Nothing much

13 08 2012

Got nothing much to say.  Started reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in box office today, only because 1. I didn’t feel like writing today, and 2. it’s on BBC’s list of books to read.  So far, I’m not impressed.  I really don’t like his writing style — constantly interrupting the plot to tell readers how much he knows about Art History, or painters, or symbology.

I get it.  You did lots of research.  Now can I get back to you telling me a dumbed-down conspiracy story?  Thanks.

PS.  I also like how in his blurb in the book jacket, it says he is a “master” storyteller.  Had to laugh at that one, especially imagining him actually writing that out about himself.

Andrew Marr’s Megacities

24 06 2012

At last: a documentary series about the world’s largest metropolises.  This three one-hour documentary series, yet another high-budget production from the BBC, narrator and host Andrew Mars takes viewers around the world at a look at various megacities — cities with populations of over 10 million people — and their influence on the world.  From obvious cities like London and Shanghai, to poorer cities such as Dhaka, Bangladesh, the series examines everything from buildings, to garbage and consumption, to crime in the usual dramatic, heightened BBC-produced way.

The music is, right off the bat, loud and overdramatic, as if trying to convey some sort of tension or drama in the series, which I guess should be the case in any series or program, but there really isn’t anything dramatic here.  Yes, these cities are large; yes, different cities do different things.  It’s how people react and why/how people do the things they do that, for me, is interesting.  The sewage treatment in Mexico City, for example, is a big open canal where sewage workers occasionally find dead bodies in.  That in and of itself is frightening, and when paired with the visual of the floating garbage and waste in the lake, as well as Mars’s narration that there isn’t really a bottom for workers to walk on — just a meter of unidentifiable trash — even without the boisterous soundtrack, the scene speaks for itself.

Far too often, cities are given numbers and statstics that don’t accurately put a face on the actual living situation.  The best thing aboutMegacitiesis that, well, we actually get to see the megacities in all their chaotic action.  And as Mars concludes in the final episode, the problems faced by the megacities, such as food shortages, is not just the individual cities’ problem, but a global problem.  As he suggests, perhaps looking back in the past to farming techniques, for example, are the key to relieving the burden and demand placed on some of the most important and influential places on Earth.

Andrew Mars is amazed at the speed of the Shanghai Mag-Lev.

Saturday Morning Documentary: Human Planet

14 02 2012

It’s been so long since I’ve done one of these and I haven’t really been keeping up with my documentaries,  but since these files keep sitting on my computer, waiting to be deleted, I might as well write about them.  Yet another well-produced BBC documentary series, Human Planet explores eight different terrains across the globe– from Oceans, to Jungles, to, surprisingly, Cities, all through a human lens and humanity’s impact and adaptability throughout the world.  Narrated by John Hurt, it seems the series’s goal is to highlight human ingenuity in a time when it is so easy to blame and criticize ourselves (think: global warming, landfills, war, our fascination of the Kardashians).  In many ways, Human Planet more than achieves this goal: as the series shows, humans are willing to walk towards lions to get freshly killed meat, live in high altitudes and train eagles to catch prey, and as a community, work together to save an ancient building by covering it with mud.  Yes, we have lots of potential to do great and wonderful things.

One of the things that bugged me about this series is the cinematography.  It’s very well-shot– almost too well-shot.  Perhaps I’m just used to watching documentaries that feel more spontaneous, less technical and less set-up.  There are shots were the human subjects stare off wistfully into the distance, as if asked by the British crew to do so, or, for example, shots of the villagers chasing monkeys in the jungle, and the camera just so happens to be on the ground floor, capturing their feet as they run past.  It’s shot as if it were a feature film, at a variety of angles, and for me, it made me do a double-take.  However, other scenes, like following a man as he walks across a river on a rope, is shot so well and beautifully that it doesn’t draw attention to it.

Although not as entertaining and awe-inspiring as Life or Planet Earth, Human Planet follows the trend of well-made BBC productions.

Annual fishing in Lake Antogo

Saturday Morning Documentary: Secrets of the Superbrands

10 09 2011

This may already be obvious, but most people realize that their everday lives are infiltrated by superbrands but to what extent?  Are we aware that everything we wear comes from a corporation?  Do we see that a lot of the food we buy and that nourishes our bodies is made from a big factory somewhere?

A three-episode series, Secrets of the Superbrands, hosted by Alex Riley, comically explores the mega corporations and their secret hold on the world, influencing us from food to fashion to technology.  Riley is the perfect host for the series– casual and funny but at the same time, curious and driven to finding out more about these companies.  From Starbucks to Apple, Riley explores the powers and the control the superbrands have on people, but also, and perhaps more importantly, peoples’ reactions and relationships to these brands.  In all three episodes, there’s a part in which people go under an MRI machine and images flash on a screen while the machine reads their brain activity, which is then interpreted; the results are pretty astounding, I must say.

What I really like about the series is that neither Riley nor the show tries to impose a certain thought about the superbrands, even after their findings.  Even after the bizarre seemingly ritual that takes place upon Mac store openings that involve massive crowds and immense cheering from store employees, it’s up to the audience to think about it (ie. What a bunch of lunatics Mac lovers are).

Alex (left) investigating at the Adidas store

Saturday Morning Documentary: Echo: An Unforgettable Elephant

10 04 2011

Alright, this is my last BBC Natural World episode, so no more David Attenborough and nature at least for the time being.  The documentary episode follows the journey and life of Echo, an African elephant and the matriarch of a family of elephants.  Using older footage taken in the ’80s as flashbacks to her earlier life, we get a very intimate and fascinating look at what we discover is a very special elephant.

Echo, named so because of the echo on the tracking device researchers put on her collar many years ago, has been through a lot.  She’s given birth over 5 times and one of the baby elephants has trouble walking for three days.  As David Attenborough explains through his as usual fantastic narration, other elephant mothers would have left their young to die while they went in search for food and water.  But Echo stays with her child, urging him to stand on his legs, and when he does, you can’t help but hold your breath as it looks like he’s about to do it.  Great cinematography and story.

However, Echo is dying.  After her natural death, a new leader needs to take over.  Will the lessons she taught her children and her grandchildren be enough to help them survive one of the worst droughts in area’s history?

More than anything, the episode is and feels like a biography of the legacy of this special, intelligent elephant.  Her death impacts not only her family but the researchers who had spent decades studying, observing, and befriending the animal, and reminds us of humans’ roots to the Earth.

Echo, largest elephant, with Enid, one of her daughters, and her newborn struggling to walk

Saturday Morning Documentary: Attenborough’s Journey

19 03 2011

Famously known for narrating wildlife documentaries including BBC Planet Earth and Life, David Attenborough is rarely seen in front of the camera by viewers (or at least I didn’t know what he looked like prior to watching this documentary).  As David sets out to film yet another documentary series called First Life, one that takes a look at the beginning of life on Earth, a documentary crew follows him along on his journeys across the world, providing us with a face of the mysterious man with the passionate, deep voice.

As we see through the documentary, David has a great sense of humor, even about the setbacks he and the crew have on their filming.  Despite this, it is clear to see that he really enjoys nature a lot, and the tender age of 83, he is still adventurous and learning, reading books, being mobile, climbing mountains and walking with his own to feet.

One things for sure (and this is super cheesy, I know): David Attenborough is one rare species.

David Attenborough

David on top a mountain on the Rockies

Saturday Morning Documentary: BBC Natural World: Africa’s Dragon Mountain

13 02 2011

In South Africa, there’s a long chain of mountains known as the Drankensberg, or Dragon Mountain.  Here in this somewhat harsh yet somewhat green landscape, a type of African antelope called the Eland roam.  At first glance, it looks like the Eland are out of place in the colder, grassy valleys and hills of the Dragon Mountain and should be instead in the African savannah, but as we find out, there is much grass and food to be found here.  At the same time, though, dangers are everywhere: jackals, vultures, but even deadlier is the weather. If it rains too much, the soil is diluted and the nutrients are lost from the grass.  This forces the herds of Elands to navigate up and through the mountains, constantly in search of food.

This is the focus of most of the film.  From time to time, it will also mention and show other creatures in the area such as ice rats and baboons, which are interesting too.  It’s only at the end of the film with the help of a helicopter do we really get a grasp of how far the Elands have trekked — their paths etched along the green mountainsides, going miles on end.

Cool documentary, even without the help of awesome David Attenborough narrating.  Who knew antelope could actually be kind of interesting?

Elands on Dragon Mountain

Saturday Morning Documentary: Adventures in Architechture

10 02 2011

Adventures?  Architecture?  Yes, apparently it is indeed possible to have these two words in the same sentence.  With our host Dan Cruickshank, we travel around the world looking at different cultures’ architecture.  Each episode of this BBC made (another one) series features a theme: I think I’ve seen Death and most recently, an episode dedicated to structures associated with Power.  In the Power episode, Dan goes from examining a fortified castle in the Middle East, to interestingly investigating both slave houses as well as their masters’ houses in the New Orleans.  Structures that I — and probably most everyone else — normally couldn’t care less about are narrated and guided by the wonderfully outgoing and charismatic Cruickshank.  He’s certainly more engaging than Brian what’s-his-face of Wonders of the Solar System and as my sister pointed out before I had even started watching, he speaks with his hands A LOT (not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s kind of funny).

Although he’s not a comedian by any means, his level of intrigue and passion for architecture really make the series worthwhile.  Well, pretty much anything made by the BBC is worthwhile, but this is another cool, informative series made for the average viewer who doesn’t think twice about architecture.

Dan Cruickshank

Dan in a palace in Romania, part of the Power episode

Perpetuum Mobile — Penguin Cafe

7 02 2011

I don’t have much time to write today so I will just leave a link to this fantastic piece for you to listen to.


Saturday Morning Documentary: BBC Natural World: The Dolphins of Shark Bay

29 01 2011

Yet another episode of Natural World, this is about a family of Bottlenose dolphins living in a bay in northern Aussieland.  Puck, mother of already 8 children, is pregnant again with what will probably be her last.  She and her baby face dangers in the quiet waters though, because of, as you may have guessed, sharks.  Tiger sharks come to the waters for a few months during the year to feast on dolphin young and dewgongs (all I could think about when they were talking about dewgongs was the Pokemon…).  Samu, the baby dolphin, then faces challenges like adapting to the water, breathing, hunting, and the possibility of getting separated from his mother.

I don’t really have much else to say about this episode other than that it was another well-made, well-filmed, high def. work from the BBC.  And dolphins!  Yay!  What’s not to love about them?

Samu on top, and Puck