TV Films Of The Week

July 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV films of the week 33 - thumbnail

FILM OF THE WEEK: Up In The Air
Saturday July 26, BBC Two, 10:30pm

If ever there was a role that perfectly matched the public perception of George Clooney, it’s that of Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air. In the pre-engagement days of ‘Gorgeous George’, the media loved to portray Clooney as the eternal bachelor – commitment averse, moving from one beautiful woman to the next. As Bingham, therefore, it didn’t seem a stretch to play a man who preaches (and practices) a philosophy of avoiding the emotional weight relationships carry as a part-time motivational speaker.

It is this philosophy that Bingham begins to question when his regular job – as a man corporations call in to fire employees on their behalf – brings him into contact with his female equivalent. Alex (Vera Farmiga) also likes to travel light, both literally and figuratively, yet together they enjoy the temporary dances (deep conversation, meals, sex) that comprise a relationship, before busy intercontinental schedules pull them apart. At the same time, Bingham has taken a new recruit Natalie (Anna Kendrick ) on as protégé, whose innovation of firing people via video link even he finds troubling.

What makes Up In The Air so special is its heartfelt examination of the detachment and subjugation we all experience in our professional lives. Capturing the post-2008 economic crash zeitgeist with aplomb, Bingham and Natalie transform before our eyes as they realise the human consequences of decisions taken under their cold, corporate personas. If anything, the film is director Jason Reitman’s wonderful affirmation that, as the expression goes, no man (or woman) is an island.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Saturday July 26, ITV4, 10:25pm

The mouthful of a title may be matched by the film’s lengthy running time, but Andrew Dominik’s revisionist Western takes the myth of Jesse James and uses it to frame a fascinating exploration of the cannibalistic nature of celebrity. Brad Pitt has a quiet intensity as James at the height of his fame/notoriety, as well as at the end of his criminal career and (no spoiler alert – see the title) at the end of his life. Casey Affleck was rightly Oscar-nominated for his desperate Ford, the man whose media-fuelled infatuation with James led him to create his own infamy, while Andrew Dominik’s direction and Roger Deakins’ superlative cinematography make for an absorbing, poetic experience.

The Elephant Man
Sunday July 27, ITV3, 10pm

Following his debut with the surrealist body horror Eraserhead, audiences might have wondered what David Lynch would do with the story of the ‘Elephant Man’. Despite the appalling twisted appearance of John Merrick, the film’s eponymous subject, Lynch actually turned in a tender portrayal of the cruel horror at physical deformity that robs the afflicted of their dignity. The real Merrick was a much maligned and mistreated soul, and even under considerable prosthetic makeup, John Hurt’s sensitive performance will break even the stoniest of hearts.

The Insider
Monday July 28, Film4, 12:40am

With the recent award of $23bn to the widow of a chain-smoker, the issue of Big Tobacco and its deliberate obfuscation surrounding the addictiveness of its products is back in the headlines. Back in 1995, Jeffrey Wigand appeared on legendary US current affairs show 60 Minutes and blew the whistle on manufacturer Brown & Williamson’s attempts to boost the nicotine content in its cigarettes, causing a national scandal. It might not sound like the most exciting premise for a movie, but with Russell Crowe and Al Pacino in blistering form, as Wigand and the producer who got him to talk respectively, Michael Mann’s masterpiece is thrilling from start to finish.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 65 – Cuticle Detective Inaba

July 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Cuticle Detective Inaba 1

Many TV detectives have a gimmicky side: Monk is as an obsessive compulsive, one of Randall and Hopkirk is dead, but perhaps this anime has the oddest TV detective of all: a werewolf hair fetishist.

Cuticle Detective Inaba is a surreal crime comedy, featuring all kinds of bizarre characters and crazy humour. The series began as a manga in 2008 by an artist under the pseudonym Mochi, and then was adapted as an anime at the start of 2013, running for a dozen episodes, with most of them consisting of two individual short stories, although some had longer or shorter narratives.

The title character, Hiroshi Inaba, is a “Secret Doberman”, a half-human, half-wolf being, who used to work for the police. Each Secret Doberman is attracted to a certain thing from which they are able to gain extra information about a case or some sort of extra power. In Inaba’s case, he is attracted to hair, which resulted in him becoming a hair fetishist. He cannot control his lust for natural human follicles (he is not interested in animals, and hates dyed hair). However, he no longer works for the police and is now a private detective, where he is also constantly trying to find his long-lost sickly younger brother Haruka.

He is assisted by 16-year-old Kei Nozaki, the token straight man of the show despite his huge love (and allergy) of cats. Inaba’s other assistant is Yuta Sasaki, a boy who cross-dresses as a stereotypically cute anime girl. Yuta is skilled at martial arts, one of which is often used on Inaba. This martial art causes Inaba to transform into a more powerful form, where he is able to gain extra powers when he bites a hair, depending on the colour. For example, black hair makes everyone around Inaba depressed, while blonde hair allows him to shoot lightning bolts. Inaba’s main client is his old police partner, Kuniharu Ogino, a man who loves his daughter a bit too much, and a man that jealous Yuta wants to kills because of his past relationship with Inaba.

Most of Inaba’s cases involve foiling the plots of a mafia family, led by Don Valentino – who just happens to be a goat with a fondness for eating money. Not surprisingly, goat Valentino hates wolves and thus considers Inaba his mortal enemy. Assisting Valentino are Lorenzo, a man constantly seen with a sack on his head and whose love of the Don is excessive; Gabriella, a short-sighted but deadly assassin who likes to kill anyone outside of a certain height range and make everyone else her minion (Kei fits into her range); and 14-year-old girl Noah, a mad scientist who becomes friends with Yuta due to their fondness for both wanting Ogino dead.

The enjoyable aspect of this series is the surreal comedy. Because it is surreal, just about anyone can get it because it is all bonkers to everyone, whether you speak Japanese or English. As a result, this is a comedy that plays to British sensibilities. The British have had a love of surreal comedy with the likes of The Goon Show, Monty Python and the works of Reeves and Mortimer. If you are into this sort of comedy, you will like this show.

There is not just the comic aspect too. As the episodes move along, the characters develop and become more human – or werewolf – or goat. Inaba especially becomes more complex, due his past relationships with his brother, the police, or indeed other characters that are revealed later on in the series.

Cuticle Detective Inaba is a barmy, silly, funny show that is worth watching if you like your comedy to be a bit bonkers.

Cuticle Detective Inaba is available on Region 1 DVD from Sentai Filmworks. It can also be streamed on the website Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 64 – Robotech (aka Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada)

July 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Robotech 1

Possibly the oddest thing about the topic of this week’s anime is actually myself. The show in question is often considered to be the Marmite of anime: most people either totally love it, or hate it with furious bile. I seem to be one of the few people in the world who think that it is just OK.

The mecha series Robotech is however also one of the most important anime around. When it was released in 1985 a total of 85 episodes over three series were broadcast in the USA and it was one of the first anime to be shown in English. There are issues though. For starters some people don’t consider it a true anime. To make this series a company called Harmony Gold got the rights to adapt one particular anime series, The Supernatural Dimension Fortress Macross, for the American market. But as this series was too short for syndication in the US, they brought the rights to two more anime, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, and revised the dialogue to combine all three shows into a single series.

For the purposes of avoiding spoilers, I shall describe briefly the plot of just the first series, known as “The Macross Saga”. In this first series of Robotech, which was set in what was then the futuristic 1990s-2000s, an alien spaceship crash-lands onto the Earth, causing war to spread across the world. But then they declare a ceasefire after discovering the possibility of alien invasion. The ship is reconstructed on the fictional Macross Island in the South Pacific, but on the day it is to be re-launched the Earth is attacked by a race of giant alien called the Zentraedi. Luckily the ship escapes using a special type of warping teleportation. However, due to the warp never been tested before the process ends up being botched. Aiming for the dark side of the moon, they actually end up at Pluto and take Macross Island with them. The people on the ship rescue as many civilians as they can, with the civilians living on board the ship.

The main story follows a civilian pilot called Rick Hunter (Hikaru Ichijyo in the original), who ends up becoming a fighter pilot working for the crew of Macross. It also deals with his complex relationship with two women: singer Linn Minmei (spelt Lynn Minmay in the original) and military officer Lisa Hayes (Misa Hayase), with a love triangle forming one of the key plot devices.

As stated, this is a series that normally divides opinion hugely. Those on the pro-Robotech side argue that the series helped to introduce English-speaking people to anime more than any other series at the time. It was not just in USA it was shown. It even got that rarest of things: an airing in the UK, on the Children’s Channel back in the mid-to-late 1980s. Also, they argue the plot of the series was unlike that of many other animated programmes at the time. There are shock revelations such as tragic deaths of major characters for example. Perhaps more interestingly is the fact that in Robotech the humans often lost, which is rare in such shows.

The anti-Robotech side argue though that this adaptation ruined three separate series in one go. All the stuff about the brilliant plot was true of the original shows, and therefore there was no need to make so many changes, and these changes did not just involve the westernisation of people’s names. Because it merged three different shows, huge chunks of the original plot needed to be altered to make everything fit together. Harmony Gold also has its share of criticism, and not just with regards to Robotech and anime. They once partly funded a TV series made in apartheid South Africa despite economic sanctions, and the founder of the company, Frank Agrama, was once convicted of tax fraud in a case involving Silvio Berlusconi.

I personally feel that the things that were wrong were balanced out by the things that were right. Yes, the way they tried to merge three different series into one doesn’t quite work and the ending is somewhat open-ended, but the plot is good, the characters are loveable, and the drama is great. The major problem in my view is that because of Harmony Gold’s copyright you cannot get access to the original Japanese versions of Macross, Southern Cross or Mospeada in the west. You have to have the Americanised version or nothing, and that feels kind of wrong.

Robotech however still roles on and on. After the series several spin-offs were made, and even now there is currently a Kickstarter campaign to make a new series called Robotech Academy, with an aim of getting $500,000 by 8th August. As usual the series has attracted comments from fans and critics.

Ideally, the best thing to recommend is to have a quick sample of the series. You do not know whether you will love or loathe Robotech without dipping your toe into this important and controversial programme.

The Robotech TV series and spin-off films are released on DVD by Harmony Gold. The Kickstarter campaign for Robotech Academy is located here.

Andrew Gough: Inquisitions are the “obliteration of anyone they feared”

July 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Inquisition

The Inquisitions swept like a plague across Medieval Europe, with thousands of innocent people arrested, tried and executed for heresy. this is an extraordinary story of nearly 500 years of bigotry, fear, persecution, torture and death.

Andrew Gough is a researcher, writer and presenter of historical conundrums. He is Editor in Chief of The Heretic Magazine and lives and works in Istanbul, Turkey. He is one of the main contributors to the brand new series Inquisition.

What interests you most about the period of history of the inquisitions?

What fascinates, mystifies and ultimately repulses me about the Inquisitions is how transparently shameless the powers at be were in their pursuit and obliteration of anyone who they feared was a threat to their supremacy.

The Inquisitions represented some of the earliest, and most horrific, examples of genocide in the modern world. What made the whole thing particularly disturbing was that their campaigns of hate were justified in the name of God. And their persecution of the so-called ‘heretics’ was so ruthless that even those who had taken their own life were dug up, tried, their skeletons burned and their former possessions taken from their heirs. Before long, the execution of heretics had become such a routine, business-like activity that it required an accounting audit just like any other vocation.

Where did the Inquisitions start and take place? Where did you travel to for this series?

The Inquisitions began in earnest with the extermination of the Cathars in the south of France, in the late 12th century, in a region known as the Languedoc.

And so we travelled to Beziers, where the crusade against the Cathars began in 1209. we investigate the events that led to the carnage in Beziers, when thousands of people were killed, including men, women and children, during what was known as the ‘day of Butchery’.

We pick up the next incarnation of the Inquisition in Madrid, where the Spanish Inquisition sought to suppress the re-emergence of Jewish practices in a country that was desperately trying to maintain a Catholic identity. Not surprisingly, the Spanish Inquisition resorted to torture, in the name of God, in order to ensure its success.

Just when you thought that civilisation had transcended the dismal reality of Inquisitions, we travel to England to study the British Tudors, who were far from the beautiful and benevolent people so frequently portrayed. In fact, what made the religious persecutions of the Tudor Inquisition especially barbaric is that they seemed to revel in torturing their victims, and even invented the torture chamber to facilitate their morbid pleasure, as if it were theatre.

How could a person be labelled a heretic? What happened during their trials?

The manner in which good, honest, normal individuals were labelled heretics, and brutally persecuted, remains one of the most reprehensible phenomena of the last 1,000 years.

First of all, the Inquisition ignored all rules of decency and justice. Guilt was assumed, and the accused seldom knew the identity of their accusers, let alone what they were accused of. Furthermore, the heretic had no right to legal counsel and, in the unlikely event where they were provided representation, even their legal counsel risked persecution.

The Inquisitions were brazen and arbitrarily levied charges of heresy, idolatry, obscene rituals and homosexuality, financial corruption, fraud and secrecy. Astonishingly, over the years the paranoia the Inquisitions spawned became even worse and people were charged on the say-so of hostile or jealous neighbours, while informers were paid handsomely for their efforts. If any of the ‘false’ accusations were exposed, they were
forgiven for being the result of ‘zeal for the faith’. And, lest we forget, typically half of a guilty person’s property was seized by the church. the systematic persecution knew no bounds and the Dominicans even
hit on the idea of digging up and trying dead people, so that they could seize property from their heirs.

Inquisition investigates the most gruesome and horrific period of human history, exclusive to Yesterday, Wednesdays at 9pm from 16th July.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 63 – Sailor Moon

July 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Sailor Moon 1

July marks the start of the new summer season of anime in Japan. As well as brand new shows, some older anime are returning with new series. Black Butler (No. 10), Free! (No. 17) and Sword Art Online (No. 34) are amongst of returning anime. But there is one anime series especially that is making a welcome return.

It has been a return that was promised two years ago, and after a long wait it has finally arrived, to the ecstatic joy of many anime fans globally. It is not strictly speaking a new series, but the remake of a classic. It was one of the first anime aimed at girls to make a worldwide impact, and is considered to have been the core staple of an entire anime genre.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, more commonly known simply as Sailor Moon, is regarded as the most classic example of the “magical girl” genre, which features girls with superpowers. Sailor Moon, while not being the first such series, did more than any other to establish the standard features of magical girl anime: the special powers, the (rather long) transformation sequences, the relationships between the characters and so on. Originally a manga written by Naoko Takeuchi between 1991 and 1997, it is actually a sequel to an earlier manga called Codename: Sailor V. The first anime ran for five series between 1992 and 1997. This new version, called Sailor Moon Crystal, started on Saturday, with new episodes being released every fortnight.

Sailor Moon’s heroine is Usagi Tsukino, a 14-year-old schoolgirl who a bit of a cry-baby and rather clumsy. On her way to school she jumps into and helps a cat with a crescent shaped mark called Luna. Later that same night Luna enters Usagi’s bedroom and talks to her in the human language. For helping her, Luna reveals to Usagi that she is in fact a magical guardian who is destined to save the world. In order to do so, she must find her allies and defeat enemies of the Earth. Thus Luna gives Usagi a magical broach which allows Usagi to transform into the magical Sailor Moon – “The Pretty Guardian in Sailor Suit” (the traditional Japanese schoolgirl uniform is based on a sailor’s uniform).

Over the course of the story, Sailor Moon gains new magical powers, and begins to gather her allies, who like her also take their names and powers from heavenly bodies. Amongst these are Ami Mizuno, a genius who becomes Sailor Mercury; Rei Hino, the maiden of shrine who turns into the fiery Sailor Mars; Makoto Kino, the strongest physically of the group who becomes Sailor Jupiter; and Minako Aino, a pop idol who works as Sailor Venus (the original heroine of Codename: Sailor V). There is also a male helper, Mamoru Chiba, who is also named after his choice of outfit – Tuxedo Mask. The main plot of the series normally concerns attempting to find a magical item called the “Legendary Silver Crystal” and a magical ruler called Princess Serenity, in order to save the future of the world, and indeed the universe itself from evil.

One of the big reasons for the popularity of the series is the characters. Sailor Moon and her friends are arguably anime’s most famous superhero team, for want of a better term. The characters are very varied and believable, with Sailor Moon herself not only being one of anime’s most recognisable characters, but considered by some to be a feminist icon. Although the female characters in their transformed state may look evocative in some western eyes, the idea of the women taking the lead in the fight against evil was itself a feminist one as before in anime it was the men who did the fighting.

The female relationships were also expressed in other ways. For example, it was revealed by Naoko Takeuchi that some of the relationships in the series were lesbian relationships – “yuri” is the term used to describe such anime. In Sailor Moon, two of the later characters introduced, the androgynous Sailor Uranus and antihero Sailor Neptune, are a lesbian couple. This leads to one of the odder features of Sailor Moon – censorship in other countries. When the 1990s anime was shown in the USA they considered that a lesbian couple was too adult for children, so they made the characters cousins instead.

This was not the most unusual censorship however. Even later in the 1990s series another group of characters called the Sailor Starlights, who represented Sailors from elsewhere in the galaxy, appeared in the show. The characters were male in their normal form, but became female when they transformed. How this was dealt with depended on which country you were in. For example in Latin American countries they stayed true to the plot, and just used two different voice actors for the male and female versions of the characters. In South Korea however claimed the characters were female all the time. The Russians though claimed the characters were male all the time, despite the fact you could clearly see their breasts in the revealing uniforms. The strangest censorship however came from the Italians. They claimed the male characters did not transform, but instead summoned their twin sisters.

Despite all this, Sailor Moon reached a global audience. It remains to this day one of the most popular anime of all time, and possibly the greatest magical girl anime ever. Only the more recent Puella Magi Madoka Magica (No. 4) is considered a rival in terms of impact, as it turned the whole genre around, making magical girls tragic rather than fun. Hopefully, this new remake will live up to the original manga and the anime people already know and love.

The original Sailor Moon anime was released on DVD by MVM Films, but now only second hand copies are available. The remake, Sailor Moon Crystal is streamed on NicoNico.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, Extra I – Going to Conventions

July 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Sunnycon 3

While talking about anime is all well and good, there’s more to anime that just watching something on DVD. There’s also the factor of community amongst the fans themselves, and arguably the best form this takes is conventions.

Anime conventions take place in various locations around the country all year around. You may already be familiar with comic book or sci-fi conventions, and you can expect these to be of a similar tone. But for those who have never been to such conventions, here’s a beginner’s guide.

To act as a guide, this article will be covering a recent convention: Sunnycon, on the Sunderland sea front. In terms of size it is somewhere in the middle for anime conventions, with 2,000 people attending last year, over a period of two days. It features a wide selection of activities, and also a large number of businesses, normally small ones, selling their geeky goods.

Sunnycon 4

One of the big draws at conventions is guest speakers, which normally tend to be American voice actors who dub anime into English. These tend to be the big draws for such conventions, signing DVDs, books and such, as well as giving talks about the industry.

Another big draw is gaming. There are plenty of video games going on at these conventions, modern and retro, with gaming contest also taking place. It is not just video games too. Table-top games and trading card games are also big. One of the biggest is a trading card game based on an anime and manga series called Yu-Gi-Oh!. It should be pointed out that you do not need to have seen the original anime in order to enjoy the game.

Then there are the panels. Various people with expertise in different areas give talks on a particular subject – and I should know as I’ve host a few myself on manga and anime related topics. At Sunnycon this year panels included one on lolita fashion, another on role-playing games, and my personal favourite was panel about gay anime like yaoi, which was both educating and humorous.

Sunnycon 5

For most people attending conventions, the main activity is “Cosplay”. Short for “costume play”, this is when you dress up as a fictional character. It can be either someone from famous piece of work or a character of your own invention. Some people buy their costumes, others make their own from scratch. Cosplaying is welcomed and encouraged at conventions – but don’t worry, it’s not compulsory. If you do cosplay, expect requests for photos. If you do not wish for photos, say so, but on the whole most people are fine with it.

Also, although you may be at an anime convention, you don’t have to cosplay as an anime character. It can be any absolutely work of fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, video games, cult shows, cartoons, etc. Alongside these people are those into other aspects of culture and fashion, east and west, ranging from kimonos and lolita fashion, to steampunks (Victorian alternative history) and furries (people who like anthropomorphic animals).

Thus you get a really interesting mix of characters. Conventions are probably the only place in the world where you could be in the same place as Ash Ketchum from Pokemon, several generations of the Doctor, Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, Batman, Finn from Adventure Time, Lion-O from ThunderCats, Harry Potter, Sonic the Hedgehog, Elsa from Frozen, several grey trolls from the webcomic Homestuck, Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony, and in my case, as shown in the following photo, Rei Ryugazaki from Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club.

Sunnycon 1

Cosplay also helps to make friends, as you might want to do a theme photo-shoot with similar cosplayers. I did a sports-theme shoot in my Rei cosplay one day, and on the other I was in a Hetalia shoot. As this was the year of the World Cup we dressed up in the football kits of the characters. I went as Sweden. I know Sweden isn’t in this year’s World Cup, but he is the character I most resemble.

The main cosplay events however are the “masquerade”, a kind of fashion parade in which cosplayers show off their designs to everyone else at the convention and a panel of judges; and the “skit contest” where one or more cosplayers write their own scenes involving their characters, again in front of an audience and a panel of judges. There are strict rules about entering (see the convention’s website for their rules). The prizes vary convention-to-convention. Often it is merchandise, DVDs, manga etc. In Sunnycon the top prize was £1,000. Arguably however the best moment at this year’s masquerade was at the end when there was a wedding proposal. You will be happy to know the answer was “Yes”.

There also little individual events that vary between conventions. At Sunnycon there was a charity auction which led to one odd incident. There was a bit of a bidding war for a plush doll of the character Vegeta from an anime called Dragon Ball. The bids were between two guys, one of whom was cosplaying the Marvel character Deadpool. After a mock sword battle between the bidders, the other guy got some back-up in the form of a man cosplaying a 7-feet tall Space Marine from the table-top game Warhammer 40,000. In response the Deadpool cosplayer got someone else to represent him: someone cosplaying a versios of Gundam, in an plastic outfit with flashing LEDs. The entire thing was caught on video.

In terms of main advice however it would be the following: prepare well in advance; budget everything; buy your ticket in advance rather than on the day; don’t spend all your money at once; and keep hydrated, especially if you are in a cumbersome cosplay.

But the most important things are to have fun, share your passion with others, and expand your horizons.

For details of Sunnycon, visit www.sunnycon.co.uk/. Ian Wolf is also available to present panels at conventions. Contact him for more information.

Image details:
1-2) Taken by myself.
3) Taken by Amelia Jane.
4-6) Taken by Mario Czekirda Photography.

Maggie Gyllenhaal: From Secretary to Honourable Woman

June 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

How would you describe Nessa Stein?
“Nessa is a very powerful, smart and emotional woman but at the same time she’s broken and confused with a deeply troubled past. She is conflicted about past events, events that have haunted her and it is the reason why she is constantly battling a consuming internal conflict – this internal struggle for reconciliation with her past and her search for personal equilibrium – is manifested in her political activities – to try to reconcile a conflict that has equally haunted a region of the world, countless lives, and political agendas for many years.”

What interested you about the project?
“When I read the scripts I thought they were incredible. Hugo Blick is such a talented writer and I’d never read anything like them before. On one hand they had the thriller aspect, with the twists, turns and secrets but underneath that there is this ocean of realistic human emotion, especially in Nessa and that’s what interested me the most. Everything about Nessa is very intense, she’s just so much more alive than I am, or any of us, and that was such a joy to play.

So while The Honourable Woman deals with political inheritance and trust and deceit, it also deals with the deep personal side to those same issues. So it took all of me, my brain, my heart, my body to play Nessa Stein. And I had never been presented with a challenge quite like that before.”

Why did you choose this role as your first TV project?
“I had never read a character like Nessa. She is a powerful, smart, grown-up woman who is also deeply flawed and broken. She is hard and sensual, brave and childlike all at once. Like we all are. I love that the drama deals with very important, terrifying global conflicts – and it really takes them on – but it is also about a woman trying to sort out similar conflicts inside herself.

I know it differs from project to project but I can see now all the benefits and autonomy television can bring having worked on The Honourable Woman. I just loved the scope of the drama and how a television series grants you the freedom to really flesh out a character. Having worked in films for so long and becoming used to the regular two-hour rhythm, I found it difficult initially, to get my head around regularly shooting scenes out of order. But as time passed it felt really wild and unpredictable and that excited me.”

How did you perfect the English accent?
“I’ve worked on two plays and two movies with an English accent so I knew I was competent at doing the accent. It wasn’t like I was learning something from scratch, but this was the first time I’ve ever felt like it was really in my bones.

I love talking with an English accent and I loved playing Nessa with her English accent. I remember when we finished shooting Hugo said to me, ‘Where are you going to hang that accent?’ as I now feel like a fully fledged Anglophile!”

The Honourable Woman is on BBC now

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 62 – Wolf Children

June 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Wolf Children 1

We now move onto the most recent of Mamoru Hosoda’s feature films. While his previous films, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, had science fiction themes dealing with time travel and artificial intelligences, his last film was more of a fantasy film.

Wolf Children actually premiered in Paris a month before it was released in Japan, back in 2012. Again the film was produced by the animation studio Madhouse, and this is so far his biggest commercial success.

The story starts with a 19-year-old female college student called Hana, who while studying encounters a male student who she then falls in love with. After going out together for a while, Hana’s lover reveals to her his biggest secret: he is a werewolf, able to turn into a wolf at will. This does not put Hana off him and so the relationship blossoms.

Over the coming months and years, Hana has two children, feisty girl Yuki, and later a sickly boy named Ame. Both of them are also werewolves, a fact Hana has to try to constantly hide from everyone around her. Everything is well until a horrible tragedy strikes the family which results in Hana having to look after Yuki and Ame on her own.

The pressure of her neighbours and visiting social workers results in Hana deciding to move out of the city and into the countryside, where she buys an old farmhouse. She repairs it and soon starts planting her own crops. Meanwhile, the children are beginning to forge their own paths. Yuki wants to go to school and interact more with humans, while Ame is more interested in the surrounding forests and becoming more wolf-like. As the years role on Hana is constantly trying to figure out what is best for her children, and which paths they should take.

There is a lot to like about this film. Firstly the artwork is in my view divine. To me it is one of the most beautiful looking anime films made, and certainly one of the best anime films that is not made by Studio Ghibli.

I love the plot as well. In terms of the time scale, this is a long film told over a period of several years. However, we get to know the characters so well during this period. The way that Yuki and Ame change in terms of their behaviour during this time is one of the most intriguing stories I have come across in an anime film. Probably the best scene in Wolf Children sees Hana playing with her children on a snowy day, where they run through a forest, up on top of a hill, and then all three howl together. Overall, the plot is not only good, but surprisingly moving, especially towards the end as the children decide on their own futures.

The film performed well back in Japan. During its opening weekend it was the second-highest grossing film, even beating the Disney / Pixar film Brave which made its Japanese debut at the same time. In 2012 it became the fifth highest-grossing film of the year make ¥4.2 billion (nearly $54 million).

Wolf Children is a brilliant film. The plot, animation and characters all combine together to create a wonderful piece of work.

Wolf Children is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Manga Entertainment.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 61 – Summer Wars

June 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Summer Wars 1

Continuing from last week, we look at another film directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Like the The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, it has a sci-fi element, but instead of time-travel, it deals with computers, virtual worlds and artificial intelligence. It also features a very large family. It was highly successful in terms of box office takings, taking $1.3 million on the opening weekend and over $18 million at the end of its run.

The film, set during a hot summer, begins with schoolboy Kenji Koiso, who has a talent for maths and also works part-time as a moderator for a virtual reality world called “OZ”. His friend, a girl called Natsuki Shinohara, invites Kenji to her family estate in the city of Ueda. He accepts, and discovers several shocking things. For one, just about all of Natsuki’s extended family are also over to visit. But the biggest shock is when Natsuki, in front of her great-grandmother, 89-year-old Sakae Jinnouchi, lies to her and says that Kenji is her fiancé.

The visit then gets even more troublesome. The black sheep of family, Wabisuke Jinnouchi, has also visited the estate. He is hated by most of the family after stealing the family fortune a decade ago. Then, overnight Kenji gets an email with a mathematical code. He cracks it and sends a reply back. However, this triggers a rogue A.I. called “Love Machine” to hack into his account and use Kenji’s avatar to cause havoc all over Japan. Kenji is blamed for spreading the A.I. and gets arrested, but Love Machine’s chaos spreads to the traffic and so he cannot be taken to a police station.

Eventually the family consider the situation to be akin to a war, and so use Kenji to help fight against Love Machine. Luckily for them, one of the other members of the family, 13-year-old Kazuma Ikezawa, controls the rabbit-like avatar King Kazma, famous for coming top of all OZ’s fighting games. With their combined power, the family declare war on Love Machine – a war in which they discover that the future of the world hangs in the balance.

Summer Wars at times is quite a tricky film to follow. For starters there is the large cast. You have various off-shots of the family each with their own foibles. One member is an expert on the family history, another is a woman who is constantly watching her son play baseball, several of the family work in different branches of the emergency services and so on.

Another element that makes it a challenging film for western viewers is that one of the key plot devices is a card game that is not generally known about in Britain. The game is called “Koi-Koi” (“come on”) and is a card game. But the cards are “Hanafuda” or “card flowers”, which look nothing like the standard playing cards we use. Instead they have pictures of flowers in them. The rules of the game are never properly explained in the movie so it is hard to understand.

However, there is still plenty to like about the film. The animation is good, and there are plenty of action sequences, so if you do not know the rules to Koi-Koi you can still enjoy a decent fight between Love Machine and King Kazma. The plot also builds up dramatically as it progresses. The family experiences tragedy and Love Machine’s terror takes whole new proportions that could spell mass destruction.

Summer Wars is released on DVD and Blu-Ray from Manga Entertainment.

TV films of the week

June 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 32

FILM OF THE WEEK: The Social Network
Sunday June 22, Channel 4, 10:20pm

At just 10-years-old, Facebook is already looking like the gnarled old survivor of the social media era. In that decade it has beaten back challenges from the likes of Google+, Pinterest and Twitter to remain the most popular platform for everyone to post the most intimate detail of their lives for all to see. And with as many users as there are people living in India (1.2 billion), it was no surprise that Hollywood decided Facebook’s story could earn it more than a few ‘likes’ at the box office.

Even so, David Fincher’s ‘Facebook movie’, as it was dubbed whilst still in production, sounded more than a little silly at first. I mean, who could make a narrative film about the virtual showground used to convince everyone we’re all so happy and living such wonderful lives, without it ending up as a Tron for the millenial generation? You can’t, of course, so instead Fincher got Aaron Sorkin to knock up a belter of a script based on its creator, Mark Zuckerberg.

Although more fiction than fact – the latter would have meant two hours of geeks eating pizza and tapping their keyboards – it perfectly captures the yearning desire for recognition that fuelled both the creation of Facebook and the millions who proceeded to join it. Jesse Eisenberg is quietly scintillating as Zuckerberg, but the entire cast – Justin Timberlake included – are all on fire here. Include amongst them Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s bristling (and Oscar-winning) score, without which the film’s emotional impact would not be quite so profound.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

Wayne’s World
Saturday June 21, E4, 9pm

The tradition of turning TV shows into feature-length films is littered with abject failure, from the awful A-Team to the extremely tedious X-Files. Being a sketch on a TV show (Saturday Night Live) meant there was even less to work with for Wayne’s World, but thanks to some brilliant writing it ended up even funnier than its original source. A pre-Austin Powers Mike Myers is at his sarcastic best as Wayne Campbell, the twenty-something 80s rock enthusiast catapulted to fame alongside best friend Garth, the equally hilarious Dana Carvey.

Machete
Saturday June 21, Film4, 11:25pm

In 2007 Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez parodied the era of grindhouse movie – a cheap, exploitative film genre of the 1970s and 80s – with a double-bill release of Planet Terror and Death Proof. Sandwiched between was a raft of fake trailers, one of which depicted a machete-wielding Mexican-American tough guy called, yes, Machete. Rodriguez was so taken with the trailer that he made it into a feature-length film, starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba and Lindsey Lohan. It’s absolutely bonkers, of course, but with hilarious turns from Robert de Niro, Steven Seagal and Don Johnson, it’s definitely the most fun you’ll experience in your living room on Saturday night.

The Battle of the Sexes
Sunday June 22, BBC Four, 9pm

Sadly, misogyny and sexism are still suffered by women the world over on a daily basis. While things haven’t come that far since 1973, at least a man like former pro-tennis champion Bobby Riggs would face ridicule today for pronouncing a woman’s place to be the bedroom, the kitchen and “supporting the king” on live television. This captivating documentary charts the day Riggs met his game, set and match in the shape of Billie Jean King, the player who would go on to do so much for gender equality in her sport at least, if not quite the world beyond.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

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