March 16, 2015 by  
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Banished is a new seven part series by writer Jimmy McGovern, creator of The Street and Cracker. Known for tackling social issues and injustices in his work, McGovern applies these themes to the inhabitants of the first penal colony in eighteenth century New South Wales. Convicts and soldiers alike deal with moral dilemmas and matters of the heart against a backdrop of what would be paradise if not for the brutality, exploitation and dwindling food rations.

Banished’s extraordinary setting becomes apparent within the show’s opening moments as a woman wakes from a nightmare in a dormitory that looks like the dank belly of a slave ship and emerges into the colour saturated exterior of an idyllic Australian beach. The scenery darts between the grim and the beautiful; squalid living quarters and ramshackle tents, sunsets and silhouettes and light streaming through tree canopies. The storyline mirrors this duality as it skirts the line between harrowing and sentimental occasionally becoming excessive on both parts.

The narrative plays out like a sort of Upstairs Downstairs in exile as we delve into the lives of both the prisoners and the soldiers of the Royal Navy. By day the men labour on little food and by night the women struggle to maintain their dignity as a result of the policy that bans convict men and women associating together and states convict women are fair game to the soldiers. If the convicts were not already murderers or whores before exile, they soon may be if they mean to survive. Elizabeth Quinn (MyAnna Buring), passionate tart with a heart, suffers what feels like a rape-a-minute existence in the first episode: a life so grim that the surprising decision to suddenly allow her to marry her convict lover Tommy (Julian Rhind-Tutt) feels jarring and near saccharine.

Worth watching are the interactions between the beautiful convict Catherine (Joanna Vanderham) and the hard-hearted Major Ross (Joseph Millson) in the second episode. Particularly compelling is Catherine’s touching tale of how she came to be exiled and her bitter summary of the injustice she continues to endure; ‘you treat me like muck because I have traded my body …but it was you who asked to trade in the first place’. The varied female characters are perhaps the strength of the programme. The exploitation they endure is upsetting almost to the point of vulgarity though, of course, it was reality for many women at the time. When those in charge convince themselves that the convicts do not think or feel (a mindset that is even more disturbing considering that we know, from history, people were exiled for crimes as insignificant as stealing food or clothes) abuse is inevitable. However distressing, these shameful acts of the past should be confronted. Another highlight of the show is the character of James Freeman (played by the intensely likable Russell Tovey) who finds himself outcast by the outcasts when forced to ‘grass’ on a fellow convict in order to prevent starving to death. A storyline that, admittedly, loses some of its urgency considering Tovey’s unchanged physique. It must be also said that the impact of Freeman’s teary protest to the Governor was lessened when he admitted his rival’s campaign against him had only began that morning.

Currently the convicts hold the larger portion of screen time though hopefully this is something that will balance out as the series unfolds. For example, some of the soldiers seem unreasonably unpleasant and context as to why they think and act the way they do would provide a motive beyond cruelty being good for melodrama. They and the introspective Governor (David Wenham) both deserve to be expanded upon in future episodes. The plot and characterisation are, so far, surprisingly simplistic considering McGovern’s previous work though his themes of injustice are still prevalent. Hopefully the series will go on to examine deeper into the characters and what brought them to New South Wales. In a world where everyone is wholly defined by their past crimes it would be of interest to know more about what those crimes were.

At points I found myself recalling glimpses of 2005’s The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant a TV film also based on mistreatment of convicts exiled to Australia. So far, the characters and the story seem familiar but the concept is enough to keep me interested for a few more episodes at least. One notable event in episode two seems likely to provide thrilling consequences. For me, the defining image of the show is of the convict couple having a gunshot wedding upon a gallows scaffold: glimmers of love and hope struggling to endure on a foundation of injustice and cruelty.

Banished will be broadcast on BBC One on 12 March at 9pm

Unreported World – Burma: The Village that Took on the Generals: Review

December 21, 2012 by  
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Unreported World – Burma: The Village that Took on the Generals

7.30pm, Friday December 21st, C4

Evan Williams and director Wael Dabbous travel to the small Burmese village of Wet Hmay in this episode of Unreported World. The villagers there are fighting for the preservation of their homes and their way of life as mining companies flatten the nearby mountain range extracting copper.

We get a sense of how things are changing for Burma and its people, but yet how far they still have to go. Since emerging from a 50 year long military dictatorship, many are reaping the benefits and freedoms that are now slowly being established, while many others still are facing the threats of big business.

The village of Wet Hmay is facing just such a crisis. The mining company has already turned 3 of the nearby mountains to rubble in a range that began with 33. The plan is to flatten them all in the search for copper whilst they dump the waste products on the villagers’ land and farms.

At least half of the village has been relocated to another town, but the rest have resisted intimidation and threats and remained to fight for the preservation of their history and their future.

We follow the lives of Aye Net and Thwe Thwe and their family and friends as they organise the campaign against the mine and the Generals of Burma that allow it. They are gaining support and, where they once may have been imprisoned for many years, the changes in the political structures of Burma have allowed them a limited amount of free speech.

However, the campaign is still a great struggle and even with support they risk their life with every protest.
Williams and Dabbous adopt an impassive style of documentary: they seek to watch and give us the facts rather than their opinions. The mining companies and their tactics are indeed seen as the big bad wolf of the story, but we are left to our own thoughts as to the balance of history and traditionalism over industry and sustainability for the future.

It is an interesting documentary that will get you thinking, but isn’t too heavy at only 30 minutes long. Not the cheeriest of programmes considering its only a few days to Christmas, but excellent if you’re looking for an educational escape from the endless Christmas specials and the random films that think that shoving the word ‘Christmas’ into a title make it watchable once a year.

Bad Santas: Review

December 17, 2012 by  
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Bad Santas

Monday 17 December, 9pm, Channel 4

Channel 4 shatters all my illusions about Santa in part one of their new documentary Bad Santas. Luckily, for children still wanting to believe that Santa is real and does in fact take time out of his busy schedule to visit them in a toy shop, the programme is being shown after the watershed.

Phew. For the rest of us though, we get answers to that age old question – just where do Santas come from?

James Lovell is the very enthusiastic managing director of the Ministry of Fun, or the MoF which sounds way more badass. The MoF trains and hires out Santa Clauses over the Christmas season through their famous Santa School. We follow James and some new recruits as they get trained up as possible Father Christmases. However, these aren’t your usual jolly rotund fellows, but a bunch of second chance Santas that each has a serious history of being on the naughty list.

A good one to watch if you’re feeling slightly cynical about Christmas – you can laugh at James and his professional Santas attempting to instil some Christmas spirit into a hardened bunch of ragamuffins who reminded me of the evil Santa in Miracle on 34th Street.

Also, considering the subject matter, the sob stories in this one could have been atrocious, but mushiness is thankfully kept to a minimum with only a few “I’m doing this for my kids? thrown in.

Aside from the odd pun here and there, it was mainly the complete randomness of this programme that had me laughing. Watching elves skip merrily about town is one thing, but who knew that watching 30 people dressed as Santa Claus hohohoing and shaking their bellies would be so funny. Cringe moments also had me squirm-laughing as they tried to teach the bad Santas how to act, and then had them role playing with the impartial elf judges in a slightly creepy fashion.

The love child of Thelma’s Gypsy Girls (C4) and The Santa Clause, it is perhaps not the slickest of documentaries, but it has a sense of fun and silly seriousness that made it endearing, watchable, and perfect for the season.

Highlights include: Santa secretly drinking during Santa School lunch time and then unconvincingly lying about it; James’ awesome Santa tie; the classic learning-to-be-Santa montage; and Santa Johnny Sausage showing us his cigarette sandwich.

The Girl’s Guide To TV Boyfriends

December 7, 2012 by  
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We women are complex, but our list for the perfect boyfriend is simple: do whatever we say.

Being cute helps too of course.

Matthew Crawley – Downton Abbey
Dashing, rich, gorgeous eyes, lovely smile, and blonde: Matthew is all you would want in a man. He’s such an excellent boyfriend he gets into rather a muddle trying to be an honourable suitor to two different women at once. Perhaps only Downtonites will understand that this actually isn’t sleazy.

He gets major boyfriend points for saving the in-law’s fortune, for being all manly fighting in World War 1, and for maintaining the lovely but extremely high-maintenance Mary. I may have to take this title away from Matthew if Dan Stevens does indeed leave in series 4 – don’t do it Dan!

Ted Mosby – How I Met Your Mother
Ted is that rare and wonderful thing: a cute guy that actually wants to be in a relationship. Really, REALLY wants to be in a relationship. But poor T Mos never seems to be able to hold down a girl as his sickening sweetness has girls unable to hold on to their lunch and running a mile.

However, to all those who are watching Ted tell his abnormally long story, he’s a total cutie pie that will always have you saying “aww, I’ll go out with you Ted?.

Eric Northman – True Blood
Stone cold fox. Literally. The cold part, not the fox part. Well there had to be a vampire on this list somewhere! He’s the gorgeous bad boy with a heart (though it’s not beating) that all we girls want.

He’s always saving Sookie in one way or another and he has that element of danger that makes things ever so exciting. He is also apparently very talented in the bedroom, as True Blood, thankfully, continues to demonstrate to us in abundance.

Seth Cohen – The OC
Geek chic takes on new meaning in Seth Cohen. While the show focused on brooding Ryan and his many many issues, I was focusing on cutie pie Seth. He made nerd the word through his comedy genius and grand romantic gestures to win over Summer. He’s always thinking of both his mates and his lady, even when she is being a bit of a mare. Also, I love his curly hair.

Gavin Shipman – Gavin & Stacy
A cute Essex boy at heart, Gav moves all the way to Barry in Wales for love of his life Stacy. He’s one of the boys but will always choose ho’s over bro’s. Good on you Gavlar!

The Girl’s Guide to TV Girlfriends

November 30, 2012 by  
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As women we know what it takes for a bloke to be a good boyfriend. We also know that it doesn’t work the other way round and men do not know what makes the best girlfriend: we do. We’re the ones being the girlfriend after all so we have the inside scoop.

My best girlfriend’s of TV all seem to have similar traits: the ability to be ass-kicking and awesome; and an enduring patience, essential of course, for dealing with every man-drama thrown at them. Said man-drama may involve vampires.

Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy has to be in my top five best girlfriends. She manages to juggle her love life with her slightly important world-saving responsibilities, and tackles the crossover with ass-kicking feistiness while of course spewing out an awesome one-liner. Despite her vampire killing destiny she gives old Angel (a nice vampire with a soul) a chance, and falls head over heels. However, when the pair finally make like a carpet and shag, Angel loses his soul and turns back into being the super evil villain vampire he was in times past. That’s gotta mess with a girl’s head. Buffy battles with her heart and her responsibility to saving the world, and, despite desperately loving him, she succeeds in sending Angel to hell. She’s an independent woman who will stick up for her man unless he happens to be evil and threatening the world with ruin. Kick ‘em to the kerb honey! Read more

The Aristocrats: Goodwood – Review

November 29, 2012 by  
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The Aristocrats: Goodwood

Channel 4, 9pm, 29 November

The rich and the famous. Good Charlotte got it right – they’re always complaining!

Charles Gordon-Lennox has a very long list of titles to add to his reasonably long name. He also has quite long hair. However, it isn’t his rather sexy hair that has him on our TV screens, but his semi-interesting life running Goodwood and all the many things that happen there to make him money – which he says he so desperately needs.

If you happen to have watched the last series of Downton Abbey (I feel the loss quite keenly), then you will be well aware of the money problems associated with running country estates. Well, Charles shows the Crawleys how to do it: crack open a couple of motoring festivals, whilst allowing Channel 4 to jump on the aristocrat bandwagon by doing a documentary of you doing thus, and all will be hunky dory. Read more

4Funnies – Dr Brown: Review

November 23, 2012 by  
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C4, Friday 23rd November, 11.05pm

Channel 4 looks to some lesser known comic talent in their new four-part series 4Funnies (formally Comedy Showcase).

In Dr. Brown, the first episode, classically trained clown and mime artist Phil Burgers (awesome name by the way), and director Andrew Gaynord (also a brilliant name), try to make us laugh through 25 minutes of sketches and surreal silliness.

25 minutes: I laughed twice. If we are to do the math (yes I am a geek) then that adds up to about 15 seconds of laughter which in total is about 1% of laughter out of the entire 25 minutes. That’s not good maths.

The show contains a mishmash of different sketches making use of eccentric characters in ordinary situations with some intensely surreal piano-violin music thrown in. As I watched it was fun to name each weird character Burgers played: for example there was skater dude Burger; crying Burger; angry bacon Burger; and foreign naked hypnotising Burger. But that is where the fun ended – I really just didn’t get it and just didn’t find it funny.

However, in order to be balanced and not one-sided I will tell you the bits I did find funny:

Funny moment number one involved a Burger, a toilet, and a very simple well-timed joke featuring toilet paper. Well, we British love a bit of toilet humour don’t we.

Funny moment number two (number two – lol) involved an athletically dressed Crying Burger jogging hysterically through the streets and sobbing whilst downing protein powder and the like. Not entirely sure why this was funny but I couldn’t help laughing at the silly repetitiveness of it all.

The weird thing is I felt that Burgers was actually quite good. The sketches weren’t funny but I found myself at least wanting to laugh at Burger and his eccentric intensity. His Dr. Brown creation worked so well on stage it won him the Edinburgh Comedy Award this year: his physical skills make him perfect for live performances so I’d be intrigued to see the difference that it would make.

All in all I’ll give Dr. Brown points for being unusual and innovative, but if you are an episode in a series called 4Funnies, you’ll have to make me laugh more than just twice in order to faithfully do what it says on the tin.


Why do celebrities go into the Jungle?

November 21, 2012 by  
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Although I am not one of the 10 million people tuning into see minor celebrities and random politicians eat stick insects and roll around with bugs, even I can’t escape the countless headlines I see on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! and its contestants.

On Monday the newspaper stand shows me Helen Flanagan getting slagged off for being rubbish at Bush Tucker Trials and then on Tuesday she is slagged off for finally winning one – clearly just an excuse to print a picture of a blonde in a bikini…

(Ed: Guilty.)

Read more

Top 10 Kick-Ass Fictional Presidents

November 16, 2012 by  
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So the votes have been counted and The United States of America has indeed been declared sane. If you haven’t heard then you’ve probably been living under a rock or in the Shrieking Shack or somewhere else signal deprived.

Yes, Barack Obama avoids the stressful business that would be moving out of The White House and gets to keep his job as President of the US. Awesome. But, however trendy and “cool? Obama appears, he will never be as kick-ass as some of those fictional film presidents.

As much as I fantasise about Obama hopping in a jet and shooting down some Aliens, I really don’t think it’s going to happen. Therefore, I look at the Presidents you really need in a crisis: kick-ass fictional ones.

President James Marshall – Air Force One
Political Slogan: “Get off my plane!?
Played by a gruff and sexy 90’s Harrison Ford, President Marshall is the just perfect combination of presidential power and pure badassness in this action classic. Despite being a honest (shock horror) politician, his casual saving his family and the world from the awesomely evil Gary Oldman, earns him top position. Election winning moments include: taking a secret dump, a fuel dump that is; saving the better half of the hostages; escaping the falling plane on a zip-wire with a badly worn harness; and killing the head terrorist with nothing but a parachute, a strap, and an open door. Read more

Attenborough: 60 Years In The Wild – Review

November 16, 2012 by  
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BBC2, Friday 16th Nov, 9pm

David Attenborough takes a personal tour through 60 years of making nature documentaries in this three part series. In this, the first episode, Attenborough looks back at some of his favourite encounters with all creatures great and small (and green stuff too) and how technical innovation in photography over the decades have aided in the development of wildlife filming.

If you ask me, the only nature documentary worth watching is one with Dave in it. Yes I’m going to call him Dave. His instantly recognisable voice provides gravitas with an infectious enthusiasm that is hard to resist, and even this – a documentary on documentaries for goodness sake – is in no way boring. Not excessively exciting, but yes, definitely not boring

Don’t be expecting animals making babies in every shot or anything like that, but Dave leads us through 60 years of wildlife filming advancement with many a quaint chuckle. And some sexy show motion shots too of course. Note the bat anecdote where Dave remarks upon the amazing way that bats won’t fly into each other or him before a bat promptly flies into his face. Maybe it was just a stupid bat? And then there’s the always funny toilet flower story…

Despite the fact that most of us are reasonably familiar with the basic innovations in filming as they are seen on everything from Traffic Cops (thermal imagining and airborne steady cameras) to Casualty (fibre optics up peoples bottoms etc), it is very interesting to see the before and after effects on wildlife filming. For example, a very young black and white Dave has to describe the colour of a chameleon, and we also see him desperately running after animals in the dark with a torch.

This series is pretty much a way of trying to make use of old nature footage and make Dave look epic. Well it worked. Dave braves the embarrassment that is watching and broadcasting really old footage of your posh younger self wearing groovy flared jeans, and we get to see the best bits of 60 years of spiffing nature documentaries rolled into a nice 3 hour series. Also, it’s always great to see national treasures pissing of sexually charged animals: in this case a hover fly falls in love with a pea.

Julia Paynton

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