ROOM WITH A STEW (WORK IN PROGRESS) – COMEDY REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

ROOM WITH A STEW (WORK IN PROGRESS)

LEICESTER SQUARE THEATRE GIG – (11/11/14)

BY PAUL LAIGHT

**VERY FEW SPOILERS**

If someone put a gun to my head and asked me who my favourite living stand-up comedian was I would probably have to say Stewart Lee.   Obviously the likelihood of someone putting a gun to my head asking my favourite comedian is silly. They could point it at my knee and I would tell them. In fact they wouldn’t need a gun. Anyway, through sheer consistency of quality comedy product he’s created over the years, for me, he’s a national, regional and local treasure.

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 A week or so ago on the 11th November 2014 I went to one of his Room With A Stew (work in progress) shows as Lee road-tested material for his BBC TV show - Comedy Vehicle – Season 4. The audience also received – as he mentioned a number of times during the night — a free DVD copy of – Comedy Vehicle – Season 3. 

Having dabbled with stand-up comedy myself to various degrees of failure it was terrific to see a master trying to make material, not far out of the brain and on the page, work.  The first half-an-hour-or-so he delivered a funny routine about Islamaphobia before battling through a more personal piece about Urine.

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New comedy material is a tricky beast. The comedian becomes a kind of  blind tailor measuring and making a new suit not knowing whether the material is going to fit the customer or not. Thus, you trim and adjust and stitch and cut away until you find the bits which work and get rid of those that don’t. Sometimes the seams just split and the suit lies in tatters on the floor. What comedy has to do with clothes I have no idea:  I’m just saying it can be tough is all!

Stewart Lee appeals to my pedantic, grumpy and meta-intellectual side. He challenges me mentally and his thought-provoking material works on many levels. On this night I could sense Stewart Lee at odds ever-so-slightly with the material, the cogs of his mind willing it to work as he listened to the audience for their reaction. His trademark beration of us for not “getting it” was a feature throughout; in fact he used it to re-energise the room on occasion.  Overall, it was a great night and a pleasure to see him at work. Lee’s Comedy Vehicle has been a must-see on BBC2 for the past few years and will continue to do so based on tonight’s work-in-progress show.

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If you’re not a fan of Stewart Lee and you like comedy that’s slightly more thought-provoking than material about the difference between cats and dogs then check out his website which contains information about ALL his full length shows, TV appearances and stuff from his brilliant Comedy Vehicle Television show.

http://www.stewartlee.co.uk/merchandise.php

 

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

INTERSTELLAR (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**IF YOU CAN WORK OUT THE PLOT – THERE ARE SPOILERS**

So, Paul – what’s Interstellar (2014) all about?

Well, the film is a science-fiction epic about the end of the world. Some astronauts are sent on a deadly mission – led by Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Coop’ – farmer – to try and find habitable existences in outer-space.  To do so they must travel into the unknown across the heart of darkness; through worm-holes; through black-holes; crossing temporal and spatial dimensions to find a solution to save the human race.

Meanwhile, the emotional meat of the story is supplied by McConaughey/Cooper’s relationship with his daughter portrayed by Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain.  He had a son as well but apparently he didn’t matter as much and was ultimately used as weak final act plot point.

Sounds complicated?

Yes. It is. And also very very long. So load up on popcorn.

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What did you like?

This is a visually stunning experience with some incredible set-pieces on Earth, in Space and on other planets.  But from a visual and conceptual genius such as Christopher Nolan I expected as much.  The “wave” sequence on ‘Miller’s Planet’ is an oxygen-stealing delight and I was gasping at the awe of it all.

Moreover, space has never looked so beautiful and dangerous and Nolan — clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrik’s  seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — delivered a truly spectacular experience when Cooper’s craft hurtles through the black hole Gargantua at the end of the lengthy middle act.

The film also has some wonderful science-fictional ideas relating to time and space and being a big Doctor Who fan I almost got my head around them; sort of.  Such concepts will of course solidify on further viewings once the blood in my buttocks begins to re-circulate. Did I say it was a very long film?

Yes. Yes you did. So, Paul, what didn’t you like about the film?

Well, I think there is an Alfred Hitchcock quote – which I’m paraphrasing now - where the Master said “if the audience is thinking too much they’re not feeling.” Something like that.

Oh, that’s clever. Using another director’s words to critique another.

Yeah – it is. And my main problem with the film was that I was so busy trying to get my head around the plethora of concepts in the screenplay that I didn’t feel ANYTHING for the characters.  I would have been happy with the film on a visual and poetic level if ALL the dialogue had been removed and emotion allowed to arrive between the spaces. But by over-reaching it dragged the whole film itself into a black hole of incomprehension.

To me the best science fiction marries concept with emotion.  Some of the acting was fantastic notably from McConaughey but – like the superior Inception (2010) – many of the characters are reduced to mere expositional tools – Anne Hathaway’s Brand being an example of this.  Inception worked better because it was grounded in the heist movie genre where Interstellar is all over the shop from: disaster-movie-to-space-opera-to-thriller-to-art-cinema-genres.

There were numerous plot-holes throughout beginning with the awful first act which set up the characters badly and then ran with poor characterisation throughout the film. Many of the cast, notably Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, were given a bit to do but far too late in the narrative.  And the speed with which concepts are thrown at us in the last 40 minutes are just damn confusing.

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What did you think of the film overall?

Watching Christopher Nolan’s over-expensive and humourless folly was like eating your favourite cake for 3 hours on a rollercoaster. I loved it – then I hated it – then I loved it – then I hated it – then I felt horrifically sick and wanted to get off. By the end – like life itself - I wondered whether it was all worth it.

It felt like a big-budget apology to his family for perhaps being an absent father. Perhaps it’s a film to watch with the sound off and classical music on; although I did enjoy Hans Zimmer’s score .  Yet, the over-loaded plot-lines and weak-movie dialogue ruined the stunning visuals and action set-pieces for me.  Indeed, I watched Nightcrawler (2014) on the same night and that took a simple premise with one major character and rinsed that idea for all the suspense and drama it could.

Nolan has made some great films with clever ideas such as:  Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006) and aforementioned Inception (2010) which retain their emotional impact while delivering some mind-bending concepts. Moreover, he breathed life into the Batman franchise with his brilliant take on the Caped Crusader. However, Interstellar is a fail for me. It’s a magnificent looking jigsaw but if the maker doesn’t give you all the pieces, or the bits you do have don’t seem to fit properly; all you’re left doing is banging the table in frustration.

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Who do you think you are slagging off one of the great filmmaker’s of our time?

I am no one. I work in a Scrap Metal Yard. But I paid my £11 entry fee and thus feel like I am entitled to an opinion. My feeling after watching Interstellar - and following his involvement in the dire Man of Steel (2013) - is that Nolan the  director should sack Nolan the screenwriter.  Perhaps he’s spread himself too thin producing and directing several big budget films in a short period of time?  Nonetheless there is no doubt Nolan is a genius filmmaker creating marvellous blockbusters-with-brains. But, as a storyteller he is losing the plots somewhat and in danger of disappearing up his own black hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) - FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

***SPOILERS?  HELL YEAH!***

This is a sensational pitch black character piece that allies a powerful script with violent social satire; all glued together by an Oscar-worthy lead performance from the ever-excellent actor Jake Gyllenthaal.

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It’s about monsters.  The monster of ambition. The monster of obsession. The monster of humanity. The monster of the Media. The monster of a bloodthirsty public searching for the next violent clip to trend or share on Twitter or Facebook over their morning coffee. Gyllenthaal plays the main monster: Lou Bloom. He’s an anti-anti-anti-hero of our times. A personification of capitalist evil.

Dan Gilroy’s cutting script makes no attempt to make him likeable or even sympathetic. We first meet him stealing scrap metal and beating the crap out of a Security Guard. He then has the balls to try and get a job at the yard he’s selling stolen goods to.  So why was I immediately enthralled by Lou Bloom?  Well, he has ambition. He has drive. He has linguistic charisma.  He has a thirst for success. A thirst for money. And a thirst for blood.

Lou Bloom is a vampire - a night creature creeping between the shadows and he finds the perfect vehicle for his nefarious wants. He discovers he can make money filming car wrecks and violent crimes on the streets of Los Angeles and sell them to a local News station.  His TV handler Nina (Rene Russo) takes him under her wing but it’s not long before Bloom is taking flight and manipulating her to his own needs.

With the smooth patter and greasy complexion of a snake-oil salesmen Bloom extends his operation by taking on down-on-his-luck Rick (Riz Ahmed) and competes on the dark, mean streets of LA with veteran ‘crawler’ Joe Loder (Bill Paxton).  Bloom will stop at nothing to achieve his expansion goals.  The drama really cranks up as he races to record one gut-churning tragedy after another eventually manufacturing violence to his own gain. These guys are filming and selling death – with echoes of Michael Powell’s classic horror film Peeping Tom (1956) – and WE the voyeuristic public are buying it.

I enjoyed the fact that Bloom was a ghost; a shell of a man with little in the way of backstory and yet through his actions we absorb the horror of his character. I was drawn in so much by Gyllenthaal’s magnetic performance as well as a fine supporting cast. Incredibly this is a DEBUT film from respected Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy. However, he directs with aplomb and the end shoot-out and car-chase was a memorable piece of filmmaking –  full of tension –  with a quite breath-taking pay-off.

I loved this film.  It takes the idea of the News Media as not merely objective representatives of fact but rather sensationalist manipulators where murder has become a natural by-product of their lust for ratings.  Films such as Gone Girl (2014) and Anchorman 2 (2013) have examined darkly and humorously the role of TV News in society recently but the stylish neo-noir Nightcrawler trumps them. Through Bloom the parasitic press and public are shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. WE ARE ALL MONSTERS AT HEART!

 
 

PAUL FOOT’S HOVERCRAFT SYMPHONY IN GAMMON SHARP MINOR – COMEDY REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

PAUL FOOT’S HOVERCRAFT SYMPHONY IN GAMMON SHARP MINOR  (7/11/2014)  REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

“I decided to have a go at stand-up comedy in a little bar. I did not have any jokes.  Amazingly, it went well and I resolved on the spot to become a professional entertainer. 17 years later, I became an overnight success.” *****PAUL FOOT*****

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Friday just gone began a busy time of watching comedy shows for me. It wasn’t planned that way but many of the funny people and shows I wanted to see happened to be on in the same period.  First off was surreal jester Paul Foot, then on Sunday, Tottenham’s abject loss to Stoke in the Premiership provided much mirth.  Not. Tonight, I am going to see the brilliant Stewart Lee; tomorrow, theatrical extravaganza Book of Mormon and finally, on Friday, bitter comic misanthrope Andrew Lawrence.

Paul Foot burst on the comedy scene many moons ago winning one of the BBC New Act Talent Thing Competitions and that.  I recall there being someone called Peter Kay who finished second in the competition but not sure what happened to him? Then when I started doing a bit of stand-up comedy myself I ran my own night at the aptly named Comedy Pub near Leicester Square. It was a very small new materialish night and the wonderful Paul Foot headlined on a couple of occasions. I was a crap promoter really but had some fun nights and always wondered why Paul Foot wasn’t on television more as he genuinely has – what is known in the business –  “funny bones.”

That was in say 2009 I think but more recently though he has appeared on a few panel shows such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Would I Lie To You plus the wonderful Alternative Comedy Experience. Further, his constant gigging and secret shows have allowed him to build up his own audience of fans; or as he calls them “connoisseurs”.  Thus, I was pleased to see his latest show at the Bloomsbury Theatre and experience more of the hilarity I saw at the Comedy Pub but on a much bigger stage. Well, it actually had a stage; unlike the Comedy Pub.

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Paul Foot is a marvellous, clown, eccentric, misfit who plays himself in almost every show he’s in and very funny he is too. From the moment his voice squawked from off-stage I was laughing; opening the show with a poetic chaos that breaks with the conventions of the traditionally slick club comedy night.

Humour comes from all directions:  his surreal flights of fantasy; his low-to-high pitch Home Counties drawl; his silver-shoed, mullet-haired appearance; plus the way he prances around the stage resembles a dressage horse on hot coals or a featherless bird flapping, yet failing, to take off. All told Mr Foot is a verbal and physical joy to behold.

As he gambols around the Bloomsbury stage he surprises the front row with some break-the-ice “mounting” a fan’s chair; before unleashing some brilliantly silly observations, stories and what he calls “disturbances”.  To those unfamiliar with Foot’s work it could seem like the mad ranting’s of a fool and in some ways it is but at its’ heart his comedy is very well designed and structurally sound.

Indeed, within the flights of fancy there are some excellent observations around religious chancers; landlady bed and breakfast etiquette; and the perils of platitudes which may leading to snake invasions.  What I love most about Paul Foot is his absolute conviction and passion to the routines; in his mind these events are real and thus I believe him. Overall, I genuinely nearly pissed myself laughing during this show so do try and catch him if you can in your lifetime.

***(Quote/photos from: http://www.paulfoot.tv/biography/)***

THE PRESTIGE – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

 THE PRESTIGE (2006) – CLASSIC FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**YOU KNOW THE DRILL – SPOILERS!**

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With Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) orbiting the cinemas this week I thought I’d look back at the film which he made in between breathing life into the Batman franchise.   No doubt Nolan is an important genre filmmaker and as his budgets have got more grandiose then so have his ideas.  I just love that he is interested in attempting to make intelligent blockbusters where ideas, character and theme lead the story rather than rely simply on action, explosions and special effects (no offence Michael Bay.)

Memento (2000) was a stunning and complex low-budget noir which dealt with obsession, murder and memory and Nolan continued these themes in superior cop thriller Insomnia (2002). Having delivered a cracking origins film in Batman Begins (2005) the director followed this up with a story about battling magicians based on Christopher Priest’s novel called The Prestige (2006).  For me it confirmed him as a force-to-be-reckoned with director. Following on the themes and tropes established in his prior films, The Prestige is centred around two obsessives brilliantly portrayed by the always excellent Christian Bale as Alfred Borden and the never-been-better (until Prisoners (2013), Hugh Jackman, playing his bitter rival, Robert Angier. thePrestige1The story starts at the end with Borden facing the hangman for Angier’s murder. After which the narrative flashes back to a time when the pair were freshman trick-smiths learning the ropes from mentor Cutter (always solid Michael Caine). When the cockney and cocky Bordens’ actions accidentally lead to the death of Angiers’ wife (Piper Perabo) – during a particularly complex and dangerous trick - the two go their separate ways. This sets in motion a story full of bitter twists of active and reactive vengeance. Each protagonist becomes so obsessed outdoing the other –  with the ultimate trick - they are prepared to sacrifice the ones they love in doing so.

The film is rich in plot, character and theme and investigates thoroughly the very human aspects of obsession and revenge. The double or doppleganger trope is also integral to the story as the writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls. The gritty, dirty period of Victorian London is wonderfully evoked and the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets is expertly represented. At it’s heart the story begins by showing us the cons of the magicians and the lengths they will go to amaze and astound an audience. By the end though the film becomes something much different with a chilling and fantastic turn which you think you see but ultimately don’t see coming.

Brilliantly directed by Christopher Nolan The Prestige is inventive, intelligent and ingenious. His cast does not let the magical screenplay down with the gorgeous Scarlett Johannson and – albeit briefly – pretty Piper Perabo bringing some glamour to the gritty proceedings. Rebecca Hall is also on commanding form bringing a subtle pain to the role of Borden’s wife.

Overall, it’s a challenging big-budget tale in which you never quite know what is real or what is a con. It keeps you guessing to the end, leaving you with a jaw-dropping final act as the story moves from sleight-of-hand tricks to science fact and finally science fiction. Ultimately, the film successfully combines fantastical, existential, and scientific elements. The film gives us a kind of magic but asks whether it’s worth the damage it causes to lives? THAT, for me, is The Prestige’s greatest trick.

 

 

 

TRUE DETECTIVE – POETIC REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

TRUE DETECTIVE – POETIC  REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

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Set in the picturesque Bayou from the stable HBO,
Dead as night; black as a murder of crows,
Southern Gothic of the police procedural persuasion,
True Detective’s a compelling, gripping, televisual sensation,

Sacrificial kill of a woman begins the murky plots,
As past and present collides, grips and clots,
A gloopy broth ensues of which there’s little filler,
As Louisiana cops pursue a nefarious serial-killer,

True Detective dials many a pulp-fictional cliché,
Yet we’re always wrong-numbered by Harrelson and McConaughey, Portraying mis-matched partners both with darker sides,
Suffering addictions, obsessions and existential slides,

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Writer Nic Pizzolatto delivers a corrupt vision of humanity,
Amidst the Cajun swamps we’re in David Fincher territory,
Standard cop stuff like the Chief screaming “you’re off the case!”,
Is deftly masked by Cary Fukunaga’s directorial style and pace,

McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is post-modern Sherlock,
He will never cease until the mystery is unlocked,
Allied with Harrelson’s Watson the two just won’t stop,
Title may say True Detective but it should be Existential Cop,

Meth-head rednecks, biker gangs, Southern whores all feature, Alongside pederasts, tattooed maniacs and crazy preachers,
All travelling together down a path undoubtedly well-worn,
Nonetheless it’s a delicious slice of murder porn.

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GONE GIRL (2014) FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

GONE GIRL (2014) FILM REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**BEWARE – SOME SUGGESTIVE SPOILERS**

Gillian Flynn, David Fincher, the cast and production team have carved out a superlative, rug-pulling, amoral, misanthropic and bloody suspense thriller which ghosts between several genres from romance to police procedural to thriller to Grand Guignol splatter film. Given the nature of the well-orchestrated and devious plot I will not be giving anything away other than it is essentially about a marriage in crisis and then some.

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We begin in North Carthage, a picturesque town in Missouri as our anti-heroes Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) are established. Flashbacks reveal a lustful romance but as money troubles affect them they are forced to leave New York and move back to Nick’s hometown. The story kicks off with a weary Nick bemoaning his lot to his supportive sister (excellent Caroline Coon) before he finds out Amy has gone missing. Then the fun really starts.

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As the plot unfolds we are led a merry dance as to where sympathies lie as the story twists and turns allegiances from Nick to Amy and back again. Having lived through a couple of acrimonious relationship breakdowns myself I felt the pain of the characters trapped in a marriage where the spark has been dampened by familiarity, financial worries and narcissistic deficiencies. Although, given the size of the house they live in I didn’t feel too bad for these over-privileged sociopaths.

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Ben Affleck is very effective as the trouble-plagued yet spoilt WASP, however, Rosamund Pike steals the acting honours with a sparkling star-turn. Throughout she demonstrates the many facets of an emotionally complex, intelligent and physically adept human. I sensed this was writer Gillian Flynn’s fantasy; acting out her devilish desires on page through this beautiful yet dangerous character. Pike’s Amy took me back to the age of fantastic ’40s femme fatales played with aplomb by: Barbara Stanwyk, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner et al.

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David Fincher, with his wonderful pallet and great eye for a script, is carving himself out a terrific raft of movies which look into the dark recesses of the American dream. He dissects and delivers a scathing commentary on the flaws and weaknesses of the middle, upper and wealthy classes. He not only incorporates obsessive characters but also muddies waters between good and evil and hero and heroines as witnessed most recently in The Social Network (2010), Zodiac (2007) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012).  While Gone Girl could have been shaved of 10 minutes to make it punchier, for me, Fincher is a post-modern Hitchcock; making fine films about damned unlikeable characters but somehow pulling us into their tawdry lives.

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There’s a fantastic episode of South Park from season 17 called ‘Informative Murder Porn’ which satirises the rise of scurrilous, scandal-mongering TV shows which “celebrate” salacious murders, crumbling marriages and missing people. Gone Girl is essentially a high-end version of such shows; the likes of which feature cleverly within the film’s plot. Indeed, the film also condemns the poisonous nature of such programmes which take joy in other’s misery.

 

Overall, Gone Girl is a masterful B-movie which is very gruelling to watch from an emotional perspective. Aside from the cops investigating (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) Amy’s disappearance and Nick’s sister the majority of the characters are borderline sociopaths. Indeed, when one of the more likeable characters is the media-hungry-lawyer-snake-oil-salesmen-come-showman (Tyler Perry) then you know you’re dealing with an extremely opaque vision of humanity.

 

Writer. Filmmaker. Semi-Pro Comedian. Wageslave

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