TV Films of the Week – Halloween horror special!

October 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 40A

FILM OF THE WEEK: Witchfinder General
Saturday November 1, BBC Two, 12:05am

Devils, ghosts, vampires and zombies – all well established as the stuff of nightmares. 17th century English lawyer Matthew Hopkins…not so much. He should be though. Between 1644 and 1647, Hopkins is thought to have been responsible for the deaths of around 300 women he sentenced to death under the barmy charge of being a witch. In many ways, Hopkins was the Harold Shipman of his era, a serial killer motivated by profit – for every women he extracted a confession from (using instruments of torture such as the trusty ‘witch-pricker’), he was paid a handsome price by the local authorities.

While director Michael Reeves might play slightly fast and loose with the facts (as far as they can be known) of Hopkins’ mercifully short life, the sense of impending dread he creates as the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General utilizes wicked guile to take advantage of a breakdown in social order during the English civil war makes for an uncomfortably horrific watch. There is nothing supernatural at play here, just genre king Vincent Price as Hopkins, accompanied by the malignant presence of assistant John Stearne – two most mortal of monsters.

That this is a true-life tale of man’s inhumanity to man, fuelled by nothing more grubby than the pursuit of money, makes it infinitely more disturbing than all the devil dolls, possessed teenagers or found footage spooks that contemporary cinema can throw in our faces. Besides, substitute the hysteria over witches with today’s Ukip-inspired loathing of immigrants, and you can see how little England’s collective psyche has changed over the past four centuries.

 

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

The Howling
Friday October 31, ITV 4, 11:20pm

Before werewolves got all touchy, feely and buff in the Twilight films, The Howling depicts them exactly as they should be: bitey, nasty and rough. Like John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London (also released in 1981), Joe Dante’s sharp-toothed slasher mixes dark humour with darker shocks, as Dee Wallace’s news anchor finds more than she bargained for at a secluded health resort. Look out for the work of special effects legend Rob Bottin, who would go on to traumatise audiences even more the following year with his visceral creations in John Carpenter’s The Thing.

 

Poltergeist
Friday October 31, Channel 5, 11:55pm

Co-written and produced by Steven Spielberg, who installed Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper in the director’s chair, Poltergeist was the Paranormal Activity of its day, taking back many times what it cost to make. Its twisted formula put the American nuclear family through the wringer, as their television – that most treasured of possessions – becomes a portal to hell. Horror of the highest order, it remains absolutely terrifying. All together now: “They’re here…”

 

The Devil’s Backbone
Saturday November 1, BBC Two, 1:30am

If you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s majestic Pan’s Labyrinth, the Mexican director’s earlier film is compulsory viewing. Although not quite as ornately fantastical as Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone is a similarly tender and thoughtful evocation of the tragedy wrought by Spain’s civil war. Make no mistake, this is still an acutely chilling ghost story, but rather than superficial scares, del Toro uses the dead to create fables warning the living not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

 

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

Mad Men – What Don, Peggy and Betty did next…

October 30, 2014 by  
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As Matthew Weiner’s stylish, critically acclaimed and brilliantly nuanced series draws to a close, we’re taking a look at the cast that shaped the iconic series over the years, and how their careers have progressed since taking up their roles at Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Pryce.

Jon Hamm – Don Draper
Jon Hamm’s defining role as the tortured, brilliant Don Draper has won him legions of fans, and elevated him to the A-list, but success wasn’t easy to come by for the Missouri-born actor. He was dropped by the famous William Morris Agency and saw his audition for Mad Men as his final shot at success. Since winning the role of a lifetime, Hamm has taken on a diverse range of roles- including a scene-stealing performance as Kristen Wiig’s lecherous love interest in box office smash Bridesmaids, a hardened FBI agent in the Ben Affleck-directed crime drama The Town, and a maverick sports agent in Million Dollar Arm. He’s also jumped behind the camera, honing his directing skills on a couple of episodes of Mad Men.

Christina Hendricks – Joan Harris (nee Holloway)
Hendricks’ role as the office queen bee and eventual partner in the agency was originally intended to only be a guest role. However, Matthew Weiner was so impressed with her screen presence that she was promoted to a cast regular. Her career has stepped up a gear since taking the somewhat iconic role of Joan Harris, with roles in Nicholas Winding-Refn’s critically-acclaimed Drive and Sally Potter’s drama Ginger and Rosa. She’s also starred in two high-profile directorial debuts- fellow Mad Men alumni John Slattery’s crime drama God’s Pocket, and Ryan Gosling’s urban fairy tale Lost River.

Elisabeth Moss – Peggy Olson
Arguably the real central character of Mad Men, Moss’s turn as Peggy Olson has garnered her five Emmy nominations, and countless other awards. Olson’s evolution from shy office secretary to ambitious, confident and complex Copy Chief is handled masterfully by Moss, and she shows no sign of slowing down – her recent work includes award-winning performances as Detective Robin Griffin in mini-series Top of the Lake, and as one half of a struggling married couple undergoing unusual therapy in The One I Love.

John Slattery – Roger Sterling
Slattery was born to play the suave, charismatic and irresistible Roger Sterling, a character who is often cited as a fan favourite for obvious reasons. Since the series began, Slattery has expanded an already impressive filmography, with roles in Charlie Wilson’s War, Iron Man 2 and The Adjustment Bureau. He’s also directed several episodes of Mad Men, and made his feature directorial debut with crime drama God’s Pocket, which starred the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and fellow cast member Christina Hendricks.

Vincent Kartheiser – Pete Campbell
One of the most loathed characters in the series, the moral complexities of Pete Campbell are reflected in the audience’s equally complex relationship with the character. Vincent Kartheiser’s brilliant portrayal has often left viewers disgusted, frustrated, and occasionally elated (particularly when taken down a peg or two by Don Draper). Over the last few years, he has starred in an impressive range of both high-profile features and indie shorts, including Alpha Dog (the drama based on the life of drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood), short thriller Waning Moon, and sci-fi blockbuster In Time.

January Jones – Betty Francis
Jones originally auditioned for the role of Peggy Olson, but was eventually cast as the icy, Grace Kelly-esque Betty Francis (formerly Draper). Her difficult relationship with ex-husband Don, as well as her increasingly strained relationships with daughter Sally and husband Henry provide much of the drama in Season 7, as her inability to connect or empathise becomes increasingly problematic. Jones has since starred alongside Liam Neeson in action thriller Unknown, as well as Marvel super-villain Emma Frost in X Men: First Class.

Jessica Pare – Megan Draper
As the third Mrs Draper, Megan has proved a thoroughly divisive character, garnering sympathy as she struggles to deal with Don’s indiscretions, and also derision for her sometimes petty, immature behaviour towards others as she pursues an acting career. One thing that most agree on, however, is that Pare’s casting breathed new life into the show. Pare has since shown a penchant for comedy, starring in The Trotsky, Suck and Hot Tub Time Machine among others.

Kiernan Shipka – Sally Draper
Kiernan Shipka’s pitch-perfect performance as the troubled, wayward adolescent Sally has won her critical acclaim, and at the age of 14, she is one of the youngest to appear on rite-of-passage Inside the Actors Studio. Shipka’s portrayal of Sally’s teenage rebellion is masterful, and her scenes with on-screen parents Don and Betty are key highlights of Season 7. The fact that she is able to hold her own at such a young age amongst acting stalwarts is commendable in itself, but her recent appearances in TV movie Flowers in the Attic, and shorts A Rag Doll Story, Squeaky Clean and We Rise Like Smoke have further cemented her status as a formidable acting talent in the making.

Robert Morse – Bertram Cooper
Founding partner and self –assigned godfather of the office, Bertram Cooper’s eccentric ways often mask his wily and self-serving true nature, while frequently providing comic relief in tenser moments. Robert Morse is an acting stalwart and Broadway veteran, earning multiple nominations and wins for Tony’s, Drama Desk awards and Emmys over the course of five decades. Since joining the cast of Mad Men, he’s taken roles in dramedy-western The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez, as well as lending his voice to animations The Legend of Korra and Sofia the First.

Christopher Stanley – Henry Francis
Since joining the cast in 2009, Stanley’s character has evolved from Betty’s saviour to a subtle menace. Season 7 sees him slowly revealing an insidiously misogynistic side, leaving Betty considering the unpalatable idea she may have simply swapped one prison for another. Since 2009, Stanley has expanded his resume by starring in the critically acclaimed Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, as well as short film The Terrain.

Mad Men: Season 7, Part One is available to pre-order now, and is released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 3rd, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

James Nesbitt: filming The Missing ‘was exhausting’

October 28, 2014 by  
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Missing

As Broadchurch proved last year, parents being put through the wringer over the fate of their children provides a pretty successful formula for appointment to view television

As much as audiences share in the agony, however, it turns out that those bringing these stories to screen can feel just as traumatised by the experience.

Actor James Nesbitt, star of BBC One’s new eight part drama The Missing, admitted that the process of filming it had certainly taken a toll on many of the cast involved.

The Missing takes us inside the mind of Nesbitt’s character Tony, a father whose young son disappears during a family holiday in France, sparking a search that he is still desperately pursuing eight years later.

Right from the opening episode, the series charts the emotional turmoil the disappearance wreaks upon Tony and wife Emily (played by Frances O’Connor), as the mystery unfolds across two time frames: the immediate aftermath of the apparent abduction in 2006, and the present day.

Speaking at a preview last month, Nesbitt explained how hard the roles had been on both himself and his co-star: “I get emotional just talking about it. Every day was difficult because we didn’t know each other and we had to establish a relationship, and we had to establish a relationship with a little boy, and then we had to lose that little boy in the story and imagine what it was like in the aftermath of that, and then we had to imagine the breakdown of what had been a very good marriage.

“I can’t stress enough how collaborative the show was. We were all telling a story about the best and worst that people can be, but it was pretty helpful for Fran and I – even though it was pretty exhausting at times.”

O’Connor, also present at the screening, told a similar tale, saying how the brilliance of Harry and Jack Williams’ screenplay had blinded her from the reality of taking on such an emotionally wrought character.

“The scripts were just so beautifully written and detailed, but I don’t think I actually anticipated what playing those scenes week in, week out, would take, because it was a very full-on experience to be in,” she commented.

“It was tough, because you’d think ‘we did that scene, it was great’, but then you’d look ahead and there would be another five or six the next day that were equally demanding.

“That is what you hope for as an actor – to have such great material. But sometimes we’d get on the Eurostar on the Friday night [the show was filmed in Belgium] feeling a bit teary, because you’d spent a whole week with that subject matter.”

Any accusation that The Missing is the BBC’s attempt to replicate the phenomenal success of Broadchurch can be firmly dismissed – the Williams were on hand to reveal that they wrote the entire series three years ago, firmly pre-dating ITV’s ratings hit.

The Missing starts tonight at 9pm on BBC One.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

Getting Trollied with Miriam Margoyles

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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A veteran of stage and screen, Miriam Margolyes has enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic. The actress picked up a BAFTA film award for her supporting role in The Age of Innocence (1993), and more recently starred in the blockbusting Harry Potter franchise. She now joins Sky1’s Trollied, as Colin’s nan, Rose.

Why did Trollied tickle your fancy?
It made me laugh. I hooted – who can say why something makes you laugh? It’s character driven, which I really like and, when I watched the episodes they sent me, I thought, I’d quite like to be a part of that.

What can you tell us about your character Rose?
She’s naughty and wants life to be lived on her terms. It’s how I live my life. There was no acting required. NAR, we call it.

Have the Trollied cast welcomed you into the fold?
They really are the most warm-hearted bunch of people. Just lovely. I’m very lucky. I actually have interaction with the entire cast, too. Gavin, for example, is trying to stop Rose from causing trouble, so moves me from one department to another, which provide plenty of opportunity for hilarity.

You’re not a shy, retiring type – as demonstrated by your appearances on The Graham Norton Show. What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever said or done?
Probably to show my breasts to Martin Scorsese and his team [on the set of Age of Innocence] after a long day’s costume fitting. They were at the end of their tether, just tired out, and I thought, well if I show them my breasts, they will laugh themselves silly – which they did.

Who have you most enjoyed working with over the course of your career, and is there anyone you’d love to work with but haven’t had the opportunity to yet?
My favourite actress is Dame Eileen Atkins. She is the greatest actress working in the English language. Have I worked with her? Yes, twice. I worked with her in Cold Comfort Farm, then again in Doc Martin. She’s wonderful. My favourite American actress is Anjelica Huston, who I think is brilliant.

If you had to single out your most prized possession, what would it be?
All my pictures – I couldn’t pick just one. Every time I get a job, I buy a picture. I collect graphic art of the 19th century. Look up Gillray, Heath and Rowlandson.

Trollied returns to Sky1 on Monday, November 3rd.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 77 – Blue Exorcist

October 27, 2014 by  
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Continuing to look at anime set in schools that would never exist in real life, we have a look at a third, and for now last, school connected with the supernatural. This time however, unlike Vampire Knight and Soul Eater, this is a school which is keen on getting rid of monsters, even though such creatures work and study there.

Blue Exorcist began as a manga in 2009 and is still going today. The anime TV series ran for 25 episodes in 2011, including a special straight-to-video episode, and there was also a feature length animated film in 2012. The creator of the series, Kazue Kato, says the story is partly inspired by the work of the Brothers Grimm.

The tale begins with two twin brothers: older brother Rin Okumura is a boy great strength and a short temper, while his younger, bespectacled and mole-faced brother Yukio is the more intelligent. Their parents are no longer alive and thus they live with a Catholic priest Father Shiro Fujimoto, who also happens to the “Paladin” – the world’s most powerful exorcist. But then Rin discovers who his biological father is: Satan himself. Rin’s strength is as a result of his demonic powers, which are sealed by the demon-slaying sword Kurikara, whilst Yukio was too weak to take on the powers himself. Satan ends up possessing Father Shiro and Rin uses the Kurikara to attack Satan, which at the same time unleashing Rin’s full power. Shiro is able to fight back and defeats Satan, killing himself in the process.

Following this Rin decides to follow his father and his brother’s footsteps and become an exorcist, using his power to kill Satan. However, Rin has several problems, including the fact that his body now has a demonic appearance. After he first uses Kurikara Rin’s ears becoming pointed, he grows fangs and a tail. When his sword is removed from his scabbard these features becoming even more pronounced, and he is covered in Satan’s own distinctive blue flames, including flaming horns.

Not only that, but there are now many exorcists who believe the best thing to do is to kill Rin and stop his Satanic powers from doing anything destructive. One individual ordered to carry out such a killing is the equally demonic and strangely dressed Mephisto Pheles, the chair of the Japanese branch of the True Cross Academy, a school which trains exorcists. However, instead of killing Rin, he takes the boy up on his offer and decides to train Rin as an exorcist, hoping that with his powers he could actually be used to go on the offensive against Satan rather than the defensive. Thus Rin goes to the True Cross Academy, a school the size of large city which takes over the area of a whole hill. Rin even finds himself in the same class as his brother Yukio, but is shocked when he learns a terrible truth: Yukio has already studied, trained and qualified as an exorcist. He is not only the youngest exorcist in the world, young Yukio is also old Rin’s teacher.

While some people have criticised Blue Exorcist for using several anime clichés in terms of its plot (e.g. the main character having one big central goal which is the driving force of the whole story) and the first DVD release of the TV series in the Britain only came with subtitles, which also has some errors in it, there are a few plus points. One aspect is that in a way it is slightly niche. You have to remember that Japan is not a Christian country, so for an anime series to feature so much reference to Christianity and Catholicism is very rare. Most of the episodes feature at least one character quoting the Bible in order to defeat a demon.

The characters are rather fun too. Aside from the ones mentioned previously, there are some of Rin’s fellow students which include Shiemi Moriyama, a girl with a love of gardening who serves as the main love interest; and Ryuji “Bon” Suguro, a stubborn, slightly thuggish-looking guy who is actually the top of Rin’s class.

If there is one major problem that I do have with Blue Exorcist it is this: for most of the story Rin has to hide his demonic powers from everyone at True Cross Academy. Now hiding his tail is easy – either tuck it down your trousers or wrap it around your torso. But how come he is able to walk around with pointy ears and a tail, but no-one will question him about it? My guess is that Japan tends to stereotype itself as a rather polite country, and thus everyone around him would think it too rude to ask. If you had a British student in that class, Rin’s identity would have been found out in about five minutes.

Blue Exorcist has its ups-and-downs. You also have to remember that the manga is still being written, so there is every change that will see more of the Brothers Okumura on screen.

The TV and film version of Blue Exorcist are now available on both DVD and Blu-Ray from Manga Entertainment.

TV Films of the Week

October 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 39

FILM OF THE WEEK: Four Lions
Sunday October 26, Channel 4, 10:05pm

As well as being a shoe-in for 2014’s biggest bogeymen, the rapid rise of Isis across Iraq and Syria has also brought the spectre of the homegrown jihadi back to the front pages. Besides the story of shoe bomber Richard Reid, the latter was a concept that played little part in the national consciousness until the London bombings of July 7, 2005. Amongst the resultant angst and soul-searching, satirist and director Chris Morris changed the focus of a project he was developing on the war on terror from one of international scope to something much closer to home. In doing so, Four Lions was born.

Despite its dark subject matter the film was widely embraced on release, with its extremely close to the bone comedy a standout for many audiences. Make no mistake, Four Lions has enough laugh out loud moments to justify its LOLcano status, even after repeat viewings. But it is as much a tragedy as it is a satire, thanks to a sensitively handled script and an unassumingly brilliant performance from Riz Ahmed.

Granted, the rag-tag group of wannabe jihadis his character Omar leads are a bunch of hopeless goofballs – hence the ensuing LOLs. However, underneath the humour lies much tenderness: Omar’s sweet (if twisted) relationship with his loving wife and son, the conflict he has with the brother that accuses him of subverting the true teachings of Islam and the ultimately caring friendship he shares with the perpetually confused Waj (better known as Fonejacker’s Kayvan Novak). By the final, devastatingly futile act, the lump that forms in your throat is inescapable. That such emotion can be engendered for men tabloid newspapers would encourage us to despise says much for power of Morris’s wonderful film.

 

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

Office Space
Saturday October 25, Film4, 9pm

Coming a couple of years before Ricky Gervais gave us The Office, Office Space is an equally delightful look at the crushing mundanity of the modern workplace. The familiarly sly humour injected by writer/director Mike Judge (he of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill fame) might explain why it failed to catch on with a mainstream audience at the box office, but it has since (rightly) become a cult classic. Gary Cole almost steals the show as the boss who personifies smarm, although top honours have to go to Stephen Root as put upon, stapler-loving employee Milton.

Life Is Sweet
Monday October 27, Film4, 11:35pm
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Secrets & Lies
Wednesday October 29, Film4 1am

Ahead of the release of release of Mike Leigh’s highly-touted Mr. Turner next week, Film4 offers us the chance to revisit two of his very best. What sets both films apart from conventional narrative cinema is their eschewing of ‘plot’, per se. Instead, Leigh uses them to explore the real drama that ordinary life throws at us all, be it awkward relationships, compromised dreams or the secrets that we carry like boulders upon our backs. By presenting a version of reality embellished only by the talent of the frequently excellent ensemble casts he attracts, Leigh never fails to show us just how fascinating it can be.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Wednesday October 29, Film4, 9pm

Much like David Simon’s The Wire, Beasts of the Southern Wild shines a light on a part of America left behind by the socio-economic progress enjoyed in more affluent areas – in this case ‘The Bathtub’, an island community situated amongst the bayous of Louisiana. Where Benh Zeitlin’s film differs is the filter of magical realism through which he presents it, largely due to the child’s-eye view from which the story is told. As Hushpuppy, the young girl burdened with an overbearingly wild father and the threat of an impending storm, debutante actress Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only six at the time) is a revelation.

Drive
Thursday October 30, BBC Three, 10pm

Yes, we may all have sampled the delights that Drive serves up – Ryan Gosling, that jacket, Carey Mulligan, ultra-violence, Bryan Cranston, a searing electro score, Oscar Isaac, fast cars – several times already. But Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir remains quite possibly the coolest film the 21st century has produced. So sit back and allow yourself to be thrilled, horrified and seduced in equal measure all over again.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

The Return of Twin Peaks

October 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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Laura Palmer’s plastic wrapped body had already been discovered by the time we took our seats. We were woefully underprepared for this marathon. Other fans were equipped with sleeping bags and doughnuts; we had just brought ourselves. And we were late.

We were in amongst the ‘Peakies’: the die-hard fans of Twin Peaks. For the past twenty-five years they’ve kept the flame of this cult TV series alight with back-to-back marathons, annual festivals and even David Lynch branded coffee.

Unsurprisingly, the news that Twin Peaks will be revived as a nine-episode series in 2016 has sent tremors through its loyal fanbase. The announcement appears to have split opinion, with some grateful for its return and others doubtful that it will be able to recapture the magic of the first two series.

But what about those who haven’t yet signed up to the cult of Twin Peaks? The question remains over whether David Lynch’s finest piece of avant-garde weirdness will ever gain mass appeal.

Lindsey Bowden, producer of the annual Twin Peaks UK Festival, believes it will. She argues that, “without Twin Peaks you would have no Lost, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Eerie Indiana, all those classic dramas.”

This drama pushed weirdness into the mainstream. It unsettled the murky waters of an inconspicuous town and in doing so, gave audiences something entirely new. Critics in 1990 hailed it as “the series that will change TV”. Thankfully, they were right. The surrealism of Twin Peaks may no longer be ground breaking, but at least we’re ready to accept it.

Although for the Twin Peaks virgin, there’s a difference between embracing the weird and jumping blindfolded and ill equipped into a convoluted world of damn fine coffee and innumerable murder suspects. Without having to dedicate oneself to a back-to-back Twin Peaks marathon, it’s unclear how audiences will be prepped for a new series.

So David Lynch and Mark Frost face a quandary: how to invite newcomers into the fold whilst satisfying the signed-up members. The latter long for unconstrained Lynch weirdness. On talking of the appeal of the annual Twin Peaks UK Festival, event organiser Lindsey explains that the festival is so popular because, “people want to be engulfed in this world.”

As we entered our tenth hour of the Twin Peaks marathon, suitably called “Into The Night”, I was beginning to understand this hypnotic attraction. Like anything with a cult following, it’s the weirdness – the assault on normality and reason – that sucks you in. As long as Lynch and Frost stay faithful to this spirit the success of a comeback, for the fans at least, is assured. In the spirit of Special Agent Dale Cooper, once you’ve eaten a couple of slices of that cherry pie, it’s pretty difficult to turn down a third.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 76 – Soul Eater

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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Continuing from last week, we look at some more schools in anime that would never exist in real life. We are sticking with the supernatural, but this time around we are covering a creature from Japanese folklore, the shinigami or death god, which we have covered before in series like Death Note (No. 8).

Soul Eater began as a manga by Atsushi Okubo, running between 2004 and 2013. The anime version of it ran for 51 episodes between 2008 and 2009, with a spin-off series entitled Soul Eater Not! running as a manga since 2011. A 12-part anime of this spin-off was broadcast earlier this year.

The school setting is the Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA) in Death City, Nevada. The principle is the “Shinigami”, also known as “Death”, although his grim reaper like appearance is more comical than the depiction we normally have in the west. The school trains students who have ability to transform into weapons, and also trains those students who use them, known as “meisters”. The goal of the meisters is to train their weapons to kill 99 evil people and one witch. This will turn their weapons into “Death Scythes” that can be used by Death himself.

The main characters in series are the rather mature meister Maka Albarn and her laid-back partner, the titular Soul Eater Evans, who in battle turns into an actual scythe. Maka’s flirtatious and divorced father Spirit is also a weapon, and Maka is obsessed with making Soul stronger than him. Other students at DWMA include the incredibly arrogant Black Star, whose female weapon Tsubaki Nakatsukasa can take on many forms; and the son of principle, Death the Kid, who is so obsessed with symmetry (despite his non-symmetrical hair) that he carries two partners, the Thompson Twins (Liz and Patty) who take on the form of a pair of pistols. Because of this, he has to do twice the work in order to train them both.

The school is full of various supernatural beings, including Sid Barrett, a teacher who died and then came back as zombie, as a result of which he always refers to himself in the past tense; and Franken Stein, a mad scientist in the form of a Frankenstein monster whose body and clothes are covered in stiches, plus he has a gigantic bolt in his head and a habit of dissecting just about anything and anyone.

The central story sees one witch called Medusa forcing her own timid and androgynous child Crona into DWMA for the purposes of collecting the souls of good humans in order to revive an evil god. The story sees the students trying to defeat Medusa’s plan, as well as trying to get Crona to become friendlier with others.

While this is mainly an action series, for me the main appeal for Soul Eater is the humour. This ranges from simple slapstick to more character based humour. Some of the best characters in the show are ones that have been created purely for comedy rather than action. The main one of these is the legendary Excalibur. He is more powerful than any of the other weapons, and can be controlled by anyone. However he does have some problems. Firstly, when not in his guise as a sword, he looks like a sort of albino aardvark in a top hat and ruff. Secondly, Excalibur is extremely egotistical and obnoxious. He calls everyone a fool, sings songs that will get on your nerves, and whenever someone tries to control him he orders the user to obey 1,000 different rules, which include: “Never talk to me when I’m humming to myself”, “Always walk three steps behind me”, and “Celebrate Excalibur’s birthday in grand-style” – the problem with this last one being that Excalibur’s birthday is on every day.

The action is pretty decent. You have a wide range of characters with different weapons so there is a fair amount of variety to play with. Some fans however were critical about the way the series ended, primarily because near the end the plot of the anime differs considerably to that of the original manga. Whether the rest of the manga will be adapted is not yet known.

Soul Eater is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Manga Entertainment. Soul Eater Not! can be streamed on Animax.

Mad as a Hatty – Ten minutes with the star of Give Out Girls

October 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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Set in the world of promotions, Comedy Central’s new sitcom, Give Out Girls, follows four promo girls who hand out free products on the streets of the UK. The show is the brainchild of series creator, Hatty Ashdown. Ashdown, a stand up comedian and actress, devised the semi-autobiographical comedy from the six years she spent as a promo girl to pay the bills while she pursued her passion for comedy and performance.

Ashdown said that she “frequently took notes,” particularly of different characters and personalities that she came across, during her years in the promo world. The show started to come together three or four years ago, when Ashdown, who had never written a sitcom before, pitched her idea to producer Robert Popper, whose company, Popper Pictures, is a co-producer on the show.

The show really gained momentum when Popper introduced Ashdown to Tony MacMurray. MacMurray, a writer and actor by trade, had written previously for shows like Touch Me, I’m Karen Taylor and Al Murray’s Personality Disorder. The marriage of MacMurray’s sitcom writing experience and Ashdown’s natural comic talent that really gave the show life. Ashdown and MacMurray “hit it off right away” and began taking her rough ideas and crafting them into treatments.

When the show became more fleshed out, Popper took Give Out Girls to Big Talk Productions, the shingle run by the Cornetto Trilogy trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. The show was the shopped to Sky Living, but earlier this year made the transition to Comedy Central. This ultimately seems like the best decision for the show, whose offbeat, energetic tone fits well with Comedy Central’s current slate.

The show centres around four girls, Gemma (Diana Vickers), Marilyn (Kerry Howard), Poppy, (Cariad Lloyd), and Zoe (Miranda Hennessy). The obvious chemistry between the show’s principal characters was the product of what Ashdown called a “fun but heartbreaking” casting experience. On finding the right people for the parts, Ashdown said, “it sounds cliché but you knew immediately.” She spoke excitedly of the energy between the show’s cast members, including the small male ensemble that serves as a welcome contrast to the largely female cast.

The decision to focus the show on female promotional workers was partly due to Ashdown’s comfort writing in a female voice, as she explains “you write what you know” but she also acknowledged that the show’s female focus was more due to the fact that the world of promotions is a largely female one. Even going so far as to say that the industry was “very sexist” and that women who had been working for years were passed up for promotions in favour of men with far less experience.

Nevertheless, Ashdown ends up with the last laugh. On the subject of getting her show off the ground, she attributes some credit to its female focus. As she puts it, “four years ago there wasn’t so much female comedy on television.” The show itself is not exclusively meant to showcase the struggle of the modern woman, but rather to bring a fresh new perspective to the world of workplace comedy.

The show accomplishes that and then some. Give Out Girls is a funny, smart, and most of all well acted sitcom. The show takes advantage of smart writing from Ashdown and MacMurray who bring Ashdown’s experiences to life organically and hilariously. While the show is not yet slated for a series two, and discussions haven’t occurred, Ashdown remains optimistic, saying calmly, “we’ll see, we’ll see.” In the meantime she is working on a pilot, in the vein of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, minus the cars and minus the comedians. Well some comedians. The show will focus on all kinds of creative professionals and delve into their pasts; exploring the various day jobs they held while chasing their dreams, something Ashdown is certainly no stranger to. Personally, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Give Out Girls airs Tuesday nights on Comedy Central.

Five reasons why you have to watch new drama The Knick

October 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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Period medical drama The Knick begins tonight on Sky Atlantic, and despite receiving little in the way of fanfare, it is one of the best new US imports to hit these shores for years.

Set in 1900, the show weaves its narrative around the personal and professional lives of a small team operating (at times quite literally) within the corridors of New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital.

Leading the way is Dr. John Thackery, a brilliant surgeon carving out a reputation as a pioneer of modern medical procedure. Problem is, he’s also a functioning drug addict, self-medicating on cocaine to get through the often extremely bloody rigours of what was still quite rudimentary surgery, then smoking opium to chase away the demons clawing at the very essence of his soul.

Add in themes of abortion, corruption, contagion, inequality, women’s rights and racism into the mix, and you have one of the headiest cocktails television has ever served.

So here are a five reasons why, metaphorically speaking, you should tilt your head back, open wide and let The Knick’s harsh yet hypnotic embrace flow through right through you:

1. Clive Owen as Dr. John Thackery

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While Benedict Cumberbatch may have taken his crown as the nation’s favourite actor, Clive Owen remains a virtuoso of the craft. Playing such a conflicted, flawed character as Thackery – a whirlwind of maniacal, cocaine-fuelled inspiration one minute, a cowed, reality-bitten mess the next – might have caused less skilled performers to over-compensate. Not Owen – the camera could focus solely on his deep, magnetic, expressive eyes and they alone would tell us everything we need to know about this troubled man.

2. The genius of Steven Soderbergh

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Even as an Oscar-winner, director Steven Soderbergh never really seemed well placed amongst the Hollywood rat race. Apart from the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, he just wasn’t interested in playing the game, so much so that he announced his retirement from film-making last year. Cinema’s loss is certainly television’s gain, as Soderbergh brings his uniquely filtered vision to the vice and viscera of early twentieth century New York. At times hazy and dreamlike, at others stark and sobering, it is nothing quite like the small screen has ever offered.

3. Bono’s talented daughter, Eve Hewson 

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Still hate the U2 front man for foisting his band’s latest album on you via iTunes? Well, by way of recompense, behold Eve Hewson, daughter of Paul (aka Bono), in the role of young nurse Lucy Elkins. Her beautifully restrained performance provides a beacon of humanity amid an otherwise sea of callousness – until, that is, she comes under the influence of Thackery. The Knick offers some substantial female characters, but be warned: it pulls no punches with its depiction of their struggle in a world even more chauvinist and misogynistic than it is today.

4. A pulsing electronic score by Cliff Martinez

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This might be a period drama, but if you’re expecting a sweeping, classical score to accompany, think again. Instead, the very first thing we hear is the pulsing bass and arpeggiated synths of a modern, electronic score by Cliff Martinez, the composer whose music has soundtracked films including Drive, Only God Forgives and Traffic. At first it seems like Soderbergh is being provocative for the sake of provocation by creating such dissonance between sound and image. But gradually, as the score works its way under your skin, you realise precisely why it works.  For this isn’t an idealised, nostalgic version of the past, this is the past as present: dangerously real and unforgivingly urgent for all who inhabited it.

5. It will really, really make you appreciate modern medicine

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Although the scenes of surgical operations only account for part of The Knick’s overall impact, they are the ones that will stick longest in the mind of anyone even vaguely squeamish. It is, after all, set in an era where electricity was considered a modern marvel and death during childbirth was not uncommon. Soderbergh’s camera never flinches as Thackery’s scalpel, saw and retractors pierce his patients’ flesh, while the resultant gush of blood is drawn away by hand-powered suction. As Soderbergh told The Daily Telegraph recently: “I want people to feel: ‘Thank God, I don’t live in New York in 1900.’” Mission accomplished, we’d say.

The Knick begins tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

 

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