Category Archives: comedy

Film Review: The Social Network (so yeah…they mean Facebook)

Just a fad? A waste of time? For people with no real lives? Facebook may fall victim to the generation gap but there’s no denying its popularity.

Over 500 million people actively use the site, spending 700 billion minutes of their time every month updating statuses, poking people and checking out pictures.

The company is currently valued at $25 billion, making CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire of all time.

But The Social Network’s story begins well before all that in 2003, at a bar at Harvard University with poor socially awkward Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) being dumped by his Girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) for being elitist about his academic future.

Sure enough, Mark doesn’t react too well to this and goes on the computer-geek version of a alcohol binge, creating a site called which compares girls on the university campus, blogging all the while.

It’s not all megabytes and C++ coding though, and as Mark, with his business partner/best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), evolves their company from a lose connection of college students to the most popular social networking site in history the strain begins to show.

Mark and Eduardo soon don’t see eye to eye over the business, with Eduardo pushing to make money from their success while Mark insists: “We don’t even know what this is yet, all we know is that it’s cool.”

Whether the film is a true reflection of what really happened between the pair through those ground-breaking years, only seven years ago, is unlikely, but there is a keen sense of teenage-awareness with director David Fincher, helmsman of Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac, to keep the film entertaining as well as tense.

Zuckerberg wasn’t involved with the film and in fact only Saverin is loosely connected with the book which originated the film, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.

Nonetheless the events did happen, and a few unexpected names pop up in the opening credits such as Kevin Spacey as Executive Producer and Trent Reznor, the founder of industrial rock group Nine Inch Nails, on music duty alongside Atticus Ross, who appeared in Reznor’s post-Nails side project How to Destroy Angels.

The supporting cast has a few surprising additions, none more so than former pop sensation Justin Timberlake, who plays Sean Parker, a renegade entrepreneur who co-founded original music sharing site Napster back in 1999. Parker becomes a wedge between Mark and Eduardo and Timberlake manages to be convincing as the washed-up party boy – strange that.

Social media is undoubtedly a phenomenon, and Facebook is at the centre of it, like MySpace before it it changed everything about how people interact on the internet, and it continues to be important today, seven years on, after a lot of similar sites have long since declined, including MySpace itself.

As for the film the story is engaging because of the friendship between the characters, and anyone who has grown up with the rise of the internet will relate to it’s integration with the cyberculture which has evolved in the 21st century, as well as typical teenagery moments.

For those who don’t know Facebook and don’t want to know it won’t offer much, but to see what goes into something that has become more than ‘just a fad’ it is much more rewarding.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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Film: Review – Toy Story 3

The 2010 summer blockbuster season continues with a return to Andy’s room in comedic adventure flick Toy Story 3.

After a decade away from UK cinema screens (save some fancy 3D re-releases in the past year) Woody and the gang are up to their old tricks once more.

Andy, who’s voiced by John Morris (the same chap as in the first two films and now a 25 year-old!), is leaving for college and his beloved toys don’t want to be forgotten or thrown away.

Despite their best efforts the gang can’t tear Andy’s attention away from the all-too-familiar vices of modern life and after a mix-up they find themselves being donated to a daycare centre.

Here there’s a host of new, and often familiar, characters, but things aren’t as ‘sunny’ at Sunnyside as they seem.

In typical Disney (well…Pixar) style the story unfolds as organically as a modern fairytale, with some impressive little touches showing the depth of their characters, such as Jessie’s claustrophobia from her trauma in TS2.

The climax swaps the airport setting from its predecessor for a waste disposal plant, frighteningly realised as the fiery Hell on Earth for all toys, as well as alluding to the chilling dystopia from previous work Wall.E, but on a far larger (relative) scale.

The villain of the piece Lotso’ Huggin’ Bear pushes the limit on evil as well as teaching Disney’s usual lesson about why jealousy and bitterness are bad.

Stand-out character is easily Michael Keaton’s Ken, who defines the modern ‘metrosexual’ stereotype with some unusual fashion choices, while pig money box Hamm is graced with his usual selection of cynical quips and Buzz finds a whole new level of comedy after a botched factory reset…

With the rivalry between Woody and Buzz long forgotten the team work together seemlessly as the film builds to a climax with an incredibly touching moment as they are held on the brink of oblivion.

This proves to be only a hint at what’s to come though as the final coda sets tear ducts on maximum as the characters and audience alike say goodbye to a group of characters who they’ve known for over 15 years.

While some suggest the film is merely a vehicle for further merchandising; it’s obvious writers John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (who also directed) have put heart and conviction into this (surely) final chapter to a series which sparked the beginning of a new age of animation.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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Books: Review – Meltdown by Ben Elton

Satire is a difficult thing to get right. As simple as it looks on panel shows like Mock The Week or Have I Got News For You, behind the laughter lies teams of people trawling the news and random goings on of the world to fuel the comedy fire.

Meltdown, by Ben Elton, who’s comedy pedigree involves writing Blackadder series 2-4 with Richard Curtis and The Thin Blue Line, is one example of how when a number of satirical topics gel together well, you know you’ve got something special.

As the cover (above) implies, the book’s plot focuses around the recession and the fallout created after the collapse of Northern Rock, re-named in true Elton fashion as ‘Caledonian Granite’.

The recession? That’s old news?!” I hear you cry (from very far off…quietly), well, keeping things right up to date – an impressive feat considering Elton spends much of his time in far-off Australia – the book touches on the likes of MP’s expenses and cash for honours.

Elton, who has written 13 novels to date, has been criticised for his writing because his books often end unhappily, but really the important thing to note is that they always end as they would in the context of modern Britain. This is where Elton’s satire gains its power; these are believable stories which could happen, and despite exaggerating at points, mostly they just follow a worrying aspect of UK culture through to a conclusion and see what happens.

The protagonist (you know, the main guy) this time around is Jimmy, a banker was ousted from his job when phrases like ‘sub-prime’ and ‘negative equity’ began to creep in to the media. Despite living up to the reputation of his stereotype to a degree – he is (or was) a high-flying, arrogant executive who doesn’t know the value of money or the meaning of hard work – but Meltdown takes us on a light-hearted tour of what his life has become and how in many ways the fact that his ideal world has crumbled around him is for the best.

Jimmy belongs to an exclusive group representing the various aspects of high society: from Lizzie, the hard-working business woman with a world-famous catering business, David, an architect designing a building to bridge countries together, and Henry, a junior MP making his way up the ranks of the Commons.

The book is delivers what we’ve come to expect from Elton, though pointedly without any overly-graphic moments seen in earlier works, and Jimmy is one of the easiest of his characters to connect with, which helps draw in the reader every step of the way, from highs to lows; flashbacks to the present day.

For those who break into a grin at the thought of an MP pondering whether using his wife’s hair-dryer occasionally qualifies it to be claimed on expenses is just the kind of person who will love Meltdown. For those who think Qi and Celebrity Big Brother are on the same cultural wavelength…I’m sure there’s something exciting waiting for you on PriceDrop TV…

Verdict: 9/10

Surpassed only by earlier works like Chart Throb and Dead Famous, this is fun for the whole family – especially if you’re a banker.

The Top 10 British comedy programmes of all time – Part 2

Yes, the wait is over, finally find out who gets to number one, and then let the backlash of “what about X?!” “How DARE you leave out Y!” and “Z is a comedy institution!” commence.

5. QI (2003-Present)Stephen Fry hosts the geekiest comedy quiz show on TV. Apart from the continual moronic outbursts of regular guest Alan Davies (who they obviously couldn’t get rid of after the first episode), the show has been graced with appearances from all manner of famous faces, including: Jeremy Clarkson, Sean Lock, Bill Bailey, Dara O’Briain, Rich Hall and Jo Brand.

The premise of the show is that contestants get points for answering ‘interestingly’ rather than correctly, and lose ten points for obvious wrong answers. The show has given rise to a number of bizarre and, unsurprisingly, interesting facts, such as that Aspirin is the world’s most successful legal drug; heroin, the most successful illegal one and on March 7th, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was granted the patent for the telephone. (By rights, this belonged to Antonio Meucci.)

The champion aspect of the show is the general ignorance round, which dispells the mass-idiocy about certain “taken-as-read” facts about everyday life. For example, did you know that you are no more likely to feel unwell if you go swimming right after eating rather than waiting 30 minutes? Or perhaps you thought the Earth only has one moon? WRONG, it does, in fact, have two, the second one is called Cruithne and technically orbits the sun…it’s all very confusing.

Best Moment: When Dara O’Briain is deducted points for giving an answer which turned out to be incorrect in a previous series, causing him to remark “How many people sat at home watching that and said, ‘It’s just a comedy show, but I’m not letting that fecker get away with that!?'” (coincidentally the word “feck” was ruled to not be a swear word late last year). (Watch a clip of the inccorect answer)

4. ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’ – Now entertainment heavyweights in their own right, back in 1987 times were more quiet for Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. The pair first teamed up in Ben Elton series “There’s Nothing to Worry About”, which became “Alfresco” and went on to do a Christmas special/pilot for a sketch show in 1987, which became a fully-fledged series two years later.

The show follows the typical British comedy sketch show template (that of there not being one), with there being a spattering of recurring characters, notably the ‘yuppie’ businessmen John and Peter, amid cunning wordplays and subversion of stereotypes with the frequent ‘vox pops’ throughout the series.

Best Moment: Simple, yet effective, Hugh Laurie’s musical moments are frequently hilarious, but his parody of an American ballad, titled “America” is simplistic comedy gold, enjoy it here.

3. Blackadder (1983-1989) – Claiming the bronze medal is Rowan Atkinson and chums in this endlessly quotable tale of a man who’s forever at the unfortunate end of a situation. Accompanied by the adorably moronic Baldrick (Tony Robinson), the four series span the wealth of human history as Blackadder is heir to the throne, lord to Elizabeth I, butler to George V and captain in the WWI trenches.

The shows first series is often considered apart from the subsequent efforts, since it was written by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis and featured a weak and foolish Blackadder, a far cry from the cunning, money-obsessed man, wrought with bitterness and sarcasm, who appears in Blackadder II.

The reason for this is the addition of Tory-hater Ben Elton, who became co-writer with Curtis for the subsequent series, and the show enjoyed continual success and managed to end on a thoughtful note in the final tear-jerking episode ‘Goodbyeee…’ as Blackadder and the other infantry go over the top in slow motion to slowly fade into a poppy field, an end which was lauded by many families of WWI soldiers at the time.

Best Moment: Other than the fact that the show was used to teach me about ‘rotten boroughs’ in secondary school history, the show has a near-endless supply of classic moments, but one which encapsulates the spirit of the it is Blackadder’s futile attempt to teach Baldrick to count. (Watch it here)

2. Coupling (2000-2004) – It would be unfair to call this ‘the British version of Friends‘, as it so oft has been, because there is so much more to this relationship-centred sitcom. (In fact the show was tried in America as a word-for-word re-shoot, but it was cancelled after four episodes).

Focused around six friends, the show follows the development of the relationship of the two main characters, Steve and Susan, loosely based on the real-life relationship of series creator Steven Moffat (now Doctor Who head writer) and his wife Sue Vertue (who was a producer on the show).

The balancing act between the characters is integral to the shows success, accounting for the fall in quality in the final series when Richard Coyle‘s Jeff Murdoch left the series. The other characters, aside from Steve (Jack Davenport, of Pirates of the Carrabean fame) and Susan (Sarah Alexander – Green Wing), are Patrick (Ben Miles), a confident sexual preditor, Sally (Kate Isitt), a neurotic self-depricating spinster, and Jane (Gina Bellman), an air-headed and very sexual character who’s very aware of her own attractiveness.

The show offers not only comedy, but lessons for couples and friends alike, with such wisdom as ‘The Giggle Loop‘, ‘The Nudity Buffer‘ and ‘The Sock Gap‘. The characters all offer experiences which the audience can relate to their own lives, along with a host of comedy references and discussions to ensure it isn’t too grounded in reality.

Best Moment: Steve’s mammoth speech on the path of man and nudity is truely a testament to the brilliance of Steven Moffat’s writing and is not only hilarious, but absolutely true. (Watch it here)

1. Only Fools and Horses (1981-1991) – The gold medal goes to the comedy delights of John Sullivan‘s outstanding portrayal of suburban life in London, helmed by the Trotter Brothers Derrick (Del Boy), played by David Jason, and Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst).

The show spanned seven series and numerous Christmas specials, crescendoing with the 1996 special trilogy: Heroes and Villains, Modern Men and Time In Our Hands. Ignoring the lacklustre 2000’s specials, the trilogy has often been said by Sullivan to be the end he intended for the storyline, with Del Boy, Rodney and Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield) walking off into the sunset.

Language in the show was not only very 80s but also very slang-filled, allowing younger generations to be properly schooled in what is, surely, a lost art form.

The relationship between the two brothers is central to the story, with Del as a cheeky wheeler-deeler, doing hard graft and toeing the line of the law to make ends meet, while Rodney embraces future technology and environmentalism, taking a computer science course in later series, but is marred by a past of drug use, meaning he’s forced to work for Del instead of going out and making a living for himself, a fact which he constantly laments.

The supporting cast makes almost every episode classic, from Boycie’s (John Challis) caniving car deals to Trigger’s (Roger Lloyd Pack) simple-minded comments and his profound refusal to call Rodney by his name, instead calling him Dave, despite at one point having it explained to him by Rodney.

The show has created some of the most classic comedy moments of all time, and even now has relevence to modern society (particularly with the recession et al) and the rich characters and sharp writing is what makes the show deserve it’s title as the Greatest British Comedy Programme of all time.

Best Moment: Naturally countless, but the Trotter brothers’ trip to a fancy dress party in 1996 special ‘Heroes and Villains’ is a testament to the shows greatness. (Watch it here)

Well there you have it, hopefully you enjoyed this voyage through British comedy, of course, it is only my opinion, and if you disagree then by all means say, though I do feel I should mention some higly commended:

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – More than a comedy program, the films are what seperate this from the top 10, since with them they became more than a comedy programme. A truely terrific pillar of British achievement.

Dad’s Army
– Though considered to be amoung the comedy greats, this show missed out by it’s age, since I only judged shows which I’d seen all the way through, and sadly due to the fact that Dad’s Army was originally shown back in 1968, it would be unfair for me to judge it on the few episodes I’ve seen, though it is, undoubtedly, excellent nonetheless.

The Top 10 British comedy programmes of all time – Part 1

Comedy is always a tricky subject, since one man’s (or woman’s) comic genius is another man’s (or woman’s…damn political correctness) load of old rubbish.

With the wealth of material available, it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to just 10, but This is Entertainment is proud to present to you, the excitable masses, the first installment of the Top 10 British comedy programmes of all time:

10. Red Dwarf (1988-1999) – Lister and co took comedy to space in a way which hadn’t ever been done before (at least not so successfully) and in their eight series managed to cover a wide range of (vaguely) scientific subjects, and keep the overall narrative of the series’ working so that the show never became stale, despite welcome and unwelcome changes throughout the years.

Despite Craig Charles‘ Lister being the centre of the show, the only surviving human after a radiation leak kills everyone else aboard the mining ship Red Dwarf, it remains an ensemble piece, with the early series playing on the juxtaposition of Rimmer (Chris Barrie) and Lister’s personalities, helped along by the classic interjections of the ship’s computer Holly (Norman Lovett), while the latter series were more dramatic, and were a generally effective, if unusual change of pace.

Best Moment: The episode “Backwards” when the crew find themselves on a planet where time goes in reverse, leading to a number of quirkily hilarous situations, particularly Lister getting into a fight for un-eating someones pie. (Watch it here)

9. Never Mind The Buzzcocks (1996-present) – You might say it’s splitting hairs to include a show which isn’t an out and out comedy, but ‘Buzzcocks is one of the most consistantly funny comedy quiz shows on the box.

The music-based panel game was prestented first by Mark Lamar (1996-2002) and then Simon Amstell (2002-present), two teams consisting of a captain and two guests answer music based questions, often about the guests own songs or careers.

The team captains are Phil Juppitus and Bill Bailey (previously Sean Hughes) and along with Amstell, proceed to mock the panelists around a vague gameshow format.

Best Moment: In one episode, Simon Amstell made a joke about Ordinary Boys vocalist Samuel Preston’s then-wife Chantelle Houghton by reading an extract from her autobiography, leading to Preston saying “That is out of order!” and walking off the show, only to be replaced by a member of the audience who looked a it like Preston, picked out by Bill Bailey, for the rest of the episode. (Watch it here)

8. Black Books (2000-2004)Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig starred in a sitcom centered around a bookshop of the same name, run by cynical alcaholic Bernard Black (Moran) and his Egor-ish assistant Manny (Bailey).

The show ran for three seasons on Channel 4, and in that time attracted a cult following, and featured guest stars including Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, David Walliams, Peter Serafinowicz and Julian Rhind-Tutt.

What makes the show so good, is that it’s very British, with all the British cynicism, complaining and resistance to change epitomised by Bernard, while Manny being more optimistic, and constantly coming up with ideas of how to attract more customers to the shop. Fran Katzenjammer (Greig) is the mother figure, as well as giving the pair relationship advice, but the funniest aspect of her character is her general quirkiness, particularly around men she likes.

Best Moment: The perfect embodiment of the show is when Fran and Manny are both trying to convince Bernard to do things with them in the series 2 episode “Fever”, to which Bernard replies “Oh, I dunno, walls, thermometers, it’s an impossible decision. I’ll just have to hope that when I flip the coin it somehow explodes and kills me.”

7. Have I Got News For You (1990-present) – The show that gave the news a funny bone hit screens back in the 90s accompanied by the satirical trio of Angus Deayton, Paul Merton and Ian Hislop. Now, 36 series and a scandal or two later, the show survives to bring current affairs to a new generation.

Since Deayton’s departure in 2002 the show has been graced with a range of guest presenters (of varying success), while it searches for someone to fill his shoes.

The ever-updated title screen is a telling satirical portrait of modern life, and in itself manages to raise a smile or two.

Best Moment: Aside from the episode after Deayton’s affair with a prostitute is exposed, which is not only hilarious but brutal, an episode from the late 90s sees Piers Morgan on the panel suggest “jam” is the answer to an ‘odd-one-out’ question. When asked why he replied that Eddie Izzard had said it the previous week and everyone thought it was very funny, to which Hislop explained: “Yeah, but people like him!” (Watch it here)

6. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) – A post-Python John Cleese stars as one of the most iconic comedy characters of all time: Basil Fawlty. Along with Andrew Sachs (who is, in fact, not from Barcelona, but Germany) as half-wit Spaniard Manuel, the quiet little Torquay hotel gives rise to an impressive catalogue of golden moments, despite it’s criminally short life-span, with only 12 episodes ever broadcast.

The other characters give Basil his stage, particularly Prunella Scales‘ shrieking Cybil Fawlty and Connie Booth‘s Polly. Interestingly it was Booth not Scales who was Cleese’s real wife at the time, and Booth also co-wrote the programme with him.

When a show integrates with British society so easily it’s hard to deny it a position as one of the greats, how many times have you heard someone mutter “Don’t mention the war!”

Best Moment: The oft-quoted Germans episode passes the test of time (particularly since so much is crammed into one story), but the greatest single exchange is the Gourmet Night episodes’ finale, which sees Fawlty, finally believing to have sorted out his series of unfortunate mishaps with food, unveils not duck with orange sauce, but a trifle. (Watch it here)

Five down, five to go, but who will make the top spot? Stay tuned for the hilarious conclusion…