Culture Vulture: your guide to the week’s entertainment (1st to the 7th of April 2023)

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Highlights this week include: the 1995 film La Haine, Untold: Trapped In A Gang on Channel 4 and Untold: Trapped In A Gang on Channel 4. Selections this week are from Pat Harrington and music is by Tim Bragg.

Saturday 1st of April 2023

Labyrinth (1986 film) 2pm C5

“Labyrinth” is a 1986 fantasy adventure film directed by Jim Henson, featuring Jennifer Connelly as the young heroine, Sarah, and David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King. The movie tells the story of Sarah’s journey through a mystical labyrinth in order to save her baby brother from Jareth, who has taken him away.

The film is a visual feast, with impressive puppetry and practical effects that bring the fantastical world of the labyrinth to life. The plot is engaging and offers plenty of action and adventure, but also incorporates themes of growing up, responsibility, and the power of imagination.

One of the most memorable aspects of “Labyrinth” is undoubtedly David Bowie’s performance as Jareth. As the Goblin King, Bowie exudes charisma and charm, but also a sense of danger that keeps the audience on edge. His musical contributions to the film, such as the iconic “Magic Dance” and “As the World Falls Down,” are also highlights of the movie.

While some may find the film’s plot and dialogue to be a bit cheesy or dated, “Labyrinth” remains a beloved cult classic that continues to capture the imaginations of viewers young and old. It’s a fun and whimsical adventure that showcases the creativity and imagination of Jim Henson and his team, with David Bowie’s unforgettable performance adding an extra layer of magic.

So Long, My Son (2019 film) 9pm BBC4

“So Long, My Son” is a 2019 Chinese drama film directed by Wang Xiaoshuai. The movie tells the story of two families whose lives become intertwined over the course of three decades, as they navigate through the complexities of loss, grief, and redemption in modern China.

“So Long, My Son” is centered around the Chinese one-child policy and the devastating impact it had on families throughout the country. The film explores the emotional toll of the policy, as families were forced to make difficult decisions about their children’s lives and face the consequences of those choices. The policy serves as a powerful backdrop to the story, highlighting the complexities of government control over personal decisions and the long-term effects on individuals and society.

The film is a masterful exploration of the human experience, told with great sensitivity and nuance. The pacing of the story is slow and deliberate, allowing for a deep emotional connection with the characters and their journeys. The themes of regret, forgiveness, and reconciliation are woven throughout the film with great care and depth, making it a powerful and moving experience.

The performances in “So Long, My Son” are exceptional, particularly those of Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei, who play the central couple. Their performances are raw and authentic, capturing the nuances of grief and trauma with incredible subtlety and grace. The supporting cast is also strong, adding depth and complexity to the story.

Visually, the film is stunning, with breathtaking cinematography that captures the beauty and complexity of modern China. The use of flashbacks and non-linear storytelling adds to the emotional weight of the film, creating a sense of connection and empathy with the characters that is rare in modern cinema.

Overall, “So Long, My Son” is a masterpiece of Chinese cinema, a deeply moving and thought-provoking exploration of the human experience that will stay with you long after the credits roll. It’s a testament to the power of storytelling and a reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding in our complex world.

Frank Sinatra: The Voce Of The Century (Arena Special), 9.20pm BBC2

Frank Sinatra: The Voce Of The Century Arena Special is a wonderful tribute to one of the most iconic singers of the 20th century. This Arena Special features some of Sinatra’s greatest hits, along with rare footage and interviews with the singer himself, as well as his family and friends.

The program begins with a brief overview of Sinatra’s early life and his rise to fame in the music industry. Viewers are then treated to a series of live performances, showcasing Sinatra’s impeccable vocals and magnetic stage presence. From classic hits like “Fly Me to the Moon” and “My Way” to lesser-known tracks like “All the Way” and “The Lady is a Tramp,” Sinatra’s music takes center stage and reminds viewers of his timeless appeal.

But it’s not just the music that makes this Arena Special so compelling. The program also offers a glimpse into Sinatra’s personal life, including his relationships with family members and close friends. Viewers get to hear stories from Sinatra’s children, grandchildren, and other loved ones, offering a more intimate look at the man behind the music.

The documentary is preceded by two musical programmes: Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music + Ella and Jobin a 7.35pm and Frank Sinatra At The Royal Festival Hall at 8.25pm.

Moral Maze: AI – the end of humanity or the next evolutionary step? 10.15pm BBC RADIO 4

Michael Buerk examines the potential of artificial intelligence, its capacity to produce art and the morality of allowing machines to make decisions for us.

Sunday 2nd of April 2022

A Vision Of Loveliness: The Read BBC4 8pm

Liv Hill, a Bafta-nominated actor renowned for her captivating performances in Three Girls, Jellyfish, The Great, and The Serpent Queen, delivers a stunning rendition of Louise Levene’s A Vision of Loveliness. Levene’s darkly comic novel delves into the seedy underbelly of 1960s London, and Hill’s portrayal brings the period to life with exquisite attention to detail.

As we follow the journey of a young woman climbing the social ladder in this peculiar world, the novel reveals the harsh realities of societal, financial, and aesthetic pressures faced by women, both in the past and present. A Vision of Loveliness may be grounded in the grubby glamour of the 1960s, but its themes remain relevant and thought-provoking today.

Hill’s performance brings Levene’s characters and their struggles to life with remarkable authenticity, showcasing her range as an actor and her ability to capture complex emotions with nuance and subtlety. Whether you’re a fan of Levene’s novel or simply looking for a captivating performance, Liv Hill’s rendition of A Vision of Loveliness is not to be missed.

Bridge of Spies (2015 film) 12.05am C4

This film could so easily have been propaganda of heroic, democratic Americans fighting the evil, dictatorial Russians. It’s set in 1957, during the Cold War, and centres on attempts by an American lawyer recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and subsequently to help the CIA arrange an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers. An exchange to take place on the Glienecke bridge spanning East and West Berlin (the “Bridge of Spies” of the title). Spielberg never falls into the trap of making propaganda, instead this film is nuanced, balanced and even positive.

Sure there is the underlying message that America in the 1960s was more humane and liberal than Communist countries of the same era. That’s just stating the truth though. Whilst America at that time had its own issues with support for dictatorships, civil rights, segregation and racism, there was no moral equivalency with the brutal Communist regimes.

Bridge of Spies does not hide the fact that Donovan (the lawyer, played by Tom Hanks) is really being asked to make a pretence of a fair trial not really aim for one.

Donovan is verbally/physically attacked by his fellow Americans for defending Rudolf Abel (the Russian spy, played by Mark Rylance). The federal judge assigned to the case, Mortimer Beyers, shows he has already reached his verdict before the trial even begins and bulldozes through objections from Donovan. Donovan’s boss is less than sympathetic. Even his wife is far from supportive. Maybe this isn’t surprising as Donovan’s family pay a heavy price for him to defend the rights of a suspected spy. Most Americans seem to think that Donovan is a traitor for defending Abel and want his client executed. Donovan has other ideas. He believes it to be his constitutional duty to defend a man who may be guilty of spying and attempting to undermine the American state and its constitution. Donovan works for due process and a fair trial. He opposes the death penalty for his client and manages to secure imprisonment instead. Donovan is played by Hanks as the American Conscience. It’s a solid performance and the interplay between Hanks and Rylance is superb. Abel refers to Donovan as “the standing man” who continually keeps getting up after being knocked down.

The film portrays Rudolf as a decent, humane person only doing to the US what the US were doing to Russia. The performance from Rylance is one of the things that makes this film so fascinating. He plays Rudolf as an enigma, mild mannered, polite, softly spoken with a musical quality to his voice, yet someone who believes in his cause and will not sell it out. Critics have rightly praised this performance. Robbie Collin writing in the The Telegraph highlights: “A scene in which Abel quietly outwits an entire FBI raiding party in just his vest and underpants contains acting so understated, it’s virtually subliminal”.

The underlying question Spielberg is putting is that if we compromise our basic values to beat an enemy, haven’t they already won? It’s a question that we need to keep asking today. Then our enemies were the Communists, today they are the Salafist extremists of IS. Bridge of Spies, though set in the past, feels very relevant today.

Monday 3rd of April 2022

La Haine (1995 film) 11.10pm Film 4

“La Haine” (“Hate” in English) is a powerful and thought-provoking film that explores the social and political tensions in the suburbs of Paris. The film is a raw and unflinching portrayal of life for the disenfranchised youth living in poverty and struggling to find their place in a society that seems to have turned its back on them. The film is often compared to US-made urban thrillers like “Taxi Driver” and “Boyz N The Hood,” and it certainly shares their gritty realism and unrelenting examination of societal ills.

What sets “La Haine” apart, however, is its unique French perspective. The film captures the specific cultural and political context of France in the 1990s, with its deep-rooted issues of racism and police brutality. The film is also notable for its innovative and striking visual style, which combines black and white photography with dynamic camera movements and intense sound design. This creates an immersive and claustrophobic atmosphere that perfectly captures the sense of tension and unease that permeates the film.

“La Haine” is a landmark film that continues to resonate with audiences today. Its message about the importance of understanding and addressing social inequalities is as relevant now as it was when the film was first released. It is a must-see for anyone interested in powerful and thought-provoking cinema.

Tuesday 4th of April 2023

Looting History Sky History 9pm

How the trade in stolen antiquities and art has become a major source of income for criminal syndicates, gangs, and terrorists across the globe. The series begins in 2003 when 15,000 priceless antiquities from the cradle of civilization were stolen from the unprotected Iraq Museum during the invasion by Allied forces

Untold: Trapped In A Gang Channel 4 12.05am

In Trapped in a Gang, teenagers who are on the verge of being swallowed up by violent crime speak about how their lives got to this point. With access to the special police unit trying to combat violence and the county lines drug trade, we see how officers struggle to connect with those living in the worst affected areas. Using a mix of real-life footage and clever animation we experience first-hand anonymous testimony and hear how people as young as 11 find it hard to escape a criminal life, with one former gang member revealing he wakes up in the middle of the night panicking about enemies he’s made in his past and what they might do to him.

Wednesday 5th of April 2023

Positive 6pm Sky Documentaries (1 of 3)

A poignant look into Britain’s 40-year struggle with HIV and AIDS, told through the stories of some of the earliest HIV patients, healthcare workers and activists.

Continues Thursday and Friday.

The Ottaman Empire (one of three) 7.30pm PBS America

The Ottoman Empire, under the rule of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent during the 16th century, was a powerful and prosperous empire. However, it eventually fell into disarray, and by the early 1920s, it ceased to exist as “The Eternal State”.

In this three-part series, presenter Julian Davison takes viewers on a journey through the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, starting from its humble beginnings as a nomadic tribe in Anatolia. From there, Davison explores the empire’s expansion into the European continent and its years of significant influence before its ultimate decline, earning the nickname of the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ due to the Russian expansion.

This series provides a fascinating account of the Ottoman Empire and its long-lasting influence, revealing how it grew from nothing to become the Turkey we know today. Davison’s presentation is engaging and insightful, offering a thorough understanding of the empire’s history and the factors that led to its eventual decline.

Continues Thursday and Friday.

Thursday 6th April 2023

Fallout: Living in the Shadow of the Bomb 8:30pm BBC RADIO 4

In the summer of 2021, Gunners Park in Southend played host to a thought-provoking art installation called “An English Garden.” This exhibit featured a meticulously tended flower bed, planted with Rosa floribunda – Atom Bomb – roses, alongside wooden benches and plaques that drew attention to Britain’s “historical and ongoing identity as a colonial nuclear state.” The connection was made between this site in Essex and the Montebello Islands off Western Australia, where Britain conducted its first atomic weapon test on October 3rd, 1952.

As part of the Fallout: Living in the Shadow of the Bomb series, this first episode titled “Sub Rosa (Under the Rose)” examines the events that led up to Britain’s first atomic detonation, codenamed Operation Hurricane. Investigative journalist Susie Boniface, author and researcher Dr. Elizabeth Tynan, and artist Gabriella Hirst, who continues to propagate Atom Bomb roses through grafting workshops and talks, all contribute their expertise to this powerful episode.

Viewers are taken on a journey through the history of Britain’s nuclear program, which included twelve full-scale atomic weapons tests and hundreds of “minor trials” conducted on Australian soil between 1952 and 1963, as well as further tests off Kiritimati (Christmas Island), a British colony at the time in the South Pacific. The fallout from these tests continues to impact former servicemen and their families, Pacific islanders, and indigenous communities in Australia, seventy years on.

Friday 7th of April 2023

When Bob Marley Came To Britain BBC4 9pm

“When Bob Marley Came To Britain” is a captivating documentary produced by BBC4 that chronicles Bob Marley’s pivotal 1977 tour of the UK, which helped to establish him as an international superstar.

The film is a vivid account of Marley’s life on tour, featuring rare footage and interviews with the people who knew him best, including his bandmates, friends, and fans. Through their stories, we gain a deeper understanding of Marley’s music and his significance as a cultural icon.

The documentary does an excellent job of capturing the energy and excitement of Marley’s performances, highlighting the power of his music and the impact it had on his audiences. It also sheds light on the challenges that Marley faced during his time in the UK, such as racism and political turmoil, and how he used his music to address these issues.


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