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bob the moo

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Season 1: Enjoyably structured and sharp stand-up comedy on a selection of subjects, 19 May 2016

Unfortunately I managed to miss several episodes of this series because of not having a Sky+ box and needing to remember each week to change the channel at certain times (which I often forget to do). However I did see the majority of the series where Stewart Lee covers topics such as celebrity books, the quality of television, the nature of his chosen career in stand-up comedy amongst other topics and I consider it unfortunate not to have seen all of the episodes because generally I found the show to be really enjoyable. Given that one cannot talk about Richard Herring without mentioning Stewart Lee, it should work the other way round to. Before I saw this show I had been to see Herring's Headmaster's Son show and, although funny, it seemed to be spend too much time on crudity to shock and a lesser amount of time on honest, clever observations.

The opposite is true of Lee's show and I suppose has always been the difference between them and was why they worked well together when they were a double act. In this show Lee tackles a different broad subject each week and, while there are a few sketches thrown in there to illustrate his points, mostly it is him doing stand-up in front of a small audience in a cool little venue which is too spacious to actually be a real comedy club (although I'll happily stand corrected on that). The stuff he does is generally very clever and suits his very dry, deadpan style of humour. I'm sure others will compare him to Jack Dee but for me he is cleverer than that because he has more of a detached irony to his material that means even when angry you do not think he is being broken down by it. His material also shows a lot of self-awareness and self-analysis (must be an age thing as Herring is the same) in how he does it – specifically his own "Travelodge material" which manages to be what it sounds like while also being a criticism of that material. His frustrations at "lesser" material comes through frequently in his discussion of other comedians and also books but it is best when he discusses the "Del Boy" moment always voted the "funniest moment ever" by British viewers – he delivers it on the floor banging his head on the stage and it is very funny.

It doesn't all work though. Some of the sketches don't work that well and some needed trimming while, on the stage, I never got used to the weirdly close "to camera" delivery when it happened – which was thankfully not too often. Otherwise though it was a great little comedy series that felt like a breath of fresh air compared to much of the comedy on the BBC. Sharp, funny and well delivered it is worth seeing if you like dry comedy.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Handsomely made, compelling in its brutality, but narratively a bit too simple, 6 March 2016

It is good to be wary around this time of year because with the Oscars and many other awards imminent, there is a tendency for studios to release 'worthy' films – many of them are really good too, but a lot of them are 'worthy'. It is hard to say which one The Revenant is, but it does certainly seem like a film where everyone went through a lot of physical hardship. I don't read around films much, so I'm guess on that, but the on-location shoot and freezing conditions seem too tangible for them not to have made the shoot a long and challenging one. If so then it paid off because this aspect of the film is by far the strongest element – the brutality, the fight for survival, and the contrast of these tiny people against the vastness of the landscape.

As such it is the technical delivery which is really the star. It is a consistently impressive and handsome film - whether it is the CGI bear of the opening 30 minutes, or cinematography which manages to have both nimble movement in/around the action as well as taking in the sweeping vistas as it reproduces the cold onto the screen. This aspect of the film carries it a long way, because for the most part this is a dialogue-free affair as Glass pulls himself from death to try and get revenge on another character. As a journey it is a tough slog and unfortunately it partly becomes that for the viewer too, because the film does have a slow pace and is essentially a slow crawl to its target. It does enough with the atmosphere to ensure the viewer is in the mindset where this works well, but it is not the type of film that one would throw on for a relaxing Friday night in. It is an odd feeling, but for me the time did not drag, and I was help by its single minded and consistent brutality, but at the same time it was not a story I felt gripped by in the detail of the character – more the overall experience.

The story does have the constant theme of parents and children. Of course this is the motivation for the revenge plot, but it is also behind the group of Native Americans who are also integral in the film; and of course the bear attack itself is a parent acting in defense of its cubs. This element is interesting but it doesn't always work. In the main plot it feels just like a plot device (which it is) and the floaty other-worldly connection to the dead wife doesn't chance that. The other father, hunting his daughter, doesn't bring a great deal to the film in terms of emotional content and, being honest, the only parent/child relationship that I really felt for was the bear cubs left behind by the death of their mother (I know, typical liberal watching people die but getting teary over the animals).

The cast match the sense of brutality, and they wear it well in their characters. DiCaprio of course gets the headlines, but others are just as strong and one could argue that Tom Hardy really gets the best of the film as he gets all the good lines, has the most tangible character, and where the film has standout scenes, he is mostly in them. The technical delivery is the overall star though, because it is a film that is handsome, very well made, and has a lot to like in the look, atmosphere and sound work throughout.

In this way it is more than worth a look, and it is compelling in what it does, even if at the same time it is not as strong in the characters and their stories as it is in the creation of this atmospheric struggle to survive.

Spotlight (2015/I)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Engagingly told story of process, with a strong emotional core, 6 March 2016

By coincidence I watched this film only a week after listening to the editor in chief of Huffington Post UK say that authentic writing cannot come from paid journalists, which is why they do not pay their writers (although Adriana Huffington seemed fine with the millions she got when she sold the website). This stuck in my mind when watching this very fine drama about how the Boston Globe reporters uncovered and exposed a mass cover-up of abuse within the Catholic Church. Also in my mind was a sense of disbelief that this true story is not too much more than a decade old – the mass abuse of children by Catholic Priests now just seems such a known thing now that it is hard to imagine a time when it wasn't.

Perhaps because this is so well known, the film is compelling because it focuses on the story of the story, focusing on the journalism. This gives the film the challenge that in terms of action it is mostly people typing, people on the phone, and lots of talking. This it manages really well, building a compelling but robust drama that builds well and takes the viewer along with it. The subject matter means that the emotional side is not left behind either, and the film deftly reminds us of the people (not just the facts) in ways that are natural and integrated, not sentimental or manipulative.

McCarthy directs with professional control, and standards are high – mostly noticeably in the casting. It is not easy to point out one lead, because so many famous faces are here, and all of them do their job in a way that integrates with the rest – there are no really showing moments, no moments where you feel someone is pushing for an Oscar; it is a real ensemble piece, with too many good turns to start to name them all. The end result is that strong writing, and respect for the process of journalism, combines with the importance of the true story and the strong delivery of all aspects to produce an engaging story which carries emotional and professional weight.

The solid responsibility of the story-telling mostly offsets the fragmented nature of it, 6 March 2016

It was the name recognition of David Simon that brought me to this mini-series, although if I am honest little else from the plot summary really appealed to me. The story of Yonkers' objection to a court order that they must find sites for affordable housing to be built; it is a true story that unfolds over decades, has lots of council meetings, politics, and a large ensemble cast. While part of you will want to focus on the potential for big showboating scenes in those council meetings, with people fighting the good fight, the truth is that this is not a show that has heroic types, or big moments – so the 'true story' and 'decades' bits are really what you should consider. In this way the mini-series is not the most thrilling ride, and I say that as someone who enjoyed it. There are no big explosive moments and no barnstorming courtroom moments.

Instead the story unfolds through fines and political pandering, and really those politicians 'pushing' the housing in Yonkers are really just those who realize they cannot push back. In and around this we have the residents of the area, and those who would become residents. This gives the show a feeling of depth, but at the same time gives it the problem that it cannot spend too long with anyone, and also has too many plates spinning to be able to move the story with a sharp pace. That is what it has to do though, and it is impressive how well the decades-long narrative, with its complexity and commentaries, does manage to hang together and make for an engaging story.

I don't think it is perfect, and it does overextend its reach in how much it tries to bring to the table. However it is a quality piece of story-telling and I liked it as such. The quality is there in the writing, and the way such complexity is made accessible in an unsexy, unglamorous way – with real, flawed characters everywhere, just like real life. Performances are strong across the board – Isaac, perhaps being the one grabbing the headlines with his tragic character, but the cast is deep in good performances (and many HBO faces from Oz, The Wire, and other shows). It does have the feeling of a show you 'should' watch rather than one that you really 'want' to watch, however for its flaws, it is consistently solid in its story-telling, and it delivers a realistic, nuanced, and balanced presentation of the situation, where few are villains, even fewer are heroes, and mostly people are just flawed in whatever they are trying to do.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Delightfully whimsical comedy adventure, with great design and fun performances, 6 March 2016

I watch a lot of short films and you can tell that Wes Anderson has very much made an impact on up and coming filmmakers due to how often you see people trying to make what they call 'a Wes Anderson style film'. Watching these film is mostly interesting because of how often these efforts fall short. It is a reminder to me of how hard it actually is to do 'whimsy'. To make it work, you not only need to make it happen, but you also need to do it in a way that gets the audience into the space they need to be in so as to be able to enjoy it; without this it is often just annoying.

I was thinking of this because GBH is a great example of this working. This is not to say it is brilliant cinema, because in the end it is a whimsical piece but it does do it really well. The structure itself tells you where you are, because this is a film that opens with a girl paying respects at the bust of a dead author, who we then jump to as he starts to tell the story that was told to him by another man – a story which is also that of a story being told – and it is this story which we see for the most part. It is a structure that allows for the exaggeration and elaboration of all told stories, and it allows us to go with the sheer silliness of the tale. I say silliness, but actually the film keeps a lot which actually engages in the adventure plot, but yet at the same time delivers enough decadence and invention to allow us to enjoy it as a piece of fun.

The cast match this. In many films it would be a real distraction to have so many famous faces in one film, however here it works – again because the audience are mostly positioned just to go with whatever. Fiennes is the beating heart of the film, and if he does not make his character work then the whole thing would struggle; as it is, he makes it work really well, with such color and flourish. Revolori is equally good, and needs to be since the friendship and his link to the presence (or plural) is also critical to making it work. The rest of the cast contain so many famous names doing small but enjoyable turns that it is pointless to name them all – but they all add to the whimsy rather than overwhelm it. Technically the film is a beauty, with great shots, great design through, and a sense of second-hand wonder which fits the story-telling structure.

All told, it is a quite wonderful piece of silly adventure. It works because it knows itself, and it delivers itself really well in a way that draws the viewer into the space we need to be in to really go with it. This is not easy to do, and Anderson does it really well here.

S14: The Deadly Assassin: Engaging narrative and detail, even if a little out of the ordinary approach for the series (SPOILERS), 6 March 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Doctor has a vision of the assassination of the President of the Time Lords, and returns to Gallifrey to find himself a wanted criminal. While events unfold suggesting the assassination is imminent, the Doctor tries to evade capture, only in the end to realize he is being framed for the assassination – but by whom?

There are quite a few reference points in this serial, but Star Trek was probably the one that jumped out the most for me. Setting 'stasers' to stun caught my ear a few times, but then having a whole episode where the Doctor runs around a quarry in a battle with a foe did rather put me in mind of Kirk – albeit this quarry is much greener than the Californian equivalent. Being set among the Doctor's own people makes this an unusual episode – more than just the absence of a companion (an absence, it must be said, I didn't find caused any actual problems). The story plays out differently from the usual monster/horror narratives, but is rather a political thriller with a passing nod to the Manchurian Candidate. As such it works well, setting up intrigue as well as of course having the bonus of reintroducing The Master.

I was not sure how I felt about the change in actor for The Master (Roger Delgado having died in a car accident), but actually the gory skeletal appearance is much more menacing rather the rather plyboy- ish villain he previously was. The ending to this interaction is not wholly convincing (shrugging off the potential that The Master may have survived) but mostly he is a well-used character. Baker is good with his humor and action, and he does convince about the stakes at times when it matters – making some of the violence of the serial more engaging and tense when it needs to be. The lack of a companion is no great gap, and the supporting cast are mostly good even if a bit too puffed out and theatrical (but they are Time Lords I guess).

As well as having an engaging plot, the serial also benefits from filling in a lot of detail about the Doctor's home world. I'm no great Whovian but even to me this was quite interesting – particularly to see them as a political class, with a corruptible (or at least cynical) edge to their approach. This combination of plot and backstory add together to make an engaging serial, even if it is a little outside the norm for the series.

S1: Solid, with some good aspects, but not more than this, 6 March 2016

This show passed me by initially; I knew it was on and had heard some positive things, but generally nobody was talking about it and there was nobody breathlessly saying "you gotta watch this" in the way often happens with other shows (rightly and wrongly). However the basic sci-fi plot offers familiar and hopefully fertile ground and the success of the show in ratings and in other regions made me decide to catchup on it. The plot sees a near future where robotics have advanced to the point where robots are not only common in the household, but are also convincingly humanoid in their look and basic actions. We join a family stretched by the demands of life, who decided to buy a synth; although unbeknownst to them, Anita is part of a group of synths who had somehow been programmed as conscious beings, not disposable robots. While the family process their new houseguest, the rest of the group, and other forces, are also looking for her.

In some ways the narrative is overly familiar, with the idea of AI becoming conscious and posing a threat of some form to the idea of humanity – indeed this very familiar plot is probably what hurts the show the most, because we really do know where all this goes. As such the show relies heavily on the detail to make it work, and it doesn't. There are a lot of moving parts here, with different characters, groups, motivations, and events; all of them are solidly interesting but no one part really grips – and nor does the drama as a whole. There are interesting elements here and there (the impact on a teenager of a world where skills can be manufactured, the use of a synth as a sex toy, the devaluing of human endeavors by this particular human endeavor etc) however none of them really snap into place or are done better than the many other places you'll have seen them. It is slow paced too, and doesn't really justify it, and the conclusion is in step with the majority of the season by being a bit wishy-washy and unsatisfying.

The cast are solid throughout, and contains a lot of well-known faces doing decent work, but ultimately the material is not there to the point where they consistently get to do great stuff. As a whole it is a solid season of television, with some good ideas and threads; however mostly it is never more than 'solid' and doesn't shake off the feeling that we have seen a lot of this before, often better, and that Humans doesn't add a huge amount to it. The final episode credits had the legend 'Humans will return', and I guess it had to tell us this because otherwise I would not have seen any other reason to think it would.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Smart, sassy, funny, and complex; although the story doesn't wholly come together, 6 March 2016

Despite its title, this film is really not about white people per se – well, it is, but this is not where it is at its strongest. The narrative is formed form the news stories we have all seen of blackface frat parties which, at best, could be described as insensitive; the film uses such 'insensitivity' as part of its story but really this does feel like a device just to give the film a point to build to and through. Actually story is probably the film's weakest element, and there isn't a wholly satisfying arc to the film as a whole. Instead though the film is best as it explores the black experience of those students in the film.

As such the film is surprisingly nuanced for a satire, because as biting as it is, and as usual in making points as its characters are – it doesn't really ever feel like it is caricature but rather they come over as people, with complexity, confusion, and a general sense of not really knowing where/how they should be. As I am neither black nor American, I can't say how true to real life this is, but the film certainly convinces with this world. Impressively the film manages to do this within a package of slick delivery, snappy and funny dialogue, and effective satire. It is far from perfect though, and the overall narrative is not really what sticks in the mind, even if the characters do. The cast deliver on this well thanks to the good writing; Williams, Thompson, Parris, Dobies, and Bell, lead the cast well – with Thompson, Williams, and Parris in particular making good on the promise of the material.

It isn't a film that will hit the mark with everyone, and it does have those issues in the story; however it is stylishly presented, smartly written, funny, slick, and engaging throughout.

S2: Enjoyably odd even if it seems to be trying to be as obtuse as it can be, 6 March 2016

Coming to this show many years after it finished is perhaps not ideal, because it does remove the context of when it was first screened – and in some ways puts it in the shadow of the many other chaotic Adult Swim shows that it enabled in some ways. The second season continues in the vein of the first season, with chaotic nonsensical plots based around the use of mostly original animation from an old 1970's cartoon series set underwater. Unsurprisingly the plots mostly do not make any wider contextualized sense, mostly just fulfilling the internal logic (barely) of the single episode – with characters being killed or usually the entire base being destroyed. As before there is a show that breaks out into the production of the show itself, and all of these are mostly as funny and enjoyable in their own way as the first season was.

There is an interesting feel to the second season though, because a lot of the season does feel like it sets out to deliberately push the viewer to accept more and more oddity. The most obvious example of this is the episode which is pretty much a straight rerun of one of the original episodes, with no comedy, and nothing that those that enjoy the show would actually be there for. I am sure many loved the show for this, and the irony of watching the original be redone in this way, but personally I thought it was a bit too knowing. Some other episodes run jokes too long (like the 'uh oh' sequence), but some of these 'difficult' episodes are actually very well done – with the power- cut episode being a good example of this.

The voice work remains good, and the invention in the animation provides plenty to like; however even as someone who buys into the sense of humor, this season perhaps had a few too many touches which seemed determined to make me not get it, or just swallow something totally different and say it is just as good. Appreciate the challenge, and liked that most of it worked, but can't pretend that all of it did.

S1: Bit uneven in tone and not wholly successful in its characters, 6 March 2016

Although I have not read the book that this show is based on, I have been a longtime fan of Danny Baker, whether it be his old Radio 1 show (playing Smoke on the Water on various objects), through to his current Five Live show. The sense of wonder and fun in his stories and those he has others tell tends to be what engages me, as he does have a passion for his memories. The first season (for there will be another) of this show has a good stab at conveying the sense of wonder and fun of growing up in this environment, but yet also has a run at getting through the filter of memory and providing something which also has genuine pathos to it.

In doing this it is a bit uneven in its tone, with a mix of the comedic and serious across the episodes. It doesn't quite feel like the show is flitting back and forward on this, but it doesn't manage to convince as a consistent approach. I guess part of this is that it does bounce around in a chaotic life, and have events from Baker's teenage self, and even from his father. The mixture does have a lot to like, but at the same time it is not as compelling on a character or narrative level as it may have been. The cast mostly help to counter this, with of course Peter Kaye leading the cast very well with a solid performance of real presence and character. The supporting turns are not always served as well, but there are not really any real weak links.

There is enough here to look forward to a second season to see what it does, but at the same time the show never threatens my preference for the way Baker tells the stories in his other media outlets.


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