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Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.


March 27, 2013

Review: Engrenages/Spiral 4x9-4x12

Posted on March 27, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Engrenages

In France: Last autumn
In the UK: Saturday 9/16 March, 9pm, BBC4. iPlayer: Episode 9, Episode 10, Episode 11, Episode 12 (if you're lucky)
In the US/Canada: Acquired by Netflix

Blimey. We're already done. In fact, we were done a week ago, but because I've been a tad busy, finding the time to watch and review four whole episodes of Spiral after a week away proved a lot harder than I thought (note to BBC4: next time, show one episode a week if you want me to review them on time. There, I'm sure that will affect their scheduling policy). Plus there's only four of you reading these things anymore, now the BBC has stopped linking back to blogs that link to them. Ho hum.

Anyway, let's go in and discuss suicide, terrorists, death, counselling (and lack thereof) and abusive lovers. Who says the French are culturally pre-disposed to misery, when they have rolicking good fun like this?

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March 20, 2013

Review: Bates Motel (A&E) 1x1

Posted on March 20, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Bates Motel

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, A&E

Psycho was of course Alfred (and Alma) Hitchock's greatest triumph, a 1960 horror masterpiece that has become embedded in popular culture. It sees Janet Leigh steal money from employer and run away with the swag. Unfortunately, along the way she stops at 'the Bates Motel', where despite being a big star of the time, she's murdered in an iconic shower scene by the mother of the motel's owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) - it's a trick Scream repeated several decades later.  

Eventually (spoiler alert), it's discovered that the disturbed, schizoid Bates has been murdering women in the motel while dressed as his mother, believing that his actually deceased mother wouldn't like his being sexually attracted to the women in question. I say spoiler alert, but pretty much everyone knows this much already. 

So powerful a movie is it that as well as the Bates Motel being preserved by the studios, there were two sequels made in the 80s, with Perkins reprising his role as Bates.

There's even been a movie this year about its making. It's got Scarlett Johansson in it. You should watch it.

Now along comes Bates Motel, a prequel starring the marvellous award-winning actress-director Vera Farmiga (returning to TV nine years almost to the day since my beloved Touching Evil debuted) as the still-living Mrs Bates and Freddie Highmore (Charlie Bucket from the Tim Burton Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as the still-teenage Norman. It attempts to explore what could have made Norman into such a fruit-cake in his later years.

What's interesting is that the show attempts to emulate Psycho with a completely different twist shortly after the beginning of the first episode, one I really didn't see coming. And just like the original, it takes about half an hour before anything at all happens, so you've really got to stick with it to get to the good stuff.

And so far, do we have an explanation for Norman's craziness? We do. And, for the sake of avoiding all spoilers until after the jump, I'll just say it rhymes with 'anger'. Here's a trailer that does, unfortunately, spoil the twist.

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March 20, 2013

The Wednesday Play: The Challenger (2013)

Posted on March 20, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

William Hurt as Richard Feynman in The Challenger

Normally, I have to raid the archives for our regular The Wednesday Play but this Sunday saw BBC2 unveil the rather impressive The Challenger, a TV movie/play all about the US presidential commission into the Challenger disaster.

For those who don't know, in the mid-80s, one of NASA's space shuttles, the Challenger, exploded shortly after take off and a presidential commission was convened by President Reagan to investigate the cause of the accident. The commission included the likes of Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, but most notably it also included the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who ultimately was to discover the cause of the accident.

Feynman was/is a bit of a hero to geeks. A New York City boy and an atheist with contempt for all forms of authority and 'sacred cows', he was also involved in the Los Alamos project during World War 2, played the bongos, cracked safes and was generally an all round fun guy. That and he invented Quantum Electrodynamics, path integration and, of course, Feynman diagrams.

Being a geeky sort, when I won a physics prize at my school, it was Feynman's What Do You Care What Other People Think? that I requested: I'd first seen Feynman in the 1981 BBC Horizon documentary, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, which I'd really recommend watching it if you have any interest in science or indeed people, since it's a great bit of work:

For those who prefer movies, his early life during World War 2, particularly his relationship with his dying wife, Arline Greenbaum, was depicted in the film Infinity, with Matthew Broderick playing Feynman.

The Challenger, a co-production between BBC Scotland, the Open University and the Science Channel in the US, was as much an examination of Feynman and the nature of science as a rational tool as it was of the cause of the disaster. With a stellar cast that includes William Hurt as Feynman, Joanne Whalley as his third wife Gweneth Howarth, Brian Dennehy as Chairman Rogers, Bruce Greenwood as General Kutyna, Eve Best as Sally Ride and Kevin McNally as Larry Mulloy, the play depicts the events during the inquiry, as well as his ongoing struggle with cancer (he died two years after the start of the inquiry). It follows the story from the disaster itself through to Feynman's adventures in Washington DC, Huntsville AL (I've actually been there - I'm not entirely sure the programme makers have been, despite the various subtitles claiming so, but I guess you have to save budget where you can. Plus Huntsville ain't the most exciting of places) through to the eventual conclusion of the inquiry.

Written by actress-writer Kate Gartside, it's a tad more conspiracy theory-ish than perhaps it should be, but it's a really impressive dramatisation and well worth a watch. Hurt's not quite Feynman - he doesn't try to do an impression, not even aiming for a New York accent, and doesn't quite have Feynman's exuberance - but he does a very good job all the same.

I'd love to be able to embed it below, but the BBC being what it is, I'll merely link to the iPlayer instead, and leave you with Feynman's appearance at the Rogers press conference, vividly demonstrating in characteristic style, what he'd found wrong with the shuttle, as well as his take on the commission. No word yet on a US broadcast date, by the way.

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