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I laughed, I tittered, I snickered, I drove the boat – BBC Five Live’s Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo, and their hilarious film reviews

March 5, 2010

On a recent episode of Mark Kermode’s Film Review, a show-within-a-show hosted by the sly Simon Mayo, they were evaluating a film called Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, a not-so-subtle knockoff of That Wizard Kid Book Series. Just as Bruce Springsteen’s mid-1980s market share had to go somewhere during the often-gaping epochs between album releases (enter John pre-Mellencamp Cougar and Bon Jovi!), a clever opportunist can squeeze a few mil from the tween appetite for more Potter. Kermode – aka The Good Doctor, Dr. K, Flappy Hands, and the Quiff – fearing for the upcoming deluge in ersatz Hogwarts, implicated that any odd-sounding name, followed by a similarly-ominous situation, could possibly don our marquees in the near future. “Can JK Rowling write another Harry Potter book? Because here comes ‘Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins!‘”, he warns. “There’s no new James Bond movie, but here’s Jim Bound, Triple-0-4!” (Update – the “Benjamin Sniddlegrass” saga has led to a legitimate film release. Wow – we will get to that soon!)

For those unfamiliar with this examination of cinema, imagine if Chicago Public Radio’s Sound Opinions was hosted by two quick-witted Brits. For the past several years, Mayo has hosted a drive-time show on Radio Five and Radio Two, which covers tennis, cricket and other serious events that still capture the Old Isle’s imagination. Around two o’clock GMT, Mark Kermode ambles into the studio, coffees in hand, to power through the recent releases. Occasionally, this example of “Wittertainment at its most wittertaining” will be broadcast from the actual sport events, allowing comedic-to-Yanks moments like “It appears we have another wicket for Staffordshire!” to intrude upon Kermode’s latest expression of disgust with hack directors like Chris Columbus (also known as “The Bean Counter”). Kermode earned his PhD in English, wrote his thesis on horror films, and lists The Exorcist as his favorite move of all time. He does not often like comedies, and saves some of his most intense derision for Judd Apatow, Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson, three of my favorite directors (I have to admit that his term he occasionally uses for a film aiming for laughs – An “attempted comedy” – is pretty awesome). However, when his disdain is aimed at a worthy target (like Michael Bay), the results are glorious. A brief sample of his words about Transformers II – The Revenge of the Fallen:

“Everything about the way Michael Bay makes a film is from a pornographic sensibility. Like, ‘Look at that car…WUUUUAAAAAHHHHH!!! And here’s a robot….WUUUUAAAHHHH!!! Ay? AYYY??? And that engine…WUUUAHAHA!!!! Ay, AYAY? And that Megan Fox…WUUUUAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! AY!!!'”

“Shia LaBoeuf, Sleepy LaBeef, Snoozy LaPork, appears to be attending a college populated entirely by the cast of FHM Magazine.”

“It has a leery nature towards the female ‘characters’, and I use that term loosely, including the use of chasing a short-skirt as a ‘science-fiction’ plot point.”

“It is mind-bendingly terrible, where nothing happens very loudly and about a hundred times…”

“You get robots hitting each other, with added WAAAAAAHHHHH!”

“It’s time to say, as a culture, enough is enough!”

“It’s not just a rotten film, but a film with a rotten heart, a heart that is nothing more than a ringing cash-till! I… hated it!”

This review was especially cathartic, as a fan of the original animated Transformers movie (a film that mattered so much, I’ll quote my friend A-Mac: “Optimus Prime’s death affected me like no other, because he was a better dad than Dad!”) – oh yeah – spoiler alert. Thankfully, we can rest easy knowing the Good Doctor is willing to sacrifice his own mental health for the collective good.

Fear not, film buffs. Kermode has plenty more where that came from (oh wait – allow me to correct myself – “plenty more from which that came”). Prior to their lengthy look at as many films as time allows, the show features a quick rundown of the UK Box Office Top 10, where Mayo reads the name and number of the film, and Kermode offers a brief review. With an eye on the clock, Dr. K unleashes a smashing summary in very few sentences. Some of my favorites:

You Do Not Mess With The Zohan:

“Adam Sandler is a successful comedian…I mean, in the financial sense.”

“Well, it’s funnier than Munich.”

Disaster Movie:

“Crawling on the bottom of the ocean of bad.”

Valentine’s Day:

“It’s like receiving a greeting card full of vomit – ‘Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a bag of sick!'”

Mamma Mia!:

“So awful it’s brilliant, and when Pierce Brosnan starts singing, it raises to another level.”


“If you saw it on an airplane, you might be OK with it.”

Yes, like most long-term radio partnerships, their conversations are rich with anecdotes, including one about Elvis Costello. According to Mark, in the early 1980s, Ol’ Declan McManus stormed into a record store, furiously demanding to hear the latest album from Joe Jackson. After the clerk finished the first side, Elvis yells “I certainly do NOT remember recording THAT!”, and walked out.

In addition, they’ve developed a bushel of inside jokes and self-referential statements. Allow me to provide a guide to these oft-used phrases:

“It was in The Guardian, I bet!” – Whenever Kermode mentions something he read in a newspaper, Mayo offers this response. Mayo constantly ribs Kermode about his political leanings, although it is not difficult to understand why he’d choose the Guardian over crap like the Sun or the Daily Mail.

“Dear _____ and ______” – During the show, Mayo reads about twenty emails from listeners, and within the past few years, some cheeky bastards have taken to switching out “Simon and Mark” with other famous pairs. Some of my faves are “Sam Bell and Sam Bell”, “Nina and Nikita – the Remake and the Original”, or “Dr. Livingston and I Presume”, followed by a quasi-serious debate about who gets which name.

Wrongtious Kill, Leapy Ear, Burn After Redding, Terminato:  Salad Nation, etc – They like to offer silly alterations of titles, and once a film has been christened with a moniker, it is know as such from that point till eternity.

“______ – All of it” – Always follows a reference to Australia the country, acknowledging the absurdity of titling a 2-hour film after a massive former colony.

“Who’s driving the boat?” – After being flummoxed by a critical scene in Taken, this is often affixed to any film that throws a clunky plot device into the mix without proper explanation.

The cavalcade of terrible impressions – I’ll just leave you with this. And this.

“Does he get ______?” – After the conclusion of a clip – which always seem to involve the protagonist verbalising some plot-device kerfuffle, Mayo will ask if the character makes it through the adverse situation, in his sneakily hilarious manner (American equivalent: “He fixes the cable?”). My favorite was his response to last week’s review of a remake of The Crazies, where the clip concludes with a character emphatically stating “Lay the gun down!” about ten times. Mayo, of course, asks “Did he lay the gun down?”

Hello to Jason Isaacs, Fairport Convention, Stephen Fry, etc… – Some British luminaries are regular listeners, and the guys are happy to give them recognition. Kermode’s love of progressive rock and folk makes him even cooler – he plays double-bass in a skiffle band called the Dodge Brothers (Lonnie Donegan fans unite!), and also has an affinity for Yes.

Flappy Hands – For those of you bound within the Mother Country, the live audio stream of Mark Kermode’s Film Reviews is accompanied by video. Yeah, I know, wow – two dudes sitting in a studio, talking. Whoa. Now THAT is compelling television. But the animated antics of Kermode, and the clever physical sarcasm of Mayo enhance the wittertainment.

For those of you reading this on a Friday afternoon, check here for the latest episode.

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