The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 84 – Patema Inverted

December 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Patema Inverted 1

There are several interesting things about this week’s anime: the setting, the animation, the premise and so on. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this anime in terms of its relationship with Britain is how it came to be released: this is the first anime to be released on Blu-Ray in Britain via crowdfunding.

Patema Inverted is an anime film, directed by Yashuhiro Yoshiura, released in 2013 following a series of four short episodes the previous year. It is a science fantasy movie set on Earth after a catastrophe known as “The Great Change”, where following an attempt to use gravity as an alternative energy source the result was a terrible change across much of the planet – gravity is now backwards.

The title character, Patema, is a girl who lives underground but is always exploring the “Danger Zone” which is forbidden. When exploring on one occasion she is attacked by what are known as the “Bat People”, strange masked people who seem to walk on the ceiling. Following her attack Patema drops a bag down a hole, so she climbs down the hole. But there she discovered something terrifying. Everyone and everything on the surface is upside-down, and Patema is terrified that she is going to fall down into the sky. Luckily she is helped by a boy in this strange new world called Age.

Of course to Age and indeed to us, it is Patema who is upside-down or as she is called in Age’s society an “Invert”. Age lives in the totalitarian state of Aiga, ruled by the tyrant Izamura. In Aiga it is taught that during the Great Change it was sinners that were sucked up into the sky, and indeed the Inverts are also sinners. Even looking up into the sky is considered a massive faux par, and Age’s father was killed while experimenting with flight.

Together Patema and Age take on Aiga, and begin to overturn the perceptions of both their worlds, a task made much more difficult by the fact that one of them at any given time is always in the danger of falling to their deaths.

Probably the most interesting aspect of Patema Inverted is how the film was released. The company All the Anime decided to release the film by launching a campaign on Kickstarter. The target was £16,000, and they reached over £38,000. While this was not the first time All the Anime have released a project on Kickstarter, this was the first to finally be released commercially. The other project was another film called Mai Mai Miracle, which is yet to come out.

In terms of the film itself, the thing that makes it attractive is the animation. Because of the situation either Patema or Age are always dangling upside-down, often being held by the other character. Frequently the screen will do a 180 degree turn so it switches from one characters perspective to the other. One of the extras released on the Blu-Ray and DVD of the anime is to see parts of the film as it would be seen by Patema, so you see the film upside-down (or the right way up, depending on your viewpoint).

This does make it difficult to talk about certain points of the film visually, but overall you are just swept away by the animation’s quality. You could argue that the plot is a tad formulaic with Izamura being a pretty obvious villain, but when it comes together the film is still entertaining.

Patema Inverted is now available on Blu-Ray and in an “Ultimate Edition” with Blu-Ray, DVD, the soundtrack and a book, from All the Anime. A simple DVD release comes out just after Christmas.

It’s a Growing Problem: The Intellectual Dwarfism of Jeremy Clarkson

December 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

jeremy clarkson

Poor Jeremy Clarkson was doing the rounds last week, sulking about his scolding from the BBC and desperately trying to rationalise how accidentally driving around Argentina with a provocative registration plate could have been interpreted as mocking the Falklands War. It just keeps happening to him. He’s a weather-independent natural disaster and a magnet for culturally insensitive trouble. It’s never his fault. Racial slurs just fall out of his mouth at the exact moment he’s desperately trying to stop them. Clarkson exists under a cloud of misfortune.

Far be it from me to question his integrity but I find it a little tricky to believe that all of these incidents have been accidents. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that he thought they were quite funny at the time; and only freaked out when he realised that other people didn’t think so and started backtracking implausibly like a philandering husband caught with his dick in the au pair.

Jeremy Clarkson is a baffling, ridiculous figure but not as baffling or ridiculous as the media attention he commands. Is Jeremy Clarkson a racist? How are we ever going to get to the bottom of this question? Well, if you define a ‘racist’ as someone who does racist things and expresses racist attitudes regularly, say over a period of twenty five years, then yes, he is a racist. The Guardian newspaper pays at least four writers a year to point this out. This may explain their financial problems.

Naturally, for someone writing for the Daily Mail it’s a lot more complicated than that. For them, Clarkson is not a racist. He just likes making racist jokes and laughing at them and, if you think about it really hard, that’s the opposite of racism. Yeah? No? I don’t get it either, but white middle-aged men on the upper slopes of the media Olympus have always had the best grasp on issues of systemic inequality so it’s best not to ask questions.

One word that constantly crops up in defences of Clarkson is ‘rebel’. What’s he rebelling against? He’s an ex public-schoolboy, BBC personality and Sunday Times columnist. As well as being a friend and neighbour of the Prime Minister in a town which has become a collective noun for its concentration of wealth and power. You can’t get more establishment than Jeremy Clarkson. But middle class adults with naïve delusions of importance will always find a cause to rebel against. And Jeremy Clarkson is a rebel against ‘political correctness’. For people like Stephen Glover this is very worthy. For people like James Delingpole it’s the most important task any human could ever engage in, and Clarkson is the greatest cultural warrior of his generation.

Except, if he is a cultural warrior or a rebel, then why is he at such pains to flop around like a soppy mimsy, crying about how unfair life is every time he gets his wrist slapped for acting like a bellend?

How many times is the news cycle going to be dominated by this shit? I know Jeremy Clarkson, like Justin Bieber and bukkake porn, is popular but that doesn’t necessarily mean he needs to become a cultural symbol and a rallying point for frantic discussion. He’s too tiresome for that.

Let’s put this to bed once and for all. Jeremy Clarkson is not a soldier in the battle against the tyranny of the left and nor is he the devil incarnate. Jeremy Clarkson is a moron who doesn’t understand basic concepts, like dignity or not being a sensationalist self-publicist. He is a reactionary bully who picks on people he perceives as inferior and then weeps like a Dickensian heroine when he’s told to stop. He’s not equipped for the modern world, and he can’t handle it intellectually or emotionally. By his own admission he’s not safe to be let out in public.

If you’re so stupid that you don’t understand that the easiest way of not using a racial slur is to not use a racial slur then you’re too stupid to operate a toaster. For his own good, he should be living in a home for outdated clowns. And if he insists on continuing to broadcast Top Gear from the carpark – bouncing over the speed bumps in a Ford, shouting homophobic slogans out of the window, whatever – so be it. But really, he should be sacked. Not because he’s offensive but because he is a tedious idiot and he makes everyone else in the country into a tedious idiot every time he does something tedious and idiotic.

TV Films of the Week

December 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 42

TV FILM OF THE WEEK: The Bay
The Bay, Friday December 19, Film4, 9pm

Don’t be alarmed: The Bay is not a reverential biopic of shameless Pearl Harbour/Transformers director Michael. But heckles might be raised on discovering it is another found footage film, despite the genre having produced some pretty decent flicks, from The Blair Witch Project through to [REC] and even the first installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise.

Thankfully The Bay has Oscar-winner Barry Levinson at the helm, who, having directed the likes of Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man, knows how to piece together a convincing narrative. He negates any problems by eschewing the single video camera approach; instead The Bay is constructed of snippets from the multitude of devices used to capture and record media in the 21st century – 911 recordings, CCTV cameras, Skype conversations, text messages, YouTube videos, even the iPhone’s FaceTime app – that have become ever more prevalent in 24-hour news channel reports. Along with the very real eco-science that the film’s story is based upon, the result provides tangible authenticity and places us right at the heart of its horrific events.

Added to the mix are elements of Spielberg’s Jaws fused together with themes from 1950s sci-fi horror movies  like Them!, David Cronenberg’s body-horror of the 1980s, Joe Dante and Roger Corman’s schlocky Piranha and even Ridley Scott’s Alien, all brought into the digital media age with blood-curdling results. Instead of a superficial shocker that relies on lazy “Boo!” moments, Levinson has created something profoundly unsettling, the cumulative feeling of dread becoming close to overwhelming by the time the credits roll.

SET THE RECORDER FOR: 

Selfish Giant
Thursday December 18, Film4, 12:05am

Possibly the best antidote to the artificially saccharine festival of buying shit that is Christmas, The Selfish Giant is a sobering look at a side of British life born of ever-widening inequality. Its two lead characters (astonishingly played by non-professional actors) represent the sort of children you’ll never see in a John Lewis or Marks and Spencer advert – poor, troubled and prematurely forced to exist in an adult world by a system that’s stacked against them. The sort of social realist cinema that would have David Cameron’s toes curling, Clio Bernard’s film is harsh, essential viewing.

Boyz N The Hood
Friday December 12, BBC2, 11:35pm

With recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City showing that racial division is still as much of a problem in the US as it ever has been, it’s quite alarming to look back to 1991 and Boyz In The Hood. Although John Singleton’s directorial debut focuses more on the consequences that centuries of unresolved prejudice have created for the African American community, the fact that a nation as prosperous as America has failed to resolve them almost a quarter of a century later is genuinely shameful. None of which, of course, detracts from a film that remains as powerful as ever.

Youth In Revolt
Saturday December 20, BBC Two, 11:40pm

One of the best teen comedies to come out of the noughties, Youth In Revolt was criminally overlooked by audiences and critics alike. Perhaps it was a little too sophisticated for the type of audience the genre attracts, preferring sharp-witted dialogue to broad, goof-out moments. Either way, Michael Cera is brilliant as both hapless, smitten teenager Nick Twisp and François Dillinger, the suave, rebellious alter-ego he creates to try and woo Portia Doubleday’s sassy Sheeni. Cult classic status is surely deserved.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

A Very British Problem

December 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

very british problems

You may not be aware but this whole internet thing is so hot right now and the old-timey mediums like print media and television are dying to sprinkle themselves with some online fairy dust. It’s all part of a bid to remain ‘relevant’ and ‘current’, although being relevant and current is very much like being powerful – if you you have you tell people that you are, then you probably aren’t. One of the newest strategies is to transistion popular people from an online medium onto television. This is the kind of logic that gave Dapper Laughs his own television show. Emboldened by that glorious success, television is trying again, this time via a Twitter account called VeryBritishProblems.

Translating a 140 character tweet or six second Vine into a considerably longer format is a challenge. The quickfire delivery of the content is the internet star’s greatest weakness and greatest strength. On the one hand, it removes the potential for nuance. On the other, it’s over before anyone got a chance to dwell on how annoying and repetitive it was. There’s only so much VeryBritishProblems you can read in one sitting before the anecdotes about drinking tea, making tea, saying sorry when not at fault, not wanting to make a fuss, and something to do with a biscuit before they all blend into one and you’re suddenly incredibly aware of your own mortality. VeryBritishProblems is the abyss and the abyss is very grey and very twee.

With that in mind, I’m very interested to know how this will translate to television. Presumably it’s going to be a comedy and a very British one at that. Given the state of British comedy, that means that there are only three viable options available. (Four technically, but let’s not even talk about sketch shows).

1. The Talking Head Show

Various celebrities of the past and present (it doesn’t matter which, no one will recognise them anyway) will sit in a well-lit room recounting pre-written anecdotes about being British in airy, happy voices. This will go on for about a thousand years. David and Carrie Grant will be two of the celebrities and, at one point, they will demonstrate their vocal range. Perhaps during a recollection about how a fly divebombed into a cup of tea then flapped around a bit and died. Richard Bacon will do the voiceover and how smug you perceive his voice to be will be directly correlational to your boredom.

2. The Panel Show

A man with a nice plummy voice, an unthreatening smile and a neutral suit will host. He will refer to the show as ‘the panel game that examines the quintessence of being British’ and smile like this is supposed to be a treat. There will be questions along the lines of:

“What do you do if someone makes your tea incorrectly?”
1. Drink it and don’t complain?
2. Ask them to make it again.
3. Fly into an existential panic and run in front of traffic.

David Mitchell will be on hand to deconstruct social norms and express an interest in being inside a lot of the time. The studio audience will laugh a little too loudly and for a little too long because they are middle class, polite and they’re paying £25 an hour to a babysitter to be there.

3. The Sitcom

A slightly gawky but not unattractive man has an exuberant mother and a taciturn, but not unlikeable father who he spends far more time with than is normal. He has a job in an office, which he commutes to. Both the job and the journey, and indeed his entire existence will be an endless series of mildly embarrassing episodes amid quiet dismay. He will have co-workers, one wacky and one pretty; but in a mousy, unassuming way so we know she is accessible. Episodes will focus on the management of a Very British Problem like:

1. How to react when someone won’t make space for a pregnant woman on public transport.
2. How to gently extricate yourself from a conversation with a loud pub racist.
3. How to explain yourself at A&E after sustaining crushing injuries to your genitals after slamming your penis in the photocopier at work trying to conceal an ill timed erection.

At the end of every episode the central character will return home. The credits will roll and he will proceed to dress in a three piece suit and a monocle, make himself tea using the good china , salute a picture of the Queen and devour a small piece of his own flesh to train himself not to show any discomfort – physical or emotional.

Actually, that sounds quite good. Someone should commission that.

TV Films of the Week

December 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

TV Films of the Week 41

FILM OF THE WEEK: Martha Marcy May Marlene
Wednesday December 10, Film4 10:40pm

Martha Marcy May Marlene: so good they named her four times? Well, perhaps not quite that good, but this is still a pretty striking debut feature from director/screenwriter Sean Durkin. It’s made all the more memorable by the performance of another debutant, Elisabeth Olsen, who was once known more prominently as the sister of US celebrity twins Ashley and Mary-Kate, but know commands far higher artistic integrity than her siblings

Olsen plays the film’s eponymous enigma, first seen running away with some urgency from an unremarkable-looking home somewhere in rural upstate New York. Picked up and taken to apparent safety by an elder sister she hasn’t seen for over a year, it quickly becomes apparent that something wasn’t altogether right with the life Martha had been living for the previous 12 months.

As a series of flashbacks reveals more and more information about that period, a growing sense of paranoia washes off the screen and onto the viewer. Durkin often places his subjects in the corner of the frame, stood behind large glass windows or doors through which you constantly expect something or someone threatening to appear. Cumulatively, the effect is far more chilling than a hundred ‘boo’ moments from standard shockers.

Is the threat of Martha’s past coming crashing into her present real or implied? To reveal much more would almost certainly spoil the film, but stick with it and you’ll witness one of the most subtle (non-supernatural) horror films this century has yet produced. If the final scene doesn’t have you spitting feathers, its psychological impact will take several days to shake off.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

Hero
Tuesday December 9, Film4, 7pm

While it doesn’t have the tenderness that underscores similar wuxia martial arts films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, Hero is still a sweeping epic worthy of the name. Its sheer beauty is undeniable, while its spectacle is at times simply breathtaking. For some, director Zhang Yimou’s fable of China’s unification is a little too pro-totalitarian state. But western audiences are unlikely to view Hero as propaganda, preferring instead to marvel as Jet Li and the rest of its cast dazzle us with grace and athleticism.

Dead Poets Society
Friday December 12, BBC2, 11:35pm

As 2014 draws to a close, it will be remembered by movie fans around the world as the year we said goodbye soon to the lightning talent that was Robin Williams. Thankfully then, BBC Two have given us the opportunity to re-visit one of his most beloved films. And if you want more Williams memories to savour, tune into Film4 from 9pm on Sunday for Good Will Hunting followed by Good Morning, Vietnam.

Sightseers
Friday December 12, Channel 4, 11:40pm

Think of some of cinema’s greatest travelling companions, and you might recall Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thelma and Lousie or even Bill and Ted. In Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, dysfunctional couple Chris and Tina could bring a similar silver screen razzmatazz to the UK caravanning scene, except they turn out to be more a Black Country Bonnie and Clyde than anything resembling the sort of people you’d want to share a pork pie with whilst ascending the M1. A wickedly offbeat black comedy, Sightseers is essential viewing for anyone who’s ever felt enraged by the Daily Mail-infused mundanity of Middle England.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

Beasts and Besties – Breaking down bad guy pets

December 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

AustinPowers_093Pyxurz

What’s the deal with animals and bad guys? No this isn’t a Seinfeld ‘bit’ although it could be.

“Why bother with a pet? How about, rather than split their time between scheming and caring for a pet – they just do the one thing. Open a pet shop, or go for world domination. Not only can’t men multi-task, but neither can bad guys… that’s why they always get caught.”

Aside from a love for the homicidal, silver screen bad guys are just like the rest of us. They need to eat, do their washing and a few of them even share their lives with an adored pet. Dr Evil had his Bond villain parody Mr Bigglesworth, Mikey Rourke had a bird in Iron Man 2, Jafar was BFFs with Iago, Woody Harrelson was crazy about his Shih Tzu in Seven Psychopaths and there’s plenty more.

The relationship between a villain and their animal is a great technique that helps us understand the character. Each villain is different and the great thing about adding a pet is that it can either stress or undercut a villain’s personality. A loved pet can make a bad guy, such as Dr Evil, seem misunderstood. Questioning our perception and making us think that maybe this guy isn’t so bad – after all, look at how he’s treating that cat. This juxtaposition can make a villain more digestible because after all, stroking a cat while divulging your evil plans is eccentric.

If a villain has an obsession with their pet, like Woody Harrelson in Seven Psychopaths, then this affection is usually offset by the villain being aggressive in nature. It explains how Woody’s character can go from shooting someone point blank one minute, to sobbing over his pets disappearance the next. Here the pet serves as the swinging pendulum to these two extremes. These types of bad guys come across as much more deranged because of their irrationality, they really love their pets, like heaps.

What’s interesting though is that stereotypically the pets of villains are usually a cat or a bird. Let’s be honest, cats are villainous by nature, they’re aloof, moody, have an enormous sense of superiority and make a great evil companion. So if you have an evil person to buy for this year, a cat could be the way to go. The bird idea is tricky, perhaps their evolutionary closeness to raptors and crocodiles instil a fear in us, or maybe it’s because of their ability to defecate from a height. Birds are synonymous with pirates and do symbolise the ‘devil on the shoulder’, making them a good companion for outsiders.

Overall though, animals are a strong way of showing the isolation and loneliness that a villain might be feeling. Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2 was obsessed with his ‘bird’. That animal represented his only friend in a world that had been hard on himself and his father.

But while certain animals lend themselves to villains, dogs do the same for the good guys. From Scooby-Doo, to Lassie, Snowy from Tin Tin and plenty more, it’s not hard to see why. Dogs are loyal animals and known as man’s best friend, making them a natural sidekick for the hero. K-9 was saving the world through time and space with Dr Who and beyond, Brian Griffin is literally a part of the family in Family Guy, Superman had a dog at one stage, and try and imagine Lady and the Tramp with two cats.

When the bad guy inevitably eventually loses, either ending up dead or in prison, I hope that their pet makes it out alive, so that they can find a home and start a new life, preferably one away from crime.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 83 – Ghost in the Shell

December 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Ghost in the Shell 1

This week we are looking at one of the most successful of anime and manga franchises. This is a series which began in print in 1989, and has been adapted into various anime: film, TV and original video anime (OVA) releases. It has also produced one of anime’s most iconic leads.

Ghost in the Shell’s first anime version was a feature film in 1995. Then there was two spin-off TV series which ran from 2002-05 known as Stand Alone Complex. This was followed by were two films: Innocence in 2004, which was a sequel to the first film; and Solid State Society, a sequel to the TV version in 2006. Most recently there was the Arise OVA, a four-part spin-off prequel brought out between 2013-14. So there is plenty to get through.

Ghost in the Shell is a mixture of crime and cyberpunk. It is set after a nuclear World War III and a non-nuclear World War IV in the mid-21st century. The action takes place in the fictional New Port City in Japan. At this point in time technology has advanced to the point where people can have “cyberbrains”, where their brains can interact with computer networks. You can also have cybernetic prosthetics such a robotic limbs. You can even become a cyborg with a fully prosthetic body, such as that as the lead character and heroine of the story: Major Motako Kusanagi.

Major Kusanagi works for Public Security Section 9, a task-force mostly made out of ex-soldiers and police officers, which mainly deals with political crimes and counter-terrorism. Other members of Section 9 include Batou, an ex-soldier who has artificial eyes; Togusa, formerly from the police who has not undergone any cybernetic enhancements; and the director of Section 9 Chief Daisuke Aramaki, who frequently puts his career on the line to protect his unit.

While much of the series focuses on the crimes that Section 9 has to solve, it also deals with humanity’s relationship with technology. One recurring element is Kusanagi often saying that her “ghost” is leading her to the solution to a problem. Does this ghost count as a soul? Can Kusanagi have a soul despite being mostly machine?

This series features lots of different elements that give the series popular appeal. As just stated, there are the philosophical issues relating to our use of technology and how we use it. It deals with cyborgs, hacking, artificial intelligence etc. There is plenty to get you thinking. You also have the technology and machines created by the original author Masamune Shirow: Kusanagi can use “thermo-optical camouflage” to make herself invisible. There are also the “tachikoma” – “think-tanks” that are robotic weapons which at first have child-like intelligence but then learn new information.

Balanced with this are the more action-packed sequences. There is the thrill of the police chase, fighting between cops and robbers and all the usual things that you expect in a crime thriller. There is also a slight touch of the erotic: Shirow is famous for his more adult works as well as his cyberpunk series. The animation looks brilliant in most versions of the series, especially in the online locations.

Ghost in the Shell is one of the most iconic anime around, and Motako Kusanagi has become one of anime’s most recognisable characters: a great heroine who is both intelligent and great physical fighter. You could even argue that she is a sex symbol thanks to Shirow’s erotic leanings. There are many incarnations of the series and you can dive into pretty much any of them and enjoy this anime.

The one incarnation of the franchise that might be problematic however is a possible forthcoming Hollywood live-action directed by Rupert Sanders and with Scarlett Johansson playing Kusanagi. I say worrying because as far as I know there has never been a Hollywood adaptation of a Japanese anime or manga that has been given universal praise, and some have just been totally terrible. Whether they can do something different remains to be seen.

All incarnations of Ghost in the Shell are released by Manga Entertainment. All the films are available in DVD and Blu-Ray, with the original film also released as a Steelbook. The Stand Alone Complex TV series are released on DVD. The first two Arise episodes are on DVD and Blu-Ray.

High Maintenance Doesn’t Even Begin To Cover It

December 2, 2014 by  
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high maintenance

In the absence of certainty, the fewer assumptions that are made the better. This is the general principle of Ockham’s Razor and the best reason to watch High Maintenance. It’s a comedy involving pot; where the stories tangentially involve marijuana, but marijuana is rarely the story itself. It’s far more than stoner humour.

Each episode is a 10 to 20 minutes vignette of low stakes drama in which High Maintenance’s co-creator Ben Sinclair – playing an unassuming weed delivery guy – is the utterly delightful part-time protagonist who delivers an unobtrusive look into the disparate domesticity of creative class New Yorkers.

The parameters of High Maintenance are modest and it’s often at it’s best when it’s at its most unassuming. A character half-caught through a door frame, the subtitled argument of a mute couple or the icebreaker that sinks an obnoxious kid’s titanic ego. I spoke to Sinclair, along with his wife and co-creator Katja Blichfeld about weed economics, the amicable bonds of shared illegality and drug dealer avatars.

Do you think the (seemingly almost inevitable) legalisation of marijuana will unemploy your friendly neighbourhood “Guy?”
Katja Blichfeld: No way. It might change his clientèle, sure. There will be those who won’t want to be registered marijuana users, for various reasons. Plus there are others who just like to participate in the black market. So it might just change the customer profile, but The Guy won’t be out of business any time soon.

Was it better or worse creating outside of the constraints of thirty-minute or one-hour formulas?
Blichfeld: We love being free of a time constraint. In terms of storytelling, we find it limiting to be told a story must fit within the confines of 21-45 minutes. Can you imagine if novelists all had to uniformly tailor their work to a specific length – down to the page-count? That would be weird.

When something has DIY origins, it can be difficult to avoid “self-indulgent,” “pet project” perceptions. Was this something you faced?
Blichfeld: We haven’t faced a ton of this brand of criticism, luckily. We’ve never forced ourselves on the world, and have tried to just let our audience come to us as much as possible. Perhaps that’s been a helpful strategy for us.

How much of the show’s popularity would you credit to people’s desire to slip unobtrusively into the private spaces of strangers?
Blichfeld: I’m really not sure! I actually think most of the appeal comes from people seeing themselves, or people they know, in the characters we portray. We hear over and over again that our show makes people “feel normal”. I like to think that’s what compels our audience to keep watching, and to recommend the series to friends. That being said, we’re thoroughly aware of the fact that we represent a very small sliver of the creative middle class, and never purport to represent Brooklyn or New York as a whole. We speak to a relatively small segment of the world at large, and we totally get that.

Does “The Guy” have no name because he’s an avatar for our collective curiosities?
Ben Sinclair: A drug dealer doesn’t usually give you his/her real name. We’ve met dealers who go by animal monikers and others who just make up pseudonyms. We decided our protagonist would simply call himself “The Guy”. The anonymous quality makes it easier for people to be vulnerable and open around him, and yes, as you point out – it makes it easier for him to be an avatar for our collective curiosities. To be a an emotional surrogate for the audience, if you will.

Does the premise’s illegality make it easier to build intimacy between characters?
Sinclair: Definitely. The Guy and his client are complicit in something illegal together. It’s easier to make a connection in that situation, for sure.

High Maintenance is available to watch on Vimeo or at HighMaintenance.tv

Marco? Polo!

December 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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On Friday, December 12th, Netflix, the massive internet streamer and studio behind television shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black will release their latest original program, the highly anticipated, Marco Polo. The show, billed as an epic in the vein of Game of Thrones and Starz’s Black Sails, follows the titular character, played by newcomer Lorenzo Richelmy, and his adventures in Kublai Khan’s court in 13th century China. The idea for the show came from series creator and co-showrunner, John Fusco (Hidalgo, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron), who has been inspired by the legendary Polo since he was a child. Learn more about that from John and series co-showrunner, Dan Minahan (Game of Thrones) here:

Fusco then took his idea for a Marco Polo television series to legendary producer, Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein and his company, The Weinstein Company, set the show up at Starz, where it was to be a part of their new rollout of high quality original content to combat the likes of HBO and Showtime. But when things fell through, the rights reverted back to The Weinstein Company, who, rather than giving up on the project entirely, brought it out of turnaround to Netflix, a decision which has proven not only to be good business, but also a positive influence on the creative process. Learn more about that here:

The show is a sprawling epic, traversing several countries and boasting a large international cast comprised mostly of newcomers. At the forefront of the show, playing Marco Polo is Lorenzo Richelmy, an Italian actor whose previous work resides almost exclusively in his home country and who was cast via a homemade audition tape that made its way to the producers. Starring alongside Richelmy, is Benedict Wong (Prometheus), perhaps the show’s most experienced Hollywood actor, playing the role of the menacing Kublai Khan. In addition to Wong in Richelmy is another newcomer, Zhu Zhu (Cloud Atlas) as Marco and Kublai’s love interest, Kokachin. Listen to how the cast got involved with the project here:

Marco Polo premieres on Netflix, Friday, December 12th. Catch the official Netflix trailer below:

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 82 – Nichijou

December 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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This (I imagine some readers will be relieved to learn) is the last of the “anime set in schools that would never exist in real life” I am currently covering. This anime possibly holds the title for the most inaccurately named anime around, because the title translates as “My Ordinary Life”. The issue is that the reason this school would never exist is because it is totally surreal.

Nichijou started as a manga by Keiichi Arawi in 2006. Following a single straight-to-video episode, a 26-episode long series was broadcast in 2011. In Britain the anime was streamed on the now shut-down website Anime on Demand, and since then the main problem has been trying to release the series on DVD in English. There is neither a Region 1 nor a Region 2 release of Nichijou, but there was a release in Region 4 from Australia.

The series mainly focuses on the students of Class 1-Q in an unnamed school. The main characters are three girls: lazy Yuko Aioi who never bothers with her homework and hates being insulted; blue-haired Mio Naganohara who has a very short temper; and quiet Mai Minakami who seems to excel in just about everything and has an odd sense of humour. Their school has all sorts of odd people studying and working there: male teacher Manabu Takasaki is secretly in love with timid female colleague Izumi Sakurai; the bald Principle Shinonome may be terrible at telling jokes but he is brilliant at wrestling deer; student Kojiro Sasahara acts aristocratic but in reality he comes from a family of farmers, and he is often the victim of schoolgirl Misato Tachibana who has the habit of pulling guns out of nowhere and shooting him, despite also being in love with him.

However, perhaps the oddest person in the series is the Professor. She is a genius inventor and is responsible for many great ideas despite her age – she’s eight. Her greatest work is creating an android schoolgirl, Nano, who really wants to go to school but is worried about people finding out her true identity. The problem is that her identity is totally obvious to everyone around, because she is powered by clockwork and has a huge wind-up key sticking out of her back. Together they are both accompanied by a black cat called Sakamoto, who due to a red scarf created by the Professor is able to speak to humans. In cat years, he is 20 years old and is thus really the senior of the trio.

The main appeal of Nichijou is the surreal comedy. As stated before when reviewing other shows of this kind, surreal humour can appeal to just about all nationalities. If you like your comedy to be a bit bonkers, then this is a show that has it in abundance. The characters themselves are pretty much all loveable, with the stories between the Professor and Nano being a personal favourite. The art is also to be commended. It has a warm, friendly look to it.

The big problem that Nichijou has is the lack of availability in the west. It was streamed when it was first aired back in 2011 but since then it has been a real struggle to get a release of either the anime or the original manga. Both versions were originally going to be released by Bandai Entertainment, but the company later shut down all its English-language operations and the plan never came into being. It has since been released down under, only in a Japanese dub. The problem for us in Britain is that we tend to only release anime that have been released in the USA, so if the Americans don’t get their own release it is unlikely the British will too. It would be nice however to see a British anime distributor bypassing the Americans and working with the Australians.

Nichijou is released on Region 4 DVD by Madman Entertainment.

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