December 2008

Coupling UK vs. US

In 2000, Steven Moffat's cleverly-written comedy Coupling first aired on BBC2. The show had a 4-series run and was extremely well-received. It tested so well, in fact, that American television network NBC attempted a remake of Coupling in 2003. The US version failed spectacularly despite a significant cult following of the British version in the States. At one point, BBC America aired two episodes of Coupling UK every night. The American Coupling used scripts that were nearly word-for-word to its UK counterpart, so why did it fail to capture an audience? A lot of critics blamed the casting choices for the show's failure, saying that the US cast was amateurish by comparison. While the UK version's cast was really a stellar ensemble of talented comedians, the US cast had a lot with which to compete.

Anime Friday: Howl's Moving Castle

Hello, everyone. Welcome to another edition of "Anime Friday". This week, my study continues with another film by Hayao Miyazaki, Howl's Moving Castle. Right off the bat, I feel like I'm kinda cheating with this movie. It's based on a book by Diane Wynn Jones and it definitely shows its Western influences. Also, I watched the dubbed version of the movie because it features so many famous voices. Christian Bale lends his pipes to the title character, while Emily Mortimer voices our protagonist, Sophie. In the most bizarre turn, Billy Crystal voices Calcifer, the fire demon keeping the castle functioning. I didn't realize until Howl's how similar Billy Crystal's voice is to that of James Woods. I believe that this movie would be significantly better if Woods had somehow been involved, but I say that about a lot of movies. Howl's Moving Castle takes place in a semi-magical steam age world that looks to be cross between southern France and provincial Japan.

Love Actually: British or American?

Love Actually is a strange beast of a film. It straddles various definitions in such a way that it falls into multiple categories without necessarily fitting into any of them. Is it a Christmas movie or just a movie that takes place on and around Christmas? Is it a comedy or a drama? Does it feature an ensemble cast or is it really more a series of small-cast vignettes? And, for our purposes today, is it a British film or an American film? Written and directed by Richard Curtis, Love Actually has a cast and production team that causes it to lean toward the British end of the spectrum. Aside from the overwhelmingly British cast, Curtis himself has been behind more than a few projects that are more easily classified. His hand was in the script for The Girl in the Cafe and even some of Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder series.

Rechov Sumsum: Muppets B'Ivrit

With Chanukah upon us, I began contemplating Israeli media. There have been a number of cultural entertainment exchanges between The United States and Israel, the most recent being HBO's tense, intimate therapy drama In Treatment based on Hagai Levi's Betipul. Way back in 1979, long-time Sesame Workshop employee Dr. Lewis Bernstein pitched the idea to bring the popular Sesame Street muppets to Israel. The result was a series of shows, beginning with 1982's Rechov Sumsum. Rechov Sumsum is a literal translation of "Sesame Street". Its main characters are Kippi, a giant hedgehog who acts as a surrogate Big Bird and his friend Moishe, a brown version of Oscar the Grouch. The show ran for four very successful seasons and the characters remained popular long after the last episode aired.

Anime Friday: Spirited Away

My friend Andy is a lover of all things Japanese, especially anime. Me? I never quite understood it. It’s not that I actively dislike anime, it’s just that the appeal of it just doesn’t quite register with me. Maybe I’ve seen the wrong films or have been subjected to particularly bad dubbing. At Andy’s request, I’ve decided to give anime another shot in a feature called Anime Friday. Every week, I will be watching one feature-length anime film or a respectable portion of an anime TV series and recording my reactions here on Foreign Entertainment. I won’t be selecting films at random, either. I will strictly follow a list provided to me by a concurring panel of conversant anime fans. Also at their insistence, I will be watching everything with subtitles unless specifically encouraged to experience a well-acted dub. Without further ado, let’s jump in with Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. This particular film was recommended to me as an introduction to the genre because it’s apparently specific enough to Japanese culture to be genuine, but not enough to confuse a neophyte gaijin like myself.

Cinema a la Canada #1: Lie With Me

In 2005, Clement Virgo worked with novelist Tamara Berger to adapt her book, Lie With Me, for the screen. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, but it didn't get any recognition beyond its soundtrack by Broken Social Scene. It's understandable why Lie With Me got lost in the swirl of the modern day independent film scene. Its selling points aren't exactly unique. By the middle of this decade, explicit sexual content in non-pornographic films became a fast cliche within indie circles, especially when it was used in dire arthouse pictures. The difference between Lie With Me and other films like The Brown Bunny or Ken Park is that the sex isn't really a device for shock or edge. Rather, it's the entire story. Lauren Lee Smith plays Leila, a hyper-sexual 20-something in the middle of a particularly stormy period of her life.

An Introduction Riding In On A White Horse

Hello, bonjour, buenos dias, guten tag, zdrastuvoy, konichiwa, etc, etc. Welcome to Foreign Entertainment, a blog dedicated to importing the wide world of non-US art and media to audiences who may never have found it otherwise. Today, you can call me Mikhail Leonardovich. Put on your warmest coat because we're traveling to Russia, home of some of the finest art, music and cinema that doesn't get wide distribution in the Anglophone world. Yozhik v Tumane, aka "Hedgehog in the Fog" is a unique work of animation from 1975. Written by Sergei Kozlov and directed by Yuriy Norshteyn, it is a surreal and occasionally frightening take on the otherwise familiar modes of a children's story. Our protagonist, Yozhik (Hedgehog) is on his way to have tea with his friend, Bear Cub. The art and pacing encourage a feeling of panic and steadily creeping paranoia. In the first few seconds of the film, we see Yozhik running across hills rather than strolling along a well-lit road.