Anybody who has spoken to me for more than a few minutes knows I LOVE the work of Chris Morris and have been a fan of his since I first saw The Day Today being randomly repeated at some point in the late ’90s after Never Mind The Buzzcocks. I consider it the most important show to shape my comedic stylings and tastes, particularly in regards to British television. This is partly because he always works with such a great team of people; Steve Coogan, Rebecca Front, Doon Mackichan, Mark Heap, Simon Pegg, Kevin Eldon, Riz Ahmed, Benedict Cumberbatch, Armando Iannucci, Charlie Brooker, Julian Barrett etc are all people I first became familiar with through their work on a Chris Morris show. This continues in this film, with a GREAT performance from Marchant Davis.
So yeah, it’s fair to say I hold the work of Chris Morris in very high regard. This can work against him as I have such high expectations means that anything less than great is regarded as a disappointment. As such this is a slight disappointment. It is funny but more “slight laugh to self”, not as many laugh out loud moments as their should be. The satire at times seems a little unfocused. Because it’s based on lots of different stories there are moments where the film is so concerned with telling those stories that it doesn’t tell a narrative as quickly as it should. It feels like a piece of work for people who already like Chris Morris, I can’t imagine someone hating Four Lions but then liking this. That being said, when it does hit, it hits fucking hard.
Often people say “it’s funny because it’s true”, that definitely applies to this film, but since it’s Chris Morris, it’s kind of depressing for the exact same reason. That’s why I do love this film, I found it very funny, but I do also find it hard to be incredibly excited about it. It’s the kind of film that makes you realise that the world is fucked and the current method of dealing with terrorists is not fit for purpose and is more pre-occupied with results than accuracy, it would rather jail 1000 innocent people than give them trials and find out they’re innocent. It’s the kind of film that should inspire you to fuck shit up and fight against unjust laws, yet also makes you realise that doing so would do nothing, it’s hopeless to fight against and try to change things, so you just have to curl up in a ball and weep at the current state of affairs.
Starting this Sunday I’ll be launching a new blog over here. Having two separate blogs dealing with similar content matter has meant I’ve been somewhat neglecting that one. As such I’ve decided to keep them completely different, all my reviews and end of year lists etc will be placed here, which begs the question, what do I do with the other one? The answer is simple: news. Every Sunday I’ll be posting a round up of the last weeks news. I picked probably the worst week to start with; Brock Turner, Orlando, and now Jo Cox, all news that broke this week, the same week I decide to start the news blog, now I’m not saying I’m to blame for all of it. So when the world seems to be turning to shit, who you’re going to call?
On an individual level people turn towards music, most people have that one album they turn to in times of need (for me it’s I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning) but on a wide scale it’s films. It’s films that give us hope, that force us to stare into the abyss and envelop us. Films can effect us in a way other media can, music you can take in bitesized chunks whereas films you usually take it all at once. And unlike books everybody experiences it at the same pace, everyone is going through the same journey at the same time. So which films are the best at dealing with these kind of subjects? Well, these.
Yeah, I know I mention this a lot. But it is very good. A bleak, yet still hilarious account of growing up in Iran during the most turbulent time in their recent history, made all the more depressing when you realize it’s all true. It’s one of those films that really makes you realize how awful it is over there, you realize exactly why hordes of people are attempting to escape, and how it was all kickstarted by British and US governments attempting to install a puppet dictator during the Second World War. That’s the great thing about being British, you look over the world, at Israel/Palestine, at Iran, at Ireland, and you can just sit their thinking “See that chaos? We did that”.
I was torn between this and Schindler’s List. What won this one over is the fact that it doesn’t start awful, the holocaust elements don’t happen until about half way through the film. Before that it’s a somewhat silly Italian romcom, and I think that is kind of essential. The characters characterization is as a jokester, a clownish figure surrounded by horrific things. That’s what drives his character, it influences his relationship with his son, with the other inmates, and (spoilers) even his death. That’s why the first part is needed, we need to see the character in his natural environment, we need to establish his character. As such this film is, without a doubt, the best holocaust-based comedy of all time. Although the only competition is apparently awful and hasn’t been released.
There are two types of people in this world, those who cry at this film, and those without a soul. Animated, and done by a company generally known for doing the kind of heartwarming fantasy tales that used to be the forte of Disney, only with more violence and raccoon testicles. The typical US attitude to nuclear power is it causes superpowers, Japan see’s it as either unleashing monsters or causing horrific events, it’s almost as though they have completely different views on nuclear warfare for some reason.
This, alongside Barefoot Gen create a horrific narrative. One which focuses on the impact that war has on people. How much someone’s life can change and be impacted by somebody with no idea of what he’s done, somebody who never has to look into the eyes of the people he’s killed. This films is generally seen as an anti-war film in the US. Which is a bit weird, all this is doing is showing the effects, this is not anti-war, it’s just honest about what it entails. It could just as easily be seen as pro-war, you could argue that “we need this war to stop things like this happening”.
4. Heart Transplants – Bogowie
Or, as it’s often called by me: “Fucking Bogowie! Holy shit!” Without a doubt the best film ever made about a ragtag group of misfit heart surgeons in 1980’s Russian-occupied Poland. This film is not just about surgery, it’s also about just living in that area at the time, how you could not get anything done without some form of bribery. You can really feel the frustration going through everyone involved. I knew this was based on a true story, but I didn’t realize how big the story was until the final moments, where it showed a picture from the aftermath.
The above image (taken by photographer James Stanfield) was chosen as one of the best 100 photos ever published by National Geographic. The picture shocked the world, a doctor, carefully watching out for the patient, whilst another doctor sleeps in the corner. The patient, laying there, his life in the hands of equipment which is (let’s be honest) not fit for purpose. People were wondering if the patient will survive the week, yet he’s still alive today (sadly, unlike the doctor, the cigarette smoking former Minister Of Health Zbigniew Religa, who passed away from lung cancer in 2007). Look again at that picture, see the exhaustion on the doctors face, that’s there for good reason; the surgery itself took 23 hours, the doctor in the corner isn’t being lazy, he couldn’t physically stand anymore. It was physically and mentally demanding, as can be seen in this video (it’s in Polish, but worth watching purely for the footage of the surgery). Today, heart transplants save lives all over the world, and it’s thanks to doctors like Religa that that happened, but importantly, it’s also down to photographers like James Stanfield that we can truly get a glimpse at their dedication.
A somewhat different one from all the others. This is the only one on the list which isn’t based on a true event, but it’s still important and relevant. This a film that managed to annoy everybody, the tabloids were annoyed because “it’s mocking dead terrorist victims” whereas terrorists were offended because they were made to look like idiots. The thing is, when you watch it, it’s actually not that offensive. The subject matter itself is the only offensive thing about it, there’s nothing in the film really that makes you thin “ok they’ve gone too far now”. Basically, he made an inoffensive film about the most offensive subject matter, for some reason I really connect with that. This film does have one thing in common with the rest of these films though: they’re all films which I would consider to be among the best I’ve ever seen. This is one of only two films I’ve seen applauded mid-film (the other was the sublime In The Loop)
So that’s our favourites. I think the lesson from this is this; it’s okay to talk about dark themes. You need something to shine a pinprick of light into the darkness. So bring on the darkness! Let me dive headfirst into oblivion so that I can burst out the other side with a new viewpoint on the world, so I can be permanently scarred and changed by what I’ve seen. Don’t get me wrong, being needlessly shocking or offensive is just lazy (seriously, fuck A Serbian Film, a film I’m lucky enough to have never seen) and pointless. But films that will shock you, and keep you entertained? That’s just the perfect mix. So I’ll end it there, if anybody needs me I’ll be swimming in a pool of nothingness.
The American television industry had shockwaves running through it this week as president Michael Lombardo left after 33 years at the network, 9 of them as network head. Lombardo has spearheaded some of the networks most loved programming, notably he was responsible for guiding Game Of Thrones into development. The future for the network is now somewhat uncertain, not in a “they’re going out of business” way, but in a “wonder what’s happening next” way. Longtime collaborator Terence Winter quit halfway through development of the second series of Vinyl, Westworld had production halted when it was decided it needed retooling, and Game Of Thrones is suffering from rumours that it will end after another two seasons (or in other words; the time it takes George R.R. Martin to decide on a verb). So let’s celebrate the network with this, a look at the best work they’ve produced. This isn’t ranked by order of popularity, or critical success, just personal preference, so statistically nobody will agree with this, if that’s the case, comment and tell us where I went wrong.
One of THE shows of the 2000’s. It was almost like they saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and said “Awww, Britain thinks they can make gangster related media, how adorable” and reclaimed America as the centrepiece for gangster films and television shows. I said “almost like”, the pilot was actually ordered in 1997, so it’s just a coincidence. But meh, still an awesome show. The effect it had on television cannot be understated, it could easily be argued that it was this, not Breaking Bad that legitimised television as an artform, not as a stepping stone on the way to film. If it wasn’t for this there wouldn’t be Six Feet Under, there wouldn’t be The Shield. It was this, more than anything, that legitimised HBO as a network that provides high concept dramas, a network that will produce content you wouldn’t get anywhere else. This was a show that could only really be done on this network, it was too brutal, too uncommercial to be made by anyone else.
4. Game Of Thrones
A show so good it deserves its place here despite me having never seen an episode. A show once described (not by a critic, or anybody important, but by a woman behind me on the bus) as like “Merlin with muff”. Everyone knows roughly when Harry Potter was published, and it’s the same with a lot of book adaptations, but I think a lot of people would be surprised to discover the first book was published in 1996, yet most people weren’t aware of it until the TV series (the series didn’t really pick up until A Feast Of Crows in 2005). Without the show the book series would be highly regarded, but with it? It’s become a cultural phenomenon, and shown that you can do not just high concept, but high budget adaptations too. If the show was made sooner then the chances of Harry Potter being a TV series instead of film would be much higher, and we might have got Rik Mayall as Peeves, AS WE DESERVE!
A show so good that it’s replaced The Office as evidence that American adaptations of British sitcoms can occasionally work out. Is this better than The Thick Of It? Not quite, but is it worthy enough to be discussed on its own? Definitely. It wasn’t really the easiest show to adapt, ABC attempted it in 2007 with Michael McKean (of Spinal Tap and Better Call Saul fame) and Oliver Platt in the leads. They made the pilot, and by all accounts it was pretty awful, they turned it into a conventionally shot sitcom, removed all improvisation and swearing, and then were surprised when it didn’t work. It would be like if you remade Transformers and took out all references to any robots, removed baking from Great British Bake Off, or added jokes to Joey. So when a second adaptation was announced, people were kind of worried. Then it was announced that Armando Iannucci would be directly involved and people were excited again. Then it was announced that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the lead and I became very excited as I was a massive Seinfeld fan. I was slightly concerned how an American version of this would be, but it’s just as sweary and brilliant as the original. The original was good, but it didn’t have the line “That’s like trying to use a croissant as a fucking dildo, it doesn’t do the job, and it makes a fucking mess”. It’s probably helped not just by Iannucci as showrunner (at least until the 5th season when David Mandel took over almost seamlessly), there’s other talent behind the camera too. The list of director’s is like a who’s who of British television comedy: Chris Morris, Chris Addison, Tristam Shapeero etc. This show is a mesh of British and American talent, and is all the better for it. Long may it continue (still needs Peter Capaldi though)
2. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Seinfeld is undoubtedly one of the biggest American sitcoms of all time (sadly, one which has never really got the love it deserves over here) so it was always going to difficult for the creator, Larry David to pull off that greatness again. Yet he managed it, this show not just matches his previous show, at many times it beats it. Seinfeld had a weak period, the last two seasons in particular are nowhere near as good as the earlier seasons, but Curb hasn’t suffered that problem. The first season is a little off as the show is still finding its feet, but the second one is just all kinds of brilliant and details the character attempting to make a show after the success of Seinfeld, so lots of meta-comments and the media, lots of in-jokes, and a season long story arc. Basically, all the pretentious stuff that film students love. Oh yeah, the cameos. Because Larry David plays himself, and he konws famous people, there’s a lot of celebrity cameos; Ricky Gervais, John McEnroe, Mel Brooks all send themselves up beautifully. The Ricky Gervais one is important because he also made a cameo-heavy sitcom: Extras. There’s one major difference between the way the cameos are handled thought: Extras is defined by the cameos, episodes can almost be titled after them. People think “oh, that’s the Samuel L Jackson episode”, or “that’s the Orlando Bloom episode” and that’s how they’re defined, in Curb, the story comes first, and it’s all the better for it. The best one is probably Michael J. Fox, where he uses his Parkinsons as an excuse to be a bit of a dick in one of the best “I shouldn’t be laughing at this” moments, of which the show has plenty (a highlight is the episode where a holocaust survivor has dinner with someone from the TV series Survivor, and they argue over which one is the true survivor).
1. Last Week Tonight
An odd choice for number one, I know. Not the funniest, not the best made, but definitely the most important. Like a surprisingly high amount of American political comedy, this owes its existence to The Daily Show. When Jon Stewart took a break from the show in 2013 to make Rosewater, he handed the show over to John Oliver, who filled the role admirably. That’s not an easy role to fill, as anybody who has been on the comments section of the facebook page of the show since Trevor Noah took over can attest (for the record, I think he’s doing an excellent job). John Oliver’s stint was so successful HBO offered him a series. Unlike the Daily Show this only has one episode a week, so isn’t really suited for extremely topical stuff. But what this does mean is the areas they do focus on, they REALLY focus on, aiming for them like US Military planes aim for terrorist training camps, only unlike the military, this show usually hits what it’s aiming for. Whether he’s creating Jeff The Diseased Lung in a segment on tobacco companies, or starting Our Lady Of Perpetual Exemption to show how televangelists should by all rights be told to go f*ck themselves with that knife-penis from Seven, this show constantly creates amazing segments which are perfect for sharing on social media. His reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris last year was particularly fantastic, basically telling ISIS “if you gigantic arseholes are hoping to win a war of culture with France, good fucking luck”. To me, a personal highlight will alway be his war of words with former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, which led to the corrupt former executive to respond, calling him a “comedian fool” in a really badly made video. It’s weird, you’d think a guy who (allegedly) diverted relief funds from a Haiti earthquake appeal, and illegally sold black market tickets (not allegedly, this definitely happened, and he was punished for this million dollar making fraud by being made to pay back $250,000) would have enough money to make sure his videos were of a better production quality.