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TV REVIEW — CELEBRITY COOKS: EGOS BEYOND ENDURING

In celebrity, morality, television on December 31, 2011 at 7:12 am

Since the invention of so-called “reality tv” — talk about The Big Lie — there have been thousands upon thousands of viewing hours under this category on screen that must be admitted are a total waste and actually destructive of the chance to do something useful for an hour. Who ever decided watching someone cook, never mind eat, is entertainment? (Here in New Zealand there are wall-to-wall cooking/dining series on almost every channel, through peak viewing hours and elsewhere.) Cooking shows didn’t start this way. They started in an attempt to make common and desirable dishes more palatable — not, as they revel in today, to explore every square inch of the globe, land and sea, earnestly attempting to turn increasingly rare species into food.

<p>Here in New Zealand there was one local celebrity chef in the early years of television, name of Graham Kerr (1962-66), who later found fame in the States as The Galloping Gourmet — after being unceremoniously dumped from the NZBC for being too fancy. He was replaced by a self-proclaimed cook, who carried on solo for many more years. One half hour a week seemed like plenty to devote to brightening up our home menus a little — Our priorities were focused elsewhere on important things. I’m sure Alison Holst’s, the humble cook’s, heart was in the right place, without ever once attempting to turn the testicles of the Yellow Finned Thailand Octopus into a delicacy the wealthiest among us can’t do without. In the end, eating is something we lucky ones do every day, simply to keep us alive. Anything more is a bonus. And the more superfluous lengths we go to in cookery the more rapacious we humans become — way out on our own as the only species intent on destroying our own and others’ environments, and at an accelerating rate despite all the p.c. hype about conservation. One yearns for someone to finally stand up and shout at the top of their lungs: “IT’S ONLY FOOD — IT GOES IN ONE END AND COMES OUT THE OTHER! IT’S SHIT IN INTERMEDIATE FORM!

<p>Yes, it’s nice if it tastes good, all the better if it’s nutritious and sustains us another day, but who the hell inflated searing animal flesh, garnishing it with aromatic additives to disguise its flavor, and arranging other bits and pieces around a plate into a high art? The program I avoided this evening starred Gordon Ramsay. He is just one of several British cooks on television here in New Zealand who cannot look at an animal without licking his lips and imagining what it would smell and taste like swimming in gravy and infused with an array of spices. To my mind this says it all about how limited they are as people.

Ramsay is travelling around by train to every corner of India to find out its real cuisine. Among the highlights, he is presented with a snake whose heart is still beating to eat. Now you know why I didn’t watch — However it turns out, it’s beyond disgusting to use such a thing as an attraction, no matter how authentic or otherwise it is as a cultural artefact. Don’t get me started on the God-given-rights-in-perpetuity of Japanese and Icelanders to eat whales to their little hearts’ content…

A_Cannibal_Feast_in_Fiji,_1869_(1898)<p>Gordon prides himself on going to the ends of the earth to find authentic dishes. I once witnessed him risking life and limb climbing down a remote cliff face in the Mediterranean to collect the eggs of a rare bird — Yum, yum — irresistible — into the pot is what they’re best for, eh? In the TV Guide article on his latest series he claims that, unlike other chefs he is famous on the back of his work, not the other way round. Come now, Gordon — You seriously believe you’re watched because you can cook something a little better than others, when we can’t taste it, even smell it from where we’re sitting? Please, just cut the celebrity self-delusion.

NEWSFLASH: [PHOTO] “The Shoe on the Other Foot” — Gordon and his crew caught by cannibals on their latest expedition for rare species to endanger.

MOVIE REVIEW: BORN IDIOCY

In film on December 30, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Matt_Damon_PumpedA man, bullet-riddled and without memory, is rescued and must race to recover his memory and find his assassins… This is how the plot summary of Bourne Identity (2002) goes in IMDb, “very loosely based” as it is on the Robert Ludlum novel. The estimated budget for this showpiece of modern entertainment was $60 million and earnings in the US alone in its first few months were $121 million. Considering myself a writer, but a little short of this income range, I’m wondering what it took for Ludlum to disown any ownership in something he was once presumably proud of. (But not necessarily — Agatha Christie had the objectivity and praiseworthy lack of self-delusion to call herself a “sausage machine” for her formulaic efficiency.) Maybe 10% of the budget? Or a cut of the gross — likely to be well into the tens of millions for the whole series.

Ah, what to do, what to do? — when a movie is so stupid and insulting that you cannot sit through more than a few minutes of it. Yet, the movie is so popular you’re yearning to see something, anything, that warrants it. After agonizing a few more seconds than I wanted to I changed channel — If only all decisions were so simple. The scene that was the deal breaker had these assassins trying to bump him off at the top of a spiral stairwell, at least two. This was some time ago and my memory has luckily erased the details, so for all I know he plugs the first assassin’s gun with his pinky so that the barrel blows up in the bad guy’s face: one assassin dispatched. The other is a little harder, and in the struggle they both go down the stairwell, about eight storeys up — No worries. Matt has plenty of time — probably about two seconds in real life — and just arranges his opponent beneath him (another tricky maneuver), and pummels him senseless on the way down so that he has a nice dead weight of a cushion to fall on on. Then he gets up and walks away without even bothering to dust himself off. The old Warner Brothers cartoons did the cartoon violence a lot better. Wile E Coyote always survived, but at least had the sense of realism to look a little crumpled. Even Arnie, in one movie where he wasn’t playing The Terminator — but seemed like he was — paused a little before yanking a chunk of timber out of his thigh and then strolled on to defeat his nemeses.

According to the IMDb site, the user vote for this film is 7.8 out of a possible 10 — higher than a lot of real classics. But then maybe this is a real classic by today’s standards???? Problem is, the standards are set by by computer-degenerated dweebs who are interchangeable with online participative game designers, not the crew of artists that once created movies.

<p>This was just the first movie in a series of four (so far) — the fourth due out in 2012. The others have names like Born Inferiority — a prequel about how Matt struggled through a puny childhood, to be zapped by lightning one day and be transformed into the superhero we see now. Seems like even superheroes suffer wear and tear because Matt is standing down for the one coming up. Or maybe he expects to be taken seriously in a different kind of movie. Good luck to him. I’ll always see him as the game little fighter who is picked up by fishermen, bullet-riddled and suffering amnesia, and still is able to sense all the forces of evil pitched against him in time and develop muscles and enough psychic powers to defeat them all without breaking a sweat. Arnie had nothing on him.

TV REVIEW: THE MONK IS ON YOU

In Humor, psychology/psychiatry, television on December 24, 2011 at 7:12 pm

BittyschramThe tv series Monk started in July 2002 and is still going (as far as I know — we only get reruns here in New Zealand). But it’s never been the same since actor Bitty Schram (playing the feisty Sharona) left before filming the second half of series three; she appeared in just 38 episodes. Yes, the actor left — so this was not a creative decision as claimed by the producers but a power play, and it SHOWS.

Who knows what the creator of the series, one Andy Breckman, thinks of this. He must have worked out the balance of the characters to the nth degree if he’s gone through what most good tv writers do. Then just have it subject to arbitrary change when the producers, presumably rolling in more millions of profit each year, tell an actor “Take it or leave it.”

Yes, Traylor Howard is blonde and cute. (I admit to a prejudice against the ugly modern trend of females named with two unfeminine surnames.) I’ve seen her in a few teen movies from the early ’90s and she did well enough. But there is no way her character Natalie has “replaced” Sharona — who lent just the right spice to the mix. Ted Levine seems to me a very accomplished comic actor (and otherwise) and Jason Gray-Stanford does well too as the often hapless detective lieutenant. Tony Shaloub is expert in what he does on screen — but part of what he does is executive producer, and he doesn’t seem to be quite as good at this. It obviously creates an unhealthy power imbalance among the cast.

But whether this one event triggered more unfortunate trends I can’t say for sure. The comedy had gotten less clever, more slapstick. The tone is more crassly sentimental, to the point of getting us to feel sorry for geeky Teen Monk in numerous flashbacks. As if anyone’s interested — Yet, he might get his own series one day in a lucrative spinoff, as these things tend to happen. Straining for plots, Monk is put in less and less likely situations until credulity is strained beyond breaking. Knowing just a little about mental health, I’ve known from the start that someone who suffers from anxiety as constantly and intensely as Monk does could never bring himself to focus on a case for more than a few seconds at a time. No way could he function coherently as a detective over a whole case, never mind a genius who solves every case. But for the sake of involvement (which every good drama needs) I was willing to suspend disbelief.

Yet, the producers throw away this one main premise of the character when it suits them. After the umpteenth rerun episode I just started to watch — and felt too insulted to continue — Monk, on the run from the police, had just come out of the ocean to be greeted by his friend Leland Stottelmeyer (Ted Levine). The captain says something like, “That must have been hard since you can’t swim.” And Monk replies, “I was highly motivated.” These injokes are fine if the series wants to descend to the pat, unchallenging level of Murder She Wrote or Love Boat, but don’t expect me to hang around.

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