Tag Archives: comedy

In The Loop Review (spoilers)

This is magnificent — and it is true! It never happened; yet it is still true! What magic art is this?
Robin Goodfellow in Sandman #19 by Neil Gaiman

In The Loop was generally what I expected and hoped it would be – a hilarious, somewhat unsettling satire on how we managed to stumble into the Iraq War. But I also got a little bit more, partly due to accident and partly due to the film’s reception itself.

It’s always weird to watch a film when recent events give it a disturbing extra resonance. I saw a preview of the first Austin Powers on the day Princess Diana died. The joke in it about forcing Prince Charles to have a divorce was greeted with total, uncomfortable silence. Then later, watching the news reports, the friend I saw it with and I were grimly amused by the lack of information about the bodyguard who had been involved in the crash and the film’s ironic refrain of “no-one thinks about the henchmen.”

In The Loop had a sort of opposite effect. On the one hand, the joke about hotel porn got an extra yelp of laughter from the audience due to the proclivities of Jacqui Smith’s husband. On the other, it seemed that little bit more chilling in light of Damogate.

The revelations about Damian McBride and the growing awareness that he is part of a wider, endemic culture within Downing Street and the Labour Party went some way to dampening the criticisms of the film’s most damning critic, Alastair Campbell. It would be tempting to respond to Campbell by paraphrasing Carly Simon (“you’re so vain, I bet you think this film is about you”) but in fairness to him, the theory that Malcolm Tucker = Alastair Campbell has done the rounds for quite some time. Iannucci himself has repeatedly stated that Tucker is not an essay of Campbell himself. McBride this week, and the appearance in the film of another, equally odious press office, makes it clear that what Iannucci is doing is reflecting on a much wider phenomenon.

What I find most fascinating about Campbell’s criticisms though however are, ironically enough, how they parallel a crucial part of the film itself. Because ultimately the film is a study of Tucker and ultimately at what a wretched, pathetic character he is.

Tucker starts the film at the height of his powers, striding into 10 Downing Street and very quickly swooping down on International Development Minister Simon Foster for a gaffe in a radio interview. He bullies, cajoles and manipulates Foster and his staff throughout the film but at one pivotal moment it is revealed that he is ultimately as emasculated as all the other characters in the film. Having been put in his place by John Bolton-alike Linton, for a brief moment we are given a glimpse behind Tucker’s mask and get to see his fear and panic (it only lasts for a couple of seconds but here Peter Capaldi demonstrates what a great actor he is as well as a terrific ranter – I still always think of him as the blue eyed boy in Local Hero).

He pulls himself back together of course and over the course of a couple of hours manages to fake the intelligence necessary to persuade the UN to approve the war. But having done so, he goes back to Linton and attempts to publicly humiliate him in the most cutting and hurtful way he can think of. He calls him boring. Yet, while earlier on the film conspires to make you actually admire the savage nastiness of Tucker’s attacks (like all good movie monsters), by now we realise what a broken character he is. Far from cutting, the remark just comes across as sad.

And how does Alastair Campbell describe the film? He calls it boring.

You are all individuals! (Obamamania)

I didn’t watch Obama’s inauguration this evening. Instead, I sat on the bus reading the coverage on Twitter. For some reason, reading all these excited 140-character messages about Obama bigging up the atheists and getting down with the gays (or possibly not) – interspersed with irrelevancies – reminded me quite a lot of this:

Godless carols

On Sunday, the gf and I went to the Hammersmith Apollo to see the final performance of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People. By coincidence, albeit perhaps not that much of a coincidence given that both being plugged into a lot of the same networks, we hear about a lot of things at around the same time, Will Howells sat almost exactly in front of us.

A good time was had by all. I’m not much of a comedy night person (I did have a phase of going to pub standup before I moved up to Leeds in 2000 but I never got back into the habit), but this was a good example of what I was missing. Add to that a combination of quality musical acts and science writers and it was a splendid evening. The impression given by Robin Ince was that he’d quite like to turn this into an annual event; I sincerely hope he does.

Stand out moments:

  • Robin Ince himself was one of the strongest comedians, but Stewart Lee, Chris Addison and Dara O’Briain more than kept their respective ends up.
  • The musical acts, if I’m brutally honest, were often a bit meh, but St Jarvis of Cocker was fabulous (he did Something’s Changed and I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake – my bid for the Christmas 2009 Number One). And Tim Minchin‘s beat poem about having a drunken row with a New Ager in a dinner party was a sensational way to round off the evening.
  • Sadly, Jennifer Aniston wasn’t available to do the “science bit” but Simon Singh, Richard Dawkins and Ben Goldacre somehow managed to get by without her. Singh’s piece about the Big Bang Theory and Kate Melua was entertaining and Dawkins reminded us why, even if he does on occasion go off the anti-religion deep end, his writing has captured so many people’s imaginations over the years. But it was the passion and sheer moral force of Ben Goldacre which was the standout performance of the three, almost singlehandedly giving the occasion a sense of legitimacy by talking about the peddling of vitamins in South Africa. A normally witty writer, Goldacre didn’t make a single joke but his contribution was stronger for it.

Ricky Gervais, for whom a lot of people apparently turned up (the gf overheard a woman on the way out who was outraged that the event wasn’t merely Ricky Gervais and friends), was a problematic performer. The thing about Gervais is that he isn’t and never has been a standup comedian. He does this character, one not entirely dissimilar to the one in The Office and Extras (and, lamentably, Stardust). If you remember that, then his not particularly funny observations about getting a goat for an African family for Christmas makes a certain amount of sense, and his jokes about rape and paedophilia can, to an extent, be justified. More extreme things can be found in the League of Gentlemen, certainly, where it is clear that the actors are playing characters. The problem is, how many people still see Gervais as a character and how much does Gervais himself still see it as a character? Leaving aside whether you can ever justify rape gags, the simple fact is his skits on Sunday weren’t funny – or original – enough and too reliant on shock value to get a nervous laugh. This is a shame since he is capable of truly excellent standup such as his daddy longlegs skit.

As I said above, I really hope they do make it an annual event. But if they do, here is some advice:

1. If you’re going to use Powerpoint, remember the cheap seats. We weren’t in the cheap seats, merely the inner circle, but even we couldn’t see Simon Singh’s slides. It did occur to me that this may have been some kind of anti-God ploy – on the offchance the Heavenly Host does exist, let’s make watching it slightly annoying for them and see how they like it! hah! – but if it was it was a little counter-productive. It isn’t as bad as when I went to see Phantom of the Opera in the Manchester Opera House many moons ago when the shock entrance of the Phantom was somewhat marred by the fact that from our elevated angle, we cheapies could see him blithely walking on stage 30 seconds before, but that was Andrew Lloyd Webber – what did I expect?

2. If people are going to just recycle vaguely relevant old material for the occasion, tell them to not bother. There was an act that did a song about Peter Gabriel on the basis that he was sort of named after the angel, but I sort of stopped paying attention after about 30 seconds. The evening was long enough and didn’t need this sort of filler.

3. A bit less music, a bit more sciencey stuff. I liked the fact that it wasn’t just an evening of jokes about eeeeevil Christians but was a celebration of science. It could have done with a little more.

But these are minor quibbles at the end of the day. I had a great evening and look forward to what they cook up for next year.