Friday, May 29, 2009

Fringe - I Want To Believe

Just before I start off on my rambling, I should pass a warning that I will be discussing series one and therefore this entry will include spoilers, especially concerning the final two episodes. Saying that I wonder when you are allowed to not caveat possible long after a series/ film has aired are you allowed to forgo spoiler warnings. Is it still too soon for Battlestar Galactica? Buffy? The Usual Suspects? The Sixth Sense? M*A*S*H*? I wonder if there is a criteria somewhere....

Anyway enough of that, I was going to talk about Fringe.

I started watching because of the involvement of Abrams, the production values and the early hype. I was pretty disappointed after the early episodes which appeared to point towards something resembling X-Files-lite. I quite enjoyed Joshua Jackson's somewhat rebellious (though cliched) character but the other characters appeared boring or unlikely to develop. I thought I would give it a few more episodes and slowly it appeared to be more engaging and the development of the main characters, especially John Noble's Dr. Walter Bishop really came on leaps and bounds. From a textbook eccentric scientist to a confused, frustrated genius trying to come to terms with his past, and with some excellent dark humour.

A lot of the individual storylines would certainly seem familiar to watchers of the X-Files, but it was the overarching storyline, a necessity for modern day TV series, that kept me watching. Initially it seemed the series story arc revolved around "the pattern" a series of unusual events which were being investigated. Then around two thirds of the way through the series talk of a war against denizens of an alternate universe caught my attention. I am sucker for epic sci-fi, especially one which has spent a series with such a slow build. The last two episodes offer a brief glimpse into the alternate world and a taster for future series.

Alternate worlds have provided a lot of fodder for science fiction TV since Star Trek's 'Mirror Mirror' offered us a barbaric version of the Enterprise (including a bearded Spock).

It has been used across a myriad of stories, almost rivalling time travel as a platform....from Back To The Future to Fatherland to the O.C.

Anyway the signs are good and I will certainly be tuning in for series 2.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Guantánamo, Grandaddy and Kal Penn

I was thinking this week about Guantanamo, not the individuals held there so much but the base itself. How was this, the most controversial 'prison' on the planet actually located on Cuban soil? Given the ongoing enmity between the two nations this seemed a pretty odd state of affairs.

Nowadays you don't have to go too much further than Wikipedia to give the lowdown on such matters, along with links to supporting information.

The story behind the base goes back to the Spanish-American war at the end of the Nineteenth Century. After the war, in 1903, the new American-born President of Cuba offered a perpetual lease on Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. Now since Castro took over, the Cuban authorities have disputed the legality of the treaty and the terms of use on the land.

Only one of the annual cheques from the US has been cashed, apparently in the confusion after the Cuban revolution in 1959. The rest lie uncashed, but the U.S. have claimed that the cashing of the one cheque signified an acceptance of the lease. Guantanamo Bay also has Cuba's only McDonald's but it is not open to the Cuban public.

I am not a fan of Harold & Kumar but I was aware of Kal Penn from watching House. I was pretty surprised to see this week that he has joined the staff of Barack Obama after supporting him vigorously during the election campaign. He left the cast of House to become an associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison with an aim of reaching out to different parts of the American public. This follows on from being a visiting lecturer in Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania last year.

I was also wondering what had happened to the band Grandaddy, this could be a 'beard' connection with Guantanamo inmates.... The album 'The Sophtware Slump' impressed me in 2000, not only for a song that laments the death of an alcoholic robot but the fantastic single 'The Crystal Lake'. You know, the one with the flying house....

Anyway, they broke up in 2007 after the band members wanted to pursue different paths. The frontman Jason Lytle is due to release his own album and you can check his MySpace page here.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Astoria, Sparklers and Counting Crows

Having last week walked past the redevelopment taking place at Tottenham Court Rd tube station I was reminded about the closure of the Astoria. This was a great music venue with the Astoria 2 downstairs and was previously a theatre, cinema and pickle factory.

There is an excellent website, which has a detailed history and photos of the site for those who wish to find out more. Unfortunately I have not been back here for quite a while, and I believe seeing Teenage Fanclub there a couple of years ago as one of the 90's revival gigs was my last visit.

Anyway, this site is being demolished to make way for the expanded TCR station which will include a Crossrail connection, though this will not be up and running until 2017....There is supposed to be a replacement for the Astoria but there seem to be some doubts about this.

This also reminded me that I have tickets to see the Counting Crows at Brixton in May which I am very much looking forward to, though I am yet to find a friend to come along. I have taken quite a lot of stick for my loyalty to this band, and I am used to being labelled 'stuck in the 90s', but I have to say they are one of my favourite bands . For some reason I vividly remember first reading about the album 'August and Everything After' on the old Channel 4 teletext service (4-Tel, I believe) music reviews and then buying and loving said album shortly after.

I have not been to many gigs recently, partly due to lack of time and partly due to getting older. Whereas I would be happy moshing my way through gigs in the past I now find myself concerned about getting burned by drunk people with cigarettes. The smoking ban doesn't hold much sway at the Brixton Academy as far as I can tell....this definitely means I might be' getting too old for this shit' as the saying goes. I think my dislike of cigarettes at gigs is driven from an earlier incident where I did get burnt and surely smoking in a tight-packed area is not sensible and pretty selfish...

In fact it is a bit like something else that I very much dislike: sparklers. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to invent a form of entertainment that consists of playing with red hot metal rods that burn at over 1000° Celsius? And then aim that entertainment primarily at children - crazy talk.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Puppets, Bushes and Abbreviations

I like to think that part of the reason I followed a heavily mathematics bias is because of strong role models like Johnny Ball and 'The Count' from Sesame St. Perhaps this is not realistic, but I see that the puppets on the Street are tackling the issues of today with Cookie Monster and Ernie tackling the Madoff Ponzi Scheme in this clip. Please be aware there is a slightly upsetting ending to this clip. On the maths theme, I do wish we could put a global ban on anyone who claims to be giving 110%. Could journalists not at least attempt to cut down on the usage of this ridiculous phrase...?

I have also noticed the quite unsubtle Wilkinson Sword advert that has an interesting use of visual imagery of ladies walking past untidy bushes and the bushes become very well manicured as part of the advert for their new ladies 'trimmer' product.....oh dear. I know shaving adverts are terrible (Tiger, Roger, Thierry....really?) but this is an unusual departure.

Randomly I also found out that the term 'lb' for a pound of weight comes from the Latin Libra, which was an ancient unit of weight of approximately 327 grams.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

RocknRolla vs. Nellie The Elephant

Greetings all (forgive my optimism). Do not worry, I have not fallen foul of Professor duties have proved to be slightly overwhelming recently but I hope to get back on track here.

Anyhow, this week I noticed an uncanny resemblance between Michael "Olga" Algar, lead singer of the Toy Dolls and Johnny Quid, the eponymous 'RocknRolla' from the movie of that title. I found this while looking for a Youtube rendition of 'Nellie the Elephant', which The Toy Dolls performed on Top Of The Pops in December 1984 as they took it to Number 4 in the UK charts.

I did surprise myself by enjoying RocknRolla quite a bit, primarily due to Mark Strong's verystrong performance as character Archie who underpins the movie. Obviously if you disliked Richie's earlier movies you are unlikely to want to see this but I thought it was worth a viewing....

Mark Strong is playing Sherlock Holmes nemesis in Ritchie's new film about the Baker Street resident. Though a lot of people have serious misgivings about this movie I think the participation of Robert Downey Jr (as well as Strong) should certainly pull in the punters. Shots from the movie are here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Professor Bassa

I got this leaflet from my car window recently. Slightly concerning that there can be much of a business in theses areas nowadays...Couldn't find many online reviews for the Professor and his services, maybe because "My work is serious with confidentiality and Quick".

What I like about it is the sheer range of services that he offers to provide; from help with exams and problem with children to sterility issues and protection from Jealous Enemies. Obviously I am not a fun of the somewhat dark undertones hinted at by the last subject nor am I a fan of the wayward grammar and use of capital letters.... I am not even going to ask for details of the professorship....

Saturday, November 01, 2008

BBC Outrage

I do appreciate that nothing more really needs to be said on this matter but I just want to address a few points. I just cannot understand how this has become such a big news story, two high profile 'comedians' insult an old actor on his answerphone on a BBC radio show.

OK there are a few reasons why thousands of people who haven't even listened the show have complained to the BBC. The main reason has been the ridiculous media coverage, this can be attributed to a) a slow news week and anything to get the impending recession off the front pages and b) a concerted attack on the BBC establishment and two easy targets in Ross and Brand.

I also understand the argument around the vulgarisation of the world around us and that tax payers money should not be paying for this. Well, the world is becoming more vulgar but I don't believe this is the breaking point nor should it be the main battleground to fight this issue. In terms of misspent government money I think people need to wake up and remember the recent wars waged, NHS IT projects, council investments in Icelandic banks and a thousand other examples I cannot be bothered to name. The BBC may not be perfect but again it should not be the focus for concerns about our wasted tax monies....

I have decided that the real reason behind this furore is the involvement of Andrew Sachs. Perhaps people are just trying to stop this bullying because they remember the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of Mr. Fawlty.....

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I watch a lot of TV. Too much TV by most standards I am sure. This has been recently exaggerated by the fact that I don’t get out much (as they say) at the moment since my daughter was born.

Anyway I think this leads me to a little bit of analysis of what I have been watching recently…..

1. Dexter series 2.

Yes I have been a bit behind and I watch a lot of TV from downloads. Well I wasn't sure how they would follow up the strong first series but this has been great. Further character development, interesting new twists with Dexter having lovelife troubles and the FBI on his case, all maintaining the dark tones previously established; very impressive.

The series hangs on the impressively restrained performances of Michael C. Hall, who at least gets to show a little more emotion in the second series as he continues to learn more about himself. The ending of the season, though clever seemed almost too neat, but in a world of series-end cliffhangers it was more than welcome. I thoroughly look forward to season 3 which has just started screening in the US, especially with Jimmy Smits entering the fray as the new assistant D.A.

2. Soap update. Yes, I still catch bits and pieces of both Coronation Street and Neighbours. Corrie enters it's 'Week of Death' this week and though this is not a Dexter crossover it should see Tony up to some more eye-popping acting as he seeks to bump off his love rival Liam, the palest man in Manchester. I have to say I don't really pay attention to many of the sub-plots and I don't really care where the terrifyingly contact-lensed Rosie Webster has gone to unless it is that taxi-driver's boot. And that would only be interesting if the writers managed to have two would-be killers at work simultaneously in the soap.

As for Neighbours, there are many weak storylines taking place here. The key one has been the capture of Jay, the arsonist/ fireman (another idea picked up from Dexter?) who has upset the residents of Ramsey Street by starting a fire that ended Marco's life and left Kirsten in a very bad way. Luckily after stabbing Steph, he has been apprehended. Yes murder is the order of the day in these two soaps at least.

The tone, storylines and filming have become increasingly bizarre since the move to Five. Scene sequencing has become almost impossible to follow unless the characters have secretly developed teleportation powers and the clash between scenes of Kirsten with her serious burns, Jay stabbing Steph and the light-hearted word of Harold, Declan and the kids has become jarring. Oh, and Sienna's acting really is poor, even by these standards.

3. The Story of Maths on BBC4 appealed to the Mathematics graduate that lurks within. Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy leads us through a historical journey of Mathematics and how important it was to the ancient cultures in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece. The history of quadratic equations, the 'number' zero and the base-60 Babylonian system that still drives our timekeeping are all explained here clearly and in context.

I found the programme interesting, available to non-mathematicians and definitely worth watching. Some of the graphics were annoying and unnecessary and there was a worrying description of irrational numbers, but overall it was a decent programme, and the sort of thing one should expect to see on BBC4. Still available here on iplayer for those interested....

Well that is enough for now. Next up Heroes series 3.....

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Sebastopol Uprising Of 1905

I am no history buff, and I certainly didn't cover this in my History GCSE, but I do have most of the scripts of ‘The Mary Whitehouse Experience’ and ‘Baddiel and Newman In Pieces’ indelibly etched on my mind. Having recently been reading about the problems in the former USSR I had a brief flashback to this period the other day that left me asking myself the question: Was the Sebastopol Uprising the birthplace of the Russian Revolution?

Well it appears that city of Sebastopol is a port in the Ukraine on the coast of the Black Sea. Sebastopol has been a key naval base throughout history from the Crimean War through World War Two and even today. The port is currently leased to the Russians and they used it to stage part of the August assault on Georgia. This has led to the Ukrainians stating that the lease will not be renewed after its expiration in 2017.

As for the Russian revolution it does appear that the Sebastopol uprising in 1905 can be seen as a precursor to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In October 1905 a part of the Russian fleet rebelled against the Emperor and led a fleet only slightly smaller than the remainder of the government forces. They were roundly defeated and the ringleaders executed (see more here).

It was earlier in the year that the Battleship Potemkin had suffered its own uprising that was later to be dramatised in the film Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei Eisenstein in 1925. This was designed as a piece of revolutionary propaganda and contains the famous and incendiary scene on the Odessa Steps where women and children are killed by Russian forces. Of the sailors on board the Potemkin in 1905, Ivan Beshoff made it to Ireland and set up a fish and chip shop, Beshoff's.

I think that is quite enough for now.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Missed September and Roger Ramjet

Well, I am sorry I have been off the radar for a month, don't worry I was not kidnapped by Scientologists. One week was spent very pleasantly in the South of France but the month has been dominated by the needs of my baby daughter whose sleep patterns have severely affected those of my wife and I.

Anyway my quick recap of the month involves a relaxing time in France, dinner at a corporate do on a table with Max Clifford (who came across as a pretty decent chap despite fielding questions including "Do you have a conscience?"), witnessing a friend's stag walkabout around Earlsfield in a mankini and my aforementioned daughter's one metre projectile vomiting at 6am....

I have had a little sleep but have noticed too very disturbing news stories today that do make you ask what is going on. Firstly the seven year old boy in Australia who embarked on a killing spree in a zoo near Alice Springs. He killed 13 animals and fed them to a crocodile and this included smashing a turtle on the concrete.....

Secondly, closer to home, in Derby, a number of people in a crowd encouraged a teenager to jump to his death.
I obviously don't want to come across all Daily Mail, but I find this very depressing....

On a random aside, do people remember 'Roger Ramjet', the cartoon? I am pretty sure it was shown during the Saturday morning BBC kids shows here in the UK, and I seem to remember a troubling propensity for him to be pill-popping...