Friday, 28 June 2019

WatchSeeLookView - X-Men: Dark Phoenix

After just under twenty years and twelve films*, Fox’s X-Men universe of films finally draws to a close. As much as any superhero franchise can ever draw to a close, that is. It’s snappier to put it like that rather than say, “draws to a close in its current form before being inevitably consumed and rebooted into the main Marvel movie universe now that Disney owns Fox”.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Dir. Simon Kinberg / Dur. 114 min.

In A Nutshell:- Having erased the previous attempt at the Dark Phoenix (in the lamentable Last Stand), it’s time for Version 2.0.

The Good:- A while back I determined that I would try to remain positive in my reviews of stuff as no one ever sets out to make a bad film. I’m struggling with this one, though, I have to admit. There are some enjoyable action sequences, notably with the use of Nightcrawler (who, from X2 onwards, has always made for an enjoyably frantic action scene), and McAvoy and Fassbender are always enjoyable to watch as Professor X and Magneto. The film moves along at a reasonable pace and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It didn't leave me with the overwhelming feeling of boredom which Apocalypse engendered.

The Bad:- Equally, though, it’s not there is a lot that’s bad with the film, either. Jennifer Lawrence seems largely bored and Sophie Turner, for me, doesn’t quite have the chops to pull this off.

The Verdict:- It’s a better film than Apocalypse but it’s an oddly flat and anti-climactic way to bring a close to a franchise. Things happen, they kind of go the way you would expect them to and then it just sort of ends. For a franchise that has been running for the best part of two decades (and has, quite frankly, a sense of continuity that has been made up with each passing film), it’ s disappointing way for it to go out and it feels like it should have ended either with bigger spectacle or a greater emotional heft (or preferably both). It’s also unfortunate in that it inevitably suffers from comparison to Avengers Endgame when it comes to closing out a long-running chapter of an ongoing story and also comes up lacking. An unfortunate way to go out.

* Alright, it’ll be thirteen when the long-delayed New Mutants finally comes out next year...if it comes out….

Thursday, 27 June 2019

WatchSeeLookView - Waru

Another film to check out, this time one that’s a technically impressive achievement -  a feature film shot in eight days telling eight interlinked stories by nine female writer/directors.

Waru (2017)
Dir. Various / Dur. 86 mins

In A Nutshell:- Eight interlinked tales taking place on the morning of the funeral of eight year old Waru.

The Good:- It’s a film with a strong sense of identity focussing on predominantly female Maori characters in New Zealand on a single day; a day linked by the funeral of eight year old Maori boy Waru. Given the event that sits at the core of these linked vignettes, it’s no surprise that Waru is a difficult watch at times, dealing with topics such as death, grieving, trauma, alcoholism and abuse all within the framework of an indigenous people trying to maintain a cultural identity in a land that has been colonised. It is heavy stuff - that’s not to say that there aren’t moments of levity - but it;s a film that will have an impact upon you.

The cast are strong, standouts in particular being Tanea Heke as Charm, Ngapaki Moetara as Mihi and the youngest lead of the film Acacia Hapi as Mere whose rejection of an abusive “uncle” is a standout moment in the film.

The Bad:- As with any anthology, some segments are more successful than others. The only one for me that didn't quite land as hoped was the “Kiri” segment as that was largely because it felt, to me, a little heavy-handed in getting its point across (which is a shame as its an important point that the film was trying to convey).

The Verdict:- A film that builds to become equal to the sum of its parts, this is a powerful and, for me, fascinating and female-led insight into a culture that I know very little about. Definitely one to watch.

(A Note About Venue:- I saw this at the Regent’s Street Cinema in London which I had never been to before. It was the first cinema in the country to show moving pictures apparently. It’s recently been converted back into a cinema after being a lecture hall for many years and it looks like the traditional old image of a cinema [largely because it’s the template!]. It’s a lovely venue and worth checking out if you’re a fan of indie films.)

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

RIP Vertigo Comics

In one of many reshuffles and rebrandings of their line, DC Comics recently announced that they would be closing their line of comics aimed at the adult reader* Vertigo. Vertigo started back in the 90s as a way to recognise that mainstream comics could be more than just superhero fare and was a springboard for many famous writers and artists, including people like Neil Gaiman. At the time, creators rights for comics were a rarity and Vertigo, under the auspices of editor extraordinaire Karen Berger, was amongst the first to champion that cause.

Nearly thirty years on and the comics landscape has changed. Creator-owned comics are a standard thing nowadays and plenty of publishers put out content for mature readers, much of which has been translated to other media. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that you wouldn’t have shows like The Walking Dead without Vertigo laying that initial groundwork. While it is sad to see something so established go, in recent years, it has felt like a label that has struggled to keep up in a world that has moved forward.

Still, Vertigo titles were the first non-superhero comics that I really got into and here are some of the highlights from the heady days when Vertigo was at the top of its game.

Swamp Thing & Sandman
Not strictly Vertigo books to begin with as they predate the line, these two titles were the ones that can be said to have brought Vertigo comics into being. Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, while being very different beasts, both brought a sense of wider storytelling into the comics, overtly drawing on myths and folklore from around the world to tell richer tales and. Although initially tied into it,  gradually distancing themselves from the simpler superheroics of Superman and Batman. Both still hold up, Sandman in particular being one of the early examples of a mainstream comic with a defined beginning, middle and end.

Adapted once for the big screen and once for TV (across a couple of different series). John Constantine is cynical, chain-smoking magician who’s more likely to save his own skin than the world. This was the first one that I just picked up as I liked the cover and the art but, once I read it, I was hooked. It also brought the work of Garth Eniis to my attention…**

Another one that has made the transition to the screen, I absolutely loved this as a teenager as it was rude, violent and very funny. Having read it again recently, I still enjoyed it but, being older, it was different experience - when I first read it, the writer was slightly older than me; when I last reread it, I was much older than him and it definitely felt different.

Doom Patrol
Another one that has been recently mined for the small screen, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol is proper unfiltered weirdness. This was my first major introduction to Morrison’s idea heavy style*** and would not be the last (next up would be the even stranger The Invisibles which tackles quite esoteric and tricky themes but manages to be good fun).

An honourable mention to Transmetropolitan which started out under another DC imprint before becoming a Vertigo and is one of my favourite comics ever (disturbingly relevant at the moment). There were many others too - Shade The Changing Man, Sweet Tooth, Y The Last Man, Animal Man, DMZ, Fables - all enjoyable and all still available to read.

It’s a shame that Vertigo is packing up its logo but arguably its work is done. Creator-owned non-superhero comics are the norm and, in large part, we have Vertigo to thank for that.

* No snippy remarks about “adult” and “comics reader” being an oxymoron...

** I was going to say introduced me to Garth Ennis but he'd already been writing for 2000AD by that point, I just hadn’t really noticed writers yet at that point.

*** Again, I’d read Zenith in 2000AD but didn't connect it to him.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

WatchSeeLookView - Being Frank

Let’s take a breather from the whole “drivelling endlessly on about comedy” thing and drivel about some other stuff for a bit. Although this is comedy-related so I’ve probably already slightly failed there. Ah well, my blog, my rules.

Being Frank (2019)
Dir. Steve Sullivan / Dur. 105 mins

In A Nutshell:- The true story of a struggling musician who puts on a giant papier mache head and achieves comedy immortality.

The Good:- It’s a story that has been covered before (sort of) in a highly fictionalised way in the Michael Fassbinder-starring Frank but this is the real story of Chris Sievey, a man obsessed with music and possessed of an idiosyncratic way of looking at the world, who doesn't really discover true rock and roll stardom until he invents the oddly child-like Frank Sidebottom, a papier-mache-head-wearing cheerily-cheesy-music-playing puppet-owning oddity. My earliest memories of Frank are as a guest on children’s TV and a character in UK comic Oink! In the 80s, both of which are touched upon here.
It’s a very joyful look at the life of a man who struggled along the way. While it doesn’t shy away from touching upon those less pleasant aspects of his life, it manages to strike the right balance between trying to paint an honest picture as well providing a heartfelt tribute.
There’s a gleeful silliness and joy in the naffness of the small and provincial that feels very British about Frank. It’s the sort of thing that is culturally hard to explain to anyone outside the UK (and even to most people within the UK, in all likelihood).

The Bad:- Genuinely can't think of anything major for this section - it zipped along at a good pace and had a wealth of fascinating home movies and behind the scenes footage, pictures and homemade Sidebottom goodies that are interesting to a fan or non-fan.

The Verdict:- An enthralling insight into a genuinely unique British entertainer. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of Frank or not, it’s still an enjoyable insight into a genuine outsider performer who briefly hit the mainstream for a time (seriously - he opened at Reading Festival on the same bill as bands like Nirvana back in the 90s…). Check it out.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - No Surprises Here

If we’re talking formative comedy experiences then there are going to be a lot of classic comedies that turn up on every comedy fans list. Today’s post is definitely one of those. Here are the sitcoms that had an impact on me early on.

Fawlty Towers
It regularly hovers around the top of greatest comedy lists and deservedly so. I have a tricky relationship with farce and cringe-inducing humour - anything that strays too far into the realm of embarrassment just leaves me feeling embarrassed and not amused. Fawlty Towers manages to walk that line well by having cast iron characterisation with a healthy dollop of the “stuck together, couldn’t live apart” dynamic applied to Basil and Sybil. It’s the character comedy and the great quotable lines (“You can see the sea - it’s over there between the land and the sky”) which keep this at the forefront of comedy fans minds.

Only Fools And Horses
It may have gone on a little too long (coming back after capping off the series with a perfect ending was definitely a mistake) but there’s no denying that this is strong character comedy. It even manages to weather the loss of a main character following the passing of Lennard Pearce (Grandad) by replacing him with a different but equally strong character (Buster Merryfield’s Uncle Albert). This was one of those “whole family watching” sitcoms, back in the day when everyone sat down in front of the same TV (I’m fully aware that sentence makes me sound like a grizzled old pensioner but I’m sticking with it).

The Young Ones
I guess to call this is a sitcom is a little restrictive as a description - it sits somewhere between a sitcom, a sketch show and a variety show*. Again, another group of characters stuck together, this time through the wonder of shared student accommodation. In this case, the “sit” is really an excuse to put these characters into increasingly bizarre and nonsensical situations with a healthy dose of breaking the fourth wall but, as with the others, the characters are clearly defined. Also, responsible for giving us Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson in Bottom which is effectively a cross between Hancock’s Half Hour, a Samuel Beckett play, Carry On and Tom and Jerry.

I wasn’t and am not really a huge fan of the first series. There is undeniably some good stuff in there but, for me, it just doesn’t quite all come together. It’s the Blackadder format of the second through fourth series, once Ben Elton comes on board as writer alongside Richard Curtis, that really spoke to me. A great cast across the board in each series with recurring members dropping in and out, this was a show like Fawlty Towers and The Young Ones which I was in danger of wearing out my VHS copies of due to repeated rewatching. Also, this was a show that was unafraid to mix the comedy with tragedy as memorably shown in the poignant ending to Blackadder Goes Forth

Of course, there was another sitcom of the 80s, one that spanned genres much like Hitchhikers, which was a massive obsession throughout the teenage years….

* Historical Note:- In order to get a bigger budget for the show, producer Paul Jackson had it classified as a variety show. The upshot of this was that each episode had to feature a musical performance in order to qualify for that description, hence the appearances from Motorhead, Madness, etc.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Comedy Archaeology - Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can't Live Without ‘Em

The classic British sitcom dynamic as we know owes a lot to these two writers, in my opinion. That’s not to shun the efforts of writers like Croft and Perry in crafting classics like Dad’s Army but the writing team of Galton and Simpson are, in my mind, the ones whose template has lasted the longest.

Trapped Together
The key element to the dynamic that still lasts to this day is the idea of a duo who drive each other mad and yet are unable to be apart. It’s there to a lesser extent in Hancock’s Half Hour with the dynamic between Tony and Sid but the one on which it really comes to the fore is in the interplay between Harold and Albert in Steptoe And Son*. Their living situation traps them together - being on the poverty line as struggling rag-and-bone men doesn’t give them many options - and Albert’s need for his son to help support them is balanced by Harold’s guilt at moving on from his father. On paper, this doesn’t sound like the stuff that hilarious comedies are made of and that was one of the innovations that Galton and Simpson were keen to push through - there’s a fine line between tragedy and comedy and,  if the characters are fully formed enough, it’s alright to walk that line sometimes.

Desire Vs Reality
What both Hancock and Steptoe have in common is characters who not only yearn for something more but have pretensions of being greater than they are. They sneer at those who exhibit traits that aren’t cultured  or those who are satisfied with their lot in life but, deep down, envy that satisfaction that others have with their own lifestyle. Harold constantly longs to leave behind what he perceives to be the squalid life that they live for the fineries of high society but secretly would be quite happy with a plate of fish and chips. Hancock is an out-and-out snob but one without the money and background to back up that snobbery. Both have their pretensions pricked constantly by their comedy partner (Albert for Harold and Sid for Hancock) and end up back where they started, stuck with their same lot in life.

I do enjoy both series but don’t watch them very often. They are important though for the strong influence on British sitcom over the years as we shall see...

* Small Side Note:- There is a long tradition of attempting to export UK sitcoms to the States for remaking with varying degrees of success. Steptoe And Son was one of the more successful ones, being launched in the US in 1972 as Sanford And Son. It lasted for five years and produced three other spin-off/sequel series. Transferring sitcoms the other way has been far less successful - the less said about The Brighton Belles, a British version of The Golden Girls, the better...

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Who Does That?

This a fair warning on content - it’s going to be somewhat scatological today so if that’s not your cup of tea (or you’re currently drinking a cup of tea), you may want to give this a miss. Don’t say I didn't warn you. 

So I was sitting in a cubicle in the loos at [WORKPLACE REDACTED] the other day (look, I did warn you, you can't get upset if you now have imagery that you weren’t hoping for). I hear someone enter the stall next to mine. Nothing unusual in this, this is a public facility after all. However, what is unusual is the next sound I hear. Nope, not those sounds, again that would be the expected thing in an area designed for the removal of waste products. No, I hear a rustling sound.

This isn’t the rustling sound made by clothing. This is the scratchy rustling of a packet being opened. More specifically, the sound of a packet of crisps being opened. I’ve been a consumer of potato-based crispy goodness for many a year now and I definitely recognise the sound of a packet of crisps being opened. 

Odd, thinks I. That can't be right, surely I’ve misheard and I’m imagining that someone next to me is opening crisps while sat on the toilet. Confirmation arrives, however, with the new sound that follows up on this original one. The sound of crunching that is unmistakably the noise of someone eating crisps.

It’s something that I am finding hard to fathom. I love a packet of crisps but I don’t love them that much that I would need to eat one while sitting with trousers lowered and surrounded by the smells of both liquid and solid effluence. I mean, it stinks in here and, as we all know, the word “stink” is not used to indicate smells of a pleasant nature. I’ve got a pretty strong stomach but these are not smells that I normally find conducive to eating. I am genuinely baffled by this.

The Phantom Cruncher finishes their crispy business and departs before I do so their identity is unknown. There is a small part of me that is curious, that wants to see this taboo-flouting barbarian with what is clearly a cast-iron stomach and possible anosmia. Overall, though, I’m pretty happy with this outcome. I don’t think I’d like to be walking around at [WORKPLACE REDACTED], only to walk into a meeting and come face to face the Toilet Crisp Eater. After all if this wild heathen is capable of eating while shitting, what else are they capable of? The mind boggles...

Monday, 17 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - A Joke, A Song And A Dance

Sketch show was very much an evolution of the variety show, largely dropping the songs (but not always - see Fry And Laurie) and a lot of the celebrity guests, which is in its turn a development of the stage tradition of music hall. What makes these shows variety rather than just sketch? It’s a tangible thing like the inclusion of musical numbers and celebrity guests but also a slightly intangible element - there’s a “feel” to variety that differentiates it slightly from purely sketch-based shows along with an element of a defined personality for the stars. Here are two of the key variety based shows (excluding any already mentioned like The Muppet Show) which are thoroughly ingrained.

The Morecambe And Wise Show
It’s impossible to be English and of a certain age and not have been exposed to Morecambe and Wise. They were the biggest entertainment juggernaut of the 1970s, notching up viewing figures in excess of twenty million (a figure that any TV company would die for in these fragmented viewing times), and deservedly so. 

After an abortive start on BBC in the 50s, the duo found fame in the 60s on ITV with their series Two Of A Kind, written by Dick Hills and Sid Green. This fame was enough to attract the attention of the BBC and the duo moved back across, initially Hills and Green on writing duty. However, it was with the introduction of Eddie Braben as head writer that the Morecambe and Wise that are so beloved were born.

They are an archetypal double act. Eric Morecambe is undoubtedly the one who gets all the best lines, looks to camera, etc. but Ernie Wise gets unfairly maligned as the straight man. Wise is more than that - he’s a fool in a slightly different way to Morecambe. Wise is the pompous one, the one with delusions of being an artist (“the play what I wrote”) and not only the perfect foil to Eric’s puncturing but also when needed a champion for Eric.

Favourite sketch? A lot to choose from but the one that I always love to watch is Grieg’s Piano Concerto (By Grieg). Not only is the delivery and timing superb between Eric and Ernie (as well as the clear understanding that they're both on the same page) but Andre Previn, a non-actor guest star, has impeccable comic timing and delivery too (although being a conductor and music and comedy both being about rhythm probably helps).

The Two Ronnies
There was a time in the eighties, particularly when alternative comedy was on the rise, that The Two Ronnies was slightly sneered at, slightly seen as old-fashioned, boring, safe old comedy. Fortunately, that opinion has been reversed since then with people rightfully acknowledging them as fine comic performers and Ronnie Barker as one of our finest comic writers. Barker wrote around three quarters of the material himself and also attracted other writers such as Spike Milligan, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones (unsurprising that there would be a Python link really given that Barker and Corbett both worked on the Frost Report with John Cleese.

Favourite sketch? Again, hard to pick one. I always loved the regular serials with The Phantom Raspberry Blower (written, of course, by long time fan of the raspberry, Spike Milligan) was always a favourite. It may seem cliched by Four Candles is a favourite as is the Mastermind sketch with a contestant answering the previous questions and the Swedish Made Simple sketch (F.U.N.E.X? S, V.F.X.)

So what’s next? Well, we’ve talked about sketch comedy. It's probably time to venture into the world of the sitcom...

Friday, 14 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - Quick And To The Point

While the Monty Python group may have been the sketch comedy team that had the biggest impact on me, they were by no means the only ones to have an influence. There’s a real thrill to be had in the quick -fire, hit and miss nature of sketch show with the best ones hitting more often than they miss. It’s a comedy form that seems to be going through a slightly bare patch at the moment as narrative-driven comedy seems to be the dominant form in television at the moment but that doesn;t make it any less valid. Here are some of the ones that have had a strong impact on me over the years.

Harry Enfield’s Television Programme / Harry Enfield & Chums
One of the key indicators of a successful sketch comedy show is, “Is it being quoted in the playground/office, etc. the next day?” Well, this one was playground for me and it most certainly was for me. The chemistry between Harry Enfield, Paul Whitehouse and Kathy Burke in these shows is undeniable and the range of genuinely funny performances that they are able to give is remarkable. Kathy Burke’s Perry is an absolutely sublime characterisation of an awkward teenage boy.

The Fast Show
The first major sketch show to boil sketches down to their absolute essence - a defined character and a catchphrase and sometimes not much more than that - while still managing to be genuinely funny. Another one that entered the comedy quote lexicon of the nation in the 90s. Launched the careers of John Thompson, Simon Day, Mark Williams, Arabella Weir and the late Caroline Aherne who all went on to bigger things in the world of film and TV. 

A Bit Of Fry And Laurie
A joyous combination of very smart and very silly with the occasional hint of the surreal and a few cracking comedy songs too. This cemented Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as comedy forces to be reckoned with. The sketches still stand up very well today - as with a lot of my favourite comedy, there’s a love of playing around with language particularly evident in the visit to the DIY shop to buy some flushed grollings and the invention of new swear words to bypass BBC censors (cluff, prunk, fusk and pempslider all being examples).

A show that I feel gets sadly overlooked these days even though it was popular enough to get its own spin off series (Mr Don And Mr George which I’ll talk about another time). Being the product of a combination of largely Scottish (plus one Welsh and one English) comedians, it definitely felt like a different voice from the usual comedy of the time. Standout characters for me (besides the afore-mentioned Don & George) were the Stonybridge Town Council, the bizarre Denzil and Gwynedd, lavatory-based Frank Hovis and dirty old man Bert Bastard.

Big Train
Another one that gets a little overlooked in my opinion despite having a number of iconic sketches that have often been stolen for advertising campaigns. From writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews (creators of Father Ted) and starring Simon Pegg, Julia Davis, Mark Heap, Catherine Tate, Kevin Eldon, Amelia Bullmore and Rebecca Front, it’s weird and silly and gave us the (barely) animated World Stare-Out Championship.

I’d initially thought to follow this through in a linear-ish fashion while still theming it but I;ve jumped around all over the place. The sketch show is very much an evolution of a slightly earlier form, one which definitely is part of the comedy DNA…

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve briefly touched on this lot before when talking about funny audio stuff but here’s the main event.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Hard to underestimate the impact this group has had not only on my formative sense of humor but also on my development as a film fan. Let’s start with the first stuff of theirs I saw.

The Series
Broadcast from 1969 until 1974, this had an immediate impact on me when I first saw it. It was the second series that I saw first during a repeat run on BBC2 sometime in the late 80s and I was hooked (of the four series, this is my favourite series because it was the one I watched the most). I had never really seen anything quite like it and I knew that this absolutely my sort of thing. It was silly, it had cartoons in it and it was not in any way predictable. From there, I would move on to the albums (incessantly listened to) and then on to the Python which is probably most widely consumed.

The Films
Of the four films (most people forget And now For Something Completely Different, their first big screen outing which is basically a re-filmed greatest hits of their key sketches), I waver between choosing a favourite. The Meaning Of Life has some great moments in it but feels the closest to their sketch show roots. Sometimes Holy Grail is my favourite as how can you not love a film that has the Black Knight, swallows vs coconuts, The Knights Who Say Ni and a daft song about Camelot? Overall, though, I probably do sway with popular opinion and go with Life Of Brian as the one which I have probably watched the most (including recently and pleasingly on the big screen with Michael Pailn and Terry Giliam doing a Q&A afterwards).

The Other Stuff
This seems like an off-hand subtitle given that the other stuff they have gone on to includes a sitcom that is often heralded as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time (Fawlty Towers), a string of enjoyable travelogues (the career of Michale Palin from the 80s onwards), a number of films that are among my all-time favourites (Time Bandits, Jabberwocky, Brazil) and several series that I really enjoy but are largely overlooked these days (Eric Idle’s Rutland Weekend Television; Pailn and Jones’ Ripping Yarns).

So, yeah, safe to say that these six chaps have been a huge influence on comedy outlook. They weren’t the only sketch-based comedy to have an impact though...

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - Don’t Panic

This one’s a big ‘un. It’s something that I’ve consumed in every possible version and have enjoyed (to varying degrees) in each new iteration. It’s a go-to-comedy for me and by that I mean that it’s a comedy that I am always in the mood for and always makes me feel better whether it be in audio, televisual or book form.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
I have a very vague memory of sneaking glimpse of the television adaptation of this when I was supposed to be in bed. It was fascinating to me - something that I looked a bit like Doctor Who but was clearly meant for adults as I wasn’t allowed to stay up late to watch it. In fact, there is very little about Hitchhiker’s that makes it post-watershed, partly aas a sresult of its background as a radio show.

The Radio Show
Created back in 1977 for Radio 4 by Douglas Adams, a former script editor for Doctor Who at that time, the show was originally going to end each episode with the Earth being destroyed. Ultimately, this became the springboard for the storyline as bemused Arthur Dent escapes the destruction of Earth to be unwittingly thrown into the wilds of the universe when all he really wants is a cup of tea and a bit of a lie down. It’s got a cast on top form and a great device in the form of the Book itself which allows Adams to go off on all manner of comic diversions that don’t necessarily drive the story forward. Mixing sci fi and comedy has always been a tricky one to pull off but Adams manages it with style.

The Books
Transferring medium allowed Adams to flesh out some of the stuff in more detail and change some of the things that he was less keen on with the benefit of time and hindsight. It gives a bit more rounding out to some of the minor characters (Mr Prosser, the man trying to knock down Arthur’s house, being a direct descendant of Genghis Khan who is plagued by imagery of thundering Mongol hordes is the sort of detail you only get in the books) and even takes the story beyond where the radio and TV versions leave off. The later novels were sources of dissatisfaction to Adams himself (who famously hated writing - “I love deadlines. I like the sound they make as they go whooshing past.”) I didn't enjoy the fourth book much as a youth but have enjoyed it more upon subsequent readings. The fifth book is a little down-spirited and unfortunately Adams never got the chance to bring it around with a sixth book.

The TV Series
I have a particular fondness for this version. As mentioned, I glimpsed it as a kid and then finally saw it once BBC repeated it during my early teens. Like many BBC productions of the 70s and 80s, particularly those with any relation to sci fi and fantasy, it suffers from the budgetary restrictions common to the time (Zaphod’s second head being largely immobile most of the time) but the humour still shines through, the cast ar on top form and the animations that accompany the entries from the Book still look great today.

There is also the big budget film version which Adams himself was working on up until his death and is largely the vision that he wanted to bring to the screen but it feels like an oddly truncated greatest hits with some of the jokes weirdly cut short. It’s by no means the car crash that is has been portrayed as but it’s not my favourite version of Hitchhikers by a long shot. 

So this one is a cornerstone of my sense of humor along with the next lot who were briefly touched upon in an earlier entry…

Monday, 10 June 2019

WatchSeeLookView - Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

A little break today from what seems to have become the endless juggernaut of posts detailing my comedy archeology. Don’t worry, if you’re still keen on my inane witterings about funny stuff, they’ll be back. Let’s just get this one out there while it’s still fresh in the mind.

Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (2019)
Dir. Michael Dougherty / Dur. 131 mins

It’s a funny old one to review, this,  as there are two reviews running simultaneously in my head. Let’s go with the first one.

As A Godzilla Fan
It was five years ago(!) that Gareth Edwards brought us a new take on Godzilla, one which did a creditable job in erasing the memory of the 1998 Jurassic Park-rip off version (let us not really speak of that one). There were some that complained that it was light on actual Godzilla action but I wasn’t among them; it was evoking the 1954 original in which Godzilla is also utilised pretty sparingly onscreen. This is not an accusation that can be levelled at this film. Kicking off with Godzilla’s traditional and distinctive skreeeeonk roar and upping the level of monster mayhem significantly means that, if the first film was a tribute to the originator of the whole franchise, this is a tribute to all of the bonkers excesses of everything that came afterwards. There’s monster fighting and city-smashing galore alongside a wealth of references to the classic films (Monster Zero, the oxygen destroyer, the Mothra twins, Godzilla’s iconic theme music). Add in Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan and a few more and you’ve got a treat for Godzilla fans.

As A Film Fan In General
Take away the franchise nostalgia and fan-pleasing monster-fighting and, although a part of me is sad to admit it, there’s a film that’s not that great. The characterisation is paper thin, the dialogue is poor at best,  their motivations are pretty slimly drawn and there are a number of instances of characters making leaps of logic or acting in certain ways that are simply designed to move things along to the next set piece without feeling earned. That said, and putting my Toho Studios branded Godzilla hat back on again, the original films are pretty much the same with largely dull human characters there to fill in the gaps between monster fighting (largely because it would be too costly to have all monsters all the time).

The Verdict
If you’re a lifelong Godzilla fan then you’ll certainly get some enjoyment out of this as it references a number of classic moments as well as providing the monster mayhem that some felt was missing from the first film. If you’re not a Godzilla fan then I suspect that this film will leave you cold at best and probably irritated at worst. Me? I’m a sucker for monsters beating each other up so I’m still on board. Skreeeeonk!

Friday, 7 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - It Stayed On The Radio….

Sometimes some of the lovely aural comedy goodness that originates on the radio doesn’t make the transition to the tellybox and that’s no bad thing. Certain things lend themselves to the audio landscape and don’t need to be altered, especially if that might mean a different cast.

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue
The “antidote to panel shows” as it describes itself in the opening introduction and, while that may have been true some time ago (in that the actual winners and points don’t really matter, it’s all about the jokes), it has actually become the template for most panel shows (and certainly most Radio 4 ones). It’s a show that has been running since 1972 and has done very little to change its overall format. Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor (along with Willie Rushton and the delightfully “innocent” Humphrey Littleton up until their deaths) are the backbone and not afraid to mine a double entendre for all it’s worth. It’s had a number of top comedians over the years Including but not limited to John Cleese, Kenny Everett, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill, David Mitchell, Victoria Wood, Sandi Toksvig and Victoria Wood. It;s also a show that gets away with a lot for a lunchtime show as it is on the radio so no one really pays attention, as evidenced by this gag from Stephen Fry in an alternative definitions round:- “Countryside - to kill Piers Morgan.” It’s the sort of gag it takes your brain a second to process given that it’s being delivered in a “cuddly” daytime comedy show.

Cabin Pressure
It’s not just panel shows that you get on the radio, of course. What you do in fact get is one of the finest sitcoms ever. Written by John Finnemore and starring Benedict Cumberbatch (both prior to and during mega-stardom), Roger Allam, Stephanie Cole and Finnemore himself, it follows the exploits of two pilots in the worlds smallest airline (one single jet) with their hapless air steward and tyrannical airline owner (who also happens to be the steward’s mother). It hits all the beats - the cast are superb, the character relationships are not well-defined but shift in pleasing ways over the course of the series and it’s very funny. What more can you ask for in a sitcom?

Of course, there’s one item that started out on the radio and branched out into books, TV, theatre, vinyl, film, a computer game and a towel before making its way back to the radio again and it’s definitely a favourite….

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - It Started Out On The Radio….

Britain has a fine tradition of taking stuff from the radio and putting it out on the telly with moving pictures as well as the talky bits. Hancock’s Half Hour would be the prime template for this (I am a fan of Hancock but I haven’t watched / listened to all of them yet) but it is far from the only one. Oddly, I very rarely discovered something that started out on the radio and then transferred to TV. I generally watched the TV version, found out it started on the radio and then went back and listened to the audio version. Here are some things that started out on the radio before making the leap to the small screen.

On The Hour / Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge
On TV, it was known as The Day Today but on the radio, it was On The Hour. Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Front, David Schneider, Doon Mackichan - all have become a firm part of the comedy landscape for the last 25 years. Both series are very much rooted in taking the usage of the medium seriously even if, in the case of On The Hour, the material can be pretty silly. It takes the format of serious news reporting, highlights how constructed and daft it is and then throws in some delightfully silly gags. Also, it’s another case of people who love words and sounds and the inherent silliness of many of them. 

On The Town With The League Of Gentlemen
It’s pretty well formed by this point having started out as a stage show to begin with. There are some differences from the television version - Edward, Tubbs and the Local Shop are nowhere to be seen (arguably, they’re partly visual anyway so it’s no real surprise that they’re not there) and diminutive shopkeeper Mr Ingleby is very much an audio-only gag (although he is very briefly referenced in one ep of the series).

The Mighty Boosh
Given that the Boosh are both fond of surreal flights of fancy and prone to breaking out in song, radio was definitely the ideal medium for them to start out in. Again, it’s pretty similar to the show - the main difference being the recurring guest presence of Lee Mack (who is an incredibly sharp comedian but not someone I would have pegged as being into whimsy and surrealism).

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there are many, many more besides (Whose Line Is It Anyway? Being another) but this could go on forever if I don’t cut things off somewhere. Of course, not everything made it way away from the airwaves…

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - Funny For Your Ears: The Album

I mentioned a little while back in this here ongoing saga of Funny Stuff That Is Funny that I liked the Goon Show. It wasn’t just the Goon Show - I’ve always had a strong fondness for audio comedy. It probably started with these…

Monty Python Albums
Monty Python as a whole has been a big influence from the TV series through to the films (and probably deserves a post all of its own really) but these hold a real soft spot for me. For those of who might not remember, the comedy album was a big thing back in the day. In the 70s in particular, this was the only way to consume a lot of comedy post-broadcast in an age when repeats were infrequent and video recording was pretty much non-existent. It wasn’t just the audio of the series, though - nope, this was brand new stuff recorded especially to be put down on a vinyl disc and piped directly into your ear.

As with the TV show, the Python lads liked to play around with the audio format itself. Their fourth album, The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief, was pressed with an additional groove on one side meaning that it was record with three sides. The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which is a great title for an album anyway) has the framing device of being presented live from a screening at a grotty cinema during which the cast regularly talk over segments from the film, thus thwarting anyone who bought the album to re-listen to classic routines from the film.

These were the gateway comedy albums (copied onto cassette for me by a friend of the parents who had them) for me and lead to me consuming many more including but not limited to:-

Not The Nine O’Clock News - The Memory Kinda Lingers
The title song for which I really didn't realise was a rather rude one until I was a little older (one of the joys of comedy - discovering comedy you;re a bit too young for and then discovering all the rude bits you didn't know were right there until you go back and listen/watch/read again)

Ben Elton - Motormouth
The first stand up audio that I really got into. I haven’t listened to it for years so can't tell you if it stands up today but I will always have a soft spot for it.

The Secret Policeman’s Ball
Monty Python. Rowan Atkinson. Billy Connolly. Pete and Dud. Some music. What’s not to love about it?

Of course, there was plenty of other audio too. Radio gave me the Goon Show but also plenty more besides..

Monday, 3 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - Full Of Sweary Goodness

There’s a fine art to being sweary yet childish, puerile yet funny, sophisticated but very silly and an originally anarchic British comic which is now very much part of the comedy establishment has managed to walk that fine line for four decades now…

It started in 1979 but, being of an age that I was really going to appreciate actual children’s comics, I didn't get into it at that point. It was as I headed into my teenage years that I discovered it and it became a firm favourite for many years. It’s very much borne out of a love of British comics (as well as the absurdity of British tabloids and a love of British D-list celebrities from the 60s to the 80s) twinned with that perennial schoolboy favourite of being inventively sweary.

Many of the strips became familiar names - Roger Melly The Man Off The Telly, Sid The Sexist, The Fat Slags, Billy The Fish, Buster Gonad And His Unfeasibly Large Testicles - and animated / live action versions were to beckon (to varying degrees of success as often happens when adapting one medium to another). The annual hardback collection of the best of Viz issues became a staple of many a Christmas stocking.

As with anything successful, at the height of its fame, Viz spawned a number of imitators with similar sounding titles such as Smut or Zit! The main problem with these attempts to cash in on the Viz phenomenon was that they just weren’t particularly funny. Viz wasn’t just a rude, sweary comic; it was genuinely funny. It also had several strips that were just surreal - I defy you not to laugh at The Vibrating Bum-Faced Goats just as a concept if nothing else.

As can happen with a lot of long-running things, I haven’t kept up with Viz in recent years. That doesn't lessen the impact it had on me - I still appreciate a good silly joke or enthusiastically funny sweariness. Who doesn’t?*

So let’s backtrack a bit. A little while back I talked about going down another track. Let’s reverse our way back a bit and follow that one next…

* Boring people, that’s who. “Oh but swearing is a sign of a poor vocabulary.” Oh tit off, you absolute pile of cock. (See? It’s fun.)