dead as a doornail on the carpet. Which closed the door, or at least pulled the flush, on my life with pets I was responsible for.

That aside, we were primarily a dog family. Mainly German Shepherds, although there was a Spaniel once who, when we went out for countryside walks, liked to splash around in muddy puddles before getting back in the car. The big problem was he’d get in any car if he saw an open door. Which could be embarrassing.

Oddly enough, a couple of the family businesses came with cats, rather bizarrely. Holiday flats on the South Devon coast came with a cat – Lorenzo – who was a magic little tyke. At least until he went to the vet one mid-December, picked up cat flu from one of the other moggies in the waiting room, and died the day after Boxing Day.

The second farm had a posse of semi-domesticated mogs living in the outbuildings who were a bunch of mean motherfuckers when they wanted to be. The little kittens would head off into the orchard and drag back rabbits twice their size. Even the dog at the time, a black Labrador/Alsatian-cross called Floyd, gave them a wide berth as we tried to educate the mogs on the ways of polite society.

It didn’t get any more exotic than that. I only mention this because last Friday’s The Times, which I’ve only just got around to flipping through, reported that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has revised their list of harmless and dangerous pets, with 33 species now considered sufficiently harmless to be kept as pets. If you want a racoon or emu, a crested porcupine or even a squirrel monkey, now’s the time to head down to the store.

Why you’d want one...? Best if you keep that to yourself. What I like about the article is the reason for the introduction of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.

MPs demanded stricter controls on wild animals after a woman wearing a leopard-skin coat was jumped on by a lion called Shane in a Worthing street.

The scare for Mrs Poppy Hull in March 1976 made front-page news in The Times. The lion was the pet of a local taxi driver.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It's a Long Story

Well, that’s the most infuriating work I’ve ever done in my life: four weeks of banging my head in frustration to try and get it done right.

It didn’t help that the person I was directly working under hadn’t been involved in the brief introduction/interview so his feelings were that I had been dropped in his lap without his consultation. I could understand where he was coming from.

Between the second and third year at The Esteemed School of Art I worked the summer at an animation studio. The head of department had been on holiday when I was taken on and upon her return, the first words out of her mouth were pretty much, “Who the hell is this?” During those next few months, however many late nights or weekends I worked to help meet deadlines, nothing I did ever pleased her.

On the last big project at the animation studio, the one for the TAC, I found myself in her shoes. The producer decided the digital department needed extra bodies without bothering to consult me. I’d spend at least one day of every weekend correcting their work.

Discussing it with Work Buddy, it reaffirmed my belief that I can’t just do a merely adequate job and beat myself up if the standard isn’t the highest obtainable.

Oh well, moving on... We celebrated fifty years of a little ball of metal going beep beep beep. (We did, didn’t we?)

Now with summer all but officially over, the television schedules have started to pick up a bit. At least that’s what has been promised, although I haven’t seen that much evidence. Except in last week’s incredibly grim, three-part Murphy’s Law.

I’m got a great fan of the twinkle-in-the-eye, “top o’ the mornin’ to ye!” blarney bullshit. Given the option I’d rather be repeatedly punched in the face until it resembled a bowl of rice pudding with too much strawberry jam mixed in. When Murphy’s Law first started out there were instances where it strayed dangerously to the line.

Then, come the third season, it went from separate one-hour dramas to a single unrelenting story than ran through the six episodes. This year in only half the time, it did it again, turning out something wonderfully dark and tough and brutal.

Typically something so unremitting took a swift kicking in the ratings, especially on the first night, up against the utterly inoffensive Doc Marten: a South-Western Northern Exposure so diluted down that it has become the equivalent of television fabric softener.

The problem with a multi-part drama is, if it doesn’t get the audience on the first episode, it’s doubtful the numbers will pick up. It’s interesting that this year Kudos have decided to alter the format of Spooks, having one ongoing drama run throughout the ten episodes of the new series starting this month. How it’s received remains to be seen, I guess. I certainly prefer multi-part stories.

Anyway, back to work. One other thing about the past four weeks... I’m behind on absolutely fucking everything!