Life of Rock

December 7, 2014 by  
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Brian Pern returns for a second series with even more confessions about the milestones he helped achieve in the history of rock music. This time he reunites with his former band-mates from the progressive rock band Thotch in order to create a stage musical based on their greatest hits. The latent drama that exists within the different members of the former band is unveiled. And while they struggle to finalise their showcase, they confide into the camera regarding their true feelings about their time in Thotch, and Brian Pern.

Rhys Thomas and Simon Day continue their irreverent spoof about Peter Gabriel’s alter ego – Brian Pern. This time they centre the episode on the story of Thotch. This downplayed version of Genesis observes the eccentricities of progressive rock bands of that era and how burlesque and comical their protagonists were. If the first series set up the story of the fake life and musical achievements of our characters, this series is about their future and how they manage a flailing career when what producers only want to hear of them is a re-enactment of their better years. Subtle mise en abyme of the current music business.

The second series succeeds in keeping its amusingly detached stance even while walking a more clichéd and easy path of the conflictual relationships between members of a famous music band. Brian Pern, as a character, remains interestingly funny but the situational comedy with his former band-mates is the real energy of the “mockumentary”.

For a newcomer to the show, it might be a little confusing at first. In other words, you will probably end up on Wikipedia, searching for information about Thotch or Brian Pern. This is due to the good use of fake footage and interviews with existing rock celebrities talking about Pern and Thotch. It really solidifies the work of the writers and directors who managed to capture the craziness of progressive rock stars such as Peter Gabriel in its heyday. Lets acknowledge the actor performance consisting of one of the strongest elements of the show, being as stereotypical as their real life counterparts.

A Life in Rock is a charming programme to watch with snacks, for a good laugh or a sarcastic grin, at least. I recommend it if you are a fan of the previous series, if you enjoy British humour and mirroring “mockumentary”, or simply, if you are curious to see what a musical about Genesis might look like in real life.

Brian Kern : A Life in Rock airs on BBC Two, December 9, 2014

After The Wave

December 7, 2014 by  
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after the wave

The Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 engulfed 12 countries and killed an estimated 230,000 people. Although the worst hit were contained within the Indian Ocean, it resonated as a global catastrophe. Thousands of unidentified bodies from as many as 32 different nations were victims of pure chance.

After The Wave looks at the events after that fateful day, focusing on the mass forensic operation employed to identify victims and return them to their families. As one of the hardest hit countries Thailand sought outside help from the Australian Disaster Victim Identification team, who also played an instrumental role in disaster recovery after the 2002 Bali bombings.

Interweaving expert accounts with those of the survivors, After The Wave explores the painstaking attempts to identify the victims’ badly decomposed remains. The forensic team also had the additional challenge of negotiating the inevitable cultural clash involved in a large-scale international operation. As east met west and primitive resources conflicted with more sophisticated techniques, religious and ethical concerns fuelled tensions between the nations. Religious rituals influenced Thailand’s approach and its request to separate victims by nationality was deemed futile by the West, who adopted a more scientific method of identification. Aware that decomposition renders all bodies identical in rigor mortis made national identification impossible and also gave rise to the grave possibility of victim misidentification.

Unimaginable grief and shock is underpinned by overwhelming guilt at having survived while loved ones perished. Detailed biographical accounts and moving holiday video footage give a coherent identity to some of the thousands of victims taken by one of the world’s worst natural disasters.

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was the fourth largest earthquake the world has seen since 1900. Thailand was the only country to undertake an operation to return the 4,000 victims to their families. After The Wave is a poignant and powerful account by those who bore witness to the overwhelming scale of human and geographical devastation. It takes an exhaustive look at the scientific tactics and humanistic impact on both rescuers and survivors in Thailand and illustrates how ten years on, the effects of that fateful day will haunt them forever.

After The Wave will be broadcast on Discovery on 19 December

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies

December 7, 2014 by  
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Christopher Jefferies

When the dead body of Joanna Yeates was discovered lying in a ditch on Christmas Day 2010, suspicion immediately fell on her landlord, Christopher Jefferies. Jefferies was arrested and held for 96 hours by the police before being released without charge. In his absence he had been the subject of a vitriolic trial by tabloid newspaper and when he emerged from custody, he had one of the most recognisable faces in the country. Now a new drama, The Lost of Christopher Jefferies, puts him centre stage again.

The murder is subordinated to Jefferies story. Joe Sims is subtly sinister as Vincent Tabak but he is afforded little screentime. Sims is joined by a host of talented actors in the supporting cast including Ben Caplan and Anna Maxwell Martin. There’s even a slightly forced meta-cameo by Steve Coogan as Steve Coogan, giving him a chance to look sombre and wax lyrical about press regulation but nothing distracts from the central performance given by Jason Watkins. The rest of the cast are his window dressing and handy props for sometimes clumsy plot extrapolation.

Luckily, Watkins in the titular role doesn’t need a lot of support. His affection for his character is obvious and his performance is sensitive and intelligent. He is let down by a clunky script and early character establishment borders on caricature. We are supposed to realise that Jefferies is odd as he is educated, cultured, well-mannered and pedantic about language to the point of being a dick about it. The last point is affirmed and reaffirmed to the point tedium. After several exchanges in the police station that would stretch the patience of even the most ardent grammar Nazi, his solicitor is forced to step in and ask him to ‘ease off the schoolteacheriness’. Thankfully, that advice is heeded and the character is allowed room to breathe from that point. The moments of true excellence in this drama are the understated ones, when Jefferies struggles in quiet desperate to maintain his dignity under stomach-churning pressure.

There are times where the narrative swears dangerously into Richard Curtis territory with middle class people doing some shocking swearing and making melodramatic speeches about demure heroism but Watkins almost ubiquitous presence raises this drama from a worthy biopic into a gentle and sensitive character study.

The first episode of The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies will be broadcast the 10th December at 9.00pm on ITV and concludes the following night.

America’s Fugitive Family

December 7, 2014 by  
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America's Fugitive Family

In January 2000, John Joe Grey was pulled over by the police who found him in possession of illegal firearms and plans to blow up a bridge. He resented the interest of the police and responded as anyone would. He bit the arresting officer. Grey was arrested and released on bail. One of the bail conditions was that neither he nor a member of his family could possess firearms. They did what any reasonable family could do when confronted with such unreasonable circumstances – they armed themselves to the teeth and took refuge inside a fortified compound preparing for a confrontation with the police.

Their plans sparked a flurry of media interest especially when Chuck Norris helicoptered himself in and offered his unique services. But not even Chuck Norris could shake the resolve of the Greys and they opted to stay put. The media lost quickly interest when it was evident there wasn’t going to be a siege, and the police decided that the dangers of entering the compound outweighed the benefits. Fourteen years later, the Greys are still there and now the subject of a documentary film – America’s Fugitive Family.

John Joe Grey and his family are the type of freakshow Channel 4 loves. Grey is a prophet in his own mind. At one point he compares himself to Noah and another time he claims that he and his family are a Christian army who are prepared to die for what they believe in. What that entails exactly is hard to pin down. It’s definitely something to do with Jesus and also the oppressive government. Obama is doing Satan’s will and the only thing you’re taught in the American public school system is sex education and how to be a homo. No wonder they’re falling behind in the PISA rankings.

The family’s paranoia is farcical. They believe themselves to be the subject of a major operation spanning not just the police, but the government and international bankers. The irony is that not even local law enforcement have any interest in what they’re doing. But given that this paranoia manifests itself in firearms and knife training, it’s no joke, and inevitably the filmmakers find themselves implicated in the imaginary witch hunt and find themselves expelled from the compound. Unfortunately, they don’t really get the chance to sink their teeth in to the subject matter before this point, but it doesn’t really matter. They got some gawkworthy shots of the family acting like weirdos and that’s all that counts.

America’s Fugitive Family will be broadcast on Channel 4 on the 10th December at 10.00pm.


December 2, 2014 by  
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Detective Vicar is an unusual character combination. But considering the amateur sleuths who have graced our screens, including authors (Jessica Fletcher), magicians (Jonathan Creek) and even chefs (Henry Crabbe), it’s really not that odd. And, flexibly interpreted, Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of pious PI, Cadfael the Monk, back in the nineties is a reasonable replica.

It’s a formula that ITV are revisiting in their adaptation of James Runcie’s popular novels ‘The Grantchester Mysteries’, starring James Norton as spiritual sleuth, Sidney Chambers. Who, in addition to God and murder is also a World War Two veteran, jazz lover and a reluctant sex god. With his good looks, intelligent caring personality and an ability to tear it up with the lowliest of thugs, he could almost be a candidate for world’s most perfect man. If it wasn’t for all the boozing, self-loathing and brooding introspection.

Based at his parish in Grantchester, Chambers is pulled into the orbit of the local constabulary’s DI Geordie Keating, played here by the increasingly charismatic (now that he’s not handling fish on Channel 5) Robson Greene. Together they investigate a series of murders against the familiar Sunday night backdrop of post-war Britain; where the imperial decline has been more than offset with snippets of National Trust arcadia and tasteful music.
The mysteries themselves are of the seedy variety: homosexual hate crime, revenge and a touch of bigamy but the case solving plays second fiddle to the personal life of Chambers himself.

This kind of television is never the most challenging and it’s not supposed to be. It needs to be reassuring and nostalgic like most costume drama and ‘Grantchester’ very much follows in this tradition.

Yet there is also something different about the drama, something which after the first two episodes really kicks in and makes ‘Grantchester’ very watchable. That something is a black cloud of melancholy; it hangs above the show with subtle menace, lurking in the minor chords of the soundtrack and the tragic murders. But mostly in the haunted, sad gaze of Sidney Chambers.

James Norton is terrific, he has an understated yet magnetic star quality that is ideal for the reflective Rev. Chambers. He muddles his way through a love life fraught with bad timing and regret as well as struggling to cope with the psychological damage he sustained during the war. Norton’s character depth is enough to convince that this wonderful person, who acts with honour and nobility will never find peace or happiness, due to the very traits that make him the good person he is. It’s heart breaking.

The show is not all doom and gloom. There are some lighter moments provided by Tessa Peale-Jones and Al Weaver as the Chambers’ house keeper and curate respectively and some great scenes of bonhomie and friendship between the vicar and the policeman. These relieve the tension and help make the innate sadness of the main character even more bitter sweet.

ITV has produced a traditional, unchallenging Sunday night drama that also manages to be philosophical, depressing but eminently watchable. Quite an achievement.

Grantchester is available on DVD or digital download now

Naked and Afraid

December 2, 2014 by  
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Now that Bear Grylls has had his fill of urine and the Duck Dynasty characters have gone deep into hibernation for winter, it seems that The Discovery Channel had to re-commission something edgy to keep its couch-based adventure seekers happy. That’s where ‘Naked and Afraid’ comes in, the survival themed reality TV show, with a very raw edge to it.

The premise of the show is simple. Take one male and one female, with basic survival training (which translates as they’ve all been camping at least twice), and place them in a wilderness environment with the aim of reaching an ‘X’ on a poorly drawn map. It’s a recipe that reality TV producers have been churning out over and over again for the past decade, but luckily ‘Naked and Afraid’ has an edge to it. Hint: the clue is in the name.

Yes, nudity! Full frontal and fully-pixelated nudity. The reason for this is apparently to ensure that the contestants are surviving by only using the land and their wits. However this is immediately undermined by the fact that everyone is allowed to take a luxury item along with them to Camp Nude.

Although the show focuses on the ups and downs of living butt-naked in a desolate wilderness for three weeks (think deserts, jungles, Scunthorpe), it’s the deep tension between the contestants, particularly the gender politics, that keeps you watching. I guess some men are still struggling with the idea that a woman should want a poorly-constructed grass hut of one’s own.

The voice-over narrator adds a subtle, and rather dark, humour to the show, so it’s a shame there isn’t more of this. Aside from carrying the show along, he highlights what contestants shouldn’t be doing for the sake of their health and safety, shortly before they actually do it. Admittedly, it’s cheap humour, but humour nonetheless.

The show is on its second season, and if the first is anything to go by, there are plenty more arguments and injuries to come. As long as the contestants aren’t completely humdrum, you do end up forming short-lived relationships with them. You may even root for them to survive if you’re not dead inside, like me.

What the show does leave you with is the realisation of how dependent we are on technology, machines, and supermarkets. That most of us are relatively clueless as to the origins of what we eat and what we own. It’s nice to see a channel so committed to the outdoors and natural history having such a strong and serious message behind it’s programming. And if we have to watch some nice people fleeing from a cheetah before developing gangrene and diarrhoea, then so be it.

Episode 1 of Naked and Afraid is on The Discovery Channel, Thursday 11th December, 9pm

Our War: Goodbye Afghanistan

November 25, 2014 by  
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The critically acclaimed Our War returns with a look at the lives of the young British soldiers on the frontline in Afghanistan. This special episode titled Goodbye Afghanistan retraces the steps of those young men, from their lives inside the war zone to their lives after arriving home.

For those unfamiliar with the series, all the footage used was shot by the soldiers themselves during their time as part of the so-called “Taliban Hunting Club”. Goodbye Afghanistan is a rather effective depiction of the difficulty of returning home after ten years as an occupying force. The use of archive footage brings focus and depth to the whole episode, resulting in a rather intimate but domineering insight into the adventures of young soldiers becoming adults in the midst of a war zone.

Raw and psychologically violent at times, Goodbye Afghanistan shows a side of war that we rarely get to see on television and could easily be compared to Evan Wright’s Generation Kill. Like Wright’s book, Our War shows us an equally realistic vision of the emotional depth of such an adventure. And hearing it all through the mouths of the protagonists only makes it more meaningful and educational to watch.

Goodbye Afghanistan is entertaining without falling prey to the pomposity of many documentaries with academic ambitions, and Our War remains compellingly watchable.

Our War: Goodbye Afghanistan will be broadcast on BBC Three on December 6.

New Girl (Series 3)

November 20, 2014 by  
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New Girl: the current court of actress, musician and reigning Hipster Queen Zooey Deschanel. A media phenomenon and “adorkable” progenitor that I have managed to avoid, until now.

Sitting down at the weekend, tasked with the daunting task of watching the 23 episode third series of the Fox comedy I had no preconceptions, just a vague knowledge that the show, like its star was very popular.

Set in Los Angeles, New Girl follows the not so unpleasant trials and tribulations of upbeat and bubbly Jess Davies, a kooky school teacher of perpetually wide, non-blinking eyes, shining happy smile, and killer bangs (or fringe, if like me you’re sensitive to the insidious encroachment of American English into our nation’s lexicon). As someone wary of jumping into an ongoing show without any prior plot knowledge, a quick scan of Wikipedia can be very helpful in these circumstances, but from previous experiences with other series, even after reading outlines for every episode I am generally still confused by what is going on.

Not so ‘New Girl’. After just five minutes I was introduced to a familiar set of characters, seemingly constructed from the chopped up corpses of the cast of ‘Friends’ and then stitched back together in random combinations to create “new” and “unique” personalities. This process is somewhat akin to William Burroughs’s ‘cut-up’ writing technique, but without the imagination, drugs or resulting tasty Mugwump jism.

We have, Jess of course, pretty much a straight up ‘Rachel’ archetype. Jake a perennial loveable slacker and everyman mash up of Joey and Mike (Phoebe’s eventual husband) to add a dash of bland manliness. Then there’s Schmidt, a nightmare combo of Chandler and Monica; the formerly obese but now hot, slightly effeminate man child. I could go on but I would spoil the “fun” of recognising the glaringly obvious.

Stereotypical characters, well-trodden Seinfeld-esque plot lines about feuds with restaurant owners and Frasier style farce, could all add up to be a recipe for a brilliant comedy.

But ‘New Girl’ just isn’t funny. The lack of laughs make the well served themes and characterisation appear lazy and generic. Unlike that other hipster comedy, the sadly cancelled ‘Bored to Death’ whose attempts at originality got you through the sometimes hit and miss writing.

Ultimately ‘New Girl’, is nothing more than a light hearted and cheesy soap opera, even the people I know who watch it don’t think it’s particularly good. It’s just sort of nothing. No doubt it will run and run.

New Girl is available to own on Blu-ray and DVD now

Secret Sex Lives: Supersized Sex

November 20, 2014 by  
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Gigantomastia anyone? Nope, me neither. Well, not without the help of a thesaurus. Feederism? Mmm, food must be involved, but nope, thesaurus again. Giantish fetish? Well, that’s pretty straight forward – a predilection for giants, surely? In the first episode of Secret Sex Lives: Supersized Sex, we follow the lives of four people, where size does matter and size is everything.

Annie, aka fantasy model Norma Stitz, suffers from giantosmastia, her breasts weighing a combined eighty-five pounds. She’s on an eternal quest to find a bra that fits her bountiful bosom since her previous bra manufacturer went, er, bust. Actor and writer Jonah, possesses the world’s largest penis and hasn’t had a serious relationship in fourteen years. His mighty member brings welcome female attention despite the risk of injury when they, er, bump uglies. Donna weighs six hundred pounds and shares a condition with her boyfriend, Phillipe known as feederism. They have an insatiable desire to feed one another. Phillipe encourages Donna to achieve her ambition to gain a further 400 pounds, rendering her defenceless to him. And Matt has an obsession with giant women, namely Stephanie – high priestess of the giantess video. Matt believes his fascination with all things gigantic stems from a childhood love of Godzilla and experiences intense pleasure when male actors are perilously crushed.

If you were in any doubt that these sizeable conditions actually exist and the programme is not just a gratuitous insight into the sex lives of the elephantine classes, then fear not. The programme employs a plethora of psychologists and sex therapists to give authenticity to the various fetishes and mastias under scrutiny. So while we may struggle to comprehend how Annie, Jonah, Donna and Matt navigate the sexual obstacles of their bulk, Secret Sex Lives leaves us with graphic certainty. Mass is more and these couples are having a lot of pleasurable sex.

Yet there is a cynical undercurrent running through the programme. Despite the couples embracing their over exaggerated frames for supposed mutual sexual pleasure, you cannot help but feel it is male sexual pleasure that is at the forefront in the relationships. Granted, while Annie enjoys the trappings of celebrity and Stephanie gets lucratively paid for crushing dwarfs, it does appear the male partners relish the notoriety of freakdom foremost rather than any inherent emotional connection with their largesse ladies. Donna’s willingness to tip her scales over the thousand pound mark to enhance Philippe’s gratification undergoes no real psychiatric commentary to the obvious risks to her physical and mental health.

The public reaction is predictably divided. Men reinforce the freak show attraction, finding big fascinating and pleasurable. Women are just simply repulsed. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, the programme does make for compelling viewing. It does call into question our perception of beauty and sexual attraction and what is one person’s Aphrodite can be another’s Centaur. Judge for yourself. You may feel these women are portly pawns in men’s fetishes and fantasies or you may view them as strong, strident women who emphatically reject the contemporary size zero culture. As Norma Stitz herself declares, ‘Why fix something that just ain’t broken’?

Secret Sex Lives: Supersized Sex will be broadcast on TLC on 4 December

Remember Me

November 14, 2014 by  
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1michael palin remember me

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat here – Remember Me is something a bit special. It does play on ghost story tropes and it’s a bit predictable at points, but it’s a highly enjoyable and delicately crafted show that you’d be a fool of a Took to miss.

Remember Me is a supernatural thriller starring Michael Palin as Tom Parfitt, an old Yorkshireman whose admittance to a nursing home triggers a series of inexplicable events. To the credit of writer Gwyneth Hughes these inexplicable events don’t feel out of place, and the series feels very much grounded in reality. It’s also down to the superb direction of Ashley Pearce, who effectively establishes a despondent mood from the get-go through a dark, filmic filter that is nicely supplemented by some pathetic fallacy. The white rose county looks bleak even without the filter, but with it there isn’t a moment when Yorkshire doesn’t look eerie. Now I’m no Beethoven (I’m more Mozart) but the score is also worthy of mention, because it really heightens the tension in Remember Me’s more claustrophobic moments. It’s nothing short of chilling (the haunted sort, rather than the “Help! I’m stuck in a refrigerator!” sort).

Remember Me also stars Mark Addy, known for his roles in Game of Thrones and The Full Monty (no link to Monty Python here, bar a snake of sorts) joining the main cast as detective Rob Fairholme. Also in a leading role is newcomer Jodie Comer who portrays Hannah, and who shares impressive chemistry with her co-stars. But it’s the Monty Python star who steals the show here. Tom Parfitt is disrespectful, antisocial and downright mean spirited at times, yet Palin still manages to make him likeable. The comic charm from his Python days is still there, but his dramatic chops really shine in this more mature role. The rest of the cast bring great depth to their characters too, even Addy, who doesn’t feature heavily in the first episode, evokes sympathy for Fairholme’s unfortunate circumstances, while Hannah’s turbulent relationship with her mother is something that many teenagers will be able to relate to. The plot hasn’t been discussed much here so as to avoid spoilers, but rest assured that you have a fantastic character-driven detective story that rewards those who pay attention to the finer details.

As aforementioned, the usual genre tropes are present with a scene that’s reminiscent of 2012’s The Woman in Black, but Remember Me uses these scenes effectively and sparingly. I actually jumped at a scene transition. A scene change. Pearce creates this omnipresent sense of unease that never leaves you, and if you haven’t already, I highly recommend you invest in a pillow to hide behind. Remember Me may not be a reinvention of the genre, but it has real heart and character. This is not so much a ghost story as a human story of love, loss and acceptance. Remember Me is some brilliant storytelling just screaming out to be remembered. I know I certainly will.

Remember Me will broadcast on BBC One on Sunday 23 November at 9pm.

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