Tag Archives: Comedy

The Players (Les infidèles) | review

Before Jean Dujardin came to worldwide attention by winning the Oscar for best actor in The Artist, he was already a star in his native country. He came to prominence as one half of ‘Un Gars, une Fille‘, a comedy TV sketch show revolving around a competitive-to-the-point-of-cruel couple. Dujardin has had success with dramatic roles since but The Players sees Dujardin return to this archetype as modern France’s everyman in love (so to speak). UK distributor Momentum is banking on that Oscars success to draw British audiences to what is a very French affair.

The Players is a series of scenarios and sketches riffing on the act of infidelity. Or more precisely, men cheating on their wives and trying not to get caught. Dujardin teams up with the aptly surnamed Gilles Lellouche (they were both in last year’s Little White Lies) as partners in philandering.

The separate scenarios plough through the archetypes of Parisian male adulterers: a pair of hard partying buddies, out until 5am every morning fucking any willing pretty woman and covering each other’s backs in the face of spousal inquisition; the lusty, but stymied businessman pathetically jealous of his colleague’s seemingly effortless ability to sleep with every female employee at the company; the mid-life crisis with a girlfriend’s half his age.

It’s an unfamiliar cinematic structure, a TV format, with a bizarre car-crash of characters.  One might ponder on how successfully this Gallic trope might translate, but the relentless absurdity of it is universally funny. The little minute long sketches in particular are crude and tasteless, but equally ludicrous and farcical: an unfathomable fusing of bodies during sex; S&M and an exposing garage door; a dog and a used condom, to give but a flavour of their components. There’s a particularly funny sketch bringing together many of the characters that appear (Dujardin & Lellouche are joined by other ‘infidèles’ including Guillaume Canet, married to Marion Cotillard) in an Adulterers Anonymous group run by a beautiful therapist.

One scenario sees Lellouche’s character openly discussing his infidelity at the dinner table whilst his wife potters in the background, out of earshot. On the way home, the married dinner guest-couple (Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy, the other half in ‘Un Gars, Une Fille’, and the woman Dujardin married after divorcing his first wife with whom he has two children), besides exclaiming their friend’s impertinent flagrance, inevitably end up discussing their own fidelity. Not a date movie, then.

Or perhaps it is. It doesn’t bother with the aftermath of infidelity. There’s the men for whom extra-marital sex has become the ‘normal status’; the man who wants to cheat but can’t (not for want of trying) and sees this as fidelity; and the sad man who can’t hack the complexities of his 19 year old girlfriend’s social life. Women are passing sexual objects or frustrated bystanders. It’s all a bit laissez-faire with a comic-moral line that men are stupid and ridiculous and adultery is their natural state. It’s innate.

The finale sees our pair of partying buddies from the first sketch heading to Las Vagas to give it ‘everything’ and the whole thing descends into bacchanalian lunacy of epic proportions. For heterosexual Parisian relationships at least, c’est la vie.

The Players (Les infidèles) is in cinemas now, courtesy of Momentum Pictures.

Exclusive PPH Interview | Beats and Sniper of People Just Do Nothing

PPH caught up recently with Sniper and Beats, kingpins of Kurupt FM – West London’s second most popular pirate radio station – and stars of People Just Do Nothing, a show which started life as a YouTube web series, but made its big-time debut earlier this week on BBC iPlayer. Down at Kurupt HQ, they told me how they do…

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For the uninitiated, what is People Just Do Nothing all about?

Sniper: It’s basically a guide to how to successfully run a pirate radio station. By following me around and observing the way that I can deal with any given situation.

Beats: The BBC have cut out most of the technical side in terms of how to set up the rigs and that so now it is more looking at our lives and some of the stuff outside of the station as well.

Sniper: Yeah now it’s got bits with my missus and my little girl, and they filmed a lot of stuff with [manager] Chabuds, who’s another quite well known character around these ends.

Beats: That’s all that equal opportunities though innit. BBC need to have a couple of them in there.

MC Sniper

How did the project get started?

Beats: Funny story actually…

Sniper: Don’t you tell it, you always tell it wrong.

Beats: Yeah go on, you tell them.

Sniper: Basically me and Beats were doing sets out of my window, me MCing and him DJing and we used to get loads of people gathered outside on the playing fields.

Beats: Usually they’d be playing football aswell…

Sniper: But you could tell they were there for the music. You can play football anywhere. Anyway one day Steves, who was mates with my brother Phobia, turns up at mine off his nut with a massive aerial and saying that we could start a radio station.

Beats: He’d done acid at a squat rave and had a vision.

Sniper: Anyway, long story short, we ended up getting a transmitter off Chabuds and putting the aerial up on the top of the tower blocks. It was actually really easy to set up.

Beats: We got Chabuds to do most of it didn’t we?

Sniper: Yeah but with us telling him how to do it though.

Beats: Once it got going that was it. Never looked back.

Sniper: Never needed to. Don’t need to look back when you’re moving forwards.

Beats: We started to get a bit of recognition around the estate, built up a decent following. Now we get between two and twelve texts per show.

Sniper: And we’ve got people like you lot banging our door down for interviews. Everyone watching us on TV and that.

Beats: Via the internet.

Sniper: Still TV though. BBC Three.

Who are your main influences?

Sniper: I’d probably say political figures mainly. Strong leaders. Freedom fighters. Prisoners of war.

Beats: Mine’s probably DJ EZ.

PJDN began as a grass roots project with total editorial freedom. What’s it been like to work with the BBC?

Beats: They’re alright, yeah. They give you free lunches every day and breakfast as well sometimes. We had our mates coming down and we were just handing food out to all the kids off the estate.

Sniper: They didn’t say anything. The thing that’s weird about the BBC is they already sort of know what they want to film before they start filming so it’s like they are trying to tell you how to act…

Beats: We had to pull them up a few times didn’t we?

Sniper: I kicked off a couple of times. Beats didn’t really.

Beats: Yeah, I would have though.

Sniper: But yeah when we watched some stuff back it just looked a bit weird. They cut all the bits where I was kicking off which is fair enough cos they’re trying to avoid complaints or whatever but they also took out a load of other stuff…

Beats: They took out one thing where I gave quite an interesting description of various different types of skunk and the way they can influence the brain.

Sniper: People should know about stuff like that. That’s useful information.

DJ Beats

Beats: I’ve got mates who could have used that information a couple of years back. One geezer went nuts and thought street lights were following him. He had to move to the countryside. Lives in Cheshire or somewhere mad like that.

Sniper: Mostly it’s psychological. Stay positive. We’re a positive influence for people. Inspirational stories for the young generation.

Beats: Always keep doing what you want to do.

Sniper: Long as it’s not something proper stupid.

Beats: Yeah, keep it believable. I find the best way is to aim to do something that you are more or less able to do already. Then make that happen.

Sniper: Yeah, stick to what you know basically. No-one likes a failure.

If it is a success – and we really hope it is – where do you see it going next?

Sniper: Apparently if this gets enough views then they’ll film more. Maybe do a whole series about us. That’s what we want, basically.

Beats: We might even get paid for some of it I reckon.

Sniper: Probably build the empire, get our own club nights.

Beats: We’re trying to get our own fragrance at the moment

Sniper: I Am Kurupt FM.

Beats: That’s what it’s called. Yeah we emailed Debenhams but haven’t heard back. We’ve got loads of ideas though. Clothing lines, clubnights…

Sniper: It’s a shame this didn’t happen a bit sooner. Would have been good to be part of the Olympics opening ceremony. Did we hear anything back about that?

Beats: Nah.

Sniper: But whatever happens, we’ll keep building.

Beats: Like builders.

Sniper: Literally.

And in a puff of smoke, Beats and Sniper were gone. The first episode of People Just Do Nothing is on BBC iPlayer now. Here’s part 1 of the original web series.

American Reunion

Nine years after their last outing American Wedding, and a full, frankly terrifying 13 after the first film in the series American Pie, Jim (Jason Biggs) and the crew return for a ‘just the same but brand new’ romp which looks at how the guys are coping with the many vagaries of regular-guy adulthood.

We pick up with Jim, now father to a young child, and ensconced in a sexless marriage with erstwhile band camp honey Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). The masturbatory excesses inspired by their barren domestic predicament are demonstrated in an opening scene of brutally tasteless slapstick which, as one might expect, pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. If you find the prospect of an infant child with his dad’s wanking sock draped over his face funny, you’ll be OK.

Jim sees an opportunity to unwind with the forthcoming high school reunion, and it’s not long before we’re re-introduced to the crew of old; Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is bearded, successful and with a beautiful lady; eccentric Paul (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is spilling over with vague, improbable tales of international adventure; and hunky Chris (Chris Klein), the sensitive choirboy jock is now a popular-but-cheesy sportscaster. Oh, and of course, there’s manic manchild Stifler (Seann William Scott), now an office temp presided over by a fey, domineering boss. As anybody with any sense surely would, the guys do their utmost to avoid the Stifmeister, with limited success.

What follows is a largely predictable compendium of gross-out humour, a college-rock saturated soundtrack, and various shallow-arced journeys toward self-knowledge, punctuated by one or two would-be arch, postmodern nods to generational disparity. As ever, the best thing here is Scott’s wild-eyed turn as Stifler. He’s effectively the film’s wrecking ball; whatever’s happening, however unpleasant or mawkish, all he has to do is appear onscreen to provoke a laugh. Whether it’s mercilessly bashing a double-entendre into a single one, or shitting into a beer cooler, he’s the film’s comic heart. Further enjoyment is provided by the redoubtable Eugene Levy as Jim’s dad, one or two predictable but amusing cameos, and a surprisingly decent minor turn from Tara Reid as Kevin’s ex, Vicky.

However, while no-one will be surprised by frequent swerves toward the grotesque and amoral, genuine alarm is caused by the film’s treatment of women. In the first film(s), the girls had significant screen time, and even some half-decent characterization. There’s no such parity here, sadly. It comprehensively flunks the the Bechdel Test, (a handy barometer which names the following three criteria for a film for which to pass: it has to have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man). While it stops just short of the misogynistic viciousness of the likes of The Hangover films, much here leaves a bad taste in the mouth, not least the weirdly conservative agenda that makes women the source of the majority of the men’s problems rather than their own ineptitude, yet punishes them for expressing themselves sexually (Your inner/outer feminist will explode with rage at the treatment meted out to the character of Kara, Jim’s ex-babysitee). The less said about the ugly duckling-turned-stereotyped “spicy Latina” Trisha (Dania Ramirez) who falls hook, line and sinker for Paul’s swashbuckling colonial-lite tales, the better. It’s only really the spirited Michelle that saves the day in this respect.

Ultimately American Reunion, while almost wholly unnecessary as an endeavour, is just about what you’d expect. There’s a few laughs and a few vaguely sweet moments along the way, and it will certainly represent a worthwhile nostalgia trip for viewers of a certain age and constitution. Really, the film itself is a bit like how one might imagine the experience of hanging out with Stifler. It’s initially relatively entertaining, a little bit lovable, frequently disgusting, and when it’s over you won’t be in any hurry to repeat it.

American Reunion is in cinemas now. A version of this article originally appeared on the website The 405.

Juan of the Dead

Alejandro Brugues’ Juan Of The Dead is a fairly amusing horror/comedy from Cuba which ultimately runs out of steam, but not before taking an intriguingly satirical glance at the country’s political climate.

Alexis Dias de Villegas – who resembles a near-perfect genetic splice between John Turturro and The Wire’s Bubbles – is the eponymous Juan, a charismatically down-at-heel odd-jobs man prone to puttering around Havana with his corpulent, sex-obsessed sidekick Lazaro (Jorge Molina) in tow. Juan’s life, other than conducting a risky affair with a married woman, is pretty bare; he’s a likeable rogue with a history of failed relationships, and an estranged daughter who lives with her mother.

Before long, creeping zombies begin to attack the town’s population, though they are misidentified by our heroes as dissidents paid for by the US government. Following the careworn generic template, a rag-tag band of last-ditch, have-a-go-heroes (led by Juan) assemble and attempt to save the day with inevitably bloody, queasily humorous consequences. The twist arrives when Juan hits upon the idea of making some quick cash from his group’s exploits.

The film’s greatest strength lies in its creation of a convincingly desolate landscape upon which to unfold the action. Like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, it takes a recognizably vibrant area and scorches it with a digital sheen, resulting in a creepy, slick barrenness. Despite the film’s obviously skimpy budget, there’s an impressively inventive approach to gore manufacturing, with early set pieces proving particularly effective.

The acting is of a varying standard. As Juan, de Villegas exudes a shambolic charm, though he is guilty of some pretty wild overacting on occasion (those staring eyes!) The outstanding performance probably comes from Andros Perrugorria as Vladi, Lazaro’s cocksure yet sensitive son. Beneath all the manic action, another compelling feature of the film is its unusual satirical bent, which is clearly signposted enough for the uninitiated to cotton onto, but not quite overwhelmingly sledgehammer in approach.

Sadly though, Juan of the Dead never quite gets its pacing right, and starts to drag at a disconcertingly early stage. Scenes feel repetitive, and there’s also a distinct lack of chemistry between Juan and his main foil, the rather unpleasant Lazaro. Unlike Shaun Of The Dead (a film which, unsurprisingly, Juan quotes from explicitly), we’re never able to feel too deeply for these characters. Neither is the film particularly horrific or suspenseful, placing greater stock instead in comedy. Sadly, much of the humour simply falls flat, recoursing too often to the dodgy waters of ‘zany’, when a lighter, subtler touch is surely called for.

Worst of all, there’s a pronounced strain of homophobia throughout which doesn’t appear to be in any way ironic, and finally tips into a retributive viciousness that’s immensely difficult to swallow. Whereas Shaun…‘s Frost and Pegg embraced the undeniable homoeroticism inherent in the buddy genre, Juan… figuratively coaxes it out, then coshes it in an unpalatable, cowardly cinematic gay-bashing.

Ultimately, Juan Of The Dead emerges as a worthwhile, if not especially memorable, addition to the zombie horror genre. It’s not the finished product by any stretch – it’s far too uneven for that – but Brugues has certainly marked himself out as a directorial name to watch.

Top 6: Clips from National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 (that I could find on YouTube)

Why? Because. That’s why.

1. “Shoot him!”

Why it’s great: Because when I bring the subject up at dinner parties, surprisingly few people know that it’s based on this completely fucking outrageous piece of acting from Ice-T in New Jack City.

2. Gratuitous beaver shot

Why it’s great: Because look at Jon Lovitz’ (and everyones’) clothes.

3. “Wilderness Girls!”

Why it’s great: Because just listen to the way Tim Curry says the word “quota”.

4. Leary, Shatner and the fish

Why it’s great: Because of what William Shatner does at the fish tank.

5. Charlie Sheen’s ridiculous cameo

Why it’s great: Because of the line “Got anything larger?”. And look at Emilio Estevez’ hair.

6. “The right! I meant stay to the right!”

Why it’s great: Because the editing is world class.

In conclusion: Absolutely one of the most underrated comedies of the 1990s, in my humble yet almost certainly correct opinion. Also brilliant for the way in which Emilio Estevez unhinged performance pretty much predicted how Mel Gibson would end up in real life. So, so good. They don’t make them like this anymore.

“We made Letitia Dean cry” The PPH Interview: Simon Hickson

Simon Hickson – (c) Bill Wadman

For years now I’ve been attending the BFI’s legendary Film Quiz. Taking place on the second Wednesday of each month at the BFI IMAX bar, it’s an entertaining, competitive and unbendingly alcohol-fuelled audio-visual experience helmed by the estimable Rachel, Michael and Rhidian (all followable on Twitter, hence the hyperlinks).

Being a BFI film quiz, it tends to attract some serious cinephiles and there’s one team in particular who carry the fight to an almost punishing degree on a monthly basis. Among this team, there’s one face – usually semi-obscured under a natty black pork-pie hat – who’s always stood out.

It took me a moment or two, but once I’d placed that face, I could barely hide my joy at being in the proximity of one of my childhood idols.

Anyone of a certain age will know (and love) Simon Hickson as one half of Trevor and Simon, the gloriously anarchic duo who occupied a regular spot on Saturday kids’ TV bulwark Going Live! (later Live & Kicking) during the late 80s and into the mid 90s. They played the improvisatory live TV game to the hilt, swinging their pants with reckless abandon, riffing ingeniously on contemporary pop culture and terrifying unsuspecting special guests. They were an influence on the work of Reeves and Mortimer and cleared the path for the next generation’s lords of misrule on kids’ TV; the lesser yet similarly uproarious Dick and Dom.

I caught up with Simon recently over a pint and some crisps in a charming Forest Hill boozer (not the Wetherspoon’s) to chat about his comedy career, his love of film and in what ways the cinema influenced his and Trevor’s inimitable brand of humour. What a lovely chap he was, too.

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GOING LIVE! AND KEY INFLUENCES

PPH (in bold): How did you get started on Going Live!?

Simon (in regular): Trev and I met at Uni where we started doing a double act. We decided we wanted to do that for a living. We gigged in London and a BBC producer saw us and said they were looking for acts for a new Saturday morning show. Our first audition didn’t go down too well and they said we only had one joke which was suitable, but we went through a stage of auditions. We got the job for four weeks, and those four weeks eventually became 10 years.

What you were doing was pretty different at the time. Who were the key influences on your style of comedy?

We liked double acts. We loved Morecambe and Wise. But a strong cinematic double act was Abbott and Costello. We used to read a lot about the background and the true stories of these people. We loved that Abbott and Costello were dysfunctional as a double act outside the films. Bud Abbott was completely bullied by Lou Costello and I think that the financial split between them was something like 70-30. Theirs was a skewed business partnership and the bullying character, you could argue, was the funny one although I guess they were both funny. We loved the violence of their routines. Take the Niagara Falls sketch, for example, which is based around Costello being in a prison cell, and this comedian Sidney Fields is an old hermit who’s driven mental by a tragedy that happened to him in Niagara Falls. Whenever the words “Niagara Falls” are mentioned he just strangles him. It’s very funny but very violent.

There were double acts like Mayall and Edmondson, too. At Uni our tutor was David Mayer and his daughter Lisa co-wrote The Young Ones with Ben Elton and Rik Mayall. We were also massively influenced by SNL, and in particular Dan Aykroyd. So many of Trev’s performances were an attempt to be Dan Aykroyd! Aykroyd, Steve Martin, John Belushi, The Wild and Crazy Guys. Stuff like that was a big influence on us.

And were there any films in particular that rubbed off on you?

Time Out got in touch with loads of comedians recently for their top 10 films. I had Neighbours in mine – weirdly it was directed by Rocky‘s John G. Avildsen – in which a nice middle class guy is living with his family and the neighbour from hell walks in. Surprisingly, John Belushi plays the nice guy and Aykroyd is the neighbour from hell which is not the way around you’d expect! It’s very creepy and very weird.

Another one we liked was John Landis’ Into The Night  with Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer. Landis had been sued because the actor Vic Morrow and two young children were decapitated by a helicopter on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1982. John Landis was sort of held responsible for this. And the next film he made was the grimmest comedy you’ll ever see. It fit into that yuppie syndrome that Scorsese mined in After Hours and Jonathan Demme did in Something Wild, but I think it’s the best one. Goldblum is an insomniac and his life goes horribly wrong. It’s really dark, really weird. And I liked that darkness.

These films became very “culty” for us and they certainly influenced the style me and Trevor were going for.

If you watch clips of Going Live! on YouTube now, some of your material feels quite close to the bone. Obviously when I was 7, 8, 9 years old much of it went straight over my head. Did you ever get a telling off?

Yes, we did. Looking back on it I do think to myself, “That was a bit cheeky”, and as an older man I wouldn’t have done that. When you’re young you don’t think about things too much; that’s what producers and directors are for. Look at the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand thing. Someone should have stepped in.

In doing comedy you should always do what makes you laugh. You shouldn’t try to second guess your audience. We did have producers who did research and said “kids want to see this or that” and we were even then of the opinion that you may not know what you want to see until you see it. Our angle was “you come into our world”. We were largely given free rein.

And did you get any complaints from the public?

We had a handful of complaints. Most were from people who were frankly nutters. When we did [hippie duo] The Singing Corner, we did a record with (60s folkie) Donovan, and we shot a video which went on [children’s news show] Newsround. Because it was on Newsround rather than Saturday morning TV, a Donovan fan saw it and wrote in to the BBC to complain, and said: “I was really appalled to see my hero Donovan openly cavorting with two homosexuals”. As far as I’m aware, we never stated the sexuality of The Singing Corner!

I recently watched the one with The Who’s Roger Daltrey (above), who seemed very game for a laugh. Do you have any good special guest stories? Anyone who couldn’t get down with the anarchic style?

The bigger the star, the better they were. It was perhaps the less well-known ones that were a bit insecure. We used to think “why are they being so arsey?” but to be honest if I’d come on somebody else’s show and they said “do this” and I didn’t want to do it, I’d defend my right not to. There was only two people – or groups of people – in 10 years that ever said no. One was Bros. The other was Jonathan Morris from Bread! Sam Brown (of Stop fame) got overwhelmed mid-sketch and walked off. Oh, and once we made Letitia Dean cry. She appeared in Trevor and Simon’s Summer Special in 1995 and we made her dress up as an aubergine. We did a mock up of a Hello magazine shoot in her home and it was possibly a bit cruel and she cried when we showed her it. We felt bad about that one.

In terms of big stars who did play along, Paul Simon came on on his birthday and he was really ill. But his record company insisted that we gave him a birthday cake. They had a cake made up of the American flag, which was weird as he’s not exactly “Mr George Bush”! They got us dressed up as The Singing Corner to give it to him. So I had to try and maintain the dignity of this Singing Corner character – essentially singing “la la la” in a high-pitched voice – while giving a cake to a man who’s really not well. All the kids were crowded around him singing happy birthday to him and one kid was whacking him with a balloon! Poor Paul Simon.

What’s your favourite comedy creation that you’ve done?

Oh, Ken and Eddie Kennedy the barbers. A friend of ours came up with the name. We did some one-offs that I liked, too. We did the ArtHaus, they were German art critics. Our boss thought it was too weird.

Do you still work with Trevor?

Yes, we do a podcast. We’ve also written a film. We got funding from the European media fund and now we’re just waiting for someone to make it. We’ve done various things. We wrote an episode of My Parents Are Aliens. Through the company Kindle (who we did My Spy Family with) we did the film script I mentioned. It’s always been my dream to write a film. They went for it, we pursued it and now we’re trying to get it made. It’s frustrating. We’ve had lots of very nice “no’s” and what we need is a very nice “yes”!

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Trevor and Simon in character

ON FILM

You’re a regular at the BFI Film Quiz, would you describe yourself as a big film buff?

Yes, I’m a film buff, or film fan. For my age, I definitely am. I think there are times in your life when film matters more than others, and films can then inform what become your world. When I do the film quiz, the one thing I always lose out on is “teen 80s” films, anything that’s got Huey Lewis and the News in it. The others’ll know every answer and there’s ones I don’t know anything about.

In terms of actors, I had a look at your De Niro piece today, I thought it was fantastic, and it really made me nostalgic for the early De Niro. His early films had the most profound effect on me and liking film. I tend to go with your piece which argues “let’s hope he’s got one or two gems left in him, but give the old guy a break! He’s allowed to make rubbish films if he wants”.

When I was a student in Manchester they showed double bills, and they tended to be films that were two or three years old. I remember seeing things like Mad Max 1 & 2 together and being really excited but perhaps the one that blew me away was when I went to see The Exorcist – which is  one of my favourite films now but I’d not seen then. The film that was on with it I couldn’t care less about because I’d never heard of it. It was called Taxi Driver. That’s the weirdness of how you can be thrown into something. I was 18 and it was like when you see something you’ve never seen before, and it blows you away, and it’ll stay with you forever.

For me, it’s all about going to the cinema and being alive when you’re watching something. I want to see films where the directors, the actors etc feel that it’s a vocation. They had to do it. Nicolas Cage, for example. There’s a man with passion!

What would your film of the year [2011] be?

I’d pick Melancholia as my film of the year. Though I thought Antichrist was bollocks. Lars von Trier is a cheeky filmmaker but I felt for him that Melancholia was quite heartfelt. To enjoy the film and get something from it, it helps to be tolerant to a filmmaker who’s going to indulge in very personal stuff. I’m no expert on depression but I do feel that film tackled it well – it got to grips with something real that people don’t like to talk about. I also felt that it was very honest.

You run a film blog – 20th Century Mummified Fox [named in honour of a mummified fox Simon once found on top of a car] and in it you mention that the last film you walked out of was Cop Out. That bad, huh?

Cop Out was atrocious. The only other film I’ve walked out of was Hard Bodies, which I shouldn’t have walked out of, because I was young enough to appreciate a film with gratuitous nudity. Cop Out was appalling. It tries to be a knowing buddy movie, but look to the great ones like 48 Hours and Midnight Run, there’s a real dynamic between two characters who shouldn’t be together. It was truly appalling. Kevin Smith gets Tracey Morgan, who’s great in 30 Rock, to do all of these movie references and it’s just embarrassing. Find me a movie nerd who actually thinks it’s good rather than awful. It’s the worst film I’ve ever seen! I know a lot of people love Kevin Smith, and I know a lot of people laughed at Jay And Silent Bob Strike Backit’s funny but overall he’s one of those who’s got loads going for him, but he just can’t direct a movie.

Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia – Simon’s favourite film of 2011

A film that annoyed me was The Tree Of Life. The main thing I thought was – oh, Terrence Malick why don’t you become a photographer? I didn’t have a clue what he was up to. I think more people should say that, but instead they like to say it’s profound. What the fuck was Sean Penn up to? He was using Sean Penn as a Sean Penn avatar. All we had to go on was: he’s Sean Penn, he’s moody and he’s got great, wavy hair. It’s frustrating because Penn’s much better than that. And another thing, it’s got all this bloody flickering light. That made me angry. Oh, and if there’s a Christian message in the film, that’s fine. But tell us what it is!

Another film I didn’t like was The Hangover: I thought it was shit. It really annoyed me. The film I’m a fan of is Very Bad Things, which wiped the floor with The Hangover. In Very Bad Things, these guys are terrible, but they’re traumatised by guilt. It’s really dark. The films I find funniest are very dark.

I’m a big fan of these British film oddities that fall by the wayside – like the Gordon Ramsay cooking comedy Love’s Kitchen. And Kill Keith [a comedy-horror starring Keith Chegwin!]. And you’ve written a treatment for Kill Keith Vol. 2. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

That’s a weird thing. That’s very odd. I’ve got a weird history with Keith Chegwin. Trev had told me about Kill Keith, and I thought he’d made it up. So I went away and wrote up an idea for a Kill Keith movie with me and Trevor. And he said, “No, it exists!”. But I put the treatment up on my blog ‘cos I thought it was funny. The people behind Kill Keith got in touch with me and we got invited to the premiere. I kind of enjoyed it and thought I should write a review of it. The truth is, it’s not without its merits, but it would have been cruel to write about it. I think it was a missed opportunity, not what it should have been. It would have been good if it was a bit darker, or more consistent in tone.

When we were on Saturday morning TV Keith Chegwin used to go around banging on people’s doors, and he did that to me. In my youth I might have been a bit precious, and I thought “well he shouldn’t do that”. Now I wouldn’t care. I did meet him and did some filming but I never let him forget it! So, yes, I wrote a jokey thing of Kill Keith where we actually kill him.

For you what makes a great British comedy?

I’m a real miserablist when it comes to comedy, so that element I guess! I’ve been watching Life’s Too Short recently. It has five minutes of greatness, but other than that there’s not much to it; nothing that Ricky Gervais hasn’t already done. Rev’s very good. I’m a massive Stewart Lee fan. When I watch him do his stuff I wonder why other comedians even bother.

According to your website you’re a handy pool player. The Americans have had The Hustler and The Color Of Money. Why hasn’t there been a great British pool film?

Not pool, but snooker. You’ve obviously never seen Number One, then? Well, neither have I, to be honest. It clearly has an Alex Higgins character in the lead part, and guess who plays him? What Irish personality from the 80s would you put in it?

Terry Wogan?

No… it was Bob Geldof! There is a good one out there somewhere, I’ve just not seen it.

*     *     *     *     *

And with that passing reference to a snooker film starring Bob Geldof that neither of us had seen, we decided it was time to wrap up the interview and enjoy another pint and some more crisps. If you’re keen to re-acquaint yourself with more of the Trev and Simon oeuvre, check out these links:

Trevor and Simon on YouTube

Trevor and Simon’s website (including links to podcast)

Simon’s blog – Mummified Fox

Simon’s film blog – 20th Century Mummified Fox

Simon on Twitter

Everything Must Go

In Everything Must Gobased on the short story ‘Why Don’t You Dance?’ by Raymond Carver, Will Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, an alcoholic salesman who, having lost his job and wife on the same day, finds all of his belongings strewn on the lawn. Soon, he forms a tentative bond with a lonely, overweight neighbourhood kid, and resolves to stage a 5-day yard sale in front of his house, initially borne of a bloody-minded obstinacy to stay put, and eventually to purge his demons and advance tentatively toward a new beginning.

The key themes of memories, loss and new starts are nothing new for an American indie, and neither are the burnished, gentle tones of the cinematography, insistent bursts of sad acoustic guitar or drifting evocations of suburban disquiet and disillusionment.  There is a gentle humour at work, occasionally tinged by a more scabrous edge; one explicit yet incongrous scene pitches for Lynchian suburban hell, but just feels wrong.

Laura Dern, appearing and appealing in one scene, is underused, and Rebecca Hall’s lonely, pregnant new neighbour is really used as little more than a device to bring us to the conclusion that Ferrell’s egregious externalisation is a mere variation on the rest of the world’s desire to keep their troubles behind closed doors.

The melancholy vibe, however, is pervasive and Ferrell, with his sad eyes, furrowed brow and gently imposing presence, gives the film real heart. With his relentless drinking, morally questionable past and salesmanship patter, he appears to have walked in from Steely Dan’s world of dissolute drifters, lapsed family men, addicts and schemers; a Deacon Blues or Cousin Dupree for our times. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film’s title has been taken straight from the sardonic duo’s 2003 album.

Gentle, absorbing and entertaining, Everything Must Go is a promising debut for writer-director Dan Rush, and well worth a watch.

Everything Must Go is in cinemas now. A version of this review first appeared in PPH coverage of the 54th BFI London Film Festival in October 2010.

‘The sweetness of doing nothing’: When did comedies stop being about anything?

Bridesmaids

There’s a film out at the moment called Bridesmaids, you might have heard of it. You won’t need to look far to find a columnist’s opinion on the film, usually with regard to the bit where Maya Rudolph evacuates her bowels in the middle of a busy street. Never before has hot filth spewing forth from a woman’s rectum inspired such heated debate. The argument surrounding the film has thus far been largely semantic and can be summarised thusly: “Women shitting, eh?” on the one hand, and “Women shitting…. EH?!” on the other. It’s all pretty wearying and stupid and boiling any film down to its base constituents to make a point about a specific moral and cultural issue (take a bow, The Killer Inside Me) has a lot of self-evident problems, particularly when the person in question isn’t particularly au fait with cinema history. Quicker than you can say Tootsie, Irving Rapper and the “women’s picture” or the selected back catalogue of George Cukor, the commentariat line themselves up in the street, drop their britches, and commence plopping out flaming bricks of human faecal chocolate, Rudolph-style, whilst the general public are left to slide about in the resulting crap-storm. It’s a scene, all right.

Ask which films have betrayed the female cause in just the last few years, and you provoke a lightning storm: When in Rome, The Switch, The Back-Up Plan, 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, Letters to Juliet, Leap Year, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day, The Bounty Hunter, Bride Wars to pick but a few. Invert the question and ask which have been bad for men, and the list is equally exhaustive: Miss March, The Virginity Hit, Observe and Report, Hall Pass, The Hangover, The Hangover Part II, Due Date, Hot Tub Time Machine and, whatever your view on the man, the collected oeuvre of Judd Apatow, both as producer and director. There are other films, like Love and Other Drugs and Couples Retreat, which arguably do equal damage to both parties. In all the above cases, we rarely have any insight into the characters’ motivations other than who they’d like to sleep with, and they also have a ready supply of disposable and anonymous best friends upon which to dump their problems. Furthermore, they usually have a successful ‘career’ of some description that’s barely mentioned unless it’s part and parcel of the plot and/or the insane achievement of a strong, successful, likable, complex, opinionated woman who manages to juggle a career in the city whilst navigating her ungainly love life. Morning Glory and the upcoming I Don’t Know How She Does It fit into this camp. Generally speaking, though, the most galling attributes of all these films is that none of the characters have any money troubles. At all. None. Outside of the myriad travails concomitant with ramming each other sexually, the rest of their lives barely register in the events of the narrative. There are bigger problems afoot here outside of gender.

Just Go With It, starring Adam Sandler as a "lovable" plastic surgeon

That the affluence of these characters is taken as a given strikes me as odd, particularly since we’ve been in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s for three years now, with only Confessions of a Shopaholic for comfort. Take a look at a similar list of films produced in the period which fall under the banner of ‘screwball comedy’ which cast its either self-consciously ‘daffy’ rich protagonists as either dunderheads, hapless married couples or out-of-touch fools: My Man Godfrey, The Lady Eve, The Great McGinty, The Awful Truth, The Palm Beach Story, Nothing Sacred, It Happened One Night, Twentieth Century and Easy Living. Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be managed to interrogate Communism and Nazism respectively, whilst The Shop Around the Corner casts its leading man and woman as mismatched lovers in the retail sector. The best we can currently muster is Adam Sandler as a ‘lovable’ plastic surgeon in a film whose very title seems to expressly summarise our era’s louche and blasé attitude towards romantic comedies: Just Go With It.

Whilst American independent cinema has made some strides to tackle the subject of poverty with the likes of Frozen River, Winter’s Bone, Wendy and Lucy and The Company Men which treat the subject with a po-faced seriousness that would have given Stanley Kramer a boner, mainstream comedy completely flounders. It’s either stuck in the mire of Fox Searchlight-produced boutique comedies (Tom McCarthy’s Win Win is the only notable exception) or floundering in a pit of effete mumblecore, a movement that was barely interesting in the first place, which has seen most of its primary players (the Duplass Brothers, Greta Gerwig) co-opted by the studios and nullified anyway. They seem to have heeded the advice of John Lloyd Sullivan in Sullivan’s Travels (“Don’t you think with the world in its present condition, with death snarling at you from every street corner, people are a little allergic to comedies?”) and implemented it a little too literally.

I’m not particularly interested in unpacking the existing gender-based arguments of Bridesmaids or any of these films that reduce half the adult population to catch-all demographic rarely seen outside of a promotional campaigns for Boots, and I’m not particularly interested in joining in the heralding of a new comedic ‘era’ for humans that happen to carry a Y-chromosome and menstruate every month until they hit the menopause. What interests me about Bridesmaids is its most unique aspect: its protagonist’s crummy, cash-strapped lifestyle. Its main character is Annie, a single, 30+ woman who, at one point in her life, ran a bakery. Though it’s not the only dilemma she faces during the film, Annie is presented with two men as potential partners – a sensitive new man in her life who supports her former occupation, and an on-again/off-again fuck buddy with an unbridled sexual rapacity and the emotional inarticulacy of Tommy Cooper’s scrotum. She ends up with the sensitive guy.

It's Complicated - "'hilarious' vagina-patting sessions"

The above description might sound familiar. That’s because you saw a similar film two years ago called It’s Complicated, directed by Nancy Meyers, which made all the mistakes Bridesmaids did not. It’s Complicated similarly boasted an erstwhile baker with a rocky love life, only this time she was played by Meryl Streep.  Streep, in that film, was – to put it mildly – a shrieking harpie who wailed about “remodelling” her cavernous luxury home in-between ‘hilarious’ vagina-patting sessions with two men: Alec Baldwin (the rapacious fuck buddy) and Steve Martin (the sweet guy who supports her bakery business). Streep ends up with Steve Martin. Presumably they bake cakes together.

The difference between the two films? In Bridesmaids Annie’s bakery went under during the recession. She lives in rented accommodation and works a menial job, until both prove untenable and she has to move in with her mother. Streep, by contrast, romps around a boundless patisserie of wonders stuffing pie crust into her and Martin’s faces like a pair of contented suckling calves, footloose and fancy free. Streep also has three disgusting grown-up children who are a straight replay of the snots from Douglas Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows, without the social commentary. Personally I find Meyers’ Wonka-style baking fantasy-land far more offensive than a talented comedienne taking a dump on the street. Take a gander at Meyers’ previous films – What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give and The Holiday – and she’s done almost as much to injure the face of contemporary American comedy as Paul Haggis did to drama with the misplaced berserko-hysteria of Crash.

But wait, there’s more. Like any rational carbon-based life form, I’ve avoided the two Sex and the City films but from what I can surmise from the critical reaction most of the plot seems to revolve around aging rich spinster Kim Cattrall’s preternaturally talented and ethereal vagina, which she uses to trick shoe salesman into giving her freebies and amassing her capitalist empire of battery-powered dildos. And this is without mentioning the mirthless and bankrupt Eat Pray Love –wherein a successful author hotfoots it from New York – to stuff her face with pasta and revel in the ‘sweetness of doing nothing’ whilst cramming food she knows is bad for her down her gullet in penance for a lifetime of capitalist myopia. Ho fucking hum.

The thematic overtures of It’s Complicated, Sex and the City and the cod exoticism of Eat Pray Love are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the spell cast by Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan  – whose knowingly ironic dilettantes proudly strut around with the moniker UHB or “urban-haute bourgeoisie” – has since been perfected by Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson and, to a lesser extent, Nicole Holofcener. Running with Scissors, Smart People, Lymelife and the Meet the Parents franchise toy with similar themes. Alexander Payne and David O Russell, previously two independent filmmakers whose debut pictures dealt with abortion and incest in an uproarious fashion, now wax and wane on the spiritual chasm awaiting bourgeois complacency, as witnessed by Sideways and Russell’s manic self-parody, I Heart Huckabees.

What’s most important about Bridesmaids, though, is that its character’s spiral to hit rock bottom feels real, and real in a way we haven’t seen for a long time. The few films in cinemas this year which pay lip service to the problems of encroaching poverty, Bad Teacher and Larry Crowne, set breast enhancement and motivational speaking as lazy thematic crutches on which to hang their hats, rather than engaging with the subjects proper. In 1964, whilst Robert Benton and David Newman were writing Bonnie and Clyde, the Esquire journalists called the era’s receptivity to cultural trends – and its willingness to plough through them – the New Sentimentality, a sweet name for a tough proposition, that promised to either violently explode the assurances of Eisenhower-era affluence and complacency, or rake its condescending assumptions about consumerist society over the coals. Bridesmaids aside, I call ours the Eternal Mediocrity.

Contributor Sam Price runs the film blog A Tremendous Amount of Wheat. You can follow him on Twitter @_wheat.

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A Right Royal Cockney Barrel of Monkeys

I heard Fatboy Slim’s indefatigably bouncy ‘Gangsta Trippin’ on the radio today for the first time in donkey’s years, and the below clip – perhaps BBC sketch show The Fast Show‘s finest hour – flooded back into my head.

A devastating satire of Guy Ritchie’s dated (though admittedly rather enjoyable) Mockney knees-ups Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and the legions of deplorable imitations they spawned, the sketch is a masterpiece of sheer comic brilliance and savage wit crammed into just 100 seconds. Highlights abound, but special mention must be given to the unexpected namechecking of Graeme le Saux, and the immortal line:

“That rotter? He turned up my cousin’s funeral wearin’ white jeans… the maggot!”

I like to imagine that this sketch alone prompted Ritchie to gingerly edge away from the absurd, and thankfully short-lived, subgenre that he singlehandedly created.

Enjoy. You slag.

Courtesy of YouTuber UpstandingCitizen.