Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In the Loop / Armando Iannucci Links

Update: In the Loop is now available on demand on many cable and satellite systems. Check on this page for details. Now you don't have any excuse.

I'm really into In The Loop, so I'm adding a few links that may interest people who liked the movie or who are considering it.

Audio interview from Sound of Young America, which is a pretty thorough gabber for a US program. Asks about On the Hour and The Day Today, as well as quite a bit about various Alan Partridge incarnations.

Audio Interview by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Video interview by Charlie Rose on PBS. Roses' tics are on display but Iannucci has a few minutes to talk.

Audio interview with Leonard Lopate on WNYC in New York. A good radio interview, and not too long.

I wrote a post about Iannucci's stuff before I saw the move, and another after I'd seen it (a review). In those I mentioned the Metacritic scores (more reviews there), and they've stabilized at the stellar score of 84, now from 23 reviewers.

Rotten Tomatoes now has In the Loop at a great score too: 94% Fresh. [ As an aside, I appreciate what Rotten Tomatoes does, and used them exclusively for a few years. But Metacritic came along and seems to do a better job of it, although they don't have a cable presence. Note, oddly, that there's one critic that got a "rotten" score at RT but a 70% positive score at Metacritic, which shows that even these pseudo-objective things have subjective elements. I prefer Metacritic overall.]

Spencer Ackerman, yes the Attackerman Spencer Ackerman of the Firedoglake megablog, consulted on the movie and is in the credits, and that linked post talks about how he got the gig, some of what he did, and some background on Iannucci in DC (Ackerman relates a few things that Iannucci also talks about in various interviews: getting into the State Dept. briefing with a BBC pass, the youth of various policymakers, etc). Nice mix of behind-the-scenes, fanboy, and hail-to-the-hack.

{Spencer Ackerman's name in Credits of In the Loop.}

If you haven't seen In the Loop, getcherass out and watch it. You'll laugh a lot.


Two of my earlier posts about the movie:

A preview with background, written from a US perspective before seeing the movie.

My review of the movie, written just after seeing it. In short, it's great.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Country First!

Sarah Palin is holding her "I'm Quitting Serving Alaska" ceremony. CNN is airing it. I was watching it but then the stupidity piled too high.

I figured she'd have hired a speechwriter for it, but it's apparent that she wrote this mess herself. It's Word Salad Shooter. Hyper-grievance machine. Mention miltary a lot, even in odd contexts (to the press: in honor of our military, don't make things up!).

Every Clause! Sounds! like it is! Punctuated with! an! exclamation point!

John McCain thought this woman should be a heartbeat from the Presidency. Country First! I hope she makes the few remaining sane Republican's lives a living hell. After all, Republicans aggrieve her too -- and they'll hear about it from her.

As Atrios twitters it: "republican pres primary will be teh awesome"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

In The Loop: Review

Most U.S. political satire not on Comedy Central is of a certain form nowadays. The tone is light and joshing or picayune and shallow: poking fun at the speech patterns or physical tics of politicians; making the most superficial attributes (Fat! Funny accent!) of a person or institution an engine for punch lines -- impressions rather than characterizations. Such satire is relatively easily cranked out, but it's not serious about being funny or being thoughtful.

In the Loop (2009, Directed by Armando Iannucci) is not that type of squishy satire. It's brutal and abject and hilarious. Some of the most shameful political events of recent years (the leadup to a really stupid war) are modified a bit for fiction's sake. A crew of venal, stupid, feckless, cowardly, selfish -- and sometimes even relatively decent and well-meaning -- characters are set loose to relive them.

The greatest joy of In the Loop is the dialogue: at times sophisticated and at times horrifically profane -- and sometimes both at once. Rapid, sometimes overlapping, full of allusions and absurdities. Much will be written about the baroque maledictions of Scottish spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (played by Peter Capaldi as a reanimation of Alastair Campbell, more-or-less Blair's Rove), and he's indeed pyrotechnical in his brutish profanity, but the dialogue flows naturally from all of the characters and their situations and is full of gags that made me laugh every few minutes.

Iannucci and his writers bless the actors by writing a fairly tight script but encouraging them to improvise and flesh out their characters. This semi-improvised style is everywhere nowadays, but it's rarely done this well: the quality of the cast and story makes it seem natural rather than more of the arid jokesmanship that is so common.

The actors come through splendidly, with Capaldi making a scrawny Scotsman into a fearsome figure. But I most enjoyed the take of Chris Addison (as Toby Wright, the young ministerial aide), who routinely made me guffaw with some of the best lines delivered well and ideal reaction shots. Gina McKee, as a competing aide, deserves special notice for sublime adroitness and self-assurance that could have fit into a political drama--except she was comical to boot. Tom Hollander (as Minister Simon Foster) played not just a punching bag for Malcolm Tucker but a three-dimensional character with a nuanced arc that made me feel for him.

Many aspects of the plot are drawn from actual events: dodgy dossiers, secret committees, unreliable informants. To those who know about the lead-up to the Iraq war these are sadly familiar, though transformed a bit. Since the film is not a political thriller but instead a kind of farce, some story points are not perfectly believable in real-world terms--farce rarely is. the absurdity added to the story works well in this realistic-seeming comic world.

This movie is right up my alley: some of my favorite UK comedy minds working on a political story I know fairly well, applying a great cast to do the work, and dealing with America, my home. But I watched it with Americans who were't familiar at all with these things and each of them loved In the Loop, too.

The UK / US tension works beautifully, and not just in a painful gag that turns Americans' jokes about British teeth back on us. The asymmetry of power amplifies the stereotypial British comedy figure of the put-upon loser. The sad sack minister Simon Foster (Hollander), is practically giddy that he will get to play in the big leagues with US policymakers. He comes, he sees, and he is conquered repeatedly -- but ultimately is done in by a tiny problem back home. Like Basil Fawlty or Alan Partridge or Mark Corrigan of Peep Show, he is ground to dust for our amusement. And I was more than amused.

Grade: A
Absolutely not for children, due to adult situations and filthy language.


A point of personal privilege. Some of my favorite British comedy writers wrote the film. In addition to Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong (of Mitchell & Web, The Thick of It, and the monumental Peep Show), Simon Blackwell (a writer for many of the funniest things in the past decade, including Armstrong & Miller, Moving Wallpaper, Monkey Trousers, and also The Thick of It), and finally Tony Roche, who the world owes much thanks to his great creation World of Pub.

Two more of my posts about In the Loop:

My preview from a US perspective, written before seeing it.

A collection of links, audio, and video about the film, centered around media related to the US theatrical release.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Looping Into In the Loop

In the Loop is a new movie written and directed by one of Britain's leading comedy creators and impresarios, Armando Iannucci.

This is my personal preview of the movie, set to open this week here in the USA. I haven't seen the movie yet -- I am eagerly anticipating it -- but I've seen and heard most of Armando Iannucci's previous work. I thought I'd get my thoughts in order before viewing it.

If you've paid attention to good British TV and radio comedy (yes, they still have real radio comedy in the UK beyond skits, prank calls, and DJ banter -- and lots of it is good) in the past couple decades, you know the work of Armando Iannucci. Some of my favorite things he's been involved with are:

On the Hour, a seminal fake news radio program.
The Day Today, the TV version of On the Hour -- very funny.
Alan Partridge (played by Steve Coogan) in his various radio and TV incarnations.
Various Lee & Herring shows
Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, in which the funny is funnified.
Time Trumpet
The Thick of It, about which more below.

Along the way Iannucci gave huge boosts to the careers of Chris Morris, Steve Coogan, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Doon Mackichan Chris Addison, Rebecca Front, Peter Baynham, Patrick Marber, and many others.

Two points about the lists above: from his efforts with these programs and people alone, Iannucci will have a lasting impact on comedy. And if all you've seen of British Comedy is The Office (as good as it is) and Little Britain, you are missing some of the smartest and funniest stuff on the planet.

It's hard for me to identify a through-line on Iannucci's comic sensibility, in part because it's likely changed during his long tenure, but also because it's multifarious. He's had a hand in sitcom, satire, parody, and surreal comedy. His production work has extended to standup (Stewart Lee's recent program), a new take on old-fashioned sitcom (Lab Rats), fake cinema-verite, and outright falsified history (2004: The Stupid Version). One thing that makes his comedy so varied is that he picks funny people and turns them loose to do what only they can do.

His own material (mainly on his various self-named series) has a strong dose of the bizarre and surreal atop absurd tilting at serious topics.

All these streams of his sensiblity have come together in recent years in his TV show The Thick of It, which is set near -- but not quite in the nexus -- of the centers of power in Whitehall: a relatively low-wattage fictional government department (the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship). As Iannucci said recently concerning his new movie:
"I want even people who might think, "Oh, it's all about politics" to actually know that it's really just about office politics really."
That's the central conceit of The Thick of It: the offices involved are full of great comic characters wonderfully played, scheming (mainly from the periphery of power) about various machinations that impinge on them from higher up the food chain.

In the TV show, the character who provides the audience's point-of-view portal to this world is the relatively normal young Junior Policy Advisor Olly, played by Chris Addison. The character who seems to suck up most of the air in each episode is the volcanically and creatively profane Malcolm Tucker, embodied by Peter Capaldi. (I believe Malcolm Tucker is modeled on a real person: Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's spin doctor-- kind of like Blair's Karl Rove -- who was prone to screaming vulgarities as a tool of intimidation.)

Hand-held camera gives a cinema-verite feel, but the characters don't break the fourth wall [I'm looking at you, The Office]: the viewer is an omniscient and unnoticed observer, which gives the action a natural texture. Adding to this is the limited improvisation: while the plot and character points are largely pre-written, the actors are encouraged to improvise the words and manner they use. This makes for a realistic conversational tone, as well as some immensely florid verbal brutality.

The movie In The Loop is set in the same "world" and some of the actors are the same, but most of the characters are new -- apparently only Peter Capaldi's vulgarian Malcolm Tucker remains, which should be fun.

To me as an American, the addition of US-centric actors (especially James Gandolfini) and events (the leadup to a stupid war) mean I'll be seeing a bit of the US through Iannucci's eyes. That will be most welcome.

In the Loop opens this Friday in selected theaters in the USA.

Early reviews are quite good (it currently has a 77 rating at Metacritic, from 6 reviewers, with only the New Yorker's Anthony Lane being relatively unimpressed (spoilsport!). Reports out of Sundance Festival, where it premiered, were positive. * See update

When I see it, I'll post a few thoughts here.

Iannucci has given a few US interviews recently:

* UPDATE As of 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, the reviews have improved impressively: Metascore is now 84 from 15 reviewers, which makes among the top 10 best-reviewed current movies -- better than even Star Trek. That may not last, but it at least will be very well acclaimed overall no matter how the remaining critics weigh in.

Also, Armando Iannucci is slated to be a guest on Charlie Rose on Friday, July 24 (tomorrow). Check your local listings.

Update: Friday, 24 July, noon: The NY Times has put up clips of earlier Iannucci work with short intros written by Armando I. Covers some of the same topics as the post above, and quite informative (plus some good clips).

Final Update:
Two more of my posts about In the Loop:

My review, written just after seeing it. In short, it's great.

And a collection of links, video and audio about the movie, mainly related to the US release.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wanker of the Day

Hedy Lamarr's 1966 defense lawyer.

Hedy Lamarr is not a wanker, however. Fascinating person.

Swan Counting from Alaska

Okay, I know there's a swan count. I know that, by custom only the royals in the UK are allowed to --though they do not -- eat swans (with apparently a few exceptions, such as possibly St John's College Cambridge). But why is the Queen, on swan counting day, riding on a steamer -- and especially one named Alaska?

Queen watches as boatmen count her swans

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dan's Papers - July 17, 2009 - Palin Coming

Update, the story in many details appears to be fake, as I sensed in the post.

If it is true that Palin is moving to the Hamptons (and there are some scents of falsity* about elements of this piece), then I bet she's getting a job with Fox News.

Palin Coming to Hamptons?

Sarah Palin is moving to Hampton Bays on August 1. That is the talk of the Hampton Bays Diner on Ponquogue Avenue in that town, where residents gather before work every morning to discuss the latest news.

I think she's gonna be such a huge prima donna so quickly that she'll piss off even the toadies at Fox eventually.

* Re the falsity, there are quite a few howlers in fact and tone by whoever fabricated the "emails." For instance, there is no Piggly Wiggly in Alaska.

So maybe the whole piece is an attempt at humor (which fails imo), or the kernel of truth is that she may be moving to the Hamptons.

Update, the story in many details appears to be fake.

Iannucci in DC

Twittering about a screening of his movie In The Loop, which is kind of USA-inclusive version of The Thick of It focusing on the lead-up to a (faux) Iraq war. With such US notables as James Gandolfini added to the UK cast.

Twitter / Armando Iannucci:
"screening in front of DC insiders got big laughs but also quite emotional afterwards on war. senate people saying 'that's how it happened.'"
I'll bet there's something to that. Can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Republican Party : The Face of

Senator Sessions, the face of the glorious Republican Party.

To start, his real name is: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III
- One part Jefferson [Davis, president of the Confederacy?]
- One Part Antebellum South (Beauregard....Beauregard? Seriously?)
- One part comic paterfamilias idiocy: His father was proud enough of that name to deign him the third?

Sessions didn't name himself, but the irony of a Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III calling out anyone else on their lineage is laughable.

Born in Selma. Selma? He graduated college in 1969 and he wasn't fighting for black voting rights -- it appears he was working against them.

Sessions called the ACLU and the NAACP "communist-inspired."

He jokingly (well, he later claimed it was a joke) said that the Ku Klux Klan was not so bad until he found out that some of them smoked marijuana.

He was denied a Federal Judgeship because of his racist comments. Even a Senator from his own state (Howell Heflin) voted against him.

More via Steve Benen:
A former career Justice Department official who worked with Sessions recalled an instance when he referred to a white attorney as a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases on behalf of African Americans. Sessions later acknowledged having made many of the controversial remarks attributed to him, but claimed to have been joking.

What's more, Thomas Figures, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama and an African American, later explained that during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." Sessions once again acknowledged making the remark, but once again claimed to have been kidding. Figures also remembered having heard Sessions call him "boy," and once warn him to "be careful what you say to white folks."
The once and future Republican Party.

Finally, it's too easy to make fun of people for their voice and accent. But if the Republican party wants to make Foghorn Leghorn-esque speech patterns the voice of their party, then keep Jeff Sessions in the forefront. May you lose many more national elections. [Run, Haley, Run!]

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Middle-School Orthography

Versha Sharma at TPM has done us a service: Pasting text of Palin's freakish "taking my remaining marbles" speech. Palin's gubernatorial site has a version of the text up, but it's been changed to eliminate some of the more egregious middle-school-caliber affectations.

For instance, compare this snippet from your original with the cleaned-up remnant on her website:

Original (from TPM):
But it hasn't been cheap - the State has wasted THOUSANDS of hours of YOUR time and shelled out some two million of YOUR dollars to respond to "opposition research" - that's money NOT going to fund teachers or troopers - or safer roads
Palin's cleaned up version on the Alaska state website:
But it hasn't been cheap - the State has wasted thousands of hours of your time and shelled out some two million of your dollars to respond to “opposition research” – that’s money not going to fund teachers or troopers – or safer roads.

So TPM has done a good thing by preserving the original--she's childish not just in thought but in writing. Maybe Bill Kristol writes with RANDOM capitalized WORDS and that's why he LIKES her so?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Separated at Birth?

Young Warren Oates and Timothy Olyphant

An interesting-sounding biography of Warren Oates is out: Warren Oates: A Wild Life. WFMU interviewed the author, Susan Compo, which is where I saw the Oates photo.
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