MostlyFilm’s Best of 2012: Small Screen

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After the jump, a hand-picked bouquet of MostlyFilm contributors reflect on their telly, home video and gaming highlights of the year.

Jump!

The Humble Bundle

by MrMoth

The Humble Bundle sounds like the worst thing in the world, with its self-minimising name and ‘it’s for charity!’ ethos, but it actually might be one of the best. Every few months the Humble Bundle offers a selection of entertainment straight to one of the many glowing rectangles that frame modern life. A fistful of PC games, mobile games, songs and, most recently, ebooks have come my way this year. Some of them were great (Braid! Limbo! World of Goo! Zen Bound! Any of them worth the money I paid for the whole pack), some of them were really not my thing, but it doesn’t matter because I paid for them an amount I specified, that felt I could afford. This was then split in a way I chose between charitable causes, the creators of the content and the clever bastards behind Humble Bundle.

Even the encouragement to pay more was smart – pay ‘more than the average donation’ and receive a bonus? That’ll be more stuff, and the feeling that you’re just that little bit more generous than average, all for a few quid. With  chuggers and mawkish adverts twice every break doing their best to harden our hearts against charities, Humble Bundle is a warm little glow that can melt them.

(And, as of the time of publication, the current offer is still, just about, live)

Ro.Go.Pa.G

by Philip Concannon

Ro Go Pa G

Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series has done exemplary work in 2012 restoring some of the greatest films ever made – with magnificent blu-ray editions of The Passion of Joan of Arc and Touch of Evil leading the way – but one of the company’s best releases this year is also one of its most surprising. Ro.Go.Pa.G is a mostly forgotten curio from 1963, in which four very different auteurs are asked to “limit themselves to recounting the joyous beginning of the end of the world.” As ever with films of this type, the standard of the contributions is uneven, but due to the talent involved Ro.Go.Pa.G is one of the most fascinating and unusual portmanteau films you’ll ever see. The film is bookended by Robert Rossellini’s Illibatezzo, the story of a randy tourist and virtuous air hostess which segues into a commentary on cinema, and Ugo Gregoretti’s blunt consumerist satire Il pollo ruspante, but the real value of Ro.Go.Pa.G. lies in its central segments.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Il nuovo mondo tells a story of doomed love against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Paris that seems to prefigure his later Alphaville. The tale is typically opaque and enigmatic but it does contain surprisingly resonant emotional stings, and while this is the shortest entry in the film, it’s a sketch tossed off by a director in his creative prime. The best film in the collection comes from another of the 60s’ up-and-coming talents, with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s La ricotta taking place on the set of a biblical adaptation, with Orson Welles playing the grumpy, pretentious director determined to make a masterpiece with his unconventional take on the Passion of the Christ. Coming a year before Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew, this wild and frequently very funny take on the same material is most unexpected, and it’s also the film’s most visually striking segment, thanks to the vivid colour cinematography used in the crucifixion sequences. Ro.Go.Pa.G. may seem dated in many respects (not least in the terrible dancing, which is prevalent throughout), but it captures the anarchic, daring spirit of early sixties cinema and is certainly intriguing viewing for cinephiles.

THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF

by CLIO

A cake, yesterday.
A cake, yesterday.

As the thermometer drops below zero and permafrost settles on the garden, my thoughts turn to comfort telly.  Specifically, my thoughts turn to a rain-buffeted white marquee in a big field, and all the baked goods that came out of it.  (“Came out of it” is just a metaphor, of course; I rather doubt anything ever leaves that tent uneaten).  2012 was the year that The Great British Bake-Off  officially “broke out”, and when its heady mix of pithiviers and personalities was clutched to British viewers’ bosoms, or at least to that section of the popular press which determines these things.

What makes the show so successful?  There are many reasons why I love it.  There is the perfectly balanced set of presenters – funny, enthusiastic; and complimentary and critical as called for.  The atmosphere, which harks back to a simpler time of bunting and buttercups, and is more mutually supportive than a contemporary talent show has a right to be.  The drama: sliced fingers, dropped cakes, and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-goes-my-crème-caramel-all-over-the-plate.  A shooting and editing style which never makes fun of the contestants, and which actually allows them to hold something of themselves back.  We get to know them slowly, and never too intimately, so emotional moments (notably Brendan’s affecting clam-up  – from 44.38) feel appropriately hard-won.

And at the centre of it all: the glorious food.  Sometimes so perfect that this home baker thinks she could never have made that, sometimes so bad she’s quite emboldened.  There are recipes which tempt (I would love to make Ryan’s key-lime pie, if only I had a chef’s blowtorch), and those which elicit a “what were they thinking”?  Like all cookery telly, there is food porn involved – of course there is – but it’s human, with rough edges.  Sometimes literally.

The one, single, tiny niggle I have about Bake-Off is that broadcasts start in August, when the Great British Summer has yet to run its course.  It’s actually the perfect show to take viewers from late autumn into winter, when the craving for carb-loaded baked goods (hey, it’s a survival mechanism) and a yearning for lost summer days – however crap they actually were – kick in.  But this year the producers are consoling us all with a Christmas Special, Tuesday 18th December, at 8 pm on BBC2.  Wrap up in a cosy blanket, break out the mince pies, and enjoy.

The Ryder Cup

by “Ron Swanson” 

I don’t care how great a sporting year it’s been outside of the Ryder Cup weekend, nothing could have compared to the incredible drama provided over the course of three days, by twenty four hugely skilled athletes, just outside Chicago, as Europe and the USA did battle (Ok, maybe Tottenham winning the Premier League would have).

No other sporting event provides the self-contained drama that the Ryder Cup does. There are narratives aplenty, which inexorably combine into one storyline as the nerve-shredding weekend reaches its conclusion. This year’s event was the most unlikely, thrilling and dramatic in the Ryder Cup’s history, as Europe came back from a seemingly impossible deficit to snatch victory.

Of course, it helps to be a golf fan (I estimate that I watched about 40 hours of it over the weekend), but even a casual sports fan should be able to acknowledge the passion, atmosphere and raw emotion on display. As this year’s event was the first since the death of the iconic Seve Ballesteros, there was something almost pre-ordained about Europe’s victory, right down to the European captain being his closest friend, Jose-Maria Olazabal.

Yes, the London Olympics were great. Yes it was amazing to see England beat the all-blacks. Yes, it was horrific to see Chelsea win the Champions League. Two individuals did things no Brit had done in decades, if at all. Andy Murray and Bradley Wiggins had incredible years. My memory of 2012, though, is of the heroic fightback led by Ian Poulter (and his scary eyes), Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald.

I don't know which one is the scary one - ed.
I don’t know which one is the scary one – ed.

Sport doesn’t get any better than that.

Bob’s Full House

By Ricky Young

When MostlyFilm looked at the fine work of ChallengeTV earlier in the year, we concluded that while the offerings were often delicious, a repeat of Bob’s Full House would be the icing on the cake. Well, it’s finally here, in all its frosted, sugary goodness.

Saturdays at 8pm – perhaps the perfect quiz-show slot – sees the first series broadcast to a grateful, LE-starved nation. And let me tell you one thing – while it remains a salutary lesson in how to construct a gameshow, 1984 feels like a hell of a long time ago. Bob Monkhouse isn’t dead, for starters.

With such a watertight, general-knowledge based format (intro gags/contestant welcome/initial round/tentpole round/joke-free quickfire round/final holiday round for the winner) our eyes are drawn to the glorious oddities of three-decades-ago entertainment. Naturally, every edition is a master-class wherein Lord Bob rattles through his brain for appropriate gags at the speed of light – however, to lighten the load, questions start appearing that exist as obvious quip-setups first, and coherent brain-teasers second (‘“After 20 years of marriage, do Idi Amin and his wife still have relations?” Nobody want to answer that? Well, the answer is “No, they’ve eaten them all”’) with often head-scratching results. Whether this continues past the first few weeks will be seen – the show moves too quickly to get derailed – but it just seems deeply, deeply strange.

In bingo-lingo it’s clickety-clicks, it’s time to make your pick of the six!

Not that it rattles Bob. A gushing torrent of affability to his very-much-of-their-time contestants – even if some of the jokes about Arthur Scargill and the SDP sound a bit iffy these days – he charms the mumsy housewives, giggles with the slightly-scatty debs, is all matey with the many awkward young men and remains chummy with the red-faced golf-club bores. Even when the winner makes a total arse of the final game, Bob gently reminds them that they’ve already won, say, an answering machine with an intro tape by Simon Cadell, or a delicious meal at the Chinese restaurant of their choice ‘courtesy of Bob’s Full House’, and the world seems that little bit brighter again.

Unlike a lot of ChallengeTV’s output, BFH is strictly rationed to a single episode a week, so tune in one Saturday for an off-kilter glimpse back in time. Bob will be very pleased to see you.

The Shout

by Blake Backlash

shout

Alan Bates points to John Hurt and says, ‘That man had a wife who loved him’. Bates delivers the line deadpan but with a glimmer of slyness that suggests he’s aware of how unkind and seductive the use of the past-tense is. He’s talking to Tim Curry, the two of them are supposed to be scoring the cricket match Hurt is playing in, but instead Bates is going to tell Curry, and us, the story of The Shout. He’s going to claim that not only did he bewitch Hurt’s wife (played by Susannah York) but that he’s also able to let out a super-shout potent enough to make passers-by die, bleeding from the ears.

I came across this film while using the filtering options on LoveFilm Instant to find British horror-films from the 1970s. I was hoping to cure a hangover with the straightforward fun of an Amicus portmanteau horror. I got something much more fathomless – although the sight of Jim Broadbent, making his film debut, falling into a cow-pat is almost the definition of a guilty pleasure. The Shout is based on a short-story by Robert Graves (that’s who Tim Curry is playing) and the film retains some of Graves’s preoccupation with the mythic. The story suggests a kind of folk-tale warning about what sinister strangers can do to local women. But what’s so great about Jerzy Skolimowski’s direction is that he’s able to evoke that kind of archetypal depth with transitory, unsettling images (check out the pictures Hurt hangs on the walls of his studio). That leaves space for a rather cheekily comic examination of sexual jealousy and male vanity to unfold at the same time. Bates is perfect casting, I’m not sure anyone else could straddle the ambiguity between supernaturally fuckable shaman and scruffy weirdo the way he does. He certainly got to me: I watched the film on my laptop, using headphones… and when it came to the moment Bates unleashes his magic killer shout, I didn’t have the balls to keep them in my ears.

Mass Effect 3 

by Thomas Pratchett

Five years ago, Bioware released Mass Effect, a galaxy-spanning RPG, which placed you in the role of Commander Shepard of the Systems Alliance Navy, and pitted you against the vanguard of a race of ginormous mechanical beings known as the Reapers, who ravage the galaxy every 50,000 years for reasons ‘that are beyond your comprehension’. So far, so space opera, but Mass Effect was truly immersive, it  breathed, and there was a palpable sense that this universe persisted even when you weren’t around. Situations could often be resolved peaceably, rather than with firepower, and your squadmates slowly became your friends as you delved into their back-stories through conversation. In the end, the galactic invasion is delayed, and Shepard lives on to fight another day.

2010 brought Mass Effect 2, expanding the universe even more, followed two years later by the final chapter of the trilogy, Mass Effect 3. A more balanced game, somewhere between RPG and shooter, it was determined to tie up all the loose ends and grant payoff to all the choices your character had made in the previous two games, or so it was claimed. As the epic end to an epic trilogy featuring all out galactic war between the Reapers and everyone else, there was little hope that the climax would please everyone. What Bioware clearly hadn’t expected was that it would please virtually no-one. The internet sparked alight with complaints from far and wide as gamers hit the final mission’s end and were treated to a choice of three (or two, depending how badly you had played) endings that were deemed virtually identical, save for different coloured explosions. It seemed that none of the decisions made counted for anything, and that the ending left many logistical questions unanswered, especially concerning the squadmates who players had become so attached to over the past five years.

Fans demanded a better ending, and the clamour reached such a fever pitch that, a month after release, Bioware announced that they would be releasing free DLC in the form of an Extended Cut, which would expand the endings, but not change them. When this was finally released at the end of June, while it did clear up some things, the general consensus was that it was just too little too late.

Casting the ending issues aside though, Mass Effect 3 really did provide a sense of closure to the tale of Shepard and his cohorts, who had fought to bring peace to the galaxy, not just from invaders.

Formula 1

by Lissy Lovett

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“The HRT drivers struggled to figure out which end of the car was the front.”

Back in March my friends C and S got married, and for C’s stag night (actually a morning) we went Go Karting. It turns out I’m not very good at Go Karting, so a week or two later when I was idly flipping through channels and happened upon the qualifying rounds of the Chinese Grand Prix, I stopped to watch it to pick up some tips on cornering. Never having watched motorsport before, I was thrilled to discover a world of glamorous locations, exciting (and not so exciting) races, high level engineering, teamwork, good looking brave young men, statistics and charming television presenters which has since brightened up my dull 2012 Sunday afternoons no end. It was an interesting season too. The fight to be world champion was not decided until the very last week, and whilst I was kind of rooting for Fernando Alonso since “excellent driver wins in good car” is a more interesting story than “excellent driver wins in excellent car”, Sebastian Vettel seems like a personable chap, or at least more pleasant and articulate than your average Premiership footballer. The bottom of the constructors championship held a good level of drama of its own, with Caterham making 10th place, and therefore a slice of handy cash, also only in the final race. I’ll definitely be tuning in in 2013, though it’s a shame to see that this year’s most amusingly named team, HRT, may not be joining us.

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