Tag Archives: top gear

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Extravaganza

Doctor-Who-50thThere’s something really lovely about being involved in a fandom, a special sect of people that understand why a TV show/movie/book is incredibly important and amazing.  There’s something even more wonderful when that fandom is recognized and appreciated by the wider public.

Though Doctor Who has been mainstream in the UK for many years (decades, really), it’s only grown to great prominence in American culture since the newest iteration started with Christopher Eccleston in 2005.  It’s still a bit of an outsider’s club on this side of the Atlantic, but that makes it a little bit more fun, if I’m honest.  But even in the US, the knowledge that the 50th anniversary special was happening this week was everywhere.  Theaters held special simulcasts of the episode, pubs had special nights for Whovians. I’ve heard rumors that a Mini Cooper painted like a TARDIS was spotted nearby.  We got our Google Doodle, though ours came one day later than the google.co.uk version. Is there any greater measure of cultural importance and legitimacy than a Google Doodle?  I think not.

BBC America started their Doctor Who marathon early in the week, and new content was there when I started my weekend.  Though I didn’t learn much from Doctor Who Explained, I really loved An Adventure in Space and Time. This was a made-for-TV movie about the origins of the show, and about the first doctor, William Hartnell.

4482503-high_res-adventures-in-space-and-timeI’ve actually never seen any of the pre-2005 episodes of Doctor Who, so I learned a lot from this movie about the beginnings of the show.  David Bradley (Harry Potter, Broadchurch, Game of Thrones) plays William Hartnell, and I think he did a superb job.  I also think the whole movie made me very sad.  When I compare William Hartnell’s love of the character and devotion to the show, with Christopher Eccleston’s attitude toward it…I’m forced to think very badly of the latter.

The movie also starred Sacha Dhawan (Outsourced, the History Boys) as the first director of the show, and Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife, Doctor Who) as Verity Lambert, my new personal hero.  She had a wardrobe of the most amazing ’60s clothes I’ve seen ever. Way better than on Mad Men. More importantly, she was a kickass feminist, dealing with a bunch of stodgy old men in sweaty tweed suits (the Old Guard).  She fought for Doctor Who, not just because it was her first producer job, but because she grew to love the subject matter and what it could be used to communicate. She forced the BBC staff (from executives, to set designers, to technical staff) to take the show seriously; we owe her a huge thanks.

Jessica-RaineThe movie itself was well-acted and had incredible sets.  A good portion of it took place at the iconic elliptical BBC building:

BBC-Television-Centre-007Probably didn’t take a lot of work to make it look like the 1960s again inside here, though they must have cleaned up since James May & co. drove a motorcycle through the interior.

After the movie, we had the Saturday simulcast to watch.  The 50th Anniversary special, complete with Doctors 10 and 11 (together at last), and John Hurt (Harry Potter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), all playing different iterations of the Doctor:

Doctor-Who-2458109Seeing David Tennant in his brown suit and Converse sneakers again made me literally giddy.  I miss his Doctor so much.  And we got to see Clara, and Rose (but not really), and all of the living actors who’ve played the doctor (sort of…damn you Chris Eccleston).

I thought the special was actually really excellent.  As long as I never think too much about the timey wimey stuff, I will continue to think that.  I have the feeling that the ‘time fissures’ and the Time Lord art won’t stand up to much rational scrutiny, so I will dutifully avoid any such scrutiny. I loved seeing Matt Smith and Clara, I adored seeing David Tennant again, and I thought John Hurt was fabulous.

It also felt really appropriate that we finally get to see the moment of the Doctor’s life that has really defined the show since the 2005 reboot.  The Time War. The moment the Doctor had to decide to kill his own species, in order to save the rest of the universe.

We also got to see the much-talked-about relationship between Ten and Elizabeth I.  Starring Joanna Page (Stacey of Gavin and Stacey) as Elizabeth I.  I thought she was great, although I don’t really think Elizabeth would have had a Welsh accent.

DOCTOR-WHO-50TH-ANNIVERSAR_THE-DAY-OF-THE-DOCTOR_01

I think my only real complaint is that, despite having Billie Piper and David Tennant together again, they don’t get to interact as Rose and the Doctor.  And I was hoping for more of Peter Capaldi as 12 (or he’s really 13?) , more than just a shot of his furrowed eyebrows. I suppose their keeping his costume and his persona under wraps until the actual regeneration happens.

Sometimes, when Doctor Who tries to do something big and important, it can be a bit of a belly flop.  I usually end up enjoying the little, one-off episodes more than the big important two-part season enders.  But this, despite hype and importance, was really fun and lovely and I was just grateful to see David Tennant again.  I think if he’d turned up with the suit and the shoes and the glasses, and read the phone book, I’d be just as thrilled.

I’m ready for the Christmas Special! To which, we now have a short teaser trailer:

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Top Gear season premiere

top gear trioThe nineteenth season of Top Gear starts tonight on BBC America.  It premiered in the U.K. last Sunday (the 27th).  This will be the first time TG is airing in the US anywhere near the same time it airs in the U.K., so that is exciting.  And, like Ripper Street, BBC America has decided not to condense the program to fit into a 1 hour block of American TV.  If you’re confused–these shows are both 1 hour in the U.K., but because the BBC doesn’t have commercials, the American networks have to decide how to handle this difference when they import the show.  Previously, BBC America generally removed about 12 minutes of programming from TG episodes in order to fit in commercials and make it take a 1-hour block of programming.  I’m not sure if they’ve changed their strategy because of the popularity of TG and of the network as a whole, or because they realize that sticking to strict blocks of programming time is not as important in the age of the DVR.  Either way, TG will be 1 hour 20 minutes on BBC America, same as Ripper Street.

For those of you unfamiliar with TG, despite my many mentions of it on this blog, let me indoctrinate you a bit.  It stars three morons: James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond.  James is a pedantic old bore, Jeremy is the most conceited and impatient man in the world, and Hammond is roughly the same as any 10-year-old boy.  Together, they review new cars, discuss trends in motor sports and car culture, engage in challenges (all to do with cars), and there is always a celebrity interview.

If you like cars at all, watching this show is a no brainer.  If you don’t particularly like or care about cars (I’m not exactly a gearhead), there are still plenty of reasons to watch.

The celebrity interviews are unique in that they revolve around the car history of the celebrity in question.  Season 19’s premiere features Damian Lewis (of Homeland fame) sporting his natural British accent.  Each celebrity that comes in goes for a lap in a ‘reasonably priced car’ on the TG test track, and his/her time is compared to the celebrities that have come before.  They get a good mix of the uber-famous (Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz), musicians (Will.i.am, to some more Brit-centric celebs (Nick Frost, Bill Bailey).  It’s just different than your typical crappy Access Hollywood interview, or some shit you would hear on Ryan Seacrest.  So it’s automatically better.

Most importantly, it’s very funny.  I tend to zone out during a lot of the car reviews, although they are written and explained in a way that makes it easy to understand and engaging to anyone with even a slight interest or knowledge of cars.  But the challenges! They are the best thing.  They make me so happy.  Invariably the guys have to each buy a car for X amount of dollars and cross across Y number of dangerous countries/states/deserts/jungles in order to get bragging rights.  It’s hard to explain what makes this so very funny.  The best I can do is offer some funny moments:

If you’ve never watched Top Gear before, give it a try tonight.  Jeremy tries his hand at making the smallest car in the world, then presents it in front of the cast of the Dragon’s Den (the UK equivalent of the Shark Tank).  Also, a word of warning–do NOT mix up this hilarious and witty show with the American version on the History Channel.  That one is …well it is exactly the same, but with all the charm, intellect, and class taken out.  All of it.  Skip that one, unless you really like flannel shirts, pickup trucks, and the like–in which case, what are you doing on this blog?!

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course – Season 2

Richard Hammond's Crash CourseThe second season of Richard Hammond’s Crash Course aired this fall on BBC America.  They seem to have abandoned all attempts to have Richard drive as many crazy and weird vehicles as possible (the main theme of season one)…presumably because there are none left.  Last season, he was trained to operate an Abrams tank, a tree harvesters (the Lorax would lose his shit if he saw one of these), trash-handling equipment in a landfill, a fire engine, and equipment utilized in demolition and salvage operations.  Mostly, he learned to converse with the barely literate rednecks they found to train him.

This year the focus was less on vehicles, and I think the show is better for it. Of course, Hammond is famous for Top Gear, and in America it is the only thing we know about him.  But he is not exclusively a car guy, and in the UK he has multiple shows.  He’s a TV personality more than a car guy, so it doesn’t make sense to keep him tied to this imaginary identity.

This season saw him tackle what were described as ‘American professions’, though I  imagine these professions make up less than 1% of American workers.  Watching people file or return emails is pretty dull, so they’ve picked the more interesting jobs.  We see him tackle jobs as a stuntman, cab driver, standup comedian,

Hammond does comedy

bullfighter (actually, rodeo clown), paddle boarder, Indy pit crew member, a barber in a Harlem barber shop, a cattle rancher, snake wrangler, exotic animal keeper, bike messenger, and we see him build and then test a helicopter.

This is such a monumental list of stuff, very little of which draws upon his acknowledged skills with vehicles. There is little in his past that would help him deal with rattlesnakes or work as a stuntman.  We see him do really well in a few of the challenges–he takes up the animal tasks very quickly, but we also see him falter in some of the other tasks.  He doesn’t finish his paddle boarding race, and he manages to make negative $ as a cabbie in NYC.

The first season seemed to give the Hamster lots of time to play with the industrial machines he was manning, and he spent most of the time goofing off, even as he was learning.  It’s obvious this season was far more emotionally and physically grueling for him. But at the same time, many of the tasks (cattle rancher, bullfighter, snake wrangler) tap into his romantic notions of the American West.  What is it about the Brits and their love of cowboys and a good Western? Why is Dallas more popular in the UK than in the US?  Maybe it is because there isn’t an equivalent experience to have in the UK, and their affection for it is just curiosity for a different sort of life. A wilder life.  At any rate, Hammond has got it bad. He never looks more thrilled than when he’s told to put on a cowboy hat or some chaps.

Hammond with a gun

I enjoyed this season more than the last, I think.  Certainly, I wasn’t embarrassed by it.  A lot of the people they found for season one were (I fear) the exact stereotype people have in their minds when they think of Americans.  I don’t particularly enjoy watching those stereotypes be confirmed, nor does it make for great television when your chatty host can’t actually have a discussion with the people accompanying them.  This season, they found some people who could at least form complete sentences on camera.  Some of them were actually quite interesting, and I learned a bit about a few of the professions. I learned more than I thought I would ever know about Harlem Barber Shops and their hair-cutting competitions. The Stuntman episode (the first of the season) was particularly interesting. They took Richard through all of the typical stunt scenes–jumping from a tall building/bridge, a fight scene, being lit on fire,

Hammond on fire

and (of course) a car chase.

No word yet on if there will be a third season.  I can only imagine what they’ll make poor Hammond do if there is. I suspect he’ll be shot out of a cannon.

Johnson’s Life of London by Boris Johnson

I tuned into the Today show a few days ago, which is not something I normally do.  Insomnia lately has meant that I am either up at 5 am or don’t sleep all night.  So, in the morning there’s little else on.  Anyway, I happened to catch a few minutes of Matt Lauer interviewing Boris Johnson, newly re-elected Mayor of London and the first conservative I’ve liked since Alex P. Keaton.  In addition to talking about the Diamond Jubilee and the upcoming Olympics, he was plugging his new book, so I went out and bought it the next day.

I’m not sure I knew much about the Mayor when I was living in London, but I have seen him on TV a number of times since.  Most notably, I saw him on Top Gear and he was hilarious. Recommended viewing! I can’t get the video to embed, so here is a link:

boris johnson on top gear

I think he’s probably a favorite with the Top Gear trio because a-his background is in journalism, including automotive journalism,  b- he’s quite funny and can definitely hold his own in a conversation, and c- he’s got ridiculous hair.

Or maybe Clarkson, et al. are not particularly interested in his hair, but I like that he doesn’t look like everyone else.  He also rides a bike to work every day, has a lovely self-deprecating sense of humor, and it’s obvious how much he cares about London. He doesn’t have a (or I have never seen him display it) cynicism about London that a lot of people from the UK fall victim to.

So, when I heard him talking about this book, which is basically a list of his picks for the most influential people in the history of the greatest city in the world, I knew I would enjoy it.

He has picked 18 individuals who have had the biggest influence on the future of London.  Some of them are quite obscure.  I took a whole class on pre-Norman Conquest England, read all of Bede’s works, but I don’t even remember Boudica.  Some are more well known, like the obvious Winston Churchill.  Some are surprising picks–Keith Richards over Mick Jagger?  What’s interesting and worthwhile about the book is not who he has chosen, or even why, but how he has described their connection to the city and its place on the world’s stage.

He also includes four or five little snippets about important inventions and features in London history, such as the King James Bible, the flush toilet, the bicycle, and the tube.

Johnson also has a distinct point of view when it comes to describing the city–he is the one responsible for running it.  As such, he places particular attention and importance on people and things that have improved the city infrastructure.  The tube, the railways, the docks, the bridges.  He starts with a discussion of London Bridge, and it is clear through numerous examples that a lot of what has allowed the city to grow and improve, or wane and falter, has been down to these tangible features.  Much of the post-WWII decline could be set down to the destruction of docks and homes during the Blitz. The improvement in living conditions, population growth, and life expectancy that came at the end of the Victorian era can be attributed largely to the sewer systems built during the late 19th century, allowing for clean and hygienic living in a crowded area.  Of course these things seem obvious once they’re stated, but I’ve taken multiple English/British history courses and never had anyone point out how directly and completely these physical features affect the city.

The other main point Johnson makes is one that most people know, but it is very true: London is a city with two cities and tons of villages.  The main tensions and changes throughout the centuries have occurred because of the relationship between Westminster and ‘the City’.  One is the home of politics, the other the home of banking and commerce.  Such was true 1000 years ago, and is still true today.  Perhaps more so today.  Much of the changes that came to define London were due to merchants putting pressure on the crown and Parliament, and that tension meant that no one got too much of an upper hand.  Unlike places like France, where the wealth and power was dominated by only the elite, in London there grew a (comparatively) reasonably large merchant class.  As the aristocracy is often lacking funds to continue their lavish lifestyle, they often come to rely on the bankers and financiers for the money to finance their lives and their wars.  This meant a give and take of power that you wouldn’t find in lots of other countries on the continent.  This tension actually led to increased government stability, and the city grew as a result.

I think the growth of the city is how Johnson chiefly measures the success of the changes he is discussing.  He explains that many of the chief geniuses of the history of London were spurred on by competition.  Shakespeare was competing with tons of other playwrights, like Marlowe and Ben Jonson.  Keith Richards was competing with Mick Jagger inside the group, and they were all competing with the Beatles.  Turner was competing with other painters like John Constable.  The competition of brilliant men (and women) with others is what leads to an explosion of talent and genius.  And that competition is only possible, or for most of history it has only been possible, with geographic proximity.

I really enjoyed this book.  I don’t read tons of non-fiction, but this was interesting and written in a very easy and readable manner.  I really enjoy Johnson’s writing, and his history as a journalist is obvious. He writes well, he is funny, he is not taking any of it too seriously, which allows you to take him a lot more seriously.

A note of warning though.  I consider myself to have a pretty damn good vocabulary, more so since I have been studying for the GRE and memorizing flashcards full of vocabulary.  This man, however, put me to shame.  I had to look up, on average 3-4 words per chapter.  I mean, I may pat myself on the back for knowing the words denouement, apogee, and bellicose without the help of Webster, but I was flummoxed by coelenterate, impecunious, and contumacious.  Have a dictionary or web-searching device handy.

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course

I’m a bit torn about this show. Let me start by saying that Richard Hammond is, by far, my favorite of the Top Gear trio. And I think he is the most palatable for an American audience. James is too boring and pretentious, Jeremy is too arrogant and offensive. Richard is the best looking, the nicest, and has a sort of boyish enthusiasm that makes him more tolerable than the other two.  So I really expected to like this show. The trailer was great, and I expected a show that was a lot like the challenges on Top Gear.  The point of the show is that Hammond spends each episode learning different ‘work vehicles’, like cranes, demolition machines, tree harvesters, etc. He has 3 days to learn each of the vehicles on a site, and then he has a final exam.

The show started really strong with the Hamster (that’s his nickname) attempting to master the M1A2 Abrams tank.

This was actually my favorite episode of the series. Hammond has to undergo a series of slight humiliations, including an Army workout, and his cohorts at the Army training facilities are not quite as monosyllabic as some of his later ‘coworkers’.  He also starts the tradition, continued in every episode, of destroying a minivan (or several) with whatever equipment he is learning to operate.

There is a quote in a New York Times article about the show, “This is a show that brings out the 8-year-old boys in men. And the show works best when Richard lets that out”, and I couldn’t agree more. My favorite part of every episode was when Hammond got the I’m-going-to-see-a-fire-truck look on his face.

Every episode has at least one moment where Hammond is giggling and grinning–usually this is just after a minivan gets destroyed.

Unfortunately a lot of the episodes are quite repetitive. He introduces the machines, learns how to operate them from people who speak in various ridiculous accents, destroys minivans, and then either passes or fails his final exam. I enjoyed parts of every episode, but overall the format is too monotonous to be truly enjoyable. I’m sure that in learning to operate a tree harvester versus a crane, there are a lot of differences between controls, concepts, etc. But, cinematography wise, the visuals are almost exactly the same.

The best parts of the series involve him trying to form a bond with very blue-collar Americans. Hammond is so personable and so friendly, but I think he has to overcome a prejudice a lot of Americans have when it comes to the British. They hear a British accent and picture Oxford educated men in bowler hats, all of whom live in castles or manor homes and have inherited family fortunes and titles. Of course the reality is that there are just as many working class Brits as there are working class Americans, but they aren’t usually the ones that end up on our TV or movies. In this show Hammond is trying to interact with people that I (and a lot of Americans)  would find a hard time talking to, so there’s a lot of inherent drama in that situation. Picture Dirty Jobs, if they replaced Mike Rowe with Hugh Grant.

There’s also some tension innate to a situation where an outsider attempts to come in and learn how to do your job in three days time, when these guys (and a few women) have been doing these jobs for years, and it took them years to master these machines in some cases. If they do a second season of the show, I hope that they spend more time on those human interactions.

All in all, it was an interesting show, though the best episodes were the first three in my opinion. And, as much as I prefer Hammond to James and Jeremy, I really think the dynamic of the three of them together is necessary for a truly great show.

Top 5 British Everything! part 2

Ok, time for yet another installment in my ever-growing number of pointless lists! First off, my picks for top 5 British TV shows.  You’ve no idea how difficult this was!  I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if I’d actually seen large amounts of British TV, not just the stuff that trickles across the pond.

1. The Office/Extras

I’m cheating a little bit by putting these together.  They are both written and starring Ricky Gervais, so it is justified, but I love them enough that they might deserve individual spots on the list.  Too bad, though, because I don’t have enough room for that!  I think the Office was my first introduction to British TV, and I have to admit it took me at least two watch-throughs to understand what the fuck they were saying.  The accents are thick, but the show is also completely full of utterly unintelligible cultural references that I still don’t get.  But the parts I could understand were hilarious.  I can only guess how much funnier it is if you have any idea what they’re talking about.  Luckily, the DVD provides a slang glossary that explains some of it.

Ricky Gervais’ David Brent is hilarious in the show, but of course my heart belongs to Martin Freeman (who is becoming a common fixture on this blog), as Tim.

Extras is a bit more easy to digest for an American audience (though I hear they actually changed some of the scenes for the American audience), and has a mind-boggling amount of guest stars.  Just to name a few: Ben Stiller, Vinnie Jones, Kate Winslet, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L Jackson, David Bowie, and, most importantly, Daniel Radcliffe in possibly the most hilarious scene ever on tv.

As with the Office, my favorite character on this show is not Ricky Gervais. Stephen Merchant is a very odd looking fellow, especially with the ludicrous glasses and hair he has in this show.  He looks a bit like a stick insect with a turtleneck and thick spectacles.

It doesn’t help that the guy is something like 12 feet tall.  But anyone who has seen Extras, or played Portal 2 knows how awesome he is.  Plus, he co-created the Office and Extras with Ricky, so I like that he gets to be on camera in this show.

It’s interesting to think about Ricky Gervais’ shows.  He always has himself as the central character, and he always plays a semi-terrible person, surrounded by much nicer characters.  This simultaneously makes me think he is an incredibly egotistical, but also very self-deprecating person.  Whatever his motives, his shows are hilarious.

2.Doctor Who

A couple of disclaimers before I explain my love for Doctor Who: 1-I have only seen the newest incarnations of the show, and don’t really have much desire to go back and watch the episodes from the ’70s, 2-David Tennant is the only Doctor for me, 3-The production values on the show are terrible, the effects are terrible, occasionally the music is terrible–I acknowledge all of this, and love the show anyway.

Here’s a show that makes almost no sense, on the face of it.  The concept is ridiculous: time traveling alien with two hearts and one sonic screwdriver travels through time/space (usually ending up in England, for some reason) with human companions finding and solving catastrophes that usually have something to do with aliens.  Many of these aliens look like ‘pepper pots‘ or cheesy 50s robots.

Add to that some truly low-budget effects and Billie Piper’s annoyingly overdone mascara, and it should be a terrible show.  But it’s not.  It’s witty, funny, adventurous, light-hearted, occasionally moving, and always worth watching.  Also, it’s a bit uncanny that the show can have had 11 different actors portray the eponymous Doctor and still have you believe that he is the same person.  Rather ingenious, the way the writers worked that into the character’s back story.  I’ve watched through three doctors now, and while Tennant will always be my favorite, I liked seeing how each one brought a new idea to the same frantic and infectious energy at the core of the show.

3. Fawlty Towers

A classic British show from the ’70s starring John Cleese and his actual (then) wife as Mr. and Mrs. Fawlty, who run a small hotel on the English seaside. Basil Fawlty (Cleese) is a cowardly misanthrope who is constantly yelled at by his controlling wife, and he, in turn, takes out his anger on Manuel, the Spanish waiter with limited English skills.  It was voted one of the best British tv shows of all time, and is actually more popular now than I think it was when it originally aired.  It’s a slapstick, over-the-top sort of show, which took me a while to get into, I confess.  It’s certainly not the sardonic, mockumentary style of humor you’d find in the Office.  It’s totally different, and more in line with the traditional British sitcom.  There are only twelve episodes of the show (2 six-episode seasons), so you can polish off the whole series in a few days’ time.  The show gets better with each episode, and by the end of the first season, I was hooked.  If you’re in the mood for something silly, Fawlty Towers is perfection.

4. Sherlock

What’s this? Martin Freeman again?  I’m sensing a theme.  If you recall, I’ve already done a few posts about this show and my love for it. As such, I won’t repeat myself.  I will say, however, that this show is about to overtake Fawlty Towers, and maybe Doctor Who, in my long-term estimation and adoration.  It is a paragon of everything you can do with TV drama.

5. The Inbetweeners

This show is, without a doubt, the sickest thing I’ve seen on TV in a long time.  But, as it’s about 16-18 year old boys, that makes sense.  It is painfully embarrassing to watch, shockingly foul-mouthed, and absolutely hilarious.  It taught me at least 5 new, incredibly awful words for female genitalia, unfortunately. That’s the sort of show it is.  I didn’t want to like it, what with absolutely every other line being horrifying, but it is too damn funny to ignore. Plus, the knowledge that absolutely all of these boys are completely clueless makes their slightly misogynistic tendencies more bearable.  There was also a movie, which I saw thanks to a multi-region dvd player–I don’t think it was ever released in US theaters or on format 1 dvd.  If you doubt how funny this is, a scene from the movie should clear it up:

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Honorable Mention: Top Gear, Downton Abbey–It was very, very difficult for me to pick just 5 shows, and as I have already talked about these two on this blog, I’ve left them as honorable mentions rather than putting them in the top 5.  Nonetheless, they are awesome.

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British Music–if the tv shows were hard to choose (and they were), this was like choosing between my children…if I ever had them and was faced with a Sophie’s Choice type situation… The point is, this was really hard. The only easy choice was number one…

1. The Beatles

I’m fairly certain that anyone who has spent more than half an hour with me knows this is my favorite band of all time.  I can’t even begin to discuss the amount of influence the Beatles have had on my life, or on music in general.  There’s nothing I can say about them as musicians that hasn’t already been said.  What I can say about my personal love for them, is that it all has to do with my mom.  She loved the Beatles and played 60s and 70s music almost exclusively when I was growing up.  As a result, I went into middle and high school knowing all the lyrics to I Am the Walrus, while other kids were really into N Sync.  Not to imply that I was some sort of cool music kid, I was not cool in any way, but I do appreciate that I was exposed to this sort of music from an early age.  It is much more in keeping with my views on music and on the world, and every time I hear a Beatles song, even if it’s one I’ve never heard before, it’s the aural equivalent of nostalgia.  It sounds like home to me.

2. David Bowie

I got into Bowie late in life…Or late in life so far. I think I was 24 or 25 before I set out to listen to some of his stuff.  It was never on the radio when I was growing up…Too old to be on the top 40 stations, too new to be on the oldies station.   And, where I grew up, we had those two kinds of stations, plus a lot of country music and some religious crap.  So I wasn’t directly exposed to Bowie until I set out to listen to his stuff.  Wow.  Within about a day, I was in love. I think I had probably heard his stuff in other contexts, in movies and commercials, but never in its original form.  To this day, Suffragette City is one of my favorite songs ever. The best thing about Bowie is that his songs have variety–Suffragette City doesn’t sound anything like Changes or China Girl.  My biggest annoyance with today’s music is that you can put on any song on someone’s album and it will sound identical to every other song.  The only distinctions are slow or fast.  But back in the day, musicians felt like they could experiment with something new if they wanted to.  I think it was even expected.  This means that you can find something to listen to by the same artist, even if you’re in a vastly different mood.  Which means there is a Bowie song for every occasion.  He even wrote a special song for Extras!

3. The Rolling Stones

When I was young and first formulating my opinions on music, as we all do in our early teens, this is what the Stones looked like:

Not something any teenager associates with being cool, or being alive for that matter.  They all look like the Cryptkeeper.  But, take a look at how awesome they were in their heyday.

It’s a bit like looking at pictures of your dad when he was young, and realizing he was not always interested in mortgages or the price of a good recliner.  Anyway, I still dislike most of the Stones later catalog, particularly ‘Love is Strong’.  But their early stuff is just amazing!  Enough to make up for most of the stuff they put out in the ’90s, and almost good enough to overcome Keith Richards’ appearance in that Pirates of the Caribbean movie!  My particular favorites are Paint it Black, Sympathy for the Devil, and Beast of Burden.

4. Queen

Like many of my generation, my first introduction to the music of Queen was during Wayne’s World.  Thank God for Wayne and Garth. Queen was an amazing band, and Freddie Mercury was a seriously stunning frontman. Google frontman, and the first result is a Wiki article on lead singers with a picture of Freddie Mercury. That says it all.

Like David Bowie, Queen have the capacity to sound radically different depending on the song you’re listening to.  Another One Bites the Dust sounds nothing like Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and nothing sounds anything like Bohemian Rhapsody. Seriously, has there ever been a song that is as fun to sing as Bohemian Rhapsody?  If you think you can argue with me, watch this:

5. the Clash

What can you say about such an important band?  They were one of the first punk bands ever? They were one of the best punk bands ever? A lot of people have heard of the Clash but might not be familiar with their songs.  Only, I’m sure you’ve heard them, even if you didn’t know it at the time.  I’m sure everyone has heard Should I Stay Or Should I Go, but it doesn’t sound like a punk song when you hear it, and I don’t think I knew it was the Clash until later in life. The Clash isn’t a mainstream band, by any means, but it is not something so esoteric that you can’t appreciate the songs without a music degree.  And in terms of influence on later musicians and on the direction of music at the time, they were hugely important.

I am aware that this list has been full of men.  I am not someone who thinks women cannot be great musicians, but I am someone who listens to older music, and there were a lot less of them back then.

Honorable Mention–Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Amy Winehouse, the Streets, the Who

What kind of ridiculous list has Led Zeppelin as an honorable mention?!  Good God. I’m too exhausted to continue! I was going to torture you all with my favorite bits of British history, and other factoids of a comparatively useless nature, but I will desist. Maybe next time.

Coming Soon

I thought I would take a day to look at what’s coming out of the UK and hitting our shores in the next few months. Warning though, this post is restricted in some ways to what appeals to me as an anglophile.  So, for example, if Big Brother UK is going to be on here, I probably won’t talk about it, because I don’t honestly care..

Films:

The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki from Thor).  Not to be confused with the Samuel L. Jackson movie of the same name.

This trailer isn’t anything spectacular, but the cast is.  According to Wikipedia, it is from a play by Terence Rattigan, about the wife of a judge who falls for a pilot in the RAF. Intriguing, could be good. Lots of good quotes on the trailer, but no telling if that translates to an actually good film. But it has been out since November in the UK, and currently has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m guessing it’s going to be fairly good. It comes out in limited release here March 30th.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Could there possibly be a more boring title? I can’t think of one. But, then you look at the cast: Ewan McGregor (doing his native Scot accent for once), Emily Blunt, and Kristin Scott Thomas. And I’m in.

Seriously, though the subject of salmon fishing in the Middle East could not be of less interest to me for many reasons, this looks like a really good heart-warming sort of film that I love.  This one is coming out quite soon; limited release this coming weekend! I am definitely looking forward to this film.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

This is it! I don’t think there’s any movie that I’m more looking forward to this year.  Can you believe the cast? Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, HP), Bill Nighy (HP, Underworld, Love Actually), Judi Dench (every period drama ever, the new Bond movies), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Penelope Wilson (Downton Abbey, Dr. Who), and Tom Wilkinson (tons of stuff, most recently Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol).  Seriously though, when the US does a movie with this many superstars, it is some absolute trash like Valentine’s Day or He’s Just Not That Into You.  But this is going to be brilliant, because not only are they quite famous in England, but they are famous for being actually good actors. Cannot wait for this movie! But I will have to, as it doesn’t come out until May 4th.

Books:

Some titles I’m looking forward to in the coming months include:

Britain, etc.–A nonfiction, light, trivia-based jaunt through Britain from A-Z.  Hopefully I’ll learn something and be entertained at the same time.

The English Monster–It’s historical fiction, it’s a murder mystery, it’s based on a true story.  Set in the early Regency period, based on some real murders. Difficult to think of dreadful murders going on at the same time Jane Austen was penning her lovely novels.  I have decided lately to get more into crime fiction and this may be one of my first forays into that oeuvre.

And of course, the unnamed J.K. Rowling book will be at the top of my reading list, no matter what it is about or when it comes out.  That’s just how it is.

TV:

Life’s Too Short: I’m watching this right now on HBO. It’s a lovely and ridiculous comedy starring Warwick Davis (Willow, HP films, etc.) as a warped and foul version of himself. It’s yet another Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant project, and expect a full review once the series is done. It’s brilliant.

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Whitechapel: This one is a modern police procedural starting with a Jack the Ripper copycat.   I am starting to be rather obsessed with Jack the Ripper! This was actually on BBC America last fall, but I missed it with the holiday rush. So I’m going to try to watch it now.

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Top Gear!: Anyone that doesn’t know about this show has my pity.  Ok, I should preface this by saying that cars are not of much interest to me.  I started watching this show with my bf because he loves cars and I love England, so it was a good fit.  But it is hilarious, one of the most popular shows in the UK, and lots of fun even if you’re not a ‘petrolhead’ as they call it. Season 18 starts in April. Also, do not confuse this with the American version, which has more cars and less class.

Here is a best of montage to wet your appetite: