The Other Stark Girl

Sophie Turner as ‘Sansa Stark’ in “Game Of Thrones” (S4)After completing Buzzfeed’s super-scientific and incontrovertible test to identify my “Game of Thrones Soulmate” (Caution: The quiz contains S4 SPOILERS!!!), my heart sank when I found myself matched with ‘Sansa Stark’. Although I’ve never actively “hated” the character, I have been pretty apathetic about her, because I generally watch the show for its dark humour and kick-ass action, and Sansa is neither particularly funny, nor particularly active.

Nonetheless, this result inspired me to go back and read a recent pro-Sansa post over on the Bitch Media site, which I’d skipped when it first appeared… and I have to say, I found the author’s argument quite compelling. Actress Sophie Turner has also made some interesting observations on her alter-ego’s attributes: “I think the strong thing about Sansa is the fact that she doesn’t fight. Fighting alone can be seen as a very strong thing to do, but the fact that she doesn’t fight and she doesn’t strike back is probably her best trait. Having to resist the urge to fight back – which, you know, I’m sure she has – is in itself one of the best things about her. In that sense, she’s very strong, and she’s very strong-willed, and she has willpower.” [1] “People don’t like Sansa because she is feminine. It annoys me that people only like the feminine characters when they act like male characters. And they always go on about feminism. Like, you’re rooting for the people who look like boys, who act like boys, who fight like boys. Root for the girls who wear dresses and are intellectually very strong.” [2]

Fair play… and there are certainly signs that Sansa has become a tougher contender since her fairy tale turned sour… so maybe I’ll watch her scenes with a little more appreciation from now on!

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[1]  RollingStoneGame of Thrones Q&A: Sophie Turner on Sansa Stark’s Survival Skills

[2] TV Guide – Defending Sansa: Why Game of Thrones Girly Girl Is The Hero We Need

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Monkey Must-See

Hattie Morahan as ‘Siobhan Hope’ in “Ballot Monkeys” (S1)Trailers for a new election-themed comedy called Ballot Monkeys have been playing on TV for the past couple weeks, but I always mute or skip the ad breaks, so I had no idea if the show was actually going to be funny or not until I watched it… but it was! Very funny, in fact. Co-created by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (of topical 90s newsroom-sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey fame), this ingenious series cuts back and forth between the campaign busses of four major political parties to show us the sniping/gossiping/scheming that goes on, with the various staffers portrayed by a first-class cast including Ben Miller, Hugh Dennis, and some very talented lady-folk:

On the Labour bus you get Daisy Haggard as a cynical co-ordinator, and Kathleen Rose Perkins as a cupcake-toting consultant (fun fact: the actresses previously appeared together on Episodes, and seem quite chummy in the selfies that Perkins has posted to her Instagram)… on the Tory bus you get Hattie Morahan as a side-lined “women’s issues” expert, and Liz Kingsman as the easily-distracted daughter of a major secret-donor (newbie fact: Kingsman doesn’t seem to have an IMDb page yet, but is apparently a writer-performer with critically acclaimed sketch group Massive Dad)… on the Lib-Dem bus you get Esther Smith as a sweet-natured naïf… and on the UKIP bus you get Sarah Hadland as a loose-lipped racialist.

Apparently (up to) a third of every episode will be filmed on the day of transmission, to keep the jokes and references fresh… and the production boasts four separate directors, so that each of the busses can be covered simultaneously, to speed up turnaround… which sounds like a nerve-wracking challenge for the cast and crew, but clearly it’s paying off because this week’s episode was absolutely hilarious. If they can maintain the same high hit-rate for the next four episodes, then I’d call that a win for everyone!

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The Bishop’s Bunny

Emma Pierson a la “The Armstrong & Miller Show” (S4)Armstrong and Miller (aka “The Armstrong & Miller Show”) (1997-2001) was one of the last great British sketch shows… from the good old days when catchphrases and running gags were used more sparingly, and greater emphasis was placed on telling absurd little self-contained stories across single episodes, before moving on to a whole new batch of characters/situations the following week. Sadly, only the fourth (and final) series has ever been released on DVD… receiving an adults-only “18” rating and a warning about strong sexual content, thanks to a bonus compilation of skits that were judged “too hot” to air in the show’s regular time-slot. The majority of that extra episode is gobbled up by a soap-opera parody titled Porn Beach, which depicts the backstage drama surrounding a pair of South African porn actors… and while it’s amusing to see the two of them having heartfelt conversations about their personal lives while being “fluffed” by female co-stars, the premise and jokes aren’t really funny enough to justify all of the nudity and rudery, imho.

Sarah Alexander a la “The Armstrong & Miller Show” (S4)Far more successful is the Nude Practice runner that appeared in the regular series, centred on a stuffy trio of countryside veterinarians, who happen to spend all of their time stark-bullock naked. A lot of thought and effort is put into arranging props to hide their genitalia, as you would expect… but then there’s always a moment where the barrier is removed, or the actor (accidentally-on-purpose) stands behind something more transparent, and their bare penis is revealed to the audience. I’m not sure Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller would be quite so game now that they’ve crossed over into the mainstream, but it was emblematic of the devil-may-care attitude that made Channel Four such an exciting place to discover new comedy, back in the day. Meanwhile, their female co-star, Sarah Alexander, was brave enough to walk around in little more than a strategically-positioned scarf or apron, which left her rear completely uncovered… and Emma Pierson remained fully-clothed in her cameo as a super-cute crusty/traveller with an injured dog.

Although a lot of the sketches are quite sweary and near-the-knuckle, they aren’t all as salacious as Nude Practice… in fact there’s quite a sweet/silly Jane Austen pastiche, in which all of the heroines’ suitors are replaced by minor modern-day celebrities, such as “H-from-Steps” (which, weirdly, dates the sketch a lot more than if it had been a more straight-forward costume-drama parody). Overall, I’d say the show has aged remarkably well, with a high hit-to-miss ratio, and plenty laughs to be had… despite the fact I watched these episodes to death when I had them recorded on old-timey VHS-tape!

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“Jinx! Give Me Your Vera Wang!”

Emily Perkins as ‘Britt Blatt’ in “Another Cinderella Story”There aren’t many straight-to-video sequels that manage to surpass their predecessors, but I think we can safely add Another Cinderella Story (2008) to that shortlist, thanks to a shameless, scene-stealing turn by Jane Lynch as the movie’s modern-day “wicked step-mother”, and the inspired casting of cult horror duo Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle as her bratty, bickering daughters. It was especially pleasing to see Perkins bring her off-kilter intensity to the otherwise rather generic “ugly step-sister” role… and, at the risk of being ungentlemanly, the shots of her wearing figure-hugging dance-wear were a welcome bonus too! Meanwhile, Selena Gomez was very winning as the movie’s plucky, put-upon heroine… alongside the equally adorable Jessica Parker Kennedy, as her bestie/”fairy godmother”. Towards the end of the movie I actually started to feel sorry for Nicole LaPlaca, who was cast as Gomez’s supposed love-rival, because her character just came off as an underwritten after-thought, constantly over-shadowed by her own “sidekicks” (Perkins & Isabelle), and her super-cute nemesis. Poor thing.

Selena Gomez as ‘Mary Santiago’ in “Another Cinderella Story”Of course, this movie has the same forehead-slapping plot-hole at its centre as the first entry, with a fully-sighted and sober “Prince Charming” (Drew Seeley) incapable of recognising the girl he slow-danced with at a masquerade ball, after she removes her barely-there mask and returns to a life of domestic drudgery*… but let’s not go down that ranty road again. Thankfully he managed to discover the true identity of his “mystery” crush about halfway through the running time, so they could get some proper bonding done before the obligatory (and rather underwhelming) spanner was thrown in the works of their budding romance. One of the more gratifying elements of this story is that when the pop-star Prince makes his grand gesture to win Cinderella’s heart back in the finale, he’s also helping her to (unknowingly) audition for a fancy Performing Arts Academy, so that she can pursue her own thwarted ambitions and escape her adoptive enslavement! Hurrah!

Katharine Isabelle as ‘Bree Blatt’ and Emily Perkins as ‘Britt Blatt’ in “Another Cinderella Story”I was surprised to discover (via a behind-the-scenes featurette) that Gomez hadn’t had any formal dance training before she was hired to play this part, because the duets between her and Seeley are fantastic… especially the early rehearsal scene where they’re moving in soul-mate-synch, separated by a one-way mirror. Of course, the mirror wasn’t always there while they were actually filming the sequence… but it’s still pretty impressive. I also have to give a shout-out to Nicole Muñoz, who plays the younger version of Gomez’s character in an embarrassing bedroom-dancing video clip that’s repeated several times throughout the movie. Not the most glamorous of cameos… but she rocks it, all the same. Bless.

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* Hilariously, the “Glass Slipper” in this version is a Zune MP3 player, and everyone keeps referring to it by name… little realising that the brand would be totally defunct a couple years later, leaving countless future generations to turn to their parents and ask: “Mommy, Daddy… what’s a Zune?” At which point their parents will shrug, and look it up on Wikipedia… just like I had to!

Posted in Funny Flicks, Musicks, Rom-Comedy, Women Who Hoof, Women Who Music, Y'know, For Kids... | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WARNING: Anyone Can Get A PhD…

Carla Gugino as ‘Elektra Luxx’ in “Women in Trouble”Women in Trouble (2009) begins, as all movies should, with a 20-second close-up of Carla Gugino wearing a nun’s habit… before pulling back to reveal that her character, ‘Elektra Luxx’, is shooting a sex-flick with her “cowgirl” co-star ‘Holly Rocket’ (Adrianne Palicki) and some random stud. The scene is then interrupted by an urgent call from Elektra’s doctor… which shortly thereafter leads to the revelation that the veteran porn star is pregnant!

Unfortunately, I watched the eponymous sequel before this movie, so many of the stories here had already been spoiled by my own stupidity… though that didn’t stop me enjoying the performances of the all-star cast, as their characters wound their way towards predestined denouements. Although this entry was a little darker than its successor, in the sense that there was more (off-screen) death and violence, the two movies seem more like extended episodes of an ongoing TV mini-series, rather than separate feature films with self-contained arcs. Overall, the viewing experience was much the same as before… kinda sexy, kinda funny, and kinda dramatic, but not pushing any of those buttons hard enough to make a very deep or lasting impression. In fact, the funniest scene of all (a fake on-set interview with Holly and Elektra, hosted by smarmy fanboy ‘Bert Rodriguez’ (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)) was hidden away on the wrong side of the end credits, rather than included in the movie proper!

Connie Britton as ‘Doris’ in “Women in Trouble”As I predicted, it was fun to spend some more time hanging out with these characters, and there’s no questioning the cast’s commitment to a project that was apparently completed in just 10 days, on a shoestring budget! Gugino was fantastic as always… Palicki was hilarious and adorable in equal measure…. but the MVP this time around had to be Connie Britton, playing the brittle ‘Doris’, who gets trapped in an elevator with Elektra and then bonds with her over their equally screwed-up personal histories. Fun fact: Gugino and Britton previously appeared together in the first season of Spin City… so anyone planning to write some slash-fiction about their characters on that sitcom might want to check this movie out for “inspiration” (not that they actually hook-up here… but they do get half-naked and sweaty, so plenty fodder for damp day-dreams there).

The supporting cast also included: Sarah Clarke as ‘Maxine McPherson’, a therapist who goes on a drunken tear after discovering her husband having an affair with one of her patients… Emmanuelle Chriqui as Holly’s brassy, trouble-making bestie ‘Bambi’… Marley Shelton as ‘Cora’, a flight attendant tempted to cheat on her fiancé by a famous passenger (Josh Brolin, rocking an “English” accent)… and Cameron Richardson as ‘Darby’, a kindly massuer who helps Holly overcome some career-threatening childhood trauma! Bless her.

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Premature Gratification

Maisie Williams as ‘Arya Stark’ in “Game of Thrones” (S5)This morning I discovered that the first four episodes of the fifth season of Game of Thrones had been leaked to the internets… and while some might see that as cause for celebration, I’m afraid I can’t share their joy. The way I see it, the seasons are already far too short and the wait between them far too long, so watching four in one go just seems short-sighted and greedy… like gobbling up all your Easter eggs for breakfast, and then feeling sick for the rest of the day! You’re only hurting yourselves, kids!

That said, I did “unwrap” the first episode a day early, and can exclusively reveal (SLIGHT SPOILERS!) that it’s awesome… despite the total absence of Arya. The suggestion that Tyrion might be on his way to hang-out with Daenerys gave me a little nerd-gasm… though I’ve learned that it’s not always such a good idea for prominent characters to cross paths… I mean, it didn’t work out too well for Brienne and The Hound, did it?

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Bread With Butter

Jenny Slate as 'Catherine' in "Catherine" (S1)The Jenny Slate love-fest continues with Catherine (2013), a 12-part web-series the actress co-wrote with her husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp, who also served as director/editor, helping to keep the piece on track, tonally. The best way I can describe this brilliant anti-sitcom is that it plays like an episode of The Office reimagined by David Lynch*. There’s a deliberate banality to the dialogue, stories, and settings that suggests something more unsettling happening beneath the surface, despite the seemingly low stakes… and despite a total absence of jokes (in the traditional sense), there are still plenty of laughs to be had here. There’s a even a little titillation thrown in for good measure, when Catherine changes clothes before going out on a tepid date (in ep #1.7)… I know a shot of Slate’s naked back (and side-boob) isn’t particularly gratuitous, but considering how uber-beige and buttoned-up the rest of the episodes were, it felt practically pornographic! I don’t really understand why she chose to be topless for that scene, or why the camera lingered on her for so long… but I’m certainly not complaining, either!

Brandi Austin as 'Samantha' in "Catherine" (S1)Meanwhile, the (fully-clothed) supporting  cast included Autumn Withers and Raquel Bell as innocuous co-workers, and Brandi Austin as Catherine’s (almost) office-nemesis, ‘Samantha’.

Fun fact: In an interview with Splitsider, Slate admits that she was “super stoned” when she first came up with the idea for this series… which makes me flashback to her colleagues on Kroll Show (cast and creatives alike) casually mentioning their own recreational cannabis consumption, in the between-sketch segments. It seems that a lot of my fave American comedy peeps like to get stoned on the regular… and are free to indulge quite openly, as long as they can claim a qualifying medical condition! While researching the topic for a script (no, really!), I found a recent article in The Telegraph which outlines the potential financial and social benefits that could result from legalising cannabis in the UK… though they don’t touch on how it might effect this country’s (currently rather blah) comedic output.

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* Apparently Slate was also watching a lot of Twin Peaks at the time, so clearly it had an influence…

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