Great Movie Switchovers

Originally posted on Chris Hallam's World View:

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Few greater changes can occur on a movie’s production than the leading man being replaced at the last minute.

But what if history had played out differently? Yes, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones now, but it almost happened.

Just consider…

HARRISON FORD Vs TOM SELLECK

The role:  Adventurer/archaeologist Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The first choice: Tom Selleck, star of TV’s Magnum PI.

The replacement: Harrison Ford. Despite small parts in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, Ford was not actually a star in 1981. Even his role as Han Solo in Star Wars had not assured him stardom in itself (any more than it did for his co-stars Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher).

The switch: After struggling to receive serious attention from the industry into his mid-thirties, Selleck landed the role of Magnum in…

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Book review: The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Jem Roberts

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Frood, as in “There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is” is a word created by Douglas Adams himself. He would never have referred to himself as one of course and one wonders if the term which is defined as a “really amazing together guy” by no less an authority than The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy generally applied to Adams, a man who was, after all, notorious for missing deadlines. What’s not in dispute, thirty five years after his first novel first appeared and thirteen years after his absurdly premature death is that Adams was a genius and among the top set of the best British comic writers of the twentieth century.

Adams was at his least “froody” only a short while before his greatest success. Six foot five inches tall and prone to taking day long baths while his housemate rising comedy producer legend John Lloyd went to work at the BBC, Adams despaired of ever being successful himself. This is odd as we are only talking 1976 here when Adams was still only 24. It is also a little odd as he had already achieved quite a bit such as working alongside his heroes Monty Python (by a strange coincidence appearing in one episode of Python, number 42).

But the next few years would see a period of frantic overwork for Adams: scripting for his dream show Doctor Who, writing a children’s cartoon Doctor Snuggles to make ends meet and, of course, scripting the radio series, TV shows and books of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. The saga would make Adams a millionaire before he was thirty and would dominate the last twenty years of his life.

The Babel Fish. The number “42”. Marvin the paranoid android (a popular character, who, of course, was not actually especially paranoid, just depressed). Towels. Slartibartfast. Vogon poetry. The saga provided the perfect vehicle for Adam’s hugely inventive brain. Five novels were produced in total (though the fourth one So Long And Thanks For All The Fish was a bit of a dud) and Adams was behind numerous adaptations notably a memorable text based computer game and various attempts to launch Hitchhiker as a film. This was, of course, only finally realised after Adams’ death. The result by Garth Jennings in 2005 was a mixed bag as Roberts notes somewhere between a success and a failure. The closest Adams came to a film was a possible collaboration with future Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. This foundered over Adam’s script which left any director little creative leeway and the saga’s previous tendency to resist any sort of narrative structure.

Like Jem Roberts’ brilliantly exhaustive previous book The True History of the Black Adder, this is a superb well researched book, especially detailed on all the many side projects Adams embarked upon with varying degrees of success. It is truly as essential a guide for any fan of the saga as the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide was for Ford Prefect as he travelled across the universe.

It is a shock to realise Douglas Adams would be barely into his sixties if he were alive even now. This is a fitting tribute to a giant of comic literature, taken from us far too early.

Going Solo: The early years of Han Solo

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Looking forward to the proposed Star Wars spin-off feature about Han Solo’s early years? Don’t bother. Everything you need to know about the early days of the roguish space captain is here…

SCENE 1

Even longer ago…

Medical droid: Congratulations Mr and Mrs Solo: It’s a boy!

MR SOLO: Well done luv! What shall we call him?

MRS SOLO:  I’ve got a list of the most popular boy’s names for last year: Anakin…Boba…Han… Jabba…Jago…Lando… Luke…Qui-Gon…

MR SOLO: Ho ho! Bloody ridiculous. “Luke” just sounds made up. How about “Han”?

SCENE 2

Fifteen years later…

Careers droid: According to the survey, you should try to become an accountant, a Storm Trooper or a smuggler/ship captain/ future leader of the Rebel Alliance.

Han: Hmmm. Accountancy’s boring but they do get paid well. I suppose I could do a Year Out first…

SCENE 3

Tatooine 15 years later again. Han is visiting Jabba the Hutt…

HAN: You know if you do try to send anyone to kill me, I’ll have to shoot them? It doesn’t matter if they try and shoot me first. It’s  just self defence. I’ll  have to.

JABBA: <Of course! Why would anyone waste time debating that? Think of all the Stormtroopers who get shot every day. . No one goes on about wasting time discussing whether they shot first or not do they? YEEERRRROOOW! Mind my tail! Arsehole.>

SCENE 4

Han sits alone, drinking at the bar of the Mos Eisley Cantina…

HAN: Jeez. Where the hell is Lando? You just can’t trust that guy to do anything…

Han notices a Wookie sitting next to him (it is Chewbacca).

CHEWBACCA:  Wyaaaaah!  Rugguhhh.

HAN: Hey…I don’t suppose you fancy being  co-pilot on my new ship?

CHEWBACCA: Uma firmin…<Okay. Why the hell not?)

HAN: What? You’re agreeing just like that? Don’t you want to know anything about me first?

CHEWBACCA: Yo agahaha. Arrragh graggh yeooowwwl grag cumberbatch funbags barroowl. Mumford doggerel grabach blorsplog.

<Not really. I can see that you are a charismatic and cynical space adventurer with a roguish charm and a doubtless eventful past. In theory, hearing about your life in detail would be great but, to be honest, it would probably take some of the magic away. Sometimes it’s better to leave an air of mystery around these things, don’t you think?>

HAN (drinks): I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

THE END

(Alternative names for the film: Han Rocks The Cradle, So Near And Yet Solo, Greedo Is Good, That’s The Way The Wookie Crumbles…)

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DVD review: Episodes Series 4

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Episodes is a comedy series about people making comedy series.

Following their hellish experience adapting their own successful British sitcom into “Pucks” (a US remake, wrecked by producer interference) British husband and wife comedy writing team Bev and Sean (Greig and Mangan) find themselves back in Hollywood.  With Sean, at any rate, lured back by the prospect of cash, the duo escape the extramarital shenanigans that characterised the first three series of Episodes but otherwise find themselves enduring the same Hollywood nightmare. Again. And again. And again.

Pucks star Matt LeBlanc (playing an unflattering version of himself) finds himself facing multiple dilemmas after losing half of his multimillion fortune. Should he sell his private plane, remarry his ex to cut down on his alimony payments or agree to do a terrible new quiz show “Beat The Box” with his hated ex-boss Merc Lapidus (Pankow, great)? Or would recording a sex tape with one of his co-stars or attending the birthday party of a malevolent but wealthy foreign dictator offer a solution? Carol (Perkins), meanwhile, finds herself sleeping with her boss again, while Bev and Sean find themselves at the heart of a bidding war over their new script The Opposite Of Us.

Like the show within the show Pucks, some may be surprised that Episodes has made it to four series (indeed, a fifth, somewhat incredibly, is already on the way). It has its strong points: Matt LeBlanc is generally a hoot and there’s a good chemistry between Greig and Kathleen Rose Perkins, the latter’s character Carol somehow providing a link between the insincere corporate world represented by Merc and new boss Helen Basch (Andrea Savage) and the more human world of Sean and Bev.

But generally this is increasingly tired stuff. Episodes peaked during its second series. Now a whole scene is based around the fact that Bev and Sean inadvertently choose to wear similar shirts one morning. Ha ha. “A brilliant, laugh-out-loud comedy…and a hilarious romantic comedy” this is not. There is no genuine romance at all and little hilarity.

In fairness, it’s never actually terrible either and occasionally is still quite amusing. But Episodes has clearly had its day.  Presumably the fact that it is returning for a fifth series owes itself to the fact that it has been far better received in the US than it has in the UK.

Episodes:  Series 4 DVD

Starring: Matt LeBlanc, Tamsin Greig, Stephen Mangan, Kathleen Rose Perkins, John Pankow

Extras: Blooper Reel

9 episodes

Release date: July 13th 2015

RRP: £20.42

BBC Worldwide

Matt LeBlanc as himself, Tamsin Greig as Beverly Lincoln and Stephen Mangan as Sean Lincoln in EPISODES (Season 3, episode 3) - Photo: Des Willie/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: episodes_303_B5012

The quest for a new JFK

Originally posted on Chris Hallam's World View:

Fifty year have now passed since the presidency of John F. Kennedy and one thing is obvious: the US Democratic Party has never escaped the ghost of his memory. True, no member of the Kennedy family has ever been on the presidential ticket in the years since (Sargent Shriver, Kennedy’s brother in law, came the closest as George McGovern’s running mate in 1972). But consciously or unconsciously, the Democrats have repeatedly opted for the man they have perceived to be closest to the charismatic, idealistic Kennedy ideal as their candidate for the presidency. The fact that the Kennedy name has since been tarnished by revelations about his prolific sex life, his dealings with the Mafia and by harsh reassessments of his presidency has made no difference.

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Book review: Ardennes 1944 – Hitler’s Last Gamble by Antony Beevor

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As 1944 neared its end, a spirit of optimism seized the Allied forces. Following the D-Day landings in June (detailed in Antony Beevor’s last book) the Allied advance towards Berlin looked unstoppable. Many predicted a repeat of 1918 and a second internal collapse within Germany ensuring Allied victory before Christmas 1944. This was not to be.

Hitler’s surprise counter-attack on the relatively undefended area of the Ardennes failed in its ultimate aim to split the Allies by driving them back to Antwerp. But it did succeed in prolonging the war, provoking a fit of squabbling among the Allied generals – notably Montgomery, Patton and Eisenhower and cost many lives. Among the US troops on the ground were the established author and adventure-seeker Ernest Hemingway and the future novelists JD Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut. Trapped in the notorious Hurtgen Forest, the future Catcher In The Rye author Salinger was present for one of the bloodiest engagements endured by US forces during the entire war.

Few topics have proven more an enduring a source of fascination than the Second World War and few have continued to chronicle it as masterfully as Antony Beevor.

Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble by Antony Beevor. Published by: Viking.

Book review: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Originally posted on Chris Hallam's World View:

Funny Girl

Perhaps no British sitcom is more fondly remembered than Barbara (and Jim). The comedy series which enjoyed a popular four series run in the mid-1960s made a star of lead actress Sophie Straw and changed British TV forever.

Except of course, it didn’t, for convincing as this enjoyable novel by Nick Hornby is, neither Sophie Straw and Barbara (and Jim) ever existed. In fact, we first meet the fictional Sophie when she is still going under her real name Barbara Parker, poised to win and ultimately reject the title Miss Blackpool 1964. For while she is pretty, Barbara is also determined to be known for being funny like her heroine, US TV star Lucille Ball. Setting her sights on London, Barbara (now known as Sophie) dazzles a crew of jaded writers as she auditions for a hackneyed TV pilot going under the dubious title Wedded Bliss? Recognising they have discovered…

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How not to win a TV quiz show

Originally posted on Chris Hallam's World View:

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One of the fun things about TV quiz shows (particularly those which offer a multiple choice of possible answers and which encourage the contestant to explain their reasoning at tortuous length) is seeing the same question answering technique return again and again.

Here is a typical question and answer, plus a selection of different (and mostly stupid) ways people tend to respond

Q: Which English monarch was responsible for the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century?

Is it:

a)      King John.

b)      King Richard III.

c)       King Henry VIII.

The correct answer is: c) King Henry VIII.

Method 1: Ruling out the correct answer for an irrelevant reason.

e.g. Hmmm. Well, Richard III was at the Battle of Bosworth. I know Henry VIII had six wives. So I’ll go for John!

Henry VIII did, indeed, have six wives. But he also dissolved the monasteries. He did both!…

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DVD review: W1A Series 1 and 2

Originally posted on Chris Hallam's World View:

W1A DVD

The problem with peopling a comedy series with annoying characters is that the series as a whole can end up being annoying rather than funny. This is a bit of an issue for W1A, John Morton’s follow up to his own Twenty Twelve. That dealt with the farcical goings on at the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission in the run-up to the 2012 London Games. This follows the onetime Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher (Bonneville) as he grapples with the frustrations and inertia of life at the BBC where he has been appointed to the meaningless position of Head of Values.

Fletcher is not especially annoying himself and along with Head of Inclusivity Lucy Freeman (Sosanya) is probably the closest thing we have to a hero or at least a sympathetic character in the whole thing. Fletcher is joined by the most memorable character from Twenty Twelve, the vacuous SIobhan Sharpe…

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DVD review: Vic and Bob’s House Of Fools – Series 1

Originally posted on Chris Hallam's World View:

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Warning: if you don’t like silliness, look away now. For House Of Fools is very very silly indeed.
A typical scenario sees Bob deciding with Vic’s help, to sit in a warm tin warm bath on the stove. The bath seems too small for Bob’s dimensions but he initially seems comfortable enough. When the water eventually gets too hot. Bob falls off and ends up with the bath embedded on his back. He is soon scuttling around like a turtle with a tin shell before his housemates Vic and Bosh (Dan Skinner) are able to brutally remove him. You see what I mean? Ingenious but bonkers and often enlivened by bizarre animated sequences usually ending with someone’s head catching fire.
It’s also very good fun. And funny as Vic and Bob are (even if after 25 years on our screens, neither can act), House Of Fools would be nothing without…

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