The BBC Video Collection warms our dark nights

BBC cover-tempWhen I lived in the UK as long as there was not a Tube delay due to “man under train”, bomb threats, mechanical failure or leaves on the tracks I would normally watch the BBC news. I would just get in the door in time for the familiar Beep, Beep, Beep which always comes just before the start of the news. I loved the BBC news as it was my time to collapse after work and the presenters would soothe me with their proper pronunciation, quality news reporting and interesting television. To me the BBC has succeeded in its royal charter where it must – “inform, educate and entertain”.

There can be no denying that as well as news the BBC has produced some amazing television over the years and we are now in a position to gather together some of its most viewed documentaries in one place with the BBC Video Collection.  So far I have set up a personal account so I can create a playlist which includes Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour and Terry Jones’ Barbarians. This quick list I made will guarantee that as the evenings get darker and colder I will not be reduced to watching dating or cooking shows on our own TV networks. If history is not your thing, do not despair as there are titles on engineering, music, health, business and science and a multitude of other interests. All you need to do is search, watch and relax. If Christchurch traffic tests your nerve endings much like the Tube did mine then you too can escape into the world of the BBC.

Conspicuous consumption

For me holidays are always an opportunity to consume, not merely Christmas dinner leftovers and far too many Ferrero Rochers, but also culture. The books, movies and TV shows I haven’t had time for during the year get their chance over the festive break. It’s always a struggle, of course. There’s simply too much to get through.

So how did I do this year? Not too badly actually. Here’s what I managed to cram into a week and a half of public holidays and annual leave.

Movies

I made a real effort this year to grab a bunch of movies I was curious about but never got around to watching. Results were patchy.

  • Housebound – I’d heard good things about this Kiwi horror-comedy and they weren’t wrong. High on the creepy factor but plenty of laughs too. Haunted house meets awkward mother-daughter dynamic. Highly recommended.
  • Spirited Away – Critically acclaimed Japanese animation from Studio Ghibli. I’ve never really been into anime and this movie didn’t change my mind. Just a bit too weird and fantastical for me.
  • Never Let Me Go – I really like Carey Mulligan but when the other two points of a love triangle are Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, I’m going to struggle. A beautiful film to look at (if you like the colour brown) but quite slow paced. Do not watch if you’re in a bad mood already, as it’s a bit of a downer (based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro).

A selection of DVDs

  • They Came Together – I really, really wanted to like this. I’m a massive Amy Poehler fan and I adore Paul Rudd but this attempt to subvert the cliches and tropes of the rom-com failed to hit the mark. I couldn’t help thinking this would have worked brilliantly as an SNL sketch, but just couldn’t stretch to a whole film. Some fun moments but not enough of them, unfortunately.
  • Turbo Kid – Canadian/NZ co-production that had a lot of buzz at last year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. A retro-futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland, BMXs, extreme cheesiness, that guy off McLeod’s Daughters, and what must have been an absolutely massive fake blood budget. What’s not to love? With knowing nods to everything from Soylent Green, to Mad Max and Cherry 2000, this pastiche/homage to sci-fi was a lot of fun to watch (though sometimes through your fingers because INTESTINES).

Television

  • cover of The White Queen The White Queen – On a whim, for a bit of escapism I started watching this series based on Philipa Gregory’s historical novels The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter and ended binge-watching the whole thing. It covers the turbulent period during which the houses of York and Lancaster were battling for the throne of England, the War of the Roses. It begins with King Edward IV falling for a fetching Lancastrian widow and portrays the power grabs, manipulations and betrayals of his reign and beyond. It was this period of history that inspired George R. R. Martin’s Song of ice and fire novels and this series is similar, in bloodiness, intrigue, and, er, nudity. Not a bad substitute until the next season of Game of Thrones turns up (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Books

  • Cover of Truths, half truths & little white lies: A memoirTruths, half truths & little white lies: A memoir by Nick Frost – Often memoirs of famous people give you the impression that from a young age they were destined for stardom and great things. Nick Frost’s book has you marvelling that he managed to leave the house, let alone have a successful career, what with all the drugs and not being very confident and having a traumatic upbringing. It’s the story of an ordinary man who has struggles and demons just like everybody else and not in a “oh, I’ll just book into The Priory for a bit of rehab, dahling”, showing off kind of way, but the unglamorous “everything’s gone a bit terrible” way. This made me want to read Simon Pegg’s Nerd do well again and compare flatting anecdotes.
  • Concrete Park vol 2 – More violence, betrayal and sci-fi adventures on a prison planet. Waiting not very patiently for volume 3.

So how did you do over the break? Get a few titles ticked off your To Read (or To Watch) list?

What is it about Scandinavian drama?

Film stripsI have just completed the second series of the Danish television drama  The Legacy. The Legacy tells the story of four adult siblings dealing with the repercussions of their mother’s death. Their mother was no ordinary woman. She was an internationally renowned artist who let her children to lead chaotic lives and this has continued to impact them in adulthood. It is only their mother’s death that brings them all back together. If you add a love child, adultery, fraud, drug abuse and suicide to an already fraught situation what you have is addictive viewing.

Then there is another personal favourite Borgen. A political drama series about Birgitte Nyborg the fictional first female Prime Minister of Denmark. A political drama that is riveting? Believe it. After watching all three series, you will never look at politicians or political announcements the same again. This series takes you behind the scenes – to the spin doctors, the compromises that have to be made and the destruction such exposure can have on your family and ideals. This is not dry, predictable drama. When you see Nyborg struggle to get into a skirt due to recent weight gain, you fall a little in love with her vulnerability and then you cheer her on as she tries to convince other political parties to form a coalition government. She is magnificent.

I can also recommend The Bridge. This crime drama begins with a body that has been cut in half and placed precisely on the border between Denmark and Sweden. This results in the cooperation between two unique detectives, Saga Norén, from Sweden, and Martin Rohde, from Denmark. Again there are no predictable plots here, and much of the drama comes from the interactions of the lead characters. You have Martin with his troubled private life, and Saga who has difficulty in social situations due to an unspecified almost Asperger-like condition. Together they make for fantastic viewing.

So what is it about Scandinavian drama? Well, to me it is about the quality of the acting and the unpredictability of the storylines. Combine that with relatable characters and strong female leads and I am won over – despite subtitles.

If you are looking for an evening more interesting and entertaining than another cooking or DIY TV show, then you need to get your hands on these DVDs. A friend of mine told me she hates subtitles as she didn’t come home after a hard day at work to “read the TV”, but I have even managed to convert her! Are you next?

We’ll remember you when we’re famous

We’re going to be on TV!

Or at least, some of the kids who took part in a stop motion animation session (part of our holiday programme) at South Learning Centre will be. This Sunday. On What Now.

So keep your eyes peeled. Here’s a sneak preview from our Flickr – photos of the What Now crew filming the other week.

What Now at South Library and Learning CentreWhat Now at South Library and Learning Centre
What Now at South Library and Learning CentreWhat Now at South Library and Learning Centre

Goodbye, Gilbert Blythe

Cover of Anne of InglesideIf you were a teenage girl during the 1980s and watched television then you were probably enraptured with the Anne of Green Gables TV series based on the novels of L. M. Montgomery. And there’s a good chance you were smitten with Anne Shirley’s regular tormentor/rescuer/romantic interest Gilbert Blythe.

It is with a sad heart that I learned yesterday that the actor who played Gilbert in the various Anne of Green Gables TV series’, Jonathan Crombie, died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 48.

Born in Toronto, Canada, Crombie was the son of a former mayor of the city, Dave Crombie, and by strange coincidence his mother’s names were “Shirley Ann”.

Though he worked regularly in television, Gilbert Blythe was by far his most famous role and according to his sister, fans who recognised him on the street would often refer to him as “Gil”.

If this news leaves you in “the depths of despair” and in need of a “Jonathan Crombie Commemorative Screening” we have DVDs of the following Avonlea-based TV series featuring Prince Edward Island’s resident dreamboat, Gilbert.

TV is ruining our lives – with Dr Aric Sigman

Cover of Remotely controlledMy father once said to me, “when you’re watching TV, you’re watching other people make money”. Fundamentally he’s right, and both my parents were right in making me turn off the idiot box and then kicking me out of the house to go and play outside or, if it was rainy, I’d have to find something creative to do like draw army pictures of death and explosions, or play an instrument. Initially there was a battle, as the injustice of it all provoked me into a frenzy of rage. However, over time I learnt to entertain myself in other ways and enjoy the outdoors along with my juvenile wee crew of renegades, terrorizing the neighbourhood on our after school excursions.

That’s why I enjoyed reading Dr Aric Sigman’s book Remotely Controlled, which discusses how “television is damaging our lives”. This book is a compelling read, and demonstrates via a range of scientific/psychological studies how prolonged TV viewing stunts the brains development in teenagers and pre-teens in particular, and seriously hinders their ability to reason and perform well academically. TV quite literally dulls kids down as it provides rewarding chemical and hormonal experiences without the brain actually having to do any creative thinking or reasoning, as opposed to reading a book for example, where the readers mind creates its own images and depictions of the settings and characters, exercising the mind and fostering creative thinking. Interestingly, there is a recommendation that kids under two should not have ANY screen time at all, while some in the field of child psychology and development are more extreme and recommend five as the age to introduce the idiot box.

Further to this, Aric Sigmund argues that TV is too stimulating, and addictive, with ongoing viewing causing impulsive behavior in people whose minds are used to the instant gratification it provides, which in turn develops an attention deficit in people. Then there are all the social problems TV arguably causes, or reinforces: consumerism, depression, material and social dissatisfaction, social anxiety, unreasonable expectations of life in general …you know, like when you started high school and thought it would be like Beverly Hills 90210 where Brandon or Dylan would come chat you up in their cool leather jackets with their quiffed hair dos, or that your social interactions would be like those depicted on Home and Away, where the good old Aussie, salt of the earth digger Alf Stewart would provide an ethical and moral compass for all those in the “the bay” and correct anyone acting out of line! It was a shock for me to learn life’s not like those romanticized and idealized dramas.

There are those who dispute the works of Dr Sigman and the methods he employs to convince us all of television’s detrimental impacts on society. But he’s entitled to his opinion. After all, Dr Sigman has the whole alphabet under his name, as he works in health and education lecturing at medical schools and to National Health Service doctors in the UK. He is a Chartered Biologist, Fellow of the Society of Biology, Chartered Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a Chartered Scientist and a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.

So there you go, have a read and decide for yourself, and when you are done, like me you can curl up on the couch with a blankie and watch Shortland Street, or Coro or Home and Away and forget about how mad the world really is with a bit of good old hellevision … whoops I mean television.

Sharp wit in a sharp suit – the intriguing A. A. Gill

A. A. GillI hadn’t originally planned to attend A.A.Gill’s session at the 2011 Auckland Writers And Readers Festival, as everything I’d heard and read about him sounded dreadful. I was sure that he was a grumpy Scots curmudgeon who would be boringly self-important to listen to.

How wrong I was. I was in fits of laughter for most of the session, as he used his savage wit to cut swathes through chefs (most of them left school by 14), TV programmers (the only profession I know that eat their own young), trawler fishing in the UK (the boats are designed for fish, so if you’re human on board, there’s nowhere to be comfortable, and of course for the fish, if they’re on board, they’re dead), restaurant dishes (I once tasted foie gras sushi – it tasted like something off a vet’s biopsy tray) and so much more.

Restauranteur Al Brown (Hunger For The Wild TV star) struggled to rein in his guest’s loquacious tendencies, and at times sat dumbstruck, unable to break into the verbal stream that flowed spontaneously with very little prompting. Mr Gill was open about his previous battles with drink and drugs (his first job was as a drug dealer and hence was exempt from paying the minimum tax rate), and told of reinventing himself through Oxfam clothes. He went through a period of wearing very weird outfits (tutu or monocle anyone?) in the hope that one would be the right fit character-wise for him.

He is extremely dyslexic (in his words “middle class stupidity”) and was sent to the only vegetarian boarding school  in Britain as a cure. He spent “hundreds of years” in art classes, as they were the only ones that didn’t have exams, and as a consequence thought he was an artist. He became a journalist at the ripe old age of 40, gained a contract earning more money than his dad, and now fills in his days either by watching TV (as a critic), eating food (as a critic) or going on holiday (as a critic) – are you seeing a pattern there somewhere?

I wouldn’t like to be under the spotlight of his ascerbic wit but he is a great comedy act to watch, which surprisingly included some  moments of real pathos, particularly when talking about the last meal he had with his Dad who was an alzheimer’s sufferer. I want to read his books now, and will be able to picture him, a sophisticate in a Saville Row suit, withering his opposition with words.

Austen fans spoilt for choice

Jane Austen has experienced great popularity in recent years. Since the 1990s there have been numerous takes on favourites such as Emma, Sense & Sensibility and of course Pride and Prejudice. But perhaps we should dub 2007 (the 190th anniversary of her death) the Year of Jane Austen’s Triumph:

The TV series Lost in Austen (2008) deftly captures the fascination the modern world has with Austen’s work; our genteel and romantic sensibilities are alive and well!

And what better way to spend an evening than in the delightfully diverting company of Austen’s heroines? We can cringe appreciatively when Lizzie encounters Mr Collins, tut over Catherine’s wild fancies at Northanger Abbey, and feel suitably embarrassed as Emma’s matchmaking goes awry!

As to version, there’s plenty of choice. Emma can be blond or dark-haired, if we watch the 1995 or 1996 versions respectively. And if we really want to, we can watch Jane & Lizzy in black and white (wearing large hoop skirts) in the 1940s classic. Enter Laurence Olivier as Darcy (woah!).

But there is soon to be a new twist coming to the screen. 

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New Zealand: Land of the hobbits?

A Journey through New Zealand Film book cover

Bret: Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson put New Zealand on the map, but he put it on the map as Middle-earth, not as New Zealand.

Jemaine: A lot of what Jackson purports to be true about New Zealand is actually a lie.

Bret: Despite what you may believe from watching The Lord of the Rings, New Zealand does not have a large hobbit population.

Jemaine: At least not as many as he makes out. (Flight of the Conchords)

When travelling around or living overseas, how many people say “Oh, New Zealand! Yes, I know it – I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies!” after you tell them where you are from?

I think it is fair to say that while the film adaptations of J.R.R Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel(s) do showcase some of the incredible scenery we have outside our doors, that’s where the references to New Zealand stop. But what films or television series do offer a snap shot of our country as it really is? Is there a single movie that captures completely the very essence of what it means to be Kiwi? Or is every film just one taste from a very diverse pavlova?

New Zealand is producing more and more fantastic films and television series each year which celebrate Kiwi culture and people. Internationally, we are now becoming just as well known for our struggling musical duos in skinny jeans as for our hobbits and whale-riding girls. But surely there is more about us that we can show the world, too. Bro’Town is now being screened in 6 other countries, including Portugal. I personally think everyone needs to meet Cheryl West and her lovely family.

Other essential viewing may be: Black Sheep, Eagle vs. Shark, Secondhand Wedding, No.2, Snakeskin, In My Father’s Den, World’s Fastest Indian, Scarfies, Goodbye Pork Pie, Sione’s Wedding, as well as many more.

If you wanted to introduce someone to your New Zealand through a film or television series, what would you recommend they watch?

Happy Birthday J. R. Cash

He was the man in black.

He was the father of two talented children Rosanne Cash and John Carter Cash.

His first wife Vivian wrote a book about her time with him.

He left his first wife for a daughter of the Carter Family clan.

He was a devout but troubled Christian, bothered by addictions of many kinds.

He was given the name “J.R.” because his parents could not agree on a name, only on initials.

He met June Carter in 1968 and later she would help write the hit “Ring of Fire” and become his wife.

He was played in a movie by Joaquin Phoenix with Reese Witherspoon as his wife June.

He created an image of being an outlaw and although convicted of starting a forest fire his time in jail was pastoral – performing to prisoners in places like San QuentinFolsom and Osteraker Prisons.

His early recordings continue to be repackaged and reissued as yet another Best of Johnny Cash – but those early “boom-chicka-boom” freight train recordings are still fantastic.

With his wife June he fronted an eclectic television series – the Johnny Cash show, and later the Johnny Cash Christmas special.

After a period of indifference and troubles he was rejuvenated by Rick Rubin and produced a series of incredible recordings of covers and traditional songs in the series American Recordings.

He featured as a guest on the Simpsons,  the Muppets , and Dr Quinn Medicine Women, and you can listen to his authorized biography read by his friend Kris Kristofferson.

The posthumous American VI has just been released.

Happy birthday  Johnny Cash.