Bits and Bobs for 12.29.08

Watching: Robin Hood S02E04
Fill My Little World by The Feeling
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskill

News of the Day:

Holiday television I

Watching: Robin Hood S02E02
Listening: Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt
Reading: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskill

News of the Day:
Christmas television. We don't have Christmas specials in America because our television seasons are twice as long and usually run through the holidays. Instead, we have A Christmas Story marathons. Well, marathons of all sorts and lots of football. (Hail, Notre Dame!) Anyway, I managed to get bits and bobs of UK Christmas programming. Mark Gatiss's Crooked House freaked me out proper, and I only watched one episode. I caught part deux because my favorite History Boy, Samuel Barnett, did another effeminate turn, this time as Billy, the main guy's good chum. The show comes in three episodes and the spooky stories are linked by a haunted house and the discovery of an old door knocker. I'll spoil the surprise and say a ghostly, or ghastly, bride haunts another bride-to-be. This in and of itself is not too scary - except her eyes are gouged out!! Bridal apparitions freak me out more than clowns (although I'm also watching Ashes to Ashes at the moment).

My second taste of BBC Christmas was Gavin and Stacey. I'll admit this is the first episode I've seen in full. (The one with the History Boys at the bachelor party doesn't count because it's chopped up on Youtube.) The Barry clan head over to the Shipmans' for Christmas, and everyone kind of gets more than they bargained for - except for dear Smithy (James Corden) who finds himself increasingly squeezed out of his son's life by bus driver Dave. Ehhh...it was endearing, the way you're family is endearing after overdosing on Christmas ham, eggnog, green bean casserole, and one too many stories from crazy uncle. Which means I managed an emotional attachment to the characters but none of the cozy, fleecy embrace I was hoping for considering how much people adore this show; there were some smiles but no healthy laughs. I like that the tension between Smithy and Nessa (Ruth Jones) rubs the heart like a Brillo pad at times. Corden and Jones's script is fantastically muted, allowing some real acting for a change. Anyway, it's all a great set up for the third season where we'll see Gavin and Stacey transplanted in Wales for his new assignment and more uncertainty for Smithy, Nessa, Neil, and possibly fiance Dave. Ahh, love, marriage, and that messy bit in between.

My final Christmas treat, and my only present to myself, was the latest Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death. Fantastic! I could amuse myself with plasticine animation for hours, days. This short is a simple story of love, murder, bread, and dogs. The two run a bakery with an adorable assembly line (if one can be called such) that pops out golden lumps of bread. But there is a cereal murderer on the loose, and they could be next! Anyone who doesn't warm to this story should be made to eat stale bread and drink from a hose for the whole of 2009.

There is a post script to all of this, one involving pre-war Britain, spies, and Rupert Penry-Jones, always a fine combination. 39 Steps airs this Sunday so my holiday isn't over yet.


Bits and Bobs for 12.21.08

Watching: State of Play S01E01-02
Listening: This Christmas by Vonda Shepard
Reading: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskill

News of the Day:
  • Project:Possibility puts very smart engineering minds to work on very good causes. A capital way to spend money, time, and energy, and beats many of our current priorities.
  • Barack Obama: Senator, President, Model
  • Sock and Awe lets you throw shoes at Bush. It's like whack-a-mole, but infinitely more gratifying.
  • OilyBoy: a) Japanese magazine aimed at older men; b) the kid who replaced the grease monkey; c) something not fit to print.
  • Revenge of the Checkout Lady - a tell-all about the shitteous life of a cashier. I will vouch for that. (The musical adaptation is a bit unnecessary.)
TV News of the Day:
Gavin and Stacey return for a 3rd season!!!

Word of the Day: Harmonious Demolition
Only in China....I picked this one up from a BBC Documentaries report from White Horse Village in China. They are razing this hamlet and forcing it to grow into a city. How is this done, you ask? No one knows; it doesn't even work on paper. In any case, part of the plan includes knocking everything down to make way for something bigger, better, and more Marxist with Chinese characteristics.


Mostly Merlin and Macbeth

Watching: Merlin S01E13
Listening: Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright
Reading: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

News of the Day:

Merlin concludes and my verdict - indifferent. I found nothing particularly captivating throughout the 13 episodes. The scripts were CW/WB grade, which I guess satisfied one demographic. I was reminded of Robin Hood in this regard, which is too bad because both offered a chance for me to indulge in a variety of national lore that we don't get in America. (Networks should take a cue from 1980s Disney Channel which produced "family entertainment" that still holds up.) The acting was adequate to less than impressive. Of the two leads, I preferred Colin Morgan (Merlin), maybe because Bradley James (Arthur) consistently emitted dumb jock vibes. He had his sympathetic moments (e.g. helping Mordred escape, pleading on behalf of Gwen's father) but the character remained
largely unchanged from his initial appearance. And despite consistent assertions that Arthur would one day be a great king, what precisely did he do to warrant such praises? The plot may have moved merrily along, but the characters were static. (Morgana could have been an exception had Katie McGrath not overplayed the cold, bewitching stare and underplayed everything else.) I suppose the sets were a nice diversion (French castles, Welsh countryside) from your usual tv fare, but if BBC was going for mini-epic, more dynamic direction would have helped. The shots were unnecessarily flat, which kind of deflated the excitement of shooting in a truly grand castle (per the behind-the-scenes footage). Maybe it's time to admit that I'm either too old or need children to enjoy this one, but I'm a sucker so I'll probably try it again next season.

Today (or last Sunday) in music...Alexandra Burke won
X Factor, which doesn't mean much to me as I eschew reality shows. (But copious thanks to them for giving us Leona Lewis, and I shame to say that I like Leon Jackson's new song; I am also a mellow sap.) Her cover of Hallelujah strikes me as heavy, but that could be because I've been listening to Rufus Wainwright's version. I like the melancholy that accompanies his lighter vocals.....but what do I know about music?

Finally in reading...I revisited Macbeth for the first time in 10 years, admittedly cheating with Sparknotes' No Fear Shakespeare. Two things encouraged this foray - my current taking to Richard Armitage, who was Macduff to James McAvoy's Macbeth in BBC's ShakespeaREtold, and more practically, tickets to the show on Sunday. I saw Scotland's Theatre Babel's staging in Hong Kong. Since I haven't been a regular theatre-goer (a matter of economics rather than a distaste for the arts), I can only say intriguing, enjoyable, with reservations. It was performed in a black box and I had a front row seat - because who doesn't want an intimate relationship with death and destruction? The intrigue came from the cozy setting, and the 40 swords dangling above the performance space, which I thought was used to mostly good effect. (It should be remembered that this was the weekend immediately following the knife swap incident in Vienna.) It was half-enjoyable because it moved at a clipped pace, having been whittled down to 90 minutes. But
Macbeth is already a midgie - what else do you cut?! One might justify lobbing off 1/3 of Hamlet or King Lear but methinks Shakespeare was already quite efficient this go-around. In particular, I missed the generous interlude in Act IV between Macduff and Malcolm, which was present of course but not intact nor as grave. And I guess that's what I felt about the production overall, that it played like Macbeth Lite, which in the world of Shakespearean tragedies, seems counterintuitive.

I haven't chewed over the BBC remake, but briefly, it is a modern adaptation - in a 4 star restaurant specializing in offal delights. This will either turn you completely on or off, especially an early scene where pretty boy Macbeth plops a pig's head on the counter and quasi-caresses the thing before hacking it to delicious bits. "Joe" Macbeth is the sous chef for food celebrity Duncan (Vincent Regan). Chef Billy Banquo (Joseph Millson), maitre d' Ella Macbeth (Keeley Hawes), and head waiter Peter Macduff are also under dear Duncan's employ. That the cast is as beautiful as it is talented is, sadly, irrelevant. Here is another case of arranging pieces of plot to fit the original text; the elements are present but little else. One could say plenty about the celebrity food culture given our addiction to Food Network and its galaxy of rotund stars (minus Giada), but this is left wholly unexplored. You could easily substitute a kitchen knife fight with a California Fitness gym battle (hmm......). So again, another stripped down Shakespeare. All this leads me back to the one place that would make my teachers proud - the original text.

Bugs, Boys, and Broadway

Watching: Mad Men S01E04-05
Listening: Goodbye by S Club 7
Reading: Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

News of the Day:
  • Newly discovered creepy crawlies, including a fluorescent millipede that produces cyanide and a froggy that has actual green blood.
  • The French suffer from heavy legs. What are heavy legs?
  • Rupert Penry-Jones - slightly vain, obnoxiously gorgeous.
  • Dating apparently died. Good thing I was never into it.
  • Shrek goes Broadway (with the help of Brian D'Arcy James and Sutton Foster).