Dragons: Riders of Berk arrives on UK TV


There was some good news at the weekend for British fans of 2010’s animated film, How to Train Your Dragon, as the TV spin-off arrived on the Cartoon Network.

Dragons: Riders of Berk picks up a short time after the events of the Dreamworks film, when (and this is a spoiler if you haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon) the Vikings of Berk and their dragon neighbours are living in harmony.

Well, as harmoniously as can be expected when you’re talking about flying beasties that breathe fire.

Now it’s up to the humans to stop killing the dragons and train them to help them in their daily chores, with the first double bill of episodes neatly reminding fans what had gone before while informing newbies what they’ve missed.

The young voice cast from the film has been retained for the TV series, including Jay Baruchel as lead Hiccup, while the adult actors are now Americans pretending to be Scottish as Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson are off doing bigger things.

Thomas Wilson (Biff from the Back to the Future series) is Bucket while ex-Doctor Who David Tennant is also due to pop-up in a future episode as Spitelout Jorgenson, recreating his role from the movie.

The series retains the computer generated look of the feature film and much of John Powell’s terrific score, a soundtrack I’ve been listening to regularly for a few years now. Composer John Paesano joins the series for weekly scoring duties.

Two seasons have been commissioned and 40 episodes are in the works, with season two to be called Defenders of Berk. Season one began in the US in August 2012 so we’re a bit behind, but judging by these first episodes it’s a programme worth sticking with and I can’t wait to follow the adventures of Hiccup, Toothless and co.

We’re also promised two new feature films in 2014 and 2016, meaning the How to Train Your Dragon franchise should be a long and fruitful one, something worth celebrating in this world of soulless sequels.

Dragons: Riders of Berk airs on the Cartoon Network on Saturdays at 10.30am and 6.30pm.

James Bond composer John Barry has died

The BBC is reporting this morning that one of our greatest composers, John Barry, has died at the age of 77 of a heart attack.

For James Bond fans this is a particular blow, as Barry is the man who brought us the distinctive arrangement of Monty Norman’s Bond theme on 1962’s Dr No and scores for 11 of the movies. His lush orchestral work on pictures such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice stand as high points in both his career and cinema history, his compositions defining the sound of the espionage genre for generations of cinema-goers.


Barry also worked on dozens of non-Bond features, such as Midnight Cowboy, Robin and Marian, Dances with Wolves and Out of Africa, while giving us the memorable themes to TV shows such as Juke Box Jury and The Persuaders.

The tributes will no doubt start flowing very soon, but one of the first came from Barry’s heir to the Bond music throne, David Arnold, who wrote on his Twitter feed: “It was with a heavy heart that I tell you John Barry passed away this morning. I am profoundly saddened by the news but profoundly thankful for everything he did for music and for me personally.”

Oddly enough, today sees the release of two films on DVD here in the UK featuring his work.

First up there’s What a Whopper from 1961, in which Adam Faith writes a book about the Loch Ness Monster, while 1968’s Deadfall is a Michael Caine heist movie with a twist (well, a few twists really). I’m not sure if they offer the best tribute to Barry, but they certainly show his diversity.

Continue reading

James Garner on the Archive of American Television

Over the holiday season I’m catching up with some long overdue viewing, much of it on DVD but part of it online. For the past year I’ve had a website bookmarked, the Archive of American Television, specifically their interview with my favourite actor, James Garner, and the time has finally arrived to watch it.

The Archive was set up by the Television Academy Foundation in 1997 to house over 700 interviews with the pioneers of television, with over 2,500 hours now online. One of my aims in 2011 is to reach back into the murky past of television and cinema as much as possible, and this is a useful way to find out more about the background of some of my favourite series.

First up is James Garner, star of Maverick in the 1950s (which I recently began watching), The Rockford Files in the 1970s and various films such as The Great Escape, Support Your Local Sheriff and The Americanization of Emily. Recorded in March 1999, Garner talks for around three hours about his life and career, including his appearance alongside Marlon Brando in Sayonara which saw him selected for the role of Bret Maverick in 1957.

Garner also discusses his subsequent blacklisting in the TV industry when he chose to sue Warner Bros in the 1960s (the first of many times he would sue a Hollywood studio) and the strain of trying to produce The Rockford Files when his health deteriorated during production.

The actor is tough but fair about those he worked with, including Maverick creator Roy Huggins, noting that he enjoyed the role but not the treatment from Warner Bros, who paid him a pittance compared to their earnings from the hit Western.

If you have three hours to spare, take a look at the six-part interview and listen to one of our finest actors in conversation.

Next up for me is the interview with the late, great, Stephen J Cannell, the writer-producer-director who sadly died this year and whose work I plan to revisit in some detail in 2011.

Robert Culp and more remembered by TCM

The annual TCM Remembers video has been released, a montage of stills and clips of film professionals who passed away over the last 12 months.

The death of actor Robert Culp was the big one for me this year, someone I’ve admired for the last 30 years in one way or another. I started out as a fan of the knockabout humour of The Greatest American Hero in 1982 before going on to recognise his more nuanced performances in films such as Hickey & Boggs and Hannie Caulder.

The death of Greatest American Hero creator Stephen J Cannell has meant it’s been a double blow this year for fans of that particular show.

Watch the full video, which also contains nods to Leslie Neilsen, Kevin McCarthy, Irvin Kershner and more, below:

New Road Runner cartoon online

Who doesn’t love a good cartoon? Thanks to /Film shouting about it, I’m pleased to present the latest Road Runner animation from Warner Bros, which appeared in cinemas over the summer.

Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of these at the cinema over the next few years as we all need cheering up after the 30 minutes of adverts and trailers which clog up a film’s running time these days.

Go Road Runner!


Event Review: Slapstick 2010


Returning to the blog after his epic Manhunt review, Walter Dunlop takes us through four days in the life of a silent movie buff…in Bristol…

I’m just back from Slapstick 2010 in Bristol and what a weekend. What a wonderful weekend.

There is absolutely nothing to match the experience of watching really good silent movies (like any genre, there’s chaff and quality in equal measure) in a full cinema with live music.

As an experience, it’s…intense. A raft of great films. Superb guests. Convivial atmosphere and friendly attendees.

The first screening, Buster Keaton’s “The Navigator” went down well, trumped by Harold Lloyd’s “Girl Shy” which took the roof off the cinema. 1200 people in kinks.

The Kenny Everett tribute panel brought the house down – an appreciative audience, Barry Cryer on spectacular form, and clips so well chosen that I’m going to dig out as many of his old Thames shows as I can find from the Dunlop archive here and glut myself on his work all over again as soon as I get a free night.

Bonzo Dog Doodah Band co-founder Neil Innes got a night to himself – and quite right too. A ninety minute documentary on the man, followed by Neil himself introducing clips from his career and singing, playing piano and occasionally indulging in some virtuoso Ukulele antics.

There was a German bloke in the seat behind me – I heard him say he’d turned up because he liked the confluence of the words “Bonzo” and “Dog” on the poster. He had no idea what he was about to see, no idea who they were.

After ninety minutes of clips and chat in which the words “anarchy”, “anarchic” and “free-for-all” were mentioned about two hundred times, I heard him say to his companion, “So – was this Innes man the leader?” Ah well, can’t win ’em all.

I met and spoke briefly to Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden, stars of 1970s comedy series The Goodies. I had a lengthy chat with Neil Innes in the bar on Saturday night. He’s been a hero of mine for years, and he proved to be every bit as nice as his reputation suggests.

I asked him about the non-appearance of The Innes Book of Records on DVD. The BBC want a fifteen grand search fee for sourcing from their own archive, and they’ll charge any company that wants to release it 600 quid per minute. Not much chance of that, then.

Continue reading

DVD Review: The Complete Lone Wolf & Cub Boxset


Opening with an execution and closing with an extended, balletic and bloody sword fight, the complete series of Lone Wolf and Cub films (plus “composite” film Shogun Assassin) collected in this gorgeous new box set could never be described as tame.

Sword of Vengeance (1971) begins the series in style, director Kenji Misumi deciding to ignore the inherently pulpy nature of the stories by offering a glorious assault on the senses with as a series of blood soaked fight sequences accompany our heroes on their escape from Shogun ways.

Wakayama makes for a stoic lead, barely uttering a word of dialogue throughout the series, his skill with a sword matched by Misumi (who would remain as director until the third film) and his ever-watchful camera.

The rest of the series, made over a two year period, maintains the high standard of the original, each film opening and closing with scenes of Lone Wolf and his son meandering through some new part of Japan.

Whether its dusty streets, golden desert sand dunes or, in the case of White Heaven in Hell (1974), mountains capped with thick snow, the pair trundle on indefinitely, taking on various enemies as they try to kill them with ever more ingenious techniques.

Continue reading