Tag Archives: TV

One Of *Those* Posts – Things I Enjoyed

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I usually avoid doing those “year end” kinda things – ‘cos really, it’s only the year-end in the Gregorian calendar, not in loads of other calendars. Anyway, here’s a list of some things I liked this past spin around the sun. In no particular order or category:

The Summer: Even though I left my job at the beginning of June, I had quite a good summer this year. I visited my family back in the U.S.A. for two weeks – I hadn’t seen them in nine years, so it was a treat to see all the nieces and nephews and my cousins and their little’uns. I also met a friend and did a bit of record shopping, too. Back in the UK, it proved to be a decent time, as the weather (mostly) brought sunshine and warmth. Compared to last year, this year was a model season.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II: I first heard this band through Marc Riley‘s 6Music show a couple of years ago. I kinda liked their strange, psychedelic R&B-influenced sound, but not enough to pick up the first record. Riley started playing the first single off of the new album, “Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)” and it became a near-instant earworm. The album was released in February of this year and I bought it shortly after. I find there’s not a bum track on it – though for those with short attention spans, “Monki” can probably overdo it a bit.

A Field In England/Kill List: Pixie and I watched “Sightseers” early in the year and I really enjoyed it, particularly for the performances of Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, as the main protagonists. “Sightseers” was released in 2012, but we missed it in the cinema. Director Ben Wheatley was finishing up “A Field In England” even as were sending the rental DVD of “Sightseers” back. I was back in the UK in time to watch A.F.I.E. on BBC Four in early July and it blew my mind. Set in Civil War-era England, it involves some deserters who are tricked into helping a necromancer into searching for a ‘treasure’ hidden in a deserted field. There’s madness, psychedelic mushrooms and magick thrown into the mix. I thought it was brilliant and I’m definitely buying the DVD. I watched “Kill List” shortly after and while it wasn’t quite as visually arresting as A.F.I.E., the story, in places, seems far more intense. A soldier-turned-hitman gets lured back into the business by his friend and ‘associate’. At first, it seems like a routine mission, but things get progressively weirder as the film goes on. The ending scene is a shocker and it’s wonderfully played and is a genuine “Holy shit!” moment when you realise what has happened. Superb.

Fuck Buttons: I’d heard about them a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t quite sure I’d like their music. I checked out a couple of clips on You Tube, but I filed them in the “kinda interesting, maybe check them out later” dept. This year, they released their third full-length album, Slow Focus. I listened to a few of the new tracks and really liked them – so I bought up the back catalogue (not tough, as it’s only two records so far). At the moment, “Tarot Sport” is my fave, though “Street Horrrsing” has it’s ace tracks, too. I also found out that Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Powers‘s (of F.B.) ambient side project. Blanck Mass’s track Chernobyl was used to excellent effect in “A Field In England”.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (the stage version at the Apollo Theatre, London): You can read my longer review in the last post. Excellent staging and cast – highly recommended. You won’t be able to see it until the beginning of January, as part of the ceiling in the theatre collapsed during a performance – luckily there were no fatalities.

Leonard Shlain – The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: I didn’t get to read quite as many books this year as I wanted to – but “The Alphabet…” was quite entertaining and enlightening. I read it while on holiday in the States. Shlain’s theory posits that while worldwide literacy has been very beneficial on the whole, it has also brought subjugation of women in almost every culture in which it’s been introduced. You may not agree with it, and find his research lacking – but I find it quite compelling and very possible. Copies are still available – I bought mine quite cheap off of eBay.

Horrible Histories/The Wrong Mans: H.H. finally finished this year, after it’s fifth series and it’s a shame, because it got better and better as it went along. The song/band parodies were ace and their send-up of “Masterchef”, ‘Historical Masterchef‘, was seriously funnier than most adult sketch shows, to me, anyway. “The Wrong Mans” is a series on BBC Two, that was shown in the early autumn. It stars Matthew Baynton, who was part of the H.H. cast and James Corden. I’m not really a fan of Corden’s, so I thought it could go either way. Luckily, Baynton held his own and Corden’s usual antics were limited to just a few scenes. I thought it was good, for a modern Hitchcock pastiche. There’s not much wiggle-room for a second series – but then, teevee writers can come up with some convoluted shit in order to keep a franchise going. We’ll see…

The World’s End: The final film of Edgar Wright‘s “Cornetto Trilogy” (featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) was released this past year. To me, it didn’t have quite the gut-bust laugh quotient of “Shaun Of The Dead” or “Hot Fuzz“, but it’s still a quality flick. Part 90s nostalgia, part sci-fi and part “you can never go home again” story – it makes a fitting end to the trilogy. I won’t go into plot specifics, in case you’ve not seen it, but I will say that “Fuck off back to Legoland, cunts!” is one of my fave film lines of the last ten years.

Matt Berry – Witchazel: I’d been meaning to pick this up for a loooong while and was given the CD as an X-Mas gift this year. It’s as good as I’d anticipated and for anyone who digs early 1970s psychedelic/progressive folk and English whimsy, this is a must-have. Berry is a comedic actor who’s appeared in some of the funniest shows of the past five-to-ten years: The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace…and (the somewhat patchy) The IT Crowd. The guy’s also a solid musician and I’ve got his second album “Opium” as well (his first album, “Jackpot“, is waaaaaay out-of-print and you most certainly won’t find it on the interwebtubes or eBay – trust me, I’ve looked). Berry’s newest series, “Toast Of London” was broadcast in the autumn and it looks like a second series has been commissioned. “T.O.L.” uses “Take My Hand“, from ‘Witchazel” as it’s theme tune.

There’s loads more music, some teevee and books I enjoyed – but then this post would be mammoth and would stretch your reading patience to it’s limit. Hope your year was near what you wanted it to be and roll on Gregorian calendar year 2014!

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Theatre & TeeVee Round-Up #86

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Good morning, campers! I know – I’ve been neglecting the blog. I couldn’t really find anything exciting to post about. Sure, there’s politics and world events – but there’s thousands of other blogs covering all of that stuff and probably better, too.

A couple of post-worthy subjects cropped up recently, so I’ll natter on about those for a bit.

Pixie and I travelled to The Big Smoke to see the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. It’s at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Quite a nice theatre it is, too. I won’t provide a lot of spoilers, in case you’re going to see it (and I recommend you do) – but the story revolves around a 15-year-old boy, called Christopher Boone. Christopher seems to have a form of Asperger Syndrome. He attends school and lives with his father. His father has told him that his mother died during a medical operation. One night, he finds his neighbour’s dog dead in her back garden – he is found at the scene by a policeman and taken to the station for questioning.

After he is released, he is determined to find the dog’s killer and starts investigating the incident. What he finds out ends up being far more complicated and he learns more about his life and his abilities than he thought he ever would.

I really enjoyed the adaptation – the cast is excellent, particularly Mike Noble as “Christopher”. He seems to get the mannerisms correct, to me. I’m not an expert on Asperger syndrome, or autism – but like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, it’s a believable performance. Trevor Fox, as “Ed Boone”, Christopher’s father, shows the right amount of compassion and frustration in his role. I do need to give a shout-out to the always amazing Amanda Drew, as Christopher’s mother “Judy” – she gives a heartfelt performance that never drifts into mawkish cloying.

The stage is set up as a huge piece of graph paper, which connects with the theme of Christopher’s interest in mathematics. There’s a lot of physical action in the play – the whole cast act as furniture, or will lift one of the actors to simulate zero gravity, or ocean waves. I thought it was quite clever. There’s also great use of lighting and sound – the ‘cube’ stage is wired for LED lighting and the speakers around the theatre will be set for ‘stun’ during the parts where Christopher is overwhelmed. As I said – I’d highly recommend going to see this show – it’s well-acted and the story really grips you. The current cast will be performing until March 2014.

Perhaps you dig the Scandinavian teevee offerings of late, like I do. If you’re a fan of The Killing, or Wallander, or The Bridge – I suspect you also dig Borgen. The series, about a female Danish politician who becomes the Prime Minister and the effect that has on her family life and friendships, stars the lovely Sidse Babett Knudsen. It is an ensemble cast, so she gets great support from “The Killing” actor Soren Malling, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Johan Philip Asbaek and Lars Knutzon.

The new (and final series, we’re told) sees “Birgitte Nyborg” (Knudsen’s character) working as a consultant for a few different corporations, after her term as Prime Minister ended. She’s also got a boyfriend, an English architect (Nyborg split from her husband in the second series). When she returns to Denmark, she catches the politics bug again and tries to re-join her old party. The new leader doesn’t really want her around – so she challenges him for the party leadership. In a plot development that you could kinda see coming, she loses the bid for the leadership and instead forms her own new party, which ends up being dubbed “The New Democrats”.

Nyborg recruits Parliament outsiders, as well as “Katrine Fonsmark” (Sorensen’s character), a journalist who used to give Nyborg a bit of trouble when she was Prime Minister. Fonsmark has had a child with her lover, Nyborg’s former spin doctor, “Kaspar Juul” (played by Asbaek), but now they are separated and have joint custody of the child. She is attempting to juggle being a mother and her role in the New Democrats, with all of the problems that implies.

So far, the new series seems up to the standard of the other two. I suspect Nyborg will attempt another bid for P.M., but I also suspect she won’t be elected a second time. Still, it’ll be interesting to see the dynamics in the new party unfold and see if her relationship with the architect brings her lasting happiness. Sorry for the spoilers, but I suppose if you’ve been watching it, it doesn’t matter.

High On Mt. Vesuvius

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I gather it’s supposed to be spring, but going by the temperature outside, it seems the UK, most of Europe and even parts of the U.S. are stuck in a continuing cycle of winter weather. I don’t want to get into a debate about global warming and that. I do think climate change is happening, but I suspect it’s a combination of things and partly caused by humans.

Anyway, here’s a topic that’ll keep you warm. While we were on holiday in coooooold Cornwall last week, we caught a programme on BBC 4 about the Pompeii catastrophe. I presume you all know the story: ancient Roman city near Mt. Vesuvius is completely engulfed in ash and lava when the volcano which is part of said mountain erupts. Population almost entirely wiped out, but some of the buildings are remarkably preserved under the avalanche of ash.

The programme is called Pompeii: The Mystery Of The People Frozen In Time. It’s presented by Margaret Mountford, who you may remember from the business ‘reality-show’, The Apprentice (the UK version). She was one of the sour-faced execs sitting next to Alan Sugar in the boardroom scenes. As an historical teevee show presenter, she doesn’t show as much acumen as in her alleged business skills.

She remarks when looking at one of the casts, “It’s almost human.” Er..it is human, Mags – unless the people of Pompeii were half-lizard or something. There were a few other gaffes in her style as well, but for her first gig, she wasn’t too bad. The really interesting bit, to me, was the theory that the people weren’t killed by asphixiating on ash, or being steamrolled by magma, but by a phenomenon called a pyroclastic flow. Essentially, it’s like a tsunami, in cloud-form, of super-hot gas and rock that flows down the side of a volcano and engulfs everything in it’s path. The new theory is that the people were killed by the flow, then preserved by the falling ash.

There was a comparison between Pompeii and another city, Herculaneum, also situated close to Vesuvius. Herculaneam was a bit closer, so it’s citizens never even had a chance to be preserved when the pyroclastic flow hit – their flesh was burned completely away. All in all, it’s thought there were four or five flows during the eruption. The other cool thing was a sculptor, who used digital scanning of one of the Pompeii casts and one of the Herculaneum skulls, to create life-like busts. The Pompeii cast was a working-class male and the Herculaneum skull was a wealthy woman.

Another docu centres on Herculaneum, which was just broadcast the other night. It delves more into the day-to-day existences of the citizens. I was impressed with the presenter’s fluent Italian, but I didn’t find the overall programme quite as interesting. You can judge for yourself, though, as it’s on the BBC iPlayer for another six days – you can watch it here.

In a weird synchro-mesh, but maybe also due to the bank holiday weekend, the Frankie Howerd 1971 historical, er..’farce’ Up Pompeii was shown amongst all the ‘Carry On’ films.

Well, that’s yer lot – warmed up now? I am…until I have to go back outside. To finish, here’s a bit of the Floyd boys, from their concert/documentary, Live At Pompeii, first released in 1972:

Forward…Into The Past? …Or I Got Them 1980s Blues Again, Mama

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While the world (or most of it) was morning the loss of Neil Armstrong, an original space pioneer, and the futurist spirit of the late 1960s – other events suggested a leap backward to the dim and not-so-distant 1980s.

Exhibit A: A group of young women in Russia were given two-year jail sentences for singing an anti-Putin song in a cathedral. Two years in prison…for a song!! So much for glasnost and the ‘New Dawn’ of 1989–looks like ol’ Pooty-Poot wants to return to the days of czardom, or at the very least, Stalin. Now, whether or not you think the cathedral was an inappropriate place for a protest song, those sentences are pretty disproportionate to the “crime”. During the trial, the women were placed in a glass cage in the courtroom. Allegedly, there was a fire alarm one day – the courtroom was cleared, apart from the women, who were left in the cage. The Russian Orthodox Church helped to convict them as well, but then, after the sentences were handed down – pleaded for mercy for the women. Too little, too late, you hypocrites. Another sad day for free speech and another step toward police states. Kudos to the women, for standing their ground and not softening their stance in the face of authoritarians.

Exhibit B: Miners who were striking in South Africa were shot by police in a pay dispute protest, which also involved rival worker unions. Another deja vu, although things never got quite that bad in the UK, it seems unbelievable that this would happen. Then again, negligent owners are everywhere and still exploiting their work forces. Yes, there’s probably much more to the story than that – but heavy-handed tactics by the police never help. In a bizarre twist to the story – the miners have been charged with murder for the deaths of some of their colleagues (!!!). No mention of whether any police officers will be charged with murder or brutality. Their claim is that they were “defending themselves”…or course, of course.

Exhibit C: “Dallas” returns. You read that right…that show with those people…something about oil. A guy was shot, or something. You know, that soap opera show….with the ranch and it was in Texas. That one. Yes, they’ve made a new series.

Ah well, at least Madonna’s called it a day. She hasn’t!! Oh no. Next you’ll tell me that shoulder-pads are back….please don’t…

Right, I’m off to listen to Kajagoogoo and Huey Lewis & The News, while trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. It’s gonna be rad, man.

Some Entertainment (1)

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Pogle’s Wood (1966)

This was my favourite TV show when I was about five or six years old. It’s magical, haunting and just a little bit mad. The Pogles were proto-hippies, living the life of the rural idyll, away from the prying eyes of humans. I am still haunted by the memory of the dream I had about joining them on a quest to a dark castle when I was a mere cub. I awoke trembling in fear and had to creep into my mum and dad’s bed. I couldn’t stop shaking all night and was only comforted by my parents singing Adge Cutler and The Wurzels’ ‘Drink Up Thy Zider’ to me. I kid you not. Of course, it didn’t put me off the Pogles.