Wednesday, 31 May 2006

DOCTOR WHO - "The Idiot's Lantern" - TV REVIEW
SEASON 2. 27 May 06. BBC 1, 7:00 p.m.
WRITER: Mark Gatiss DIRECTOR: Euros Lynn
CAST: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Ron Cook (Mr Magpie), Maureen Lipman (The Wire), Jamie Foreman (Eddie Connelly), Debra Gillet (Rita Connelly), Rory Jennings (Tommy Connnelly), Margaret John (Grandman Connelly), Sam Cox (Det Insp Bishop)

The Doctor and Rose arrive in London, 1953, just as an alien entity hatches a plot to absorb humans via television screens during Queen Elisabeth II's Coronation…

Last year writer Mark Gatiss penned one of the best new Who episodes, The Unquiet Dead, so my hopes were very high for his sophomore effort. Sadly, my expectations were too high and The Idiot's Lantern never quite worked for me. There is enough to enjoy along the way, but the emotional beats of the story are all over the place.

The threat comes from an alien menace known as "The Wire", who wants to absorb humans through televisions -– at a time in history when 20 million Britons will be watching Queen Elisabeth II's Coronation. It's a fun set-up that makes the humble TV into a villain, but the execution is just underwhelming.


Ron Cook plays Mr Magpie, an electrical goods salesman being controlled by The Wire and selling TV's at cutdown prices to ensure maximum viewership. Cook is a great actor and does well with the material, as does Maureen Lipman as "The Wire", taking the form of a 1950's housewife on a black-and-white TV screen. Lipman is excellent, and the make-up to make her look decades younger is brilliant. She's easily the best thing in the episode, although Gatiss' writing ensures the Rose/Doctor dynamic is back on humorous form.

David Tennant really seems to relish this episode –- maybe it's his 50's hairstyle or blue moped that sent him into high gear, but he's full of infectious fun. The episode also marks the first time I've noticed Billie Piper actually work alongside The Doctor in tandem; less the wide-eyed innocent dragged along for the ride, and more the partner enjoying the experience and participating in things more actively. A scene with The Doctor and Rose fooling their way into a household run by the tyrannical Mr Connelly is the best example of this interesting new facet.

The Idiot's Lantern does improve as it chugs along, but it's hamstrung by spending too much time on the dysfunctional Connelly family and less time on its core story. At times Jamie Foreman's clichéd shouty London dad threatens to scupper the whole show. Thankfully the family melodrama takes a backseat after awhile, once one of the creepiest Who images is revealed -- in the form of victims with no facial features, just a fleshy covering.

Mark Gatiss has a smattering of good ideas and character moments in The Idiot's Lantern, but it's not really enough to elevate the episode above average. The pacing is wrong, the threat ill-explained and the supporting characters two-dimensional and distracting to the central story. There are enough choice moments to make this worthwhile and sporadically entertaining, but there's denying this is Doctor Who treading water mid-series…

NEXT WEEK: The Doctor and Rose investigate a strange planet orbiting a Black Hole…
DOCTOR WHO - "The Age Of Steel" (Part 2 of 2) - TV REVIEW
SEASON 2. 20 May 06. BBC 1, 6:35 p.m.
WRITER: Tom MacRae DIRECTOR: Graeme Harper
CAST: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Roger Lloyd Pack (John Lumic), Camille Codouri (Jackie Tyler), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler), Andrew Hayden-Smith (Jake Simmonds) & Mona Hammond (Rita-Anne)

Lumic's army of Cybermen begin their assault on London, as The Doctor, Rose and Mickey join the rebellion to stop them…

The Age Of Steel continues last week's episode in much the same vein, although the more active threat of the Cybermen gives part two a more focused feel and an excuse for some niftier action sequences. Unfortunately the metal menaces themselves continue to disappoint, mainly due to their awful choreography. The old-style Cybermen had a hypnotic unstoppable synchronicity, whereas the contemporary versions are just very good at marching in unison.

Nothing unexpected really happens throughout the entire episode, with most of the surprises either being signposted in part one, or practically clichés of the parallel universe sub-genre (guess who decides to replace Ricky Smith, folks…)

What the episode lacks in originality it makes up for marginally with some well-executued set-pieces. The scenes in the Cybermen's stronghold are quite effective (shades of Star Trek's The Borg yet again, but we'll let it rest), while the finale involving an airship is pretty decent. Roger Lloyd Pack returns as mastermind John Lumic, but he's thankfully given less chance to chew the scenery by relegation to a supporting character.

However, in perhaps the most awful moment of recent Doctor Who, Lumic becomes a victim of his own creation and reappears as the "Cyber-Controller" (essentially a brighter-eyed Cyberman in a huge silver chair). Yes, if you're a wheelchair user the Cyber upgrade apparently doesn't help matters! It's a terribly misjudged moment, and sure to evoke sniggers from the audience, particularly when you realize just how much better Star Trek handled their own swarm-minded cyber-villains. Oh, sorry, I mentioned The Borg again…

Elsewhere, the acting is as dependable as always. Most of the character moments are lost amidst the Cybermen's neverending stomping and screen-hogging, but David Tennant continues to anchor the show very well as The Doctor, while Noel Clarke begins to carve a half-decent character out of Mickey just as he leaves the show!

The overall return of the Cyberman has been less of a triumph than it should have been. The parallel universe idea was strong and full of potential, and the design of the Cybermen actually quite good, but the sad fact is that there is no real menace to the villains or any storytelling freshness. The entire show unfolds just as you'd expect, and actually frustrates you with its multiple false endings. Just listen to how many times the overly manipulative music swells to a crescendo, only to repeat itself for the next "final scene"…

At this stage in new Who's history, the show is definitely beginning to settle into a template. Most of the episodes are set on Earth (London or Cardiff), on orbiting spaceships/stations, and involve an alien/villain mastermind trying to enslave humans. Only two episodes have broken this trend recently -– Tooth And Claw and The Girl In The Fireplace. Is is just coincidence that those episodes have been the best this series? I think not.

The Age Of Steel is just another variation on this now overplayed structure. I hope the rest of the series breaks this trend, otherwise the third series will need a massive shakeup if the franchise is to continue with any degree of respect from sci-fi fans…

Friday, 19 May 2006

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - Season 2 Finale

A very important episode in the show's lifespan and another example of why BSG is such a great sci-fi series; the characterisations, relationships and story-arcs are exemplory. I still think the show drags if the plot isn't addressing the central Man-versus-Cylon premise, with some of the worst episodes this year being the standalone stories -- such as Black Market.

Standalone episodes are the bread and butter of any show. You can't expect every episode to have direct relevance to your overall plot -- well, unless your show is designed that way like 24. BSG's standalones are always worth watching, and tend to have some great character motivations and dilemmas in them, but they pale into insignificance against mythology episodes so much it's frustrating to viewers when one comes along these days. I think this could be fixed by atleast having every standalone have a subplot that pushes the mythology along better, but that's just me.

The finale though. Wow. Well, perhaps wow isn't the word actually. Lay Down Your Burdens Part II certainly contained a lot of amazing developments, but I'm not sure if the changes mde to the show now are in BSG's best interest. But I'm willing to go along for the ride.

SPOILERS BEGIN

The main revelations and developments were as follows:

  • Dean Stockwell's character is revealed to be a Cylon. Okay, I didn't see that coming last week, but it's still an overused ploy by the writers.
  • Baltar wins the Election and becomes President of the Colonies. Well, after the attempted "fix" by Colonel Tigh is uncovered by Gator and Adama talks Roslin into accepting this fact. Great little twist, boosted by a fantastic scene between Adama and Roslin. Just brilliant. However, quite why these people vote a scientist into office is quite beyond me. We're led to believe Baltar is the most brilliant man who ever lived, but nearly everyone he comes into contact with see him talking to himself! He also has no actual experience of politics prior to becoming Vice President (something that was also a bit silly). I'm sure there are genuine politicians in the fleet who are a bit annoyed that their own careers seem stifled by a crackpot scientist and ex-school teacher!
  • They decide to settle on New Caprica! Uh-oh. Even more amazing is that the show then jumps ahead by one year and shows us how their new homeworld is progressing. The two Battlestars are in orbit around the planet as protection with the other ships, while Baltar apparently abuses his office by sleeping with women aboard Colonial One -- currently parked beside a shanty town. WHAT? We then see all the characters in their new situations -- Adama is bored with his life (he shows this by sporting a terrible moustache), Tigh is resigned to his duties but forced to leave for New Caprica, the Chief is a Union Leader with Callie, Starbuck has longer hair and lives on the planet with Enders (who has pneumonia), Roslin has gone back to teaching kids, and Lee looks a bit chubbier aboard the Pegasus!
  • Of course the final punch for the viewer comes in the dying moments, when the Cylons manage to trace the humans after a year of searching. The orbiting ships, now understaffed, are forced to retreat (yeah, great protection, guys!), and the inhabitants of New Caprica watch as dozens of Cylon Raiders whizz overhead and Baltar accepts defeat in his ship from Sharon (No 8), Number 6 and, er, that bald guy. Final shot: hundreds of metal Cylons marching up the shanty town. Victorious. Well, until season 3 most likely...
SPOILERS END

So there you have it! Quite an amazing finale, full of great moments and a stunning final 20 minutes. But... I don't know... the changes made to the show are quite enormous. I'm not sure I like what they've done so early in the show. But it's certainly going to mean a very unpredictable third season -- which I guess it what they wanted to happen.

I'll certainly be watching...

The blog is going on hiatus until 31 May, so there won't be any updates until then. Be sure to check out my archive postings if you have the time (and, hey, comment on a few things sometime, huh?) ;-)

Thursday, 18 May 2006


ROALD DAHL ON FILM

News arrived today that directors Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban) and Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy) are going to join forced in bringing Roald Dahl's The Witches to the big screen. Now, I'm not against this in the slightest, because the prospect of these two directors working together on a story as potent as The Witches can only be good for audiences, but... The Witches was already made into a movie by Nicolas Roeg. In 1990. Just 16 years ago!

So technically this is another remake of a Dahl story, and we've already had one of those last year with Tim Burton's Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. But, the previous version to Burton's movie was 1971's Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. I think a 33 year gap between remakes it a decent space of time to ensure you're not just regurgitating stuff to the same generation. I'm guessing that the kids who saw The Witches (1990) will now be in their late-twenties, so perhaps a 2007 version is justified...

Anyway, the real reason behind this post (oh yes, there is meaning in the madness) is to take a quick look at Roald Dahl movie adaptations. The highs, the lows and the books that remain unfilmed...

For me, Roald Dahl is still my favourite children's author. Like anyone, once you move into adulthood you rarely read children's books, so your favourite children's author usually stays the same for life. These days that line is being blurred more and more, thanks to J.K Rowling and her Harry Potter money-spinner (and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, too) but by and large your childhood choice is for life...

Roald Dahl will always be my favourite. Such a shame he died. I remember being genuinely sad for the death of a celebrity -- for probably the very first time. Just knowing that there would never be a brand new Roald Dahl book in the school library was heart-breaking! Every one of his books was a delight to read, although I admit I never read all of them (and still haven't, truth be told). But all the "core books" he's most famous for... consider them read!

Quite a few of Dahl's books have made it to the silver screen. Most notably are the two Charlie & The Chocolate Factory adaptations (1971 with Gene Wilder - iconic and great fun, to 2005 with Johnny Depp -- visually superb, satisfyingly sinister). Dahl's written sequel, The Great Glass Elevator, has never been adapted into a film, though. Perhaps deservedly, as I remember finding the book quite far-fetched and disappointing, but still great fun at times.

Matilda was a recent adaptation in 1996 by director/actor Danny DeVito. It relocated the events to America, which actually worked quite well, and had a perfect cast -- most notably DeVito himself as the slimeball father, Mara Wilson as gifted Matilda and an excellent Pam Ferris as the frightening Miss Trunchbull. Matilda was a more standardized Dahl book in many ways, perhaps more nuanced and less inclined to veer into surrealism. Great book, good movie.

Danny The Champion Of The World is often overlooked by Dahl readers. The film version in 1989 with Jeremy Irons wasn't much of a success, but it did a pretty good job of translating the book's tone and story. I particularly remember reading Dahl's book in the mid-80's and found it to be a "proper" read. There were no ridiculous names and bizarre events -- just a down-to-earth family adventure. A great bridge between childhood and teenaged reading. Excellent book, okay movie.

The Witches. A favourite of mine. I remember being particularly pleased to actually read a book with over 200 pages! It was also superbly detailed with all its ways to spot witches -- great stuff for kids to read. Nicolas Roeg's 1990 film was an excellent translation (it even kept the British setting, unlike other movies). The only fault with the movie was the happy ending. The book was beautifully downbeat. But I can forgive that decision thanks to some excellent casting -- Angelica Huston owned the role as The Grand High Witch.

The BFG. Another favourite, although as the years pass by it somehow loses its mystique because adult logic comes into play. How can a giant give everyone dreams in one single night? Where is this land of giants exactly? How do giants go undetected at night? Blah, blah, blah. But when you're ten, none of that mattered. The best thing I remember is the sense of mystery and the brilliant central character of the BFG. And, yes, there was a film -- albeit animated by Cosgrove & Hall (Danger Mouse). I actually enjoyed the film when it came out, but time hasn't been kind. There are rumours of a live-action version from Python's Terry Jones, though...

James & The Giant Peach. I never really understood the book, to be honest. It was a bit too weird for my taste at the time, although memorable in parts. The movie was interesting with its stop-animation by Henry Selick, but it didn't hold my interest.

So what about the other Dahl books that haven't made it to cinemas? Well, an animated version of Fantastic Mr Fox is nearing completion (I remember enjoying an audio version of the book, having never read it), plus a new version of The Witches as mentioned above. I'm certain George's Marvellous Medicine will probably never happen (it is about poisoning your grandmother, after all!), but I'd love to see The BFG on the big screen sometime soon...

What's your favourite Dahl book and movie?
DAN'S MOVIE DIGEST - Issue 172

I'm about to depart for sunny Greece on Friday, so be sure to check out the last DMD until June. Issue #172 is now up at DVD Fever, with news on Fantastic Four 2, Be Kind Rewind with Jack Black, Narnia's Prince Caspian and the planned Logan's Run remake. There's also the usual UK/US box-office charts and a rundown of upcoming movies...

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

UK Drama

It's increasingly apparent to me that decent homegrown television drama is becoming very scarce. I'll admit that I primarily want TV to entertain me, excite me, and just make me forget reality for an hour. Call me unpatriotic if you like but the likes of The Street, Heartbeat, The Royal, The Bill, Hotel Babylon, Holby City, Vital Signs, Casualty and all the rest just leave me cold. I'm sure I'm not alone either.

UK drama seems to cater for fortysomething middle-class women most of the time! A huge chunk of primetime dramas are essentially one-episode soaps. I enjoy EastEnders and Coronation Street like most people in the country -- they're undemanding soaps that occassionally hit upon fantastic plots that make everyone sit up and take notice. What's frustrating is that our dramas resemble the soaps in every way except format. This is perhaps what the distinction between "drama" and "soap" has always been (to a degree) but don't British audiences deserve something more than just hour-long soaps?

You only have to look to America to see the huge gulf in quality between the UK and the US: Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos, Desperate Housewives, Six Feet Under, The West Wing, Invasion, House, Prison Break, Grey's Anatomy, ER and dozens more. Most of these are so far removed from typical "soap drama" fare it's unreal. Each of those shows has an ambition, imagination and originality light years ahead of the UK.

It's not like the UK couldn't possibly make those shows, either. Lost set in the Shetlands would have been feasible (if not as exotic), 24 has already influenced Spooks really, a British Sopranos would have been possible, Six Feet Under in a Scottish undertakers, Invasion via the West Country, The West Wing in Downing Street, House (hey Hugh Laurie's one of us anyway!), Prison Break out of Strangeways... yes, we could have done these shows if the execs weren't blinkered into thinking all we want is the latest Ross Kemp/Tamzin Outhwaite piece of soap dreck on a Sunday night.

Sigh...

And don't start the age-old argument about budgets either. Yes, I quite agree that the UK couldn't afford the budgets shows like Lost demand -- despite the fact the BBC is a global behemoth. But given the amazing success of the Beeb's own Doctor Who, why aren't other UK channels realizing that it is possible to produce something not embarassing when compared to America's output?

I'm not saying all UK drama should now involve more explosions, special-effects and major celebrities to pull in audiences. It's just that UK drama is so woefully formulaic, derivative and unoriginal that it beggars belief! Just look at the sheer number of regional detective series: Morse, Wycliffe, A Touch Of Frost, Jonathan Creek, Mayo, Taggart, Rosemary & Thyme, Dalziel & Pascoe, etc. It's as if everyone's scared to think outside of the box!

A shake-up is needed. I thought Doctor Who was to be the catalyst in a pioneering new-wave of influence over the schedules. Instead we got Patrick Stewart in The Eleventh Hour and a Doctor Who spin-off called Torchwood.

Still, it's a start, I suppose. But in the meantime, rest assured that everytime ITV wow the schedules with Wild At Heart and Ultimate Force, I'll have a DVD on...

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Wii Will Rock You?


Nintendo's seventh generation console, previously codenamed Revolution but now known as Wii, blew away all the competition at the recent E3 Convention in Los Angeles. That's right, Nintendo's latest gizmo was the talk of the town ahead of Microsoft's XBOX 360 and Sony's Playstation 3 -- a thrashing that harked back to the early-90's and its Nintendo versus Sega duels for supremacy.

So why has Wii proven to be such an unexpected convention success? Well, the XBOX 360 and PS3 don't bring a new gaming experience to the table. Yes, both consoles produce prettier graphics and come "future-proofed" for high-definition televisions, with the PS3 even equipped with a BluRay player, but beyond that it's just more of the same...

But Wii takes it to a different level. Nintendo's dinky system may be outclassed technically, but its visuals are still better than the GameCube (and not much behind PS3/XBOX 360, unless you're being snobbish). But -- and here's the crucial thing -- the Wii is a far more immersive console for your gaming experience. Why? Welcome to the Wiimote...

The Wiimote is how players interact with the Wii. Essentially, forget your gamepad (although standard pads will be available), because Nintendo have created a "nunchuk" design that can sense its position in 3D space through dozens of hidden sensors.

What does this mean exactly? Allow me to elaborate. Imagine playing a tennis game, but where you can actually use the Wiimote as a substitute racket! Yes, that's right, you can now stand in your living room and play tennis (virtually). The same goes for any sports-based game! Swing your Wiimote to play baseball, golf, table-tennis... even go virtual fishing!


The Wiimote even has a degree of forced-feedback/vibration, and a small speaker for sound effects. Just imagine a Star Wars game on Wii where you can actual brandish your own virtual light saber complete with humming sound effects! The upcoming Zelda game also allows the Wiimote to be used as a bow -- with the "twang" of your arrows moving audibly from the Wiimote's speaker to your TV!

The possibilities are endless! First Person Shooters, sports games, platformers, beat 'em ups, flying/driving games... all will be revolutionised by this more immersive system.

This level of interaction is something you just won't get with the XBOX 360 or PS3 (despite the fact Sony have belatedly stolen Nintendo's idea by updating their PS3 controllers with similar sensors, but with underwhelming results.) Still, expect the PS4 to have a Wiimote-esque interface... sometime in... ooh, 2011?

In addition, the Wii will be much cheaper (the PS3 is expected to be £400, whereas the Wii will be nearer £150) and Nintendo are going to launch Virtual Console (an online area accessible by Wii, where you can download selected games from their back-catalogue of retro games -- fantastic news for fans of classic gaming). It also goes without saying that the Wii can play GameCube games and interface with any GC peripherals you bought -- so your money wasn't wasted!

Of course, there are downsides to Wii over its rivals. As I said, the graphics aren't as good (but not exactly terrible) and it won't play next-generation HD-DVD/BluRay discs. But for pure fun and a fresh perspective on gaming... the Wii is where it's at!

Still don't believe me? Then checkout the Wii trailer and join the revolution against Sony and Microsoft's stranglehold on the market... and return Nintendo to its rightful place!

Monday, 15 May 2006

DOCTOR WHO - "Rise Of The Cybermen" (Part 1 of 2) - TV REVIEW
SEASON 2. 13 May 06. BBC 1, 7:00 p.m.
WRITER: Tom MacRae DIRECTOR: Graeme Harper
CAST: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Roger Lloyd Pack (John Lumic), Camille Codouri (Jackie Tyler), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler), Dom Warrington (The President), Andrew Hayden-Smith (Jake Simmonds) & Mona Hammond (Rita-Anne)

An accident aboard the TARDIS results in The Doctor, Rose and Mickey being stranded on a parallel Earth where a sinister inventor is about to unleash a cybernetic menace...

Last year The Daleks returned to the show in grand style, and now it's the turn of another favourite nemesis – the Cybermen. Writer Tom MaCrae debuts on the show with an interesting twist to the established Cybermen mythology, with his parallel Earth premise allowing a rethink to the Cybermen's origins. In this parallel world, technology is more advanced, the London sky filled with luxury airships, and the population able to receive information downloads via ear-pieces.

Roger Lloyd Pack plays John Lumic, the founder of Cybus Industries -- a firm at the vanguard of this technological revolution – who also has an interest in implanting human brains into metal exoskeletons. Of course, there is a small underground movement against Lumic's methods of abducting homeless people to aid his procedures, led by a parallel version of Mickey (called Ricky). But can they expose Lumic nefarious plot to create "Cybermen"...

There's a lot to enjoy in Rise Of The Cybermen, particularly the restyled Cybermen themselves and the increasingly enjoyable chemistry between The Doctor, Rose and Mickey. The episode also sees the return of Pete Tyler, Rose's dead father who is a wealthy businessman married to Jackie in this reality. It's an intriguing dynamic played well by all actors involved in the subplot, despite its emotional similarity to last year's Father's Day. It was particularly nice to see Camille Codouri back again, as she's been ignored in the show since The Christmas Invasion.

However, while Rise Of The Cyberman has a few good sequences and interesting character moments to savour, there's something a little frivolous and weak about the execution. Roger Lloyd Pack seems to be badly channelling Christopher Lee in his clichéd mad scientist in a wheelchair role (shades of Dalek creator Davros, interestingly). The reasoning behind his scheme is also difficult to rationalize.

Lumic's clearly near death and seeking immortality… so why not create a benign method to transplant your own mind into a robot for survival, instead of creating killing machines from homeless people? I'm hoping this ambiguity will be dealt with in part two's The Age Of Steel, but for now it robs this episode of a tangible reason for any of the events to be happening. All too often the episode contains too much exposition and ancillary moments that eventually all rush to a climactic attack on a mansion by the Cybermen…


Elsewhere, Billie Piper's character is in serious danger of becoming dull for the first time in the show. As I mentioned earlier, this episode plays on the same emotions as last year's Father's Day, with Rose in anguish over the possibility of meeting her dead father. Once again, her mother and father don't recognize her and this leads to feelings of abandonment -– all stuff covered much better last year, but needlessly dredged up again here...

While it's been interesting to see a companion take centre stage in the new series, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the writers are struggling to give Rose anything meaningful to play on. She's no longer in awe of time-travel, just excited to be on the journey (which is fine), she's no longer hung-up about leaving her boyfriend to go on these adventures because he comes along now (although she doesn't seem to fancy him anymore), so the only thing meaningful to her to latch onto is the loss of her dad before she was born. But there's only so many times you can play this "daddy card", so the character needs a shake-up soon.

David Tennant has now settled entirely into his role, giving a much more grounded and believable performance -– particularly in a scene when he's pulled between spending the day with Mickey or Rose… and choosing Rose, despite hurting Mickey's feelings. His scenes with Mickey in the TARDIS are also solid, as it's just nice to see The Doctor interacting with someone other than Rose. Later scenes with The Doctor and Rose posing as waiting staff are also nicely played and bring a sense of friends having fun that works very well.

The special effects are pretty strong, although the sight of airships circling London is a little overplayed and blurry. The costumes for the new Cybermen are also far better than the publicity photos would have you believe, too. I particularly like the "teardrop" design of their eyes, giving the metal men a subliminal sadness. I also found it intriguing that the Cybermen, a clear influence on Star Trek's Borg, have now been restyled to be more Borg-like in their quest to "assimilate" humans… or electrocute them with an iron grip…

Overall, a fun and enjoyable episode with moments of brilliance (the foreshadowing of the Cybermen's "head-bar" in the ear-pieces is fantastic), some great character moments, and good effects. Where Rise Of The Cybermen falls down is in a somewhat messy plot, unclear motivations, a clichéd villain, and a recycling of dramatic concepts from Father's Day. Of course, some problem areas could be ironed out in part two, so this is definitely a decent episode worthy of your time…

NEXT WEEK: Can The Doctor defeat the age of steel...?

Friday, 12 May 2006

ONE-SEASON WONDERS - Cancelled in their primetime... (part 2 of 2)

More great shows slain by the networks in their infancy. Well worth checking out on DVD!

NOW & AGAIN (1999-2000)

Michael Wiseman, a middle-aged insurance seller with a family, dies in a subway accident. The Government rescues his brain and offers him a new life, in a new genetically-engineered and enhanced body. The only condition is that he can never have any contact with his family and friends from his previous life...

Who created it? Glenn Gordon Caron.

Who was in it? Eric Close (Dark Skies), Margaret Colin (Independence Day), Dennis Haysbert, John Goddman (Roseanne) and Gerrit Graham.

Where are they all now? Dennis Haybert went on to star as President David Palmer in 24. Eric Close went on to star in Without A Trace. John Goodman and Margaret Colin have appeared in many things since.

Michael: Can I fly?
Dr. Morris: What?
Michael: Can I fly? You know, like, uh, Superman?
Dr. Morris: Mr. Wiseman, over the past 6 months we've performed a complicated series of operations. I'm tempted to call them transplants, but in truth, there is no "you" to transplant them to. Let's call them operations. In fact, let's agree that you have been the recipient of some of the most sophisticated surgical thinking and practice in the history of medicine. In addition, you have been innoculated with and intravenously fed over 700 highly experimental and, I believe extraordinarily promising hormones, steroids and vaccines that also were developed uniquely for you in this project. Now I mention all that because, and I'm embarrassed to admit it, that in the midst of all those surgeries, all those implant procedures, all the beta trials, tests, failures and successes... it just never occurred to any of us to shove a rocket up your ass.

POINT PLEASANT (2005)

A young girl, Christina, washes up on the beach near Point Pleasant, New Jersey, during a violent storm. After being resuscitated, she is taken in by the Kramer family, who have no idea that Christina is actually the daughter of Satan...

Who created it? Marti Noxon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)

Who was in it? Elisabeth Harnois, Grant Show, Samuel Page and Aubrey Dollar.

How many episodes? 13.

Why was it cancelled? Poor ratings. FOX only aired the first 8 episodes, before cancelling it. The remaining episodes were only ever seen when the DVD was released.

Buy the DVD: from Amazon.

SPACE: ABOVE & BEYOND (1995-1996)

In the year 2063, humanity is attacked by a race of aliens known as "Chigs". Mankind is thrown into a deadly war with the aggressors, and a young group of marines are thrown into battle together as the "Wildcards"...

Who created it? Glen Morgan and James Wong, writers for The X-Files.

Who was in it? Kristen Cloke, Lanei Chapman, Joel de la Fuente, Rodney Rowland and Morgan Weisser.

How many episodes? 24.

Why was it cancelled? Poor ratings and the massive budget ($2 million per episode, the most expensive show of its day).

Does it end on a cliffhanger? The conclusion is open-ended for a second season, yet also acts quite well as an ambiguous show finale.

Where are they all now? Glen Morgan and James Wong went on to write a few unaired Pilots, before writing/directing hit movie Final Destination. Since then they have created three movies of varying quality: The One, Wilfred and Final Destination 3. James Morrison can be seen as Bill Buchanan in 24.

Buy the DVD: from Amazon.

THE TICK (2001-2002)

The mysterious blue justice defender The Tick patrols The City, not letting his limited knowledge of human life interfere with his desire to protect society. The frustrated and well-behaved accountant known as Arthur left his job to join The Tick as The Moth, and now they're a crime-fighting duo...

Who created it? Ben Edlund, based on the cartoon character he created in 1986.

Who was in it? Patrick Warburton, Liz Vassey, Nestor Carbonell and David Burke.

How many episodes? 9.

Why was it cancelled? Originally planned as a '00-'01 midseason replacement after The Simpsons on Sunday nights, and apparently never thought of as anything more than "strike filler" for a writer's strike which never happened, FOX execs Sandy Grushow and Gail Berman changed their minds, kept Malcolm In The Middle in the slot for another year and pushed The Tick back to Autumn. When The Tick finally went on air, it was dumped on Thursdays. They didn't promote it very much, the episodes were shown out of order, and needless to say, it didn't last very long...

Buy the DVD: from Amazon.

WONDERFALLS (2003-2004)

University graduate Jaye decides to ignore her degree, live in a trailer and work at a tourist gift shop in Niagara Falls called Wonderfalls -- much to the despair of her family. But Jaye's life takes a startling turn after a lion figurine begins talking to her. Fearing for her sanity, Jaye nevertheless starts doing exactly what an increasing number of inanimate objects tell her to do, and is amazed when her actions begin changing people's lives...

Who created it? Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me) and Todd Holland (Malcolm In The Middle).

Who was in it? Caroline Dhavernas (Jaye), Tracie Thoms, Tyron Leitso, Lee Pace, Katie Finneran, William Sadler and Diana Scarwid.

How many episodes? 13. The creators already had plans for the second and third season.

Why was it cancelled? The Pilot episode Wax Lion received a higher rating when it was repeated the Thursday after its premiere. The show was moved from a Friday night timeslot to Thursday after three episodes, but with little notice of the time change, and was cancelled after the fourth episode due to low ratings.

Buy the DVD: from Amazon.

Thursday, 11 May 2006

ONE SEASON WONDERS - Cancelled in their primetime... (part 1 of 2)

The one thing that puzzles me about American TV is how many great shows are unceremoniously cancelled in their prime. Some shows don't even last more than a few episodes in the cutthroat US market, while many eek out a measly season before facing the chop.

Thanks to DVD, many of these shows get a second chance at finding an audience after their demise. In some rare cases the DVD sales could even bring reprise for a cancelled TV show (just look at Joss Whedon's Firefly evolving into Serenity). But, the sad fact is, most don't. They just acquire a cult status.

I thought I'd present to you, in alphabetical order, a list of some of the most promising TV shows that never made it beyond one season. Some of were deserving of the axe (but showed promise), most are good shows that just got unlucky, while a few are masterpieces that just didn't find an audience... *cough* bad marketing *cough* crap timeslot...

Some you may have heard of, but never watched. Some you might have been fans of, and remember the sadness when they weren't renewed for a second season. Whatever your relationship with these shows, hopefully you'll seek out the ones that grab your interest on DVD...

AMERICAN GOTHIC (1995-1996)

Trinity, South Carolina. In this town not everyone are as they seem and everyone seems to follow their leader, Sheriff Lucas Buck... who might not be as human as he seems.

Who created it? The creator and writer was Shaun Cassidy, one third of the Hardy Boys. The producer was director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead).

Who was in it? Gary Cole (The Brady Bunch Movie), Lucas Black (Sling Blade), Brenda Bakke (Hot Shots: Part Deux), Sarah Paulson, Paige Turco and Jake Weber.

How many episodes? 22.

Why was it cancelled? CBS originally aired the show out of sequence, so events didn't make much sense to regular viewers. They did this to increase ratings by showing the more memorable episodes earlier in the season. CBS also never aired 4 episodes at all (Potato Boy, Ring Of Fire, Echo Of Your Last Goodbye and Strangler). In the UK, Channel 4 aired the episodes in a regular timeslot, in the correct order, and found they had quite a hit...

Did it end on a cliffhanger? Thankfully no. It ends in an appropriate way that would have been easy to continue into a second year, but also acts as a fitting finale for the show.

Where are they all now? Shaun Cassidy has recently returned to TV with Invasion, another show set in the Deep South. Sam Raimi went on to have mainstream success with the Spider-Man movies. Gary Cole starred in Office Space, starred in another one-season wonder Crusade, and is a guest star in countless things. Lucas Black starred in The X-Files Movie soon after, and is now a grown-up young actor. Jake Weber has starred in quite a few hits, including U-571, Dawn Of The Dead and TV's Medium.

Buy the DVD: from Amazon.

FIREFLY (2002)

500 years in the future, and humanity has abandoned Earth for a new planetary system. Under the leadership of Malcolm Reynolds, a renegade who fought against the new unified central government (the "Alliance"), the crew of the Firefly-class vessel Serenity struggles to survive any way they can. They fly between the border planets to keep away from the Alliance and below its radar...

Who created it? Joss Whedon, creator-writer of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel.

Who was in it? Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin, Sean Maher, Summer Glau and Ron Glass.

How many episodes? 14.

Why was it cancelled? FOX cancelled the show after just 11 episodes had aired, due to low ratings. Fans blamed the fact FOX had aired episodes out of order -- most notable when the second episode became the first episode shown! FOX also marketed the show as an allout action-comedy, and the show was preempted for sporting events quite often.

Where are they all now? Firefly was a rarity, in that strong DVD sales resulted in it being resurrected as a movie called Serenity in 2005. The whole cast returned, but unfortunately Serenity didn't perform very well at the box-office. Nathan Fillion has since appeared in Slither.

Buy the DVD: from Amazon.


FREAKS & GEEKS (1999-2000)

A "dramedy" revolving around the lives of "freak" and "geek" siblings Lindsay and Sam Weir, showing the everyday fears, humiliations and little triumphs of adolescents past, present and, no doubt, future...

Who created it? Comedian Paul Feig, produced by Judd Apatow.

Who was in it? Linda Cardellini (Scooby Doo), John Francis Daley, Becky Ann Baker, Joe Flaherty, James Franco, Samm Levine and Seth Rogen.

How many episodes? 18.

Why was it cancelled? NBC cancelled it after only 11 episodes had aired, in view of poor ratings (due to timeslot changes and preemptions). Fan outrage managed to convince NBC to air four more episodes in 2000, with cable channel Fox Family airing the remaining episodes later that year.

Where are they all now? Linda Cardellini starred in Scooby Doo Too, while James Franco has carved out a career in the Spider-Man movies and Tristan & Isolade. Buy the DVD: from Amazon.

HARSH REALM (1999)

After serving in Sarajevo, Lt. Hobbes is finally ready to settle down with his fiance... but the military has one last assignment for him. He must test out the newest in military combat training, a top secret computer simulation code-named "Harsh Realm". However once inside the "game", Hobbes immediately finds himself fighting for his life, and struggling to comprehend what is real and what is not...

Who created it? Chris Carter, creator-writer of The X-Files and Millennium.

Who was in it? Scott Bairstow, Terry O'Quinn (Millennium), D.B Sweeney (Strange Luck) and Samantha Mathis (Broken Arrow).

How many episodes? 9.

Why was it cancelled? The show had poor ratings from the start, and FOX cancelled it after just 4 episodes had aired. The remaining 6 episodes were shown on the FX Channel. Many people say the show performed badly because it seemed too derivative of The Matrix.

Where are they all now? Well, Terry O'Quinn now plays John Locke in smash-hit TV drama Lost. Chris Carter went on to create another one-season wonder, The Lone Gunmen, before overseeing the conclusion of The X-Files. He hasn't been heard of since.

Buy the DVD: from Amazon.

THE LONE GUNMEN (2001)

Three computer geeks encounter various conspiracies and work together to solve various mysteries with far-reaching consequences and government agencies on their tails...

Who created it? Chris Carter, creator-writer of The X-Files, Millennium and Harsh Realm.

Who was in it? Tom Braidwood, Bruce Harwood, Dean Haglund, Stephen Snedden & Zuleikha Robinson.

How many episodes? 13.

Why was it cancelled? Unknown! The ratings were actually higher than the first season of The X-Files, but FOX cancelled the show in June after just 4 months. Interestingly, the DVD box-set is quite sought-after because the Pilot episode involves a plot to fly a plane into the World Trade Center -- 6 months before September 11th occured in reality.

Buy the DVD: from Amazon.

Part 2 of the list will be blogged soon, so watch this space...

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

THE MOVIE TIMELINE

I stumbled upon quite an interesting find yesterday, a project from Paul Kerensa called The Movie Timeline -- which anyone can contribute to. It basically lists events in the movies chronologically against a timeline of the world (but ignoring real world events, unless featured in a film, of course.)

It's quite funny when you realize just what happens in the "movie world" at the exact same time! Some of the best examples he quotes are:

Who’d have thought that while Gangs of New York’s Amsterdam Vallon was killing Butcher Bill, down the road Abraham Lincoln was being kidnapped by Bill & Ted…

And lucky Al Capone -- he was sent to Alcatraz by Eliot Ness just in time to miss King Kong rampaging around New York…

Andy Dufresne was wrongly sentenced to Shawshank a few short months before someone else was framed -- Roger Rabbit…

Quite an exhaustive website, perhaps too difficult to find the good stuff amidst the sheer volume of entries, and too text-heavy for my liking (funny graphics depicting some of the "events" would be great)... but persevere and there are some nuggets of gold in here for movie geeks...

DMD - Issue 171

Yes, it's that time again; the 171st issue of Dan's Movie Digest is now available online thanks to DVD Fever. Here you'll find news on the Knight Rider movie, the adaptation of His Dark Materials, Resident Evil 3 and Transformers voice casting. There's also the usual US/UK box-office charts and a selection of movies coming soon...

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

PRISON BREAK - The Flashbacks

Great new Prison Break last night on Channel Five showing how each character wound up at Fox River State Penitentiary. Very interesting viewing if you've been glued to the best guilty pleasure on TV at the moment. For while Lost, 24 and Battlestar Galactica are undoubted masterpieces currently airing on TV, there's just something undeniably fun about the "under the radar" Prison Break.

Maybe it's because there's always been something great about enjoying a TV show nobody else seems to watch. Remember The X-Files back in '93-'94? Before the days of Gillian Anderson naked in FHM? That was when only the "special few" knew how great the show was. Prison Break is along similar lines.

But it's probably more to do with the fact you can't quite figure out how the writers are going to keep the episodes coming! Particularly after the failed escape plan a few weeks back, surely a prime "jump the shark" moment for a show like this. Still, rumours have it that season 2 will focus on a fugitive aspect with the escapees outside the prison walls (so it's goodbye to all the characters who work at Fox River?), while season 3 will involve them all having to break back in for some reason!

I'm sure even moneygrabbing Fox won't be able to pull a fourth season out of the concept...

Monday, 8 May 2006

DMD - SUMMER SHOWDOWN SPECIAL (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing yesterday's rundown of the top movies to keep your eyes open for this summer...

POSEIDON

A remake of the 1972 classic The Poseidon Adventure about a luxury ocean liner that is capsized by a freak wave, leaving the passengers to fight for survival inside the overturned ship...

What's Good? Director Wolfgang Petersen is no stranger to water -- having directed Das Boot and The Perfect Storm. The cast is also very impressive and includes: Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss. Of course, the premise is tailor-made for some high-octane summer popcorn fun with fabulous special effects that will make Titanic look pedestrian...

What's Bad? Well, these movies can be quite formulaic, so no prized for guessing the plot mechanics along the way, but that's a minor quibble. Oh, it stars Stacy Ferguson from the Black Eyed Peas -- cause for alarm? Perhaps. It's also very short (approx. 1hr30) which might lose the movie its epic scope...

DMD HEAT FACTOR: The summer is made for these types of movies. The recent trailer has done nothing but impress, although test screenings have suggested it's quite mediocre...

STORMBREAKER

Anthony Horowitz's best-selling Stormbreaker novels reach the big-screen, with 14-year-old Alex Rider dragged into the world of espionage after his Uncle Ian is killed by a top assassin...

What's Good? The books are fundamentally James Bond Junior, and we've already learned that such premises do good business at the box-office (Spy Kids, Agent Cody Banks). Stormbreaker also has a fantastic cast -- Ewan McGregor, Mickey Rourke, Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Alicia Silverstone and... er, Jimmy Carr!

What's Bad? Stormbreaker may be successful in print, but the premise isn't anything new and will need to deliver a style other "child spy thrillers" haven't. If treated correctly, this could be the movie Agent Cody Banks wanted to be, and Spy Kids could have been if Robert Rodriguez didn't have visual Tourrettes.

DMD HEAT FACTOR: There's nothing to suggest this will be a massive hit, but it should do reasonable business amongst its demographic in the summer holidays.

SNAKES ON A PLANE

A mob assassin plots to kill an eye-witness of a crime by releasing 500 snakes aboard the passenger jet he's taking to the trial...

What's Good? There are snakes. On the plane. Already an internet cult hit, the pure cheesiness of the title and premise has assured legendary status months before its release. It also stars Samuel L. Jackson in full-on "The Man" mode.

What's Bad? Everything. That's the point... and that's what makes it good.

DMD HEAT FACTOR: It's box-office potential is debatable. The mainstream will treat it with the same derision as Anaconda, most likely... but will the overwhelming online support make Snakes On A Plane a surprise sleeper hit? I think so.

SOUTHLAND TALES

A mind-bending thriller set in Los Angeles, 2008 A.D, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Seann William Scott...

What's Good? The above may sound idiotic, but this is the Donnie Darko follow-up from writer-director Richard Kelly. So expect good things. There are already a sequence of prequel graphic novels plannned, leaked concept art had fans clamouring, and the plot is still shrouded in secrecy. Sure to be the thinking man's sci-fi movie of the summer...

What's Bad? The cast are a mixed bag. The Rock is very charismatic in real-life, but hasn't really had a career-defining role yet. Sarah Michelle Gellar is still trying to escape Buffy, while Scott tends to act like American Pie's Stifler in 95% of every movie he's in.

DMD HEAT FACTOR: The fact Kelly is behind the lens should be reason enought to go see this. One of the year's most ready-made cult smashes.

SUPERMAN RETURNS

After 6 years away from Earth, Superman... well, returns... only to find Lois Lane has a boyfriend and son, and arch nemesis Lex Luthor has another diabolic scheme in mind...

What's Good? It's Superman! The daddy of superheroes makes a belated return to the cinema after Christopher Reeves' tenure ended in the 80's. Bryan Singer is behind the comeback, fresh from the successful X-Men movies, with X-Men II's writers continuing the adventures of Supes directly from Superman II. Effectively, this movie ignores the execrable Superman III and IV, but adheres to the best Reeves movies. Special effects will truly make you believe a man can fly, and the incomparable Kevin Spacey should make a perfect Luthor...

What's Bad? Well, the casting of Brandon Routh will either prove be a master-strock for Singer or the project's achilles heel. It was definitely the right decision to go with an unknown actor, and Routh is a dead ringer for Christopher Reeves' Clark Kent... but his Superman isn't quite as perfectly realized. It's also strange that no footage of Routh actually acting has been released so close to he films premiere. Something to hide, Mr Singer? Anyway, comic-book fans have bemoaned the fact Kate Bosworth is too young to play Lois Lane, while the attempt to reinvent, yet also form a believable sequel to Superman II, could be a tricky balance to get right..

DMD HEAT FACTOR: Hey, it's Superman. This will be huge. Bryan Singer is a trusted filmmaker with superhero material after his X-Men success (which also faced similar fan outcry over casting and costumes) so he should hopefully pull of the same trick...

UNITED 93

The dramatised events of Flight 93, one of the passenger jets involved in the September 11th attacks on America...

What's Good? Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) doesn't seem to have set out to make an exploitative film, and great care is being taken to treat the situation with the respect it deserved. The fact these events are so recent could elevate them to higher dramatic planes than, say, Pearl Harbor, too...

What's Bad? It could still end up being exploitative and there's no way to know which aspects are fictional or reality. A tricky movie to get right, and one that you may just have to see for yourself...

DMD HEAT FACTOR: Sure to spark controversy - but will audiences go and see for themselves, or be driven away by exploitative claims in the media?

X-MEN III

The X-Men franchise continues, with our favourite mutants up against a purported "cure" for mutation, just as the newly resurrected Jean Grey returns to threaten everyone on the planet...

What's Good? Well, X-Men remains the catalyst for the current supehero trend and has already given us one of the greatest examples of the genre in X-Men II. The third, and possibly final, entry in the series will also give us some more mutants in the shape of Kelsey Grammar as Beast, Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut, Ben Foster as Angel, Daniel Cudmore as Colossus, Dania Ramirez as Callisto, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde and a rumoured appearance by Gambit...

What's Bad? Unfortunately, director Bryan Singer is no longer involved (having departed to work on Superman Returns), so his replacement is Brett Ratner (Rush Hour). Ratner is not a popular choice with fans, to put it mildly, and insiders suggest the rushed production to meet its May release has had a negative effect on the movie's quality. A leaked review of the script has also been met with derision, as it apparently offers nothing new -- merely a rehash of story elements already dealt with previously.

DMD HEAT FACTOR: Despite concerns, it's hard to imagine such a potent franchise going out with a whimper. Okay, so it may not reach the highs of X-Men II, but is Brett Ratner really capable of destroying a franchise?

PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN II: DEAD MAN'S CHEST

Captain Jack is back! This time, Jack finds himself up against Davey Jones and his crew, who have all been merged with underwater creatures...

What's Good? The original was the sleeper hit of summer 2003, primarily thanks to Johnny Depp's fantastic performance (Oscar nominated, too!) The great news is that everyone is back -- Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, together with director Gore Verbinski. Pirates II has also been filmed alongside Pirates III (due for released in 2007), and the increased budgets should ensure even more outrageous supernatural-naurical fun!

What's Bad? Hmmm, well not much to be honest. Personally, I enjoyed the first movie but have never found the need to revisit it. It didn't have many standout sequences, in my opinion, it was just a very solid film with a nice sense of fun and a fabulous performance from Depp. Hopefully Pirates II will give us more rewatchable scenes.

DMD HEAT FACTOR: This is possibly the most no-brainer hit of the summer even before it's been released. There is no reason to worry -- as there are no major cast or crew changes, and the budget has been increased. Previously, studio execs were worried by Depp's performance, but now he's been exalted by Oscar himself, Pirates II should really see him cut loose and dominate the screen!

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III

Tom Cruise is back as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt, this time up against villain Philip Seymour Hoffman who also threatens Hunt's girlfriend Michelle Monaghan...

What's Good? After the unexpected tripe that was M:I-2 from John Woo, things should get back on track with J.J Abrams' involvement as director. Abrams was the creator of TV espionage hit Alias, so knows a thing or two about contemporary spy thrillers. Tom Cruise remains the most bankable star in Hollywood (see last year's War Of The Worlds), and all signs indicate the "team" aspect (missing for most of De Palma's original and absent in Woo's sequel) will make a return -- with Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne and Britain's own Simon Pegg on Cruise's side. And, let's not forget, Philip Seymour Hoffman should chew the scenery with far more relish than the limp John Voight and Dougray Scott could ever hope to...

What's Bad? Nothing looks bad, so far. The style and realism indicated from the trailer looks very promising, although the same was said with M:I-2, let's not forget.

DMD HEAT FACTOR: Early word suggests that J.J Abrams has brought his TV Midas Touch to the movies, with a potent, exciting and character-driven slice of spy spills and thrills, given great weight by an on-form Cruise and Hoffman...

Sunday, 7 May 2006

DMD - SUMMER SHOWDOWN SPECIAL (Part 1 of 2)

The summer months are here; so time for warm days, w
eekend barbecues, Wimbledon, sweaty car journeys, seaside holidays, ice cream, and the inexplicable Film 2006 break during the movie year's busiest time. I never did understand that!

Thankfully, there'll be no summer hiatus with DMDB, as I'll be continuing to bring you the latest movie news throughout the summer. However, to prepare you for the blockbuster period, here is the Summer Showdown Special to bring you up-to-speed with the movies that will be tempting you indoors on those long sunny days...

Part 1 today, Part 2 tomorrow...


CARS

Pixar return with another animated tale sure to entice kiddies away from the World Cup, this time set in a world dominated by talking cars!

What's Good? Pixar never disappoint visually, and Cars has some amazing effects -- including some stunning desert landscapes along Route 66.

What's Bad? Cars is gearing up (no pun intended) to be the first Pixar disappointment, with nothing in the trailers to suggest a great story, characters or jokes to go alongside the visuals. Now, Toy Story director John Lassetter is in charge, so things could turn out okay, but it doesn't look promising. Mind you, the last Pixar film to be an expected failure was Finding Nemo...

HEAT FACTOR: Sorry, but the trailers speak for themselves. There is nothing that appeals to my inner child here beyond some great graphics.

THE DA VINCI CODE

Dan Brown's best-seller about a Catholic conspiracy protected by secret society The Priory Of Scio, as revealed through the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, is adapted to movie form by Ron Howard, with Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou and Ian McKellen...

What's Good? The book may have its detractors, but it's the very definition of a "page turner" and ripe for a rollicking good Hollywood adaptation. Tom Hanks and Ian McKellen are well cast, Audrey Tatou (Amelie) makes a classy heroine, while Paul Bettany should impress as albino Monk Silas. Director Ron Howard is also a great choice -- being one of cinemas most underrated filmmakers, this should hopefully remind people of his talent...

What's Bad? There's the potential for the book's outrageous elements and false conspiratorial mumblings to drain out the plausibility, but that's a very slim concern with such a great cast and plot.

HEAT FACTOR: The books legions of fans will doubtless make this a massive success, but will it strike a chord with those who haven't read Brown's novel? Well, the involvement of Tom Hanks should ensure strong business regardless, but will The Da Vinci Code appeal to non-religious types? Perhaps... particularly if the movie reignites the book's controversy with the Catholic Church...

THE FOUNTAIN

Hugh Jackman stars in this epic science-fiction adventure from Darren Aronofsky (Requiem For A Dream) about a quest spanning 400 years to find immortality...

What's Good? Darren Aronofsky is a truly visionary filmmaker who has cemented his reputation on the basis of just two movies -- the low-budget Pi and the emotionally fraught Requiem For A Dream. The fact he has a new movie out is very, very good news. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are also talented actors not be sniffed at, and the idea of this generation being given its own 2001: A Space Odyssey is very exciting...

What's Bad? Originally The Fountain was to star Brad Pitt and cost $70 million, but was canned by the studio. It was resurrected when Aronofsky halved the budget and brought in Hugh Jackman, so epic vision has been drastically reduced. But, this could probably be a good thing, as the emphasis will undoubtedly shift to characters and plot. And, hey, the $40 million budget is big enough!

HEAT FACTOR: Trust in Aronofsky! He's a personal favourite of mine, and that shows how much of an effect his short filmography has had on me. He should deliver the goods in a genre totally suited to his filmmaking style. The fact the project is wrapped in secrecy should also mean a revelatory experience for movie-goers.

IDIOCRACY

A man is frozen in cold storage for a thousand years, waking up in the year 3001 to find humanity has "devolved" into a planet of idiots, where morons are celebrated...

What's Good? This is from Mike Judge - creator of Beavis & Butthead, King Of The Hill and the cult classic Office Space. I'm not a fan of B&B or KOTH, but Judge has hit upon a fantastic premise for this live-action movie with shades of Futurama...

What's Bad? I'm not a fan of Luke Wilson, who takes the lead. He could prove his worth, but he's the only undecided factor for me.

HEAT FACTOR: This should provide a lot of silly laughs. A review of the script has already hailed it as occassionally very provocative and intelligent. Sounds cool.

LADY IN THE WATER

Paul Giamatti stars as Cleveland Heep, a janitor at an apartment block who discovers a water nymph living in the block's swimming pool...

What's Good? He may have hit a critical speed bump with The Village (although I enjoyed that movie, personally) but M. Night Shyamalan's remains contemporary cinemas Stephen King. So far he hasn't strayed from the supernatural in his movies, but Lady In The Water is said to be more romantic comedy than twisty-thriller. Paul Giamatti is fast-becoming an actor of real note (Sideways), but this could be the movie that introduces him to the mainstream. Likewise, Bryce Dallas Howard (the nymph) will hopefully breakout into the public consciousness (she deserved to in The Village, but hey, if she fails again she won't when Spider-Man 3 is released next year...)

What's Bad? Whatever the plus points, the premise of the movie is the worst of Shyamalan's movies. I'm not suggesting it will definitely be a bad movie, but it's definitely not a movie that demands your attention. Fans of Shyamalan should get a kick out of this, but if it's true the movie is more rom-com than scary.... will the backlash continue?

HEAT FACTOR: Potentially very good given its lead actor and writer-director, but Lady In The Water just screams complacency at the box-office this summer.

MIAMI VICE

Big screen remake of Michael Mann's 80's TV show, starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as Miami detectives Crockett and Tubbs...

What's Good? Cool actors (Foxx and Farrell), brilliant director (Michael Mann), and a genre/property that Mann not only created, but also perfected on the big screen. This should be a stunning cop flick.

What's Bad? The Miami Vice TV phenomenon was 20 years ago -- is a movie version, no mattern how good, just unwanted? Perhaps...

HEAT FACTOR: Time will tell whether or not audiences will be drawn to Miami Vice 21st-Century style...

THE OMEN 666

A family discover their adopted son, Damien Thorn, is actually the spawn of Satan, in this remake of the 70's horror classic...

What's Good? Stars Liev Schrieber and David Thewlis are always good value, and I'm sure some creep moments will be wrung by director John Moore.

What's Bad? There really isn't any need to remake The Omen - but with the publicity-appealing date of 6 June 2006 (06/06/06) I guess Hollywood just couldn't help themselves. It's also uncertain if Satan's sprog can possible outcreep the original kid...

DMD HEAT FACTOR: This could surprise everyone, but so far it looks predictable and early test reviews suggests it doesn't stray enough from the original to make the remake worthwhile.

Coming in Part 2: Poseidon, Stormbreaker, Snakes On A Plane, Southland Tales, Superman Returns, United 93, X-Men III, Pirates Of The Caribbean II and Mission Impossible III.