Friday, October 28, 2011

Catching Up

So I hit the wall this week. Caffeine can only take you so far and eventually it dumps you. So as I have absolutely no capacity to do anything just now and a list of critical things that absolutely must be done - and I have just realised that it is around eight weeks until Christmas, eek - I bring you this for your entertainment.
Via Heather we have a link to The Princess Bride page and the joys of The Princess Bride board game and via Tim Paper Cuts.

Edit: Somehow I've messed up The Princess Bride link. I'll try to fix it but I'm not hopeful.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Few Thoughts On 'The Slap'

I seem to be out of step with most reviewers about this programme. I keep seeing rave reviews about how good it is and, well, as far as I'm concerned, no. I have to admit that the relentless promos in the lead up meant I was just about over it before it started but I did try to give it a fair viewing. After all the novel by Christos Tsiolkas is a multiple prize winner, the actors involved are certainly talented and the ABC has produced some brilliant drama in the past.

The premise is that one action - the slap of the title - can cause far reaching effects and I expected the story of its repercussions would make for a gripping tale. Its structure is unusual with each episode seen through the eyes of one of eight viewpoint characters and that should help us engage with them. The trouble is I have no empathy for any of the viewpoint characters. I just don't like them enough to care about the consequences of the incident. I start to feel a degree of connection for them and then they go and do or say something that pushes me away. Even those sinned against among the viewpoint characters aren't all that likeable.

Of course, a character doesn't have to be likeable but we do have to be able to engage with them and have either some empathy or some sympathy for them and, for me, this just isn't there in this series. An unflawed character tends to be boring and I certainly wouldn't be interested in watching a parade of saintly goody goodies either but somehow there is a disconnect for me here. The characters all have their problems but for some reason - even when they are experiencing things that would normally touch me deeply - I just don't feel it. I don't think it's anything to do with the actors - I find the characters they are portraying believable if unpleasant - but I just don't care enough to keep watching.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Another TV show - or Two

Last week on ABC 1 there were two new shows that coincidentally connected with each other. The first was Rome Wasn't Built in Day in which a team of present day tradesmen set out to build a Roman villa in six months using only tools from Roman times. The six - five tradesmen and a labourer - had to discard all their 21st century tools (they did find that some tools are unchanged and were able to keep them) and start from scratch using as their guide a text by Vitruvius, a Roman builder from the 1st century BC. This meant they had to make their mortar from recipes in the text, shape the stone and so on, all skills that modern day carpenters, bricklayers etc have no experience of.
As I watched I began to nitpick because it seems to me that there are other factors than tools to consider. Leaving aside the irritating promos where the men are described as 'gladiators',(gladiators were not builders but highly trained slaves who fought for their lives in the circus) anyone who has studied any ancient Roman history knows that Rome functioned using an army of slaves. These might be used simply as muscle or if they were highly skilled (and many were) would be used accordingly. It seems highly unlikely that experienced tradesmen would be expected to waste their time making lime for the mortar for instance. It's time consuming, dangerous work. Would you really waste a skilled worker on this?

Then there was the fact that they had no way of transporting things like the vast amount of stone required. The likelihood of a team of builders not having such a basic item as a cart seems ridiculous but the carpenter set to work to make one according to one illustrated somewhere. Unfortunately he didn't really have the skills (and why would he? He's a carpenter and joiner) and the axle broke. A month later and they still hadn't acquired a cart.

The reason this really irked me was the other programme Mastercrafts. The first in a series, it was about green wood craft as practised by bodgers in the forests of the UK until about fifty years ago. Bodgers were highly skilled workers who cut mainly coppiced timber and worked it into furniture (mostly chairs and stools) and other useful items like bowls, cooking utensils and so on. If you ever get a chance to read The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge you can read a wonderfully evocative description of a bodger's workshop in the 1950s when they were already a dying craft. Using simple tools such as the Romans would have and a pole lathe (the Romans used a slightly different version of the lathe requiring two workers but lathes were in common use as far back as Ancient Egypt) they produced beautifully made objects from the forest.

This episode of Mastercrafts was based around one of the few green wood workers still operating in the UK who set out to teach three very different trainees how to work with green wood in a full time six week course so the practical knowledge is available. So why did the archaeologists running the Roman site not use it?

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day is a fascinating concept but it seems to me to be badly thought out. The builders are doing a splendid job but how much easier it would have been if they had been provided with the things any Roman building team would have had - a cart pulled by a donkey, a labour force and a selection of tools including technology like lathes for starters.

Addendum: I was pleased to see in the latest episode of Rome Wasn't Built in a Day someone has finally supplied them with a donkey cart and, through the efforts of their labourer, they have acquired some volunteer labour so they now have a sensible sized workforce. Why this wasn't arranged by those running the programme is another question. If it was to create drama, well, it didn't work for me. Drama needs to be intrinsic to a situation, not created by inadequate preparation and, given the number of experimental archaeologists around, it would have been more effective if some of them had been consulted before they started.

I did wonder if my irritation was caused because my degree included some study of Ancient Rome but apparently not. Pisces, who has no background in history, ancient or modern, has been equally irritated.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

More From My Sickbed.

No, you are not going to get the gory details. It's just that when you're sick your brain cannot cope with anything that requires you to think too much. Hurts your brain, it does. So you watch daytime and subscription television, carefully choosing that which does not require any brain function at all. It's amazing just how much of that you can find when you make an effort. In the last week and a half - it consoles me to hear that I am not the only one who has this bug and that all my fellow sufferers seem to be struggling to get back on their feet as well. It also makes me very sympathetic to them too - I have watched more home decorating programmes than I knew existed, renewed my acquaintance with Judge Judy - and remembered why I stopped watching her, and spent some time watching programmes on people whose illnesses are much more serious than my current one. Unusually for me I haven't been watching cooking programmes or reading cookery books but I will know I am on the mend when I find myself browsing the bookshelves to select some cook books to bring back to bed with me instead of flicking through the channels. For now I'm snuggling back under the rugs. I'll be back soon.

Monday, October 03, 2011

I watched the first episode of Terra Nova on Channel Ten last night. I'll try to avoid to avoid spoilers but I'll assume you've all seen the promos. So the Earth is trashed and selected people are being sent back in time to the Cretaceous Period to establish a new home for humanity but along a different time line so there are no nasty time paradoxes. Among these are the Shannon family whose selection and arrival is somewhat dramatic. There are some great sets, lush scenery - and dinosaurs. Loved the dinosaurs whether they were the more or less gentle herbivores or the vicious, pack hunting raptors. What a combination. More, we were launched into a seriously action packed beginning to the series.

So we have an interesting idea that is well executed but - you knew there'd be buts, didn't you - there are a few things that bugged me. One is the info dump. Writers are particularly sensitive to this because we have to continually guard against it so it may have irked me more than it would have others but in the few instances that occurred in this episode I found myself shaking my head, totally thrown out of the storyline for a moment. It's not as if they couldn't do it well. They did in most of the episode but when they missed as far as I was concerned they really missed. Another lapse was in some of the characters. A couple of them did not capture my sympathy although there is hope they may develop as the series proceeds. I should add this is not the fault of the actors, more the way their characters were written. As well there were a few not quite convincing explanations for the science but, hey, this is science fiction and as long as we are prepared to suspend disbelief - and we usually are - who cares. Just think about Dr Who travelling through space and time with no real mechanism given, the warp drive of the various Star Trek series or there's the star gates of Star Gate SG1 and on it goes. These are minor flaws as far as I'm concerned and I suspect that they will even out once the series develops.

So did I enjoy it? Yes, I did and I'll certainly be watching again next week.