Monday, 28 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 5 & 6

An unimaginative choice but we went back to basics yesterday and had a mini Star Wars fest. We couldn't face the ridiculousness of Jar Jar Binks so started at the actual birth of the franchise rather than at the commencement of its internal chronology.

The original Star Wars (also nowadays referred to by some completists as A New Hope but never so known in its heyday) retains its power to involve. Darth Vader is a great dramatic creation and the power of the back-story covers for some of the clunky dialogue. 8/10 though this is a slightly generous rating based upon its impact and cultural importance.

The Empire Strikes Back has always been my favourite and stands with Godfather Part II as the most frequently posited candidate for sequel which betters its progenitor. I greatly enjoyed The Force Awakens but marginally I just take The Empire Strikes Back as the better. It contains one of cinema's greatest lines and also has the venerable Yoda. 8.5/10.

Now I have to decide whether to give the emotional sloppiness of Return of the Jedi a go (I probably will) and, much harder whether to give the three prequels another chance, if only for the sake of the integrity of the saga. Life may well be too short.  

Sunday, 27 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 4

Yesterday was my first time in the Gold Club at Star City - now this is the way to watch films, huge reclining seats and no bloody half-wits making a racket. Definitely worth the extra spondulicks.

Here's the good news - The Force Awakens sees the Star Wars franchise back in prime form, its best since 1980, all the way back to The Empire Strikes Back.

Themes (in fact even plot lines) are borrowed from the original films, but it is none the weaker for that. The dialogue benefits from not being penned by Georgs Lucas and the action keeps coming thick and fast. Harrison Ford reanimates Han Solo and Daisy Ridley as Rey gives us the new heroine we need. I had a great time. No spoilers - go and see it for yourself. 8/10.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Happy Christmas

I had a rather lovely Christmas Day. This of course was largely due to the Groupie's organisational and culinary skills and to the presence of almost the full Roberts clan. My job was to look ornamental and get mildly drunk. I managed the latter of these tasks.

Local holy man
The day had started with mass at Holy Trinity Sutton Coldfield conducted by the very amusing and pleasingly holy Father Michael Ho. He fled Vietnam in 1982 and he tells good jokes. He exudes a resolute happiness and has charisma.

I have been a critic of Barak Obama's pieties but I must confess you could not be other than impressed by the President's television walk on the wild side with the bonkers Bear Grylls. Grylls was gushingly in awe of Obama and it is undeniable that the President has mega charisma. Much as I  might be underwhelmed by his politics he is an ornament to the American Dream - a thought which drags me back to reality and the wretched Donald Trump. May his downfall be the political story of 2016. Any other outcome is too miserable to contemplate.

The girls are taking me to see the new Star Wars later today as part of my Christmas present. Report to follow.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 3

Alan Partridge:Alpha Papa. I seem to have been lucky so far. I'm an admirer of Steve Coogan but had my doubts that the studiedly awful Alan Partridge would survive expansion into feature length. No need to worry. The writers (including the enviably able Armando Iannucci) resisted the temptation to go all expansive and retained the parochialism that is central to the Partridge character. Made me laugh. 7/10.

Advent 24

I've just done a rough count and by my reckoning we will have had fifteen British productions, four American, one Danish/Swedish, one French, one sporting item, two current affairs, three children's programmes, seven comedies and eleven dramas. There is a mixture of ancient and modern with a discernible mid 70's bias.

So. Drumroll. We finish with another fond memory of adolescence. Of its period and perhaps betraying some outmoded attitudes, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? is comic writing and playing of the top order. It is perhaps a tad blokeish but then I'm a bloke. James Bolam was given the gift of a great comic creation in Terry Collier and took it with both hands - a favourite line is when he is fishing solitarily and is joined dockside by a wistful Bob - gesturing to the cans by his side Terry says, "I'd offer you a beer but I've only got six." Believable and beautiful.

The co-writers, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, also wrote Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen Pet amongst others. Now that is a body of work.

I am embedding the link to the Christmas Special, not in fact the very best of the Lads but it gives you a seasonal taste of Bob and Terry.

Happy Christmas to all our readers and may your God go with you.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 2

I had managed to go forty-five years without seeing Love Story, one of the most watched and derided films of my youth. Do you know what, it's actually rather good at what it does. It is the tragedy of Ryan O'Neal's Oliver and his father wrapped into a romance. Not overlong and it quite properly doesn't set out to answer the various questions it poses. No I didn't cry. 7/10.

Advent 23

Christmas has started - we've just picked up Daughter Number One from the airport, returning from a wedding in Adelaide.

Today's entry can just occasionally seem preachy and biased, certainly it is improbably wordy and erudite. However it is much more often plain inspiring and certainly the most adroitly scripted political drama ever made. This is The West Wing - an advertisement for the good possibilities of America. I know I keep banging on about him but once again I have to draw attention to the odious, immoral, intellectually bankrupt Donald Trump. Again I repeat myself, but he simply must not happen to the America I know and love - a land of contradictions and frustrations but at its heart a force in the search after truth. The clip is of Bartlett as intellect primus inter pares. God Bless America. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Advent 22

This particular clip has appeared in a previous advent calendar but now it serves to illustrate the entire series of Green Wing. I give you the 'dead box' featuring the scabrous, brilliant, disturbingly sexy Michelle Gomez as Sue White. This is the single funniest scene in the history of television. Trust me, I'm a lawyer.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Advent 21

Today we highlight the full dramatic possibilities of television. Made on a high budget and with the heroic ambition to honour the generation of Americans who saved Europe from itself, Band of Brothers is the peak of high production tv.

It was churlishly criticised by some observers for 'ignoring' the British contribution to D Day and beyond. Rot. It was an American celebration of American heroes. It is balanced and brilliant and properly moving. Donald Trump should be made to watch it on permanent loop until he understands that his should be the land of the free not the land of the blind.

As an incidental point of interest watch out for David Schwimmer playing against type in an unsympathetic role as a martinet career officer.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Advent 20

It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas. This afternoon the Groupie and I make our annual trip to the Symphony Hall for the CBSO Christmas concert - a lovely, warm, mushy event.

Today's entry represents writing of the highest stamp and near faultless playing across the whole extended cast - take, for example, Joe from next door in his limited appearances. The Royle Family manages to be provocative but affecting. Here we have the incident of Dave's van but I could equally have chosen any of the occasional mentions of Beverley Macca - ranking alongside Frasier's Maris as the best unseen character of all time.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Advent 19

Today the masterwork of a bona fide national treasure, Peter Kay. Phoenix Nights is plain brilliant. Funny, funny, funny. "Put 'im in t'Pennine Suite!"

Friday, 18 December 2015

12 Films At Christmas - 1

I've started early with my Christmas film viewing, having flicked onto the beginning of Rocky yesterday afternoon. Sylvester Stallone can be made out as ridiculous, particularly in the tiresome longeurs of the Rocky and Rambo franchises. However that analysis overlooks that both sequences started strongly with Rocky itself and the much underrated First Blood.

Rocky is a skilfully made film, scripted by Stallone himself and affectingly played by him and Talia Shire. It is of course not really a boxing movie but a love story and as such it works tidily. 7.5/10

Advent 18

For a night of engrossing television you can't beat a close run general election. We had one this year which gloriously confounded the smug pollsters. However my favourite was 1992 which saw two relative mediocrities, Major and Kinnock, competing to be Prime Minister. Rather as happened with Ed Miliband (remember him) the country finally couldn't see its way clear to having Kinnock as first minister. He has always struck me as the political leader with whom it would be most tolerable to have a beer. I've attached a sample of the BBC coverage (with the trumpeting of the gash exit poll) but there's all sorts of election clips on YouTube which might take your fancy. A particular gem is an interview with Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn offering their diagnosis of why Labour lost. They were as barking then as they are now and Red Ken as snide as he remains. One rather gets the feeling that Corbyn is by far the nicer man.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Advent 17

I've given this some serious thought (the only sort I do these days - no time for fripperies) and today's offfering is the greatest British tv drama ever made. Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong, Daniel Craig and Gina McKee have all had stellar careers on the back of it. I was lucky enough to see McKee as a terrifyingly brilliant Goneril in the Jacobi King Lear. 

So, you lucky people, here is the climactic final scene of the superb Our Friends in the North. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Advent 16

When I consider the entries in this list thus far it is hard to escape the conclusion that I perhaps spent more time than your average teenager watching BBC2 in the 1970's. So it goes and here is another example. From 1976 the top class filth that was I Claudius. Influential and racy, witty and watchable. This sort of stuff is arguably the precursor of the Game of Thrones et al phenomenon but done less salaciously and more classically. As an aside, it was one of the early acting credits for the excellent Kevin McNally who had the good fortune to be a pupil of my father at Central Grammar School. As another aside it may or may not be interesting (I suspect it depends on your politics) to note that Central Grammar School also produced Tony Garnett and Nicol Williamson and was exterminated by political vandalism in 1974.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Advent 15

Favourite sporting moments is perhaps for another year but I do have to include the coverage of the 1970 World Cup Final in any list of television monuments. I was just too young to take on board the 66 World Cup but by 70 I was an avid follower - sticker albums, Esso coins, wall charts, the lot. I watched the big games in the company of Mr Gould down the road because he had a a colour tele and he had played for QPR. Colour television took another dozen years to reach the Roberts household.

I am at heart a rugby man but the 'beautiful game' soubriquet is earned by football such as that played by 1970's Brazil. Enjoy in particular the poetry in motion of the final goal.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Advent 14

Yesterday we had an American version of a Danish crime thriller. Today we go the full subtitled hog and celebrate a Danish/Swedish original. The Bridge is spell-binding but above all else it has at its centre a great dramatic character, the autistic detective Saga Noren. And that character is given to us by what is categorically a great piece of acting - take a bow Sofia Helin.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Advent 13

The Danish original of The Killing was good but the American version was even better. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman as the principals, Linden and Holder, quite brilliant. Troubled, compromised and flawed people but suffused with an underlying goodness. A good metaphor for the good old U S of A. Donald Trump please note.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Advent 12

There are only twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers but they amount to a near perfect televisual tour de force. Cleese and Booth's finest hour. Brilliant performances and several great comic creations, not least the raging Basil. Here we have the fabulous wildebeest scene. Priceless.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Advent 11

Education, education, education. Before the patronising inanities of modern yoof programming, we had Blue Peter. We were all the better for it. I am, of course, a Blue Peter badge holder though far too modest to tell you why. Here is an indisputably great television moment - the incident of the incontinent baby elephant.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Advent 10

There have been times when I thought Brideshead Revisited my favourite novel. Now I'm not so sure but unequivocally Waugh is the modern writer I most admire.

The 1981 television Brideshead soon acquired an almost legendary status. Again, I'm not so sure. It has its faults - Simon Raven would have done a better job than John Mortimer with the script which too readily falls back on a voice over of Waugh's brilliant words. But those reservations aside, this is still easily a piece of landmark television and Anthony Andrews as Sebastian never did anything remotely as good again.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Advent 9

Back in November 1982 we were all agog at the wonder of having a shiny new fourth television channel. Channel 4 was born and on its second night of existence it transmitted a glorious, affectionate and funny film, P'Tang Yang Kipperbang. Has it ever passed this high water mark?

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Beyond A Joke

This has now gone past the point where we can laugh about it. The outrageous shitbag Donald Trump should be condemned for the bigot he is. I love America but people you're sleep-walking into moral oblivion and I'm damned if you're taking me with you. Trump Fascist

Advent 8

With today's choice we have to make a particular distinction between seasons 1 and 2. Season 1 was up there with the best television ever made. Season 2 was, all things considered, a very major disappointment - overwrought, poorly researched and under-written. A major fall from grace. But never mind because the first season of Broadchurch stands alone and is brilliant. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

Advent 7

1974 once again, clearly a year for great television. This time it is Shoulder to Shoulder the BBC's compelling dramatisation of the women's suffrage movement. Educational and entertaining.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Advent 6

Beware of pale modern imitations. There will only ever be one authentic Thunderbirds. This fired my infant imagination. 5,4,3,2,1 ... Thunderbirds are go. FAB

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Art School Canteen

A gem of a programme on BBC4 last night - I'm Not In Love - the Story of 10cc. 10cc were one of the great bands of the 1970's, whimsical, witty, clever, melodic. Catch it on iPlayer while you can and then go to Spotify (other providers are available) and sample the classic 70's albums - my personal favourite is How Dare You!, the last one before Godley and Creme left the band.

gatefold - from an age when album covers mattered

Advent 5

To those of us of a certain age this series just cries out summer holidays. In our unreliable memories this seemed to be on every year. The theme tune alone (sampled here) takes me back to a gloriously innocent and happy age. All day television was still aeons away so we used to watch this early morning offering and then roar out into sun-drenched summer days of friendship. It must have rained sometimes but I can't remember when. Robinson Crusoe.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Advent 4

The Fast Show. Very British. Very funny. Everyone has their favourite characters but in the end I have plumped for a very brief extract from the "Which was nice" collection.

It is sometimes difficult to put your finger on why things are funny, this being a case in point. Mark Williams gets the required mixture of innocence and smugness spot on. As they used to say elsewhere in the show - nice.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Advent 3

Now for some comedy. This is the smoothest and most educated example of mass-produced, multi-authored American comedy. It ran for years and only got stale for one series when they struggled to surpass the Niles/Daphne unrequited love theme.

The writing on Frasier was never less than tight and the depth of characterisation was impressive, not least the minor characters. As an example I've attached a link to some clips highlighting Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe.

Tomorrow something funny and British. Very British.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Advent 2

Simon Raven - the pen of an angel and the mind of a cad. I've blogged about him before - one of my favourite writers, most particularly for the brilliant roman fleuve Alms for Oblivion. He wrote to make money and Spike Milligan quipped that Raven would have adapted the phone book for television if someone had paid him. Good on him. Raven's most monumental achievement in that field was his twenty-six part adaptation of Trollope's Palliser novels for the BBC, screened in and around elections, power cuts and broadcast union strikes in 1974. Yes you did read that correctly, twenty-six episodes. The sort of thing that British television just doesn't do anymore.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Advent 1

I am not old enough to have lived through the alleged first great shared (British) television experience, the 1953 Coronation. What I can remember vividly is how in 1970 the entire earth seemed to be living through Apollo 13's improbable return to earth. Here is a sample of the BBC coverage that held us all in thrall.

Tomorrow we will have something fictional and connected to an old friend of this blog.