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03/05/2015
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Polly Stenham's latest play No Quarter

It's always a little tricky trying to think of how to do end of year or Christmas programmes, but after our comedy special this year we thought we might focus this year on work that had divided the critics - the novels or films that have had passionate defenders and vehement opponents. Judging from the first few weeks of January though I'm wondering whether we're going to have room to get everything in.

Next week we'll be reviewing Kathryn Bigelow's film Zero Dark Thirty, which has provoked fierce debate in the States over its depiction of torture.

And this week we're doing a film which has provoked almost as many column inches... Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained - which sets its story of revenge and bounty-hunting in the ante-bellum South. Tarantino didn't want to discuss the issue of film violence when interviewed recently by Channel Four news but I'm hoping our reviewers won't be shutting my butt down on the issue, as he so elegantly phrased his disinclination to continue Krishnan Guru-Murthy's line of questioning.

Peter Kemp, Paul Morley and Kamila Shamsie are on the show this week - and we're also reviewing two accounts of the misbehaviour of gilded youth - in Polly Stenham's latest play No Quarter (pictured) and Amber Dermont's debut novel The Starboard Sea, which arrives with a glowing recommendation from Marilynne Robinson.

And we're reviewing Louie - a new comedy from the New York stand-up Louie CK, which has gathered adoring fans in the States, and visiting the British Library for a small exhibition on the literature of murder... I did not know before this week that Agatha Christie disliked Poirot and refused ever to have him depicted on a cover. But I do now.

Concerning this blog some of you have requested that we give more information about forthcoming programmes, rather than just the next one up, and from this week we'll try to do more of that.

We'd also like to start feeding some of the comments from this page into the programme. So if you hear things that make you shout at the radio (I can't believe it doesn't happen regularly) let us know here. And if anybody has views on Utopia or Les Miserables, which we discussed last week, let us know those too.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Mark Paterson

    on 24 Jan 2013 03:06

    Sorry - couldn't resist saying something about *Louie* - I've been hooked ever since the debut of Season 2 in the US and have watched every single episode. Paul Morley's comments were spot on - they're often like a series of vignettes, some have a longer story arc over a few episodes, and some in Season 3 are simply not funny - but work as almost surreal tragi-dramas (the ones involving David Lynch are almost heartbreaking, because of the storyline - won't say anything more for spoiler reasons).

    There is a two-episode arc in Season 2 where Louie goes off to entertain US forces in Afghanistan, but his daughters have smuggled a baby chick into his luggage. That hour has probably been the most touching, absurd and laugh-out-loud hour of TV in recent memory (well, I don't watch much TV but even so...). With its microbudgetary constraints it holds its head up high amongst the Breaking Bads and Mad Men in this respect.

    His standup act is consistently funny and fresh - saw him in Pittsburgh last year; bet tickets for his only UK shows at the O2 are expensive but it'll be a fun night, guaranteed.

    @Steve, above: Like you, I would never pay money to a US-based cable company, but there are ways and means of getting hold of these things through the internet I believe. But the DVDs of seasons 1 & 2 at least are available on Amazon.co.uk.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by steve

    on 21 Jan 2013 12:03

    Loud groans in our house when Tom announced that the new comedy show 'Louie' is to be shown on Fox. It sounds like my kind of comedy show, 'Curb your enthusiasm'/'Seinfield' with a dash of Lennie Bruce. But it might as well be showing on the dark side of the moon.Its not on freeview here. Is this an issue I see before me? Any advice please?
    Yes, I have read Candide, and I'm looking forward to Django U .
    Steve Alwyn, Worcs

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Jane

    on 20 Jan 2013 20:50

    Perhaps the Review team have missed the allusion to Voltaire's Candide? If no-one's read it over there, please do so, you'll enjoy Django U. even more!

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Mark Paterson

    on 18 Jan 2013 20:41

    I'm looking forward to your Django Unchained discussion, as despite all the controversy around the violence (c'mon, it's a Tarantino film... you expect him to start pussyfooting or suddenly become Merchant Ivory?) it might be one of the few films that take a long, hard look at race relations in the US. After the Wayans brothers and Spike Lee in the 90s, there seems to be a default position of 'worthy Oscar bait' (e.g. The Help, the non-Cronenberg Crash) in these matters - and an interesting counterpoint to the Spielberg film Lincoln (which I've seen here in the US, and isn't the usual execrable Spielberg fare, and does offer insights into the political process but is rather muted when it comes to everyday interactions between white and black folk in an America tearing itself apart over the issue; a strange blankness at the heart of it all).

    But most of all it will be fascinating to hear the British perspective on Zero Dark Thirty. I got to see it as soon as it was released here, and it left me in a Very Dark Mood but for all the right reasons. Steve Coll has a piece in the NYRB on how the film has the illusion of documentary authenticity but through the use of compounding historical figures into an on-screen 'character' it veers off from truth [http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/feb/07/disturbing-misleading-zero-dark-thirty/?pagination=false] but I would contest this view. Although the film does the usual recognisable Hollywood trope of the lone wolf performing investigations at the expense of her own mental and social life (see also: Homeland, er, every police procedural or crime drama ever), the result of the depictions of torture, the hazy uncertainties, the battles with bureaucracy and the final raid produce an overall effect bigger than the sum of its (sometimes standard, recognisable) parts. It made me feel extremely ambivalent about my newly adopted home - being here in the US for economic and family reasons - and, in discussing the film afterwards in a bar with people, very uncomfortable about the huge prices being paid every day to prop up an unsustainable level of consumption and way of life. It's not a pleasurable film - and the final scenes acknowledge this - but it is an important film. Although I don't teach Film Studies, I am going to recommend it to my undergraduate students. And it also shows just how what level of expertise Bigelow has in understanding, and directing, men; especially men at war. I shudder to think what Tony Scott (RIP) would have done with this material in a Black Hawk Down boys' own version.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by michaeloregan

    on 18 Jan 2013 11:52

    Fine performances, but the juvenile nihilism of the script quickly palled.

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