December 17, 2014

The Wednesday Play: The Mahabharata (1989)

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Le Mahabharata

Right now, you may have noticed, there’s a whole load of religions about to have some sort of festival or other. So to avoid all hint of bias, this week’s Wednesday Play has nothing to do with any of them and is purely of concern to Hindus – none of whom are celebrating anything right now, except maybe a birthday or two.

Peter Brook CH, CBE is one of the world’s most famous and justifiably lauded theatre directors. His career in both theatre and film has spanned decades, stretching back with the RSC to 1950 all the way through to the present day. Perhaps his most famous work, however, was a 1985 production that he had co-written over eight years with Jean-Claude Carrière and Marie-Hélène Estienne: The Mahabharata. An astonishing nine hours long, it was nevertheless a distillation in itself of the world’s longest and perhaps even most important work of epic poetry, the eponymous 200,000-line long Sanskrit text Mahabharata.

Regarded by Hindus as both a text about Hindu moral law (dharma) and its history, the poem dates back to 400BC and is perhaps as early in origin as 9th century BC. Its main plot is about the struggle between two branches of a single family – the Kaurava and the Pandava – for the throne of Hastinapura, which eventually culminates in the battle of Kurkshetra, but the majority of the work includes a wide range of other myths and legends.

Brook regarded the Mahabharata as a text of the world, so for his production, he chose a cast from countries all round the world, including Georges Corraface, Vittoria Mezzogiorno, Mamdou Dioumé and Yoshi Oida. After the production premiered at the 39th Avignon festival, Brook was to take it on a world tour for four years and at the end of that period, an abridged version a mere six hours long was filmed and shown as a two-part mini-series on Channel 4 in the UK. This was subsequently cut down to three hours for a cinema and DVD release.

Many of the cast of the stage production were to return for the mini-series, including Corraface, Mezzogiorno, Dioumé and Oida; however, in true RSC fashion, as well as some new cast members such as Ciarán Hinds, some of the original cast took on different roles, with Bruce Myers switching from Karna to become both Ganesha and Krishna, Andrzej Seweryn moving from Duryodhana to Yudhishthira and Maurice Bénichou switching from Ganesha and Krishna to Kitchaka, to name but a few.

It’s an epic in all senses and a very theatrical one at that, but if you have the time – perhaps over Christmas – you can watch all six hours of the mini-series below or you can get it on DVD. It’s definitely worth the effort.

Other versions
It's worth noting that Brook was not the first to adapt the Mahabharata, even if he was the first to adapt it in English. Because there was a film made in 1963 of just one story of the Mahabharata, Narthanasala, which again you can watch below, although your Telugu had better be good since it's not subtitled.

A 1965 film, however, made an attempt at adapting the full story in just two and a half hours, and this is subtitled, if you want to give it a go, you may be glad to hear.

As well as a 2013 film, this time 3D and animated, there have also been four Indian TV series (1988, 1997, 2008 and 2013). The earliest of these series was produced by famed Indian film director BR Chopra and despite being 94 episodes long and taking nearly two years to air, was one of the most successful programmes in Indian TV history. It was subsequently imported to the UK by BBC2.

The 2013 series, Mahabharat was equally well viewed but had a somewhat larger budget, being the most expensive series in Indian TV history.

It seems this epic has legs…

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December 16, 2014

Weekly Wonder Woman: Sensation Comics #18, Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three #11

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Sensation Comics #18

Unfortunately, it’s our last weekly round up of Wonder Woman appearances for the year, thanks to DC’s continuing ‘War on Hellenismos’ my Christmas break, which means that unless I feel invigorated in the New Year, I’ll be missing out on the next issues of both Wonder Woman and Superman/Wonder Woman and maybe even the first issue of Wonder Woman ’77, which are all due out in the next fortnight.

Let’s all pray to Dionysos for Christmas booze to fill me with life then.

Either way, I’ll be leaving you with a look at two comics. Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #18 concludes a three-part story in which Diana’s been off to Apokolips to fill it with Christmas cheer rescue some Amazons and work out what Darkseid’s been up to.

Meanwhile, we also see the surprise return of Wonder Woman in year three of Injustice: Gods Among Us, she having spent the previous year in a coma, which turns out not to be quite what it seemed. No, it wasn’t Dionysos’ Christmas booze.

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A fourth Totally Serialized is coming to London in January

Posted yesterday at 11:03 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Workingirls

Un village français

Paris

Lascars

Caroline Proust

Hey everyone – remember the first three Totally Serialized (one, two, three)? Well, the fourth one’s coming next month…

Totally Serialized – Season 4
29 - 31 January 2015 at Ciné Lumière

From 29 to 31 January, Ciné Lumière will hold the 4th edition of Totally Serialized, the one and only TV series festival in London. Aimed to promote and improve collaboration between the UK and France, it will showcase the best of new productions from both sides of the Channel.

Audiences will get a chance to attend exceptional preview screenings and meet creators and actors of their cult TV series.

Those last years of production have proven that TV series are more creative than ever. And more recently, the British TV industry has broken down frontiers, with international buyers moving away from a remake-centred strategy and now broadcasting the original series with subtitles. French shows such as The Returned, Braquo, Spiral, Hard and Maison Close from the French Pay TV CANAL+ have benefited from this shift, and have proven to be a success on Channel 4, FX, BBC Four and Sky Arts respectively. Just recently, Channel 4 acquired Witnesses, another French series. One of the aims of the festival is to encourage this trend.

A dedicated industry programme is organised in association with Creative Europe Desk UK and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) on 29 & 30 January aiming to foster international exchanges and co-productions in order to meet the growing demand for high-quality European TV drama. Various aspects of the constantly-evolving field of TV series, including producing, screenwriting, and financing will be covered.

The festival opening ceremony followed by an industry cocktail is organised with CANAL+.

In partnership with the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers (SACD), British and French TV writers will gather and discuss the art of TV writing on 30 January while networking events will accompany this two-day programme. The festival also launches a speed-dating meeting between selected French and British producers organised with Europe Creative Desk MEDIA France and Ile de France Film Commission.

Festival highlights include a preview of award-winning writer Russell T. Davies’ Banana, courtesy of E4 (Channel 4) in the presence of members of the cast and crew.

Spiral enthusiasts are in for a treat as several events will be dedicated to this dark and labyrinthine Parisian crime drama. While Series 5 will be showing on BBC Four, the CANAL + CREATION ORIGINALE series will be unravelled by its screenwriter Anne Landois in a special screening of episode 1 at Ciné Lumière on 29 January. In addition, Caroline Proust, who plays Captain Laure Berthaud will give a masterclass where Spiral’s fans will learn behind-the-scene stories on 31 January. The UK premiere of Paris, a mini-series from the team behind Spiral, will top it all.

Thrillers are a strong strand in this year's festival as we will also screen the UK Premiere of Jean-Christophe Grangé's The Passenger with actor Jean-Hugues Anglade (Braquo). and host a masterclass with Tony Grisoni in which he will decrypt the creative process behind the acclaimed Channel 4 TV show Southcliffe.

This year's festival will be a platform for new talent with a BAFTA masterclass on 'Breaking and entering TV Screenwriting' for budding writers, a marathon of new French TV comedies and fresh out of French animation schools directors with En sortant de l'école, a mini series based on Jacques Prévert’s poems.

After the jump, the programme of public events (ie the ones you can attend if you don’t work in TV). And to find out more or book tickets, visit the Totally Serialized web site

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Martin Freeman returns to The Office. Sort of

Posted yesterday at 09:19 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Martin Freeman was hosting Saturday Night Live in the US this weekend and for one of the sketches, he returned to the series that made him famous in the first place: The Office. Except since The Office, he’s become even more famous thanks to The Hobbit*. So guess what Saturday Night Live did. And it’s surprisingly accurate to the BBC version, too…

*And Sherlock, obviously.

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December 15, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Ground Floor, Arrow, The Flash, The Newsroom, The Machine, Jack Reacher and Red 2

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It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there's Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Time for a little bit of a catch-up, given I haven’t done one of these in a fortnight. There are still a few things in my viewing queue that I haven’t yet had time to watch: last night’s The Librarians I’ll cover in a third-episode verdict this week and I’ll probably do the same for The Legacy, although the subtitling makes it hard to watch when I’m doing the ironing. I’ll also try to give Netflix’s Marco Polo a watch, given they dumped the whole series online over the weekend.

I have managed to watch a few films, though.

Red 2 (2013)
The gang from Red are back to far less effect, with Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and Helen Mirren joined by Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lee Byung-hun as the old/amateur spies (plus one deadly young one) forced to use their lifetime of skills to save the world. Again. There’s a lot more travelling to foreign climes but only Byung-hun’s martial arts and Hopkins’ performance really lift the piece above the humdrum, with most of the interesting edges of the first movie filed off or toned down. It does give us a brief onscreen meeting of Hopkins and Brian Cox, which is probably the only time you’ll get two Hannibal Lecters together.

Jack Reacher (2012)
Tom Cruise is improbably the 6’5” military policeman of the Lee Childs novels, here investigating a seemingly random sniper shooting with an obvious suspect who needs his help being vindicated. A perfectly adequate, reasonably intelligent thriller with military trappings that does little to excite, beyond a few decent fights. Rosamund Pike is wasted.

The Machine (2013)
A strange little independent sci-fi thriller funded by the Welsh Government, of all things, in which scientists Toby Stephens and Caity Lotz work on developing intelligent machines for the Ministry of Defence and have to wrestle with the Turing Test, the nature of consciousness and intelligence, and other existential questions, as well as killer robots. Lotz is the obvious star, demonstrating all the qualities that made her such a powerful presence in the second season of Arrow, but Stephens is no slouch either. The film doesn’t quite manage to square all its intellectual concerns with its need for gore, and the ultra low budget means that the action is largely confined to a couple of rooms. But it’s a lot more interesting and intelligent than you might have expected. Plus it’s got Siwan Morris from Mine All Mine and Caerdydd in it

After the jump, I’ll be running through lots and lots of episodes of: Arrow, Constantine, Elementary, The Fall, Forever, The Flash, Gracepoint, Ground Floor, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, The Newsroom, Scorpion and State of Affairs.

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December 12, 2014

Review: The Librarians 1x1-1x2 (US: TNT; UK: SyFy)

Posted 5 days ago at 11:17 | comments | Bookmark and Share

The Librarians

In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, TNT
In the UK: Mondays, 8pm, Syfy

As I remarked a while back, TNT is best known for airing crime shows, both scripted and unscripted. While there have been a few exceptions over the years, the vast bulk of its output has been about cops and solving mysteries and the few exceptions along the way have mostly perished and died very quickly.

One of the few things on TNT that hasn’t involved crime and yet has survived the years is Noah Wyle. As well as his alien invasion show, Falling Skies, he’s also been the lead in an occasional series of TV movies based around a character called The Librarian. Part Indiana Jones, part Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, the Librarian has roamed the Earth for the best part of a decade, cracking ancient clues, engaging in daring-do, so that he can find lost magical artefacts such as Excalibur and the Spear of Destiny, so they can be safeguarded in a New York magical library run by Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin.

This year, though, TNT is making a concerted effort to branch out into other genres as part of its ‘boom’ campaign. Yes, ‘TNT – boom’: you can imagine how long it took them to think that one up. Surprisingly, ‘boom’s been doing quite well. While Legends isn’t the world’s best show, it’s an decent enough attempt to branch out into the spy genre and has been renewed for a second season. The big cable hit of the summer was TNT’s The Last Ship, a delightful combination of ship warfare and killer viruses that I loved and which is also back for a second season next year.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that TNT’s ‘boom' is giving us The Librarians, an attempt to turn this occasional movie series into a potentially far more lucrative multi-episode TV series. Beginning with a two part special, the series sees 'the Serpent Brotherhood’ trying to kill off the Librarian and any other potential Librarians so they can return magic to the world and then rule it.

Wyle has to round up the surviving potential librarians, who are largely former TNT stars (Rebecca Romijn from King & Maxwell and Christian Kane from Leverage), protect the library and save the world. And while it has a budget of about $4, the authenticity of a Ratner’s ring, the attention to historical detail of an Asterix book and an ensemble of actors about as convincing as the average glove puppet, it’s actually a very enjoyable bit of family fun.

Here’s a trailer:

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December 11, 2014

Nostalgia Corner: Terrahawks (1983-1986)

Posted 6 days ago at 11:11 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Terrahawks

Gerry Anderson was, of course, the doyen of puppets. Starting with the likes of Four Feather Falls and The Adventures of Twizzle in the 50s, he soon went on to create much loved classics such as Supercar, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.

But he’d always wanted to work with real actors and over time, that’s where his focus went, with The Secret Service mixing live action and puppetry and both UFO and Space: 1999 being fully live action. Was that the end for Anderson and puppets?

No, because in the 1980s he returned to TV to give us Terrahawks, which gave us both a new scenario and a new puppet technology that took many aspects of his previous shows and combined them in one. It’s the year 2020 (gosh, how far away that looks now, hey?) and in common with previous Anderson shows UFO and Captain Scarlet, there’s an alien invasion underway and only a lone taskforce with a range of advanced technology is able to protect us – the Terrahawks. Led by Doctor Tiger Ninestein – the ninth clone of one Dr Gerhard Stein – the Terrahawks consisted of both human and robot members piloting and driving a set of vehicles similar to those of Thunderbirds: the Battlehawk, the Terrahawk, the Hawkwing, the Treehawk and the space station the Spacehawk, as well as HUDSON, a camouflage-capable Rolls Royce.

The aliens they are facing are androids modelled on the oldest and wisest citizens of their planet, Guk, and so are grey haired and wrinkled. They’re commanded by Zelda, who like the Mysterons has power over matter, and her not especially bright son Yung-Star. As well as the androids themselves, there’s also a collection of monsters, including a Sporilla (a seven-foot tall metal-eating Space Gorilla), and a group of occasionally sympathetic characters with special skills, such as MOID (the master of infinite disguise), who can mimic anyone but has no face of his own, and Lord Tempo who can travel in time.

Probably the most memorable aspect of the show were the foot soldiers in this war: the zeros and the cubes. The Terrahawk’s zeros are spherical robots, who can increase their mass and crush objects, and the aliens’ cubes, which can combine together to create objects such as guns. Why so memorable? Because at the end of every episode there’d be a game of noughts and crosses involving the two enemies.

The series was a lot more tongue-in-cheek than previous Anderson efforts and clearly was aware that adults who’d grown up with Anderson shows would be watching with their kids. This went right down to the credits given to authors: Tony Barwick and Donald James wrote many of the episodes under pseudonyms such as Anne Teakstein, Felix Catstein, Katz Stein and Leo Pardstein – clearly references to the nine-lived Tiger Neinstein.

The technology used by the show, Supermacromation, was also considerably superior to that used previously by Anderson, with latex making the puppets more human and animatronic-style robotics ending the need for strings.

Unlike other Anderson shows, it lasted an amazing three seasons for a total of 39 episodes; also unlike his other shows, it’s had few repeats, which means it’s comparatively little known today. Nevertheless, the series is fondly remembered by those who watched it and a new audio series will be produced by Big Finish, the first release expected in April 2015.

It’s Christmas time, though, and as a special present, the producers have polished up the Christmas episode of Terrahawks, A Christmas Miracle, and stuck it on YouTube – free to view for a month. Enjoystein!

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