TV Films Of The Week

August 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 36

FILM OF THE WEEK: The Wild Bunch
Saturday August 30, ITV4, 10:55pm

If you fancy an uncompromising action movie this weekend, two immediate options include schlepping to the cinema to see the latest outing of Sylvester Stallone’s ever-diminishing Expendables franchise, or staying home on the sofa to catch director Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 masterpiece. Both feature a band of increasingly grizzled mercenaries, closing in on retirement but still handy with a firearm and a fist. In a classic shootout, though, Sly and his muscled meatheads would likely stand little chance against the wily old veterans of The Wild Bunch.

Of course, Peckinpah’s film is far from the exercise in empty gunplay that every one of The Expendables represents. Certainly, it’s about violence – and brutal, bloody violence at that. But it’s also a requiem for the myth of masculinity in America’s Old West where, to quote Pike, leader of The Wild Bunch’s outlaws: “You side with a man, you stay with him, and if you can’t do that you’re like some animal.”

Operating in the early twentieth century, Pike and his gang are effectively men out of time, clinging to an (im)moral code in a world where technology has made everything – killing included – more impersonal. Nowhere is this symbolised more than the machine gun the group steals for a corrupt Mexican general, precipitating what remains the most shocking slaughter ever seen on screen. The Wild Bunch would go on to influence generations of new directors, from Scorsese to Tarantino. Stallone, unfortunately, cannot count himself among them.

 

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

The Science of Sleep
Sunday (night) September 1, BBC Two, 12am

If Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was director Michel Gondry’s critical triumph, then The Science of Sleep was his difficult second album (let’s conveniently forget it’s actually his third film). Both are unconventional love stories, but while the former was far from orthodox, the latter, with a narrative that blends the reality of consciousness with the fantasy of dreams, might be too whimsical for some. A sprinkle of Spotless Mind screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann’s could have helped, but Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg make for utterly charming leads and the film still offers more imagination and delight than most.

 

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Tuesday September 2, Film4, 1:35am

A word of warning: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a film for which the category of ‘avant-garde’ may seem a little too conservative. In fact, even labelling it a ‘film’ seems wrong – it’s much more an ambient experience. If you can overcome any prejudice against a work that incorporates themes of memory, reincarnation, transformation and death, and explores them all at languid pace alien to most modern cinema, this could be the most enlightening, transcendental encounter you ever have whilst sat in front of the television.

 

Rust and Bone
Tuesday September 2, Film4, 11:10pm

Another alternative love story, in the wrong hands Rust and Bone could have drowned in its own melodrama. As it is, its tale of the fragile affection/lust between a killer whale trainer whose life is turned upside down by a workplace accident and an itinerant worker with dreams of becoming a mixed martial arts fighter overcomes any implausibility to offer something much more profound. This is undoubtedly helped by the presence of Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts (who combines red-blooded force and placid sensitivity to a tee) under the taught yet tender direction of A Prophet’s Jacques Audiard.

 

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

TV Films Of The Week

August 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 35

FILM OF THE WEEK: Insomnia
Saturday August 23, BBC Two, 11pm

Last week the world mourned the premature death of Robin Williams, an artist with an almost preternatural gift for the type of stream of conscious comedy that could transfix audiences large and small. Williams was a gifted actor too, leaving us unforgettable performances in films like Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and his Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting. Less well known, but no less memorable, were the two films that saw him explore the darkest side of the human psyche: Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia.

Insomnia, Nolan’s follow-up to Memento, is actually a remake of a Norwegian thriller of the same name – a move that many young directors of promise (as Nolan was back in 2002) might have shied away from. But in setting Al Pacino and Williams against one another in a game of psychological cat and mouse, alongside side excellent support from Hillary Swank and all framed by Wally Pfister’s superlative cinematography, Nolan achieved that rarest of feats: an English language remake that is equal to, if not better than, its source material.

Just like Memento, Insomnia features a flawed hero trying to regain a sense of order in his life, whilst simultaneously struggling with the malevolent force trying to pull him further into chaos. Pacino’s detective, sent to investigate the brutal murder of a teenage girl in an Alaskan town where the sun never sets, is that hero; Williams, the prime suspect, is the malevolence incarnate. As a double-bill with One Hour Photo, Insomnia will forever serve as an outstanding reminder of the latter’s extraordinarily multifaceted talent.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

The Wizard of Oz
Saturday August 23, Channel 5, 3pm

Regularly acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made, The Wizard of Oz was not a big box office hit when it was released in 1939, overshadowed by the far more successful Gone With The Wind. But while the latter is now seen as a relic of its time, The Wizard of Oz continues to capture the imagination of every generation that proceeds it. A marvel of song and set piece, it succeeds by asking children (and adults) to confront their fear of the unknown, then offering the comfort that they can always find the strength to overcome and embrace it.

Re-Animator
Monday August 25, Film4, 1:20am

To celebrate the ongoing FrightFest film festival, this weekend Film4 is running a slew of horror films once bracketed in the mythical ‘video nasty’ section by our still mostly heinous red-top newspapers. Amongst the best of the bunch is Re-Animator, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s tale of Herbert West, a sort of latterday Dr. Frankenstein, who invents a serum that can bring the dead back to life. Although outrageously gory, it maintains a deliciously camp sense of humour throughout, elevating it far above the status of mere exploitation movie.

Zombieland
Thursday August 28, Film4, 9pm

Yes, it’s another zombie movie. And no, Zombieland doesn’t do anything that we haven’t already seen in other films of the genre. What it does have, though, is the perfect mix of creative destruction and dark comedy, making Zombieland just about the most fun you can have whilst spending time in the presence of the undead. It also features possibly the best cameo appearance in a film ever that, if you’ve seen it, you absolutely must not spoil for those who haven’t.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 68 – RG Veda

August 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

RG Veda 1

For the next few columns I shall be covering the early works of a group of manga and anime artists known as the “Clamp” group. This is a group of all-women artists and writers, who first began working in the mid-1980s and have continued to produce some of the biggest, the most popular, and the best looking manga and anime. However, while their manga is often considered great, some of the early anime adaptations do not quite to their work justice.

Clamp’s debut work was RG Veda, a fantasy series that spanned 10 volumes between 1989-1996. However, the anime consists of just two Original Video Anime (OVA) released in 1991-1992. The series is based on Vedic Mythology, which is related to Hinduism. As a result, the title is pronounced “Rigveda”, not “R. G. Veda”. There are some notable differences, such as the characters having Japanese names.

In this world setting, 300 years ago the “God-King” was murdered in a rebellion by the cruel thunder god Taishakuten, who is now the current God-King and will do anything to maintain his power. In the present day, the mighty warrior Yasha, who comes from a clan destroyed by Taishakuten, learns of a prophecy that a band of six people, known as the “six stars” shall overthrow the current God-King. Yasha is one of the stars. The second is Ashura, a genderless child whose mother and Taishakuten magically sealed to prevent him from causing trouble. Yasha frees Ashura, and together they go searching for the other four stars and start their rebellion.

They soon find another three stars: Ryu, young king of the Dragon Tribe who wields a gigantic sword; Soma, a woman who fights with two boomerang-like blades; and Karura, who has fights with her own bird and controls flight magic. They continue searching for the sixth star, while also being attack by Taishakuten and followed by the mysterious Kujaku, a traveller who many of the six stars do not trust, but Ashura finds friendly.

The original manga of RG Veda is very good for the reason why most of Clamp’s work is very good: the way it looks. Clamp has always been praised when it comes to the quality of their art, and it is in this work where we see it first materialise. It is not just the characters, but the landscapes that look wonderful too, especially in this epic fantasy setting.

However, the anime version has several problems. The main one is the obvious brevity of the series, as it is only two episodes long. Plus, it does not start at the beginning. It starts in the middle of the story, so if you have not read the manga understanding it is problematic. The first episode is an adaptation of one of the stories in the manga, whilst the second is an original story that they seemingly needed to write in order to reveal the identity of the sixth star to the other main characters. Also, due to the fact that the characters have Japanese names, it is hard at times to understand the relationship between this story and the original myths that they are based on.

You might be wondering why there is any point in watching this. I would argue that it is worth a watch on the grounds that this was the debut work from Clamp. Therefore if you want to know the origins of Clamp, this is the starting point. Of course, you should read the manga in tandem, but this is hard as the company that published it in English, Tokyopop, is no longer publishing English-language works, thus only second-hand copies are currently available.

The other reason to start with this is that Clamp has the habit of cross-referencing their works. Characters from one series will appear in another later work. The six stars in RG Veda later appear another of their works called Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. Therefore seeing and reading Clamp’s works in chronological order makes more sense.

RG Veda’s anime is therefore looking into if you are interested in Clamp’s origins, but the manga is the better work.

RG Veda is available on Region 1 DVD from Central Park Media. It was released also released in the UK on video cassette by Manga Entertainment.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 67 – Magi

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Magi 1

There are plenty of anime which are adaptations of stories from outside of Japan. For example Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy (No. 1) made a version of Metropolis, inspired by Fritz Lang’s movie; and one of Oscar-winning Hayao Miyazaki’s earliest projects was a children’s version of Sherlock Holmes featuring cartoon dogs named Sherlock Hound. This week we look at a series inspired by the 1,001 Arabian Nights – although if you look at the characters it is hard to tell they are Arabian.

Magi began as a manga in 2009 by Shinobu Ohtaka. So far two series, both 25 episodes long, have been made adapting it, known as The Labyrinth of Magic and The Kingdom of Magic respectively. There is also an Original Video Anime (OVA) that began earlier this year and is still being made. The series features many characters whose names will be familiar if you have either read the Arabian Nights, or if you have seen the Disney version of Aladdin. Aladdin is one of the lead characters, and the series also features Alibaba, Jafar, Sinbad and so on. However, Magi’s version of Aladdin is very different.

Here Aladdin is a small boy who is a “Magi”, a powerful user of magic, able to control the essence in people’s bodies known as “Rukh”, which take the form of bright white butterflies that are invisible to most people. After living a mostly secluded life, he travels around the ancient world with nothing on him except the clothes he stands up in, a magic flying turban, and a metal flute which contains his friend Ugo, who is a magical spirit known as a “Djinn”.

Aladdin then meets and becomes friends with Alibaba, a young man who plans to capture one of the world’s many “Dungeons”, magic lairs protected by Djinn. They enter and successfully capture such a dungeon, with Alibaba also controlling its fiery Djinn Amom, who possesses Alibaba’s dagger and thus allows Alibaba to turn it into a blazing sword. During their journey the duo also become friends with a girl called Morgiana, a slave they free who has great strength and wants to find out more about her mysterious native tribe.

The story follows the trio, sometimes together, sometimes on their own separate journeys, as they learn more about the world and about themselves. Along their journey they meet Sinbad, the wise and powerful king of the island nation of Sindria who acts as a friendly guide for the group. They also learn of an evil organisation called Al Thamen, who seems to want to bring despair and chaos across the world, and have a stronghold in the Far-Eastern nation of the Kou Empire.

Anyone familiar with the Disney film Aladdin will notice some big differences. For example, Jafar is a good guy, working for Sinbad. This series is also a lot more action-packed, and has a lot more blood in it than the Disney movie. The plot is good. The longer stories are pretty dramatic, especially when the sinister Al Thamen gets involved in the plot and Aladdin learns more about his purpose in life. In fact, just about all the characters are entertaining, from the leads to the side-characters.

There are some issues with Magi however. Firstly in the UK it is released by the company Kaze, which amongst UK anime distributors has a pretty bad reputation. Out of the five major companies selling anime in the UK, you have Manga Entertainment and MVM who are the old guard, with Manga releasing the big popular titles and MVM sometimes releasing stuff a bit more cultish. Then there is Studio Canal, the company who release Studio Ghibli’s films and thus they have the most anime producers to their name. Then there is All the Anime, the new kid on the block which has already established trust amongst customers with the quality of their releases.

Kaze however are not known for their quality, which is shame given its history. It is probably the biggest anime company in France, which was the first country outside Japan to embrace anime. However, since the company’s founder left it all seems to have gone downhill. People have complained about the quality of their DVD and Blu-Ray releases, as well as their anime streaming service Animax. They haven’t really been able to restore their reputation with most anime fans.

The other issue with Magi, which was a problem expressed by those who have seen the Disney Aladdin movie as well, is that despite this series being set in Arabia, almost everyone appearing in it is white. This has led to complaints that the series is politically correct or even racist. Now, while you could argue that the reason for this “whitewashing” is because Japan is such a monoculture and that they are not really aware of the impact that such depictions have on overseas readers, you do also get the feeling that surely they should represented the region more.

Plus there is the issue of the countries in this world setting. There are Arabic-like places, Roman-like places, magical empires (think Hogwarts but a bit more fascist), and so on. But the Kou Empire, who can be considered at times to be the major antagonist in the series, appears to be Chinese-like. Given the trouble between Japan and China in the past and the present, I do worry that there might be issues here.

It’s troublesome for me because I find Magi rather entertaining. I’d say it’s a bit like watching a rather blue comedian. You laugh at the rude jokes, but want to show your disapproval at the same time. I feel slightly guilty watching Magi, but that makes it a guilty pleasure that I really do enjoy.

The first series, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, is split over two collections on DVD and Blu-Ray from Kaze. Both series are viewable on Animax. The OVA, Adventure of Sinbad, has yet to be released.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 66 – DRAMAtical Murder

August 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

DRAMAtcial Murder 1

It is August 1st, known as “Yaoi Day” amongst anime fans, because “ya-o-i” sounds like the Japanese for the numbers “8-0-1”. So it seems fitting today to cover some male homoerotica aimed at women.

There are a few series currently being streamed online that do attract yaoi fans – known as “fujoshi” (rotten women) and “fudanshi” (rotten men). There is a yaoi series for example called Love Stage!! on Crunchyroll, which features comedy and crossdressing. Plus you have series like Black Butler (No. 10) and Free! (No. 17) in which viewers often fantasise about the male characters getting on, even if most of the characters are under 18.

The series being covered however, DRAMAtical Murder combines yaoi with sci-fi, much like the classic yaoi Ai no Kusabi (No. 37). It began as a “visual novel” video game for Windows PC in 2012, and the anime began in July, with four episodes broadcast at the time of writing and new episodes being released on Sundays.

DRAMAtical Murder is set on the fictitious island of Midorijima. At some point in its past, the privately owned Toe Company took over the island and turned it into the “Platinum Jail” resort, forcing the old islanders into the “Former Residents’ District” on the far side of the island.

The hero, long blue-haired boy Aoba Seragaki, is a guy who works happily in a junk shop, lives with his grandmother, and is accompanied by a dog-like robotic avatar called Ren. He spends most of his time with his friends Mizuki, a tattooist, and Koujaku, a hairdresser. One day Aoba is attacked and forced to play a virtual game called “Rhyme”, which he wins with the help of Ren who takes on a human guise.

After this, things become increasingly problematic for Aoba. The man who attacked him, a heavily pierced guy called Noiz, keeps following Aoba and wants to play Rhyme with him again. Another person, a man constantly seen in a gasmask and named Clear, is also spying on Aoba and constantly calls him “Master”. As the story progresses, Aoba is dragged deeper in the world of Rhyme, and a turf war that results from it.

So far, this anime has had its ups and downs. To deal with the downs first: so far there has been little in the way of sex, which appears much more frequently in the game as any search for screenshots will demonstrate. The plot also seems to be moving rather slowly, although the end of the most recent episode (the fourth) does feature something that heightens the tension. Also, the animation and voice syncing in the third episode is very poor in parts. The company behind the series, Nitro+CHiRAL, has since apologised for this.

The positives however outweigh the negatives. The series looks great visually, from the background landscapes to the designs of the characters, especially Aoba. I must confess to feeling slightly jealous of the character in one or two ways – e.g. I really want a pair of MP3 headphones like his. The techno soundtrack, which comes from a band called GOATBED, is brilliant. It sets the tone to the series perfectly.

If there is any really big issues it would be that yaoi anime and video games are very rarely released in the UK. If you are waiting to get this anime on DVD or Blu-Ray, you might be better of getting the Region 1 DVD / Region A Blu-Ray.

New episodes of DRAMAtical Murder are released on Crunchyroll every Sunday at 19.00.


TV Films Of The Week

July 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV films of the week 34

FILM OF THE WEEK: Back To The Future
Sunday August 3, ITV2, 6:45pm

It says a lot about the enduring appeal of director Robert Zemeckis’s time-travel yarn that, little under 30 years since it was released, all 42,000 tickets for the Back To The Future production by immersive screening company Secret Cinema sold out in under four hours. Even more so when, after the first week’s run was pulled just hours before it was due to begin, social media was flooded with fans using apt quotes from the film to express their disappointment.

The premise is, of course, ludicrous. High school student Marty McFly receives an impromptu call from best friend and DIY inventor Doc Brown (several decades McFly’s senior) to come and assist with his latest mysterious project. Which turns out to be a time machine. Made out of a DeLorean car. And fuelled by plutonium Brown has appropriated from Libyan terrorists, who become ever so slightly miffed when learning of this development.

No matter the madcap setup – the results are a pure treat. The rapport between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd’s odd couple is largely responsible for the film’s lasting popularity, while the reverse Oedipus complex plot that kicks in once McFly is blasted back to 1955 is deliciously creative. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, Back To The Future remains a pleasure to behold – just ask the hordes gathering in east London this week, all religiously dressed in 1950s Americana attire, who have paid Secret Cinema in excess of £50 to watch it all over again.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

Apocalypto
Saturday August 2, BBC Two, 11:15pm

After allegations of anti-Semitism, domestic abuse and racism, it’s no surprise that Mel Gibson is Hollywood’s leading persona non grata. After giving the world the not especially Hebrew-friendly The Passion Of The Christ, Gibson followed it up with Apocalypto, another historical epic. Despite being just as bonkers and with all of its dialogue spoken in an ancient Mayan dialogue, the film is still an exhilarating work of cinema. Combining a simple ‘family in peril’ narrative with feverish and kinetic cinematography, Gibson created such an intensely visceral experience that even the likes of Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino have hailed Apocalypto as a masterpiece.

Winter’s Bone
Sunday August 3, BBC Two, 10:30pm

Before The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence achieved her big breakthrough in indie drama Winter’s Bone, and in many ways it was the performance that secured her the role of Katniss Everdeen. As 17-year-old Ree, Lawrence plays a fiercely independent and strong female lead, charged with the care of her mentally-ill mother and two younger siblings, teaching the latter essential survival skills like hunting and butchery against the harsh backdrop over America’s Ozarks Mountains. Forced to deal with the equally inhospitable local community when her itinerant father goes missing, the fierce tenacity that Lawrence displays as Ree earned her critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination.

Talk To Her
Wednesday August 6, Film4, 12:40am

Pedro Almodóvar (or simply ‘Almodóvar’, as he likes to dub himself) is a darling of the arthouse audiences – and rightly so. Often complex, melodramatic and quite extreme, his films still offer an adult exploration of the human condition sadly lacking in mainstream cinema. Talk To Her is one of Almodóvar’s very best; an offbeat tale of two strangers whose lives are thrown together while taking care of the comatose women they love, it presents themes of fate, selflessness and (not unusually for Almodóvar) transgressive sexuality with such compassion that it was no surprise when the film was showered with awards in Europe and the US.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, Extra II – Going to Expos

July 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Expo 1

A little while ago I wrote a beginner’s guide to going to anime conventions. However, there are bigger events than conventions, and these are the Expos. In Britain, the best known of these are the MCM Comic Cons.

Now, before moving on I should point out there is a slight impartially issue on my part. MCM happens to own MyM Magazine, for whom I work for as their manga critic. I just want to make that clear from the outset. It should also be stated that I attended my first ever Expo just last week, so this is a guide from a beginner to beginners.

MCM organises several events across the British Isles. Every year they hold two events in London, two in Birmingham, and solo events in Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, and the event that I recently went to, in Manchester (I do not know why there are no Expos in Wales before anyone asks). These events range from between one and three days depending on the scale of the event. This year sees Manchester expanding from a one-day to a two-day Expo.

Expo 2

Like with the smaller conventions, there are a range of activities for all sorts of people, whether they are into anime, sci-fi, cult shows, video games etc. You can get just about all the information about these things in my previous article. The main difference is the scale. MCM is a big company, which can afford big venues, big guests, big events, big… everything really.

There are many more stalls and guest artists for starters. There is a lot more stuff for gamers, especially video gamers, with companies providing previews of forthcoming releases. At the Manchester Expo last weekend there were stalls covering the “Pre-Sequel” to Borderlands, and a new game called Evolve, the interesting aspect of which is the multiplayer where a team of up to 4 players fight against 1 very powerful player acting as an alien monster. Not only that, but there is an event called “Robots Live” – like a live-action version of the old TV show Robot Wars in which people fight with home-made machines.

When it comes to cosplaying, the major events like the masquerade are taken a lot more seriously. For this event, the cosplay has to be entirely homemade, and the prize is entry into a Europe-wide cosplay event.

Expo 3

Then there are the panels. Unlike those at conventions, which deal with smaller events such as particular series or genre of shows, most Expo panels are Q&A talks with special guests. So for example there was a panel from some of the stars of Game of Thrones, another from some of the cast of Red Dwarf, and a third with English-speaking voice actors from anime and video games. Out of all these things, perhaps the oddest thing I learnt was that Red Dwarf‘s Chris Barrie would be interested in reviving another old sitcom: The Brittas Empire.

A different sort of panel consisted of three people from UK anime distributor Manga Entertainment talking about forthcoming releases. It has to be said that their announcements were somewhat disappointing, as many of the things they said were just confirmations of stuff they were bringing out anyway. Probably the most interesting release for regular readers of this column is the release of the very popular and critically acclaimed Attack on Titan (No. 11), with the first half debuting on DVD and Blu-Ray on 15th September, and the second on 27th October.

After visiting a convention, going to an Expo is nice way of encountering even more people, making more friends and meeting big names. The Manchester Expo is however still small-fry to the massive three-day London Expos.

Details on MCM Comic Cons can be found on at www.mcmcomiccon.com. MyM Magazine (featuring Ian Wolf’s manga reviews) is available at WHSmith and all good newsagents. More info at www.mymags.net

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.

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