BEST OF BRITISH TV: REVIEW #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

BEST OF BRITISH: TELEVISION REVIEW #1 by PAUL LAIGHT

Having grown up with three (and then four channels) on British television I was always used to a high quality viewing experience.  As a kid TV shows were an event and something to look forward to and plan an evening’s routine around.  British shows from my youth that I loved were:  The Comic Strip, The Young Ones, The Singing Detective, Fawlty Towers, BlackAdder, Edge of Darkness, Play for Today, Pennies From Heaven, Doctor Who, Only Fools and Horses, Monty Python, Boys From The Blackstuff, Dad’s Army, Steptoe and Son, Prime Suspect, Spitting Image and many more. But with the subsequent invasion of high-end overseas televisual product and the introduction of digital and satellite channels I have at times lost sight of some best shows around at the moment.

Thus, I took a break from watching loads of US imports and movies (still watching Game of Thrones as it’s amazing!) and had a trawl through 4OD (called All 4 now), Netflix, YouTube and other outlets to catch up some of the current Best of British TV shows you can watch online or DVD. Obviously there are hundreds of other great British shows available but here are some of the ones I’ve watched recently:

BLACK MIRROR (CHANNEL 4)

Black Mirror is a dark, horrifying and mind-bending drama which gets into your mind and under your skin; tapping into the perils of technological advancement and effect the media could have on our future lives.

FRESH MEAT (CHANNEL 4)

I watched the first season of this University-based comedy and there’s an attractive young cast, fun performances, knockabout humour but also a bit of heart too as our Fresher’s come to terms with life on and off campus.

FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER (CHANNEL 4)

A simple premise of a Jewish family dinner but a lot of laughs as Mum, Dad, their boys and weird neighbour get into all kind of scrapes.  Hilarious stuff especially from eccentric father played by Paul Ritter.

GARTH MARENGHI (CHANNEL 4)

This is an absolute stonewall comedy classic. I watched this under-appreciated gem again for inspiration for a comedy script I’m writing and it fantastically parodies horror and sci-fi TV of the 70s and 80s.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (BBC)

This Dickens adaptation from 2011 starred Ray Winstone as Magwitch plus David Suchet, Paul Ritter and Douglas Booth.  But, the standout was Gillian Anderson as a spectre-like Miss Havisham ghosting through her scenes with eerie grace.

INBETWEENERS (CHANNEL 4)

I watched all 18 episodes of this and then the films and while I used to think it was just rude, smutty, uncultured, lowest-common-denominator comedy it is also hilarious with great comedy moments plus the occasional bit of pathos.

INSIDE NO. 9 (BBC)

Cracking, dark and funny half-hour stories from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton who once again craft some fiendish narratives with a sting in their tale. All episodes are great but I loved the dialogue-free (pretty much) one A Quiet Night In.

LAW AND ORDER (ITV)

A very good adaptation of the American show. I watched the first two seasons and the formula follows the Police and CPS crime process from arrest to conviction (or not depending on the case.)  Some great British character actors pop up throughout and compelling social commentary too.

LUTHER (BBC)

Idris Elba as Detective John Luther prowls the screen like a caged lion enacting furious justice on the killers of London town. Ruth Wilson as his cold-blooded sidekick is also a treat in a formulaic but compelling crime show.

NATHAN BARLEY (CHANNEL 4)

Go http://www.trashbat.co.ck/ and check out the original hipster prick as this hilarious TV satire parodies the Shoreditch gang-star fashion victims in all their gory!   Still well Jackson even ten years down the line. Peace and fucking. Believe!

PEEPSHOW (CHANNEL 4)

Two blokes share a flat.  Oh, and they are romantic and social fuck-ups!  That’s the premise in this brilliantly written classic sitcom from Jess Armstrong and Sam Bain.  I rewatched all 8 seasons in close proximity and it just gets funnier and funnier making great use of the Mitchell and Webb humour-chemistry-combo.  Genius.

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THE THREE DOCTORS: A CULTURAL REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

THE THREE DOCTORS:  A CULTURAL REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

I’ve kind of cheated a bit with the title of this little cultural review as technically there are only TWO proper doctors Dr Who and Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer. However, for me the mastermind behind The Prodigy — Liam Howlett — is a Professor of hard-beat-dance-music. Plus, there’s always a lot of medication knocking around PRODIGY gigs, I imagine, so there you go,THREE DOCTORS!   Of course, Dr Who is NOT a medical Doctor either but he has cured the end of the Earth many times before so that counts as well. Even though he isn’t real. But, who cares!

THE DOCTOR WHO EXPERIENCE – CARDIFF

Doctor Who is a cultural phenomenon.  The character and show have been on BBC Television (aside from the mild 90s hiatus) for 50 years, yet, in between that there were still audio recordings and novelisations of his adventures.  Over half-a-century he has become a worldwide sensation and one of the most adored and recognised cultural icons; and he’s completely fictitious. Dr Who does NOT exist!  He is a story; a myth; a character who has risen and regenerated from the grave many times; a character who performs miracles; has disciples and is an imagined hero who is worshipped by many followers all around.  Now, Dr Who has a Church!  It’s in Cardiff. Who knows how Dr Who will be seen in 2000 years?  Stranger things have happened.

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The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay is a wonderful pilgrimage for fans of the show.  I heartily recommend it if you want to see a plethora of old Tardis’, sets, costumes, monsters etc.  The setting is a huge aircraft hangar which houses everything Whovian from past to present and I just felt a wonderful sense of nostalgia plus wonder at the imagination and work which has gone into creating the TV show and Whoniverse as a whole.  I heartily recommend the Dr Who Experience if you love the show. Even the silly, little interactive tour you get at the start where Peter Capaldi’s Doctor himself guides you through a perilous journey is a laugh.  Great fun for big and small kids of all ages!

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OPPENHEIMER – VAUDEVILLE THEATRE 

Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer:  a father of peace or maker of death?   One would argue that he’s both!  Indeed, this wonderful piece of theatre attempts to answer this complex and many other fascinating questions about the man whose work led to the United States unleashing nuclear hell on Japan during World War II.  Being about physics and science stuff this could have been a very dry and dusty play but it was produced with such verve and energy as it collapsed a key period of Oppenheimer’s life into a brisk few hours of performance. But it wasn’t; quite the opposite in fact.

oppenheimer Oppenheimer John Heffernan as oppenheimer ben allen as edward teller

The production bounced and sang with some wonderful scenes explaining the physics, politics and personalities of the time.  The many Scientists and Military personnel are shown struggling with the logistics and ethics of the time; none more so than Oppenheimer himself. I mean he wanted to be remembered as a pioneer but he knew it would be to some cost; and so it proved. On the other hand, from another perspective, his and his teams’ actions COULD have saved lives.  John Heffernan as the genius, philanderer and bon vivant Oppenheimer is incredible. He lights up the stage like a firework bursting with sparkle then darkens it with shadow as he battles both his doubt and demons.   Of course, I know the physics were far more complex but I congratulate the writer for making the subject interesting again and hanging it all on such an intriguing and complex character and period of time.

 

THE PRODIGY – ALEXANDRA PALACE, LONDON 

Life is an interesting experience. I’m not looking forward to death. And I certainly won’t be able to look back on it. Also, some people don’t like the idea of getting old.  I don’t mind it. Because as I have got older I have started to like loads of things I didn’t used to like OR was indifferent of.  Coffee is one of those things. I love coffee. The Theatre is another thing I really enjoy now.  And the dance-electronica-hard-beat-kings-of-Essex The Prodigy are another cultural phenomenon I used to dismiss but now recognise as great music!

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I have my son to thank for my new found admiration of The Prodigy.  He started listening to them a few years ago and while I knew of their existence I have firmly — aside from a couple of Chemical Brothers albums — been a straight guitar-based-indie-listener as a rule.  But having bought Their Law: The Singles, The Day is My Enemy, Invaders Must Die and the under-rated Always Outnumbered – Never Outgunned I became very impressed by the group.  To create pulsating, punkish and heart-racing music of their kind and last from the late 80s to now I think shows a great level of ability and commitment to creation.

The gig at Ally Pally itself rocked and the crowd loved every moment of the brilliant lightshow, crunching guitars, pounding drums/beats, driving basslines and frontmen Keith Flint and Maxim screaming and goading the crowd into euphoric submission. Special praise for the architect of the operation — Liam Howlett —  who has found a very successful formula and has a tremendous back catalogue of tracks to work with. Howlett bleeds, sutures and threads the sounds together with the skill of a musical surgeon. If that doesn’t make him a kind of Doctor I don’t know what does!

 

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – MAY 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – MAY 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

I didn’t watch that many movies in May as I have been theming my viewing to British TV productions, so it was quality rather than quantity this month and with a big Antipodean feel.

As usual Marks out of Eleven follow the little review.

***MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD***

 

BLACK SEA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE

Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall, Scoot McNairy, Michael Smiley and a motley crew of Russians go down into the deep, dark recesses of the black ocean in search of Nazi gold.  This effective B-movie is essentially The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) set underwater. The cast are excellent plus there are some thrilling and suspenseful scenes as greed and nationalist rivalry poisons the water amidst a series of disasters which strike the crew. This is perfect viewing for a damp Tuesday evening while eating pizza and drinking a beer.  (Mark:  7/11)

 

CLOUDS OF SIL MARIA (2014) – SKY MOVIE STORE

This is the kind of intellectual-artsy-actor-fest that middle-class viewers and critics wank themselves lyrical about in the broadsheet press and online.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the triptych of performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moritz and the filmmaker Olivier Assayas tackles some interesting themes about identity, modern culture, death, aging, and the nature of performance. However, it’s pretty one-paced and has a head-scratching Bunuelian turn at the end of the second act which made no sense; I imagine that was the point.  I didn’t even care enough to be perplexed as it just washed over me on the main with neither enough drama or comedy to get my teeth into. Some beautiful vistas and scenery though.  (Mark:  6.5/11)

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015) – CINEMA

Apart from the moron-head who decided to eat crisps really loudly in the seat near me during the opening 10 minutes, I really enjoyed this wonderfully shot romantic drama from impressive filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg.  Based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel it stars Carey Mulligan as the fiercely independent Bathsheba who goes against the social tide of the time and attempts to run a successful farm despite the backward sexual politics.

This is a romantic period drama that even blokes can enjoy as the subject matter eschews the fluffery of Jane Austen for the harsher side of rural life.  It’s Thomas Hardy-light with a brisk 120 minutes run through the narrative as Bathsheba is courted by three men of varying social standing and characterisation.  Performances are top notch, notably from Michael Sheen as the pained William Boldwood and ever-sparkling Carey  Mulligan. Matthias Schoenaerts, a striking Belgian actor, is also outstanding as the sturdy Gabriel Oak.   (Mark:  8/11)

 

GALLIPOLI (1981) – BFI – CINEMA

I grew up watching this film; usually on a Sunday evening on BBC2 and when I saw it was screening at the BFI I jumped at the chance to watch it. It is a heart-wrenching World War One story concerning the Western Australian men who left their families to fight against the Turkish army during the brutal conflict.  It follows two lads portrayed by Mark Lee and cusp-of-stardom Mel Gibson who at first are rival sprinters and then brothers-in-arms as they venture overseas to fight.

The screenplay is sinewy and powerful yet with much humour,  as it builds their friendship from the outback to the trenches culminating in a truly tragic final reel. Peter Weir announced further his credentials as a filmmaker of high quality and the cinematography by Russell Boyd is a wonder.  I also loved the use of music here which employs both modern synthesized pieces from Jean-Michel Jarre and marries it to more classical compositions by Strauss and Giazotto/Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor.  This is up there with my favourite Anti-War films of all time; majestic cinema at its peak. (Mark:  11/11)

 

MAD MAX (1979)/MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981) – NOW TV

I watched these kinda back-to-back with my teenage son and despite their age and low budgets both films stand up to further viewings.   In fact, George Miller’s seminal violent-explosive-car-chase-revenge-punk-urban-westerns are best watched as a double bill.

In the first film Max is a hardened road cop who wants out so he can be with his young family.  The roads have become a deadly place full of psychotic punks and sociopathic maniacs who rail against society without cause or reason.  When Max is left a shell-of-a-man he goes after the gangs which done him wrong with rage-in-his-eyes and hell in his soul.  This is an awesome film with more imagination, energy and pace than most bigger-budget blockbusters.

With Max’s character established so well the second film Miller throws an Apocalyptic curveball into the mix as we find future Max — a lone road warrior (aside from his Dog) — fighting even crazier road punks over ever-decreasing amounts of petrol.  Mel Gibson really shines as the amoral leather-bound-petrol-head who gets dragged into the outback carmegeddon between a group of settlers and baddies led by the helmeted Lord Humungus.  This film rocks big-time and is one of the greatest action-come-road movies ever and one which confirmed Gibson as a major movie star of the 80s! (Double-bill Mark:  10/11)

 

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) – CINEMA

Tom Hardy takes on the iconic Max Rockatansky role in this revved-up-mega-budget-future-shooting-guitar-flame-throwing-blood-draining-crash-smash-and-burn epic.  Haunted by past failure Max drives round the wasteland trying to survive. Suddenly he’s whisked away to be a mobile blood-bank at The Citadel and used to keep the cancerous War Boys alive with his pure blood. Enter Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa who is on a mission of her own to protect those she cares for from nefarious Immortan Joe; the Citadel Overlord!

There isn’t really any plot to speak of on the Fury Road but what you get is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore and some incredible stunts in a barren yet beautiful desert setting.  Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema. One may argue that it is style-over-substance but the style IS the substance. The concepts on show such as the flame-throwing guitar; moving blood-banks; mud-people on stilts; assorted pimped-up cars and souped-up weapons are what impresses. As such George Miller proves himself a visionary filmmaker who owns the post-apocalypse on screen making it a terrifying and stunning experience.
(Mark: 9.5/11)

 

MR TURNER (2014) – BLU RAY

I love Mike Leigh films.  Most of them anyway.  His unique slice-of-life style is quietly confident and steady and even if not much is happening one is often awestruck by colour, mood, composition, character and performance in his work.  Indeed, Timothy Spall is on terrifically grouchy form as celebrated painter J. M. W. Turner and the supporting cast is equally brilliant.

I was mesmerized by the film’s composition and the glacial pace worked in the films’ favour as Leigh paints (sorry) an honest picture of Turner’s later years, artistic process and his relationships.  I was surprised that the old dog was quite a philanderer but then again I didn’t know much about Turner if I’m honest.  This is like walking round a beautiful-looking moving gallery and just breathing in the genius of Turner, Spall and Leigh.  (Mark:  8/11)

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – BLU RAY

For my full review see here: https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/?s=nightcrawler

But to recap: 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.   Indeed, he should have got AT LEAST a nomination for his performance as news-media-ladder-crawler sociopathic Lou Bloom.  On re-watch this film is just as powerful and I was in awe of the incredible script, great acting, cutting direction and black humour throughout.  Highly recommended.  (Mark:  10/11)

OUIJA (2014) – BLU RAY

This film is a terrible movie; probably the worst I’ve seen all year.  It follows a vague Final Destination structure as a series of college kids are wiped out by a demonic force that has “escaped” a Ouija Board. There are no redeeming qualities whatsoever and the most interesting fact I can tell you is that the original Ouija Board was in fact a game.  No, I didn’t know that either. Yeah, and the rights to the board game were owned by Parker Brothers and now Hasbro.  It was only in 1930s/40s onwards America that it was used by occultists and spiritualists. Who knows: perhaps people will one day be contacting the ‘other side’ using Transformers? You never know on this crazy planet!  (Mark 1/11)

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: A RETROSPECTIVE by PAUL LAIGHT

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: A RETROSPECTIVE by PAUL LAIGHT

Hey-Oooo! Bitches!  With Season 10 of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia now catapulted from FFX onto Netflix I thought I’d look back at the previous nine seasons and pick out my favourite episodes of the series.  Thus, I have picked out ONE from each season PLUS a “Wildcard” too.

How would I describe the show to someone who has never seen it before:  imagine Friends but the polar opposite.  It has the most unlikeable, unattractive, insane, narcissistic characters who do all manner of god-awful things to themselves, each other and total strangers. If you haven’t ever seen this show then you should . It is frantic, sick, irreverent, disgusting, manic, hyper-real, cartoon-like, politically-incorrect, satirical and incredibly hilarious. Indeed, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is arguably the closest you would get to a live-action version of South Park.

Set in the dismal Paddy’s pub in Philadelphia it initially concerned four (in Season 1) then five (when Danny DeVito joined) individuals who are each in their own way complete fuck-ups and whose main existence generally aims to scheme and out-do the others for personal gain or egotistic one-up-man-woman-ship.

THE CHARACTERS

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RONALD “MAC” MCDONALD (ROB MCELHENNEY)

Mac is a delusional tough guy, bouncer and devout Catholic who thinks he’s hard but ultimately is a moral and physical coward. Occasionally he’ll come up with some words of wisdom but on the whole he is a brainless yo-yo obsessed with remaking Lethal Weapon.


DENNIS REYNOLDS (GLENN HOWERTON)

Dennis is the group’s amoral Ted Bundy figure: a vain, arrogant, would-be-handsome-if-he-wasn’t-so-psychotic-lady-killer. While not actually a murderer he is a low-life scumbag and arguably is the stupidest of the group because he thinks HE is the most intelligent.

CHARLIE KELLY (CHARLIE DAY)

Charlie is an idiot savant with the onus on the idiot part of that; notably in his stalking of “The Waitress”.  He is the most innocent and does all the dirty “Charlie Work” in the bar like unblocking toilets and killing rats. He is also the most unpredictable sniffing glue and dressing up as alter-ego Green Man!


DEANDRA “SWEET DEE” REYNOLDS (KAITLIN OLSON)

Dee is a failed actress and stand-up comedian and often ridiculed by the others for “big-bird” looks, lack of talent and her boyfriend choices.  Thus, she will often over-compensate and compete with the guys, especially her twin-brother Dennis, in an attempt to prove herself.  Her plans mostly end in humiliating failure and loss of dignity.


FRANK REYNOLDS (DANNY DEVITO)

Frank is Dennis and Dee’s father – or is he? – and joined the group in the 2nd series when he bought into Paddy’s Bar because the gang were broke AGAIN!   Frank’s great at making money  but eschews the corporate world  to live like a feral tramp at Charlie’s place revelling in the insanity of his new-found freedom

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THE EPISODES

**SOME SWEET SPOILERS BITCHES!!**

 

SERIES ONE – CHARLIE WANTS AN ABORTION

This was hilarious for a number of reasons as several storylines converge revealing the desperate lengths the gang will go to achieve their low-level goals. Charlie uses his “long-lost son” as a emotional bargaining chip to get closer to his obsessive love-target:  The Waitress. Meanwhile, Mac and Dennis use Pro-life/Anti-abortion rallies to try and score with women. Safe to say all of their plans blow-up in their respective faces.

 

SERIES TWO – MAC BANGS DENNIS’ MUM

In this wonderfully plotted episode the Gang basically does a low-rent version of La Ronde.  Precipitated by Mac sleeping with Dennis’ mum (Anne Archer) a series of sexual revenge schemes backfire with sick hilarity.  For once Charlie ALMOST gets the upper hand until the horrific pay-off; while the highlight is — much to his amazement — Dennis being turned down by Mac AND Charlie’s mum when he attempts to have revenge sex with them.

 

SERIES THREE – SWEET DEE’S DATING A RETARDED PERSON

This is awesome because we get a peak at Charlie’s  crazy musical ‘talent’.  Plus, Dennis sends Dee into a spin by casting aspersions on her new rapper boyfriend — a dopey version of Eminem — by saying he is mentally backward.  The episode stands out for the awesome song Dayman — based on a dream — which Charlie wrote while sniffing spray paint. Later, Charlie and Dennis getting heckled off stage when performing it live is a particular highlight. Personally, I think the song rocks!

SERIES FOUR – WHO POOPED THE BED

The gang does Agatha Christie-meets-Sex-in-The-City style in this well structured yet disgusting episode. Indeed, Dee tries to become more classy with her girlfriends and the others attempt to discover who pooped Frank and Charlie’s bed.  The two stories intertwine as Dee’s theatrical friend Artemis eventually ditches Dee finding the “poodunnit” more interesting.  Highlights include: The Waitress falling off the wagon and laying violently into Dee plus Artemis’ final Poirot-esque summation in determining the suspect. An episode that’s full of crap — but in a fun way!

 

SERIES FIVE – THE DENNIS SYSTEM

Dennis just goes full “Ted Bundy” in this one with a breakdown of the system he uses to score with women.  It is a disgusting litany of dehumanizing manoeuvres which sums up Dennis’ scummy character and satirises brilliantly the sexist masculine “pick-up” industry.  Moreover, it is just hilarious as the gang both ignore AND follow his “expert” advice with a succession of dreadful dating endeavours.  As a fan of Acronyms I also admire the malice aforethought and linguistic logic of the system too.

SERIES SIX – THE GANG BUYS A BOAT

Often the episodes will find the gang will do something mildly normal — like buy a boat —  but their various actions will splinter into events which completely undermine the plan. Indeed, in this episode Dennis suffers his usual delusion of grandeur, with Mac in tow, believing owning a boat will help him achieve greater social status. Meanwhile, Charlie, Frank and Dee attempt to clean the boat but ultimately work against each other culminating an explosive end result.

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SERIES SEVEN – FRANK REYNOLDS LITTLE BEAUTIES

Frank’s energy for money-making schemes knows no bounds but it backfires when he decides to put on a beauty pageant for kids without realising the pitfalls surrounding such events.  Thus, Frank spends the whole episode keen to point out he’s NOT a paedophile and with face-paint troughed on by a funeral make-up artist he resembles the living dead.  At the same time Dee and the others attempt to live vicariously through the kids to make up for their own personal show business failures.

IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA: Danny Devito in IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA airing Thursday, September 29 at 10pm e/p. . CR: Patrick McElhenney / FX

SERIES EIGHT – THE GANG GETS ANALYZED

Even though the Gang generally screw each over with their many schemes much joy can be found with their altercations with a variety of third parties notably:  Lawyers, Government officials, Doctors, Police, Health and Safety Officers and the general public.  In this one they visit a Dee’s Therapist  and end up being individually assessed as the group has broken down over who should be doing the washing-up.  Charlie and Frank’s analyses are off-the-chart funny but I loved that Dennis, believing himself to be an equal with the Therapist, is proved to be just as nuts as everyone else.

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SERIES NINE – THE GANG BROKE DEE

Dee’s failure as a performer due to suffering stage-fright is a delight because having done a bit of comedy myself it’s great seeing someone else crash and burn at that artistic endeavour.  In this episode she gives up completely on life and her act. Then, incredibly she has a major breakthrough as a comedian and the episode delights in sending up the nature of stand-up and how you climb the ladder. The final twist in the tale is also a joy and sums up the lack of compassion the group have toward Dee.

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WILDCARD – SERIES FOUR – E13 – THE NIGHTMAN COMETH

In tribute to the “Wildcard” Charlie I’ve picked this episode as a little addition because it is packed with ridiculous music and humour.  The gang put on a rock opera/musical for no reason at a proper theatre to boot!  To say it is bizaare is an understatement and the joy in seeing them perform a series of weird songs in amongst the insane story is a treat.  Charlie parodying the stressed director/artist is hilarious as he takes it all far too seriously. Let’s just say Stephen Sondheim need never lose sleep.  Unless he’s dead:  is Sondheim dead?

THE PRODIGY IN PICTURES: ALEXANDRA PALACE 16TH MAY 2015

THE PRODIGY IN PICTURES: ALEXANDRA PALACE 16/05/2015

I often use this blog to bang on about films, cultural things and stuff. So, in this piece I’m just going to let the pictures tell the story.

Safe to say the The Prodigy absolutely rocked and raved Alexandra Palace last Saturday and here’s the evidence.

Myself and my son Rhys had a cracking time seeing the big beat chart-stoppers who are clearly in a class of their own!

Rhys_Dad_preProdigyRhys_Tube WoodGreenAlexandra_Sign  Paul_Laight_Prodigy

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MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #4: LEONARDO DICAPRIO by PAUL LAIGHT

In this occasional series I regale my favourite actors and select some of their memorable performances.  Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor who has just got better and better in each role he’s been in.  I admire his craft because he has seamlessly moved away from star-crossed heartthrob roles such as Titanic (1997) shifting to meaty, dramatic roles the likes of which I will list here.  DiCaprio has good looks, charisma and a sparkling smile yet doesn’t avoid the darkness and can easily play the good guys, bad guys and – where humanity is concerned –  the ugly guys too.  Here are five great roles he’s played and I could quite easily have chosen five others such is the quality of his acting CV.

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

 

BLOOD DIAMOND (2006)

Aside from this one and Titanic (1997) DiCaprio doesn’t do enough action type movies with big explosions and mayhem.  Perhaps he doesn’t like running around and prefers the meatier roles?  Then again, his character Danny Archer had an impressive character arc amidst the fireworks within this Edward Zwick directed anti-war film.  Initially, he is a selfish mercenary only out for the money until he comes into contact with Djimon Hounsou and his desperate search for his son.  Together they hunt for a priceless diamond in war-torn Sierra Leone and in the process Archer/DiCaprio learns some humanity along the way.  It takes a broad approach politically but, amidst the well-stage battle sequences it successfully highlights the horrific attitude of Western capitalism to Africa: a place to be plundered for wealth and damned the consequences. Yet, for me, this works best as a classic war film with DiCaprio’s anti-heroic soldier ultimately finding redemption by the end.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

DiCaprio’s turn as ‘The Kid’ in Sam Raimi’s Leone Western homage The Quick and The Dead (1995) almost made this list as he was just so young and cheeky and his death scene was very touching; but I’ve gone with his badass rendition of nefarious plantation owner Calvin Candie instead.  It’s an over-the-top and theatrical ripper of a performance as he takes great glee playing the baddest, racist, capitalist pig around.  Indeed, Tarantino cast him perfectly as he used DiCaprio’s charisma to counteract the murderous psychosis of the devilish Candie. In the hands of another actor the whole film could have been just damned nasty but with his Southern accent, golden glint in his eye and finger-twiddling moustache-come-beard he almost steals the show.  The mercurial Christophe Waltz won the best supporting Oscar for his role and deservedly so, however, DiCaprio must have been close to breaking his Academy cherry here with this grandstanding and dastardly turn.

THE AVIATOR (2004)

I hated this film the first time I saw but soon realised I was an idiot; on 2nd and 3rd viewing the pure genius of the Scorcese and DiCaprio combination shone through every time. With a brilliant John Logan screenplay it depicts the early years of Howard Hughes’ flamboyance, follies and failures.  DiCaprio has often portrayed characters on the edge of a nervous breakdown or full-blown mentalists like Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island (2010) and here he captures Hughes at the height of his film and aviation glories only to find his obsessive-compulsive disorder swallowing him up and dragging him into the pits of hell.  This step-by-step disintegration is portrayed with such intelligence and impact I felt this was the role DiCaprio should have won Best Oscar for.  It’s a brash and loud performance with Hughes’ big personality to the fore, however, underneath the mental issues which would make him a recluse in later years are beginning to show through and the actor draws out these subtleties in a devastating and very sad way.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)

This was a just a humdinger of a film which had everything:  humour, romance, drama, crime, cat-and-mouse chases, pathos, brilliant cast, sex and at its heart DiCaprio playing a teenage con-boy to perfection!   Once again he is perfectly cast as the little-boy-lost who is devastated by his parents’s break-up and goes on the lam perfecting his counterfeiting skills on the way.  Frank Abagnale Jnr is arguably the role which finds DiCaprio grow on-screen from a lad to a man. In it he imbues the arrogance of youth yet also reveals the pain and drive of a child attempting to come to terms with his feelings.  His instinct is to run as fast as he can and his crimes such as: impersonating a pilot; faking cheques; practising law and medicine are presented as a means of escaping his internal turmoil.  Steven Spielberg illustrates this incredible story with style and pace and DiCaprio is just a treat as he lies and cheats and cons his way into and out of the most entertaining of scrapes with Tom Hanks’ dogged agent never far behind him.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)

DiCaprio doesn’t DO superheroes. He does anti-superheroes; and none more so than in this memoir by disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort –  a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-par-excellence. The Wolf of Wall Street  follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas (1990) as DiCaprio’s Belfort schemes and sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street. This is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. This is DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese’s film and as they demonstrated in The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island etc. they are a formidable team.  What DiCaprio does incredibly well is making this Wall Street monster likeable, funny, believable and human. Indeed, I felt DiCaprio deserved an Oscar but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it?  But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!

SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES – #1 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SOME FAVOURITE MOVIE DIALOGUE SCENES – #1 –  BY PAUL LAIGHT

Cinema, historically, is seen as a visual medium telling its’ stories via wonderful imagery and sequences spliced together to traverse the collective vision of an omnipotent director.  And there have been some incredible filmmakers who have created fantastic visual landscapes to be marvelled at such as: Stanley Kubrik, David Lean, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Andrei Tarkovsky and er. . . Michael Bay.  Yet, as much as I love the films of such ‘epic’ filmmakers you just can’t beat a brilliantly written piece of dialogue created by a screenwriter and delivered by an actor committed to the character and performance.

Bad dialogue will be on-the-nose, telling us the story specifically and reveal half-baked emotions from paper-thin characters; while great dialogue will tell us about character, theme, and subtext as well as make the audience laugh, cry and most importantly feel emotion.  I love dialogue which is both funny and dramatic and reveals the nature and dynamics of characters’ relationships; especially scenes where characters verbally abuse each other or have gone into meltdown mode.

So, here’s a random list of some of my favourite dialogue scenes and why I like them so much. But, of course, the dialogue would probably be nothing without some fine performances too.  I’m certain there’s many, many more scenes or monologues I’ve left out but as Osgood says to Jerry in SOME LIKE IT HOT – in one of the greatest final lines of any movie – “Nobody’s Perfect!”

(SPOILER ALERT and assumptions you have seen these films. If not, why not!?)

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

 “Nobody’s Perfect!”

Voted one of, if not the best comedy ever by the American Film Institute this scene is a gimme. It is genuinely the funniest ending to a great comedy.  The dialogue is both hilarious and nails the characters’ personas right to the end. Cool heartthrob Joe (Tony Curtis) gets the ultimate blonde bombshell, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) while hapless loser Jerry’s (Jack Lemmon) plan to marry for a big settlement backfires splendidly.  Lemmon was one of the greatest screen actors ever as he was able to do comedy, pathos and drama with wonderful timing and he shows that in this highly witty scene.

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

 “Why Am I Mr Pink?”

I love Tarantino’s dialogue. For me he’s the closest you’ll get to a 20th Century Shakespeare.  All his films – apart from Death Proof (2007) which I hate – have wonderful characters, casting and set-pieces. Most of his scripts tend to be a tad overlong  e.g. Kill Bill (2004) could and should have been one film. Therefore, because of its’ economy, muscular writing and fast pacing, Reservoir Dogs (1992), remains a major favourite of his ouevre.  I love the temporally jigsawed order, testosteronic cast and above all else, the hard-boiled dialogue. It’s lean, bruised and biting; spat out by unreconstructed men who are destined to die a violent, painful death.

The Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) ‘I don’t tip’ scene deserves to be on this list but the one where they all get their names from big Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) is a  diamond in a cluster of sparkling rough.  Industrial language crackles from the screen and the hilarious argument that ensues further sums up Mr Pink’s petty-minded character. Interestingly, this scene was not in the original screenplay and was added to the film during shooting.


MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

“If you can’t trust a fix. What can you trust?”

The opening scene of Miller’s Crossing – like the whole movie – perfectly encapsulates the 1920s/1930s language of America as represented by, not actuality, but the works of noir novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The Coens’ postmodern vision creates a world of violence, dames, sluggers, double-crosses and prohibition-led organized crime. The scene begins with a speech by Italian gang-leader Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who espouses his “ethical” modus operandi on fight-fixing to soon-to-be-rival Leo (Albert Finney). While the dialogue crackles and pops; the scene also foregrounds all the key characters on screen at the time and those to appear later in the movie – notably John Turturro’s slimy bookie Bernie Birnbaum. You could probably do a Top 100 of great dialogue scenes from Coen Brothers’ movies and this is certainly up there with the best of them.

Johnny Caspar:  I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell. Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics. It’s gettin’ so a businessman can’t expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return, you gotta go bettin’ on chance – and then you’re back with anarchy, right back in the jungle.

MISERY (1990)

“He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!!”

Kathy Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her barnstorming performance as Annie Wilkes. Stephen King’s Wilkes’ is a charismatic lunatic who takes the ‘I’m your number one fan’ maxim to the extreme. This scene reveals more, in some ways, than the memorably gruesome ‘hobbling’ scene. It shows Wilkes’ skewed understanding of narrative by revealing her disgust at ‘cheating’ cliffhangers of Saturday morning serials.  While her language is funny, the delivery and anger in Bates’ performance is very unnerving as demonstrated by Caan’s stunned reaction when he realises he is in the company of a very disturbed individual.  Lastly, I actually agree with her!  They always cheated in those TV shows!

 

WITHNAIL & I (1986)

“What’s your name – Mcfuck?!”

Definitely in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, WITHNAIL & I simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners and speeches.  I recall being incredibly drunk following a birthday party and watching this scene over and over again and almost choking on my own laughter.  It’s still quite early in the film but the relationship between permanently inebriated cowardly ‘thespian’ Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the eponymous ‘I’ (Paul McGann) is perfectly crystallized in their exchanges with the dangerously lubricated Irish barfly.

Withnail not only reveals his ineptitude in facing physical confrontation but is more than happy to stitch his companion up in a scene which is later mirrored during their run-in with a randy bull. Moreover, the scene slyly sets up the character of Monty (Richard Griffiths) and the disastrous trip to the country, demonstrating great writing in burying such exposition within the comical encounter.  Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I again unfortunately. But his screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time.

 

ANNIE HALL (1977)

“I have to go Duane – I’m due back on Planet Earth.”

Arguably the most brilliant and prolific screenwriter/directors ever, Woody Allen’s movies – especially his ‘early, funny films’ – are jammed with gags, slapstick and cracking one-liners.  Allen’s cinematic art would mature and his hilarious romantic comedy Annie Hall forms a creative bridge between the joke-driven all-out comedies and the more dramatic works featured in Allen’s oeuvre. Annie Hall is obviously still of full of punchline-led scenes as it tells a classic boy-meets-girl-boy-breaks-up-with-girl-boy-analyses-where-it-all-went-wrong tale, only Allen could pull off.

I could’ve picked any number of great scenes from Annie Hall but one I always remember features the majestically intense – even as a youngster – Christopher Walken. It’s his only scene but he still stands out as Annie’s brother, Duane: a psychotic loner with suicidal tendencies.  His short but very dramatic monologue is perfectly delivered as Duane confesses a desire to kill himself in an automobile accident. Comedy arrives by virtue of Allen’s squirming reactions in the car with Duane and the final pay-off is an absolute treat.

 

BRIDESMAIDS (2011)

“I feel bad for your face!”

I love this scene because it really sums up Kristen Wiig’s unhappy-go-lucky-loser-status in the film.  Wiig’s Annie suffers a severe case of arrested development throughout and in the squabble with the young girl she should really be mature and know better. Annie’s in negative equity romantically and forever in the shadow of other more successful women and just as things cannot get any worse she enters into a ping-pong argument with this brattish teenager that escalates WAY out of control. It culminates in a wonderfully rude topper of a punchline that left me laughing my head off.  There’s also an element of wish fulfilment in there too as I would love to have let rip in a similar fashion during my time in customer service.

 

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – (1992)

“Fuck you! That’s my name!”

In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin plays the character Blake, almost earning the silver-tongued raconteur an Oscar for the role. He’s in ONE scene. ONE scene, yet because of David Mamet’s mercurial speech he steals the whole film.   This is no mean feat given the cast contains an annual Oscar Best Actor nominee list: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce.  Blake’s speech is a rallying call for the sales team to raise their game, full of acronymic inspiration and cursing and flat-track bullying. It quickly turns to a litany of threats, abuse and monetary grandstanding as the sales guys just don’t respond to Blake’s aggressive personality.  I fucking hate sales jobs and they suck because of guys like Blake who do not care about the customer – just the dough!  Although having said that if I’d heard Mamet’s speech delivered by Baldwin I’d be ready to sell snow to the Eskimos.  He’s that good!

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!