Thursday, March 02, 2006

The sweet smell of bullshit

Films, eh? Like buses. There's nothing I want to see, and then suddenly New Year arrives and - hey presto! - they're everywhere. To name but a few (all thus far unseen): 'Capote', 'Good Night, And Good Luck', 'Jarhead', 'Brokeback Mountain', 'Walk The Line'...

Last night, approximately two months after the rest of the world left auditoriums with tears streaming down their faces, I finally got to see 'A Cock & Bull Story', Michael Winterbottom's marvellously self-reflexive adaptation of Lawrence Sterne's 18th century classic 'The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'. Starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon - or should that be Steve Coogan / Rob Brydon, or Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan if it's in alphabetical order? They have quite a ding-dong about this...

But I'm getting ahead of myself - the film hasn't even started yet.

We only just make it to Chapter in time for the early screening, my journey on foot having been somewhat circuitous. There was an undelivered parcel to pick up from the sorting depot, you see, which meant venturing into Grangetown and wandering past the lovely shithole that is Ninian Park, home to Cardiff City FC.

What was in the parcel, you ask? A selection of CDs a mate was returning to me. Don't be so nosy.

So, the film. Quite pricey there, at £5.20 each. Maybe that's the going rate these days. No concessions for us any more, unfortunately. Those days are long gone.

There isn't any time for a drink beforehand, unfortunately - we're both parched and could have done with a nice pint of their finest Warsteiner. Or perhaps a bottle of Duvel. The Samuel Smiths Cider slips down very well too. Steve Coogan seems to spend the entirety of 'A Cock & Bull Story' drinking. Vodka tonics, to be precise. Of course, it's not really Steve Coogan. Or, rather, it is - on one level. He's also Tristram Shandy, Tristram's dad Walter and a fictionalised version of himself. Rob Brydon is just two characters - Uncle Toby and a fictionalised version of himself. Or is it three?

Actually, it's more. The fictionalised Coogan plays Alan Partridge. Brydon plays Alan Partridge, much to the fictionalised Coogan's annoyance. Both play Al Pacino. Yeah, I know - I could have done with one of those vodka tonics. And there's Dylan Moran stood at the bar playing a fictionalised version of himself drinking a glass of wine. The bastard. I do hope there's going to be another series of 'Black Books'.

Speaking of black, the screen goes black at one point, to represent the black page in the novel. It's not for long because someone says it wouldn't be very interesting for the audience. Well, I find it interesting. And funny.

As does the audience member in front of me. Actually, he seems to find plenty of things funny. Such as the scene in which the fictionalised Coogan dreams he is miniaturised and suspended naked upside down in a miniature model womb. And the scene in which the fictionalised Coogan acts at acting as if he has a hot chestnut down his trousers, and then acts as if he has a hot chestnut down his trousers. The man's laughter is loud. Louder than mine. Am I showing my appreciation enough, I wonder? Perhaps I should be a bit more enthusiastic. After all, the film is very good indeed. And funny. And Tristram hasn't even been born yet.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again - the film hasn't even started yet.

When we walk into the auditorium, there's a healthy audience but it's not full. We take a pair of seats next to the aisle. Very comfortable. It's quite a decent size, the auditorium. Bigger than the one that appears in the film when the fictionalised versions of the actors are watching and then discussing the filming of the film.

And then the lights go down, and the film begins. The fictionalised Brydon is asking the fictionalised Coogan to look at his off-white teeth. That reminds me - a trip to the dentist is overdue. That either means going all the way back to Nottingham or registering with a dental surgery here. Hmm.

I'm feeling a bit peckish. We'll have some chips in the cafe.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again - the film hasn't even finished yet.

You want to know who's in the film? Well, it's started now, so let's see. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (see above). And Dylan Moran.

There's David Walliams. Underused. A bit of a waste. He's a great comic actor, even if 'Little Britain' is just becoming as tired as 'The Fast Show'. I used to like that.

There's 'The Fast Show's Mark Williams. A battle recreation fanatic. Excellent. Also has a go at playing Alan Partridge.

There's Keeley Hawes acting as if she's giving birth to Tristram, and then acting at acting as if she's giving birth to Tristram.

There's Shirley Henderson. Saw her in Shane Meadows' 'Once Upon A Time In The Midlands'. She was the only one who had to master the Nottingham accent, and did it with aplomb. Saw it in the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. This place - Chapter - is better, I think.

There's Tony Wilson, playing the person Coogan played in Winterbottom's '24 Hour Party People' and interviewing the fictionalised Coogan. I'm thinking of Joy Division. 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. That was quite something at Glastonbury, wasn't it? If you closed your eyes, at least.

There's Gillian Anderson in it, strangely enough because of Tony Wilson. Gillian Anderson? You know, Agent Mulder from off of 'X Files'. Or is it Agent Scully? I can't take her appearance seriously. Now I'm thinking of that fucking Catatonia song. Hang on, am I supposed to profess an undying love for them now I'm a Welsh resident and it's St David's Day?

OK then. What's the message? Well, one of Stephen Fry's two characters (oh, didn't I mention he's in it too?) (and by that I don't mean he plays a schizophrenic) says something clever about life and art. But his other character says something funnier about a cock and a bull so I think that may be it.

What would Lawrence Sterne have made of 'A Cock & Bull Story'? Well, I think he'd have loved it. Faithful to the spirit of the book, and it's that incredible spirit that's most important.

Of course, if this review was to have been faithful to the spirit of the book and the film, I'd have written about anything but the book and the film...

Ah, you seen what I been trying to do there?

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