Best Guest Cameos in Girls Season 4

March 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

 

HBO Home Entertainment UK announces the digital release of Girls: The Complete Fourth Season, available to own and watch instantly on March 24 2015 via Amazon Instant Video, blinkbox, Google PlayTM, iTunes, Wuaki.tv and Xbox Video. Fans now have the chance to download on this smart, funny, and brilliantly original show ahead of its release on Blu-ray and DVD. With four seasons under their belt, Girls has brought some great guest stars in and this season was no exception to that standard…

Natasha Lyonne

Lyonne is an American stage, film, and television actress, best known for her roles in the American Pie films as the wisecracking Jessica, and the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black as Nicky. Recently nominated for a 2014 Primetime Emmy® Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, Lyonne has appeared in over 30 films since being cast by Woody Allen in Everyone Says I Love You at the age of 16. In the fourth season of GIRLS, Lyonne guest stars as Rickey, Beadie’s daughter, coming to steal her mother back from Jessa.

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Rita Wilson

This brilliantly talented American actress, singer and producer is known mainly for the films Sleepless in Seattle, Jingle All the Way, and Runaway Bride. Wilson was famously responsible for bringing My Big Fat Greek Wedding to the big screen as a producer. In the fourth season of GIRLS, Wilson continues to play the role of Marnie’s uninhibited ‘stage’ mother Evie Michaels. Hilariously, when she goes to see Marnie’s first public gig at the Jazz Brunch, Evie effortlessly mouths along to every single lyric that pours forth from her beloved offspring’s lips.

Zachary Quinto

Quinto is an American actor who has evolved into a very well-known, extremely successful actor. He is best known for his portrayal of Sylar in the sci-fi series Heroes, as well as his role as Spock in the hugely successful franchise re-boot of Star Trek. He also had roles in multiple seasons of horror television series, American Horror Story, which gained him tremendous popularity and a Primetime Emmy® nomination in 2013 for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. Quinto guest stars as Ace, Mimi-Rose’s ex-boyfriend, in the fourth season of GIRLS alongside Lena Dunham. He portrays himself as a laid back but likable douche who plays the part of a crazy ex-boyfriend quite well.

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Ana Gasteyer

This actress is best known for her outstanding and hilarious work on Saturday Night Live. She created some of the most famous SNL characters. Gasteyer has proved, however, that her acting can go far beyond a comedy skit. She has starred in numerous hit films and has earned rave reviews on Broadway as Elphaba in Wicked, as well as Columbia in The Rocky Horror Show. Gasteyer plays the role of Shoshanna’s mom, Melanie Shapiro, in Season Four of GIRLS, opposite Anthony Edwards who plays Shoshanna’s dad. She brings the right level of intensity and humour, giving audiences a glimpse of how Shoshanna’s childhood must have played out.

Gillian Jacobs

This American actress/director is extremely talented both on the screen and behind-the-
scenes. She has appeared in theatrical productions, TV series, and films, mainly known for her performances in Community, The Box, and Walk of Shame. Season Four of GIRLS sees Jacobs portraying a recurring character named Mimi-Rose Howard, as a whimsical multimedia artist who catches Adam’s interest and presents a problem for Hannah.

Girls: The Complete Fourth Season is now available to digitally download via Amazon Instant Video, blinkbox, Google PlayTM, iTunes, Wuaki and Xbox from HBO Home Entertainment.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 99 – Dragon Ball / Dragon Ball Z

March 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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Over almost two years I have been writing about anime for On The Box, there is one very big series I’ve yet to cover. Well, consider that amended. Here we take a look at one of the most influential and most popular anime ever made. It was one of the first anime to make it into the mainstream in the west, and it helped to inspire some of biggest anime series around now.

Dragon Ball (sometimes spelt Dragonball), a mixture of martial arts and science fantasy, first began as a manga which ran for 42 volumes between 1984 and 1995, created by Akira Toriyama. It has been adapted into several TV anime, the original series run for 153 episodes between 1986 and 1989; and the much better known sequel Dragon Ball Z running for 291 episodes between 1989 and 1996. There were also other anime sequels and films adapted from it – including the infamous 2009 live-action American movie Dragonball Evolution, one of most widely panned movies ever made.

Set in a version of Earth where all sorts of races are living together, from humans to animals to dinosaurs, in past and futuristic environments, the original Dragon Ball series tells the story of Son Goku. He is a strange boy with a monkey tail, huge strength, and naïve about the rest of the world and other people. Goku meets a genius female inventor called Bulma, who comes across him by discovering that he has in his possession one of the legendary “Dragon Balls”, which Goku got from his late grandfather. Bulma tells Goku that there are seven Dragon Balls in the world and that if you collect them all then you able to summon the mighty dragon Shen Long, who will grant you one wish. Upon this wish being made the Balls turn into ordinary stones for one year and are scatted across the globe.

Goku decides to help Bulma find all the Dragon Balls, along the way meeting friends, enemies, and accidentally agreeing to getting engaged to a young girl called Chi-Chi. Later, Goku meets the great martial arts master Muten-Roshi, the “Turtle Hermit”, who agrees to train Goku in martial arts and even gives Goku a special cloud called “Kinto-Un” to fly around on – although Muten-Roshi does have some problems, namely being extremely perverted when it comes to women.

Over the course of the anime, Goku trains his body to achieve super-human levels of strength under the eyes of Muten-Roshi and other martial arts exponents. He also ends up having to go on several hunts for the Dragon Balls, trying to prevent them from fall into the hands of various villains. Plus Goku and the friends take part in the Tenkaichi Budōkai – “the Strongest Under the Heavens Martial Arts Tournament”.

The sequel, Dragon Ball Z, takes place five years later, with Goku and Chi-Chi married with a four-year-old son named Son Gohan, named after Goku’s late grandfather. However, Goku’s peaceful life is interrupted when a warrior-like being from an alien race called the Saiyans reveals that Goku comes from their hostile race, and that it was supposedly Goku’s job to conquer the Earth. Goku resists, and this leads to further adventures, this time Goku taking is extraordinary martial arts skills into the reaches of outer space.

This anime, Dragon Ball Z especially, was one of the first anime to make it big in the west, the USA in particular. The adventures of Son Goku helped to make anime popular in English-speaking countries when it was first broadcast in 1996, although be it with some censorship for American audiences. Some scenes were considered too violent and graphic for kids, which is a shame because one of the appeals of the anime is its risqué humour. There are some funny moments, even if they might be considered a bit puerile. For example, in the original Dragon Ball series there is a scene where Goku is being spied on by a recurring villain called Pilaf, who plans to use the Dragon Balls to wish for world domination. Goku fails to realise that he is being watched by a hidden camera, but he manages to stop them by unwittingly weeing on it. There is a quick moment where you see Pilaf and his henchpeople looking away in disgust at the sight of urine splashing on the monitor.

Dragon Ball should perhaps be better known for its influence on anime and manga that have since been made. It was originally published in Weekly Shonen Jump, the most popular manga magazine, and has been acknowledged as an influence on manga that later appeared in this magazine, as well as other manga that fit into a similar mould. Dragon Ball was an inspiration for all of the “Big Three” Shonen Jump manga: One Piece (No. 6), Bleach (No. 15) and Naruto (No. 95), some of the most popular anime and manga series ever; and more recently it was an influence on Fairy Tail (No. 52), which began in a rival manga magazine.

Some people do criticise it, like so many of these series, for the slow moving plot at times: namely battles that last for several episodes. However, people still love this anime. New anime films and video games are still being made. It remains hugely popular to this day.

I should also mention that this anime was also subject to the utterly awful American movie Dragonball Evolution which is hated by just about every decent anime fan around, because it doesn’t remain faithful to the original work. It is one of the reasons why future Hollywood adaptations of anime are always treated with suspicion.

Dragon Ball is one of the classics. If you are new to anime, this is one of the series to make a start on.

Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and subsequent sequels and films are released on Region 2 by Manga Entertainment.

The Indefatigable Toadfish

March 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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Anyone who has been a long-time fan of ‘Neighbours’ will instantly – and fondly – recognise the name “Toadfish.” This year, Ryan Moloney has played the role of Jarrod Rebecchi on our screens for 20 years, taking the character from infamous teenage prankster to troubled lawyer and family man. We met up with Ryan to find out his best memories of growing up on the show and what he hopes for his future in Ramsay Street (hint: it involves monkeys and ice-cream).

When you first started on Neighbours, you were a bit-part character before the producers decided to develop the role. What do you think it was about Toadie that made you full-time in the soap?

I think you always need someone in a soap that you dislike, someone that causes trouble, and that’s what Toadie was. Everyone loved Billy (Kennedy – played by Jesse Spencer) so they needed the anti-hero.

Do you have any characteristics that you share with your character; are there many cross-overs between you and Toadie?

Sense of humour, I guess and sense of honesty – I’d like to say I have more integrity than Toadie!

He does get into some scrapes! How much do the writers listen to your ideas and allow you to put your own spin on the character?

They do take storylines from you and if you input certain characteristics, then they watch it back and like it, they’ll start writing those into the scripts too. You also have freedom into how you actually play your lines too.

Are there any storylines that Toadie has been involved in over the years that you didn’t enjoy playing?

To be honest, the Steph storyline where Steph was pregnant with Libby’s ex and then Toadie married her and pretended he was the father, that went on for SO long and – it was a good storyline – but it got more intense every single week. It was so full-on, it ran for about 18 months. Then straight after that it went on to Sonya and finding out that she was Callum’s mum so it was just too much!

It was a very long storyline that kept building and building so, emotionally, that’s quite draining. It’s pretty hard to turn up to work to have a nervous breakdown every day.

Do you have a particular happy or fond memory from the last 20 years on the show? What was one of your best storylines?

Probably the ‘House of Trousers’ stuff, we just ran amuck in there and tried to get away with as much stuff as we could…and the directors let us. We had loads of freedom.

We did things like punching holes in walls so we didn’t have to open doors and if there was a hole in the wall, then one of us had a ‘scene off,’ we’d pretend that was the hole into the toilet. So as they’re walking past through the scene, one of us would just put our hand out, the other would pick up a toilet roll, put it in their hand then come back in – crazy stuff like that. I loved all that playing around.

Tell us a bit about friends you’ve made on the way; who in particular do you like doing scenes with?

I love doing scenes with Patty Harvey, who plays Connor – he’s my favourite, as well as Eve and Jackie. When I see I have a script coming up with one of those guys, I look forward to it. When you’re acting with Eve or Jackie, you find yourself thinking ‘man, I need to lift my game.’

Do you think Toadie will ever completely settle down and be stable or do you think romance is just always going to come in ups and downs for him?

No, I think he’s stable now – he’s found his love with Sonya, they support each other, they argue like a real couple which is good, it’s realistic – and we love doing that too!

Do you think any of the changes Toadie has been through are an accurate representation of what the average guy goes through in life?

No! (laughs) well, the growing up aspect I guess; as you get older you start to take things more seriously and you have to settle down more. You buy the house and you meet the person and you have the kids. He’s done all that, it’s just the way he got there wasn’t so typical! In soap-fashion, it probably was normal…

Are there any storylines for the future that you’d love to see Toadie get involved in?

Maybe a good health scare would be good. I’d have a dabble in that. And maybe Toadie should run a Mr Whippy van, I think that’d be cool.

Is that so you get to eat lots of ice-cream?

Yeah. And perhaps he could get a pet monkey too.

Cool – would you like all three of those to be in the same episode or…?

It’d be a busy time but yeah, you’ve got to have light and shade! Or maybe a client of Toadie’s who’s a funeral director bequests him the business so he becomes a funeral director. The Mr Whippy van could be a service alongside that…you’ve got to have something for the kids, right?

I’m starting to realise why you’re not in the writing side and stick to the acting…

(Ryan laughs) I know for a fact some writers would jump on these storylines! When they read this article perhaps they’ll get to this bit and think ‘this is gold – we’re doing this!’

What do you think it is about Neighbours that got it to the 30 year mark?

We deal with big stuff but it’s still light; we don’t get bogged down in the big dramatic storylines. It’s got a good sense of comedy about it and doesn’t take itself too seriously. We also put together a really good product – it’s bright and happy and the sun shines.

What qualities do you think you need as an actor to work on a soap for so long?

Professionalism is the biggest one, humility and probably a good sense of how lucky you’ve got it. This job has afforded me a brilliant life and my family a brilliant life: I’m very, very lucky.

My dad was a plumber and often, when I’m having a moment of not wanting to do it any more, I go ‘well, I could have my hands in someone else’s pooh.’ If I do that, I’m only acting it and it’s only stunt pooh.

The Neighbours 30th anniversary is fast-approaching on March 18th on Channel 5, where you can see favourites such as Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, Ian Smith and Anne Charleston (Harold and Madge Bishop!) return to our screens.

Alexander McQueen Reads Hitchcock

March 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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Lots of fashion designers look to the silver screen for inspiration, but few mined the cinema for inspiration as extensively or with the psychological intensity of Alexander McQueen. McQueen’s adoration of the films of Alfred Hitchcock and his heroines began in childhood and continued throughout his professional career, explicitly providing the starting point for a great deal of his output including his breakthrough collection in Spring-Summer 1995, “The Birds” based on Hitchcock’s 1963 film of the same name.

The influence of Hitchcock’s notion of ideal femininity permeates McQueen’s work in unexpected and critical ways. In “The Birds”, Hitchcock’s Blondes are laid bare under the unflinching and often savage glare of McQueen’s artistic creations. McQueen’s shows (like Hitchcock’s early films) followed in the aesthetic tradition of German expressionist cinema where the primary role of images was to establish a melodramatic and often sinister mood. This technique was used to full effect in “The Birds” which can be read as a visual representation of the psychological construction of the Hitchcock heroine.

The Hitchcock Blonde of The Birds is Tippi Hedren, famously plucked from obscurity by Hitchcock and moulded in his image of the perfect cinematic woman – the archetypal Hitchcock Blonde. The Hitchcock Blonde is sophisticated, icy and aloof with a hint of hot sexual energy. She is a siren for hapless men and a potential victim of aggression – manmade or natural. The women in Hitchcock’s films walk along a treacherous line between these extremes, sometimes emerging triumphant and sometimes as victims.

The opposition exemplified by the Hitchcock heroine is an aesthetic challenge relished by McQueen in “The Birds” and, of course, his starting point was the costume of Hitchcock’s film. For McQueen, the binary nature of the Hitchcock heroine could be reduced to the pencil skirt. This particular item of clothing that first projects an image of feminine dominance and sexual control eventually becomes a hindrance – as the powers of nature turn against the heroine, the constraints of the pencil skirt hobble her. But in McQueen’s take on Hitchcock, the women are simultaneously the victim and potentially dangerous perpetrators.

Given this starting point, the contrast of a woman restricted by her urban uniform of strong tailoring in a running motif throughout the show. McQueen explores the opposing nature of the Hitchcock heroine further with his use of white contact lenses. These lenses gave his models an eerie and inscrutable facial expression making them appear dangerous. At the same time, the lenses quite deliberately stripped the women of their individuality, transforming them into psychological clones.

Perhaps the binary opposition of women in Hitchcock are most articulately expressed in McQueen’s use of nudity in “The Birds”. Hitchcock famously preferred to imply sexuality rather than to depict it explicitly and the danger of both female and male sexuality is always left to the imagination, where it is potentially more frightening. McQueen shows what lies underneath the cool exterior of the Hitchcock heroine by laying his models are in an exhibition of stark and frank nudity. His models are unapologetic in their sexuality and impassive to their objectification. They don’t shrink in shame or revel in the attention, their bodies are a fact of life and they bear them with an emotional blankness that essentially strips them of their eroticism. The female sexuality of Hitchcock interpreted by McQueen is cold, surreal and possibly perilous.

But nor are McQueen’s Hitchcock inspired models singularly dangerous. The models were painted with tyre marks in arbitrary areas of their body, inspired by the road kill sequence of the bird, demonstrating concisely just how quickly the women of Hitchcock’s cinema can switch between the roles of predator and prey.

When it comes to exploring Hitchcock’s complicated and often dark relationship with his female heroines, McQueen’s savage psychological visual interpretation isn’t a bad place to start.

Proud Galleries is exhibiting McQueen: Backstage – The Early Shows featuring backstage images of “The Birds” between the 4th March and the 5th April.

The Victoria and Albert Museum will be exhibiting Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty between the 14th March and 2nd August.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 98 – Moyashimon

March 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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Anime, and indeed Japanese culture in general, has a love for the cute (or “kawaii” as they would say) and enjoys trying to make anything loveable. Perhaps one of the oddest, and certainly one of the most educational, sees cute personifications of something you cannot normally see with the naked eye: bacteria.

Moyashimon (sometimes spelt Moyasimon) ran as a manga under the full title Moyashimon: Tales in Agriculture by Masayuki Ishikawa between 2004 and 2014. It was well received, winning several awards. It has so far been adapted into two anime series, the first airing in 2007 and the second under the title Moyashimon Returns in 2012. A live-action series was released in 2010.

The central character, Tadayasu Sawaki, is a first year student at agricultural college. He is a student with a remarkable ability: he can see and communicate with micro-organisms and bacteria with the naked eye. The bacteria look very different to him compared to how we normally see them: they are mostly smiling creatures of all different shapes, and look a lot larger. He is attending alongside with Kei Yuki, an old friend of his whose family run a sake brewery and works alongside Sawaki’s family.

Sawaki’s ability to see microbes are the main reason he is at the college. One of Sawaki’s teachers is an old friend of his grandfather. This teacher, Prof. Keizo Itsuki, is a man with brilliant knowledge but has an odd habit of eating fermenting and rotting food. Sawaki ends up studying alongside Yuki and some other students: Haruka Hasegawa, a sadistic, dominatrix-like post graduate who is spending as much of her time studying as she can to avoid entering an arranged marriage; Hazuki Oikawa, a student who is obsessed with cleanliness and cannot stand bacteria; and second-year students Kaoru Misato and Takuma Kawahama, who like to use their bacterial knowledge to make money, such as making their own sake.

Moyashimon is one of the most educational of all anime. You learn a lot about microbiology and the use of these cute bacteria help make it more fun. Amongst the bacteria encountered these include Aspergillus oryzae, one of the key bacteria used in brewing sake; Penicillium chrysogenum, which produces antibiotics; and Trichophyton rubrum, the cause of athlete’s foot.

The human characters are good too of course. Hasegawa is some great comic moments due to her inability to handle alcohol and easily getting drunk. Yuki is one of the stranger characters. Part way through the series he disappears, and then later on he appears in a totally different guise: namely crossdressing, in a gothic Lolita style (see Black Butler, No. 10 for more on Lolita fashion), and stays like this for the rest of the anime.

There are those who consider the pace of the series to be too slow, but overall the series is considered pleasing, especially to the critics. In 2008 it won the “Grand Prize” category in the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize (Tezuka being the creator of Astro Boy, No. 1 and Princess Knight, No. 51). In the same year it won the Kodansha Manga Medal in the “General Manga” category.

If you are going to learn, you might as well make it entertaining. That why one of my favourite English-language shows is QI. Moyashimon is one of the few anime that fits into the category of shows that inform, educate and entertain in equal measure.

Both series of Moyashimon are streamed on the website Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 97 – The Sensualist

March 11, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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The Sensualist is an erotic historical 55 minute-long film, directed by Yukio Abe back in 1991. Partly based on a novel dating back to 1682 named Life of an Amorous Man, written by Ihara Saikaku, it’s a film not just noted for its sexual content, but also for its artistry, which is reminiscent of Japanese works from that era.

The film tells of a merchant named Yonosuke, who since he was seven has had sex with an incredible amount of prostitutes. Including men and women, Yonosuke has slept with over 4,000 people in his lifetime. One of the men who works for him, Juzo, has entered into a bet that he can sleep with the noted courtesan Komurasaki on their first meeting, despite her being an incredibly cultured and someone who would normally only go for high-class men. Yonosuke decides to help Juzo win the bet by making a secret arrangement with Komurasaki, and thus Juzo ends up experiencing a night to truly remember.

Amongst the things that strike the viewer when watching this movie is the art. As stated it is designed to invoke the period it is set in. If you were to take just a still shot from the movie, particularly of Komurasaki you could argue that it does look a lot like a painting from 17th century Japan.

This art becomes even more noticeable during the sex scenes. Normally in anime, due to the strict censorship laws you cannot see genitalia and normally penises are blacked-out or blurred. However, as mentioned previously in article such as Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend (No. 49) you can get away with it by showing things that acts as a substitute for a penis. However, while Urotsukidōji used tentacles and violent imagery, The Sensualist uses more artful substitutes, like flowers coming into bloom or the head of a turtle. The Sensualist is not crude and violent. The Sensualist is the erotica to Urotsukidōji’s perversion.

The other aspect of The Sensualist worth mentioning is the history of its release in English. It was brought out on video in 1993 by a company called Western Connection. They previously released other foreign language films such as Je t’aime moi non plus by Serge Gainsbourg. The Sensualist was their first anime release. They released some other cult titles and later some more mainstream works such as some of the films in the series Lupin III (No. 90), but by 1995-96 they sort of faded out.

This is perhaps not surprising given that the production values for their releases were poor. To give you an idea of how shoddy their work was, The Sensualist was a subtitled film and in the English subtitles the word “afraid” is spelt “affraid”. You end up watching it thinking: “Hang on, are these English or Welsh subtitles? It would certainly explain why the company is called Western Connection.” Not only that, but there are constant claims that everything done by the company was on the cheap. Even the fact that they did subtitles rather than dubs was due to cost, and even then many of the subtitles did not sync properly. Not only that but the video cassettes and paper covers were the cheapest available, the synopses of many of the releases were just extracts of reviews, and videos that contained two or more episodes were edited together to make it look like one episode because reportedly the BBFC charged less if a video had only one episode on it.

You would think that given the quality of the animation that another company would try to release on DVD, but sadly no-one has even been able to. This is because the producers who made the film had a massive falling out and thus refused to do anything that would help give the other producer any cash. As a result the Western Connection video is the only English language release of The Sensualist available.

Because of the rarity of the film, it being released in a pre-World Wide Web age, this means it is rather misunderstood. Many online sources, from respected anime blogs to Wikipedia (at the time of writing), wrongly credit The Sensualist as an OVA (Original Video Anime) due to its short length, but it was a proper film. Also, because it only had one release this makes The Sensualist a rare find. I knew nothing about it until I spotted a copy on sale in a shop, brought it on impulse and started researching into it. Turns out I got a rare find. Looking online reveals that a mint condition copy currently being sold on Amazon costs over £20, which is about as much as a regular anime series on DVD today.

If you see a copy buy it, for you will enjoy the beauty of the art, be baffled by what is being said, and get a slight feel of smugness that you got one of the few copies that are still hanging around.

The Sensualist is only available on second-hand video from Western Connection.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 96 – Wicked City

March 4, 2015 by  
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When it comes to finding anime quite a lot the time it comes about from either online or at large events such as conventions. Sometimes however they come up closer to home, and this article covers an example this.

Sold on video cassette and now out-of-print in the UK, Wicked City is a rare find. Video anime tend to cover more cult-like titles and thus make for interesting viewing, although there are some issues of quality and you only get an English-language dub.

Wicked City began as a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi back in 1985. The first of these novels was turned into an OVA (Original Video Anime) – a straight-to-video movie, in 1987. It was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who amongst other things would later direct the TV version of X (No. 70). The film was also later made into a live action movie in Hong Kong. Wicked City is a very controversial film: it contains graphic violence, strong language, rape, and the film has been accused by several critics as being misogynistic – and in Britain the worst bits were censored altogether (see Movie-Censorship.com for a list of changes).

A mixture of horror, fantasy and noir, Wicked City is based on the idea that there is our human world and a “Black World” inhabited by demons. Currently the two worlds are at peace, but there are groups on both sides who are keen on separating the two and causing war. An organisation called the “Black Guard” attempts to keep order and prevent humans from knowing about the Black World. The story follows two members of the Black Guard, male human Renzaburo Taki and female demon Makie, as they protect a lecherous 200-year-old expert on the supernatural, Giuseppi Mayart, who is about to sign a new peace treaty in Tokyo between the two worlds. All the time the Guards have to protect the dirty old man.

Concerning the film itself, as state the main criticism levelled at it are claims it is misogynistic. To examine this claim, I made a note of all the women in Wicked City to see what happens to them. With regards to the female lead Makie, she is sexually molested, attacked by a tentacle monster (for more on tentacle anime see Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend, No. 49), and is raped, both by demons, and by the tentacle monster in the uncensored American release of the film.

Regarding the other women in Wicked City, one is fellow co-worker of Taki who only appears in one scene and nothing much happens to her. The other three are all demons, all of whom use sex as part of their weaponry and who all end up getting killed. One of these is a spider-like demon who has a fanged vagina; another tries to hypnotise Taki and creates the illusion that her entire torso opens up like a vagina; and the third is a sex worker in a “soapland” (where clients engage in non-penetrative sex, and the normally male client is “bathed” in things like lubricant for example) who tries to capture Mayart by melting her body over him when he grabs her breasts. It has to be said it doesn’t look good for Wicked City in terms of defending itself.

While the British removed some of the scenes that were more sexually violent, they were more than happy to make the dialogue ruder. Wicked City appears to have been the subject of “fifteening”, the act of giving a film a higher certificate rating in order to seem controversial. Wicked City already features murder and rape, isn’t that enough? Not in the view of Manga Entertainment who released it in the UK. In one scene where a plane explodes, Taki is heard to say “Fuck!” in the British dub, but just “What? How?” in the American dub.

In terms of positives, the quality of the animation is good considering the period it was made. It certainly delivers in terms of shock value. I wouldn’t say that Wicked City is a film I would normally not recommend to people, but in terms of rarity for me the video is a keeper.

Wicked City is available on video from Manga Entertainment. The uncensored American translation was released on Region 1 DVD by the no-longer-in-running Urban Vision Label.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 95 – Naruto

March 1, 2015 by  
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For many years in the world of anime and manga there has been great focus on three long-running series, often dubbed “The Big Three”. Now we’ve covered two of these titles some time ago: One Piece (No. 6) and Bleach (No. 15) – but we’ve yet to cover the third of these titles, which is odd because it covers something universally associated with Japan. This time, we are looking at possibly Japan’s, and certainly anime’s most famous ninja.

Naruto began as a manga in the best-selling manga magazine of them all, Weekly Shonen Jump, by Masashi Kishimoto. It started in 1999 and only just recently concluded, finishing in December 2014 – meaning it is the first of The Big Three to end (Bleach is in its final storyline; One Piece is still going on but the creator knows how it will end). The anime however is still going on. It is divided into two parts. The first, commonly known as Naruto Unleashed ran for 220 episodes between 2002-07. The second part, Naruto Shippuden, followed straight afterwards, and earlier this week (on Thursday 19th February) the 400th episode was broadcast. There have also been 10 movies and an 11th in production.

The series is set in a world dominated by various clans of ninjas in many countries, often dubbed the “Ninja World”. Set in Konohagakure (The Village Hidden in the Leaves) in the Land of Fire, the story begins when a giant nine-tailed fox monster attacks the village. The ruler of the Village, the Fourth Hokage, stops the problem by sealing the fox in his new-born son, at the cost of his own life. The boy’s name is Naruto Uzumaki, and as he grows up people shun him for the monster that dwells inside him. Naruto is determined that one day he will become the Hokage, despite his loneliness and his general incompetence.

Naruto, like all the ninja in training, is put into a three-person squad. He works with Sasuke Uchiha, who Naruto hates and considers a rival; and Sakura Haruno, a girl that Naruto has a crush on. The three are mentored by the elite ninja Kakashi Hatake. As the story moves on, the squad, known as Team 7, undertake various tasks and exams. However, during these many incidents various terrible disasters occur. People are killed, kidnapped and betrayed. One of these betrayals becomes the main focus and motivation for Naruto in the second part of the story which takes place two years later. Over the course of the story Naruto meets many people, fights many battles, and faces many challenges not just to bring happiness to his friends, but to protect his homeland and indeed the world from destruction.

Naruto is famous for its success and its fan-base. It has such a huge following, to the extent that Naruto is the third best-selling manga series in history, behind One Piece and Dragon Ball – which is another Weekly Shonen Jump title which I will be covering in a few weeks’ time. Since it began this series has become a phenomenon in terms of popularity. People love the plot, the grandness of the battles, and the characters: not just Naruto, but Sasuke, Sakura, Kakashi and pretty much everyone else in the series. There is such a huge range to pick from: too many to list here.

Having said this, Naruto has its critics. Some people have complained that the plots are predictable and that it just deals with the standard storylines you find in most manga series of its demographic. Also, there are at times huge amounts of “filler” – stories that don’t appear in the original manga. For example, because the anime adapted the manga so quickly, the amount of filler between the first and second parts of the story lasted, as near as makes no difference, 18 months.

It is for reasons like that this that I confess that Naruto is not my favourite anime, although it is an anime that I respect. You cannot help but respect it, but I personally prefer One Piece (or to put it another way, pirates beat ninjas), partly because it is a bit more original and is funnier. Also, it is a bit troublesome getting past all the jargon used in Naruto, and if you like your ninja stories to be realistic, this is anything but realistic. The “Ninja World” it is set in features some aspects of modern-day technology as well as some fantasy aspects. Naruto’s main technique for example involves making duplicates of himself. Sasuke meanwhile can control fire.

However, Naruto is still an all-important series in the history of anime. While it is not my favourite, it is a favourite of many anime fans. Even if certain incarnations of the series have finished Naruto will be remembered by all anime fans of its impact both in Japan and around the world.

DVD releases of both Naruto Unleashed and Naruto Shippuden are released by Manga Entertainment. Recent episodes can be streamed on the website Crunchyroll.

TV Films of the Week

February 27, 2015 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

1kill

FILM OF THE WEEK: Kill List
Film4, Sunday March, 11.15pm

If ever there was a film for which your soul should don a flak jacket and blast helmet before watching, it’s Kill List. For like the metaphorical minefield, although everything may initially appear normal on the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that one wrong step will leave you well and truly FUBAR-ed.

At the heart of Kill List’s combustible mix is ex-squaddie Jay, a veritable ticking time bomb liable to go off in people’s faces at any given moment, be it that of his scalding wife or those of the extremely unpleasant types he is contracted to kill. But this is no mere hit man movie; director Ben Wheatley resolutely defies convention to create a film so skin-crawlingly disconcerting in tone that by the time it’s over you may require a stint in therapy, never mind worrying about what genre it should be filed under.

From the familiarly domestic opening to its portrait of the British hinterland that Jay and best friend/fellow assassin Gal operate in, every shot oozes threat, ably assisted by Jim William’s fantastically unnerving score. Wheatley refuses to spoon-feed his audience – an approach that may leave the average moviegoer frustrated but will reward those who like their horror truly horrifying. While a post-credits helpline number should have been mandatory, Kill List is an acutely contemporary and original vision of hell on earth.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

Wayne’s World
Channel 4, Friday February 28, 1am

Head and shoulders the best part of US comedy show Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special a couple of weekends ago was the re-appearance of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as twentysomething metal fans Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar – the stars of Wayne’s World. Not only did the two outshine pretty much every act that came before them, they also reminded us why Wayne’s World was pretty much the only SNL sketch truly worthy of two feature films. It’s just damned funny, and in an age where reboots are all the rage, how about giving Wayne and Garth a third outing, Hollywood?

If…
Channel 4, Sunday February 21, 11:05pm

When it comes to films about subversive teenage rebellion, the US might think it has a trump card with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But 18 years previously the UK had made a film that makes it look positively conservative, and that film is Lindsay Anderson’s if… Although its snapshot of the revolutionary spirit that gripped the 1960s looks dated now, if…’s allegorical thumb nose to the traditional British notions of class and authority mean it has still retained its significance after all these years. Just ask David Cameron, who, rather bizarrely, claims to admire it.

District 9
Film4, Friday March 6, 10:50pm

South African director Neill Blomkamp has caused a bit of a buzz amongst the movie-going community after he confirmed he is to direct a new installment of the Alien/Aliens franchise. Although his last film – the Matt Damon-led Elysium – was disappointing, if Blomkamp can rediscover the magic of District 9, his debut feature, then we are in for a treat. An exciting science fiction movie that is also a subtle critique of apartheid and segregation, District 9’s combination of awe-inspiring special effects and well-drawn characters are what make it a superior example of the genre.

TV Films of the Week

February 20, 2015 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

1Citizen

FILM OF THE WEEK: Citizenfour
Channel 4, Wednesday February 25, 11.05pm

If, as bookmakers think is a dead cert, Citizenfour picks up the Oscar for best documentary on Sunday, then at least a sliver of justice will have pierced the iron shield of the largely corrupt world in which we exist. More than just the account of how whistleblower Edward Snowden lifted the lid on unprecedented and unchecked state surveillance of its own citizens, the film is in of itself a shocking revelation and an act of great bravery.

As director Laura Poitras states in her introductory text, this is the third part in a trilogy exploring how the impact of 9/11 changed America’s relationship with legality, both internationally and domestically. The previous two films had seen her placed on a secret watchlist, detained and interrogated – all of which, ironically, made her the ideal candidate for the then unknown Snowden to contact when he discovered that the Obama regime was actually advancing the extra-judicial interception of communications started under George Bush Jnr.

Why should we in the UK care about this? Well, as Snowden’s evidence proved, our government, through GCHQ, has established an even more invasive surveillance program to spy on us – phone calls, text messages, internet searches, the lot – too. It’s a shame Channel 4, one of the film’s co-producers, isn’t screening it earlier, so that more people can see just how tenuous the concepts of liberty and privacy have become under leaders who would paint themselves as the saviours of freedom.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

2001: A Space Oydessy
BBC Two, Friday February 20, 11:05pm

Last November the BFI re-released Stanley Kubrick’s transcendent science fiction epic, giving a whole new generation of moviegoers the chance to see what is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made on the big screen. Although its operatic majesty is somewhat reduced when shrunk down on a television, any opportunity to experience 2001 should always be taken. And an experience it is: from the opening bars of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra to the beguiling closing sequence, no filmmaker has ever achieved anything quite like it.

Moonrise Kingdom
Channel 4, Sunday February 21, 11:05pm

Once derided as too whimsical by those lacking in the capacity for abstract thought, director Wes Anderson is now a Hollywood mainstay – his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel topped the UK box office last year and is up for nine Oscars this weekend. Rightly so – it’s another poignant flight of fancy. As is the equally wonderful Moonrise Kingdom, TGBH’s predecessor. Although packed with stellar talent like Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Bruce Willis, it is Moonrise Kingdom’s two unheralded child leads that infuse it with a sense of innocence and humanity that cannot fail to satisfy.

Amour
Film4, Thursday February 26, 9pm

In our younger, more vital years, the dysfunction of old age is the last thing that all but the most prudent of us want to think about. Which might make Amour difficult viewing, but it is a film we must all watch anyway. The restrained performances of Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, as a couple whose retirement is complicated when one of them suffers a stroke, provide Michael Haneke’s film its tender heart. Profoundly moving as well brutally honest, it is ultimately the sort of love story that puts most other cinematic depictions of courtship to the most severest of shame.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

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