Revenge Porn

August 23, 2015 by  
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Revenge Porn with Anna Richardson 1

If the Twitter response is anything to go by, Revenge Porn scared the crap out of a whole load of people last week. The Channel 4 documentary sees Anna Richardson investigate the truly 21st century phenomena, in which scorned exes maliciously share intimate pictures of their former partners online, without their consent – and its on the rise.

When was the last time you shared a sexy selfie with a partner? It’s a pretty commonplace occurrence nowadays – run of the mill, even – and chances are most of us don’t put a great deal of consideration into the decision, save for how to achieve the most flattering angle. But more and more men and women (overwhelmingly women, really) are living to regret those decisions, or at least to regret trusting the person they shared their photos with, when their photos wind up on revenge porn websites to be potentially viewed by tens of thousands. What’s more the victim’s personal details – names, email addresses, social media accounts and locations – are often shared too, leading to droves of unwanted solicitation from horny perverts the world over. These truly are some terrifying times we live in.

Overall Revenge Porn does a good job of highlighting this new and most heinous of crimes, but it is certainly not without some serious missteps. Time spent speaking with real life victims is a bit thin on the ground, and Richardson sidesteps the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the consequences that many of them resultantly suffer from, with many in reality having to leave their homes or jobs, or else falling prey to physical assaults.

The time spent with victims focuses mainly on the emotional impacts they suffer – the humiliation, the distress and the betrayal – but ultimately this is compromised by Richardson’s unconvincing attempt to step into their shoes by uploading her own pornographic photos to one of the most well-known revenge sites. This stunt becomes the central theme around which the rest of the program seems to revolve, with Richardson claiming it would allow her (and supposedly us) to get a flavour of how it feels to be exposed in such a way.

Potentially this feels rather insulting to true victims of revenge porn, when you consider all of the differing factors – the fact that Richardson had control over her own pictures, posting them under false contact details and editing her face to hide her true identity. As one member of the public rightly put it when speaking to Richardson, “it’s the trust thing” that makes this crime so deplorable. Richardson may have experienced the sexual harassment and body shaming sent her way by the viewers of her photos, but ultimately it is preposterous for her to claim any kind of solidarity with true victims when her own experience was devoid of any aspect of betrayal or helplessness. It felt far more like an exercise in self-absorption than a serious attempt to connect with the heart of the issue, and unfortunately drags down the investigative tone.

In any case, Revenge Porn still packs some punches – particularly of note are interviews with some unapologetic perpetrators, which will no doubt leave you open-mouthed. Whilst some will criticise the focus on female victims, the segregation is in some way necessary due to the different nature of revenge porn committed against men. When directed against women, an element of power and control is central; the harassment is a frenzy of misogynistic ‘slut-shaming’ and threats of rape, which don’t often find their equivalent across the gender divide.

Revenge Porn does the proper thing in choosing to focus on women, and should leave every one of us with a visceral sense of mortification and empathy for others of our sex. Anna Richardson really shows us that we are all potential victims, and the realization is not particularly pleasant.

Revenge Porn can be watched on All4.

Suits: Season 5

August 12, 2015 by  
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Suits USA-Harvey & Mike

Suits season 5 opens with a refreshing new direction. Rather than continue to labour the indigent efforts of Mike Ross, Suits has finally decided to give Harvey Specter some backstory, depth, and, most importantly, tangible flaws.

I should probably justify that ‘Mike Ross bashing’ above. After 4 seasons, I don’t think I’m alone in wondering why Mike hasn’t made any progress towards resolving his dark secret. For a guy with an eidetic memory he’s continually forgetting how inconvenient it is to live with his burden. Why not do a law degree online? He could claim that the law has changed a lot since he graduated and he simply wants to brush up. If that seems too close to the bone he could do a PhD in Law, using the authenticity of his doctorate to distract people from the fakery of his actual Law degree. Or they could have continued to pursue the show’s previous direction of having Mike move into investment banking, an area that doesn’t require his fake degree. He even had a sassy assistant that could have made for some great confrontations with Donna.

Way back at the beginning of the series I thought we were free of Mike’s burden when his hacker friend puts him into the Harvard Law system as if he’d truly graduated but, alas, we’re stuck with the perennial plot point.

It’s understandable that a show wants to cling to its prime complication, its conflict, its raison d’etre, but simply resolving a tired old problem doesn’t mean the show can’t take on a brand new prime complication! Anyway, back to Harvey. Episode 1 of Season 5 finally shows a vulnerable Harvey, indicating that the show has realised that a tough, cocky, competent character can still be thoroughly flawed. In fact, the more untenably bad situations a character suffers through, the more we want to see how they’ll react; how the depths of their character will endure or break.

As would be expected from the confident to a fault Harvey, his first reaction to cracks in his armour is to cover it up with something, quickly. In this case, it looks to be medication. Despite the fact that it’s taken Suits a long time to get to this point, they’ve set up a very satisfying arc for Harvey. His progress will be slow but hopefully infinitely interesting in what it reveals about a character made more of marble than flesh.

Suits goes out on Dave at 22.00 on Monday nights.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Series 12

August 12, 2015 by  
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Who Do You Think You Are 1

With Who Do You Think You Are? returning to our screens, I have a confession to make – I have never seen an episode of The Great British Bake Off. I know I am perhaps one of only several people in the country to be in this position, and I say this as the first episode of WDYTYA? follows the family tree of GBBO judge Paul Hollywood, a person who I knew almost nothing about.

The route taken in this first episode of series twelve follows Paul Hollywood’s maternal grandfather and his service during the Second World War, and further back along the same line to his family history in Scotland.

This series will also traces the ancestry of Sir Derek Jacobi, Jerry Hall, Mark Gatiss, Anne Reid, Jane Seymour, Gareth Malone, Frances de la Tour, Anita Rani and Frank Gardner.

I absolutely love WDYTYA? and will watch every episode in the series, regardless of the person whose family tree they are following. As we are shown the lives and hardships faced by these past generations, we also see the joy in these celebrities finding out about these individuals and their stories, and often the comparisons to themselves and their own lives.

One aspect of knowing that WDYTYA? is returning to our screens that can be an issue is the trailer for the series, which can often contain spoilers. Thankfully, the recently released trailer for this series seems to be mostly spoiler-free. A great part of the show is following the events alongside the person on screen, rather than already knowing what is going to occur, so we have the same emotional impact when a new piece of information is discovered.

Who Do You Think You Are? is a wonderfully produced show, and can influence us all into looking at our own family tree. The various international versions which it has spawned confirm its success, and I hope the BBC has many more series lined up for the future.

Who Do You Think You Are? will begin on Thursday 13th August at 9pm on BBC1.

Treasures of the Indus

August 10, 2015 by  
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Treasures of the Indus 1

In a three-part voyage of discovery into the cultural history of the Indian subcontinent, art historian Dr. Sona Datta, former curator of the South Asia collection at the British Museum, travels 5,000 years into the past along the arterial Indus River. Giving its name to the region, the waterway flows from Tibet, through India and Pakistan as far as Karachi on the Arabian Sea. From an extremely well informed viewpoint Datta highlights how the changing course of the Indus has shaped the artwork, architecture and people of an area long-riven by religion over the course of millennia, now all too frequently associated with the Taliban and the export of Islamic extremism.

Ali Sehti, a young writer and musician interviewed in Lahore, states that his native Pakistan is “politically very young and culturally very old”. The country gained independence from British rule just a little over 70 years ago and Datta is acutely aware of the effect that the past continues to have on the present in the Indus basin and its millions of inhabitants.

The first installment, which begins and ends in the vibrant and spiritual Punjabi provincial capital, looks into the changing perception of Buddha and representation of Buddhism in antiquities and architecture. We travel by train to the ancient City of Harappa, which dates back to the time of the pyramids; to Hund and Sirkap – where the Hellenic influence of a conquering Alexander the Great altered the physical image of Buddha we are familiar with to this day; and lastly to Taxila and a monastery used as a centre for learning.

Just as the river continues to flow, works of art destroyed by ISIS demonstrate how history has a tendency to repeat itself – conflict and religious discord remain intertwined. Dr. Datta’s ‘Treasures of the Indus’ promises to provide viewers with an element of adventure and wanderlust as well as engaging historical, anthropological and cultural material which lifts the veil on this region’s past and proves you must know where you have been to know where you’re going.

Parks and Recreation: Season 4

August 5, 2015 by  
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Parks and Recreation 1

The first two episodes of Parks and Recreation (Parks and Rec) Season 4 aired on Dave over the weekend. Rarely has a show deserved Dave’s particular brand of endless repetition more.

By Season 4, Parks and Rec was well and truly in its groove. The first episode of Dave’s ‘double bill’ quickly introduces the next stage of Leslie’s inexplicably inexhaustible career. But weaving throughout Leslie’s imminent campaign for public office are two of the most infamous plotlines in Parks and Rec history: Ron’s sudden, violent, and hilarious departure from the Department and Tom’s vague business, Entertainment 720.

Firstly: Ron’s departure. Ron learns that his ex-wife, Tammy I, is drawing nearer. What follows is one of the finest scenes of character development and comedy that has ever been written and performed. It was and is so thoroughly appropriate a reaction for the character that Ron Swanson remains the inimitable source of countless quotes and memes even after the series has ended.

Not wanting to spoil the details of Ron’s exit any further for those that will be lucky enough to see it for the first time, I’ll move on to Tom Haverford.

Entertainment 720 is just as thoroughly ‘Haverford’ as Ron’s exit was ‘Swanson.’ The scenes focusing on Tom and Jean-Ralphio’s company are filled with satire pushed beyond the limits of absurdity that demonstrate the childish nature of corporate culture and marketing. Just one example finds two professional basketball players shooting mindless hoops in a corner of Entertainment 720’s lavish Headquarters. Parks and Rec strengthens this joke by casting the actual players the script mentions rather than distantly visible lookalikes.

The difficulty in reviewing this episode is that it demands detailed appreciation but also a degree of preservation, as the jokes are each precious and shouldn’t be squandered in the dim glow of a lonely computer screen. As such and once again, I will move on before I spoil anything.

Episode 2 of Parks and Rec Season 4 is a ‘Symphony of Swanson’. Regrettably, that phrase was necessary because the episode is a symphony in the true sense of having much light & shade, dynamism, and range. However, in this case the traditional four movements have been replaced by a classically satisfying 3 acts and the music has been replaced by comedy.

After the ominous hinting of Tammy I in episode 1, her tyranny is in full swing by episode 2. We see a new side of Ron, again I apologise for the cliché but sometimes, if rarely, such descriptions are accurate. In addition to a new side we also see considerable back story unfold forming a partially completed origami cube of three-dimensional comedy.

That’s it! I will say no more; just watch them, watch the whole box set, laugh heartily.

Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure

July 30, 2015 by  
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Joanna Lumley 1

Joanna Lumley’s three part series charts her journey through China, Mongolia and Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express. The adventure spans 6,400 miles and takes her to places as varied as 5th century Buddhist temples, Mongolian goldmines and icy Siberian deserts. Her final destination is Moscow – a place Lumley hasn’t visited since her modelling days during the Cold War.

Lumley has already visited some of the places and indeed lived in some of the places in the series and her insight on how the environment has changed is genuinely interesting. Her father was stationed with the Ghurka regiment in Hong Kong when she was four years old and upon returning to her family home decades later she discovers that, in her words, the city has ‘altered its whole nature’.

The highlights of the first episode include the properly bizarre Chinese restaurant with entertainers similar to Butlin’s redcoats (if the red stood for Communism) and Lumley’s car ride with a lady I imagine is basically a Real Housewife of Beijing, who constantly takes selfies whilst driving as Joanna politely and repeatedly asks her to stop. Most interesting is the bizarre paradox of China’s obsession with consumerism and designer brands existing alongside its Communist ideals. As Lumley says, ‘you can buy a Prada handbag but you aren’t allowed to access Google or Youtube’. Similarly in Russia, she finds the best shops to be located on Karl Marx Street. Much of the show is entertaining fluff but Lumley does take time to mention, though not quite delve into, Tibet and Tiananmen Square amongst other politically charged areas.

Lumley is an incredibly cosy presenter, presenting a mixture of historical background and anecdotal information. The series presents fascinating juxtapositions of landscape – from the soaring skyscrapers lit up like the Aurora Borealis and the remote nomadic farmlands. The themes of warring ideologies and tradition vs modernity reoccur throughout the series and across the countries she visits. This is echoed by Lumley’s journey – retracing old steps and exploring new locations. When describing an old photograph of herself, the always eloquent Lumley makes the pleasantly philosophical remark: ‘you never lose who you were. You just grow round [yourself] like a tree’. Similarly, this is repeatedly proved by the landscapes she visits.

Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure is a worthwhile watch and Lumley, herself, is a very pleasing tour guide. Ultimately, it’s an entertaining, easy-going holiday to some of the most mysterious cultures on earth with a kindly and knowledgeable travel companion.

Would I Lie to You?

July 28, 2015 by  
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Would I Lie To You 1

There’s a moment in the new series of Would I Lie To You? (WILTY?) where Bob Mortimer tries to convince the opposite panel that he used to play a childhood game called ‘Thieves and Shrubbery’. He and his friends would sneak into neighbours gardens, look through their back windows and slowly chant, ‘we do beg your pardon, we are in your garden’. It doesn’t matter whether he’s telling the truth or not, because it perfectly sums up just how fun this show can be.

Now entering its ninth season, WILTY? is still as funny as it’s ever been. Somewhere between the charming affable host (Rob Brydon), lightning witted Lee Mack and razor sharp David Mitchell, they play in a format that feels consistently fresh. The dynamic is perfectly set and the environment easy enough for a John Cooper Clarke or Jermaine Jenas to get involved.

It’s almost the panel show equivalent of a sitcom. A good sitcom establishes its characters well enough so that when they’re thrown into a situation (the ‘sit’ part), we already know the comedy (the ‘com’ part) that’s going to occur. So when David Mitchell tries to convince us that he accidently placed an auction bid with a sneeze, or Lee Mack swears he knows karate – we can’t help but smile.

Who needs the truth when you’re having this much fun.
Would I Lie To You? begins on Friday 8:30pm BBC1. Click here for a preview clip.

Partners in Crime

July 24, 2015 by  
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Partners in Crime 1

To mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of Agatha Christie, the BBC is bringing two of the great novelist’s lesser known capers to the small screen on Sunday nights for a brand new 6-part drama series.

Based upon The Secret Adversary and N or M?, the titular partners in crime are married couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (David Walliams and Jessica Raine). An unlikely crime-fighting duo they may be but a chance meeting with a stranger on a train back from Paris, as is so often the case, thrusts them into an ever spiralling plot of disappearances, mistaken identity and assassinations in early 1950s Cold War-era London.

Tuppence, a housewife but avid reader of crime novels and private detective-in-waiting, has her interest piqued immediately when their mystery train companion, Jane Finn, disappears, leaving only a notebook of clues. Unbeknownst to the Beresfords, she conceals a recording in a package they are carrying which provides the identity of a Society spy in the capital, there to assassinate a public figure.

Tommy, a not-so-avid reader of books on beekeeping and rather prim and proper suburban gent, would prefer to keep his nose out of it all and instead concentrate on his hives - the latest in a long line of failed enterprises it would seem. After some encouragement, his bumbling and awkward manners give way to his wife’s fervent enthusiasm and excitement in a quest to discover what has happened to Ms. Finn. Why not trying being a government asset after beekeeping?

Tommy’s uncle, a military man, now runs the secret “Third Floor” organisation dealing with the Russian threat and has two new recruits before he knows it. Not afraid to disregard the rules laid down by Uncle ‘Carter’ (a bespectacled James Fleet), the first few episodes suggest that Tuppence isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and will stop at nothing to unravel this particular mystery, even though they may be in over their heads. Lucky, then, that son George is shipped off to boarding school where he’ll be safe… Or is he?

As with the more familiar Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries there a moments of dark humour here to which Mr. Walliams’ comic timing is well attuned. Amorous approaches towards his wife when disguised as a blond maid fall on deaf ears but do elicit a wry smile. British pride and stiff upper lip-ness clash to some degree with Clarke Peters’ (of The Wire) entrepreneurial American, interested in rescuing his niece but Tommy is suspicious of his intentions, and so are we.

If Tuppence and Tommy are more forthright and foolhardy, it is perhaps old friend Albert (also an asset, working as a chemistry teacher) that is the brains of the operation. Jonny Phillips plays the bad guy and has the chops to do so. The cast certainly has potential and direction by Edward Helm keeps things bouncing along nicely.

The Beresfords are an ordinary couple in extraordinary circumstances and whilst their adventures tread familiar ground the series should be entertaining Sunday night programming. It’s not tense enough to have you on the edge of your seat, but maybe the middle and getting to know this man and wife pair of Christie sleuths is a worthwhile step away from the comfort of a little moustachioed Belgian man or a little old English lady.

You can see it on Sunday evenings at 9pm.

Storyville: The Last Days of Vietnam

July 13, 2015 by  
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Last Days of Vietnam 1

Rory Kennedy’s 2014 documentary, The Last Days of Vietnam, is the latest feature in the BBC’s always superb Storyville collection. Combining incredible archive footage with moving testimonial from those who were there, it tells the story of Saigon’s fall to the North Vietnamese at the end of the Vietnam War, and the final

The US ambassador in Vietnam at the time, Graham Martin, stubbornly refused to believe that Saigon would fall, and ignored repeated cries from his staff to begin covertly preparing for full scale exodus, as the North Vietnamese tanks moved closer by the day. By the time he finally relented, Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport had been destroyed by NVA fire, and so the Americans had to begin the so called, last-resort, ‘option 4’ evacuation plan –taking out all American citizens, and as many at-risk South Vietnamese people as possible, in helicopters, flying back and forth between the American embassy and aircraft carriers moored in the South China Sea.

It’s heart-breaking to hear and understand the dilemma of some of the American soldiers – many had made good friends, or even married and had children, with the South Vietnamese.  Any people found guilty of collusion with the Americans, or of having served in the South Vietnamese Army would be at risk of imprisonment, torture or execution from the NVA, and so a decision had to be made on who to take, and who to leave behind. The stories of the soldiers who were there are harrowing, as they talk of families with multiple children having to be left out, of hordes of people crowding at the embassy gates desperate to be let in.

Alongside this, many pilots in the South Vietnamese army took matters into their own hands and flew themselves, and their families and friends out to American naval vessels. There were queues of helicopters waiting to land, and without space to accommodate them all, the only option was to simply push the helicopters into the sea after they had landed.

The archive footage of these events results in some truly jaw-dropping footage. There are incredible scenes too, of boats, designed to take no more than two hundred people, with over two thousand crowded on them as they make their way out of Saigon.

There are contributions throughout from US military and embassy staff, as well as many South Vietnamese who escaped – and some who were left behind, only to spend several years in ‘re-education’ camps. The terrible moral choice faced by the soldiers on the ground and the chaos and confusion that reigned throughout those last days are keenly felt throughout this powerful and breath-taking portrait of the fallout of the USA’s errors in Vietnam.

Intelligence Officer Stuart A Herrington, who was one of the final Americans to leave Saigon, aptly sums it up: ‘promises made in good faith, promises broken. People being hurt – because we didn’t get our act together’.

The Last Days of Vietnam is a gripping, and at times shocking account of one of the most extraordinary stories from one of the most extraordinary events of the 20th century.

The Last Days of Vietnam is on BBC Four at 10pm.m Monday 13th July.

The Autistic Gardener

July 10, 2015 by  
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The Autistic Gardener 1

Second only to the ‘procedural cop show’ is the ‘backyard makeover show’ in terms of formulaic predictability. As you might imagine, I began watching The Autistic Gardener with considerable skepticism. Unfortunately my reservations were mostly confirmed but there were some glimmers of imagination and interest in this show. And there’s the larger question of whether a show like this should be judged according to others in its category or overall as a piece of entertainment.

Despite my preexisting irritation with the genre, I was quite intrigued by the title and concept before I watched Wednesday’s episode. When you explain the show’s premise to someone it’s easy to make it sound intriguing because we’ve all seen or heard of amazingly detailed paintings, musical compositions, or inventions crafted by people on the spectrum. But the show doesn’t seem to offer any of these super-human challenges or opportunities to its amateur autistic gardeners. They touch on and explain the skills and traits that they have but don’t really put them to the test. Instead they labour their social challenges. There may have been good reasons for this at some point during the production process but it feels like they’re contriving conflict rather than celebrating uniqueness.

The host, Alan Gardener, fits the show well. His voiceovers had moments of brilliant self-awareness, eg: “This is the bit they tell me we’re supposed to recap what’s happened so far”. But hanging over his head like a wet sponge is a format that hasn’t adapted to the concept. They’ve just plunked a group of likable autistic people in a traditional backyard makeover show and watched them try to fit into it; providing frequent moments of tension, both social and otherwise. This gives viewers the sense that something is at stake, which is often important for shows in this genre, but doesn’t capitalise much on the premise itself.

The interludes in which Alan describes the science of autism are actually really interesting and make me think the show would have worked better as a documentary rather than a cheesy half-real reality show. We want to see the talent, grit, determination and struggle but not within the confines of ‘Ooops-style’ twinkling background music and obvious close-ups.

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