Archive | January, 2013

BBC..Africa. The Sahara where survival trumps the love of dung.

30 Jan

Over the last few weeks I have probably used all the superlatives at my disposal in describing just how good BBC’s Africa documentary is. Well this week I had to dig into my superlative reserve, because it tonight’s episode was positively biblical.

The opening scenes with massive sandstorms rolling across the Sahara were like some biblical plague come to life, I almost expected Charlton Heston to step up in his robe and staff crying out to “let my people go”.

This week we moved away from the large herds and prides of eastern and southern Africa to a more delicate and precarious battle between life and the environment, but no less intriguing.

The lonely Grevy Zebra roaming the fringes of the Sahara  living a lonely existence for months at a time, and then literally out of the blue along come a herd of female Zebras and an opportunity for our lonely lad to end his dry spell so to speak. It turns out there are were another bunch of male Zebras in the vicinity with similar ideas.

Cue a bit of handbags between the male Zebras which saw our lonely lad come up tops giving him just enough time for a quick bit of ‘how’s your father’ with a lady Zebra before once more returning to his solitary existence.

There were the  two million Barn Swallows of southern Nigeria who undertake an epic journey from the wet grasslands across the vast Sahara to Europe an epic journey  that given the biblical theme can best be described as an exodus.

Like any decent exodus they need to refuel on their journey and the Sahara offers some surprising options, like the ‘oasis’ in the Ubari Sand Sea – Umm El Mar.

On the surface it looks like a miraculous refuge for any weary thirsty traveller  the cool waters shimmer in the sunshine. This is however deceptive, a cruel trick player by nature.  Years of evaporation have left the water so concentrated with salt that it would drinking from it would be fatal.

Swarms of desert flies also inhabit the lake but here nature plays another card, the flies are able to drink the water and filter out the salt, so they are effectively plump little sachets of water just the refreshment the swallows need.

Sometime though the ferocity of the Sahara makes survival trickier. The Dung Beetle survives on collecting camel dung and in one trip can collect enough to last a life time. The problem though is getting it to storage,  in their trademark approach the dung beetle use their hind legs to roll it along. The problem with this approach is you can’t see where you are going, and can end up down side of a sand dune.

Try as you may rolling up  a ball of dung up a sand hill is a Sisyphean task and in temperatures of 50C, the love of dung wanes quickly.

Probably better suited for the searing temperatures of the Sahara are the amazing silver ants whose reflective body coating allows them to endure the hottest temperatures of the desert for brief burst of time. We see an amazing segment where the ants go a “mission impossible” to hunt a stricken fly and get it back to the den.  Amazing footage.

 

 

BBC4…Borgen. Loses its rythm as it heads out to Africa.

27 Jan

Borgen has a formula that over the two seasons we have watched it has worked very well. The formula encompasses three main themes Danish Media, Danish Parliamentary Politics and the lives of those who inhabit these spheres of Danish life.

These are the programmes strengths and as the saying goes if it ain’t broken don’t fix it. It seems the writers ignored that and decide to “fix” Borgen in the last two episodes.

When we last left Birgitte Nyborg she was under pressure following the breakdown of the coalition.  Often in politics when things are looking tricky at home, politicians seek refuge in foreign adventures to ease the pressure it is no different in Denmark it seems. We are introduced to the Republic of Kharun a fictitious Africa republic.  The country apparently is in the middle of a conflict between a largely Arab Muslim north and an African christian south.

Sounds familiar you might say, well you would right for all intents and purposes this was Sudan.  From the President of the North being wanted for war crimes, the only pipeline for the export of oil going through the North and the North cheating the South of millions in Oil revenues.

So the scene was set for Borgen’s political drama to go international, but it was at this point it all fell apart. What we know to be a complex and drawn out conflict was reduced to a conflict of ego’s between two unreasonable African’s leaders that needed the firm hand of Danish diplomacy to sort out.

The characterisation of  the leaders of both North and South Kharun were depicted in a cartoon-ish manner , both roles incidentally were played by British actors.

The northern leader was  a died in the wool Islamist, who refuses to shake hands with women or speak in English in public despite being Cambridge educated. The reason was it doesn’t play well to the public at home, but all his appearances were in the privacy of conference rooms.  The other  was the uber-saintly rebel who only wants the best for his people.

Not content with the two-dimensional representation of these two characters,  the dual episode turned its sights on the conflict itself. For Birgitte’s political purposes she needed to announce the signing of a big deal between the Kharanese quickly.

In real life the Sudan conflict took years before an agreement could be reached between North and South Sudan, but in Borgen time this was reduced to days.

The hub of the negotiations had a white board  and on it was listed a whole range of areas of contention and what in practice would take a huge team of negotiators many months if not years were quickly ticked off by lead negotiators Amir Dwian, brought in because they need a trustworthy muslim,  and Bent Serjo.

The two episodes felt very much like Borgen had left it comfort zone and were very unsatisfactory, a changed from the measured and well nuanced political drama we know this to be.

I expect a return next week to the more familiar environs around Christiansborg.

Dave…Suits is back and entertainingly sharp as ever.

27 Jan

Imagine you finally got to a point in your career where you can afford a hand tailored suit, you head for you appointment at one of the many fine gentlemen tailors that inhabit the vicinity of Saville Row, London.

There you choose from the finest selection of clothing material available to a discerning gentleman anything from heavyweight Scottish tweed to the best French Serge. Then you get your fittings  measurements taken in places where you’d never thought you would be measured.

The end result a fine piece of tailoring, smooth, suave and debonair.  If you made a TV programme in the same way, the end result would be Dave’s legal comedy - Suits.

Season 2 of Suits is back on Dave. When we left it last season Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) had spent the whole of the season being precariously close to exposed as not having attended Harvard Law School, a minimum requirement for the his law firm Pearson Hardman.

With the help of his ultra-smooth mentor Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), Mike’s sheer brilliance  and his almost perfect memory, he had bluffed his way through a whole season but just when he felt safe, the secret popped out.

In the opening scene Harvey is ordered by his Boss Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) to fire Mike or get fired, as she’s discovered the truth about Mike. The dynamic duo of Harvey and Mike  however are not so easily vanquished, and a little bit of luck comes to their aid.

Former partner Daniel Hardman (David Costabile) makes a return to the firm after a five year absence  We haven’t seen him before and the back story is that there is an unresolved rivalry between Jessica and David.  Jessica realises she need Harvey’s help to thwart Daniel’s ambitions and the price is her turning a blind eye to Mike.

With all this going on Mike still has a case to tackle, cue assorted legal shenanigans and high jinks.  Welcome back Suits, we missed you along with the 800,000 or so views the series gets for Dave.

Suits 9pm Thursdays on Dave

 

 

BBC…Africa. Something very fishy is going on

24 Jan

The cinematography of this week’s episode of Africa was as usual peerless, the stories informative and thought-provoking all in all a masterclass in how to make great and timeless TV.

It reminded us that there is so much we have learnt and seen about nature from the comfort of our living room sofas, but there is still an incredible amount we don’t know.

Like the mysterious journey of giant King Fishes. These enormous fishes which grow to the size of a  man, journey from the oceans around the South African cape and travel deep inland swimming upstream along the fresh water rivers to they reach a point where they stop.

The stop not to feed, not to spawn but seemingly to swim around in a form of synchronised swimming. Why? No one knows.

They are best known as a national symbol of South Africa and we were treated to beautiful shots of  springboks ‘pronking’. This is something springboks are famous for, but why they do it? Again no one knows.  Against a beautiful backdrop of classic music the ‘pronking’ was soothingly balletic.

We also returned to a recurrent theme of the series – the circle of life. A reminder that for all it’s beauty nature is harsh and for some to thrive others must perish.

We saw baby turtles making a dash from where they hatched across beach for the ocean. In scenes that were reminiscent of the Normandy landings in Saving Private Ryan (except it was in the reverse direction), the turtles were subject to aerial bombardment from hawks and other birds who fancied a light snack. There also hazards on the ground as treacherous crabs lurked.

The chances of survival for the hatchlings was something like 1 in 1000, so I was intrigued how the filming was able to pick out one hatchling and follow it from birth as it successfully navigated the hazards of the beach and made it to the safety of the ocean. Was that just luck?

Off the coast of the South Africa cape where the warm waters of the Indian ocean’s Aghulas current meet the cold waters of the Atlantic oceans Benguela current we meet another chapter in the circle of life.  Thousands of sardines are being chased through the Benguela current by a school of dolphins and a nabulus whale. Despite their massed numbers the sardines and nimble and proving difficult to catch. That is until they hit the warmer Aghulas current, suddenly they froze, it is not explained why.

What ever the reason it result  is fatal for the sardines, as an incredible feeding frenzy ensues. Dolphins and the whale swooped from within, birds attack from above, it is a free for all feeding frenzy.

After a somewhat underwhelming episode last week, Africa was back to its best.

 

Springboks ‘pronking’ to Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers

BBC4…Borgen – Has Birgitte Nyborg finally crossed to the dark side?

20 Jan

Ok I am not going to beat around the bush here but last night Borgen was some of the best TV I have watched in a long time, the final scene with Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) was a tour de force, an award-winning portrayal of a man with a deeply scarred soul.

In season One a secret was shared with the viewers about Kasper Juul, a deep dark secret of his sexual abuse by his father. A vile abuse in a lonely home somewhere deep in Denmark. We came to learn that what seemed to be the arrogant swagger of a workaholic Lothario who prowled the corridors of power at the Borgen was a cover to hide a deeply ingrained emotional trauma.

This week more was revealed about the nature of that trauma, we learnt that it wasn’t just his father who had raped him, but he was shared like some weekly prize amongst his father’s peadophiliac poker buddies. We saw the emotional blackmail used by his father to hide his vile crimes from Kasper’s mum. We were however still the only ones who have shared these horrific memories with Kasper. Katrine, Lotte and Birgitte, all the women in his life had no idea till this episode.

Katrine was the closest to the truth but still so far till tonight. In an emotional scene Kasper retrieved the only possession he seemed to have, a collection of bits and pieces from his parents house including a VHS video and newspaper clippings. After a heated argument with Lotte his current girlfriend, as once again Kasper failure to commit unravels a relationship, he storms out of her flat.

It seems at this point he comes to some sort of epiphany, that he needs to share the burden he has carried all his life with some one else. He hands the collection of his memories to Katrine at her flat and walks away. Reading through the clips and watching the video she suddenly begins to understand all the layers Kasper had been hiding behind, the lies about his family in the South of France, the fear of commitment. She sees the pain, loneliness and despair Kasper had lived with.

The moment Kasper and Katrine meet again no words need to be spoken. We now all knew.

While Kasper was unburdening his soul Birgitte burdens were getting heavier and the idealism of season one was being replaced a much darker cynicism. A cynicism which she is quick to embrace but whose outcomes she struggles to control. We see how quickly she throws her long term ally Amir Dwian, the Green Party Leader, to the baying Press hounds when she leaks his love of a petrol guzzling vintage car to press, sparking a frenzy to expose the hypocrisy of his position.

She does this to force his hand into agreeing to some government legislation, but in doing so precipitated the end of Amir’s political career, the Green Party leaving the coalition and transforming her government into a minority one.

One the home front we see that being single mother and Prime Minister of a medium sized western European nation is not a recommended career progression. Her children, especially her daughter Laura are feeling the strain but Birgitte can’t see it.

She believes she is on a mission borne out of idealism but is this still the case or is it as the opening quote suggests “Much that passes as idealism is a disguised love of power. ”

One a side not the deliciously odious Svend Åge Saltum is given a lot of airtime and he rises admirably to his role as the pantomime villain of the piece (at least for now).

Channel 4 News…Django Director Tarantino shuts Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s butt down – “You’re not my master”

13 Jan
Quentin Tarantino at the 82nd Academy Awards, ...

Quentin Tarantino(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Quentin Tarantino was in town to promote his latest film Django about a slave-turned-bounty hunter who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

The film featuring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio has won rave reviews and Oscar nominations, but there is not escaping that in common with many other Tarantino movies there is a considerable level of violence an aspect the Channel Four newcaster Guru-Murthy was keen to explore.

Tarantino on the other hand was not to keen to explore any linkage between violence in movies and real life violence. Cue a very explosive and forthright interview with more than few choice quotes.

Normally these interviews for films are sychophantic and boring, but this was definitely not!

and just to make sure we don’t upset Mr Tarantino, cos he might shut our butts down here is the trailer for Django

BBC4…Borgen gets seriously Machiavellian.

13 Jan

“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared” – Machiavelli

This was the opening quote in the credits of the second episode of yesterday’s Borgen double-header but it could apply to either of the two back to back episodes, and really when you think about it to the whole season as Borgen is getting very Machiavellian.

In Season One Birgitte Nyborg was breath of fresh air, a reformer, a political outsider with principled stands seeking to put the good ship SS Denmark back on course. Gradually though the dark princes of political arts began once again to weave their webs of deceit and lies and have begun to ensnare Nyborg. The two episodes contained two coup d’etat’s, one long, drawn out and carefully plotted. The other sharp and instant, with fatal consequences.

On the political front both episodes centred around the Labour Party, Nyborg’s partners in the coalition.

In the first episode we witness the slow lingering political regicide of Bjørn Marrot the Labour Party Leader and Foreign Minister. This tale has echoes of the change the UK’s Labour Party has gone through. Marrot was old school, an apprentice welder who had worked his way to the upper echelon’s of the Labour Party, his failing though was for what he had in political conviction he lacked in political finesse, he could almost have been former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. He simply was not ‘New’ Labour.

The party was being taken over by sharp suited career politicians, symbolised by the justice Minister, Troels Höxenhaven and they were keen for a party in their mold.

The plot started of with a series of leaks to the press about gaffes by Marrot, an interview with the BBC in English where he mixed his metaphors and created a new one – “Don’t shoot the parrot’, not knowing what a black tie dinner meant, and leaks about porn and mini bar drinks charged to the foreign ministry.

The moment of execution was left to the day of a seaside  cabinet summit that Nyborg had called to agree major changes to Denmark’s welfare state. One change in particular, early retirement seemed to be causing dissent in the Labour Party.

Nyborg needed unanimity from the cabinet in order to push through a controversial legislation, but every time Marrot thought he had got a Labour position he was being briefed against by party insiders.

At the summit it came to a head when Höxenhaven and his colleague Pernille Madsen openly disagreed with him. Marrot turned to his long-term ally Defence Minister Hans Christian Thorsen for support, and in a telling moment that support did not come.

Marrot exploded in rage at his supposed colleagues, but the deed was done and  a simple “e tu Thorsen” probably would have served.

The summit was cancelled and out of the embers of Marrot’s Leadership emerged the new Labour  leader a suave, smiling Höxenhaven.

The Princes of political dark arts however were not done. In season one current Ekspres newspaper editor Michael Laugesen was the head of the Labour party and his fall from grace was aided by Höxenhaven, a treachery he had not forgiven or forgotten. Laugesen was also an ally of Marrot all sufficient reason for him to have more than a passing interest in the turmoil in the Labour party.

Laugesen however is not a man who waits for things to happen, he makes things happen. There had long been whispers that Höxenhaven had a penchant for young men despite his marriage of 16 years and this was to prove to be the weapon of choice for Laugesen. He embedded a rent boy in the media team he had sent to cover the cabinet summit with a view to ensnaring Höxenhaven. It worked.

His original plan was to publish an expose written by Katrine Fønsmark in the newspaper, but both her and her editor Hanne Holm had reservations about how relevant an expose on a cabinet minister’s sexuality was. Laugesen argued that the issue was about trust but they remain unconvinced. As the saying goes if you got to do a job properly, you have got to do it yourself.

Cue a late night meeting between Laugesen and Höxenhaven in which copies of the pictures were handed over. I never liked the Höxenhaven character he seemed spineless and untrustworthy but at that moment when he realised everything, his personal and professional life was about to crash down around him, you would have to sympathise.

Shattered, Höxenhaven meets up with Nyborg to tender his resignation and the next day is found dead. He committed suicide using tables Nyborg kept in her office.

In a little moment that again shows the erosion of her wholesomeness, Nyborg agrees to have the source of the tablets covered up. A harmless coverup one might say, but it starts soemwhere.

Outside the political arena Birgitte gets to meet the new woman in ex-husband Philip’s life, Cecile Toft, Amazonian blonde, blue eyes, expert Mexican food cook and a pediatrician what’s not to like if you’re Philip and wants not to dislike if you are Birgitte.

The reality that her marriage is truly over pushes Birgitte into a moment of extreme emotional fragility and straight into the arms and bed of her chauffeur a moment of weakness that would come back to hunt her. I am not sure if it was intentional but the scene where the chauffeur is fixing her plumbing when she entices him is the ultimate parody of a 70′s porn film.

Katrine and Kasper Juul’s never quite ended relationship flickers back into life as they engage in a romantic tryst first at the cabinet summit and later back at Katrine’s flat but there is too much baggage from before and Kasper’s realises (or at least I think he does) that it is not going to work with Katrine. He is not ready to open up to her in the way she wants.

In a desperate move he announces he is cutting off all professional contact with her, but not before Katrine hands him one last bombshell, evidence that Laugesen set Höxenhaven up.

Nyborg confronts Laugesen with the information and demands change in the attitude of his paper to her government, relaxed and smarmy as ever Laugesen brings up ger romantic dalliance with her chauffeur. 1-0 to Laugesen methinks.

Channel 5 …Celebrity Big Brother

12 Jan

I know this is on, but I haven’t had time to watch it and even if I had time to watch it I almost certainly wont.

That means I am missing out on the antics of Claire Richards, Frankie Dettori, Gillian Taylforth, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, Lacey Banghard, Paula Hamilton, Neil “Razor” Ruddock, Ryan Moloney, Rylan Clark, Sam Robertson and Tricia Penrose.

Although it can be argued that the term celebrity is being used in an extremely broad sense, I still feel I need to do something to rectify the situation.

Step forward the legendary comedy duo French and Saunders. They provided a must watch summary of this and pretty much every season of Big Brother going. The best thing about it? It last 3 minutes rather than running on for weeks. Happy Days!

 

Movies on TV….UP (BBC3)

12 Jan

Up

This review contains tons of spoilers, so if you just here for the movie on BBC iPlayer skip to the bottom.

Animation films are tricky not just because they require a huge amount of detailed and sustained creativity but they have to appeal to two different audiences simultaneously. To the kids who want an amusing day out watching a nice colourful tale with a happy ending, and to the adults accompanying them who need to need to enjoy the film but require more nuance and subtext to keep them engaged.

The best animation films do this superbly, with UP I think it did more of the later, providing more subtext for adult viewers than it needed to particularly so in the first half.

UP is the story of Carl Fredricksen a shy boy with a love for adventure. We meet him as a child amazed by the adventures of a legendary explorer Charles F. Muntz, Muntz however has been ostracized over  what were assumed to be false claims that he had discovered a new giant bird specie.

Carl meets a young neighbourhood girl Ellie also a fan of Muntz, they become friends, promising themselves one day they will go on an adventure to South America like their hero Muntz. The film rolls forward to their eventual marriage

Here is takes a somewhat dark twist. Ellie suffers a miscarriage and it seems cannot have children of her own. Various hiccups in life meaning the money they are saving for that trip of a lifetime continually gets used up. Eventually by their old age they saved the money and Carl plans to surprise Ellie but it turns out she is sick and eventually dies. All a bit bleak, but it gets bleaker.

Carl is now an old age pensioner, a man in the last stages of life with a big unfulfilled ambition, a widower stuck in big house and with little or no contact with the outside world. Except that is for the construction folk who are tearing down the old neighbourhood to build shiny new flats and have tried in vain to persuade Carl to sell on move to a retirement home.

Carl gets into a confrontation with one of the construction workers, assaults him and is arrested and taken to court. There he is found guilty and forced to sell his house and is scheduled to move into the retirement home.

This is all in the first 20 minutes of the film, but fortunately, especially if you are a kid, it is at this point the bleakness ends and the fantasy begins.

Carl it seems had no plans to go into an retirement home and has rigged the house with thousands of helium balloons. As the staff from the retirement home come to cart him away he releases the balloons and his house is uprooted from the ground and he sets sail with a picture of his beloved wife on the adventure they had promised themselves all those years ago.

The flight presumably a metaphor for leaving all his worldly pains and problems behind, or maybe that it is never to late to chase your dreams, but a small problem pops up, Russell. Russell is a local Wilderness Explorer (read Cub Scout) who had been pestering Carl offering to ‘assist’ him as a means of he, Russell, getting his ‘Assisting the Elderly’  badge. He inadvertently gets trapped in the house and is now also bound for South America much to Carl’s consternation.

After a bumpy ride they land in South America. There come across a very exotic looking ostrich like creature and it turns out it was the creature the explorer Muntz had claimed he found but was ignored so many years back. Not only that but a much aged Muntz was in the area still trying to capture the creature aided by a pack of ‘talking dogs’.

At this point you might say a happy ending would be Muntz takes the creature and Russell back to the USA restoring his reputation and reuniting Russell with his family and Carl lives happily ever after in South America. Well as any film buff would tell you you can’t have a film without a ‘Climax’ and the ‘Denoument’  and without these UP probably would not have got its two Oscars.

So we get the ‘Climax’, Muntz’s plan to capture the animal is transformed in a ‘dastardly plot’. It turns out the bird is the mother of several cute chicks and Muntz is prepared to take the bird  (named Kevin by Russell, he didn’t know about the chicks) back dead or alive.  Karl and Russell battle Muntz in their bid to rescue Kevin. The battle in involves dog flying propeller planes, chases across vast canyons, and the use of false teeth as weapons of limited destruction. Eventually however Carl and Russell triumph.

Kevin is restored to his family, Carl finds out that for Ellie married life with him was the adventure she wanted and she hadn’t held him to the promise to move to South America, and Russell proudly got his helping the elderly badge. Denoument done!

If you are quick you can catch it on BBC’s iPlayer (available to Jan 17, 2013).

If you were not so fast, you can still enjoy the trailer :-)

 

BBC…Africa. The death of a baby Elephant and the reality of Nature

9 Jan

Africa is back this week and we are given a lesson in the realities of nature. We all know nature can be fantastic, magical and present visions and sensations that mankind can only dream of creating, but it can also on the surface appear cruel, very very cruel. In two poignant moments this week we were reminded just how harsh nature can be.

This week we moved northwards leaving behind the Namib and heading into eastern Africa. Here we saw how the fertile ash spewed by the great volcanic craters of the rift valley supported the creation of a vast Savannah teeming with millions of wildebeest, and where there is wildebeest there are lions, and it seems where there are lions there very brave agama lizards.

We watched the tiny but extremely nimble agama lizards brave almost certain death crawling amongst the sleeping lions to get at flies which hovered close by. It was daring but captured quiet brilliantly by the film crew.

Further away in Swamps nestling in the shadows of the Ruwenzori mountains we come across the shoebill and our first poignant moment. The shoebill was a mother to two chicks, one three months older than the other. The elder one was bigger and thriving but food is in short supply. It meant a harsh decision had to be taken and the mother just did that, feeding and providing water to the bigger chick while ignoring the pleading cries of the the smaller one. To aid its own survival we also saw the older shoebill chick pecking away quite viciously at its smaller sibling.

The vast plains of the Amboseli was the scene for the second poignant moment. The rains had not been kind to the Amboseli leaving the land pretty much a dust bowl. The elephant herds were struggling to find food, the adults could just about survive on twigs brushed up from the soil but  for the young calves this would barely sustain them. We saw one calf in particular suffering so badly from the food shortage and left struggling to stand let alone walk miles in search of food. His mother faced a stark choice, stay behind with the calf or keep up with the rest of the herd. She stayed behind as life ebbed out of her calf.

Later on in the program the rains came back and nature sprung back to life as nature flourished so once again did the elephant herds, like the song from the Lion King musical it is the circle of Life.

We also saw a pretty scary three day fight between two bull elephants which after the giraffe fight from last week is becoming a bit of a theme.

Across the Savannah at the massive lakes of caustic soda tainted water we came across one of the great sights of Africa millions of pink flamingos gathered by the lake from the sky it looked remarkably like tourist descended on one the more popular costas in Spain.

All in all another great episode from a great series.