Like watching the film, but better and freeLook into his eyes
Here's the big review of Starter for Ten
, as I promised. Rather insanely, I decided to live blog it as I was watching it in the cinema, cos that is what people do when they are desperately trying to draw attention to something. I think. And I mean, live blog it as if I was sat in front of my computer. Even though I have clearly embellished what I noted and spent many more hours writing it.
It did somewhat ruin my enjoyment of the film, assuming there was any to be had, since I was scribbling away in my notebook for the entire duration, but that is the kind of sacrifice I am willing to make. Or the kind of silly thing people such as myself do to while away a hungover Saturday.
So warning MASSIVE SPOILERS are here there and everywhere; in fact, it is just one giant spoiler since it recounts the plot in its entirety (I had to ... there was no other way). Are you ready? Let's begin, or as Patrick the poncified captain of our intrepid team says: "Let's quiz!"
14.10. Ew. They're playing Out of Reach
by Gabrielle in the auditorium. I could vomit right now. All over the person who is singing along and happens to be sitting slightly to the left of my back. Can't see any beaming ex-UC contestants sitting in the scattered audience. Not that I would recognise them.
14.12 Can't quite believe I'm here on the opening day. Realise some might say I actually really positively am keen to see this film, instead of wanting to watch it in order to tear David Nicholls
and his demonic masterplan to take over British romantic comedy. It could have been more easily done if he and Richard Curtis had some sort of battle royale in which the winner would have been the first person to remove the other's head with a blunt saw. That I would have paid £6.50 to watch.
14.16 Adverts implore me to get on Orange (already am), drink Coke (already do: gallons of the liquid filth every week), wear contact lenses (no thanks ... my eyes don't need bits of plastic to make them "smile"), get an iPod Nano (too much residual pain from breaking my old MP3 player almost three years ago ... the aching hurt), not drink and fall off tall buildings whilst trying to fetch balloons (er, like that's going to happen), buy Lynx so thousands of women will cross miles of terrain and ocean to possibly tear me apart like Orpheus in an even more painful way (it's Lynx ... I'd rather coat myself in the scent of an elephant's rotting carcass), not buy an illegal copy of Casino Royale
because the experience of watching it in a big dark room with complete strangers is so much better than snuggled up in your bed cosseted against the world (who can resist the quaint charms of your friendly Triad-approved DVD seller ... pas moi), drink Southern Comfort* (haven't imbibed this liquor since I was 17 and haven't since on account of its foul sweetness) and buy a car that can surf (disgustingly blatant false advertising). I hate cinema advertising. If I want to see amusing ads I will go somewhere like here
. Even if it is "corporate".* Random trivia question: Which bartender founded Southern Comfort in a small bar in New Orleans in 1874? And what are the two slogans of SoCo?
14.21 The audience swells to about 30 people. I am tempted to shout: WHY ARE YOU WATCHING THIS? Anybody who raises their hand and says they came because they "loved" the book will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.
More Coke advertising. Apparently, there is still time to grab one and pour the lovely battery acid down my throat before the film starts.
14.22. There is a trailer for a computer animated film about a tap-dancing baby penguin with the voice of Elijah Wood. I am dumb-founded. Its creators must have been smoking formaldehyde-laced doobies and watching March of the Penguins at the same time when they came up with this one.
14.30 The classic University Challenge theme (before they introduced the stringy version) kicks in. It sounds so sweet, like heaven's clarion call. It is our hero, Brian Jackson, watching the programme as a small child. "Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a clever person?"
How can you want to be? You either are or are not. Of course, you can de-clever yourself by smacking yourself in the brain with a pick-axe, but surely you smarten yourself up in reverse in the same fashion. I can see such pernickety and silly interior monologues filling my brain like garbage during the entire film. Also, you shouldn't shamelessly rip off Scorsese. Or I mean, the creator of Cold Feet
should be banned from doing so. And breathing for that matter. I can see such dangerous snarkiness filling my mind like a parasitic brain disease during the entire film.
14.31 Weren't the starters short in those days? Brian makes a comment about his having to know the right answer all the time. The first mild shiver of recognition rushes through me. Catherine Tate makes an appearance as his mum - in real life she would have been ten years old when she gave birth to James McAvoy, which is just plain weird.
14.32 His Essex accent is all over the place. It's slightly geezerish (a bit whurrr and a bit wherrrr) and clunky. Then it changes into conventional brogue, whose inflections don't make you want to chuck a grenade at the speakers. "I want to know about everything"
, Brian says. Uh-oh, I really am beginning to empathise.
14.33 At his university application interview his hilarious gauche-ness is emphasised by glasses so utterly diabolical looking that even Woody Allen would have refused to countenance wearing them and a denim jacket so icky and lame that it induces feelings of nausea on the first glance. The problem is you can't make James MacAvoy look like a geek. Because he is James McAvoy. Star and heart-throb of the small screen!
14.34 Brian's two best friends happen to be History Boys. I now realise I had made a dreadful mistake when I said that Dominic Cooper was the fat guy in both films before. He's actually Dakin. What a fool am I. Making factual errors. A bit of self-flagellation, perhaps, to stop me from ever doing it again? They hang out in arcades and drink on the pier. I realise the disturbing parallels between my life and Brian's. All that seaside town rubbishness. Makes me go all wistful and dewy eyed. "Don't go all gay about it,"
says Dakin when he gives Brian a mix tape. This must be the first filmic use of the word "gay" in its pejorative playground sense that I have ever heard in the cinema. A great landmark indeed.
14.35 This guy is such an incredible naif that I find myself an instant away from shouting at the screen, and thus outting myself as a complete nutter to everybody else who is watching the movie. He says he is going to university to expand his mind, rather than begin on a long campaign to destroy it with booze and narcotics and hopefully some kind of VD gained from rampant promiscuity. Oh he's so naive yet so.
(Kaufman moment: Sweet mama, this is already one long article ... and it's only five minutes into the movie)
14.36 Fly on the projector! Brian gets out his corduroy jacket. It is almost as bad as the university interview one. An atrocity you can wear. How could such a thing come into wilful existence? Who could create such a thing? The movie has that real 80s feel, just like The Rachel Papers. Not that that particular film was any good, even though I liked it for some inexplicable reason (Or maybe it was "Beastie Girl" Ione Skye). Not the rubbish about the then new-fangled computer system he used though. Man, that was so lame. Boys Don't Cry by The Cure plays. The 80s music is already getting a bit intrusive.
14.38 He has to transport all his stuff to university by train and on his own. If his mum cares so much about him then why can't she give him a lift or get someone else to do it? It makes no sense.
14.39 His housemates - he's not even in a halls of residence - are dressed up as whores for the Tarts 'n' Vicars party quite a few hours before it starts. They take advantage of him immediately because he's so naive yet so by allocating him a small bedroom (well, they say it is small, which must mean small as in Giant Haystacks was quite a small man. Really) and pilfering his money. This is because Brian is like a little puppy people want to hit with a hammer. And you will most certainly hit him with a hammer when he says things like "I've never met a Jew!"
He says this to Rebecca Epstein, who is played by Rebecca Hall, who has recovered remarkably well from yesterday when I watched her hang herself in The Prestige (quite good, though the film is actually more of a depressing and weird horror yarn than the source novel). In the book Rebecca was a mouthy viper, who you visualised as some humourless goth-cow. In the movie, she is far more attractive and less abrasive.
14.43 He sees the University Challenge try-outs sheet, which is set for the next day. This is the first time I am going to do this but: WHAT???!! Auditions in freshers' week? On the second day of the uni year? WTF? Truth is the first casualty of drama isn't it? You would never have them then. I can start to feel the outrage swell in me, and since I have read the novel I know it can only get worse.
14.44 Brian's almost late, being waylaid by Rebecca and her anti-apartheid protesting. She's obviously a simulacrum for the world of 1980s politics. Or it could just be a lazy plot device to remind us that lentil-eating socialists were a bit too much and thank God, most of them have been consumed by 21st century materialism.
14.45 Patrick the boss man of the UC team is plainly a dick. Memories of being the dickish boss man come flooding back. Doing up posters of Jeremy Paxman dressed up as a lady, setting insane 200-question written tests, spats with the techy gimps about buzzers, laughing at the wide variety of freaks and geeks that came to try their hand. They were my flock. My brethren.
Here's another: WTF??? Only four people turn up to the audition. At a university like Bristol. I am wont to call David Nicholls out and call him a cad and bounder. And Patrick has apparently made one poster for the entire campus. WTF??
Or maybe the low attendance was because IT WAS ON THE SECOND DAY OF THE UNI YEAR and Patrick is a mad nobber who wants to sabotage his own chances on the show.
Wait a minute. He's once again
the captain of the team? He's been the captain for the last three years? OMG. I know this and you know this: you cannot go on the show repeatedly. This gross fabrication provokes a kind of violent jerk in my musculature, which coincidentally is linked to some mechanism that makes me want to fill the air with scatological word bombs.
14.46 In comes Alice and Brian's heart goes all aflutter. This is despite her wearing what looks like a puce Quality Street wrapper. The film puts her in slow motion. Slow motion is silly.
14.47 Brian's hair has taken on the look of McAvoy's character in Shameless
. So it doesn't look at all bad or geeky. Since it is the 1980s, this is just plain stupid. He should have hair that looks like blow-dried roadkill.
Look, the fly is back on the projector! Great.
14.48 Brian stocks his geeky reference library. Another frisson of recognition. Being a bloody student, he just has to have the Che Guevara, Leonard Cohen and The Graduate
posters. And a picture of his dead dad. In my halls of residence room, I was always one for art postcards which would shock my Tuesday cleaner into some weird comment when seeing her.
14.50 He misses out on the team by one point. The irony is that he gave Alice two answers and she got in ahead of him! What are the chances? But if Brian loves general knowledge, learning, whatever, so much then how come he fails to even get on a UC team? Is he one of those mediocre tossers who possess not an ounce of brilliance, but still purports to make knowledge and quizzes the centre of his life? What a loser. My empathy levels dip.
14.51 To Patrick's room for the first team meeting. Funny picture of Patrick with Bamber. Patrick watches an old videotape of last year's UC final (Do I watch my old UC tapes? Not anymore. After seeing your shows for the 126th time, they do tend to pall a tad). Patrick happens to be in this final. Yes, once again, WTF? The film-makers are suggesting that a former finalist can come back. The outrage goes from simmer to boil. However, Patrick does cry, which raises a titter or two.
14.52 "This could be our year"
, Patrick says. Painfully familiar words. He says they have the qualifying heats in two weeks' time. Once again, the time frame, cut to fit the demands of the plot, is as wonky as a donkey being twisted into knots by King Kong. Since Brian failed to get on the team he goes back to eating Pot Noodles and wearing CND buttons in that tokenistic 'this is the 1980s, look at all this rubbish bric-a-brac' way. If Brian truly loved UC he would have committed seppuku in his shame. What would be the point of going on, living this life as an empty UC-less vessel?
14.54 Colin is hit by a bus. Brian is drafted into the team. And I thought the film was going to just have him watch Bristol play from the audience. These fiction writers always have one on me. Those clever chappies.
The audition is in front of one guy, who's the kind of middle-aged priggish stereotype who needs the rod removed from his rectum. Fifty questions given to the team orally, who give the answers as one. This is, of course, a lot more exciting than writing the answers down as you do in real life. Because written tests just ain't SEX-AY.
Funny line though, when Patrick shouts at the cleaner and tells her to stop waxing because they are taking the quiz: "This man has been sent from the offices of University Challenge!"
Am starting to think that Benedict "Hawking" Cumberbatch is the best thing in the movie. He's got a funny, pinched face.
14.55 Montage of Brian giving all the answers. If he was so crap in the try-outs, why does he turn into the Lord of Quiz in the actual audition? I don't like this lack of consistency. It just ain't true to life. It just ain't. And Brian, this self-confessed geek who said he wasn't born beautiful, is starting to dress like someone from the pages of Arena Homme Plus
14.56 "You're a general knowledge god,"
Alice says to Brian. Beautiful blonde girls paying such a compliment to normal quizzers in reality would probably make them spontaneously combust or do a gory impression of that block of flats in the Bravia TV ad. Truth be told, the closest equivalent in my reality was Marina Hyde
calling me a "genius"
. I didn't explode (so I was lying about the self-immolation). I ran away. On the other hand, a Guardian editor once called me "fucking scary"
. In a nice way, might I hasten to add. You might also think that "normal quizzer" is an oxymoron. I would be inclined to agree.
There, he said it! He called it "The Challenge"
. The book goes overboard on this idiotic nickname, but thankfully it seems to be absent apart from this sordid instance. Hey, David frickin' Nicholls. You div. Everyone calls it UC. You make me so mad I could eat a light bulb.
Brian explains how being good with the old GK was all because of his "misspent youth"
. Misspent? Surely not. And oddly, Alice decries his description of it as "useless knowledge"
and asks is there such a thing? Good girl.
14.58 Is that I'm Your Man
by Wham? Yes. It is. How lame. Alice and Brian have an embarrassing (his) birthday dinner. Embarrassing to watch too. Not in a good way, might I hasten to add.
15.01 Brian says his dad used to tell him that knowledge is the key to being happy and not do a job you hate. He cries. So that's the motivation. He misses his dad. I think I feel a little bit of sick at the back of my mouth.
15.02 She invites him to her Suffolk cottage for new year. This has no grounding in reality. Reality is far, far away, having been first violated and then sent off in a rocket into the deepest reaches of the Milky Way.
15.05 Already home for the Xmas holidays? That was a quick term. Done in 30 minutes. Brian finds his mum in the bath with the landlord from Early Doors
. This is a truly disturbing moment that could not have been better constructed by Michael Haneke or Roman Polanski.
15.07 The fly returns to the projector. For some strange reason, I have decided to name him Mr Zippy.
15.08 Teenage Kicks
. Air hockey. The Essex coast. Friends exchanging thoughtful words and other bon mots like "wanker". I think there have been three wankers in the dialogue so far. Is that the upper limit for a 12A certificate? If we're not careful many young children watching with their parents will be saying this vile word, filling class-rooms and shopping centres with its violent duo-syllabic sound. Won't someone think of the children? Next they'll be calling us elderly gents "shitfaced cockmasters"
. And we wouldn't want that.
15.11 Brian NO!! Don't recite facts about bees at dinner with Charles Dance and Lindsay Duncan. Never ever do that unless someone calls upon you to do so. He has much to learn about the ways and uses of general knowledge.
15.12 Tripping the light fantastic for the first time, Brian gets a blowback from Alice. Hopefully, he'll be doing heroin and crack by the end of the movie. Slippery slope is soft drugs. Whoops, Yoda going all again.
15.18 Brian goes home early because of his Olympian feats of embarrassment. No, actually, he elects to spend New Year's Eve at university, which is weird because he doesn't seem to have a single friend in Bristol, only love interests. Then, hey, it's Rebecca. Time to spend some quality time with her.
15.23 The Buzzcocks' Ever Fallen in Love
plays on the stereo (you see the genius of the soundtrack compilers? They'd do a top notch job for Capital FM). They kiss. He calls her Alice. Then she runs away past what appears to be two hundred bicycles located in and just outside the house (some subtle joke reference by director Tom Vaughan to the haunting and brute emotion of de Sica's Bicycle Thieves
15.26 Brian is told he is becoming "less intelligent"
by his tutor. So you see love has rotted his brain. In UC practice Brain shows a similar aptitude for giving rubbish answers. Nice little touch though, with Patrick camcordering the whole thing and having his two charges practice on buzzers made from doorbells.
15.27 It is the day before the UC first round match. Great night for Dakin to visit from another film. They go to party.
15.28 The difference in speaking David Nicholls's dialogue instead of Alan Bennett's actually makes you think that Dakin is slightly retarded. Poor guy: from that to this
. Just noticed that there are very few people under the age of 30. Though the irony of watching schoolkids play truant in order to watch a film about a university student in love with knowledge would almost be too much to take. At the party Gilbert & Sullivan fans sing and folkies sing songs about cabbage or fairies. It's university, you see. There are always loads of G&S and Fairport Convention acolytes merrily chanting songs in the corner, aren't there?
At this moment, you really do realise that Alice has much depth as a saucer of milk and a Desperate Dan chin and that Rebecca is lovely and witty and that Brian is even more of a prat than before. His levels of prattishness are being further raised every minute. Which is quite funny.
15.31 Brian thinks mascots are silly. What I would have given - riches, vital organs - to plonk my Ibiza-born mogwai on the desk. There is a free minibus for audience members. Then, I notice later, how come they get in the tiny car thus forcing one of them to drive?
Dakin asks what sort of "bizarre, nerdy swot would want to go on that show?"
A conventional opinion. I shan't say anymore on the matter.
15.32 Patrick takes offence at Dakin's unemployment and criminal career and uses a Tebbettian turn of phrase to tell him to get a job. Brief silly exchange about 1980s unemployment. Dakin decks Hawking.
15.33 Brian storms out and ends up alone drinking whisky on a fire escape. In the pouring rain. Great way to prepare for the day ahead.
15.34 He goes to Alice's room. She is in her undies. Brian finds out that Dakin promptly fooled around with Alice and is hiding in the wardrobe and so we get the very bad moment of emotional introspection from Brian crucial to the timing and feel of the climax.
15.35 Confrontation! Rubbish fight, rubbish fight!
(KM: I swear we are more than halfway there. Although we may still be living on a prayer.)
15.38 A drunken Brian is nudged awake by Patrick. They get in the car and one of the old quiz dilemmas pops up. Our ding-dong of a hero asks Patrick if asking questions that have been on the show is a waste of time. Patrick says it is a "warm-up"
. Brian is obviously just being a difficult little bastard.
15.39 To settle the dispute they turn on the radio and another appropriate song comes on; this time Wonderful Life
by Black (how come when you always turn on the car radio it is Westlife or Rock DJ?).
15.40 Granada Studios. UC Alumni's own Mecca. Brian meets his mum and her man, who unveils the huge banner "Brian Jackson knows EVERYTHING"
. Not that he wants to put any pressure on the hungover, lovelorn, inconsistent ninny.
15.41 The corridors. See the Corrie stars. Old memories stir and rise to the surface. As do visions of Jenny Powell having a problem with her mike and Gail Tilsley making like Speedy Gonzalez.
15.42 Now this is just stupid. Apparently, they are playing the team they lost to in last year's final. Yes, you read that right: Queens' College, Cambridge. Like that would ever happen. It also seems that McAvoy has actually turned into his character Steve from Shameless
: same clothes, same accent, same defiant attitude. This attitude doesn't stretch too far since he headbutts Patrick and manages to knock himself out. But having said that Henry II was the "Hammer of the Scots"
, it is safe to assume that he was already brain damaged beyond all hope.
15.43 He wakes up to Rebecca. She tenderly wipes the blood from his nose. It's getting a bit romantic what with the tingly guitars.
15.45 Bamber is spotted from behind. Brian sits down and finds the questions. Oh no. He looks at one about The Big Dipper aka Ursa Major aka The Great Bear. You idiot. No, wait. You absolute tool. You complete and utter cheating fool. He says: "I knew that"
. Yeah, course you did. Everybody says that after they seen the question and answer.
15.46 They go in, doing a kind of Reservoir Dogs
walk. Slow mo for the freak show. Alice is wearing a kind of horrific evening dress that looks like it has been dipped in blackcurrant yoghurt. It was never like that for us. We had to wait in the wings and get shuffled on like cattle. But that is the way of the true University Challange, not film University Challenge, which is obviously the product of some opiated dream, and is known in its weird alternative dimension as "The Challenge" *shiver*. Hey, David stay off the laudanum. Coleridge would have done it better.
15.47 Queens' College, Cambridge should sue. Their fictional representatives come off like a quartet of junior Bond villains, who all wear academic gowns, to no doubt emphasise their other-ness (nice subtle touch film guys), and wield facial expressions of either pure Machiavellian malice or the kind of smugness that can only be cured by a shotgun blast to the head. Stephen Fry, who was on the Queens' College UC team some time before the year of this film's setting (1985), certainly did not wear these Darth Vader robes.
15.48 The match proper starts. The plainly evil Aryan star of the Queen's team gets his team off to a flyer. After the show you can be sure he will be cutting up dead babies. Just for fun. I would describe how it goes, but I've suddenly got bored of the idea of describing the action. So nyeah-nyeah-nyeeah. But there seems to be a lot of starters and I wish UC matches were cut like this (make an effort Granada! Get some production values).
15.49 Brian gets "Pterodactyl"
from the Greek for "wing finger": one of those lovely little coincidence questions because he answered it during the opening frames of the film, when he looked like the supreme kiddie nerdlinger. Only this is fiction, and it is nowhere near as amazing as reality. I mean, who cares? Wait, one thing I do care about: the Queens' College team come off as being even bigger dicks with their constant display of sneery and self-satisfied looks. Obviously, they want to be the most hated team in the history of the programme. In the reality-based community, that is just not the done thing. Not at all.
15.52 The scores are almost evenly matched as time is almost up. Queens' are 20 points ahead and Bamber says "Astronomy"
. Brian instantly says: "Ursa Major or The Great Bear"
. And that is the end of that. A confused and angry sounding Bamber asks: "How does he know the answer when I didn't ask the bloody question?"
Easy, he just guessed (and could Mr Gascoigne even get angry? He always seems such a placid and wise soul). There are grounds for defence, albeit slim. He did say the category didn't he? It's a trifle to pick a constellation from the sky. If it was in an American Quiz Bowl competition, people would be hailing Brian as the god of early buzzes, but here he condemned to a series of mopey aftermath scenes where he learns to live with the shame of being a rotten cheat as The Smiths (naturally) play Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
15.59 Having suffered in purgatory for the last few minutes, the dang fool realises he should have been with Rebecca all along. Finally.
16.02 Ends with snogging outside one of the university buildings. Everyone lives happily ever after, except for Brian who probably goes down as the most cheatingest and silly contestant in the history of University Challenge and will be hounded to the ends of the earth by angry UC-ologists brandishing metal-tipped cat o'nine tails (the sequel could be called Get Brian
). Fin as the Frenchies say.Short review
: Though I quiver with lewd outrage at the liberties taken with the schematics of the show (you know I would, and when I do so it is for all our amusement rather than the pleasure of pedantry), I have to say it's a slick MOR romcom which is better than the book. It won't do the British film industry any harm. Only if it had nothing to do with UC, I wouldn't even bother reading a review of it in a magazine or newspaper. * Trivia question answer: MW Heron/ "None Genuine But Mine" and "Two per customer. No Gentlemen would ask for more".