Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Skins Returns: New Series New Cast (promo article for ATV)

The brand new series of skins will be hitting our screens with a bang – literally! One involving its new star Franky (Dakota Blue Richards) on an out of control mobile scooter crashing into a bike shed on her first day at a new school.

Franky is your typical ‘class reject’, dressing against the grain with boyish clothes, short hair, and no makeup, she is noticeably socially awkward. Bullied at her old school, she has moved with her two gay foster dads to Roundview to try and build a new life there and escape her past.

But her past soon catches up with her when her new ‘mean girl’ type friends discover the website ‘Franky ain’t got a fanny’. Before she knows it there are pictures from the website of her being humiliated about her body plastered all over the school. To say you feel a little empathy for her would be an understatement.

The opening episode does a great job of introducing the new characters and setting up the new direction of the series.

There are some really funny moments that a drama as gritty as skins needs. Particular highlights were Franky’s gay dads [names/played by] who strike a healthy balance between cringe and cool, being very parentally protective on the one hand but happy to say ‘dick splash’ on the other.

Also, the English teacher [name/played by] was satisfyingly eccentric. He demonstrates what could be described as a controversial teaching style, opening up his shirt to reveal a tattoo of Charlotte Bronte’s face on his chest and exclaiming: “This is the original punk, Charlotte f**king Bronte!”

Certainly high praise is necessary for Dakota Blue Richards (most known for playing Lyra in The Golden Compass), who captivates Franky’s mysterious androgyny exceptionally well on screen.

For you hard-core Skins fans out there sorry, no sex in this one! But you still get to witness two types of drugs being taken, shop-lifting, shooting with a BB gun and a semi-naked swimming pool scene.

Overall it seems to have gained back the appeal of containing likeable characters, which series four and five only mildly delivered. Also, that element of ‘too cool for school ‘ of the previous cast has been, thankfully, shaken off. This new generation seems to have struck a balance between the playfulness of the original cast (remembering Sid and Chris) and the darker side of the second (like Cook and Effy).

If you want to watch an endearing bunch of teenage misfits going through the trials and tribulations of how to cope in the adult world with drugs, sexual identity, relationships and with a bit of humour thrown in then Skins will appeal. If you were mad about series three and four then series five seems to be taking a less hard-edged route so far. However, if you’re a fan of the early skins, as I am, you won’t be disappointed.

Episode one of the new series begins Thursday 27th January, 10pm on E4.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

10 O’Clock Live: The Twitter Response

On Thursday 20th January 10 O’Clock Live went out (Live) on channel 4 (with a shock “15 minute delay” Tweeters deplored) – A delay is pretty standard in Live television Tweeters and a wise move considering the new shows formula is not fully tried and tested yet!

Some Tweeters liked the show, wondering “what all the fuss is about”, but a great many pounded on it before it had even had chance to show you all the great ideas it had. For that hour 10 O’Clock LiveThe Birds walking up the stairs into a blood-thirsty bunch of Twitterers. became the equivalent of Tippi Hedren from Hitchcock’s

What the show attempted to do was combine your commonly featured politics show, serious, male dominated, containing no one below the age of 40, and mixing that up with your topical, comedic, news panel shows (Have I Got News for You, Mock the Week), its most hyped up comparison being that of The Daily Show.

I personally applaud the idea of the show. Politics shows and debates are not accessible to the majority of the British public (note how I didn’t marginalise to ‘young people’ there), you need only to look at voting numbers for the 2010 general election to work that one out. Unless people actively seek out political knowledge they are unlikely to have any idea of the current debates that other people are having, that will, eventually, have a direct impact on their lives.

10 O’Clock Live was hosted by Jimmy Carr, David Mitchell, Charlie Brooker and Lauren Laverne and was marketed as a topical comedy show, as a result it was likely to bring in audiences who were fans of 8 out of 10 Cats and Mock the Week and who were expecting more of the same. What, in fact, they got was a mixture of Newsnight and Question Time with an “annoying audience”, Tweeters complained, who laughed at all the jokes thrown in.

In a bid to innovate broadcasting, 10 O ‘Clock Live has the potential to make politics more accessible to audiences who struggle to pay attention to the, stereotypical, balding men talking about ‘policy’, and who will tune here, instead, in the hopes of being ‘entertained’. However, the result was a show that metaphorically attempted to conceal sprouts within a pie in the hopes that a child wouldn’t taste them. Unfortunately some Tweeters got a whiff of the sprouts, spat them back out, and changed the channel.

“It’s hideous, I can’t handle the combination of all the topical facts I don’t understand and comedy” one Tweeter shared. Whilst this comment would seem to some tiresomely ignorant it must be asked, is it really that person’s fault that they didn’t understand the political content?

Here, I’m assuming, is a viewer who tuned in because of the lull of the shows amusing trailer (which made it look more like a sketch show than a topical discussion show) and the appeal of the funny celebs hosting it. They are the ideal viewer to have the potential to inadvertently learn something from a programme containing material to which they wouldn’t normally be exposed. However, it seems that this new blend of ‘cometics’ was too much for one person to handle.

In a country where the government run the education system and do not include politics as core subject within that system can you really blame people for having no knowledge of politics or finding it too confusing when they encounter it? Instead the twenty-first century has to contend with a nation of people with increasingly short attention spans, helped in no way by television programmes which dull the brains of its audiences with easy to watch colourful images of over-sexed, shallow, superficial, content that doesn’t require them to think.

Other critical Tweets of 10 O’Clock Live accused it of having ‘boring unfunny lefty comedians’. Might I say to that, the audience were laughing, I doubt they had bouncers on the door checking audience members’ political orientation before letting people in… right wing? Sorry not allowed! Perhaps it was just the case that the majority of opinions on the show were generally agreed with because they were the most fair? If by being ‘lefty’ that automatically means that you’re anti-tuition fees (which was the topic in discussion at the time of this tweet) then by that estimation Labour would have won the 2010 election with a landslide. A high majority of people are anti-tuition fees and it is the role of a topical politics show host to question and challenge the current government’s policies that are in place.

For regular viewers of politics shows the tuition fees debate is now predictable viewing. However, David Mitchell commented at one stage in the programme “politics has never been more vibrant”; and in the instance of merging comedy with political debate, I would tend to agree. 10 O’Clock Live gives politics a vibrancy that simply just doesn’t exist on any other political programme. There is a clear gap in the market for this style of discussion and debate on television and that is why viewers should embrace this programme. Who said politics had to be boring? I hope for a new political landscape that is accessible all members of society and if bringing comedy into the political arena helps to achieve that then 10 O’Clock Live should be much praised for daring to take this new direction.

What do you think? Can comedy and politics ever mix? How can the show improve? Does Twitter only show a negative reaction because people are more likely to Tweet if they disagree with something?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Forgotten Harry Potter Film

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince risks fading into the background of long line of Harry Potter films. It’s not quite the middle, where the terrifying Voldermort makes his return, and it’s not quite the end, which viewers have been anticipating since 2001.

In its book form, masterminded by J K Rowling, it serves to link books five and seven together by slowly revealing more information about Voldermort’s past and how he has split his soul into seven pieces and hidden them as Horcruxes. Whilst Rowling’s slow reveals in each book was genius, keeping audiences guessing right up until the last book, it seems like it’s a harder task for film audiences to keep up with the wider plot, having to wait for more than a year at times between instalments!

It has been suggested that the film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, is incapable of standing alone as it needs all of what’s come before it, and all of what’s about to come after it, for it to make any sense. I remember the general reaction from my peers at the time of its release was that this particular film was so much part of the larger narrative of the series that the story, in isolation, didn’t really deliver as a film.

Where the film falls down, as with the book, is the fact that the title, The Half Blood Prince, actually performs as more of a sub-plot rather than the main narrative thread. [spoiler] The final reveal, I felt, provoked little more reaction than “oh it was Snape,” as opposed to “wow The Prisoner of Azkaban is Harry’s godfather Sirius, who has been living in hiding as a dog and who didn’t actually murder Harry’s parents!” We’d already found out so much about Snape’s past in The Order of the Phoenix that it didn’t deserve the attentions of the main title.

Anyway, that said, I watched The Half Blood Prince again the other day – hence the very out of season review on it – and I absolutely loved it! I would now put it as my second favourite film in the franchise, second to The Order of the Phoenix (which is also my favourite book).

It was funny, charming, dark, the best acted up until that point. It included everything we’ve come to expect from a year at Hogwart’s, whist progressing and developing as the plot matures and darkens. The ending was thoroughly moving, where all at Hogwarts lifted their lighted wands up to the sky and wiped away the Death Eater’s Dark Mark, showing that when people unite in their love and humanity their light can overpower the intrepid darkness.

Jim Broadbent was as perfect as I remembered him as Professor Slughorn. As were Hero Fiennes-Tiffin as Tom Riddle (age 11) and Frank Dillane Tom Riddle (age 16). The resemblance between the two, in both looks and performance, were uncanny! Both gave delicious performances and were on a whole other level to the other young actors in the movie, watching them was like being transported into an entirely different film.

Also, it's easy to take Helena Bonham Carter, as Bellatrix Lestrange, for granted because she’s a regular feature in the films now. As a result I’d forgotten just how good Bonham Carter was! She was absolutely made for that role. She plays it so completely unhinged, it was a joy to rediscover.

Upon my recent viewing I also found that the general story and plot translated a lot better to screen than I remembered! Maybe as the narrative of the books drifts further and further from my mind I am able to see and judge the films on their own merits (which I always tried to do but it's inevitable that judgments will get clouded).

There were still some awfully cringy moments, however, which you can’t fail to encounter in any of the films. Surprisingly, the cringy bits involved the cool and majestic Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) in The half Blood Prince, mainly in his prying into adolescent affairs of the heart. His observation “you need a shave Harry” to the softer-than-a-baby’s-bottom face of Daniel Radcliffe was unnecessary; he’s growing up, we get it! And Dumbledore’s apology for messing up Harry’s date just didn’t seem natural. As a crude comparison to the book, Dumbledore just wouldn’t say that, and for the purpose it served in adding it, to convey to the audience that Harry is changing from a boy to a man, this is quite obvious in itself, without needing Dumbledore to step out of character in order to spell it out to the audience.

Equally, when Dumbledore asks Harry “I can’t help wondering…” (about Harry and Hermione) the same scenario occurs. It seems to have been added to make clear to the audience, in case they hadn’t already realised, that Harry and Hermione will not be falling in love, she likes Ron and Harry likes Ginny. Again, this becomes obvious as the narrative plays out, in spite of this inquisitive question. Dumbledore would not ask Harry such trivial questions. In the book you get the sense that Dumbledore knows everything. When he asks Harry this question, which most of the audience already know the answer to, it takes away Dumbledore’s seemingly omnipresent wisdom and undermines his role as the informer; it puts his interests on a trivial level and his mind on a par with the slowest of audience members. Dumbledore is better than this.

Anyway, obsessive fan rant over! Up until this point Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was the forgotten Harry Potter film for me. It just goes to show that taking a fresh look at something with fresh eyes can completely change your perspective of it. I just hope that this film does not pale into the background of what will be eight films in total. It can and does stand on it’s own two feet and I hope, in time, it will be remembered as it deserves to be: one of the best Harry Potter films made!