Month: July 2017

Bit Review: Drawn Together (2004 – 2007)

Today, animated comedies are limited to family sitcom formats meshed with random cutaways. Shows such as Family Guy and The Simpsons have adapted this type of format. However, Drawn Together is a show that attempts to subvert this typical format in every way. Years ago, I remember seeing the show Drawn Together on MTV but had only seen it once on late night TV. Lucky for me, it had come up on my Amazon Prime feed and I of course binged the first and second series.

The show itself is about eight different cartoon characters placed in a house, similar to a Big Brother format, and the show follows them and their tasks. The eight characters are all different parodies on cartoon characters in media, beginning with Captain Hero, a sociopathic, perverted, pansexual spoof of Superman. Toot Braunstein, a counterpart of Betty Boop who is seen as overweight and bipolar. Foxxy Love, a counterpart of Valerie Brown from Josie and The Pussycats, ghetto and more like a caricature of a black woman in the 70s. Princess Clara is a counterpart of any Disney princess, she’s extremely religious, racist and homophobic. Wooldoor Sackbar is a parody of both Spongebob and Stimpy, being an annoying cartoon who chameleon’s different jobs and types. Xandir, who starts off as the muscly, lack of clothes hero who wanted to save his girlfriend, similar to Zelda and Link, or Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. As the series progresses he realises he is gay and most of the jokes centre of jokes referencing this such as his lack of gag reflex due to bulimia. Ling-Ling’s counterpart is Pikachu from Pokemon, but a more psychopathic and aggressive version. His comedy is more based on Japanese stereotypes being mocked. The final cast member is Spanky Ham, an original character with no counterpart, but is a crass internet download.

The show is full of pop culture references and parodies, such as the constant appearance of cartoon characters such as Daphne from Scooby Doo and Speedy Gonzales from Looney Tunes. Donald Trump, and The Apprentice (US Version) is mocked as he is portrayed as a boy child. In the first episode, “Black Chick’s Tongue” is a musical parody of Disney Aladdin’s “A Whole New World”. It’s honestly not like any other animated comedy on TV, extremely adult even compared next to South Park, or Family Guy. It covers extremely sensitive topics and uses extreme stereotypes to highlight and satirise topics in society. The show isn’t afraid to openly mock topics that are considered taboo, such as racism and homophobia. Of course, now we have shows like Rick and Morty, but Drawn Together was outstanding. I believe the show is clever and funny, but can be crass at times which makes the show seem less intelligent that it is. The show only ended up being three seasons, as it was cancelled, but they did release a movie afterwards. It’s definitely an animated comedy that has a unique perspective, and an original take on the genre.

 

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Classic Bit Review: Peeping Tom (1960)

Who would’ve thought that Peeping Tom (directed by Michael Powell) would be certified as Fresh by film site Rotten Tomatoes and is summarised as “a chilling, methodical look at the psychology of a killer, and a classic work of voyeuristic cinema”. Certainly not audiences in Britain during the time of its release. With such comments as “it turns out to be the sickest and filthiest film I remember seeing…we have had glossy horrors before but never such insinuating, under the skin horrors”   highlighting that British audiences weren’t ready for such an intense voyeuristic experience commentating on issues that hadn’t ever been explored in detail before.

Peeping Tom features a lot of techniques which have arguably pioneered not just horror in general but more specifically the slasher genre which Hollywood easily re-used in the late 80s/early 70s from such films from John Carpenter’s Halloween to Amy Holden Jones’ The Slumber Party Massacre, both of which spawned sequels and numerous spin offs. Despite many believing Hitchcock’s Psycho to be the film that truly defined the genre; Peeping Tom is clearly the film that originally did so. Peeping Tom was released on the 16th of May 1960 and Psycho not released until the 15th of September of that year. Many saw, and still see Psycho as the start of the slasher and psychological thriller. However, all of these could’ve easily been said about Peeping Tom as we are drawn sympathy toward evil as we are given strong hints of the abuse that leading character Michael endured. Powell also creates violence with a lack of imagery as the audience are never shown the victim and the violence is minimal especially compared to Psycho.  So why did Psycho elevate Hitchcock’s career whilst Peeping Tom destroyed Powell’s career as a standing British director?

Both film incorporate the intense voyeurism, the abuse of parents and a killer who isn’t necessarily portrayed as the stereotypical Hollywood villain. Yet, Powell was criticised whilst Hitchcock was praised. Many believe that the fault of Powell’s was letting the British press critique his film instead of letting the public decide. This worked in Hitchcock’s favour as many critics did hate the film but audiences were enthralled and loved it. Peeping Tom is now a cult favourite, as audiences have made up their own minds and now critics have followed. Hitchcock learned a valuable lesson from Powell, suggesting that perhaps if Psycho was released before and with a press screening in Britain that perhaps the roles would be reversed.

Bit TV Review: Cheers (1982 – 1993)

The genre of US Sitcom is a common television program that airs now. E4 is a platform for such Sitcoms as The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and many other constant re-runs of these programs. The most recognised Sitcom by much of today, is of course Friends. Almost every person has heard of the program, and perhaps seen at least one episode when E4 used to show its re-runs. Now it has moved to Comedy Central in the UK but is still as popular as ever on the channel. One of the shows prominent directors James Burrows, was recently honoured which brought the gang, almost, back together. At this event, Burrows was also honoured for another Sitcom; Cheers. Cheers was co-created by Burrows, Glen and Les Charles, and the show became one of the most popular and longest running sitcoms of all times airing from 1982 to 1993. Cheers itself spawned two spin-off Sitcoms, one of which, Frasier, was incredibly successful and received acclaim of its own.

So where can you find the bar where everyone knows your name? The show airs in the UK but on UK GOLD and CBS Drama occasionally, so if you only have access to Freeview channels then you will miss out. Cheers is set in a bar in Boston, USA, and revolves around the workers and regulars of the bar. The characters involve Sam ‘Mayday’ Malone (Ted Danson) who is an ex-athlete, owner and bartender of Cheers, Carla (Ria Perlman) who is a feisty, short, witty waitress with way too many children, Norm (George Wendt) who is the regular who comes across as a passive and uncaring but shows at moments he is a genuine guy. A primary cast member from season one to five was Diane (Shelley Long) who is an outsider to Cheers, but begins as a waitress after being dumped. Coach (Nicholas Colasanto) rounds up the primary cast of the first season as a former coach who acts as a parental figure to everyone despite being ditsy. Of course, Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) is a huge part of the gang and despite being in almost every episode of the first season, he wasn’t bumped up to main cast member until season two. Throughout the eleven seasons, there were many main cast changes but Norm, Carla, Sam and Cliff remained characters in the show until the finale and even made special appearances in Frasier.

I found Cheers by pure coincidence, switching through many channels and leaving one on through default. The episode I first watched was luckily from the first season, and called “The Boys in the Bar” and revolves around Sam’s former colleague who comes out as gay. The episode focuses on Sam finally being understanding and supportive, as the rest of the bar are. Most of the critique of the episode from the time argued that it was too ‘liberal’ but it won “The Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Artists in the Entertainment Industry” (AGLA) and has been praised for its real depiction of homosexuals. The episode aired in 1983 and took a huge risk, as the ratings of the first season hadn’t been great, so bad to the point where it almost got cancelled. After this episode, the show began to improve ratings and eventually went on to become very popular.

It has soon become one of my favourite Sitcoms as they weren’t afraid to take risks and even throughout eleven seasons, managed to stay on top. It’s a show that has been parodied and homaged to by many different shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy. Some of the humour can seem dated and too cheesy at moments, but once that theme song plays and you know it; I challenge you not to sing along.

Classic Bit Review: Ikiru (1952)

Kurosawa’s first post-Occupation film, Ikiru (1952), was released in October of that year and was a huge hit in Japan both critically and commercially and in the West too. The film follows Takeshi Shimura’s character as he finds out he has a terminal illness and how he deals with it. Ikiru is also called To Live, which highlights the overall theme of the film as it is Shimura learning how to live. The film deals with the problems of bureaucracy and inefficiency of help within a community, the decay of family life and loss of respect for elders.

The film was different to his previous films, as the lead character dies half way through the film and depicts a more contemporary reading of present Japan showing families concerned with wealth and status rather than caring for their elder relatives and giving them respect. Confucianism is a way of life that China embraced, and eventually was embodied by some in Japan. The notion of the central feature of Confucianism, which revolves almost entirely around issues related to the family, morals, and the role of the good ruler. Therefore, respect for elders and family are important within Japan, as Confucianism is very strong in Japan because it affects and was affected by Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan. Kurosawa emphasises this in Ikiru, as Shimura’s character is the head of his division and yet is mocked and gossiped about as he disappears from work. The disregard for family life is shown in Ikiru, as his son and daughter in law don’t respect him and constantly refer to his retirement money. The film was a success in Japan as it touched upon present day Japanese issues such as Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953). These past ideologies that influenced Japan would have not been able to be depicted in the Occupation, as the past was discouraged and Shintoism and East Asian religions were dissuaded.

The music and the cinematography are outstanding. and the film itself is just beautiful. Shimura stars in his best role I’ve ever seen him in, he has so much dimension as a character varying from the remorseful father to a charitable member of the community. He begins as a bureaucrat whose son, and daughter in law, only want him to retire just to give them money, not respecting or caring about him. His doctors even refuse to tell him the truth, but he soon realises that he is dying. Ironically, it’s only after his diagnosis that he actually begins to enjoy and live his life as he parties with a poet and befriends a young woman. Ikiru both lifts the human spirit whilst crushing it with heartbreaking moments, such as Takashi Shimura singing the song ‘Gondola No Uta’ which makes both the audience and the people around him suddenly sympathetic.

It is my third favourite Kurosawa film, after Drunken Angel being my first and Rashomon being my second, but it’s a film that you cannot live without. There’s not much to say but it is a masterpiece that will start with a sour taste in your mouth and end with restored faith in humanity. All I can say is Shimura is timeless, and underrated as an actor, but this film lifts him up into the lead and shows of his talents as oppose to being overshadowed by Toshiro Mifune in most of his roles. Shimura both lifts the spirits of the audience, whilst simultaneously bringing it down in perfect harmony.

Bit Review: The Resident (2011)

Have you ever felt like you were being watched in your own home? Antti Jokinen’s The Resident takes this paranoia to the next level. Part produced by the renowned Hammer Films, in an attempt at reviving the once popular company. The Resident stars Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, with a special cameo from Hammer Alumni and all round people’s favourite Christopher Lee. The film follows Juliet Devereau (Swank) as she searches for a new apartment after breaking up from her boyfriend, Lee Pace, who cheated on her, in her own bed, none the less. Soon, she meets Max (Morgan) who is renovating an apartment and she loves it immediately.

However, this film isn’t the sequel to P.S. I Love You, also starring Morgan and Swank, as it is a thriller which has clear influences from Hitchcock. Almost half way through, we soon find out that Morgan’s character isn’t all he seems and that he is a strong manipulator who is obsessed with Swank. The film should’ve been called P.S. I Stalk You, as it is clear that Swank has her own personal stalker but the main question should be of the identity of Swank’s stalker.

It is tense and you definitely feel paranoid yourself during the film. Don’t watch it by yourself in the dark, as you will start hearing noises and asking yourself if your neighbour is capable of having voyeuristic tendencies. Whilst there are moments of cringe, and just uncomfortable scenes in general, the film itself is enjoyable. It’s a fun, discount version of Rear Window combined with Psycho. It has gore, suspense, sex and everything you’d expect to enjoy a film. It may not be this decade’s best thriller, but it’s an entertaining movie. You needn’t ask for more.

 

Bit Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

There are so many different versions of Spider-Man, so many that I was almost put off by the possibility of watching another. I love Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War (2016), but I was unsure if he could pull off a solo movie. The conclusion, that he can indeed do so. Not only did he pull it off but Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) actually re-awoke my love for Marvel films.

I grew up with Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man in the original trilogy (2002 – 2007) which ended ultimately when he did that horrendous dance. No matter how bad the third film was, he was still my Spider-Man. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) starring Andrew Garfield was admirable enough but it isn’t a film I’d want to watch again. Despite the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films not being Amazing, they are still recent enough to question why we need another Spider-Man film? I of course thought, in my cynical ways, that it’s all just for Marvel Universe to rake up more money on an unnecessary film. That of course true, the film is an excellent example of how to do a smart solo superhero movie in 2017.

Tom Holland showcased a little bit of Spider-Man in the latest Captain America film and showed only a brief part of his character. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, he shows Peter Parker, the dorky genius struggling as a young man as he grapples everyday problems with his extraordinary ones. The film shows his journey from meeting Tony Stark and the Avengers, to him becoming his own identity and learning about his true strength within. It sounds cheesy and cliche but it actually fits within the film. Michael Keaton plays the villain, who is like a Tony Stark but a more self-made street version. Robert Downey Jr makes a large appearance as Iron Man, who plays his mentor and helps him throughout the film. Of course, Downey Jr is brilliant because he is Tony Stark. Happy, played by Jon Favreau, plays a big chunk in this film as he is Parker’s link to Stark and whilst he initially acts as he always in his usual defensive manner, later on in the film we see Happy with more heart and more of an actual human and not a cardboard character. The guy who steals it for me, is Parker’s best friend, Jacob Batalon who plays Ned. He was the comic relief but he also was a great partner to helping Parker. The rest of the cast were great but nothing spectacular. I loved the cameo from Captain America himself in training videos for schools and the cameo from Pepper Potts really made the film feel like a proper Marvel movie. Spider-Man: Homecoming felt more like Iron Man (2008) rather than Iron Man 2 (2010) and 3 (2013), as it felt like a solid solo movie and not just a franchise grabber.

The initial writers of the film, were of course the writers behind Horrible Bosses (2011), therefore neither of them are generic overpaid Hollywood writers. This meant that the film began with more of an underdog beginning, but meant that the magnificence of the film is a welcome surprise. The director of the film, Jon Watts, is a fresh director who only began his career a few years ago and this is his first big film. The film feels more like a James Gunn superhero film rather than like the Russo brothers or Joss Whedon. Spider-man: Homecoming reminds me more of Super (2010) mixed with the wit of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). The soundtrack added to the almost indie superhero feeling, with punk rock and the original Spider-man theme played in a nostalgic way.

The end credits nod to the Sinister Six makes the film feel more like a Spider-Man universe rather than just a Marvel one. The end credits made me excited for another Spider-Man film, not another Avengers movie. I’m not excited for the next Avengers movie for many reasons, but seeing more of Tom Holland as Spider-Man makes the chaos of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) exciting. Reasons to see this film; infinite.

 

Classic Bit Analysis: The Most Beautiful (1944)

During the Second World War, Kurosawa made indirect propaganda films which promoted ideals for the country to help the war effort. Sanshiro Sugata, Sanshiro Sugata part II (1945) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) are all propaganda but less literal and direct. The use of Sanshiro defeating the American boxer in the sequel acts as a subliminal propaganda tool highlighting that Japan can defeat the Americans, and that they are superior in both spirit and force. However, this wasn’t the only type of propaganda films made by Kurosawa. His second feature was a propaganda film called The Most Beautiful, and it follows a group of female volunteers who work in an optics factory developing and perfecting the scopes on weapons for soldiers. The emphasis on the female workers and the style of film-making resulted with a film that really made the audience and public sympathise with these characters and ultimately boosted moral.

The film opens with on-screen text ‘Attack and Destroy the Enemy’, see figure 8, and directly gives out a message for the audience, specifically Japan. The Most Beautiful is unashamed propaganda; it’s also a film that attempts to lift the spirits of the Japanese people on the Homefront. The simple statement that the film is a ‘movie of the people’ is inclusive, and gives the impression to the everyday person that the movie is for them. Kurosawa’s use of inclusive messages, combined with the documentary style of filmmaking gives the impression that the film is extremely personal. The documentary style features an almost non-existent musical score, and the camera is often close and feels intrusive. The film feels very cinéma vérité, and Kurosawa uses this effect for an audience response. Cinéma vérité is a documentary style which translates from French as truthful cinema, and The Most Beautiful is paraded as such. Kurosawa could’ve used a more polished and glamorous setting for the factory, and made the actresses more primped and preened. Instead, he used a style that closely resembles documentary therefore posing as a factual story of these girls in an optics factory. The truth remains, that these girls are actresses playing fictitious parts but Kurosawa has manipulated the direction to suggest to the audience that these are in fact real and relatable.

The film follows the girls of the optics factory, and their story begins with their director who releases a broadcast to the factory workers. All the workers of the factory are standing in the courtyard in a militaristic style, with their hands straight and their heads high. His message spreads that the quotas for the workers are increasing hundred percent for the men, but only fifty for the women. Naturally, the girls are upset that they are only given half of the men’s quota. Therefore, they demand a higher one and the film follows them trying to reach it. The girls go through emotional and physical exhaustion, but pull through with determination and comradery which is emphasised. The characteristics of the girls are inspirational models towards the intended audience of wartime Japan. The use of propaganda is to boost moral but also provides a source of inspiration and an ideal for the audience to aspire to be.

Instead of featuring a love interest for the female; the women are devoted to their country and Japan becomes their love interest. The female workers are highlighted as sexless, and their devotion to Japan is the key love interest and acts as a suggestion that this should be the norm for everyone during this period. Their devotion to the war effort and Japan means more than personal problems; injuries, illnesses and even the death of a close family member can’t stop any of the girls from wanting to work. Kurosawa’s use of characterising the girls as relatable to the public, and the documentary style of film-making both combine as a tool of propaganda. Instead of showing soldiers fighting against the Americans, and showing brutality and the soldiers on battlefront. Kurosawa decides against showing propaganda to encourage enlistees, as the workers on the Homefront are more likely to need a boost in moral and national pride. Therefore, the film revolves around the workers in Japan to emphasise what audience members should be striving to.

Propaganda most effectively “works on an emotional level by showing soldiers suffering and making sacrifices for the emperor and his national community” (Tezuka, 2011). By showing the workers constantly striving for excellence in making the lenses perfect, suggests the suffering the soldiers would experience if any of them slacked. The emotional response that is provoked from the audience is driven from the sacrifices that the girls make for the emperor and Japan. The women could easily be in education or be married with a family, but instead they sacrifice their lives to work for a higher cause for the country and emperor. Most of the people who had access to the movies in Japan were civilians, therefore any of these girls in the film could be their sisters, daughters or even the audience member themselves. The morals are shown as aspirational, therefore emphasises what every wartime Japanese girl should be like by the standards of the propaganda office. The relationship between the girls in the factory is something that is shown as desirable as the girls form their own family in their dorms, and their matron and the directors of the family are shown as caring parental figures in this pseudo family. The comradery is also shown as friendship as the girls plays volleyball, laugh and have fun together almost like a type of summer camp. The film doesn’t show the factory as an unpleasant place but more like a desirable place which young girls should go to and not because they are forced due to a war and their obligations.

The closest comparison to Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful, would be the British propaganda film called Millions Like Us (1943) directed by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. Millions Like Us follows British female factory workers and shows the friendship and loyalty that develops amongst the workers, but the film also shows a love story and how the Nazi Germans destroyed their happiness whilst Kurosawa’s film shows their devotion to their country and to their friends rather than a romance. The Most Beautiful was an obvious success for the propaganda office as it portrayed what they believed workers should be like during the war. The Most Beautiful is an anomaly in Kurosawa’s work as it feels unlike his style or signature such as the use of frequent axial cuts or fast editing techniques such as the wipe. Kurosawa’s usual themes such as heroic champion and weather to show a change in the scene are not present in this film which make it seem not at all like his style. The film isn’t fun to watch in the sense that it criticises the West and specifically Britain and America, but the film-making techniques and the comradry from the girls makes it interesting to watch. If you’re a Kurosawa fan, maybe give it a watch, but if you’re a film fan in general then definitely watch it.