Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Weekend TV Review

Weekend TV Review

“Have I Got News for You” started the weekend on a roll, with Giles Brandreth’s take on the EU Referendum. What will happen if we leave? Armageddon. And if we stay? Disaster. We simply do not know what will happen.

Of course Giles does tend to dominate, and getting a word in edgeways may be one reason why he is not on shows like HIGNFY quite so often, but he had an interesting a pertinent anecdote from his time in John Major’s Conservative Government, as a Tory MP, along with David Cameron – “we were both office juniors, back then”.

The European Exchange rate mechanism was a precursor to a single currency – as I recall for some reason it was called “The Snake”. The UK joined, and then pressure began on sterling in the volatile currency markets.

To keep parity, with a run on the pound, the Bank of England had to raise interest rates until they were way up around 18% or so, and eventually and sensibly, the UK cut loose and the pound returned to normal, and interest rates came down. It was an extraordinary few weeks. And as Giles said, when it was happening, we didn’t know why it was happening, and afterwards, we didn’t know what had happened either.

The apocalyptic scare tactics are that the UK plunged into a Great Depression within days if we leave, or 200 million immigrants will be flooding in a month if we remain - Giles was exaggerating, but not as far off the mark as that. Claims are being made which are totally unfounded and exaggerated, and as a result, no one will be voting on the basis of informed debate.

In this, the BBC, picking holes in both sides arguments, is presenting probably the most balanced view.


Saturday night was not a lot on, so it was time to get out the old DVD, and watch a classic I had not seen for some time. “Westworld” is a futuristic resort which recreates the authentic flavour of the Wild West – with robots. Gunfights can take place, and fake blood makes them look realistic.

Although the focus is on Westworld, the movie also takes a glimpse of Medieval World and Roman World. Meanwhile, beneath the ground, along corridors is a master control room, and machine workshops for repairing all the humanoid robots. It’s great fun, and the first three quarters of the movie is spend following our two protagonists as they enjoy the Wild West, and slay the gunslinger (played by Yul Brinner) a number of times. Back in the Middle Ages, a rather lecherous middle aged man is starting an affair with the Queen, and looking forward to winning a fight against the Black Knight.

The fine detail of the robot – the arm with plastic removed, the face taken off to reveal a riot of transistors etc, and the snake (which also is electronic) opened up to show its electronic innards is all very well done. The clunky computers, large filing cabinets with tapes whirling away, have dated somewhat. But it is still watchable.

But problems are mounting. The machines are breaking down and malfunctioning. and no one knows why. The chief operator shows charts of breakdowns, and it is clear that something rather nasty is going to happen. But it builds up in degrees – the snake bites a guest, a medieval peasant girl slaps the amorous advances of our letch. Then the machines take over. The control team cut the power, which is a mistake, as the machines had run on stored charge for up to 12 hours.

The gunslinger kills one of the protagonists, and the movie becomes a chase as he frantically tries to get away from our gunslinger – one of those fully charged, who does not tire or give up. I won’t spoil the ending, but this is a movie which brings forth all the worst fears about artificial intelligence. As the controller says – “the machines design the machines; they are so complex even we don’t fully understand them now.”

The new Top Gear was very good. We started watching 15 minutes in, about the right time. I saw the introduction later, and the fast cars sequence is fun, but nothing really to rave about. It is the road trip from London to Blackpool in two revamped Reliant Robins, one of which is anything but reliable, that brought in the comedy.

Matt le Blanc, in particular, shines here, and here on, with his portrayal of an American who is totally unused to quaint British customs. It is all an act, of course, but it makes for extremely funny television. Chris Evans, meantime, really shines in the studio with the banter with the guests.

Contrary to what other commentators have said, I could find no sign that Matt le Blanc or Chris Evans didn’t hit it off; on the contrary, they seemed very relaxed with each other. It is early days, and the show feels slightly raw, but it is certainly eminently watchable and entertaining, and isn’t it rather nice not to have the chauvinistic attitudes that crept into the old show? I’ll probably be watching next week, as there isn’t a lot else on Sundays at present.

On Monday morning, coming to with a coffee and some scrambled egg with sautéed new potatoes (left over from Sunday lunch), I watched the second episode of Saints versus Scoundrels. A fascinating dramatised debate between Rousseau and St Augustine, as they play chess (Augustine has been taught by Rousseau!), and presented in a 20th century context by Dr Benjamin Wiker.

This is on EWTN, the Catholic religious channel, but it is extremely well done, and quite fair to both protagonists, although as you might expect, Augustine wins the debate – and the chess match. It is a debate between the perfectibility of man (Rousseau) and the sinfulness (and failings as human beings), and of course, cleverly interspersed in the dramatic debate are references and selections from their confessions, because both Augustine and Rousseau wrote a work entitled “Confessions” – Augustine on his spiritual journey and his past life, “in love with love”, and having a concubine, and Rousseau in direct answer to Augustine, and having a mistress.

It’s a fascinating debate, and Rousseau does hit some points. Augustine did not ask to become a Bishop, but was seized by the people, by popular acclaim, yet kept his simple garb and lifestyle, and would not accept finery. He took the case of the poor for justice to those who were powerful. But by Rousseau’s time, the church had become part of the establishment, clergy decked out in fine and fancy robes, ceremonial which showed off almost like a peacock display.

It does make you wonder where today’s church is. Under Pope Francis, it is hearing again a call of the poor, of justice, and peace and fair sharing of the world’s riches not just for a few, but the ceremonial is still present, and the Anglican church, in particular, is still bound up with the establishment more than the working classes.

I didn’t have a good opportunity to see all of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, because I was out for a walk to Corbiere lighthouse as darkness fell. I hope to see it all later, probably next weekend. What I did see showed Russell T Davies genius, to take the text, as it is, not to change the words, but to think long and hard and creatively, and produce a wonderfully accessible Shakespeare. Purists have apparently objected, but I thought it was brilliant, and can’t wait to see more.

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