Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey

Ayoade on AyoadeRichard Ayoade is a British writer, director, actor and comedian. He directed and co-wrote Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, as well as playing Dean Learner in that series, he was infamous as Maurice Moss in The IT Crowd (which was an award winning role for him), and he has also directed the films Submarine and The Double (the 2013 movie, not the 2011 one of the same name). At the end of last year, he published his first book, Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey. This honestly has to be one of the funniest books I have ever read, even if it is totally ridiculous.

Essentially Ayoade is poking fun at all those “Director on Director” type memoirs that exist, attacking the pomposity of it all by splitting himself into two persona – the pretentious director and the humble in-awe interviewer. The book contains ten interviews (kind of), as well as a section on his thoughts on writing and acting. But the real gems often are found in the 100 page long appendix, and, if you read in the way Ayoade intends by referring to the appendix when his footnotes tell you to do so, you’ll have read the entire appendix when you’re only halfway through the interviews. Though it sounds annoying, it is actually quite entertaining and fun to be flipping back and forth through the book and many of the footnotes contain the funniest moments. Just consider these two footnotes on his title page alone (a quick warning that there is a bit of swearing, if you’re easily offended):

Ayoade on Ayoade footnotes

Much of the humour is very niche – it probably helps to have some interest in films overall. But I don’t think you need to know everything about film to find the jokes funny, either, particular in the appendix that is filled with lots of short 2 and 3 page pieces, from fake emails and letters to draft scripts, essays and various manifestos regarding film. The topics range from the recent Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, making fun of reclusive director Terrence Malick, crowdsourcing and of course the press, among many others. My favourite section from the appendix though, without a doubt, is the new manifesto for film which he creates, which is focused around these 10 points:

A New Manifesto For Film

The interviews themselves are also brilliant and seem to serve as a sort of narrative thread which connects the book in a way the page order does not. The director persona is not only on an intense ego-trip but is also very surreal in thought. In the very first interview he explains how he spent his time in the womb contemplating how he wanted to escape and start making films. When later asked about his childhood, he says he didn’t have a childhood and then adds that he doesn’t believe in childhood. As the interviews continue, he becomes increasingly subversive as he deflects most of the questions to pursue his own agenda – something Ayoade has gained media attention for doing in real life recently, to mixed reactions (though I must say I find him more entertaining than others in this risky interview style).

Although the interviews overall run the risk of stretching the same joke a bit thin, the constant breaking up of flow by references to the appendix helps to keep the general feel of the book fresh. I wouldn’t say it’s a book that you could read in a single sitting – I took a couple of months slowly digesting it to enjoy it more. Overall though, the book made me laugh out loud which is something very few books have managed to achieve. If you like film, you might enjoy this book. If you like Ayoade, you might enjoy this book. If you like both – this book is definitely for you!

I’ll finish off with another one of my favourite passages, from one of the earlier interviews in which Ayoade discusses forming himself. If any of you have read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

Ayoade Informing Himself

A tribute to Rik Mayall

There isn’t much I can say about the passing of Rik Mayall yesterday that hasn’t already been said. It is a huge loss – his unique brand of anarchic comedy, from The Young Ones through to Bottom, Blackadder and movies like Drop Dead Fred, inspired a whole generation of comedians. At 56 it feels he was taken far too early, and as many other comedians have noted on social media (especially Twitter), he was a whirlwind of creative energy that has left a bit of a void all of a sudden.

So, rather than ramble on any more, I’m going to include some of my favourite clips of his here. In order, there is the shop keeping scene from Bottom, then his first appearance as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder, then a scene from Drop Dead Fred (where he plays an invisible friend) and finally a compilation of some of his funniest moments from The Young Ones because it was too hard to pick one scene.

Just a word of warning, some of this stuff might be offensive. Otherwise, enjoy!

R.I.P. Rik Mayall! You’ll be missed.

Day 20 – Book turned into a movie and completely desecrated (30 Day Book Challenge #2)

I’m going to be very brief on this post. I’m only listing one book that I think was okay as a book but I didn’t like the film at all. There are others, but I’d like to bring attention to this one. I can’t really explain why I didn’t like it, other than to say that it was really just boring – I couldn’t even finish it. The book was quite clever and had certain strong images which linger in the mind afterwards, but the film just had nothing on this at all. What I find interesting is this is one of the most famous book-to-movie adaptations of all time.

What is the film I’m talking about? Why, it’s the adaption of Truman Capote’s classic Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

I just don’t like it. Sorry, it’s as simple as that. I’m sure some people will question my taste in films now, some people may even pass out from shock. Or maybe more people than I’d expect will agree with me. Who knows.

What are your thoughts on this film? And what is a book that you think was ruined in its film adaptation?

Day 19 – Favourite book turned into a movie (30 Day Book Challenge #2)

I have a few books which I think have been made into really great films. In some cases the films even eclipse the books for me (although only just, if at all). While I could write lengthy descriptions of why I like them so much, really the reasons are pretty similar for each one – when a movie can keep roughly to the plot and character development (it has to be changed a little to suit the conventions of film, let’s be honest) but most importantly manages to capture the essence of the book, that’s a good movie. It has to be memorable in the same way the book was, it has to have that lingering taste to it.

So I’m going to keep this post simple and just list the movie adaptations, and if I actually prefer them to the book I’ll state it as well.

  • The Boy In Striped Pyjamas (prefer the film, definitely)
  • The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (actually preferred the films to the books, just, and for those wondering I think it’s too early to say with The Hobbit trilogy yet (I haven’t even seen the second one yet, what is wrong with me?))
  • The Hunger Games Series (so far, but it’d be pretty hard to stuff up that last book)
  • Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (the original, Gene Wilder one)
  • Life Of Pi (okay so I haven’t read the book yet, but the movie surprised me as I had low expectations)
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (prefer the film)
  • Forrest Gump (haven’t read it, but by all accounts the film is better apparently)
  • Dead Poets Society (again, haven’t read it but the film would be hard to beat)
  • Beowulf (hey, it’s hard to interpret a story over a thousand years old, so I thought they did a pretty good job on this one – it’s a great story but not easy to read by any means)

There’s probably more than this, but these were the ones which sprung to mind almost immediately so I’ll stick with these for now.

What are your favourite movie adaptations of books?

Terrible (and funny) trailers for films that shouldn’t exist

Have you ever watched a movie that was so bad it was good? I know I have, and there are plenty out there that fit under this description. But then there are some movies that are so ridiculous, you can hardly believe anybody even bothered to spend the time or money to create them. Here are some trailers for some of these films.

Rubber

You know what would be a great idea for a horror movie? Anything except the story of a killer rubber car tyre that leaves a trail of death and destruction behind it. Which is essentially what this film is about, believe it or not. While I laughed during the trailer, I can’t imagine having the patience to watch this film the whole way through.

Titanic II

A film about a second Titanic ship that sails a century after the first one, and pretty much suffers the exact same fate. Laziest story ever, and I just hope they didn’t think anybody was actually going to take this one seriously. It looks pretty terrible no matter how you approach this movie.

Sharktopus

When a scientist creates a mutated animal that is essentially a cross between a shark and a giant octopus as a new weapon, it goes on a killing spree and…that’s about it, really. I did nearly choke with laughter the very first time I saw this, a couple of years ago. This is one I would watch just for the laughs.

What terrible movies (or trailers) have you seen? Do you ever watch movies just because they look so bad they might be good or funny?

My 200th Blog Post!

200th Blog PostFor my 200th post, I thought I’d do things a little differently to my 100th (where, by memory, I wrote about the performance of my blog). This time round, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite things, many of which connect to my blog and some of which I have mentioned before.

I would love to hear other people’s answers to these questions in the comment section, so feel free to answer some or all of the following questions.

My Favourite Book: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Long time readers of my blog will probably have heard me ranting about how absolutely amazing this book is at least a couple of times, if not more. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me laugh some more, and it inspired me to take up writing again after a several year absence of the hobby in my life. It helped remind me of who I am, and why I am this person. Powerful stuff.

My Favourite Album: Abbey Road by The Beatles

It might seem awfully predictable that my favourite album is one by The Beatles, who are also one of my favourite bands (alongside Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and Crowded House). But there is just something about Abbey Road that takes my breath away – at 44 years old, it still feels as fresh as anything you could hear today, because it is simply timeless in its ingenuity of song writing.

Monty Python and the Holy GrailMy Favourite Film: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I am a shameless Monty Python fan, and love all of their films, television series, audio albums, books and so on. Many will argue over which of their films was the best, but for me it isn’t up for argument – I have been watching this classic medieval themed movie since I was young, and can almost quote the entire thing. It still makes me laugh even after dozens of views. Too funny.

My Favourite TV Show: Can’t decide (as in I actually can’t decide. There isn’t some show called “Can’t decide”)

So here’s a list of my favourite TV shows (yes they’re all comedies…surprise!): Monty Python’s Flying Circus; Blackadder; A Bit Of Fry And Laurie; Black Books; The Mighty Boosh; The IT Crowd; 30 Rock (see, not all my comedy taste is British, just most of it); The Micallef Program (an old but classic Aussie show); Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law; The Simpsons; Spicks and Specks (an Aussie music quiz show), Danger 5. I do watch some serious television though, mostly documentaries. But I honestly can’t decide a favourite here, it’s too hard.

My Favourite Comedian: Billy Connolly

Those of you who saw the first of my comedian posts a few weeks ago will already know this, but Billy Connolly is by far my favourite comedian, and has been since I was a wee lad. If you want to know more about why, see this post I wrote on him.

My Favourite Food: Chicken Parmigiana

A pub classic across Australia (and presumably other parts of the world too), I find myself often craving a schnitzel covered in tomato, herbs, ham and cheese. It’s so simple, and doesn’t sound half as nice as it looks, smells or tastes, but this is just something I find supremely satisfying.

My Favourite Pub in Australia: Hart’s Pub

Located in The Rocks in Sydney, this great little pub is hidden away but much adored by those who have visited before. They serve a large range of local beers on tap, with part of the menu changing every so often as well, giving those of us such as myself who live about an hour’s drive a way a reason to come back. They also have great food, and a great, cosy atmosphere inside. My kind of pub.

The Dove - The World's Smallest Bar

This tiny room, part of The Dove (the main part is much bigger), is officially the world’s smallest bar.

My Favourite Pub in The World: The Dove, London, England

Those of you who read my posts on my trip to England will remember me mentioning this pub. While I still have many pubs in the world to see, for now this is my favourite I have ever visited. Great atmosphere, great beer and food, and I share great memories from my two visits to this place.

My Favourite Tea: Mountaintop Oolong Tea

While I don’t have a favourite coffee as yet (I just love most coffee), I do have a favourite tea. Mountaintop Oolong Tea is a green tea, taken from cold mountainous climates, and it’s a very smooth tasting tea with none of the bitterness that other green teas can have. I have tried other Oolong teas, include one which was supposed to be superior, but none can beat this one for me. If you’re a tea fan, try and get your hands on this one – you won’t regret it.

My Favourite Way To Relax

Either with a good book and a cup of coffee or tea, or just closing my eyes and chilling out to some music turned up loud. From time to time, I find writing a story can be relaxing for me, in a sort of cathartic way.

What are some of your favourite things from this list? I’d love to hear from you all!

Which comedians and actors do you think could write a great book?

I have discussed actors and comedians who write books on my blog before, from mentioning Stephen Fry numerous times (most recently was my last post), to the members of Monty Python who have written books, to my surprise at how much I enjoyed Steve Martin’s fiction with his art-world based book, An Object Of Beauty, a review of sorts that I wrote in my very early days of blogging. There are many others who I have read but have not yet blogged about, including Dawn French, Hugh Laurie, Mark Watson, Shaun Micallef and more, who have all written novels that pleasantly surprised me.

So what I want to know from you, my dear readers, is who, from the world of comedy and acting, do you think would write a really entertaining book (either fiction or non-fiction)? Is there an actor or comedian who you think would have a great imagination for a novel, or who would just be entertaining writing some sort of non-fiction work such as a biography or a travel book or something along those lines?

For me, the list is long. Comedians who I think could write great novels include John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson, Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Ross Noble (his would be pretty bizarre, I suspect) and many more. There are many actors too, I guess, but I have found generally that the comedians I have read thus far have incredible imaginations, hence my fixation on them.

What are your thoughts on this topic? 

Can film adaptations improve upon books?

We’ve all heard and no doubt partaken in the old “books versus films” arguments, where the majority of us who read a lot tend to side with the notion that books are always better than the film. Or are they?

Well, okay, for the most part they are. I’m certainly not going to try and resist this, because I believe it myself (and today I bought the film of Catch-22, my favourite book…I am a little worried…). But, the question I pose in this post is can film interpretations improve upon books? Have you watched some films that are better than the books, or has this never happened for you – do you instead always prefer the book, no matter what.

To start this discussion, I will admit my thoughts on the matter. Almost always I prefer the book, but one exception to this is (don’t hate me) the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the novels too. But the films were just amazing, so good that I can’t imagine anybody would dare to remake them ever again. For me, these films took everything I loved about the story, and made it slightly better (while also cutting out some of the lengthy descriptions that could bog down the books from time to time).

So, what are your thoughts on this? Are there any film interpretations you prefer to their written counterparts? Or do you prefer books all the way?

And Now For Something Completely Different: Several Monty Python members write books

This may not come as much of a surprise to many, but I am, and for as long as I remember always have been, an immense fan of Monty Python. As a child I remember watching two of their movies, The Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life, over and over, loving the silliness of The Holy Grail (which to this day is my favourite film) and pretending to get the jokes in The Meaning of Life. As I hit my adult years, I discovered the other Monty Python movies, then discovered the television show they made, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and quickly digested all forty-five episodes. I even managed to find most of the albums they made (including my favourite, Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album, which must be the funniest audio recording of all time).

But now I had ignited something deep within me, an insatiable hunger for more of this comedic genius. I re-watched John Cleese’s brilliant Fawlty Towers. I discovered the odd comedy Terry Jones and Michael Palin produced around the same time called Ripping Yarns. I watched the television shows the Monty Python crew had starred in before coming together. I watched movies that featured some of the pythons, such as A Fish Called Wanda and Erik The Viking. I even watched all of Michael Palin’s travel documentaries (which I must say were thoroughly enjoyable). With a little room left for dessert, it occurred to me I should look into whether any of them wrote books – in particular if any of them wrote fiction. And it turns out, some of them did.

The three books I intend to look at are the novels The Road To Mars by Eric Idle, Hemingway’s Chair by Michael Palin, and the non-fiction volume Calcium Made Interesting by Graham Chapman.

The Road to Mars by Eric Idle

This bizarre novel is perhaps one of the most thought provoking and insightful books both of and about comedy I have ever read. Set vaguely in the future, it follows the story of two comedians, Muscroft and Ashby, who suddenly find all their gigs along an inter-planetary vaudeville circuit called ‘The Road To Mars’ are cancelled, for no explicable reason. Thrown into the mix are divas, mastermind terrorists, a micropaleontologist (who studies the evolutionary implications of the last ten minutes) as the narrator, and my favourite character, Carlton, a robot who is attempting to decipher the essence of comedy, and why he as a robot doesn’t understand or appreciate it. It is through this last character that the novel seems to split, being partly a hilarious science fiction tale rather similar to the work of Douglas Adams (which is interesting, as Adams had cited the Pythons as being an influence on him), and partly a dissertation on comedy, coming from somebody who frankly is in a position to ponder the art of humour so philosophically. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel, and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of comedy on any level (which surely covers most people).

Hemingway’s Chair by Michael Palin

I have mentioned this novel briefly before on my blog, as this was a book I only got around to reading quite recently. It is a very English story, set in a small English village, mostly around a post office (I know, not exactly a setting that bounds with excitement). Martin Sproale is assistant postmaster, and is obsessed with Hemingway, but when he is beaten to the position of postmaster by an outsider, Nick Marshall, who then steals his girlfriend and brings controversial changes to the post office, much to the annoyance of the workers and villagers, Martin soon has to find inspiration to fight back, as his hero would. It sounds inspiring in a sort of humble way, and as I read it I kept expecting it to make me leap up and cheer for Martin, but I just don’t know that it did. The book ended up being a lot stranger than I had anticipated, and when I finished I wasn’t entirely sure what to think. It wasn’t bad, by any means, but it isn’t a book I think I’ll be in a hurry to read again. Having said that, the writing was lovely and very evocative, and there were some funny moments in the story. If you’re a fan of Hemingway, or of Michael Palin, it is definitely worth a read, but it probably isn’t for everyone.

Calcium Made Interesting by Graham Chapman (edited by Jim Yoakum)

This is an anthology containing, as the front cover states, various “sketches, essays, letters, gondolas”, but also monologues, teleplays, articles both by himself and also by others about him, and much more. Throughout them all, these pieces and fragments reveal the many sides of Chapman, from the anarchist who liked silliness for its own sake, to the man who campaigned tirelessly for gay rights, who became a qualified doctor only to walk away from medicine for comedy, and who became one of the most influential comedians of his time. The book is fascinating, intelligent, but most of all just downright hilarious – from the first page beginning with “This book is dedicated to the following apology” (which is then followed by an apology letter he wrote to a pub), through to the “What you may have missed by skimming through this book” page included at the end. I often found myself laughing to the point of being in pain while reading this, so if you are a Monty Python fan, I absolutely urge you to find this book and read it.

Have you read any of these books before, and if so, what were your opinions? Would you be interested in reading them if you haven’t yet done so? And lastly, are there any comedians you love who have written books you also enjoyed?

12 days down, 354 to go! So far, still sane (I think).

So, just under two weeks ago I posted a blog about my New Year’s resolutions, in which I listed 12 goals which, when combined, show me to be an overly optimistic and stupidly ambitious silly person. So, 12 days into the year (okay, I didn’t mean the last 12, that was just a coincidence I swear), how am I going? Because let’s face it, if I’m not on track already, I could be in trouble…

Actually, overall I’m going okay. Some goals, like the writing groups and paying off my debt, are hard to measure or won’t really be important until later in the year. But the measureable goals I have, for the most part, made a start on. Here are some tidbits on some of those goals:

Reading Goals: To read 50 books this year

So far, I am on track for this goal. I have finished two books so far this year, Spike Milligan’s interpretation of Frankenstein (it was quite short, to be fair), and For One More Day by Mitch Albom. Milligan’s book was as ridiculous as you would expect, but roaringly funny the whole way through, and perhaps one of the more entertaining retold stories he wrote (he rewrote many classics for a laugh). Mitch Albom’s book was much like his other books, with the same melancholy vibe as Tuesdays With Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven, but also with that uplifting view of life that shines through the many cracks of the characters and story.

I am very close to finishing a book about the art world by Steve Martin (no, really – he knows a lot about the art world, actually), called An Object of Beauty, and am also nearing the end of Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Hemingway’s Chair by Michael Palin. All of these I will likely finish in the next week, which would push me a couple of books ahead of schedule, which would be nice.

Viewing Goals: To watch 100 films this year

On track with this goal, too, as I am currently sitting on 4 films so far this year. I started the year with watching an older Simon Pegg film, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, which was fairly classic Pegg, though perhaps not my favourite film of his. This was followed a couple of days later by seeing the film The Iron Lady, about Margaret Thatcher, which was a brilliant film, in particular Meryl Streep’s fantastic portrayal of Thatcher, not to mention being interesting for me as that was the period of England I was born into (and which I left as it ended, at the young age of 4). Earlier this week I watched the football hooligan film Awaydays, which was a lot better than I expected it to be, and has only just been released in Australia now, 2 years after it’s initial release. Finally, over the last two days I watched Scorsese’s epic documentary film, George Harrison: Living In The Material World, an amazing 2 part, over 3 hour long film using unrivalled and in some cases never before seen footage and interviews to cover his entire life, both musical and personal, and I must confess this just blew me away (to be fair, The Beatles are one of my favourite bands).

I have many more films I plan on watching in the next couple of weeks, so hopefully I can push ahead on this goal too.

Health Goals: To become healthier, fitter, and eat better foods

Okay, this goal is a bit hit and miss so far. I haven’t been running and going to the gym as much as I should be, but I have been going a little, so the ball is rolling I suppose. I have been trying to eat better, however, keeping a lot of junk food out of the house, keeping a lot more healthy food in the house, trying to cook with fresher foods. I have also been experimenting with different recipes, with varying levels of success. Tonight I created an awesome spinach based pasta meal which was actually a lot tastier than it sounds and looked (and someone else tasted the meal to verify this)! So I have a way to go on this goal, but I am slowly making the changes.

Writing Goals: To write (among other things) 12 novellas

Okay, this goal has hit a brick wall. It’s not writer’s block (personally I don’t like that phrase – I don’t believe it really exists). The problem is that I don’t like the story of my first novella, and I especially hate my protagonist. I was attempting to write a comedy, but it is easily the least funniest thing I have ever written. So I have decided, nearly halfway through the month, to scrap this first novella and start over – and still try and finish before the end of January. Am I completely insane? What in the world am I going to write about now? Any ideas for something I could write a comedy novella about in about 18 days would be greatly appreciated!

 

And that’s it so far. I am mostly on track with my goals, though more with some than others. But this is the easy part of the year – the true tests will come later in the year when I become busier with work and other areas of my life. But for now, I’m on track, and I’m loving 2012 so far! Bring on the remaining 354 days!