SIX OF THE BEST #1 – BRITISH SITCOM EPISODES – by PAUL LAIGHT

SIX OF THE BEST #1 – BRITISH SITCOM EPISODES – by PAUL LAIGHT

My blog has a few little running series on it such as My Cinematic Romance where I list some of my favourite filmy things; also my monthly review round-up called Screenwash. Moreover, in the annals of time and space there’s my Fix Films Retrospective short film reviews plus two critical series called Under-rated Classics and 100 Not Out!  The last two I need a few more entries, however, I now introduce another blog thing called Six of the Best! Basically, it’s another list but this time six of the best of “something”.

We all need a laugh in these times of global conflict so to cheer myself up I thought about some classic British situation comedies which are genuinely funny every time I watch them.  We’ve produced so many amazing comedy shows over the years it’s good to look back in celebration. Obviously, there are SO many episodes to choose from but here are a mere six which make me piss myself laughing every time.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

BLACKADDER GOES FORTH – “GOODBYEE”

“Bugger!”

The classic historical sitcom that went from the Dark Ages up to the horrors of World War One had so many legendary episodes brimming with cracking gags, characters and a who’s-who of comedy talent.  The final episode is one of those rare programmes which makes you laugh your brain off throughout but has you in tears by the final frame. Blackadder, George and Baldrick, having attempted to avoid the “big push” finally reach the end of the line:

BOTTOM – “GAS”

“Why didn’t we just pay our gas bill?”

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson’s juvenile-slapstick-low-life-loser-flat-share-comedy was a wonderful guilty pleasure which essentially updated their “Dangerous Brothers” persona for the 1990s. Basically, Eddie and Rich have been “borrowing” next door’s gas when they get rumbled a whole host of stupid mayhem ensues.  Gas was the second ever episode and is definitely my favourite as it contains so many great lines, catchphrases and violent set-pieces. R. I. P comic genius Rik Mayall!

FAWLTY TOWERS – “COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS”

“You can see the sea. It’s over there between the land and the sky.”

Connie Booth and John Cleese’s superlative farce set in a raggedy Torquay hotel contains some of the most brilliantly complex comedy-of-error-plots I have seen. This is especially evident in this episode when the obnoxious stick-insect that is Basil Fawlty meets the hard-of-hearing-customer-from-hell Mrs Richards (Joan Sanderson). A serpentine narrative involving antique vases, secret bets, stolen money and Basil mistakenly using morons Manuel and the Major as alibis leaves you dizzy with laughter. Cleese is on especially good form as Fawlty goes on full sarcasm overdrive throughout.

I’M ALAN PARTRIDGE – “WATERSHIP ALAN”

“Earlier on I put in a pound of mashed-up Dundee cake.”

Steve Coogan’s wonderful comedy grotesque filters the embarrassing foot-in-mouth-media-enunciations of Alan Titchmarsh, Tony Blackburn and Richard Madeley; giving us one of the great comedic creations of modern times.  Having been sacked by the BBC Alan found himself self-unemployed and searching for a second BBC series, all the while staying in a Travel Tavern on the outskirts of Norwich. In Watership Alan he manages to upset the Farmers Union while challenging Cliff Thorburn for a corporate video job and becoming obsessed with ‘Ladyboys’. Safe to say things don’t go to plan in a hilariously warped comedy that features Simon Pegg and genius Chris Morris.

THE OFFICE – SEASON 1 – EPISODE 4 – “TRAINING DAY”

“Sometimes the complaints will be false!”

Gervais and Merchant’s brilliant sitcom of embarrassment and character observations is built around the antics of deluded goateed manager and “King of Cringe” David Brent.  In this episode Wernham Hogg invite an external contractor to deliver a customer service training session, and of course, Brent sabotages proceedings and brings the Trainer to the edge of a nervous breakdown. From the bizarre roleplay, failed stand-up gags and excruciating guitar-playing Brent uses the session to showcase his perceived ability as an entertainer. A true classic this also features Tim and Gareth doing battle over the “Chicken, Grain and Fox” riddle. Priceless!

STEPTOE AND SON – “UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS”

“You never know in this house. Some of the things he puts in them.”

This episode from the eighth and final season followed a familiar family formula of pitting Wilfred Bramble’s irascible old git Albert Steptoe against his long-suffering son, Harold.  Harry H. Corbett portrayed the son with a tragic hangdog pathos and more often than not his attempts to better himself or escape the totting business are doomed by his father’s devious shenanigans. In Upstairs Downstairs, Upstairs Downstairs, Harold must tend to his father’s every whim as he is laid up with a slipped disc; obviously it’s not long before Harold is being exploited by his father. Galton and Simpson wrote some of the greatest comedies ever committed to radio and television and caught working class hardship and family rivalry perfectly with brilliant scripts full of pain, tragedy and humour.

 

 

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT LIFE #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT LIFE #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

Decided to take a slight break from the cultural reviews and focus on what I hope to be a series of occasional “life” reviews. Because if you hadn’t noticed it’s a terrible world out there so you have try and focus on the positives.

The world is full of: war, famine, disease, murder, racism, vengeance, death, bullying, fundamentalism, politics, madness, drones, bombs, guns, suicide, depression and general political, media and religious negativity. Indeed, things can seem pretty shitty sometimes so it’s important to think about the things in life that make it worthwhile. They could be big or small but they make one happy, bring a smile or just simply take you away for a time from the general horrors of existence.

So, for starters, here are ten things that make my life worth living.

Dogs in Pubs

I love drinking in pubs and I also love dogs too. So, when I see a dog in a pub I feel immensely happy. Not sure why but a dog in a pub always brings a smile to my face, warming the cockles of my heart in the process – although that could be the alcohol!

Chinese Food

I know it’s probably really bad for you but the joy I get from overdosing on fat, sugar and salt, along with the other ingredients is just awesome. In my extreme over-eating days of the past Chinese food was my crack; I just couldn’t get enough and still cannot. I’m just far more disciplined than I once was.

The Sea

Who knows why but I love the sea? I don’t enjoy frying my skin in the sun but more standing on the beach or on coastal terrain and looking out at the vast water ahead of me and hearing the waves lap against the sand or stones. It makes me feel calm and collected and relaxed. Maybe it symbolises escape yet also protection too. Wonderful!

Cinema

Going to see a film is still one of my favourite things to do. I’ve said this before but it’s like going to church for me; except perhaps the stories aren’t as far-fetched as the one’s in the Bible. Sitting there in the dark, staring at a big screen waiting for the film to start, brings about an enormous sense of well-being; and it always will.

Love

What is love: a complex chemical reaction in the body; a means to exploit humanity via a romantic concept; an emotional response based on strong feelings for family or someone you are attracted to; or a con-trick by nature to get us to pro-create? I love my family and recently I met someone and can thus testify that love is a hearty escapade. The Beatles sang, “All you need is Love!” Well, you need air, water and food too but love’s definitely on the list of life’s essentials too. However fleeting it may be – grab it if you can!

The Boy

I have a teenage son and I must admit that being a parent is bloody hard work. There is no pause. When you have a child the mind never closes down thinking about them, hoping you are doing the right thing and they do not come to harm. You have a great responsibility but one that enriches your life and makes you a much better and mature person. I wouldn’t want more than one child but he’s a bright, funny and interesting character and someone I could not be without.

2015_Prodigy_Rhys_Dad_1

Hamsters

Your basic Syrian hamster is the greatest pet you can have. They are cute, self-reliant and funny little creatures who for some reason make me smile. I’m not one for the big responsibility of a dog or cat or more children so a hamster is the best pet you could get in my opinion.

Ham Sandwiches

I love a ham sandwich. Placing a bit of thinly sliced pork in between two slices of bread is one of the simple pleasures in life. Putting too much butter on it also adds to the flavour and an occasional suggestion of lettuce or tomato can sprinkle some flavour. Crusty bread is best but your basic soft-sliced-starchy white bread will suffice too.

Not being at Work

You wake up in the morning and you realise you DON’T HAVE to go to work. You have a day or days off!  I love that feeling! And I don’t mean being unemployed because that in itself can be depressing and leave you skint. Yet the emotion of knowing you have escaped the rat race for the day is a boon to anyone’s life chi. It’s like scoring the winner in a football match – but for ordinary people!

Beer

I have in the past been an excessive drinker of epic proportions and had some bloody good times too. However, the colossal hangovers have hung heavy within my history so I have tempered the functional alcoholism of my 30s and am now a mildly successful moderate drinker (once or twice a week) now. I love the taste and smell and buzzy feeling I get from having a few pints in a social situation and long may it continue; in moderation of course.

Cheers to all of you! Have a lovely weekend! And be nice to everyone!

2015_Prodigy_Paul_Laight

 

 

SCREENWASH – JUNE FILM & TV REVIEWS 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – JUNE 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:

**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**

 

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV

The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)

The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors.   (Mark: 9 out of 11)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX

I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display.  Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA

Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV

If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.  I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)

GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV

The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX

Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off.  Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)


IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV

Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA

Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown (1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV

Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time.  I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)

CHANCE ENCOUNTER – A STAR TREK FILM – UPDATE #2

Move over Michael Bay! Step aside JJ Abrams! Fix Films are here with the latest update for their new ultra-low-budget-sci-fi-romance film: Chance Encounter!

We have cast new great actors in Hayward B. Morse and Emily Wyatt. Plus, Gary has begun building the set out of wood and old car seats. Eat your heart out Hollywood!  Oh, you’ve done that already?!

For the latest Kickstarter update click here! Or watch the latest update on the video below!

 

SISYPHEAN REPRESENTATIONS IN CINEMA AND TELEVISION BY PAUL LAIGHT

SISYPHEAN REPRESENTATIONS IN CINEMA AND TELEVISION BY PAUL LAIGHT

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  Winston Churchill

Have you ever just thought: what’s the point in carrying on?  Dead French bloke Albert Camus wrote an existential essay called The Myth of Sisyphus which I read when I was in my teens; and while failing to understand it I felt cool and superior to everyone else who hadn’t read it. I read it again a few years ago and it is a fascinating analysis as to whether life has any point.

Camus deemed life an exercise in the absurd and one should never give up but rather laugh or revolt; something like that anyway! He offered mythological character Sisyphus, who, if you didn’t know, was punished for his deceitfulness by the Gods. His penance was to forever push the same boulder up a hill over and over. Camus opined Sisyphus’ struggle gave life meaning despite the immortal repetition.

I have in my darkest hours of life’s disappointment thought about relinquishing hope. However, I agree with Camus as I feel NOT giving up is in fact success enough; and persistence is reward enough whatever the outcome. So, to celebrate characters overcoming adversity, abject failure or seemingly insurmountable odds, I have picked out some “Sisyphean” characters from TV and cinema who just didn’t know when they were beaten even if the odds were stacked against them or they’ve suffered defeat after defeat.

**MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD**

NUMBER 6 – THE PRISONER (1967)

Bond meets Kafka in this unique 1960s spy-thriller-with-a-twist. The brainchild of TV star Patrick McGoohan, this unique and psychedelic show found our anti-hero Number 6 attempting to escape from an idyllic “prison” called the Village. He could just settle back and give in to his captors’ questioning but Number 6 refuses to be filed and indexed; preferring to fight against the authorities despite being thwarted week after week.


ANDY DUFRESNE – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

Patience is a virtue they say and Andy Dufresne shows it in spades; tiny little digging spades he uses to chip away at a tunnel over many, many years. This prison film benefits from a gem of a Stephen King story, plus Frank Darabont’s brilliant writing. Everyman Dufresne could be battered into submission by the rape, beatings, and incarceration he endures but his stubborn survival instinct pays off in a wonderful pay-off at the story’s end.

CAROL PELETIER – THE WALKING DEAD (2010 –               )

Don’t you just hate the darned Zombie Apocalypse!!  I could have chosen a number of characters from other zombie films or shows but to me Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) is one of the great survivors. She began as an meek character abused by her husband, but having seen her young daughter turn she eventually grew into a formidable “Sarah Connor” archetype kicking zombie butt with aplomb. Arguably, her mental breakdown in the last season was a disappointing but no doubt the Carol we love will be back; hopefully.

HUGH GLASS – THE REVENANT (2015)

Bear with me on this one!  DiCaprio got the Oscar for his nature-versus-man-survival-fest and deservedly so for his physical endeavour. His character Glass just refuses to shatter as he firstly suffers a vicious Grizzly attack and then is left for dead by Tom Hardy’s mumbling mercenary. After which the terrain, natives, climate, and most terrifyingly, men, conspire to force Glass into all manner of gruelling trials as he seeks revenge for the murder of his son.



MATTIE ROSS – TRUE GRIT (1969)

I loved this John Wayne classic pursuit Western when I was a kid and have seen it too many times to mention. The Duke won the Oscar yet the standout performance was from Kim Darby as Mattie Ross; a feisty, motor-mouth irritant who nags and cajoles and chases and fights after vicious murderer Tom Chaney. My favourite scene is with Rooster Cogburn, who when finally realising she just won’t give up, laughs and proclaims in his classic laconic drawl, “By god – she reminds me of me!”

MAX ROCKATANSKY:  FURY ROAD (2015)

Mad Max is one of the great existential action heroes. Adorned in battered leather and wearing life’s scars on his face and heart he continues to live and survive in a hopeless world full of punk maniacs with death in their eyes. I guess he carries on because there’s a flicker of hope in his marrow; even if danger and pain are often his only companions on the Fury Road!


SOLOMON NORTHRUP – TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE  (2013)

I could never begin to understand the suffering individuals went through at the hands of slavers. Yet Solomon Northrup’s memoir and latterly Steve McQueen’s film version of the story encapsulated the pain of such an existence with such power. Chiwetel Ejiofor excels in the lead of an innocent man stolen from his family and forced into bondage by nefarious examples of humanity. Throughout, Northrup retains his dignity and strength never to surrender; and is ultimately rewarded with freedom despite a horrific twelve years of agony.

SCRAT – ICE AGE (2002 –             )

Scrat is a big-toothed-long-suffering-squirrel from the Ice Age franchise whose comic vignettes involve him attempting to transport a huge acorn to an unknown hibernation location. Following Murphy’s Law adage that “what can go wrong will go wrong” to ad infinitum the pain and mayhem for the prehistoric squirrel makes for hilarious slapstick. While we revel in Scrat’s misadventures the blighter never gives up on his prize suffering blow after blow yet never relinquishing that nut whatever the weather.    


SUE HECK – THE MIDDLE (2009 –         )

Benefitting from an effervescent performance by young actress Eden Sher, the character of Sue Heck is a socially awkward yet committed individual. She tries out for EVERYTHING: spelling bees, cheerleaders, competitions, after-school clubs and pretty much FAILS every time. However, she views eschews failure and rejection and the fact teachers don’t even remember who she is as a mere trifle.  She is a terrific loser whose enthusiasm knows no limits and for that I salute her spirit and passion. We can all learn from Sue Heck!

WILE E. COYOTE (1948 –         )

Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese original animated tortured soul IS Sisyphus incarnate. Doomed to pursuit and abject failure Wile E. Coyote just absolutely won’t give up chasing the Roadrunner. Slapstick violence and near-death pummels the damned creature’s soul; yet he comes back for more and more punishment without ever seeking an alternative food supply. I found the cartoons hilarious as a kid and still do now. Wile E. Coyote is the “living” epitome of Churchill’s quote which begins this piece and I love the character for his sheer bloody-minded stubbornness and refusal to yield.