Tuesday, 24 April 2012

GIRLS - Review

After watching the first two episodes of HBO’s Girls I am going to make as bold a statement as to say that it is some of the best television I have seen in about half a decade.

Though I do not want to delve too far in to the racial politics, in fear of offending someone, I will just very quickly address the widespread criticism of the ‘All-white cast in a multi-cultural New York’. Admittedly, it did not go unnoticed – and certainly does not feel right: As a viewer you do definitely question the producers’ logic with regards to their casting decisions. However, I do not see this, necessarily, as a deliberate decision, but maybe as more of an oversight? It could have simply been that the actors, who were best suited to play the characters, just happened to be Caucasian.  Alas, while speculation is welcome, we cannot know the truth behind the casting at this moment.

Not since Six Feet Under left our screens in 2005 have I watched such a brave portrayal of women on the small screen. Even Alan Ball’s more recent True Blood, though deliciously entertaining, still falls short when it comes to the sincerity of its characters (yes I know, they’re vampires). Girls, in fact could be seen as the sassy product of Six Feet Under and Sex and the City’s wild drunken night at the HBO Christmas party – and that’s a good thing.

Though lots of the themes of Girls are similar to those of SATC, it is a more brutally relatable portrayal of the women. We know women (and men) may wish to talk about their various issues regarding sex: but unfortunately, not everyone can afford to spend the time and money doing so, every night, in a bar in Manhattan - whilst drinking an over-priced cosmopolitan. Instead we have penniless college-graduates discussing abortion as they sit in the STI clinic. It’s Bleak.

The Bravery of the writing makes the characters easily accessible and though we have only known these four women for a total of 57 minutes, we are already fully rooting for them. Without playing any ‘archetypal female roles’, we get four very different and complex characters – none of which could be seen as the stereotypical woman… Well, maybe Jemima Kirke’s Jessa (who plays the free-spirited and typically cynical Brit) but I’m willing to overlook this because she still remains an intriguing character.
Sex and the City showed the highs and lows of the women’s sexual life, but all four women seemed to strive for (and often achieve) perfect happiness in the bedroom.  Girls does not glamorise the orgasm or sex in the same way, we are only really seeing the lows. ‘Sex is really, really overrated,’ advises one of the girls.

It is this blunt writing style which makes this a fresh and terrific show, standing out from the crowd with heavy competition from various new (and old) shows. Let’s just hope that that the next eight episodes remain as strong and that we will hopefully see some more cultural diversity in the future.

One to watch.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Cartoons are for Kids - My Top Ten Animated Films.

I've always seen Animation as an under-appreciated form of art compared to other film. It is usually seen as something for kids and is kicked aside when it comes to talk of ‘serious’ film-making. So in retaliation, here is my tribute to the beautiful world of Animation, in my Top Ten Animated Films.

10) Alice in Wonderland. -(1951 - Clyde Geronimi)
3D glasses not needed.
Capturing Lewis Carroll’s vibrant and once-original novel has always seen trouble when transferring its magic from page to screen. Various adaptations began in the 1900s and have spanned a century leading up to Tim Burton’s muddled 2010 remake.
Disney's Alice in Wonderland opened in 1951 to universally bad criticism. However, 60 years later, with a much deserved reassessment, it is easy to look at this as one of Disney’s finest moments. Whilst still being a mash-up of both Alice through the Looking Glass and her Adventures in Wonderland, this, arguably, captures Carroll’s wild and whimsical magic in its most faithful adaptation. Not only does it still contain Walt’s identity in every brush stroke, but it also boasts Disney’s lesser known sinister side. Simplicity at its very best.

9) The Triplets of Belleville - (2003 - Sylvain Chomet)
‘Swinging Belleville rendez-vous
Marathon dancing doop-dee-doop!’
While I can confidently state that this one is not made for younger eyes, I cannot comfortably say who it should appeal to... Only the French could make a film as quirky as this. Though this is a foreign production, there are no subtitles needed as the bizarre story is told in a sequence of grunts. But if you have yet to see this adorable picture, do not let this put you off. This is still one of the richest, most individual and surreal productions of recent decades. The animation is unforgettable, the music superb and the characters are a perfect cocktail of what is both funny and melancholy.

8) Chico and Rita (2010 - Tono Errando)

Seducing with Colour.
Chico and Rita is sexy, sweet and at times sad: Another simple but ingenious production. The characters Chico and Rita are both interesting and multi-levelled personalities that the audience grows a strong affiliation with as their complex journey of love develops. It also looks beautiful - Its eye-popping colours illustrate 1940’s Cuban life and make the evolution of the jazz age look just as dazzling and vivacious as it should be.

7) Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009 - Wes Anderson)

Ocean’s 11: Re-enacted by stop-motion Foxes.
I was apprehensive when viewing this one. The trailer made it look as if it would be so ‘cool’ in its production that it would end up being rather dull. However, this is so organically slick; one almost forgets they are looking at Fox-puppets. While it would still be enjoyed more by adults, it still has a relatable multi-generational appeal. With an additional jab at Tim Burton, this is how a Roald Dahl adaptation should be done. Wes Anderson’s quick-witted adventure that plays up to the ever-lingering child in all of us.

6) Toy Story 1,2 & 3 (1995, 1999, 2010 John Lasseter)
Pixar’s De Milo.
I cannot single these films out as I would have to upgrade to an uneven ‘Top 12’. When commenting on a trilogy where all three films received overwhelming (but still well-deserved) praise from critics and audiences alike, it is difficult to come up with fresh input. Apart from Woody’s uninspiring love interest - Bo-peep; there is never a dull moment in all the collective 272 minutes of screen time. Pixar’s body of work can rarely be faulted, but the Toy Story Trilogy is undoubtedly its masterpiece.
5) Aladdin (1992 - Ron Clements)
Diamond in the Rough.
It is no secret that the 90s were a golden age for Disney: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tarzan, Pocahontas and of course, Aladdin. It was a tough call, choosing the shiniest of these stars, especially with Beauty and Beast becoming the first animated film to be nominated for a ‘Best Picture’ Oscar and the Lion King breaking several Box Office records. However, Aladdin’s fast paced, charming and exciting tale prevails. The classic story is well adapted and entertaining, but the winning ingredient is Robin Williams. His animated talent is finally married with animation itself and it is a genius ingredient that is probably missing from all other children’s films.

4) Mary and Max (2009 - Adam Elliot)
Tissues at the ready.

Yes, be prepared to blubber, because what starts out here as a satirical account of innocence and wonderment soon unfolds into what turns out to be a very tragic tale. This begins, narrated with Mary’s childlike demeanour, but the audience grows weary when she mentions that her mother ‘Tested the sherry...way too much.’ It is not all doom and gloom though, as some moments are extremely touching and humorous. This Australian animation did not get the publicity it should have, so here is your opportunity to go and watch it. Barry Humphries, Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman all do fantastic jobs in telling this wonderfully unique story of friendship.

3) Coraline (2009 - Henry Selleck)
Definitely not Tim Burton.
With most The Nightmare before Christmas enthusiasts believing that Tim Burton directed it, Henry Selleck was always its unsung hero; The ghost director. He was owed recognition and credit for his work but it was stolen by Burton. Luckily, Coraline fixes that. Not only is this film far superior to Nightmare but Selleck finally takes ownership. It is a faithful adaptation to Neil Gaiman’s bizarre children’s book. The plot is fun, exciting and thrilling with a strong female lead and a range of interesting supporting characters. I generally rise above the money-spinning gimmick that is 3D-cinema, but all will agree that this suburb animation certainly benefits from the extra dimension - making Avatar look like an old episode of the Smurfs.

2) Persepolis (2007 - Vincent Paronnaud)
‘The first marriage is practice for the second.’
However, as illustrated here, 3D and even colour is not always needed. Scaling back not only to hand drawn animation, but to a simplistic Black and White design, Persepolis still boasts a most poignant story. Whilst still being a pleasure to look at, Persepolis is an indulgent feast which fills us with a moving, witty and educational portrayal of Modern Iran, told through a young woman’s eyes. Satrapi gently pokes fun at the main protagonist’s youthful exuberance and naivety, making serious political points easier to swallow. A modern classic.

1) Spirited Away (2001 - Hayao Miyazaki)
The Anti-Disney.
Though Studio Ghibli’s work can admittedly be a little hit and miss, there is something about Miyazaki’s work which makes it effortlessly brave. Spirited Away has a rich honestly that makes it more touching and believable than anything Disney has ever produced. This is saying a lot, since it is a story of a girl who befriends giant frogs, gluttonous monsters and half-dragons to save her parents from becoming pigs for eternity... Whilst this is visually stunning, being released in 2002 was a risk considering the competition of several computer generated animations. However, it still managed to take the Best Animated Feature Oscar, a triumph for a Japanese film.