Bigger, better, brutal – it’s ‘Battlebots’!

 

Jontosaurus laments the loss of Robot Wars on the BBC, again, and finds his mechanical carnage a little bit further away from home…

‘Murica. Anything we can do, they can do better. And, in fairness, when it comes to any and all types of warfare, that statement is truer than most. It is sort of a stereotype attached to our friends across the pond that they like to do things bigger, better and brasher than we do. We laugh about it, but it is perhaps why they have gone on to become the superpowers they are. It is also undoubtedly the reason that a loudmouthed caricature such as Donald Trump can be legitimately voted into the highest political job in the United States. We could delve into the psychology of such things, or we could just take some time out to acknowledge that sometimes, bigger and bolder is undoubtedly better. Battlebots makes this statement true.

With the BBC harshly axing their rushed reboot of Robot Wars– sadly, understandably after its modest viewing figures- there is once again that gap in the UK television market for robotic carnage. And whilst Battlebots is a long way away from being prime time terrestrial viewing, it can hopefully fill that gap for some of us until the BBC inevitably reboot Robot Wars in a decade’s time and them promptly axe it again.

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Mechadon proving that everything really is bigger in America

Battlebots itself is a reboot of the old American television program that aired at around the same time as the UK’S Robot Wars did. Whilst America also has Robotica, a sort of Robotics Olympics, and also its own version of Robot Wars (presented by WWE’s Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley, God rest his soul), it was always Battlebots that epitomised everything the US combat robot scene had come to represent. Big, hulking, super-heavyweight robots fought each other in the arena, but instead of the house robots, the arena is instead filled with various hazards including a hammer that would make Thor’s Mjolnir blush at its own inadequacy, and some huge buzz saws that are sharper than a catty drag queen’s comebacks. Bouts are three minutes long and if you thought the UK’s efforts caused severe destruction, this is nothing in comparison to what the American competitors can manage.

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‘Britannia’ – Sky Atlantic

Britannia is the much discussed and much trumpeted new Sky Atlantic drama. It’s also the first co-production between Sky and Amazon. It’s written by Jez Butterworth, who seems to have theater and screenwriting experience in spades, but not much on the CV for telly. Not like our collective expectations are set too high, but it’s been bandied about that Sky are in desperate need of something substantial in the swords and bloodlust category as the wait for Game of Thrones will be glacial. But the people who have seen it already are split into two camps – either it’s brilliantly bat-shit or terribly confusing. Well, which is it then?

Set in 43 AD this is about the Roman conquest of Britain. This is the second time around, as Julius Cesar went home with his tail between his legs in 54 BC, and boy, despite the man being long dead, do we hear a lot about that. We meet General Aulus Plautius, played by David Morrissey, not worrying in the slightest about his accent or where in the Roman Empire he hails from. To misquote Doctor Who, a lot of countries have a north. Aye up legionnaires!

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‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a new drama series that the BBC must be very happy to have. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Robert Galbraith. Old Robbie here was discovered to be a pseudonym for JK Rowling in 2013. Now, that’s a name to conjure with. It’s an odd way to broadcast the series – two episodes in one Bank Holiday weekend and the last of this trilogy in a week’s time. Let’s see what it’s all about.

The plot seems to be a list of unlikely names designed by the Cluedo board game characters playing Mad Libs with a murder mystery running through it. It’s also a warning to office workers everywhere – be careful what temp jobs you sign up for. There’s a whole world of shit you have to put up with for just above the minimum wage and all the tea you can drink, as long as you remember to fetch the milk.

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‘The Art of Japanese Life’

A long time ago, in a country far far away, I had a Japanese roommate. Manabu was lovely, a total gentleman, but not very chatty. I blame the language barrier, or maybe we just didn’t have that much in common. Eventually we bonded over injuries (his sporting, mine alcohol-related), microwave breakfast burritos (he loathed them, I loved them) and our two crazy little island homes. Comparing the UK and Japan is not as odd as it first sounds. Culturally and geographically we have a lot of shared aspects. We’re wilful independent island nations, who revere our daring histories of medieval knights and samurai warriors. Other countries are somewhat nervous around us as if you give us a flag and a gun we tend to get a little carried away and decide to go off and be a colonial invading force. Small countries, big ideas. Despite our macho military history, our national characters are reserved and polite, and we like to know our place in the social hierarchy. We’re the worlds best queuers!

Art historian Dr James Fox seems the similarities in our two nations, although sadly in this series on aesthetics and art in Japanese life, we are yet to hear his opinion on the breakfast burrito. This BAFTA nominated broadcaster has a day job in Cambridge University’s Art Department and first came to my attention presenting Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art? on BBC4 in September 2016.

He’s an engaging, enthusiastic, and quite cheeky presenter. His trademark seems to be a sharp black suit and tie, ever ready for a funeral or a cocktail party. He’s really good at breaking down complex ideas about art, religion and society. These big ideas are discussed in simple terms. His passion for the subject shines through. And, pleasingly, as you’d expect from a BBC4 art show, this whole episode is beautifully shot and framed.

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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

If you’ve not yet heard anything about the The Handmaid’s Tale, let me give you a hand getting out from under that rock where you’ve been hiding. This is an MGM production being show on Hulu in America. They seem to be a good 7 episodes ahead of us. Sadly, even in 2017, sometimes America is ahead of us in tv land. It’s great to have synchronised start dates, but it’s still not the norm. Avoiding spoilers for this much talked-about show is going to be a killer.

A few weeks after starting in the USA this 10 part drama series has been picked up by Channel 4 in the UK, which, as the young, intelligent, and left-leaning political channel is a really good fit for their brand and a bit of a coup. The series is based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and despite its startlingly relevant content was actually written in 1985. So this dystopian future Atwood envisaged is 30 years closer than we’d have hoped for, and none of her themes are any less relevant or possibilities presented any less realistic. In interviews Atwood says that none of these war crimes in the fictional Republic of Gilead are entirely made up – all have happened somewhere on the globe. This really is extremely dark stuff. Do we as the audience have the stamina to get through it?

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The handmaids distinctive uniforms at a ceremony

 

The series opening is distressing, as our heroine Offred is violently parted from her husband and daughter, but it’s not a tense escape. We know she’ll get caught. The rippling tension comes from her social position at her new posting with the Commander (Joseph Feinnes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).

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‘Witness for the Prosecution’

After last year’s Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None, hopes were set high for short story turned into two-part drama special Witness for the Prosecution, but this was quite a different beast. No mansions, no dinner guests being offed one-by-one, no detective twirling his enviable moustaches and not a normal Christie ending. Much interfering had been done, and there wasn’t much in the way of original Christie to be seen.

We’re transported to the roaring twenties and Kim Cattrall is Ms French, a wealthy widow living it up and having a fine time with her fancy man Leonard Vole much to the disgust of her loudly disapproving maid Janet. These days Emily French would be mocked as a cougar, a woman of a certain age who is attracted to younger men and has the nerve to go after them. These prejudices are certainly represented and Emily knows her actions make her unpopular and looked-down on in high society, but she doesn’t really care. Money is a pretty good insulator against what people think of you. Cattrall, famous for a strikingly similar character in Sex and the City, is essentially playing Samantha 70 years earlier.

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‘Braquo’ Series 4

Grim. Unrelenting. Relentlessly downbeat. An extremely difficult watch. No, not soundbites describing the year that was 2016. These are all the reasons that I never got around to watching the rest of series 2 of hard-boiled French cop drama Braquo. So despite being a big fan of series 1 there’s a distinct gap in my Braquo knowledge as series 4 starts.

It’s a hard watch, but it’s good. This is the real deal – far grittier than any US or British cop show I’ve ever seen.  Braquo was created by former cop Olivier Marchal and based on his knowledge of the beat – a sobering thought considering the morals, or lack of, on show in every single one of his characters. You’re in safe, if grubby, hands, with the Canal+ mark of quality. Just don’t ask where those hands have been.

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