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Our visit to the PBS studios

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On Wednesday 19th February, a number of us, as members of Insite, were given a thorough tour around the Public Broadcasting Service building in Gwardamangia, now known as the modern creativity hub of Maltese media. After seeing first hand the amazing high-quality technological developments that have taken place in a building, which only a couple of years ago was an eye sore inside and out, one particular question continues to resonate inside my head:

Why do we still consider local television to be mediocre, even in the midst of this state-of-the-art refurbishment?

Could it be that the viewing public has not yet given PBS the opportune chance to use its newly attained tools to provide better quality television? Perhaps the current staff lacks the necessary experience to use the latest machinery? Or is it still too early for these improvements to actually give better results?

While all these guesses may be equally  true,  it is also practical to consider the possibility that the Maltese population, by being exposed to worldwide programmes, has mistakingly maintained the mentality that foreign material is always better.

While roaming around the building, particularly the behind-the-scenes areas such as the control rooms, editing suites and the quality control room, and when hearing the words of the staff members themselves, it is quite clear that there aren’t enough employees to deal with the magnitude of the work.

In order to carry the burden of moving PBS forward in technologically, more people need to be present. For instance, something already being done is encouraging young people interested in media, including students still undergoing their education, to use the new hub as an opportunity to work and learn in an inviting environment. This would give them a wide introductory vista to this ever-growing industry, and an absolutely reliable platform towards making a job in media a permanent career option.

Nevertheless, when comparing it to the past few years,  PBS has gone a very long way. The variety of programmes and channels ranging from television to radio, as well as the importance given to online transmissions and on-demand facilities, have contributed to getting Maltese media one step closer to reaching an international standard.

By branching out to events televised abroad, such as Eurovision, football championships and talent shows like the X Factor, PBS is continuously attempting to broaden its audience and provide it with as much of an interesting mixture as possible. While many of us prefer a Sherlock or Breaking Bad marathon, it is undeniable that TVM, Radju Malta and Magic Radio are a source of both information and entertainment for the whole island.

A mention and heartfelt thank you goes out to Rodianne Caligari who was our tour guide at the PBS premises, and also to the Insite executive for organizing this educational visit. Keep your eyes peeled for other similar events held by the Insite team in the near future.

Posted in Events, TV

Children’s TV Shows in Movies

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There seems to be a trend in films to have a children’s show appear in them, which would reflect or reference the film’s plot or genre in some way.

In Jurassic Park III, while the protagonists are being attacked in a river by a Spinosaurus, the scene is intercut with Ellie’s (Laura Dern) son, watching Barney the dinosaur on TV, making a comically ironic juxtaposition of the cuddly dinosaur with the terrifying one.

The director of the original Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg, also includes children’s show in his 2005 film War of the Worlds. The daughter of Tom Cruise’s character, played by Dakota Fanning, tells him that her brother has stolen his car, at which point we hear Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants on the television, saying ‘It’s the clam burglar!’. Spielberg has used a children show before, perhaps more significantly, in his 1974 feature film debut The Sugarland Express, a crime road movie in which a couple, Lou Jean ( Goldie Hawn) and Clovis (William Atherton) take a man hostage are being pursued by the police and the media. At one point the couple watch a Road Runner cartoon, and as Wile E Coyote plummets to his doom, the smile on Clovis’ face fades, as though he realizes that he might be destined for similar disaster. It’s a subtle moment that foreshadows his tragic death.

M. Night Shyamalan, a director greatly influenced by Spielberg, has also used a children’s cartoon as a way of prophesying a film’s climax. In his alien invasion film Signs a young girl watches a scene from Dexter’s Laboratory. In the cartoon, Dexter, after a lab malfunction gives him the head of a spider, scares his mother, resulting in his father swatting him with a broom. By including this scene in the film, Shyamalan foreshadows a moment at the end of the movie, where Joaquin Phoenix’s character kills an alien with a baseball bat.

In Shyamalan’s previous film, Unbreakable, his brilliantly realistic take on the superhero story, the protagonist’s son is flipping through channels on the TV at one point stumbling upon The Power Puff Girls, a cartoon about super heroic girls. Perhaps Shyamalan places it there to imply how much comic book heroes have become ingratiated in popular culture and the media, and to establish that this is the real world where comic books tropes are common knowledge.

Sometimes the significance of children’s TV shows in films is hard to decipher. In Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, we see a Bruce Willis’ character as a young boy watching a 1959 cartoon called Clutch Cargo. The cartoon, which depicts an Eskimo, seems to have little relevance to the rest of the film. Perhaps it’s just there to indicate the scene is a flashback. Likewise, Shane Meadow’s This Is England starts with an old clip of Roland Rat, a British children’s TV puppet character, in order to help establish the early 80s setting of the film.

Children’s shows may also appear in films to take us inside a character’s psyche. In Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, James Franco’s character, trapped by a boulder in a canyon and alone, thinks of a party he was told about with an giant inflatable Scooby Doo. Dying of thirst, he daydreams of all the cold drinks and beer on offer, and this accompanied with the theme tune of the Scooby Doo show, where the lyrics ‘we need some help from you now’ have a new resonance. Scooby Doo also provides the film with an effective jump fright, appearing in the canyon along with his trademark laugh, now seeming far more sinister then before.

In Synechdoche New York (2008), Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s protagonist, Caden, makes an appearance in animated form in a surreal fictitious Children’s cartoon, which also features a cartoon of a virus. Writer/director Charlie Kaufman includes this to tie in with the themes of sickness and death, and suggests that Caden, himself suffering from a mysterious medical condition, has begun to lose touch with reality.

Chidlren’s TV shows, with their bright kid friendly colors and content, can have a deeper relevance in movies, whether they are a way of the writer or director giving a knowing wink to the audience, creating comic effect through irony or having strong thematic links to the film. The next time you see a film, keep an eye out for a glimpse of a children’s TV show. If you look closely enough, you might figure out why it’s there.

Posted in Cinema, TV

TV Review: Bomb Girls

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Same War. Different Battles. This is the tagline for Bomb Girls, a creation of Michael MacLennan (Queer as Folk, FlashPoint) and Adrienne Mitchell, a TV show about women living in Canada during World War II, who just want to do their part in the war.

This historically accurate show presents a cast of strong women, each with their own different ways of life and personalities, who just happen to have one thing in common – they all want to help the war effort, in every way that they can. So for a living, they make bombs in a factory known as Victory Munitions. We are introduced to Lorna Corbett (Meg Tilly), shift matron and mother figure to most of the girls working under her steady hand; Gladys Witham (Jodi Balfour), a wealthy daddy’s girl who decides to give up her life of luxury for a life of meaning, and what better meaning than making bombs to help all the soldiers overseas (one of which is her fiancé, James)?; Kate Andrews (Charlotte Hegele), a young woman who came into town recently with a shocking secret up her sleeve and a past she’s trying to hide from; Betty McRae (Ali Liebert), the most hard-working woman at the factory, who has a few secrets of her own; Vera Burr (Anastasia Phillips), a vain factory worker who gets tragically mutilated on the factory line, but still manages to keep her head held high and her confidence even higher. Also amongst the workers is Marco Moretti (Antonio Cupo), an Italian-born man who has lived in Canada since he was a little boy, but finds himself challenged every day by his co-workers who think that he would rather betray them to Mussolini.

The episodes go through a multitude of very real issues that existed during the war time, including war-time fatigue, betraying one’s country, suppressing homosexuality in a world where you will most definitely be shunned for it, war-time loneliness, the worry that your loved ones may never return from the battle front, the shock of D-Day and Pearl Harbour, and many more issues that will bring you to love these characters and laugh and cry along with them as they experience their life in a way we most certainly cannot imagine.

The series in itself is incredibly historically accurate – the dates are all spot-on, and the reactions to receiving the news of events are incredibly believable. In the season 2 episode ‘Party Line’, we are given a taste of what it must feel like knowing your children were on the front-lines when D-Day occurred, and the suspense of finding out if they survived or not. We are also shown the fear of concealing your heritage from even your closest friends in fear that you will be ostracized – in the season 2 episode ‘Guests of Honour’, we find out that one of our beloved factory workers is of German descent, and speaks the language fluently, which could cause problems if that becomes public knowledge. Another issue we are shown is the after-effects of the Great War on the generation who remember it – Lorna’s husband, Bob, is a veteran who has lost the use of his legs in trench warfare.

Even the sets are incredibly stunning – the factory, the boarding house where most of the girls live, the night club ‘The Jewel Box’, the extravagant homes of those who could afford it – down to a T with the car models of the time that some of the characters sometimes drive around, though we never see this very often as women tended not to drive in that day and age.

Bomb Girls, is, overall, a TV show that should be watched by all. It gives us a taste of what life in the war-ridden forties was all about, and also gives us strong, independent female characters, which TV nowadays is sometimes lacking. The women themselves are treated as soldiers, not as simply women who stay at home and wait for their husbands to come home. The women are expected, in fact, to do just as much work as the men do, and honestly it’s a relief to break apart the stereotypical weak-willed woman who does nothing but whine and show bus the true nature of a person desperate to help their country in any way.

Made up of 18 episodes in total, Bomb Girls has two seasons, and the series finale aired in early 2013. However, this shouldn’t dither you, as it is worth the watch, even if it is for a short amount of time.

For more information, visit the official website at http://www.globaltv.com/bombgirls/index.html

Bomb Girls

Posted in TV

TV Review: Elementary

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Robert Doherty (Ringer, Star Trek: Voyager) has blessed our television sets with a brilliant adaptation of the ever popular Arthur Conan Doyle creation, Sherlock Holmes. Premiering in 2012, Elementary follows Sherlock Holmes in present day New York City, where he lives with his sober companion, Joan Watson, whose job it is to make sure that he doesn’t use any sort of drug or substance, as per his father’s wishes.

Johnny Lee Miller (Dexter, EastEnders) gives Sherlock a delightfully human aspect to him, making him likeable, despite sometimes being incredibly rude, but really it’s all part of his act of not letting people close to him, after what the last person who did get that close abandoned him in the most unfortunate of circumstances. Holmes is portrayed as a recovering drug addict, a British man who used to work for Scotland Yard and now consults for the NYPD on several cases that include murder, fraud, kidnapping and mysterious disappearances.

Lucy Lui (Kill Bill Vol. 1, Charlie’s Angels) portrays Joan Watson, a female version of the original John Watson. A former surgeon, Joan is now a sober companion, making it her job to stay with former drug addicts and make sure that they no longer end up ‘using’, and finds a great deal of accomplishment in helping Sherlock with his cases, eventually deciding to abandon her job as a sober companion and join him as a consulting detective. She is the perfect opposite to Sherlock’s impulsive, sometimes unbearable, behaviour – grounding him, keeping him in check, and most of the time, making sure he solves the case without hurting himself. She proves a valuable asset to the team and doesn’t let the fact that she’s a woman dither her from doing her job properly amongst a male-populated job.

Also joining the cast in the last three episodes of Season 1 is Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Tudors), playing The Woman – Irene Adler – who, surprise, is the one person Sherlock ever let into his life so intimately. The three-episode finale of Sherlock leaves the audience on the edge of their seat, waiting to find out what happens next, as the mysterious Moriarty is finally brought into play, and Joan and Sherlock face their biggest dilemma yet.

What I particularly enjoyed about this series is that Joan and Sherlock’s relationship is made strictly platonic. There are no underlying hints of romance between the two, though they share a house and a job and are never apart for more than three hours (as are the rules of Joan’s companionship to Sherlock). For once, it’s nice to watch a show where the leading male and female aren’t forced into a relationship, and it has been made clearly by Doherty that he would like to expand on this relationship rather than turn them into a romantic couple. And it seems that as long as Doherty is in control of the show, then this will surely be a promise.

Fans of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories may not particularly enjoy Elementary as it does not incorporate any of the original texts into this new universe. The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Final Problem – these are all forgotten and instead replaced with situations that have nothing to do with the original stories. However, these new stories are perhaps more interesting, and just as challenging to solve for Sherlock. Children being kidnapped, with balloons left in their wake; illegitimate children claiming their dead father’s inheritance; a break-in into a completely impregnable bank vault called The Leviathan; a young girl taking over the legacy of her parents who happen to be Russian spies. Why, yes please!

Overall, Elementary is a brilliantly executed show, that leaves you waiting for more. Season 1, made up of twenty-four episodes, was a brilliant success, and season 2 shall be partially placed in Sherlock Holmes’ original home – London.

Season 2 premiered on September 26th.

For more information, visit the official Elementary website on http://www.cbs.com/shows/elementary/

Elementary

Posted in TV

TV Review: Orphan Black

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The story goes that BBC America were sitting quietly in their little building when suddenly, Graeme Manson (FlashPoint) and John Fawcett (Rookie Blue, Heartland, Lost Girl, Queer as Folk, Xena: Warrior Princess, and many many more) burst through their doors holding aloft the script for a show they’d been working ten glorious years on. They put it down on the table in front of The Big Cheese and they said “This is what we want to show to the world.”

OK, maybe I made most of that up.

The real story goes that BBC America needed a show to air after Doctor Who on their channel on Friday evenings at 9pm. Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, who had indeed been working for ten long years on their precious new gem, got their chance for their show to be broadcasted.

(Now, before I go into the general overview of the series, I must warn you that there is a lot to take in. So stay focused!)

‘Orphan Black’ is the story of Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), a rough street-wise hustler from Brixton, who arrives in a city of no name (the show runners have described it as a city akin to Gotham) somewhere in Canada. Upon arriving at the train station, she sees a woman who looks exactly like her kill herself. Desperate for money, Sarah robs the body and assumes this strange woman’s identity, if only until she can get the large amount of cash she has stowed away in a savings account. Beth – the woman who killed herself – however, isn’t the only one who looks exactly like Sarah. In fact, there’s more. A lot more.

The series introduces us to the wondrous talent of Tatiana Maslany, Canadian actress who plays not just two, but a total of seven different characters on screen, sometimes at the same time! Each character has her own distinct personality, despite them being clones of each other. Each character has her own interests, struggles, romantic inclinations. Each character is beautifully unique in her own way.

We’re also introduced to the beautiful Evelyne Brochu, who plays French scientist-turned-love interest Delphine Beroud (or is it Cormier? I don’t know, watch the show!) who ends up helping the clones; the talented Jordan Gavaris who portrays gay drug dealer Felix Dawkins; Matt Frewer, who joins the cast around episode 6 as the genius Doctor Aldous Leekie (a nod towards Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, right there); and Dylan Bruce, playing Afghanistan veteran Paul, who has unknown blood on his name.

The show brings up the moral dilemma behind human cloning – Should we? Shouldn’t we? What are the consequences? – and also possesses the ever popular nature versus nurture question – Are we born that way, or do our surroundings make us the way we are? It also introduces the concept of making a family rather than being born with one, and the very real issue of a flawed adoption and fostering system that leaves many a child out in the cold or wanting for a real family of their own.

What also makes this show incredibly appealing is the fact that Manson and Fawcett do not joke around when it comes to science. They actually hired a professional science consultant to sit with them and walk them through the theoretical process of human cloning and made sure that their scripts were scientifically accurate. That sits incredibly well with me, let me tell you – a show with correct science and theories is always a good thing to have around, especially when people who actually understand science to that degree watch it. You know that people are taking things seriously when the smallest details are accurate.

Whether you will be sitting on the edge of your seat as Sarah tries to keep her cover from being blown, or laughing at Alison and her antics, or trying to understand exactly what it is Cosima’s rambling on about, you’ll find yourself slowly falling in love with the characters, and doubting every second of the way that they really are all played by one incredibly talented twenty-seven year old.

(Seriously, Tatiana, how do you do it?!)

All in all, a 10 out of 10 rating! There are only ten episodes in the first season, and the second season airs in April 2014, so I advise you get cracking and watch this show before then. It’s never too late to find a new addiction, anyway…

For more information, visit the BBC America website at http://www.bbcamerica.com/orphan-black/ or the Official Orphan Black Tumblr at http://orphanblack.tumblr.com/

 

Orphan Black

Posted in Culture, TV

Insite’s guide to the most popular TV series among students

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If there is one thing in common between exam time and summer time, it is that they are the two time periods where Maltese students are most likely to watch TV series. Don’t let the word “TV” fool you – most of us (yours truly included) view these on our laptops online, bulldozing our way relentlessly through show after show, losing all perception of time in the process. We have also probably googled “best shows on TV” more times than we can count, with varying degrees of success. But if you ever wonder what series are currently the most popular among your fellow students, I present to you ten of the most beloved, in alphabetical order:

Arrow

Marvel may be dominating the big screen when it comes to superheroes, but when it comes to the small screen, DC have a significant edge over their rivals.

After the success of Smallville, which focused on Clark Kent in the years before he became Superman, DC decided to introduce us to another of their major characters, the vigilante known as Green Arrow. Oliver Queen, as his mum knows him, is the central character in the new TV series Arrow, which premiered in 2012. He is a billionaire playboy (sound familiar?) who in the first episode of the series is shown to have been stranded on a remote island for five years. The experience changes him drastically, turning him from an obnoxious narcissist into a determined and selfless individual hellbent on fighting crime and corruption in Starling City, his home.

The series has been received positively, with critics comparing the protagonist to Batman (which is always a good thing) and praising its stylish direction and well-developed characters.

Big Bang Theory

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you are well aware of this American sitcom, which was first introduced to audiences in 2007. The show has just finished its sixth season, and is centred on four geeky and socially awkward scientists: Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj, together with the former two’s neighbour Penny, whose social aptitude and knowledge of pop culture contrasts hugely with the scientists’ personalities. This is highlighted extensively in the show for comic effect.

Although still an immensely popular TV series mostly due to the success of the character Sheldon and the show’s fast-flying scientific and nerdy jokes, several of my fellow students feel it is fast becoming stale, with its frequently generic and stereotypic comedy being repeated and recycled often. Critics say the series tends to unrealistically portray geeks as being a different species to the rest of society, as well as being almost exclusively male. Nevertheless, Big Bang Theory has firmly ingrained itself in today’s pop culture – Bazinga anyone?

 Breaking Bad

 This TV drama could hardly be more different than Big Bang Theory. Dark and brooding, Breaking Bad’s scarce humour is almost entirely dry, black or sarcastic. Walter White, the main character, is introduced as a chemistry teacher struggling to make ends meet for his family. After Walter is diagnosed with serious lung cancer, he decides he has nothing to lose and begins to manufacture methamphetamine (meth) in order to earn enough money to provide for his family when he kicks the bucket. The deuteragonist is Jesse Pinkman, Walter’s ex-student and now partner-in-crime.

Breaking Bad has been acclaimed critically for its originality, boldness and for its tendency to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Its bleakness and sparse humour has, however, been criticised from some ends.

 Dexter

Meet Dexter Morgan, a forensic scientist who works with the Miami Metro Police Department. Oh yes, and serial killer. Dexter was orphaned at age three after his mother was murdered, after which he was adopted by Miami policeman Harry Morgan and wife Doris. Harry finds out Dexter had been killing pets for years and for this reason believes the necessity to kill has been driven into Dexter too early in his life, and is thus impossible to eliminate. For this reason, Harry decides he cannot stop Dexter from killing, and ingrains in him a series of rules known as “The Code” designed to keep him from murdering innocent people.

The TV drama has been widely acclaimed for its original plot, but has also received criticism for its sometimes predictable plot twists and for its controversial premise. In this respect, Dexter is very similar to Breaking Bad, who also has a protagonist with questionable morals.

 Doctor Who

One of the mainstays of TV this side of the solar system, Doctor Who is a British sci-fi show whose titular character is an alien known only as “The Doctor”. He travels through time and space using his famous TARDIS (which is in essence a cross between a spaceship and a time machine), in order to prevent catastrophes and mishaps from unfolding throughout space and time.

Doctor Who has been airing since 1963, with the actor portraying The Doctor changing throughout the series. This is explained onscreen as “regeneration”, with The Doctor changing appearance merely to prevent death. The show has made a huge impact in pop culture, being referenced and spoofed countless times.

 Game of Thrones

 Currently one of the most widely watched and popular TV series, Game of Thrones is based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels. Despite the series being classified as “fantasy”, its fantasy is actually quite limited, with the various storylines dealing with the dynastics and politics between the members of the various noble houses present in the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos. There are no clear protagonists and antagonists (although a case can be made for the Starks and the Lannisters respectively), with all the characters being various shades of grey rather than either black or white as in most other fantasy epics.

The series is notorious for killing off characters mercilessly, brutally and without warning – thus viewers fear for their favourite characters, who will not necessarily make it. Game of Thrones is responsible for the recent rise in popularity of fantasy, and is notorious for its violence and nudity – for which it has been received acclaim but also criticism. There is no doubt Game of Thrones has changed the shape of TV series worldwide, and it has vastly influenced modern pop culture.

 How I Met Your Mother

One of the longest running series from this list, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM for short) is a comedy-drama sitcom which premiered in 2005 and has not looked back since. Now in its final season, the whole premise for this show is that the protagonist, Ted Mosby, is in fact recounting to his kids how he met the titular mother, and thus viewers have been tuning in to HIMYM for almost a decade just to get a glimpse of her (which we finally have, as of the end of Season 8).

Widely acclaimed but equally criticised for its quirky humour and unusual structuring, HIMYM is noted for its breakout character, Barney Stinson – a hilarious and charming womaniser who came up with the catchphrases that are now so familiar to you: “challenge accepted”, “true story”, “legen… wait for it… dary”, “suit up”, “when I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead” to name a few.

 Spartacus

 A historical drama based on the life of the Thracian gladiator of the same name, this series details the events of Spartacus’ life, from his early days right up to the first historical records present.

Its video stylisation is reminiscent of the film 300 due to its overexposure and OTT style, together with its frequent use of slow-mo. The show has overall been received positively, but it has been criticised in some quarters for its flimsy plots in expense of the series’ characteristic strong violence, language and sexual content. For the first season, the titular character was played by Andy Whitfield. Sadly, the actor died of cancer before the second season began, and he was subsequently replaced by Liam McIntyre.

 Suits

 If Breaking Bad and Big Bang Theory are the science shows, Suits is the law show. Taking place mainly at the fictional law firm Pearson Hardman (which changes its name a few times during the course of the series), Suits is a comedy-drama whose two main characters are the suave Harvey Specter and the brilliant Mike Ross. The former is considered to be New York’s best and most successful lawyer, who hires the latter as his associate despite his being a college dropout. His justifications for this are his formidable mind and eidetic memory.

Suits is renowned for its excellent dialogue and sophisticated script, in addition to powerful performances by its cast. Oh yes, and Donna. Who doesn’t love Donna?

Walking Dead

One of the more recent TV series on this list, Walking Dead is a horror drama that has gone down a storm, with rave reviews comparable to those of Breaking Bad and has broken several viewing records. The story deals with a group of survivors post-zombie apocalypse, who try to find a refuge from the zombies, who are referred to as “walkers” or “biters”. As with the stereotypical zombie, the walkers and biters eat their victims and infect humans with their bites.

The show tries to maintain a sense of realism all throughout, in that they deal with every crisis that unfolds during the zombiepocalypse. In doing so, they face dilemmas that don’t always have a straighforward solution.

Posted in News, TV