Friday Night Dinner is a British TV sitcom that began in 2011, and has been renewed for 2020. It is some inspired silliness that I and the fam have enjoyed immensely. There was talk of an (ugh) American remake by Greg Daniels, but (thank God) the pilot never went to a series. I can already picture it, gags playing to leaden silence, cancellation after one season.
Each episode begins with the two sons arriving at their parents’ house for their weekly Friday night dinner, and the shenanigans that ensue.
There is a universal appeal to the tarvails of this deeply neurotic family, and its equally damaged neighbours, a gentleman whose large dog has the better of him. I haven’t had a better time watching TV, nor laughed so hard.
Wittertainment, in case you don’t know, is the Twitter handle for the radio programme, Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review. It is heard on BBC Radio 5 live or, as a podcast, for those of a tech bent. (which I am, to those over the age of 75) I have listened to the programme since about 2009.
Simon Mayo, Mark Kermode
Those who know me well, are aware that I am film fanatic. I think I draw cartoons only to distract me from this borderline obsession of mine. Film discussion is another pleasure of mine. Those who know me, know I can ‘witter’ on for hours on the subject.
The format consists of, well, a lot of wittering. Embedded within the word witter is, of course, ‘wit‘, and there is much of that. It is this that elevates this above the standard fare from North America, through NPR and other long established film podcasts. (Filmspotting, Film Junk are my favourites)
They do snag interviews with A-listers like all the Toms (Cruise, Hardy, Hanks) Scarlett, all the Natalies and Emmas.
Every episode contains not only their own film reviews, but reviews of the public at large. People just like us, with mortgages, toothaches, and cars with pending maintenance issues. These keep the show grounded and accessible, though if you are not English, a few of the references will not make sense. Or a kind of annoying sense.
Highly recommended listening, just enter Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review into your podcatcher. They have been together so long that there is a sublime chemistry between them.
I have been a reader of Stephen King since The Shining. Go ahead, let me have it. I’m trying, really trying. Picked up Infinite Jest, then put it down. Three quarters of the way through Great Expectations, then onto the Mandalorian on Disney. I do read Insert Books That Are Considered High Brow and Have Won Several Prestigious Awards here. I do.
However, I never NOT pick up a Stephen King release, even if it receives tepid reviews, as his output has been, the last few years. I did not mind Doctor Sleep, especially the audiobook version as read by Will Patton, a truly gifted reader of books. We are thinking of having him come to our house, and read our grocery lists, anything else we have lying around.
Getting back to The Institute, Stephen King delivers a topical and all-too-not 100% improbable scenario to a hair-raising climax. This is as climactic as Firestarter was, another tightly plotted and government-bad novel as this one is. There is a delicious anticipation as things tighten up, and King does what he does best. Ratchet up the tension, as he did so well in 11/22/63, his best in years, IMO.
The Institute one ticked all the boxes on the King list: a granular knowledge of the subject that elevates above lesser authors of the genre. Damning with faint praise, I know, but he is the James Cameron (we call him Jimmy C here in Canada) of the written world (sadly, SK’s movies seldom reach the heights of the books because this granularity (some might say overwritten quality) is lost in a film format) Or the books in question were crap.
He is such a master of the craft that, perhaps it is his hubris, he tends to be overly generous (his words) with the prose. It works as many times as it doesn’t work, in my opinion. He’ll always be my go-to, though I’ll be the first to note that he has written a lot of clunkers. To name a few: Tommyknockers, Lisey’s Story (subjective, found it tedious), The Outsider, Under the Dome, Bag of Bones, It.
Give The Institute a read or listen, a high water mark for King, take it from the expert. You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile (sorry, David Byrne), and drifting into oncoming traffic, as you lose yourself in the climactic moments. SK really maintained a fever pitch of tension in the final pages, I must say. Not an easy task.
This is a terrifically gripping read, in the realm of ‘Never Let Me Go’. It is speculative fiction on the subject of loss and memory. Spare and melancholic. Published in 1995 but available in English translation 2019.
Okay, is there anything better than a Mike Leigh film? Not really. Another Year is one of my all-time favourites, with a tour de force by Leslie Manville. I never get tired of this film, and these tragic-comic characters. Especially memorable, in a brief (literally a few minutes) but unforgettable role, Imelda Staunton.
Reading for the umpteenth time, East of Eden. This one actually teaches me new things every time I read it, as I get older, though not necessarily wiser. I have loved Steinbeck since I read Grapes of Wrath during lunch in high school. East of Eden has some funny and comic moments, and contains one of the most repellent characters in literature.