Friday, February 29, 2008

Extra Time

Woo and hoo! A whole extra day to do... extra stuff.

Extra stuff like... er....

You know, I think I've run out of things to say and do in February.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shake It

So, that was an earthquake then was it? Granted north London wasn’t near the epicentre of the 5.2 magnitude quake, and working late at night I’m used to the nearby rubble from the final express trains heading north from St Pancras, which can send out the odd rumble as they tear toward Elstree.

Having the chair vibrate and the table shake is certainly a whole lot better than having the roof fall in. At least I’ll have something to talk about tomorrow when my folks come back from their holiday – their second of the year so far. Though for experiences I still think they’ll have me beat, having spent the last couple of weeks in Cuba.

Another Feather In The Broad Wing Of Time

One more year closer to the horizon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What Did You Wish For?

We’re all clued up on the Jimmy Kimmel/Matt Damon feud, right? After first being bumped from Jimmy Kimmel Live, then a segment from the red carpet prior to the Ocean's Thirteen premiere, and finally from The Bourne Ultimatum by Guillermo, Damon was getting a little tetchy to say the least.

Payback was long overdue. It finally arrived earlier this year when Kimmel’s girlfriend – the comedian Sarah Silverman – used her guest spot on the show to reveal that she had been “fucking Matt Damon”.

Maybe it’s the part-Italian descent, but Kimmel wasn’t going to take that lying down. As he says, “You take something I love from me, you can damn well bet I’m going to take something you love from you.” Sunday night, after the 80th Annual Academy Awards telecast, he served up his retort...

The ditty may not be as catchy, and Kimmel may sound like a bellowing walrus, but he sure as shit has a decent contact book to fall back on. Was that McLovin?

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Maybe I wasn’t paying too much attention but the 80th Academy Awards seemed to sneak up out of nowhere. With the WGA action it looked like the Oscars would go the way of the Golden Globes.

Now that the strike over, the AMPAS crowd have had eleven days to get their act together. Even if the show is a little rough around the edges it still means that... Oh, I really can’t be bothered that much with the awards anymore.

There are films that deserve to be feted and showered with awards and there are films that don’t, but somehow get their names on the list either through politicking or the fact that nothing better came along. Over the past decade or so, with the intense selling of films and people to the category voters by studios who want both the kudos and the additional dollars awards bring along, the bloom has gone off the rose as commerce took art roughly from behind.

Still, it makes for lively debate. It may be the attitude more akin to a dinosaur, looking back to a time when the Best Picture nominations were big pictures in every sense of the word, but the one thing I really don’t get is how films that were little more than TV Movies of the Week, gussied-up with A-list talent, walked off with the main prize.

In 1979 Kramer vs. Kramer beat out All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now to Best Picture. A year later it was Ordinary People winning out over The Elephant Man and Raging Bull. Terms of Endearment bested The Right Stuff in 1983 before everyone completely lost their marbles at the 62nd Award Ceremony, six years on, and gave it up for Driving Miss Daisy. These are the kind of films that would look slight on the Hallmark Channel.

At least this time around the nominations are pretty solid, which means there’s little chance of the Best Picture statuette being dropped into a great big steaming turd like it was with Crash. I mean, come on. “Oh, in LA we drive everywhere which means we don’t connect with anyone which--” just fuck the fucking fuck off!! You self-righteous, blinkered, self-centred cunt rags! (Three years on and apparently it still makes me really angry just thinking about it).

Because in the BBC documentary series The Lost World of Friese-Green a little old lady mentioned how, following the advent of the motorcar, people eventually lost the connection with their neighbours. And this was in some tiny village up north. If you want a decent film about a cultural and racial divide in Los Angeles, Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon beat Crash to the punch and did it in a far more entertaining way, free from supercilious bullshit.

Looking forward to tomorrow, much like America’s fastest-growing political party is apparently ABH – Anyone But Hillary – when the curtain goes up at the Kodak, I’d be happy if the awards went to AFBA: Any Film But Atonement, the one nomination that is far worse than everyone makes out.

It would be great if Juno was seriously recognised, although from the quartet of nominations it’s likely that only Diablo Cody will get to step up onto the stage. Though I have to say, it’s pretty cool that Ratatouille is also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

I hope, having two nominations in Achievement in Cinematography, Roger Deakins doesn’t lose out with the votes split between The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men – even if Deakins himself thinks it will go to Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood.

After that everything can pretty much go the way it goes. After all, any major upsets are likely keep the debates raging along nicely. That said, it would be good if Daniel Barber picked up the Best Live Action Short Film Award for The Tonto Woman.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Amoebas Don't Make Atomic Bombs!

Last September there was a list doing the rounds of all the films being fast-tracked by the studios fearful of the then impending Writers Guild, Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild strikes. Some looked interesting and entertaining: Vadim Perelman directing an adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno for The Weinstein Company.

There were also a fair amount of car wrecks waiting to happen, most of which came from the number of remakes listed: Roland Emmerich lined up for a remake of Fantastic Voyage or Scott Derrikson remaking of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is currently filming with Keanu Reeves stepping into Michael Rennie’s shoes as Klaatu. Though Michael Eisner’s kid is prepping Creature from the Black Lagoon for Universal, so far we seem to be spared from the possibility of Robert Rodriguez turning Barbarella into something cheap and nasty or Guy Ritchie behind the camera for a remake of The Dirty Dozen – which surely would be a sign of the impending apocalypse.

Of course the list wasn’t the be all and end all of upcoming film production. To add to the woes Warner Brothers have announced they’re teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio for a remake of Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s anime classic Akira. In live action. And possibly in two parts to make it the gift that keeps on giving. Instead of being set in the post-WWIII Neo-Tokyo of 2019, this new version will take place in “New Manhattan”, which is described as being ‘a city rebuilt with Japanese money’. Roughly translated, I guess that means it will have the Eastern design influence but be populated with American actors. Joy.

Before we scrape over our eyeballs with a cheese grater and then spray the tattered remains with warm piss, I suppose the only thing to ask is: Why?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's Show Time Folks!

Just by dumb luck The French Connection had been scheduled on BBC1, late Thursday night. It meant that, just prior to transmission, the continuity announcer got to mention that along with the film winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, Roy Scheider, who passed away last Sunday, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Detective Buddy Russo.

Although there were certainly noteworthy films later in his career, such as Bart Freundlich’s The Myth of Fingerprints and David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch in the 1990s, and, in the decade before, Cohen and Tate, John Frankenheimer’s 52 Pick-Up – which arrived long before Scott Frank showed how to successfully adapt Elmore Leonard for the screen – and Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters for which he provided the narration, the 1970s was really Scheider’s decade.

Though still working up until his death of complications from multiple myeloma, his best roles began with Klute and The French Connection in 1971 and ending with Last Embrace and his Oscar-nominated turn in Bob Fosse’s All that Jazz in 1979. Bang in the middle came the role of Amity Police Chief Martin Brody in Spielberg’s Jaws, the first film to take over $100m at the US box-office. If there's one movie an actor has to be identified with and remembered for, for the sake of shorthand, Jaws isn't that bad.

Between Richard Dreyfuss’ oceanographer Matt Hooper and Robert Shaw grandstanding as salty old seadog Quint, Scheider's Brody was the put-upon everyman caught up in extra-ordinary circumstances that audiences could identify with. An outsider on the island and aboard the Orca, Scheider understood the character perfectly when he improvised “You’re going to need a bigger boat” on location, even though the line is misquoted by pretty much everyone, including Carl Gottlieb and Scheider himself on the DVD extras.

Years ago, an actor’s death (or a director’s death) usually meant the BBC putting together a season of their films that would be put on in the coming months or, depending on their stature, over the Christmas period. As well as celebrating their body of work the screenings allowed the audience to catch up on films they hadn’t seen or hadn’t seen in a long time.

When that stopped, I’m not sure, but the arrival of the satellite and cable channels probably had a part to play in it. With all the new stations clamouring for product to broadcast, buying up films to fill screen time, titles got scattered around. Now maybe one or two films are all that get shown.

Whoever owns the broadcast rights to Jaws is probably going to roll it out if they can be bothered, or not. But we’ve all seen Jaws, right? The French Connection is not unfamiliar either. When was the last time Klute was shown on TV, or Sorcerer – William Friedkin’s remake of Wages of Fear, or The Seven-Ups or All That Jazz? Either one of them would be a fine tribute to Roy Scheider, as would Last Embrace, Jonathan Demme’s exceptional early flirtation with Hitchcock.

Last year I blew off about how I missed the BBC’s themed film seasons from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Currently other channels make the odd half-arsed attempt but they’re just showing films that they’ve shown again and again. More specifically, they’re films that, the majority of which, anyone can go into HMV and buy on shiny disc.

Flicking through the Culture section of The Sunday Times this afternoon, checking out the films being shown this week on terrestrial and digital channels and paying specific attention to the dedicated film channels, the one big gap still seems to be movies from the 1970s. When there is something from that decade it’s the usual suspects that everyone has seen again and again.

Sure, it’s easy to feed the audience what they want and have them coming back for more, but surely there has to come a point where people get tired of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. A deserving tribute to Roy Scheider would highlight the grittier films, for want of a better description, made with a pessimistic streak that reflected the disenchantment of the times – perfect for today’s climate.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Heart Of The Matter

The end of a strange day of an odd week of what is becoming an increasingly bizarre month. Dealing with the dunderheads and self-aggrandizing little weasels at this media company, I’ve reached the point where I’ll stay within the boundaries of social niceties, only shifting extremely close to the edge if the management and persons from other departments really start to aggravate me.

If you are unfortunate enough to work with self-important wankers who think they’re the centre of the universe, you owe it to yourself and everyone around you to pop the bubble and deflate their ego to a size where it can be mercilessly stamped on.

In the meantime, this is the Heart of the Whirlpool Galaxy, one of many, many beautiful images from the gallery on HUBBLESITE, image credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Unusual Body Of Work

Overheard at work today...

I saw There Will Be Blood on Sunday.

Who's that by?

The same director who did Boogie Nights and Steel Magnolias.

Monday, February 11, 2008

BAFfled Again

With the WGA strike reducing the Golden Globes awards to a press conference and there still being an outside possibility that the Academy Awards may not take place, this year was the one chance for the BAFTA ceremony to really shine. Oh dear.

The thing with awards ceremonies is they pretty much follow a standard routine: Presenters read the nominations, the winner is announced, they accept the award and get their moment in the spotlight. Once they’re off the stage it’s on to the next category.

The only way to really liven up proceedings is for the presenters to get some good banter going and have a laugh without coming across as complete cocks; the winner of a particular category is completely unexpected; or the person accepting the award has something more inspiring to say than to simply thank their co-workers/family/agents, thereby coming across as a total plank.

Of those three, the first and third can only really work if the audio is up to snuff so that the audience can hear what the people on stage are saying. Which was where the BAFTA ceremony fell down quite badly. Maybe the audience at the Royal Opera House could hear every word, but the broadcast sound was fucked from the outset, echoing back on itself then dropping out altogether. Once it was fixed a whole lot of banging and crashing went on backstage.

It wasn’t at all surprising that, in the scrolling credits, the surname of the Sound Supervisor was Duff. The one benefit clawed back from this complete OB foul up was we missed out on a fair amount of Jonathan Ross’ witless blather.

As the various presenters came and went, it became even more evident that only actors with theatre experience should be exclusively employed for this kind of lark. Especially since a little scamp like Daniel Radcliffe can fuck up on the autocue but brush it aside and keep going, while actors who work exclusively in film looked like rabbits caught in the headlights from the moment they appeared on stage.

As for the awards, it was a typical spread. Everyone has their own gripes, feeling that their own personal favourites were short-changed. The big upset was Julie Christie losing out as Best Actress, which did, for a moment at least, liven the proceedings.

Last year, having been showered with pretty much every award she was eligible for, for her performance as ‘ER indoors’ in The Queen, Dame Helen Mirren was snubbed by both the British Independent Film Awards and the London Evening Standard British Film Awards. This time around, having won at the Golden Globes and been lauded as Best Actress by the National Board of Review, the Screen Actors Guild, and pretty much every film critics association or society by region or city in America, the still luminous Christie discovers that her fellow countrymen seem loathe to follow suit.

The problem with the BAFTAs is that if the awards are handed to American films critics accuse the Academy of pandering to America. If they’re doled out to “English” films the same people accuse BAFTA of being too parochial, short-sighted, or just plain wrong. Damned if they do or damned if they don’t, the only option left is to hand as much as they can over to any European movies that are short-listed.

Not to say that La Vie en Rose didn’t deserve to win. Picking up four awards, it was the triumph of the night, coming out ahead with No Country For Old Men behind with three. That left Atonement trailing behind with two awards from the 14 nominations, putting it on an equal footing with The Bourne Ultimatum.

I had meant to see Atonement but was always held back by three words: ‘starring Keira Knightly.’ Skimming through the post-ceremony paper articles, many of the hacks seemed to be starting a gentle burn that little miss Keira hadn’t been handed the Best Actress gong. I just feel that to get a Best Actress award you have to be able to act. Grinning like it’s all a jolly jape or pouting because someone’s gone and put a dark cloud over everything doesn’t tick the requisite boxes.

Instead I read the Christopher Hampton’s script. Unfamiliar with McEwan’s novel, when I got to the big reveal my reaction was pretty much: Oh, is that it? Maybe it works better in prose where the reader becomes more emotionally invested in the characters of Robbie and Cecilia. It reminded me of something from The Outer Limits or maybe even The Twilight Zone.

The thing I still find the most interesting about the whole televised ceremony is the BBC’s decision to break it in two with the Sunday night news plopped in the middle. The awards show isn’t broadcast live so why not show the whole thing at a later time or a different night? That way people like Roger Deakins, accepting the Best Cinematography award for his work on No Country For Old Men, isn’t relegated to a clip in the “also awarded” pile dropped in at the end like an afterthought.

They could argue that to delay transmission would mean that people could find out from other media who wore what and won what. But just like last year, the moment the awards ceremony started on BBC1, the complete list of winners was posted on the BBC website.

2008 marks the centenary of the birth of Sir David Lean. At the ceremony, apparently, there was a tribute to the great director. That would have been nice to see rather than, say, the team from The Golden Compass picking up their award for Special Visual Effects.

Apparently Joe Wright instructed his DP to watch Lean’s back catalogue before they started work on Atonement. In The Sunday Telegraph Lean’s widow gives her opinion of the film and especially the “celebrated” extended steadicam shot on the beach at Dunkirk.


Sunday, February 10, 2008


It was only towards the end of last year, looking back over the twelve months of 2007 that I realised I’d barely been to the cinema at all. There was The Bourne Ultimatum and Transformers, certainly. While there may have been a couple others, off the top of my head they’re pretty much all I can remember.

Obviously there were other new releases like Fincher’s marvellous Zodiac and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, along with the less than astonishing Hot Fuzz, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Die Hard 4.0, but those I waited for once they arrived, sometimes just a few months after their theatrical release, on shiny disc.

Both locales have their pros and cons, obviously. Watching at home you can pause the film to make a hot beverage and have a snack, there’s no travel time involved on the old London Unreliable, and you rarely – if ever – find yourself stuck next to a bunch of knuckle-draggers shovelling popcorn down their cakeholes while loudly asking each other what’s going on. Occasionally though, watching at home, the telephone rings. But I let the machine pick up.

Still, I figured for 2008 I should try and make an effort of sorts. So over the past five weeks or so I tried to catch up with the new releases along with whatever was still around from last year. Pretty much from the get-go I remembered why I stayed home: for the subtitles, stupid! Having messed-up hearing in one ear – from a farming accident long, long ago – since the advent of DTS or whatever else it is that amps up the kablooey explosions on the soundtrack while making dialogue practically audible, sitting in a cinema hasn’t been as enjoyable as it used to be.

As soon as Tommy Lee Jones’ voice-over kicked in on No Country For Old Men, I was already straining to try and get the gist of what he, and pretty much everyone else, was saying. Damn those Texan drawls! I can’t say I’ve read any Cormac McCarthy but I assume the Coen brothers kept closely to the book’s plot given how, with what would be considered the beginnings of a climactic showdown appearing about two-thirds of the way through the film, it doesn’t adhere to the “traditional” movie structure. Because of that, I really liked the idiosyncratic nature of the narrative. Leaving the cinema I was trying to work out the relevance of the dogs.

Michael Clayton had me straining to hear what was going on, since it was almost all talk and only one explosion (repeated twice), although that might have been down to leaving it so long before I saw the film it had been relegated to playing in crappy screens with lousy sound systems. Having missed snippets of conversation here and there, I hadn't got it all figured out by the end. As it stood, really, that was a good thing because it harked back to the likes of Three Days of the Condor and all the downbeat conspiracy thrillers I grew up with. The final shot was the best man-in-the-back-of-a-car-weighing-up-the-consequences-of-his-actions scene since The Long Good Friday.

Given the talent involved, especially Aaron Sorkin on scriptwriting duties and Philip Seymour Hoffman bringing a barely repressed rage to his turn as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, I found Charlie Wilson’s War really disappointing, which was a great pity. That said, it was nothing compared to The Golden Compass, which I watched in stunned amazement. Having caught one of the later trailers for The Golden Compass, probably one of the last to appear before the actual release date, I was wary about the direction the finished film was taking. It was just stunning to see how Chris Weitz and New Line had got it all so hopelessly, horribly wrong.

After all that, it comes to this weekend. There Will Be Blood seemed to be the obvious choice, except it was opening here in London a week before it seeped out into the provinces. I figured there would be more than enough folk lining up to have a gander. Unless I wait until it’s on disc, it’ll wait for a couple of weeks.

For a while I thought about Cloverfield, but having checked its box-office receipts in the US, dropping 68% in its second week and then falling another 62% the following week, I figured it bought the huge opening weekend with all the growing hype and then get caned by bad word of mouth. There was also the fact that it seemed to be going the same route as The Blair Witch Project with the recovered camcorder footage, making it more about concept that characters you can relate to.

In fact, if any of the Cloverfield characters were like those dickheads wandering out in the woods, deserving everything they got for being so utterly fucking useless and dumb, I’d be rooting for the monster. Ultimately, the reason for giving it a miss was because of its eagerness to make entertainment from real tragedy.

I saw Juno instead, which was just utterly magical. There’s really little else to say other than the performances were perfect, the direction was first rate and the script was funny and poignant without resorting to drippy sentimentality. Last night Diablo Cody won the WGA Award for Original Screenplay. The award for Adapted Screenplay went to Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country For Old Men. Whether they repeat the success tonight at the BAFTA ceremony remains to be seen.

Although with Jonathan Ross returning as host, catching the awards show probably means sitting through a couple of hours of him alternating between excruciatingly juvenile jokes and outsight sycophancy while falling flat on his face each time.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Beyond The Wire

I’ve never been one of those people (aka sad wankers) who latch on to one particular television show and simply want it to last forever and ever. Sure, I have my favourites, but I still prefer them to go out in their prime rather than keep going, churning out episode after episode, just for the hell of it. While I miss them when they’re gone, when it comes time to say goodbye there’s always the hope that something new and equally worthwhile will arrive to take its place.

The return of Lost last week started to countdown the remaining forty-eight episodes, spread over three years. The now-confirmed end date at least allows the producers and writers to work towards (what we hope will be) a satisfying conclusion rather than be accused of treading water by trying to keep the story going with no end in sight.

While that grand finale won’t come until 2010, this year will see the end of Battlestar Galactica, depending on whether they get the final nine episodes written and filmed. While I’ll certainly be sad to see it go, it leaves behind eighty-odd hours of top quality drama to revisit. After the surprise of the previous season’s final episode, the last year is sure to be a real kicker.

What will takes its place remains to be seen. Little of this last Fall Season caught my attention. Bionic Woman perfectly illustrated that not all 70s shows are ideal for a reboot. The wheels were pretty much falling off that wagon by the second episode, whereas Pushing Daisies annoyed me more than pretty anything else before the second ad-break.

The one show that did hold my interest was Life starring Damien Lewis, which showed that however different and unusual and inventive other new dramas try to be, you just can’t beat a good cop show. For lovers of police dramas, this year is certainly a dark one indeed. 2008 brings the curtain down on The Shield, the seventh season of which has been filmed but yet to be scheduled, while coming to a close even sooner is The Wire, currently halfway through its final year with only five episodes left to broadcast.

Having two such outstanding dramas to watch for the past five years I haven’t felt this spoilt since the first half of the 1990s when both Homicide: Life on the Street and NYPD Blue were on the air. Their passing is certainly going to leave a vacuum that Life can’t adequately fill. Over here the laudable Waking the Dead is tempered with the frankly laughable Holby Blue.

Though there’s no immediate successor, it’s good news at least that after accidentally cutting short Deadwood and channel surfing through one season of John from Cincinnati, David Milch is back at HBO with Last of the Ninth. The pilot, written by Milch and Bill Clark before the WGA strike, is set to go into production once matters are eventually resolved. Set in New York in 1972, Last of the Ninth is, according to Milch, “about an older detective's mentoring of a young detective returned from Vietnam in a department fiscally crippled, under attack by revolutionaries, and which has been brought by allegations of systemic corruption into public disrepute.”

The choice of timeframe isn’t simply a random pick. A twenty-five year veteran of The Job, Bill Clark was the technical consultant for the first season of NYPD Blue, eventually becoming the show’s Executive Producer. After serving a tour in Vietnam, he joined the New York City police department in 1969, earning his gold detective shield three years later at a time when the Knapp Commission was investigating police corruption. Which means a drama set in the early 1970s based on situations one of the creators lived through, rather than, for instance, simply because the writers wished they were writing The Sweeney. Last of the Ninth will certainly be the one to wait for with baited breath and watch.

As for Ashes to Ashes... You know what, let’s not even go there.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Life's Work

The beginning of 2007 I posted on what I considered the ten best television programmes of the previous year. I was thinking about doing it again until, checking over that initial post, I discovered the list would pretty much be the same.

Okay, so The Wire wouldn’t be on it, taking a year out between the fourth and final fifth season that’s now airing on HBO. Having come to a premature end, Deadwood would be off the list as well, replaced most probably by its on-screen replacement, the equally intriguing and perplexing John from Cincinnati.

The slots filled by the first season of Dexter and the fifth season of The Shield would be now filled by the second season of Dexter and the sixth season of The Shield, both dramas easily managing to retain the high measure of quality in their following years. Lost, Heroes, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Battlestar Galactica simply carried their series over into the New Year and weren’t bettered. Even if a couple of later season episodes weren’t up to each series' high standard, both Lost and Battlestar Galactica delivered absolutely killer season finales.

If it was just down to season or series finales, or even the final scene of a series finale, The Sopranos would top the list, taking the slot vacated by The Wire. By the time the second half of The Sopranos’ sixth season rolled around I was watching out of duty more than entertainment, intrigued to see how it would wrap itself up but eager for the drama to simply get on with it.

Taking the empty spot would be Californication. It might not have been to everyone’s tastes but I thought it was “all good”, especially once it started to delve into darker territory. In place of The State Within, just to show that for at least a few weeks a year some great UK-produced drama makes an appearance, would be Stephen Poliakoff’s glorious Joe’s Palace, A Real Summer and Capturing Mary. The triptych proved that if the channels here keep stuffing their schedules with manure, eventually a rose will grow.

All that leaves is a replacement for the astonishing Planet Earth. The only thing that equalled it was... a stripped in repeat of Planet Earth that ran throughout one of the more desperate days back home at Christmas. Only now has the BBC delivered something that comes close to matching it with Life in Cold Blood.

The final part of Sir David Attenborough’s ongoing cycle of documentaries that began with Life on Earth in 1979 and continued through to 2005’s Life in the Undergrowth, the new series turns its attention to reptiles and amphibians. The first episode, an overview before getting into later-episode specifics, introduced a stunning array of creatures.

We were treated to the South African Armadillo lizard curling into a tight ball and biting its tail to protect itself; some serious tortoise wrestling and the tender mating rituals of turtles; the South American monkey frog slathering itself in its own sunscreen secretions, and a python swallowing a young deer whole. Once again the material, on digital, infrared or thermal imaging, was flawlessly captured by the BBC’s Bristol-based Natural History Unit.

Then there were the Balearic lizards. Inhabiting an island where the local flora includes Helicodiceros Muscivorus, the dead-horse arum, the lizards feed on flies attracted to the plant’s heady stench as well as warming themselves on the flower. That was pretty much it for them until, twenty years ago, one inquisitive lizard tore away the husk of a dead plant and discovered the rich, pulpy fruit inside. Passed whole, their trip through the lizards’ gastric tract ultimately make the seeds germinate more easily, making the plants grow in abundance all over the island.

That one instance illustrated my sole problem with watching programmes like this. Show enough animals in a symbiotic relationship with their surroundings, however hard their lives are, and it makes me wonder what exactly we’re doing here, fucking up the planet, covering everything in concrete and typically being venal shits to one other.

Maybe there’s an answer. In the meantime Under the Skin, the short making-of programme tagged on to the end of this first programme showed David Attenborough’s delight at finally seeing an elusive Madagascan pygmy leaf chameleon, forty-seven years after he first visited the country as the presenter of Zoo Quest.

As this is David Attenborough’s last major series, coming in before a third of the Natural History Unit’s programme-makers are given the boot as part of the BBC DG-DH’s six-year masterplan, The Times solicited David Attenborough’s ten rules for would-be presenters. Although intended for wildlife programmes, they could easily be applied to all programmes.

We can only hope.

Friday, February 01, 2008

How'd You Like Them Apples?

If you’re not up to speed with the ongoing “feud” between Matt Damon and talk show host Jimmy Kimmel jump to this previous post first.

For the New Year, they’ve ratcheted the joke up a notch by roping in Sarah Silverman, the taboo-busting comedian and Kimmel’s long-time girlfriend, to take it to a whole new level. Prepare for bleeping genius!

The song, without audience laughter, can be found here.