Nitpick 5: The Simpsons - The Raven

There is no doubt that The Simpsons is one of the greatest shows of all time. This nitpick is one particular bit which I think is the greatest thing it has ever done and it’s one that fits with today’s halloween fun.

Back in 1990 The Simpsons was one of the biggest things around. A true phenomenon. Then for their first halloween episode they introduced a format which they would repeat every year; The Treehouse of Horror. In it they featured 3 stories as told by members of the family in Bart’s treehouse. The 3rd of those stories however, is just so perfect in my eyes that if you haven’t seen it I urge you to seek it out.

While the first two stories featured an amusing haunted house story and a very clever first appearance by Kang and Kudos, ‘The Raven’ is adapted for The Simpsons universe as Lisa reads it out. However as she does we hear it read by Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones. We also watch as Bart takes on the form of the Raven who taunts Homer, finding himself as poem’s mourning widower - mourning after a painting of Marge of course.
The adaptation sticks so loyally to the original but gives it a Simpsons twist so perfectly it doesn’t matter that there really isn’t a single laugh in it. Show runner Sam Simon adapted it brilliantly but it’s director David Silverman, who would later go on to direct Monsters, Inc. for Pixar, that makes it all look fantastic. From the long shadows to the wonderful soaring camera angles to the great bit where several Bart/Ravens dance around Homer’s head it’s all done so beautifully.
Matt Groening has said that he was hesitant about doing it as he thought it would be ‘pretentious’ and there weren’t any jokes. Luckily it’s done so damn well that I doubt anyone would have thought that.

It’s a shame the show hasn’t tested itself as much as that again but maybe it was just one of those things that happened at the right time.

Give it a Halloween watch people!


BFI London Film Festival: EVERYDAY

EVERYDAY (yes, all caps as seems to be the way everyone is writing it) is the latest film from Michael Winterbottom, the director of 24 Party People, Cock and Bull Story and the truly fantastic The Trip TV series.
Suffice to say my expectations were high going into this especially considering the inclusion of John Simm, Shirley Henderson and the intriguing idea of filming over the course of 5 years.

The story follows a family who are struggling to move on with life and cope with the absence of their father, Simm, who is incarcerated for an unspecified crime. I say story but there isn’t really a story at all. It’s more of a snapshot of life in this family and the relationship between the two parents over a certain period of time. You watch as Henderson struggles with 4 children, the boys of which are fast becoming independent and at times troublesome, trying just to get through the days bringing them up while making regular visits to their father in prison and trying to find her own identity without him. It’s certainly not a criticism that the film has no real story. In fact, that’s the film’s biggest strength; somehow the mundane becomes interesting and gripping even though its just, well, life. The lack of a script means the dialogue is very realistic and Winterbottom’s very ‘observing’ style of shooting makes for very accessible viewing, almost like you’re being invited to sit in on the family. The performances are excellent although the children, at least in the early stages, really are getting getting upset or making jokes or reacting to situations.

It’s endlessly watchable stuff and I could certainly watch another 5 years worth of the family’s life.

EVERYDAY is not getting a full theatrical release but will be shown on Channel 4 later this year so there’s no excuse not to see this. It’s free!


BFI London Film Festival Begins!

Been a bit slack on here recently but the next or so should be pretty busy as the London Film Festival begins. I’m heading to see 14 films and events over the next 10 days and I’ll review each of them here.
Films my list of films will include:
Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie in Conversation, BUG, The Sessions, Easy Money, Easy Money 2, EVERYDAY, The Sapphires, A Liar’s Autobiography, Argo, Seven Psychopaths, Celeste & Jesse Forever, Compliance, End of Watch and last night’s first film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, a review of which should be forthcoming today.
My poor eyes are gonna take a battering!


Nitpick 4: Monkey Dust

Animation and satire. Two types of British television that really seem to have gone in opposite directions in the last 10 years.
British made animation is rarely shown in any reasonable time slot, with the rare exception of the occasional Wallace and Gromit special and some children’s programming. Adult animation is nowhere to be seen though. On the other hand satire and social commentary comedy makes up some of our best output. Shows like The Thick Of It and various Charlie Brooker programs have been outstanding examples of the quality of talent we have around these days.

Back in 2003 though, Monkey Dust combined both things to masterful effect, producing some great animation with razor sharp comments on society. Oh, and a lot of dirty jokes.

The show was created by Shaun Pye, best known for his role on Extras and co-creating The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and the late Harry Thompson, one of the most influential comedy producers of recent times known for, amongst other things, Have I Got News For You and developing the Ali G character.

The show often dealt with subjects such as murder, suicide and, notably at that time, paedophilia. It faced them head on unflinchingly and, most importantly, hilariously.

Notable characters included the Paedofinder General, a grim reaper type who executed possible paedophiles based on very questionable evidence, such as a man wearing speedos who had the ‘s’ covered up, while quoting lines such as “By the power vested in me by a text vote on Sky News… I proclaim you guilty of paedophilia!”.
Then there was Clive Pringle, a man who would return home from work often days late telling tales of his amazing adventures which always resembled plots from well known films or TV shows such as Lord of the Rings or 24. When his wife would point that out the real truth would be revealed often being something humiliating like “volunteering to be the cum sponge at a soho fetish club”.

There were many other dark characters like this but the best ones were often commentaries on the so called ‘Cruel Britannia’. The aforementioned Paedofinder General often held up copies of The Sun and would call the victim “guilty until proven otherwise!”, a reflection of the frequent sensationalising, jumping-to-conclusion style of journalism in the tabloids.
Or there was ‘Labia’ a company who would ridiculously and unnecessarily re-brand things like cancer as an ‘end of life option’ called ‘closure’. This of course was a play on some of the ridiculous rebranding of things at the time like The Post Office.
This was all soundtracked brilliantly to tracks by the likes of Goldfrapp and Eels.

While, due to being shown on BBC Three, Monkey Dust never really gathered huge ratings and attention it was very highly regarded by people that watched it and is one of my favourite British shows of the last 10 years.

Harry Thompson’s death in 2005 left a huge legacy and this was one of his highest points in my view. The first series is available on DVD and clips from the other two are available in patches on YouTube. Now if we could get more commissioning of adult animation in the UK, I’d be very happy…


Nitpick 3: Fred Jones Part II by Ben Folds

This Nitpick is in my opinion the saddest song I’ve ever heard.
It’s the fifth track off Ben Folds’ debut solo LP ‘Rockin’ the Suburbs’, released in 2001. It’s still one of my favourite albums mainly for catchy tunes of the songs and Folds’ excellent lyrical style.

In amongst those 12 tracks though is this story set to music about a man’s last day working at a newspaper after being fired. I remember him talking about the history of the song on the excellent Nerdist podcast where, at least in his mind, Fred Jones Part 1 was actually a song called Cigarette from ‘Whatever and Ever Amen’. That itself was based on a news article about a woman who through some brain damage changed her personality and the husband who was torn about what to do because, essentially, she wasn’t the person he married. Part II was based on the stories he’d read about old-style newspaper editors being laid off.

It’s a sad story no doubt but Folds’ lyrics just ache with sadness and loneliness. It’s almost as if the titular Fred is walking to his own death and in a way he is as he leaves what was a huge part of his life. There’s a terribly sad line in it which goes ‘He’s forgotten but not yet gone’ which gets me every time. Folds keeps declaring ‘I’m sorry Mr Jones’ over and over as the song goes on as if apologising to people like Fred who are just cast by the wayside as society, jobs and the world progresses and advances, losing the need for their talents and skills.

Folds’ lyrics are always clever and often funny but this one is just sad. Devastatingly sad. And a great, great song.


Nitpick 2: Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’ from Shynola

As anyone who knows me will atest, I’m a huge fan and regular attender of Adam Buxton’s BUG, the live BFI show that was most recently turned into an excellent TV show for Sky Atlantic
Every show has it’s selection of weird, wonderful, funny and often inspirational music videos but a few shows back they featured one video which I frequently go back to.

The video is for Coldplay’s single ‘Paradise’ from their last LP, Mylo Xyloto. You’re probably wondering why a silly video featuring the band running around with animal costumes on would catch my attention so much. Well, that’s because the video I’m actually thinking of was an alternate one done by music video masters Shynola.

Shynola is the name of a group of guys who have produced work for Beck, Blur, Queens of the Stone Age and more over the years. They also, notably did the title credit sequences for The IT Crowd and, naturally, Adam Buxton’s BUG.

This video was commissioned for the single but, presumably due to the content, the record company went with the more friendly and, in my opinion, worthless animal costume version.

It’s a huge shame as this version is gripping, stylish, fantastically shot(which is somewhat notable for Shynola who usually produce animated fare) and, most importantly, fits with the track perfectly.

It features a young girl around 8 or so as she leaves (an adult) prison and goes back into the real world. Essentially it’s showing an ex-con adjusting to society again and features sequences of her going back to the tiny council flat she lives in, getting looks from neighbours as she walks around and eventually meeting a dodgy ‘contact’ in a park who, after she dreams of a cartoon version of herself stabbing him, gives her something on a small scrap of paper which leads her to go and find a piece of her past (I’ll let you find out what).

What’s really great about it is the small subtle ‘child versions’ of adult things in her world. Like a doll instead of a real baby. Or a drawn on biro tattoo instead of a real one. It’s also beautifully shot and acted by the young girl who says nothing but conveys everything in a look.

I’m not a massive Coldplay fan but this is track has a very epic feel to it and when integrated into this video gives me chills whenever I watch it.

It’s a huge shame this wasn’t used as the official video as it’s very unique, tells a great story and would have really stood out amongst all the other generically rubbish videos we often see for popular artists.

So have a watch and then check out Shynola’s other work. Always superb stuff!

Reblogged from Comedy Central

NitPick.1: Being Elmo

This blog should see more activity from now on with a few regular things I’ve had ideas about.
This is the first.

NitPick is a weekly column I’ll be writing where I’ll be recommending a thing, be it a band, a song, a movie, or even an online video. Whatever takes my fancy.
Hopefully you’ll find some nuggets that take your fancy or maybe just a recommendation of something you’d heard of but were unsure about checking out. Well, on with this week…

My first recommendation is the documentary film ‘Being Elmo’, directed by Constance Marks.
After wins at Sundance and other festivals over the past year, the film was given a limited run in theatres in the States and just finished a 2 week run in London and other locations across the UK.

The 80 minute picture centres around Kevin Clash, the voice, puppeteer, and creator of Elmo as we know him today. But it’s not all about Elmo and we aren’t really introduced to him fully until about halfway through as the film seeks to tell the story of Kevin from an early age of endless puppet building and voices, through his first appearances on local TV with his creations on after school shows, his key meeting and befriending of his hero Jim Henson(a large focus of the film) and finally, Elmo.

There’s not many a documentary that you will see these days that is effortlessly positive and feel-good without becoming saccharine and soppy, but this one manages to avoid these pitfalls and make you feel very good about life itself.

Kevin is obviously someone who is initially shy but comes out through his puppets and provides an interesting character to watch as we follow him through tales of his youth with his ever encouraging parents, meeting sick children as Elmo and his eventual success story on Sesame Street(he is now a producer and director on the show).

It momentarily touches on the sometimes distant relationship with his only daughter and the fact that he is separated and indeed, when I attended a Q&A with the director, someone asked why this wasn’t explored further. To do so, though, would have been to get sidetracked from the focus of the film. It’s called ‘Being Elmo’ after all and is a very affecting story of a boy’s love of the craft and determination to succeed in it. Sometimes it’s good just to see a story of love, of both being a puppeteer and children’s love of Elmo.

It’s well paced and nicely narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. If you can put aside 80 minutes to just plain enjoy something, then not many films out there will put a smile on your face quite the way this film does.

Being Elmo is now currently available on DVD, iTunes and other digital downloads in the US and will be released in the UK on July 9th in the same places.



Countdown to Futurama: Puddle Monster

Who doesn’t know that classic story of boy meets girl, boy loses pants, girl gets entangled in the tentacles of a puddle monster? Oh, everyone?

Well, that’s going to change after we all watch “A Farewell to Arms,” which will air as part of Futurama’s one-hour season premiere, Wednesday June 20 at 10/9c.

If you miss any part of our 50-day Countdown to Futurama, just click here to catch up.

Reblogged from Comedy Central