FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD – DEATH ON THE NILE (2020)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Produced by: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon, Kevin J. Walsh
Screenplay by: Michael Green
Based on: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Cast: Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright
UK Release Date: 23/10/2020
The cinemas are now open again and while the reason for their closure was understandable, it’s great to look forward to seeing some of the more grand and expensive films on the giant screen. I have very much made the most of watching loads of films and television programmes at home via streaming and digital channels, yet it was a pleasure to be back at the cinema this weekend watching TENET (2020). Kenneth Branagh features heavily in Christopher Nolan’s latest high concept brain-twister. Moreover, he also has an updated version of DEATH ON THE NILE (2020) being released soon. Thus, as I’m such a sucker for these old-fashioned murder mysteries I thought I’d give five reasons why it could be good.
Following the box office success of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), it comes as no surprise there is a sequel to the classy Hercule Poirot train-set murder mystery. Once again Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as the Belgian detective and he has also assembled a wonderful cast of A-listers and solid character actors within the ensemble. I’m especially pleased to see Annette Bening lend some gravitas to the glamour and whether GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie can break out into bigger film roles. Gal Gadot and Letitia Wright leave behind recent comic book films for an altogether more period setting. Lastly, who doesn’t want to see French and Saunders reunited on screen.
NOSTALGIA & FAMILIARITY
I have always loved Agatha Christie’s work be it in literary, radio, television or film mediums. DEATH ON THE NILE (2020) is a favourite of mine, especially as the 1978 version was the first Christie adaptation I saw at the cinema. I must have seen that particular film about twenty times over the years. So much so I know the plot backwards. I guess the nostalgia for watching a film as a child and familiarity with the story create a kind of comfort film. Thus, another positive reason why I am looking forward to the new adaptation is how they recreate a familiar classic.
As I established in a recent film review, I for one have a massive fear of flying. Thus, watching films set in exotic locations can be a way for me to experience vicariously places I would not normally visit. Seeing as the film is set on a boat travelling up the Nile, there is no doubt there will be some incredible sights to see while Poirot tries to solve a devilishly complex crime.
Agatha Christie truly knows how to create a masterful detective plot. In fact, she was a genius. What we now consider to be a cliched genre, the “whodunnit”, was practically invented and reinvented by Christie and this story has a particularly brilliant plot and ending. While the genre is familiar, I enjoy watching all the players in one location conflicting with each other. Of course, Poirot is an eccentric and brilliant detective, so even though I know he will solve the crime and how, paradoxically I still love the mystery of it all.
I have now watched the trailer a few times and it shone on the big screen at the weekend. It also does a great job of establishing the cast, characters and setting without giving away any of the plot. The Depeche Mode track really resonates with the grand voiceover, building to a crescendo where we get to meet Kenneth Branagh as the inimitable Poirot. Anyway, here it is!
Created by Harlan Coben – based on The Stranger by Harlan Coben
Writers: Harlan Coben, Danny Brocklehurst, Charlotte Coben, Karla Crome, Mick Ford etc.
Directors: Daniel O’Hara, Hannah Quinn
Cast: Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Shaun Dooley, Paul Kaye, Dervla Kirwan, Kadiff Kirwan, Jacob Dudman, Ella-Rae Smith, Brandon Fellows, Anthony Head, Stephen Rea, Hannah John-Kamen etc.
No. of Episodes 8
Network release: Netflix
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Imagine sitting in a bar or restaurant or at the gym or in a coffee shop minding your own business. A stranger approaches you and tells you something that your spouse or partner or relative was hiding from you. This is a secret which rips apart your life and turns everything upside down in the process. This is the basic premise of Harlan Coben’s adaptation of his own novel, The Stranger. Over eight gripping episodes the drama hooks you in from this point forth. Secrets, lies, violence, corruption, blackmail, betrayal and murder drive the narrative in a compelling and serpentine plot.
In what is the TV equivalent of a right page-turner, the main protagonist, Adam Price (Richard Armitage), is the first person to be approached by the titular Stranger. He is given information regarding his wife (Dervla Kirwan) and this threatens to tear his whole family apart. This is just the tip of the iceberg though in regards to the plotting. Other individuals are being targeted too by the Stranger. At the same time a teenager has been comatosed following a woodland rave. It’s not long before Siobhan Finneran’s DS Johanna Griffin investigates this crime, the bizarre beheading of a llama, plus murder, extortion and abduction.
At first, I thought it may be a metaphysical figure revealing guilty secrets to the cast of characters in a Stephen King supernatural-style narrative. However, Harlan Coben’s contemporary crime thriller is firmly set in reality, as it privileges familial and police procedural drama compellingly. Over the eight episodes I was glued to what happens next, as we get so many cat-and-mouse chases and character surprises throughout. Richard Armitage is excellent as the lead protagonist, desperately trying to keep his family together. The teenage character subplots are not so successful as the some of their acting is pretty dire. However, the likes of Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Paul Kaye and Stephen Rea add real quality to what is a conventional, but always watchable genre production.
ALL 4 CLASSIC TV REVIEW – “THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS. . . “
I have been continuing my cultural trawl through the online streaming platform ALL 4, which, if you didn’t know, screens television films and programmes from Channel 4’s roster, past and present. My next port of call was re-watching the twenty-three comedy films – ranging from thirty to six minutes – written and directed by the anarchic comedy collective called The Comic Strip.
The Comic Strip were pioneers of the late 1970s and early 1980’s alternative comedy scene. Much like punk rock did for music, alternative comedy sought to satirise and lampoon the status quo, railing against the capitalist, sexist and homophobic right wing politics of the day. This energetic and crazy comedy troupe consisted of now established comedic and acting luminaries such as: Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall (R.I.P), Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Nigel Planer, Robbie Coltrane, Keith Allen, and Alexei Sayle etc.
Peter Richardson booked and opened the first The Comic Strip show at the Revuebar’s Boulevard Theatre on October 7th 1980. Soon the company had television executives clamouring for these anti-establishment comedic talents. The BBC would soon get Mayall, Planer, Edmondson and Richardson signed up for the anarchic student comedy The Young Ones, and the rest, they say, is comedy history. Richardson would drop out of the classic BBC comedy show, but signed a deal with Channel 4 to write, produce and direct a series of films called The Comic Strip Presents. . .
Channel 4 was a perfect platform for the The Comic Strip as they were a brand new channel whose remit was to provide an alternative creative output to the more traditional British TV channels. Thus, on the launch night of Channel 4 in November 1982, their very first comedy film was released called Five Go Mad in Dorset (1982). Immediately, it caused controversy as the show mercilessly satirised Enid Blyton’s wholesome “Famous Five” with a scurrilous deconstruction of middle-class values. The first series consisted of six short half-hour films and were so successful they would run for another five seasons, plus many comedy specials and feature films too.
The Comic Strip Presents. . . above all else is extremely funny and took many risks in its productions, even to the extent that some episodes verge on avant garde incomprehensibility. The following episodes, however, perfectly marry that punk and anarchic spirit with reasonable narrative and genre cohesion. Well, I say that because I grew up with watching these legendary and always quotable comedy programmes.
To an outsider watching the first time round they may find them, like comedy masterpieces such as Monty Python, Spike Milligan, The Young Ones, The League of Gentleman and The Mighty Boosh, too surreal for their taste. But compared to some of today’s television they can seem quite tame and even dated. Having said that, at the time many of these shows were considered cutting-edge and even “dangerous”, shaking up the conservative complacency with satirical swipes, slapstick parodies, nihilistic irony and genre pastiche.
ALL 4/Channel 4, currently hold twenty-three episodes and I re-watched them all before writing this article. Please be aware that I am aware that there are a number of episodes produced for the BBC before The Comic Strip Presents. . . went back to Channel 4. But it’s at its’ original channel that I am focusing on today. Overall, for me, The Comic Strip Presents. . . is part of my cultural DNA and something I shall always treasure. The opening intro-ident with the bomb falling into the countryside and “Quando, Quando, Quando” playing is as iconic as it comes. Anyway, enough of the talking bollocks, here are some of their programmes I recommend you watch immediately!
BAD NEWS TOUR (1983) / MORE BAD NEWS (1988)
Two riotously funny fly-on-the-wall mockumentaries about the infamous British rock band, Bad News!
DIRTY MOVIE (1984)
Rik Mayall features as a slimy cinema-owner who wants to watch a porno in his cinema, in this silly, post-modern slapstick classic.
EDDIE MONSOON – A LIFE? (1984)
Adrian Edmondson stars as suicidal TV producer Eddie Monsoon, facing both financial and mental ruin.
THE BULLSHITTERS (1984)
British TV action show The Professionals is mercilessly lampooned with Keith Allen and Peter Richardson as tough-guy cops, Bonehead and Foyle.
THE STRIKE (1988)
Brilliant comedy which satirises the Hollywood adaptation of the British Miner’s Strike; starring Al Pacino (Peter Richardson) as Arthur Scargill!
MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR (1988)
Genuinely one of the funniest comedy films ever made, with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as Dreamytime Escorts! Together they have to “take out” Nicholas Parsons and cause mayhem in the process.
FOUR MEN IN A CAR (1998) / FOUR MEN IN A PLANE (2000)
Hilarious comedies about four salesmen out on the road who argue and conflict all the time. In each episode they manage to get themselves stranded on the motorway and in a barren desert.
NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER! THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL & MR JOLLY
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS YOU BASTARDS**
The passing of comedian and actor Rik Mayall was a ruddy shame. Of course I didn’t know the guy but from a cultural point-of-view here was a comedian, actor, raconteur, writer and clown who I grew up watching on the tellybox and escaped into fits of laughter just at his merest look, gesture, rant, pratfall and frying pan in the face. So when I heard of his death I was disappointed because he was dead. And would never be alive to perform again. That always positive energy was gone.
I myself have attempted stand-up on a lower-runged level of the comedy circuit and while you can obtain laughs through trial, error, gigging, experience, writing actual jokes blah, blah, blah etc. but what you can’t be taught is actually being funny. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. And Rik Mayall didn’t just have funny bones; he had funny eyes, ears, hair, nails, feet, hands, heart, spleen, blood etc. You get the picture: HE was fucking funny!
Kevin Turvey, Lord Flashheart, Richard Richard, his many Comic Strip performances, Alan B’stard, Drop Dead Fred, The Dangerous Brothers etc. were some of the many varied comedic performances Rik Mayall delivered. He could do clown, mania, slapstick, psycho, pathetic, sleazy, satirical, violence, arrogance, low status, high status, eloquence, sarcasm, smarm and many more. Like an overgrown demented child he could run amok, shout then whisper, go dark and then lighten up in a moment. And it was just so bloody natural.
Arguably his crowning performance was as Rick in The Young Ones, a surreal, punkish yet somehow still traditional situation comedy centred around four lazy students who essentially fail to get on whatsoever but still form a dysfunctional “family” unit. Rik was the spoilt mummy’s boy with inklings of anarchic desire yet with a penchant for Cliff Richard records. He was a spotty, poetry spouting virgin prone to bouts of rage and snivelling sycophancy and sneakiness with an anger toward authority and revolutionary ideals but neither the backbone, physical power or bottle to actually do anything that may bring a government down. He was basically a cowardly, hysterical child who happened to be hilarious at the same time.
The Young Ones was a defining comedy for me when I was growing up. I’d never seen anything like it. And ever since I have sought out such programmes containing profanity, imagination, stupidity, slapstick, satire, surrealism and above all else human beings trying and failing to get on with each other. I have subsequently found this in shows such as South Park, RedDwarf, Blackadder, The Day Today, Alan Partridge, The Office, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to name but a few. However, for the remainder of this piece I want to pay tribute to — if you put a gun to my head — my favouritest thing that Rik was in ever! One of the funniest 50 minutes of comedy ever committed. The Comic Strip film: MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR!
The Comic Strip Presents: erupted from the sordid strip joint stages of Soho or more specifically the original Comedy Store. Alumni included: Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle with frequent appearances by Keith Allen, Robbie Coltrane and many more comics who would become household names over the years. Anarchic, punkesque and anti-establishment in approach they were a hurricane of creativity challenging the comedic hegemony and what was considered to be the apolitical, sexist, politically incorrect and old-fashioned performers of the day.
From the stage they marched into our living rooms on the newly founded Channel 4 in 1982 (way back when C4 produced challenging programming) and over the years produced some wonderful and wacky short films, features and shows which satirised everything and anything from: literature, film, television, politics, music, war, fashion, sport, law etc. The Comic Strip Presents: were a staple for alternative souls and any new episodes were greeted with joy in the mind of South London latchkey-TV-addicted kids like myself.
The Comic Strip collective produced too many hilarious shows to mention but my favouritest ever is Mr Jolly Lives Next Door! Written by Mayall and Edmondson they presented two drunken, idiotic morons derived from their Dangerous Brothers’ stage personas. Together they are DREAMYTIME ESCORTS: alcoholic, depraved, sleazy con-artists with little or no redeeming qualities whatsoever; other than arguably perhaps they cause themselves more damage than others. Mr Jolly is a masterclass of violent slapstick, stupidity, sight gags, demented cameos and also some very well written jokes too.
It begins with our unnamed “heroes” helping the police with their enquiries relating to Fatty: a now dead client. Dreamytime Escorts then get confused with their mysterious-assassin-lunatic neighbour Mr Jolly (the hilarious Peter Cook) and somehow are involved in a plot to “take out” Nicholas Parsons; as arranged by demented gangland boss Mr Lovebucket (Peter Richardson). And the whole thing is directed by Stephen Frears – yes THAT Stephen Frears. The same one who directed The Grifters (1990), The Queen (2006) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) etc.
So with a deranged story — which I think may have influenced another moronic classic Dumb and Dumber (1994) — on the go the audience is driven along on a wave of anarchic fun and alcohol fuelled insanity with Rick and Ade having much fun while they’re at it. The scenes where they torture the Japanese client and get so drunk they end up in the toilet screaming at each other — having “borrowed” Mr Lovebucket’s £3000 to kill Parsons — are a senseless joy. The drunken nonsense is ramped up even more when they take Quiz Show host and TV celebrity Nicholas Parsons to the Dorchester on a night out; Parsons believing they are competition winners when in fact the “Escorts” have accidentally run the real winners off the road and killed them in a fiery blaze.
To a teenager the sheer pace of the lunacy was a thing of beauty and even now when I watch Mr Jolly the chaotic nature of the scenes at the Dorchester at Parson’s house are packed full of physical performances, celebrity in-jokes, stupid sight gags such as the tattoo which Ade thinks has been put on backwards when he looks at it in the mirror. I marvel at the comic timing, sheer energy and controlled mayhem on show. The next day they suffer the grandest of hangovers and when Mr Lovebucket calls in his debt the two drunks must actually kill Parsons. What follows is live action cartoon violence of a side-splitting variety with Rik getting a hammer over his head and Ade holding on while two grenades explode.
Cue a finale which involves a crazy car chase, Rick shitting himself, Dreamytime Escorts van ending up in a skip, Mr Jolly murdering Parsons to the tune of What’s New Pussycat, exploding tonic water and Peter Richardson’s Lovebucket uttering the immortal words: “WHAT IS GOING ON!?” before the whole premises blows up. What you have are Stooges like physical humour combined with Loony Tunes style cartoon violence. There is little satire and no subtlety but it is uproariously funny. We end with Ade and Rick walking down Camden Lock canal before Mayall pushes his partner-in-grime in the water for no reason. And that is what is so great about Mr Jolly: it has no underlying meanings or any depth. It’s stupid and violent and loud and ruddy funny. Rick Mayall was all of these too and much much more and I thank him and Ade for giving us this crazy masterpiece.