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.