26 November 2010

Film 2010 redux


In my earlier review of the new format of the BBC’s Film 2010 I expressed my optimism that it would cope well with the shift from Jonathan Ross to Claudia Winkleman and her co-host Danny Leigh.  Having now watched seven episodes, I can confirm that it has become a firm favourite of mine, in a way that the previous incarnations somehow didn’t.  This is not to say that Ross wasn’t my cup of tea, but rather that following the attention generated by the switch of presenters, I now have become a fan of the programme and make an effort to watch it every week. 

Central to the programme’s appeal is the onscreen relationship between host Winkleman and her offsider Leigh.  Winkleman and Leigh both have a long-standing interest in films and appear to have seen a great variety of work, and the presence of another pundit competing (politely!) for camera time prevents the sometimes self-indulgent and uncontested theorising that a film critic on their own can sometimes fall prey to.  The gender balance also addresses a valid concern about film reviewing by a solo host. 

Winkleman is knowledgeable, with broad tastes that range from arthouse to schlocky mainstream blockbusters, and as a seasoned TV presenter is able to express her views concisely and without resorting to cliché.  She’s amusing too, and has the winning trait for a film reviewer of not taking herself too seriously.  It’s pleasing to note in her defence of Tony Scott’s daft but exciting Unstoppable and his earlier hits like Top Gun (neither of which, I might add, hold any interest for me) that she is not afraid to express deeply uncool and populist views despite the sometimes prissy and sanctimonious ‘rules’ of film criticism.    

Guardian film writer Leigh also impresses in his role as Winkleman’s Sancho Panza, in which he contributes in a scholarly, traditional film criticism role.  His knowledge of film history allows him to inject context into the review discussions, and he pitches his contributions at just the right level – never over-staying his welcome or crowding out his co-host, but always offering a valid and sometimes alternative viewpoint.  It’s a pleasure to see someone who is able to couch justifiable cynicism about a suspect film in such a polite and constructive way, as he did with Unstoppable.  It’s also worth noting that the live broadcast appears not to faze Leigh in the slightest.  You would expect Winkleman, with her long broadcasting experience, to be au fait with the medium, but I’ve yet to see Leigh put a foot wrong either, in what must be a challenging format for a newcomer.

The live broadcast is one of the aspects of the programme that I’m less convinced about.  Strictly speaking, I’m not sure what it adds.  If it’s markedly cheaper to transmit the programme live, then by all means carry on.  But the main attraction of live broadcasting is the combination of its real sense of immediacy and spontaneity and the slight possibility that something could go horribly wrong – e.g. a Blue Peter baby elephant moment.  But there’s nothing so up-to-the-minute in Film 2010 that it demands live transmission, and you’ll probably have to wait a fair while for a potentially memorable or career-threatening live TV implosion.  The sofa-side film review chats between Winkleman and Leigh proceed at a fair old clip without the slightest hiccup.  Winkleman tries to inject a sense of responsiveness by reading out a few viewer tweets when she finds the time, but seldom fits it in.  And the closest I’ve seen to a mishap was the opening night live interview with Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and a microphone-hogging Andrew Garfield at the premiere of Never Let Me Go, in which a certain amount of time had to be filled by shots of two all-conquering gamine British starlets, despite the fact that no-one had much of interest to say. 

Now that Film 2010 has settled down into a steady format after the rush to introduce all its extra contributors in the opening episode, it feels like the programme is working well and I look forward to the remainder of its run.  As for potential improvements, I go back to the comments in my earlier blog.  It’s fine and indeed laudable to solicit audience involvement and read the odd tweet out on air to reward loyal viewers who make a clever point.  But realistically Film 2010 has less than 40 minutes of screen-time to engage in substantive discussions of the broad church of film-making and viewing.  There’s so much to fit in, and when you’ve got a pair of hosts whose discussions are reliably interesting and amusing, I think it’s a shame that these discussions should be rushed to fit into a jam-packed format.  At the moment it feels like they’re dashing to get through everything in time for the next pre-recorded clip. 

Winkleman and Leigh are the main focus of Film 2010 and the strength of their onscreen chemistry suggests that they should be allowed more time to discuss the films they’re reviewing.  I’d be particularly interested to hear them debate the merits or otherwise of a film that they disagree about.  One small way to save time would be to dump the live viewer feedback.  This sort of discussion is best kept for the programme website and Twitter feed, which is where fanboys and fangirls can interact with the hosts and see their name up in lights. 

Perhaps a more drastic solution would be to either drop or shorten one weekly pre-recorded segment, or to reduce the number of films reviewed by Winkleman and Leigh by one.  The former would cut down on the number of worthwhile interviews that could be shown, but perhaps might have the beneficial effect of avoiding the studio advertorial bumf that sometimes accompanies upcoming releases.  Admittedly the latter option, reducing the number of films reviewed, would also reduce the scope of the programme, and its ability to cater to a wide range of tastes.  But realistically, would the world have ended last night if, for example, they hadn’t been able to review Robert Rodriguez’s Machete?

23 November 2010

Africans in New Zealand cricket

Kruger van Wyk

New Zealand cricket has a long tradition of selecting players from overseas backgrounds to fill out its sometimes threadbare team lists.  One of the most well-known is Sammy Guillen, the wicket-keeper who toured New Zealand with his national team in 1952 and struck his only half-century against them at Christchurch in February of that year.  Guillen later took up residency in New Zealand and was selected to play against his former countrymen in the West Indies tour of 1956.  He sealed New Zealand’s long awaited first test victory when he stumped the last West Indian batsman, Alf Valentine. 

Since then, several players from England have made their name playing for New Zealand.  Dipak Patel was born in Kenya, raised in England and played international cricket for New Zealand for a decade from 1987 to 1997 at a time when there weren’t many successful spinners operating in New Zealand.  He played 37 tests and 75 ODIs for New Zealand, and was famously used by Martin Crowe to open the bowling during the 1992 World Cup, but ultimately Patel failed to live up to his potential as a spin-bowling all-rounder. 

Moustachioed Warwickshire batsman Roger Twose proved more successful in the New Zealand team, and for a time was the world’s no.2 ranked ODI batsman.  While he never truly cemented a slot during the 16 matches of his test career, in ODI conditions Twose was a talented run scorer, averaging 38.8 over his 87 match career from 1995 to 2001.  His surname also provided much-needed pun material for TV and radio commentators.  

In recent years greater numbers of South Africans have settled in New Zealand, with 41,676 South Africans forming the sixth largest group of foreign-born people in the 2006 New Zealand census.  A fair number of these have made their way into provincial cricket, and two have played for the national side.  Grant Elliott, born in Johannesburg, earned his first test cap against England in Napier in March 2008.  While he has only managed four more tests since then, Elliott has become a reliable ODI player in 35 matches to date, batting at a healthy average of 35.5, scoring an excellent 115 against Australia at the SCG in February 2009, and taking 19 wickets at a useful average of 21.7 with his part-time fast-medium bowling.  Selectors no doubt hope that Elliott can take over Jacob Oram’s role when the latter retires from international cricket.  Durban-born Bradley-John (BJ) Watling has also recently entered the international scene, playing for New Zealand as a batsman in all three forms of the game.

Three further New Zealand-resident players of African origin are currently playing in the New Zealand domestic competition.  The best known is Kruger van Wyk, the 30 year old South African who until last season kept wicket for and captained Canterbury, but has just moved to Central Districts for the start of the 2010/11 season.  Van Wyk is a senior player and a real prospect for New Zealand selection, particularly given Brendon McCullum’s decision to give up keeping in tests and the failure of his replacement Gareth Hopkins to score runs in test conditions.  In June 2010 when his move to CD was announced, van Wyk said:

No longer being captain of Canterbury enables me to focus on my ambition to play international cricket and moving to Central Districts will provide me with a fresh start and the opportunity to pursue this goal.

With a first class batting average of 35.7, a one-day List A batting average of 43.0, and a total of 221 games of representative cricket under his belt, van Wyk would inject a valuable sense of experience and achievement into the New Zealand test squad, and may even challenge McCullum for the wicket-keeping spot in ODIs and T20s.

Otago’s South African-born bowler Neil Wagner fielded for South Africa in two tests at Centurion and played for the South African Academy side as recently as 2008, but decided to make his cricketing career in New Zealand.  He was soon performing strongly for Otago and was selected to tour with the New Zealand Emerging Players side in 2009.  His bowling figures impress, with a current first-class average of 23.1 and one-day average of 25.5.  Only 24 years of age, Wagner is a real fast-bowling prospect for the future.   

Colin de Grandhomme, the 24 year old Auckland all-rounder, was born and learned his cricket in Zimbabwe, where both his father and his grandfather both played first-class representative cricket.  In his homeland de Grandhomme played for both Manicaland and the Zimbabwe Under-19s, Under-23s and Zimbabwe A.  But after moving to Auckland he excelled, particularly with the bat, and now has four first-class centuries to his name, a batting average of 33.9 and 43 first-class wickets at 30.8.   

The ICC’s qualifications criteria state that a player must not have played representative cricket for another member country during the four immediately preceding years, and must have resided in the country they hope to represent for a minimum of 183 days in each of the four immediately preceding years.  With this in mind, it is pleasing to note that van Wyk is on the verge of qualifying to play for his adopted homeland, and Wagner and de Grandhomme are probably a year or two away.  It will be interesting to see if all three eventually follow Elliott and Watling’s path into the national side.   

[Pic: Kruger van Wyk lifts the State Championship trophy for Canterbury, April 2008, © Getty Images]

15 November 2010

The Lord Mayor’s Parade

Yesterday I went into town to watch the Lord Mayor’s Parade, in which the various livery companies and other contributors march through the City of London and into the West End, accompanied by the Lord Mayor in his historic golden state coach.  The BBC reported that this was the City’s 683rd Lord Mayor, and that the coach (which is usually on display at the Museum of London) is 253 years old. 

I secured a position on the Strand beside St Clement Danes and within sight of the Royal Courts of Justice, and enjoyed the festival atmosphere and marching bands for an hour.  I even managed to put up with the old dear nearby whose sole line of commentary when she saw something impressive was ‘ooh yes’, repeated about every 45 seconds.