“Magma?”

Rose Matafeo in "Taskmaster" (S9)Hurrah! Quirky-celebrity-challenge-show Taskmaster has returned for a ninth “season” this week, hot-on-the-heels of the eighth instalment which only finished airing in July! It’s still one of the most reliably strange/funny things on TV, and I was very happy to see that (although the teams are still stupidly uneven) the female competitors actually outnumber the males this time around!* The most recognizable is veteran comedian/writer/actor/presenter Jo Brand, of course, who put in far more cheery effort than my TV-listing mag seemed to suggest in its weirdly sneery write-up of the show… then there’s Katy Wix, of The Windsors fame, who’s chosen to wear a hard-hat and hi-viz jacket, so that she’s “fun, safe, and visible” at all times… and finally there’s the slightly-lesser-known Kiwi comedian Rose Matafeo, who opted for a gorgeous glossy suit and black turtle-neck combo, which seems totally impractical for the tasks-at-hand, but would definitely bag her the “best dressed” prize, if such a thing existed. My fave highlights of the first episode all came from the “Dramatic Entrance” task, with Ed Gamble’s bizarre baby-head-ghost entourage, Wix’s mousy cult-leader, and Matafeo’s excellent use of camouflage/random-Brando-impersonations. Oh, and Wix deserves extra credit for crafting a perilous teapot for the opening “Most Stressful Thing” task. Terribly unsafe, but beautifully glazed!

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* Fun fact: The winners of the last three seasons have all been women: Liza Tarbuck (S6), Kerry Godliman (S7), and Lou Sanders (S8). Girl power!?

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Quite Active, Actually!

Celeste Dring and Freya Parker (aka “Lazy Susan”) in their “Comedy Shorts” special (7/19)Hot-on-the-heels of the (excellent) second series of their spoof Radio 4 podcast The East Coast Listening Post, Celeste Dring and Freya Parker (aka “Lazy Susan”) are back on our screens with a new collection of sketches, via the BBC iPlayer’s “Comedy Shorts” series! Hurrah! Ranging from character bits to visual gags to film parodies and satirical commentary, they run the gamut and look great doing it, thanks to director Jennifer Sheridan‘s cinematic style… so top marks all around.

This also means I can watch it as a double-feature with the Ellie & Natasia “pilot”, and fantasise about the four of them forming a comedy super-group together… fun!

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Darling Of The Deathlings

Caitlin Doughty (circa 2018)A recommendation from a friend has led to me becoming hooked on a surprisingly warm and high-spirited cadaver-centric webseries called Ask A Mortician, hosted by the insanely adorable Caitlin Doughty, who is nobly striving to reclaim the word “morbid” and promote “death positivity” in the Western world. Besides gleefully answering questions on everything from human-compost to necrophilia, and authoring several books about her travels/travails as a funeral industry “rabble-rouser” (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, From Here to Eternity, and the forthcoming Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?), she’s also founded “The Order of the Good Death”, an inclusive community dedicated to encouraging the public to “stare down fears of your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above”, so that they can accept “that death itself is natural, but the death-anxiety of modern culture is not.” Right on!

Meanwhile, I’ve also developed a parallel addiction to the Instagram of the Order’s Director, Sarah Chavez, which is a treasure-trove of gorgeous goth-y imagery and inspiration. Yay!

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“You’re Not Superman, You Know.”

Kirsten Dunst as ‘Mary Jane Watson’ in “Spider-Man” (2002)I recently finished working through Jenny Nicholson’s (hilarious) guest appearances on the Screen Junkies show Movie Fights, and her impassioned advocacy for Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie (2002) set me scouring the shops for a copy, so I could better understand her arguments. My shorthand review would be that some of the jokes and FX have aged badly, and the plotting seems a little rushed/clumsy (often the case with origin stories), but the performances and direction/editing are pretty faultless, and it’s got a lot more heart/soul/charm/humour than most of the recent MCU movies. I mean, they’ve all been very entertaining, but never particularly memorable or distinctive… whereas this was clearly the work of a quirky craftsman, with an “oddball” sensibility alongside a more poetic sentimental side. I certainly wouldn’t think any less of someone who listed this as their favourite film of all time, though if I’d been judging that particular episode of Movie Fights I’d probably have sided with Alicia Malone, who nominated Amélie for her pick in that category. Swoon!

Although I easily spotted Raimi-regulars Bruce Campbell (as the wrestling-match “Ring Announcer”) and Ted Raimi (as harried Daily Bugle staffer ‘Hoffman’), as well as future-Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (in a brief-but-amusing cameo as the wrestling-contest “Check-In Girl”), I completely failed to recognise two actresses I really ought to know by sight: Lucy Lawless (as the pervy “Punk Rock Girl” giving a vox-pop interview to camera), and Elizabeth Banks (as ‘Betty Brant’, the “Girl Friday” to irascible editor ‘J. Jonah Jameson’ (J.K. Simmons)). Shame on me… shame, shame, shame!

Lucy Lawless as ‘Punk Rock Girl’ in “Spider-Man” (2002)For his part, Raimi gives Spencer and Banks glowing references on the commentary track, praising their ability to shine in small, underwritten roles. He’s also very complimentary about his lead actress, Kirsten Dunst, of course, praising the layers and generosity in her performance as the troubled (and frequently imperilled) girl-next-door ‘Mary Jane’. In an accompanying featurette, co-star Tobey Maguire also describes her as soulful and fun to be around on set… which is lucky, because they were contracted to appear together for another couple sequels!

Meanwhile, on the commentary track, Dunst notes what a pain it was to spend so much time in the freezing fake-rain for their iconic upside-down-kiss scene, and how annoying she began to find the sound of her own screams, after multiple takes of her “damsel-in-distress” moments. She also claims that when she was first contacted about the movie, she assumed she’d be playing the character ‘Gwen Stacy’ since the two of them are both blonde… but I think it’s fair to say she makes an equally adorable red-head!

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Galaxonbury

Suzuka Nakamoto as 'Su-metal' and Moa Kikuchi as 'Moametal' at Glastonbury Festival 7/19Last weekend three acts I’d dearly love to see live were playing Glastonbury Festival: Vodun, The Lounge Kittens, and Babymetal… though there was never any chance of me actually attending the event, because I hate the outdoors, and “roughing it” in general… so praise be to the Beeb for at least posting the latter band’s set online, for my couch-potato-y appreciation.

Apparently Babymetal are now utilising a revolving trio of “brave avengers” to fill in for founding member Yuimetal (who retired last year when her survival instinct finally kicked in), with one of them possibly getting the gig on a permanent basis once they’ve proven their mettle to the Fox God…? Either way, this was a relatively short and contained afternoon-matinee on “The Other Stage”, and sadly they didn’t seem to get nearly as much feedback from the sun-stroked audience as their adorable, high-energy performance really deserved. Personally I couldn’t help nodding along and throwing fox-signs in the air as the band thrashed away and Su-Metal sang her socks off, because seeing them always gets me buzzed. That said, I’m not sure I would have been much more use during the slightly awkward moments where she turned the microphone towards the crowd, and expected them to echo her vocal gymnastics. Repeating a simple call-and-response chorus is one thing, but going “woooah-oooah-oooah-oooah-oooah” in perfect harmony and cadence is quite another!

Ah well, I hope they enjoyed themselves, and hooked some new fans into the fold, while also inspiring (relative) veterans like myself to pre-order their forthcoming album, Metal Galaxy (due to be released on October 11th). Yatta!

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“It’s A Miracle!”

[Contains damp embroidery and SPOILERS!!!]

Aubrey Plaza as ‘Sister Fernanda’ in “The Little Hours”Consider this: Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci dressed as nuns, swearing like sailors on shore-leave and making out together, before dancing (mostly) naked in the woods with a coven of witches. I know it sounds like something a sweaty-palmed perv like me would (and does) day-dream about, but it’s also an actual sub-plot in the medieval sex-comedy The Little Hours (2016)!

Loosely based on The Decameron, a collection of C14th novellas by Giovanni Boccaccio, this semi-improvised indie flick is centred around a small, isolated convent in the Italian countryside, run (rather poorly, it turns out) by ‘Mother Marea’ (Molly Shannon) and ‘Father Tommasso’ (John C. Reilly), who are unaware of what their profane charges are getting up to behind their backs, until the employment of a hunky young groundskeeper (Dave Franco) ramps up the friction and frustration felt by jealous “bad girl” ‘Sister Fernanda’ (Plaza) and spoiled “good girl” ‘Sister Alessandra’ (Alison Brie), leading to violence, drug abuse, and black magic/humour.

Kate Micucci as ‘Sister Ginevra’, Alison Brie as ‘Sister Alessandra’, and Aubrey Plaza as ‘Sister Fernanda’ in “The Little Hours”I’m not a big fan of comedies with a lot of adlibbing, because all-too-often the characters and stories become distorted by actors attempting to say the funniest thing they can think of, rather than the most consistent/convincing thing… but thankfully that isn’t the case here. The jokes are all pretty low-key, and firmly rooted in the cast’s established screen-personas, working hand-in-glove with the plot, to achieve an admirably cohesive whole. Although the contemporary speech and behaviour might warrant accusations of “anachronism”, they never threaten the fourth wall with references to future inventions/people, or break the spell of the strangely sweet little world they’ve created.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve fallen pretty hard for this film, and would happily rank it among my “Top 20 Comedies of All-Time”, if such a list existed. It’s also given me a slew of new images to use as my desktop wallpaper, though I’m sure I’ll eventually return to a pic of Plaza as the curly-haired-psychotherapist version of ‘Lenny’ from Legion, which returned for a third and final season earlier this week, and is even trippier than ever thanks to the addition of (intentional) time-traveller ‘Switch’ (Lauren Tsai). All hail “The Breakfast Queen”!

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PunkWatch: Queen Barb

‘Queen Barb’ in “Trolls World Tour”I wasn’t aware of the Trolls musical movie franchise until the trailer for a forthcoming sequel started appearing on various news sites this week, touting the heavy metal tuneage and cameo voice-overs. According to the blurb, there are six different Troll tribes scattered over separate lands, each devoted to a different kind of music (Funk, Country, Techno, Classical, Pop, Rock), and the “villain” of this instalment (voiced by Rachel Bloom) is a pierced-and-punky bad-ass who wants to destroy all the other genres, so that guitar-shredding will reign supreme. Hurrah!

I’m not generally a toy collector, and I’ve never had any impulse to pick up any “troll dolls” before now, but I can easily see myself buying a bunch of Barb merch when this flick drops in… er… April 2020!? Wow… they’re really getting the hype-train rolling early, eh?

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