Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee


Controversial, funny, outrageous, naughty and talented. Sarah Silverman has been a mainstay on US television for over 15 years now. She’s star of The Sarah Silverman Program, and writer and performer for Saturday Night Live plus other comedy landmarks of comparable gravitas.

The Bedwetter is Silverman’s first memoir with thoughts and reflections on her 39 years of life to date.

I have been a Silverman fan for some time and was eager to see what she would serve up on paper. I had no idea what to expect, as I knew nothing of her life outside of her gags.

What The Bedwetter does it does quite well. It is a series of recollections of Silverman’s life that are sometime skewed for comic effect. However, she only allows us a simple overview of her life. Although she had a really tough start - the death of a brother before she was born, great battles with childhood depression, and the divorce of her parents - we rarely get to scratch beneath the surface of Silverman’s feelings, the reader is kept at arms length.

One of the more frank and honest confessions from Silverman is her struggle with chronic bedwetting, something she was plagued with well into her teens. She is open and honest about this for large sections of her book, and also uses this honesty to comic advantage - "I was a late bloomer all round. My period came late, my ability not to go off like a fucking lawn sprinkler every night came late, and sex came late. Essentially, everything to do with the general flow of traffic in my vagina came late."

There are some great stories about her time as an aspiring comedian in her drug and sex fuelled 20s, and she provides an interesting peek behind the curtain of the US comedy scene in the 90s. Details of the making of her show and Saturday Night Live are extremely interesting.

As you’d expect from a professionally funny person, there are some terrific laugh out loud moments. She muses about how dull diaries written by young girls are, including several extracts from her own, and continues: “I should say that I’m mostly talking about the diaries of teenage girls. Teenage boys diaries are different. They tend to read thusly: Dear Diary: I’ve been feeling so – oh, opps, look at this, I’m writing a diary. So I guess that settles it: I’m gay. Thanks Diary!”

Silverman writes her own Foreword, has a Midword half way in and God himself writes her Afterword.

I did enjoy this book, but not as much as I was hoping to. Silverman admits that this is probably a book to enjoy on the toilet. Perhaps I should have taken this advice and read short extracts on an occasional basis rather than getting through it all in one hit. Ultimately I wanted more from The Bedwetter, it isn’t as funny as I was expecting and the distance Silverman keeps from the reader means you never really feel like she is sharing a secret. Pity.



This one is just a little bit silly. It is abrasive, riddled with one-dimensional characters, has an almost inanely simple plot and is extremely cheesy. But this is all part of the charm of Machete. It is a stereotype loaded, tongue in cheek B movie.

Take revenge, immigration, comic book violence, a little nudity and some A List actors, throw them in a blender and you’ll be drinking a Machete smoothie.

The ever deadpan Danny Trejo is the ex Mexican federale all action angry man on a revenge mission. Given that he is perhaps not the most stunning leading man, he seems to bizarrely have some of the most beautiful women throwing themselves at him.

Lindsey Lohan is the drug addicted, self obsessed naughty girl turned gun toting nun. Nice to see her back on screen.

Jessica Alba the earnest special agent.

Michelle Rodriguez is the taco stall owning head of the underground operation. She just about edges it in the battle of the screen babes in this one.

Robert De Niro the evil senator. He is woeful in this, horrible.

And Steven Segal, looking twice the size from his early days, the ultimate villain. Honestly, he’s really pretty massive now.

That is about that. There is plenty of action, and masses of violence – like when Trejo slices a man open then uses his intestine as an escape rope and jumps out of a window swinging on it.

The script is suitably crafted and easy to follow, Alba sums up Trejo’s situation at one point: “exploding houses, bodies falling from the sky. Jesus Christ Machete, you’re a fucking walking shit magnet.”

It is co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis and it does exactly what you’d expect, but nothing more. Entertaining and silly action, plenty of guts and gore, some imaginative killing sequences and an overall vibe of low-grade 70s-esque visuals.

Did I enjoy it? In parts. It is not a great movie, but it is a reasonably entertaining one. I know plenty of people who will love this, but I’m not in any hurry to watch it again. It is like a comic book that you are fond of but not obsessed by, quite entertaining whist you are reading it, but instantly forgettable once you’ve put it down.


The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell

A Novel?


Are your emotions pure? Are your nerves adjustable? How do you stand in relation to the potato? This is how The Interrogative Mood opens. Three seemingly unrelated and random questions that make you pause for thought.

The thing is, after these three questions come three more equally random and thought provoking questions. And another three. And another.

In fact, you quickly realise that the entire page is simply filled with questions. The page becomes the whole of the first chapter and you start to ask yourself – but when is the plot going to begin?

The Interrogative Mood is an entire novel (?) filled with questions. Some of them are random and silly; others are designed to get you thinking about the greater good, life, the universe, and vegetables. How many people have you known called Bobby? Do you grasp Ohm’s Law? Does “bimbo” refer only to women?

There are three ways to read this book and all of them enjoyable. I have read the questions aloud to friends and pondered their answers. I have read this alone as a bold and mood changing experience. And I have left the book in my toilet for myself and other visitors to pick and peruse at random.

Would you enjoy this book as much as I did? Why don’t you find out for yourself?

Bored To Death

TV Series

I’m going to assume that you haven’t seen Bored To Death – chances are a few of you caught the, frankly rubbish, first episode and decided not to invest your precious time.

I too saw episode one and decided to opt out. It seems that nobody managed to tell my Sky + box and thus I discovered a few further episodes stored away. Partly down to curiosity and partly down to the fact that it has Zach Galifianakis (who I love), I decided to have a run at a couple more episodes. Whilst I can’t describe it as initially gripping, I must confess episode two was an improvement and by the end of episode three I was pretty chuffed.

This is a comedy/detective/light-hearted series that grows on you. It is ridiculous and a bit naff, but it is also getting funnier and funnier by the episode, has extremely likeable characters, great performances, and the writers have really gotten into their groove. Perhaps someone gave them funny pills or just a massive injection of confidence, as this is waaaaay above what was initially served up.

The hero Jason Schwartzman is a diminutive struggling writer who has set himself up as an unlicensed detective with a pot addiction. He has a broken heart, a quirky best friend (Galifianakis) with many personal problems of his own, and an even more quirky boss played by the ever classy Ted Danson.

In this week’s episode Schwartzman is enlisted to assist Galifianakis in tracking down two lesbians to whom he has been donating sperm for the past few weeks. Sample dialogue:
Galifianakis:“ What if they got in a car accident, what if they are in a coma?”
Schwartzman: “I don’t think they would both be in a coma.”
Galifanakis: “They do everything together”.

Our apprentice detectives set out to track down the ladies to alleviate Galifianakis’ concerns. What they stumble onto reveals that the ladies have been selling his sperm on the black market to lesbian couples. As they visit each couple from a list of 30, Galifianakis becomes more and more upset to discover that none of his samples have worked, leading him to believe he is impotent.

Whist all this is going on, Ted Danson who is a magazine publisher has a run-in with an archenemy that taunts him about his age and faltering readership. Danson decides to publish an article decrying his enemy and claiming he has a “mouth like a starfish’s anus”. One thing leads to another and by the end of the episode Danson has accepted a boxing match with his nemesis and Schwartzman has been roped in to fight the nasty sidekick. Once again Galifianakis jumps in: “what about me, I wanna fight, can I get in on this…” And up pops ‘To be continued…”


Monday, 9 May 2011

Black Swan


Natalie Portman won the best actress Oscar for this one, and it is clear to see why. She is superb. Haunting, fragile, tragic, beautiful and frankly f**ked up. When Portman is on form she really delivers.

Although I can understand what all the hype is about with Black Swan, I’m not going to be adding my name to any fan-club lists. It is powerful and poignant, but for me a little too ponsy.

This is a very watchable, sometimes gripping film that has been made with real class and panache. Particular attention has to be given to the cameramen who often follow Portman across the sprung floor as an additional dancer. Vincent Cassel is convincing as the menacing, seductive, little princess maker. Mila Kunis shines as the object of Portman’s obsession. This is a strikingly well choreographed movie and directed with style and grace by Darren Aronofsky.

Having a background in performance I have a fair few friends who make a living on stages across the globe. Although clearly heightened for Hollywood, Portman’s state of mind in Black Swan is one I found easy to believe from seeing friends ‘become’ the roles they play.  Her demonstration of a woman consumed with obsession and self-doubt is first class.

The caveman in me suspects that for ladies and luvvies Black Swan is a match made in heaven. For the fellas more inclined to Pele than plie there is a lesbian scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman and more violence than you’d expect from a movie ‘about ballet’!


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Enter The Void



This is one extremely bizarre, brilliant, awful, weird watch. I found moments of this film so difficult to sit through that I actually had to stop and come back to it some time later, not because of its haunting content, but because it was actually painful on my eyes.

A young American drug addict living in Tokyo is murdered and his ghost returns to watch over his sister.

Initially set from first person point of view we are the young man – complete with blinking eyes, a couple of significant drug induced trips, and his thought process. We also experience his murder first hand. We then become the spirit/ghost who spies upon his sister (an erotic dancer/prostitute) and the pieces of his life come together with a powerful and disturbing sequence of flashbacks.

It is uncomfortable viewing, but it is also quite astonishing. I’ve not seen anything like this before.

Some of it feels too much like experimental filmmaking with director Gaspar Noe literally throwing every visual trick he can think of at it. There is an awful lot achieved with painful lighting and smoggy blurred focus, which are frankly frustrating. The plusses centre on the freedom he gives the ‘floating’ camera. Tokyo looks like a neon kingdom with ultraviolet corners, a fantastical perverts playground only ever witnessed at night.

Throughout this film you are contradicted, you applaud what is being done, but don’t particularly enjoy the process of watching it. Gaspar Noe is no stranger to controversial filmmaking with his 2002 shocker Irreversible one of the most disturbing sexually violent films ever made.

Enter The Void is a dark and twisted story of drugs, broken families, prostitution, incestuous longing, and murder. Sometimes effects are dwelt upon for just too long, particularly the trippy psychedelic moments that are initially impressive, but quickly become dull. The title sequence alone is enough to put plenty of viewers off; I came very close to walking away.

Having never done a trip myself I can’t attest to the accuracy of the film’s depiction of the drug-induced sequences, but as a clear-headed viewer, it certainly took me off in a direction I was not predicting.

It is seedy and twisted, with some deranged themes and plenty of uncomfortable tangents. For all the exciting visual delights that we are bombarded with, it also has moments that are relentlessly dull, poorly acted and feels a little like the director is obsessed with shocking rather than engrossing and entertaining.

A confusing and haunting film that I expect by now you assume I will cast down on as not worth it. But the fact is that Enter The Void is a nightmare, something we all dread but all experience. Nightmares take us to terrible places, but we survive them, learn from them, sometimes even enjoy moments of them. Above all, they stay with us.

You may not make it through the whole of Enter The Void, but if you do it is sure to stay with you. It is horrible, frustrating, self-indulgent at times, but it is also strangely compelling, has moments of visual delight and the freedom Noe gives the camera is dreamlike and at times beautiful.

An often bad-trip, but it’ll stay with you and you may just learn something.


Shades Of Grey by Jasper Fforde


Having delighted in The Well Of Lost Plots, one of Fforde’s earlier books, and having seen the sleeve reviews calling this one a ‘comic genius’ and ‘brilliantly written’ I snapped up Shades Of Grey when it winked at me from the book shelves.

Now here’s the thing. Fforde is brilliant at hooking you in to a story from the first page. He instantly sets up a string of plotlines for which you just crave to know the outcomes. The challenge that follows is that he then spends the rest of the book taking the longest route possible to return to the set-up where you can finally get your answers. Rather like watching Harry Hill live, where he will start a joke and then not return to it until the end of his routine, although with Hill you revel in all the material in between, with this book, you do not.

Shades Of Grey is 432 pages long and Fforde has opted for the smallest font type permitted. The words are tiny. This is long book, it requires vast concentration and frankly becomes extremely frustrating getting anywhere with the plot. There are some people who will love his word play, revel in his detailed cunning, and bask in their own cleverness for finding the whole thing so amusing and highbrow. I am not one of those people. I want a story that will grip me, and force me through the pages at breakneck speed. I’m all for clever language and an imagination that breaks off at quirky tangents, but I like it to stay plot-loyal wherever possible. Don’t get me wrong, concentrating on a book is not a bad thing, but when it becomes hard work, the pleasure is slips away.

This book is so overloaded with puns it actually gets to the point where you stop enjoying them and start numbing them out as you crave a return to the story that, at its core, is actually very enjoyable.

I’m not going to bog you down with the plot, but needless to say, in amongst all these words is a great story. If you can find your way through all the waffle you will find a catchy little everyman tale with heroes and villains and plenty in between. When I did manage to steer my reading through all the cleverness I was hooked…so imagine my despair when, on the very last page, it is revealed that this is book one of a trilogy. The awful thing is, now I have invested all this energy into these characters, I want to see what happens next!