Comedy: Happy New Year, funseekers! Regular readers may be aware that in recent years, the Pals and I have spent December 31st in the company of Ivor Dembina and his Hampstead Comedy Club. This year, however, we felt like a change: partly because Ivor relocated the show out of the Hampstead area, partly because his lineup was incredibly similar to last year's. So instead, we turned to a previous Simian Substitute Site award winner, catching one of three shows being operated by Monkey Business Comedy Club in the North London area. They charged £25 compared with Hampstead's £15, but value for money wasn't a problem - it wasn't so much a comedy show as a Grateful Dead gig, with six comedians plus genial compere Sean Brightman, and music during the runup to midnight and through to 5am. Two of the best acts were ones I've previously reported on from Edinburgh (comic song specialist Jay Foreman and German giant Christian Schulte-Loh), while Patrick Monahan displayed some pretty impressive post-midnight riffing skills. It's always risky when a comedy show boasts a Guest Appearance By Big TV Comic We Can't Name, but Lee Nelson definitely fitted the bill here, demonstrating that Dapper Laughs - remember him? - could have had a decent career if he'd managed to mix the laddish gags with a few unexpectedly smart ones. "North-South banter: it's what sets us apart as a country. You wouldn't get that sort of thing in, I dunno, Korea..."
Internet: Support for Serial comes from MailChimp, as I mentioned this time last month. But now that season one of Serial is all done and dusted, does it get support from this particular australopithecine? Yes, I think it does, with reservations. Listening back to all twelve episodes of Sarah Koenig's true crime podcast, forensically examining the evidence from a 1999 teen murder case, it becomes apparent that her approach to the material was entirely shaped by what she had access to. Her main contributor is Adnan Syed, the man who's currently done 15 years for the crime despite insisting he's innocent: however, his memory of what actually happened on that day is frustratingly vague. Meanwhile, his apparent collaborator Jay - who became the key witness at his trial, getting off free as a result - refuses to talk about what happened. The problem with the one-episode-a-week format is that it makes people think this is telly: that there's going to be some sort of dramatic revelation in the final episodes that will change everything. Gradually, it becomes apparent that this won't be the case: it's not so much an investigation into who killed Hae, it's about the fustercluck that happened afterwards. Koenig's chatty narration ties together what is, if nothing else, a bravura bit of aural storytelling: trial audio, interviews, discussions with production staff all come together in a gripping way. And I think Koenig's conclusion - though it may not have been as definitive as listeners may have been expecting in episode one - is probably the only one any reasonable person could make. Although a followup episode in around six months time would be very welcome.
Movies: You've seen the hints dropped in previous posts, so let's say it out loud - The Belated Birthday Girl and I have just come back after spending Christmas in Japan, and hopefully I'll be telling you all about that in January. As a kind of prelude to that, let me tell you how appalling Finnair's in-flight entertainment system is. We flew with them in both directions, and were pretty disappointed with the selection of films on offer. But that's as nothing to the disappointment we felt when we discovered that the films that were there were severely cut. As an example, take Dhoom 3, the third part of a Bollywood franchise in which Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra play cops chasing a different celebrity baddie each time. Here, it's Aamir Khan playing a circus boss who's conducting a war of attrition on the Chicago bank that drove his father to suicide. For the first half, Dhoom 3 is an almost plotless mixture of action scenes and musical numbers, the former playing such outrageous havoc with the laws of physics that they may as well have just shown Khan shitting on the grave of Isaac Newton for an hour. But then we get to the intermission break - and just before it, we get a revelation which escalates the story from mere bollocks into 24 carat hyperbollocks. It's at this point that you realise why an actor of the calibre of Khan is involved: the second half of the film becomes a massive technical challenge, one that he rises to magnificently. Which makes it all the more appalling that a censorship cut at the climax of the airline version completely reverses the ending of the movie. So don't watch it on a plane, get the DVD or view it on Netflix instead.