Thursday, 30 November 2006

DMD - Issue 182

The next isue of Dan's Movie Digest (#182) has been released over at DVD Fever! This week there's news on Frequently Asked Questions About Time-Travel, The Hobbit, Starship Troopers III and an obituary to Robert Altman. Check it out!

US TOP 10

1. Happy Feet $37m
CGI animation about a penguin who can't sing, but sure can dance!

2. Casino Royale $30.8m
The 21st James Bond adventure, in this rethink starring Daniel Craig as 007.

3. Deja Vu $20.6m
Time-bending thriller starring Denzel Washington.

4. Deck The Halls $12m
Christmas caper starring Danny DeVito.

5. Borat $10m
Riotous mockumentary road trip with Sacha Baron Cohen's eponymous character.

6. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause $9.93m
Unnecessary sequel, again starring Tim Allen as Santa Clause.

7. Flushed Away $5.76m
CGI animation from the creators of Wallace & Gromit, not the expected Stateside hit.

8. Stranger Than Fiction $5.73m
Intelligent comedy-drama about a man who begins to hear a narration about his own life...

9. Bobby $4.86m
Drama focusing on JFK's assassination, directed by Emilio Estevez.

10. The Fountain $3.77m
Intelligent sci-fi epic starring Hugh Jackman on a quest for immortality...


UK TOP 10

1. Casino Royale £8.54m
2. Borat £1.47m
3. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause £1.27m
4. Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny £92k
5. Jackass Number Two £73k
6. Dhoom II £41k
7. The Prestige £32k
8. Pan's Labyrinth £29k
9. Step Up £16k
10. Saw III £10k

TORCHWOOD 1.7 - "Greeks Bearing Gifts"

26 Nov 06. BBC 3, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Toby Withouse DIRECTOR: Colin Teague
CAST: John Barrowman (Capt Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Naoka Mori (Toshiko Sato), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones) & Daniela Denby-Ashe (Mary), Tom Robertson (Soldier), Ravin J. Ganatra (Neil), Eiry Thomas (Carol), Shaheen Jafargholi (Danny) & Paul Kasey (Weevil)

Toshiko strikes up a friendship with a young lady called Mary, who gives her a pendant with the ability to let you hear people's thoughts...

Toby Whithouse wrote School Reunion for Doctor Who, an episode summarised as being serviceable with flashes of greatness. The same can almost be said for Whithouse's Torchwood episode, Greeks Bearing Gifts, were it not for his stronger hold on the premise and enjoyable characterisations.

The premise behind this episode is simple -- it's the age-old story of how hearing people's thoughts would alter your opinion of them. There's nothing particularly fresh about the approach taken here, but the concept is always ripe for drama and the script is pleasingly written. In particular, I enjoyed the depth and believability of everyone's thoughts (heard as echoing voice-overs), which provide most of the episode's spark.

Naoka Mori finally gets a story to herself, and the two-dimensional computer whizz Toshiko Sato becomes more rounded as a result. Torchwood often chooses to divide its stories between the hyper-reality of the Hub (with its alien tech) and the normal everyday life of its characters. It's a balancing act the show usually struggles with, as the difference between these two "worlds" are so pronounced they just clash. This is probably why you never saw Mulder and Scully in the supermarket or walking the dog.

Amazingly, Greeks Bearing Gifts successfully mixes the two worlds, presenting us with a believable social life for Tosh that doesn't jar with the exaggerated SF of Torchwood. A lot of this success is down to Mori and the performance of Daniela Denby-Ashe, as Mary, who is superb as the episode's femme fatale. As a bonus, Denby-Ashe and Mori share genuine chemistry that helps immensely.

Ultimately, the storyline isn't anything to get excited about, but it's performed and written with a conviction that it works. However, the Teaser, a period piece set in 1812, hints at a more interesting story than we're eventually given, and the finale is anti-climactic -- again featuring one of Jack's patented controversial decisions!

Technically, the CGI for Mary's alien likeness is very good (albeit not as expressive as the fairies in Small Worlds), and the sound mix during the telepathic sequences are fantastic (most notably the rear speaker's use during Mary's demonstration to Tosh).

Overall, while it was disappointing to see the show feature yet another same-sex kiss (they've all had one now, except Ianto!) the handling of the "adult nature" of the show was much improved. Whithouse's script is heavily indebted to Buffy The Vampire Slayer's
Earshot (mind reading, discovering a sexual relationship, stopping a murder, even the inability to hear the thoughts of a main character -- Jack/Angel), but while the story isn't original, it's well told.

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

HEROES 1.10 - "Six Months Ago"

27 Nov 06. NBC, 9/8c
WRITER: Aron Eli Coleite DIRECTOR: Allan Arkush
CAST: Erick Avari (Chandra), Zachary Quinto (Gabriel Gray/Sylar), Masi Oka (Hiro), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Greg Grunberg (Matt), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Jayma Mays (Charlie), Jack Coleman (Mr Bennet), Rena Sofer (Heidi), Nora Zehetner (Eden), Ali Larter (Niki/Jessica), Leonard Betts (D.L), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah), Cristine Rose (Angela), Danielle Savre (Jackie), Ashley Crow (Sandra Bennet), Elizabeth Lackey (Janice), Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi), Rick Peters (Tom), David Berman (Brian Davis), Graham Beckel (Hal), Ryan Alosio (Taylor) & Jimmy Jean-Louis (The Haitian)

Hiro travels back in time to try and save Charlie's life and the backstory of all the heroes are revealed...

In a similar move employed by Prison Break, last week's climactic mid-season episode (Homecoming) is followed by a flashback story that sheds light on the characters. Six Months Ago rewinds the plot thanks to Hiro's time-travelling attempt to prevent a murder...

With time reversed, the plot also finds Chandra Suresh arriving in New York, hoping to prove his research into super-powered individuals; a task that leads him to gifted watchmaker Gabriel Gray...

Elsewhere, Niki's alter-ego Jessica is born, following the arrival of her estranged father; Claire becomes a cheerleader; Peter celebrates becoming a hospice nurse; Adrian and his wife are involved in a car accident; and mind-controller Eden is captured by the Haitian and Mr Bennet.

Six Months Ago is a great deal of fun, and another prime example of Heroes throwing caution to the wind and answering numerous questions in a single sitting. It makes for a revelatory episode and, ultimately, time will tell if the producers are being foolish in revealing so much, so soon.

The most interesting of the half-dozen sub-plots is that concerning Chandra and Gabriel -- the man who will become the series' villain Sylar. Zachary Quinto is good as the young watchmaker, bringing a believable sense of jealousy when it appears he might not be "special", but can attain power through murder. Of course, his ability to know when things are broken and how to fix them (be it brains or watches!) proves otherwise!

The specifics of how Sylar attains the power of other heroes remains vague (he must eat brains, but even the writers can't bring themselves to say it aloud). As added amusement for nerds, evil Sylar is a dead ringer for Superman himself, Brandon Routh, while his occupation is that of Dr Manhatten's from Alan Moore's Watchmen.

Masi Oka has proven to be the most likeable actor on the show as time/space-bender Hiro, and while his overly-excitable shtick isn't as endearing after so many repeat performances, Oka still steals every scene he's in. Six Months Ago deepens his character through love interest Charlie, while the sad resolution provides the episode's heart.

Niki Sanders (Ali Larter; great) has the most interesting "pre-powers" storyline, surroinding a tragic family history with her father and dead sister Jessica. The eventual creation of Jessica as Niki's vengeful split-personality further muddies the water around her ability -- as it's the one power that could be explained through normal psychosis! Well, maybe not the extra strength...

The Petrelli clan are visited, during Peter's celebration at getting a nursing job and Adrian's dealings with the still unseen Mr Linderman. The Petrelli brothers aren't as interesting as they should be (more politics would be my advice -- I liked those campaigning scenes from Genesis), but the climax of their plot is good, if you ignore the goofy flying...

The rest of the cast are dealt with in broader, less interesting, strokes. For example, Claire becomes a cheerleader (why do nice American girls aspire to wave pom-poms?) and heals a slashed hand. The Bennet family's appearance does allow for a meeting between Mr Bennet and Chandra.(Erick Avari; stereotyped, but always entertaining.)

While Heroes answers many situational questions regarding the characters' lives, it still remains maddeningly ambivalent about the reason for these powers. I can just about accept Chandra discovering an "evolutionary leap" being made in the brains of some people, resulting in supernatural powers, but how does he know their names and whereabouts?

Also, we were led to believe that a solar eclipse was responsible for at least triggering these abilities -- so why do some people have powers months before the eclipse seen in Genesis! The specifics concerning Mr Bennet are also left vague; he meets with Chandra and plays dumb, yet is later seen interrogating mind-controller Eden with The Haitian present. Is Mr Bennet working for someone who made Chandra's discovery first?

Personally, I feel the writers are having problems explaining the foundations to the show's premise. I'm sure they'll find an adequate explanation surrounding these things given time, but for now the show's foundations are paper thin and open to nitpicking.

Overall, Six Months Ago is an essential mythology episode that answers a dizzying number of questions. Some elements remain hazy, or stretch plausibility, but this is a comic-book for the small screen, so what do you expect? Ultimately, it's a breath of fresh air to watch a show constantly change shape and not afraid to show its hand.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

ROBIN HOOD 1.7 - "Brothers In Arms"

18 Nov 06. BBC 1, 7.05 pm
WRITER: Joe Turner DIRECTOR: Declan O'Dwyer
CAST: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Lucy Grifiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan-a-Dale), Anjali Jay (Djak), Charles Dale (Lucky George), Rachel Cairns (Eleri), Daniel Abelson (Tom) & Michael Elwyn (Sir Edward)

The outlaws grow in number after recruiting Allan-a-Dale's brother Tom, who turns out to be more trouble than he's worth...

Half-way through the season and it's beyond doubt that Robin Hood is struggling to find original storylines, with each episode being just variations on a theme. In Brothers In Arms, the outlaws yet again have to infiltrate Nottingham Castle to rescue people from the Sheriff before they're hanged. Sound familiar?

The storytelling staleness is only alleviated by Marian and the unwanted romantic advances of Sir Guy. Lucy Griffiths and Richard Armitage are both highlights in the show, and perform very well in their uncomfortable scenes together.

To be honest, the main plot about Allan-a-Dale's wayward brother Tom (Abelson) isn't particularly involving, but manages to peak your interest with an unpredictably downbeat ending. However, the emotional meat is undoubtedly with Sir Guy's plot to unearth a mole and his misguided quest to woo Marian, so it's a shame the episode is ultimately a rudimentary exercise with just a few bright moments.

Technically, I remain impressed with the scenery and location shooting. Robin Hood's style lacks the muddy realism of Medievel England, instead choosing a less-garish range of primary colours and sunny afternoons mildly evocative of the classic Errol Flynn movie. While the production is too clean and sanitized for my taste (off-camera horror sits uncomfortably), the look is perfectly suited for family entertainment.

As a show, Robin Hood has found its identity and provides honest lighthearted fun -- mainly due to its likeable actors and impressive design. But it's also learning first hand the problems with bringing Hood to the small screen: the story has always been simple and doesn't really lend itself to multiple episodes. There are only so many woodland raids, jail breaks, sword fights and rescues you can stage before it begins to grow tired.

Seven episodes into the series and, narratively, Robin Hood is struggling to hit the spot.

Monday, 27 November 2006

TORCHWOOD 1.6 - "Countrycide"

19 Nov 06. BBC 3, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Chris Chibnall DIRECTOR: Andy Goddard
CAST: John Barrowman (Capt Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Naoka Mori (Toshiko Sato), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Owen Teale (Evan Sherman), Maxine Evans (Helen Sherman), Calum Callaghan (Kieran), Rhys op Trefor (Huw), Emily Bower (Ellie) & Robert Barton (Martin)

While investigating several disappearances in the Brecon Beacons, the Torchwood team become separated and have to face a monstrous enemy...

After the awful Day One and the witless hokum of Cyberwoman, writer Chris Chibnall returns with Countrycide. Countryside/homocide, geddit? Groan. Is it third time unlucky for Chibnall?

The opening scene is actually rather good fun, focusing on a motorist travelling through the lonely Brecon Beacons and stops to help someone lying in the road. The body is revealed as bait and the unfortunate driver becomes victim to an unseen predator.

With the feel of an urban myth and clear nods to the slasher genre, it's an attention-grabbing opening salvo, and for awhile Countrycide moves with a different vibe that's refreshing to watch. The investigating Torchwood team make camp and, (after Chibnall references his own Cyberwoman episode ad nauesum) there's some nice characterisation for badly-fringed Gwen and Owen.

The tone is spot on, with the wilderness of the Brecon Beacons evoking just the right amount of eeriness and alienation. Upon discovering the first of a few fleshless skeletons, the episode seems to be aiming for a British version of Jeepers Creepers, given further credence once Ianto and Toshiko are locked in a cellar with refrigerated limbs. Talk of a "harvest every decade" further cements the loose homage. Or blatant rip-off. You decide.

However, monster mythology rarely equals originality (Jeepers Creepers itself is the bastard child of a thousand movies), and the sub-genre is rife with blatant plagiarism. For this reason, it's easy to overlook Countrycide's continual nods to scary movies, particularly when the show's tone genuinely seems to be working for once. I was getting bored with the low-rent CSI-meets-X-Files vibe.

Countrycide edges into unoriginal-but-fun territory for a time, until it all begins to unravel at the mid-way point. The monsters, wisely kept hidden, are revealed to be Welsh yokels with a decadal bloodlust to slaughter travellers passing through their land. This leap from the supernatural to natural has mixed success...

It's nice that the villains are people because Torchwood has been having a problem creating believable antagonists (CGI fairies, smoke monsters, and women dressed as egg-whisks don't cut it), so it's great to see some acting malice in the show. Heroes are only as good as their villains, after all.

The shift into cannibal territory doesn't work because the lurch from competent creature-feature into a Welsh Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Toshiko even jokes about meat-hooks) is disappointing after such an effective build-up. It's particularly annoying because the change goes against one survivor's claim that the enemy are "not human!" I hate it when a character hides a plot twist by denying it with a lie. It's an unforgivable cheat on the writer's part.

Once the human face of evil has been unmasked, any tension quickly turns into tedious thrills. John Barrowman, who managed to restrained himself so well, re-emerges in bombastic style by crashing a tractor through a wall and shooting everyone in sight. Then a policeman, who appears from nowhere, is revealed to be in cahoots with the cannibals (whoever didn't see that coming deserves to be slapped).

Eve Myles' Gwen gets to flex her investigative muscles again by... well, presumably telling Ianto to unravel yellow crime scene tape, writing the words "17 deaths" on a pub blackboard for dramatic effect, and performing the most undercooked interview with a psycho ever to grace the airwaves. Clarice Starling, she ain't.

There are positives: Burn Gormley again transcends his cliched character to remain the most engaging person on the show, the atmosphere throughout is pleasingly nihilistic, there's the odd spark of tension, and Owen Teale clearly relishes playing the lead villain (so full marks for enthusiasm).

Chris Chibnall comes painfully close to nailing the story at times, but only the first 25 minutes really work. Still, at least the episode ends with some much-needed character development for Gwen. Countrycide is a tale of two distinct halves: an unoriginal guilty pleasure... that shoots itself in the foot and limps to its end.

Friday, 24 November 2006

24: DAY 6 - THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS...

There are so many great US television series out right now! I've been a huge fan of Lost since it began, the new Heroes is proving very addictive, and the likes of Prison Break, House, Desperate Housewives, The Sopranos, etc, all prove the best TV at the moment is coming over from the States.

24 was one of the first US drama series that seemed to push the envelope for me, and I'm amazed its SIXTH season is about to start in January. Where has the time gone? Fox are even planning to release DVDs of the first few episodes to try and curb illegal downloading via the internet (wow, are the overseas ratings taking that much of a beating?)

With broadband internet now commonplace, TV episodes take little more than 3 hours to download, so it's not difficult to set your PC downloading in the morning and come back after work to find 2-3 brand new episodes to watch -- months before they hit the UK airwaves.

Perhaps television should start getting worldwide release dates? If Sky One were to show 24 at the same time as Fox, or even a few days later, the incentive to download isn't there for most fans (unless you're a TOTAL addict). Sky have just started season 3 of Lost, only 6 weeks after its US release, and I'm sure if the gap was shortened to a month... you'd be surprised how many people would hold off downloading in return for the "communal" experience of watching and having "water cooler discussions" at work...

Hmm, it's an idea. Anyway, here's the season 6 trailer for 24 to get you all excited!


Thursday, 23 November 2006

INTERNET OF INTEREST #12

I have linked all the previous Internet Of Interest (see right), so you can take a look at some of the fantastic websites I've found over the past months. This installment includes:

The Worst Movies: it's always funny to take a look at the worst of the worst, so enjoy this little look into films considered beyond bad...

Top 10 007 Gadgets: with Casino Royale riding high in the charts, why not have a look at some of the classic Bond gadgets from yesteryear... or check out the Worst Ever Bond Girls!

Heroes: Help Of Hindrance
: the new US superhero drama Heroes is having amazing success, but it's clearly influenced by countless other comics and movies. This article interviews some people whose work has been "homaged" by Heroes, and whether they view Heroes as a help of hindrance to comic-books in general...

Watching Watchmen?: director Zack Snyder's upcoming movie 300 looks set to be a visionary epic next Spring, and the director chats here about his next project -- Watchmen, a comic-book epic that has been stuck in development hell for 20 years...

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

DMD - Issue 181

The 181st issue of my Movie Digest has been released over at DVD Fever! This week there's news on Neil Marshall's next film Doomsday, casting news for His Dark Materials, Pierce Brosnan's Spy Vs Stu, a remake of The Thing, sad news for fans of The Hobbit, and the latest gossip on Wolf Creek 2.

There is also an interview with Darren Aronofsky, director of upcoming sci-fi epic The Fountain.

US TOP 10

1. Happy Feet $41.5m
2. Casino Royale $40.8m
3. Borat $14.6m
4. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause $8.3m
5. Stranger Than Fiction $6.61m
6. Flushed Away $6.60m
7. Saw III $2.92m
8. Babel $2.90m
9. The Departed $2.59m
10. After Dark's Horror Fest: 8 Films To Die For £2.31m

UK TOP 10

1. Casino Royale £13.3m
2. Borat £2.53m
3. The Prestige £57k
4. Step Up £404k
5. Saw III £402k
6. Barnyard £27k
7. Open Season £26k
8. The Departed £15k
9. Breaking & Entering £14k
10. The Devil Wears Prada £12k

HEROES 1.9 - "Homecoming"

20 Nov 06. NBC, 9/8c
WRITER: Adam Armus & Kay Foster DIRECTOR: Greg Beeman
CAST: Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Jack Coleman (Mr Bennet), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), James Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Nora Zehetner (Eden), Ali Larter (Niki/Jessica), Leonard Betts (D.L), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah), Thomas Dekker (Zach), Danielle Savre (Jackie), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Tawny Cypress (Simone), Masi Oka (Hiro), Santiago Cabrera (Isaac), Erick Avari (Chandra), Javin Reid (Sanjog), Jayma Mays (Charlie) & Jimmy Jean-Louis (The Haitian)

Peter finds Isaac's missing painting, leading him to Texas to prevent Claire's death. Meanwhile, Mohinder tries to make sense of his dreams...

"Save The Cheerleader, Save The World" has been the series' knowingly silly mantra since future-Hiro appeared in Collision, and now Peter Petrelli finally gets his chance to be a hero.

I expected Peter's quest to find indestructible cheerleader Claire to last much longer, which is another example of how quickly Heroes is rattling along with its stories. It's safe to assume that the New York explosion seen in episode 2 will be involved in the season finale, but the Sylar sub-plot takes an intriguing turn that I wasn't expecting so soon...

Heroes is certainly rough around the edges, lacking the assured style and written quality of other series. The writers almost scramble to set-up each episode, sometimes ignoring previous events (Matt's convenience store "hold-up"), writing characters into a dead-end direction before lurching them back into line (D.L and Micah on the run), characters tread water indefinitely (Hiro in Vegas), or are just constantly mishandled (Simone, Isaac, etc).

But its problems are actually quite endearing. Heroes is built for pure entertainment, and does its utmost to make each episode as exciting and mysterious as it can. The ratings have been huge in the States, making Heroes one of the year's sole success stories. Maybe audiences are becoming bored with the drip-feed style popularized by Lost?

Homecoming's story benefits from the huge expectation that has been building in previous weeks, and will surely thrill anyone who's been following the show. It's almost a "half-way finale" and essential viewing for fans.

Hayden Panettiere is adorable and convincing as Claire, while Milo Ventimiglia is growing on me as Peter, becoming less weedy and more believable as an Everyman hero. It's about time James Kyson Lee got a mention as Ando, an actor who has done well with a supporting role as Hiro's friend. Nora Zehetner's Eden is also evolving nicely, her "mind control" power further confirmed in this episode, and now sporting a sexier look.

Homecoming's focus is on Peter's life-saving mission to Odessa, but we're also given more information on Mohinder -- still in India trying to rebuild faith in his father's evolutionary theories. I'm disappointed by Mohinder's role in the show so far, as his character has undergone a jarring change from believe to skeptic that was uncalled for. However, thanks to some silly dream sequences (how often does he fall asleep at his computer?), I'm hoping the writers get a handle on the character and use him better in future.

In conclusion, Homecoming is a resounding success because of its central Claire/Peter/Sylar storyline, which builds a nice head of steam and culminates in an enthralling sequence with psycho Sylar attacking Claire in High School. It's a moment fans have been waiting for, and it comes in surprisingly blood-soaked fashion! The fallout to these pivotal events is disappointing given all the expectation, but that's probably to be expected.

We're not even half-way through the season, and if you're not yet gripped by Heroes' abundance of likeable characters, exciting action, breakneck pace, thrilling cliffhangers and sense of fun... well, you can't have a pulse.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

ROBIN HOOD 1.6 - "The Taxman Cometh"

11 Nov 06. BBC 1, 7.05 pm
WRITER: Bev Doyle & Richard Kurti DIRECTOR: Richard Standeven
CAST: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Lucy Grifiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan-a-Dale), Anjali Jay (Djak), Michael Elwyn (Sir Edward), Tom Beard (Flaxton), Ryan Winsley (Cedric), Alan Stocks (Butcher), Nikki Amuka-Bird (Abbess) & Matt Devere (Guard)

Robin and his gang break into Nottingham Castle to steal some tax silver, while Marian makes a momentous decision...

Finally, Robin Hood delivers its most complete episode to date, with action, plot and characterisation all pulling together to create an adventure/heist story that keeps you interested until the very end.

Writers Bev Doyle and Richard Kurti's script is leaner than most, nicely constructed and playing to all of the show's strengths. The Taxman Cometh is essentially a mediaval heist, although to reveal more would ruin the surprises and twists.

Suffice to say that Robin and his outlaws kidnap Flaxton (Colin Firth doppleganger Tom Beard; very good), a taxman on his way to count the region's tax money at Nottingham Castle. Gifted with an opportunity to steal so much money for the starving peasants (being fed rancid meat by a swindling butcher), how can the gang refuse?

Flaxton's kidnap forms the basis of the episode, and despite the fact it features yet another break-in to the "impregnable" Nottingham Castle (which they break into every other week), the story is actually a lot of fun and moves at a good pace.

The actors all deserve a lot of credit for carrying the show through the poor-to-average episodes, so it's rewarding to see them all performing in something worthy of their talents.

Keith Allen's Sheriff is enjoyably smarmy, just the right mix of pantomime and viciousness, although he's actually not the bright centre of the series as people expected. Jonas Armstrong makes for a convivial lead, while his outlaws finally get to act like a believable team here. Richard Armitage is excellent as Guy Of Gisbourne, making his villain refreshingly frail in intimate moments trying to woo uninterested Marian.

Which leads me onto Lucy Griffiths' portrayal of (Maid) Marian. Some critics have labelled her performance as smug, and it's true Marian can appear that way at times, but there's far more going on with her. For me, Griffiths' is the reason to watch Robin Hood (and not just for red-blooded reasons), because she brings a fragility and honesty that I find very watchable. There's always something going on behind her eyes.

Marian's ongoing sub-plot, with her becoming nocturnal vigilante "The Night Watchman", was obviously intended to show a level of feminist equality amidst all the testosterone, but it actually works because it's a brand new facet to the Robin Hood legend that can't be second-guessed. In this episode, her insistence on continuing her dangerous double-life reaches a head with her father Sir Edward (Michael Elwyn), in some nicely acted scenes.

Overall, The Taxman Cometh is the kind of adventure I expected from the series and proof that story is King, not the admittedly impressive production values. It helps that Robin Hood has decent actors that seem to be enjoying the experience, and hopefully now the series has settled into its groove, the second half of the season will capitalize on its successes and rectify some of its mistakes (an underwritten Little John, too much reliance on Nottingham Castle, more for the outlaws to do, etc.)

This is easily the best episode of the series so far. I just hope the quality can be maintained.

Monday, 20 November 2006

TORCHWOOD 1.5 - "Small Worlds"

12 Nov 06. BBC 3, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Peter J. Hammond DIRECTOR: Alice Troughton
CAST: John Barrowman (Capt Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Naoka Mori (Toshiko Sato), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Eve Pearce (Estelle), Lara Phillipart (Jasmine), Adrienne O'Sullivan (Lynn), William Travis (Roy), Rodger Barclay (Goodson), Heledd Baskerville (Kate), Ffion Wilkins (WPC) & Nathan Sussex (Custody Sergeant)

A shy but intelligent girl has her suppressed anger taken advantage of by fairies at the bottom of her garden...

Writer Peter J. Hammond is a notable name in British fantasy television, as he's the creator of Sapphire & Steel. Hammond's presence immediately brings a sense of expectation to this episode, as the hope of classic telefantasy replacing the awkward tripe we've had so far, is quite strong.

And, for occassional stretches, Small Worlds is a charming and effective story with a pleasant sense of whimsy. Hammond's script is a throwback to 70s-era fantasy drama, using an established myth (fairies), giving them a sinister twist, with an innocent young victim caught in the middle.

Fans of Sapphire & Steel will notice several similarities to that iconic show and the storyline to Small Worlds, most notably when showing a main character in the past (Jack, 1909), the existence of supernatural beings living alongside humans, and Jack's decision at the climax of the show is the same one made by Steel in The Man Without A Face.

Hammond's script may recycle concepts from his Sapphire & Steel series, with the unique aspects of Torchwood twisted to fall into line (Jack and Gwen essentially become David McCallum and Joanna Lumley!), but it's still an entertaining take on the fairy myth, if never very original.

The first half of the episode works the best, with an enchanting opening sequence where an old lady called Estelle (Eve Pearce; excellent) discovers the fairies, and the subsequent relationship between Estelle and Jack is nicely handled. However, it doesn't take a genius to work out the "twist" to Jack and Estelle's relationship, given Jack's similarity to his father and apparent immortality. The use of real-life elements, such as the Cottingley Fairies hoax and W.B Yeat's poem The Stolen Child, are also little flourishes of quality Torchwood is desperately in need of.

There's a nice sense of creepiness and enchantment throughout Small Worlds; particularly when the weather changes in the fairies' presence, and through the performance of child actress Lara Phillipart as Jasmine, a "Chosen One" protected by the fairies. In one scene, Torchwood even touches upon paedophilia for the first time, although it's short-lived and the script soon re-focuses on a more palatable school bully.

There's a strange clash between Hammond's old-fashioned tale and the brash swagger of the show at large, particularly when the Torchwood-mobile rolls into town (TORCHWOOD emblazoned around its chassis and a blue flashing strip along its rear window). It's disappointing to see Hammond try his best to bring old-school fantasy to the airwaves, and be let down by such juvenile excesses of the production's design.

The special effects are worthy of mention, with the CGI fairies being quite impressive. They don't always integrate into scenes or interact with people convincingly, but they have a genuinely unnerving look and their design is to be applauded.

Overall, Small Worlds is an interesting throwback to the classic age of British fantasy television. There are some memorable sequences (a paedophile coughing up flower petals is bizarrely brilliant) and the story generally unspools agreeably. The plot is too predictable to offer many surprises, and potentially interesting avenues go unexplored (the 1909 flashback) or not explained (the significance of the petals). However, for all its faults, Small Worlds is certainly the most entertaining episode of Torchwood so far, and of curiosity for fans of Sapphire & Steel...

Sunday, 19 November 2006

SILENCE IS GOLDEN – SHORT FILM (2006)
14 minutes. 35mm/Super 35
WRITER & DIRECTOR: Chris Shepherd PRODUCER: Maria Manton

An imaginative boy and his mum try to stay sane, despite the fact their "special needs" neighbour behaves in such an unorthodox way...

This short film by Chris Shepherd is the winning entry of the Turner Classic Movies Short Film Competition 2006, and it's easy to see why the judges decided to award it the top prize.

Silence Is Golden is an imaginative and inventive story based on a very simple premise. It's essentially about a young boy called Billy, imagination and how he projects day-dreams onto his oddball next-door neighbour, Dennis.

As with all the best short films, the simple premise gives the filmmakers plenty of room to let their visual side take flight. The piece is directed very well, with no scene wasted, and includes some brilliant uses of special-effects (most notably some child drawings that come to life, stop-motion animation when some mantelpiece figurines comes to life, and a surreal moment when Dennis is transformed into a giant robot, or breathes fire on some Bible bashers).

Chris Shepherd displays a sure hand with all the technicalities, and makes the real-life moments (essentially focusing on just three actors in two suburban houses) just as entertaining as the effects.

Conor Morris plays Billy, a believable child character thanks to his everyday features and plain-speaking dialogue. Too often children are treated as tiny adults in film, but Morris certainly brings a down-to-earth charm that's easy to buy into.

Kate McLoughlin is excellent as Billy's mum, getting to show some tension and emotion throughout the film, mostly as the situation with her strange neighbour and her son reaches a climax.

Dennis is played by Andrew Dunford, who manages to make a potentially stereotyped character more rounded and likeable despite his incessant banging on walls and quirky mannerisms.

The film is set in the 70s, with beautifully realized scenery (dark browns and yellows) and some excellent costumes. The production design is so spot-on that the film actually does resemble something from that time period (with only the CGI-assisted effects saying otherwise).

The budget was certainly quite large considering the number of effects and professionalism with the camerawork, which was also nice to see. The only criticism with the film is that once the premise is realized, the story doesn't really evolve into much and the ending is a little disappointing, but the 14 minutes certainly flew past and left me mostly satisfied.

Shepherd is certainly a filmmaker I hope gets the chance to spread his wings into a feature-length film, as it's this level of talent and visual imagination sorely missing from British television and film. Short films prove we have the necessary ambition and skills to match our American cousins, and Silence Is Golden is testament to that.

"Wonderfully surreal"
--
Imelda Staunton

"Technically extremely impressive, full of wit and imagination"
-- Stephen Poliakoff

"A wonderful combination of mixed media, strong
storytelling and talented actors"
-- Matthew Modine

"Terrific, strong, non-sentimental kid’s story"
-- Terry Gilliam


What are you waiting for? Download the film from the BBC Film Network
Also, visit Slinky Pictures, co-founded by Shepherd.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace - The Complete Series [DVD]

REGION 2. PICTURE: 1.33:1 (WS) AUDIO: DOLBY 2.0
WRITERS: Richard Ayoade & Matthew Holness
DIRECTOR: Richard Ayoade
CAST: Matthew Holness (Garth Marenghi/Dr Rick Dagless, M.D), Richard Ayoade (Dean Learner/Thornton Reed), Matt Berry (Todd Rivers/Dr Lucien Sanchez) & Alice Lowe (Madeleine Wool/Dr Liz Asher)

Garth Marenghi is a self-absorbed horror author who has written a staggering amount of bad quality fiction. Back in the 1980s, Marenghi and his publisher Dean Learner filmed 50 episodes of a horror drama called Darkplace, about a Romford hospital that sits over the Gates Of Hell. The series was canned by Channel 4 for being "too radical... too goddamn crazy", but 6 episodes were finally shown by the channel in early-2004.

Well, that's the conceit, anyway...

In reality, Garth Marenghi's a fictional character played by Matthew Holness (based on James Herbert and Guy N. Smith), and Darkplace is a spoof horror series from Holness and co-creator Richard Ayoade. The ex-Cambridge Footlights duo had won the prestigious Perrier Award at the 2001 Edinburgh Festival for their stage show Frightfest (another Marenghi-starring horror spoof), before being signed up by Channel 4.

Darkplace was their unsuccessful move to the small screen, effectively satirizing low-quality 80s TV shows. The 6-part series was critically acclaimed and became an instant cult favourite, but ratings were low and the show was only repeated in October 2006 to promote this DVD release and spin-off show Man To Man With Dean Learner.

The failure of Darkplace is one of the great injustices of British comedy, as the series is a superb parody of bad low-budget television drama, and hilarious for anyone with real memories of such material.

On a technical level, Darkplace is very good at being very bad; atrocious editing, poor audio, shaky sets, cheap props, incompetent framing, inept special effects, idiotic plotting, bad writing, and terrible performances.

Each episode is introduced by Garth Marenghi from his crypt-like basement, and occassionally interruped by the show's cast in the form of retrospective interviews. These "talking heads" allow for another level of comedy, as the cast still consider the show to be a misunderstood classic, when in fact it's clearly a piece of forgotten trash.

As Garth Marenghi, Matthew Holness is the undoubted star. Marenghi is a short man with spectacles, slicked-back hair and leather jacket, who's convinced he's a literary genius. Marenghi spends the series quoting from his books ("Something was pouring from his mouth. He examined his sleeve... blood? Blood. Crimson, copper-smelling blood. His blood. Blood... blood... blood... and bits of sick"), and elaborating on the difficulties in bringing his vision to the screen.

As Dr Rick Dagless, Holness essentially plays a romanticized version of Marenghi himself: a swaggering professional who takes the time out to chat with sick kids whilst saving the world from the horrors that emanate from his wards...

Co-creator Richard Ayoade plays nasal-voiced Dean Learner, Marenghi's publicist, who defends Darkplace and Marenghi's career whilst chomping on a huge cigar. In the show, Learner plays shotgun-toting Thornton Reed, the hospital's administrator, and is the least capabale actor thanks to his deadpan expressions, stilted movements, emotionless dialogue, and tendency to glance at the camera and forget what to do.

Matt Berry plays Todd Rivers, an overly-theatrical Hispanic actor with an exaggerated "fruity" accent, who plays Dr Lucien Sanchez in the show. Sanchez is Dagless' "best buddy" and has the curious ability to speak an octave higher than a normal person!

Alice Lowe completes the main cast as platinum blonde Madeleine Stowe, a now missing actress (presumed dead), who starred in the series as Dr Liz Asher. Asher is the token ditzy girl who is subservient to all the men and the victim of the show's often sexist characterisations.

All of the performances are excellent, with each actor totally at ease with the so-bad-it's-funny style of acting required. After cutting their teeth on stage, it's clear the cast relished the chance to bring this comedy sensibility to the small screen, and the result is a brilliant and affectionate pastiche.

The 6 episodes break down thus:

Episode 1 - Once Upon A Beginning
Dagless accidentally discovers a Hellmouth inside Darkplace Hospital shortly after the arrival of psychic doctor Liz Asher...

Episode 2 - Hell Hath Fury
Liz develops telekinetic powers after becoming angered whilst waiting for a meal at the canteen, then threatens the safety of the hospital by attacking people with objects...

Episode 3 - Skipper The Eye Child
"He was born half-human, half-grasshopper; he didn't stand a chance..."
A mutant eye rapes a male patient, who promptly goves birth to an "Eye Child". Dagless finds himself growing attached to the mono-eyed critter, stirring memories of his own mutant offspring...

Episode 4 - The Apes Of Wrath
"Not my fault; monkey bastard hands!"
The hospital staff are gradually being transformed into apes thanks to a contaminated water supply...

Episode 5 - Scotch Mist
"I know 'mon' means 'man', but I don't think 'och' means anything..."
Dagless' phobia of the Scottish comes back to haunt him when three ghostly Scotsmen arrive in the hospital grounds...

Episode 6 - The Creeping Moss From The Shores Of Shuggoth
Dr Sanchez finds himself falling in love with a patient who is being slowly transformed into broccolli...

Overall, this DVD is an essential purchase for fans of Garth Marenghi, lovers of satirical parodies, or just people who enjoy bad 80s television. It also guest stars comedy alumni such as The Mighty Boosh's Noel Fielding (head ape) and Julian Barrett (hip padre), Extras' Stephen Merchant (swearing chef) and Father Ted co-writer Graham Linehan (a porter).

Darkplace is very original, swimming with quotable dialogue, visually great fun to watch, and brilliantly acted. A special mention must also go to the excellent music by composer Andrew Hewitt (nominated for a BAFTA) who brilliantly apes musical styles and stings common to 80s TV.

DVD REVIEW

PICTURE: The show's 1.33:1 image is difficult to critique because all its flaws are most likely intentional! The poor video quality is typically 80s, with brown-tint, lots of noise and colour bleeding evident throughout. So, it's pretty bad. But that's the point, so it's great!

AUDIO: The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundmix is mostly mono, although composer Andrew Hewitt's amazing score uses both channels effectively. As with the video quality, everything is purposefully bad and a good translation of what the creators intended.

SPECIAL FEATURES

Commentary Tracks: There are audio commentaries for all 6 episodes from the fictional cast members Marenghi (Holness), Learner (Ayoade) and Rivers (Berry). Hilarious and essential listening.

Darkplace Illumninatum & Misc. Horrificata Illuminata: more on-camera interviews with the show's fictional actors, resulting in an hour of hilarity that didn't make it into the actual episodes. The quality of the material is just as high, so this is must-see stuff for fans!

Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons: a common feature in DVD movie releases, here showcasing the terrible drawings of Garth Marenghi...

Gallery: a large selection of photos from the show.

B-Roll Footage: some candid video footage from the Darkplace set, purportedly filmed by Marenghu's always-unseen wife Pam.

Deleted Scene: just the one, unfortunately.

Early Version Scene: the only surviving "original" version of a scene from Episode 2 (they made 43 episodes of Darkplace before Dean Learner decided he didn't like his haircut and forced everyone to refilm the entire series!)

Radio Adverts: some audio-only adverts from the Darkplace cast, designed to drum up support for the ailing show back in the 1980s.

'One Track Lover' Extended Version: a longer version of the wonderfully naff 80s music video starring Dr Lucien Sanchez and Dr Liz Asher. Excertps from Darkplace's score are also available.

Overall, quite a sumptuous release considering the show's dismal failure for Channel 4. Hopefully this DVD will be a big success and perhaps inspire a much-deserved second series of Darkplace on TV. But, if not, fans of Marenghi's particular brand of overblown and inept horror, should rejoice.



Friday, 17 November 2006

HEROES 1.8 - "Seven Minutes To Midnight"

13 Nov 06. NBC, 9/8c
WRITER: Tim Kring DIRECTOR: Paul Edwards
CAST: Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Greg Grunberg (Matt), Jayma Mays (Charlie), Masi Oka (Hiro), Clea Duvall (Agent Hanson), Santiago Cabrera (Isaac), Jack Coleman (Mr Bennett), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Matthew John Armstrong (Ted), Elizabeth Lackey (Janice Parkman), Nora Zehetner (Eden), Erick Avari (Chandra Suresh), James Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi) & Javin Reid (Iyer Sanjog)

Hiro meets a waitress who has developed amazing memory skills. Meanwhile, Mr Bennet asks Isaac to help him stop his daughter's imminent death...

Seven Minutes To Midnight sees the return of writer-creator Tim Kring following his opening two episodes that set the ball rolling, and it's another typically busy instalment that focuses on Mohinder, Hiro, Matt and Mr Bennet.

Sendhil Ramamurthy ominously narrates each episode and seemed to be a lynchpin as the scientist who believes an evolutionary leap has occurred. Ramamurthy's character quickly became one-note and was pushed into the background.

But Kring clearly wants us to reassess his Indian egghead, as this episode spends a lot of time informing us of Mohinder's family backstory, in a series of narrative crutches (ahem, I mean "dream sequences") that finally throw some light on his father and introduce a few story elements to make him more interesting.

It's not made clear if Monhinder's dreams/visions were a result of psychometry, or not -- although a young boy called Iyer was always present in them, so it's possible Iyer was projecting these visions. We'll have to wait and see...

Masi Oka's remains lovable and childlike as Hiro, in scenes hinting at a possible romance with a diner waitress called Charlie (Jayma Mays; excellent) who has a startling memory. It's interesting that recent episodes have introduced more people with super-powers, as the show is already overflowing with them, and the producers are risking overkill.

Greg Grunberg's Matt is currently the most relatable character, primarily because he acts and uses his mind-reading in a more believable way. His investigation into psycho Sylar continues, but this episode mainly highlights his life's recent similarities to radiation-emitting superman Ted Prague (Matthew John Armstrong; great).

Santiago Cabrera has been the most underachieving character in the show, rarely getting anything decent to work with. Instead he's merely been acting as a handy plot-device via his precognitive paintings. I'm not convinced by Cabrera as an actor, but Seven Minutes To Midnight does move his character into a different realm with interaction with Mr Bennet (the excellent Jack Coleman), whose motivations are deliciously vague.

It was also good to see light thrown onto Eden (Nora Zehetner) and her involvement with Mr Bennet, even hinting that she has some form of persuasive power herself. Hmmm, soon everyone's going to be "special", and then nobody is. A bit of The Incredibles philosophy there, folks..

Sylar re-enters the mix, complete with some new character facets: he has a stopped watch at the titular seven minutes to midnight -- a clear reference to the Doomsday Clock (a symbolic clockface with midnight representing nuclear war.) This is a symbol also used in Alan Moore's Watchmen, another influence on Heroes. The sound of clockwork is also heard whenever Sylar appears, and he demonstrates telekinesis. All very interesting. Is Sylar harvesting multiple powers by devouring super-brains? Has he travelled back in time from the nuclear disaster glimpsed in episode 2? Is he a failed experiment by Mr Bennet, or Chandra Suresh? And if he targets Charlie for her super-brain, why not Hiro's?

Overall, Seven Minutes To Midnight is dense with new revelations and tightens some skrews. Heroes is great fun to watch, and the number of characters and concepts being juggled mean every episode has been interesting and of value. It's easy to see why it's been such a hit in the States -- it offers instant thrills, a sense of momentum, plenty of mystery, and some excellent cliffhanger endings. I just hope it can maintain this brilliant start.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III - DVD REVIEW
REGION 2. PICTURE: 2.35:1 (WIDESCREEN) AUDIO: DD5.1
DIRECTOR: J.J Abrams
WRITERS: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & J.J Abrams

CAST: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Owen Davian), Michelle Monaghan (Julia Meade), Laurence Fishburne (Theodore Brassel), Keri Russell (Lindsey Farris), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickler), Billy Crudup (Musgrave), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Declan Gormley), Maggie Q (Zhen Lei) & Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn)

Ethan Hunt is called back into active service to rescue an IMF agent he trained, but he soon becomes embroiled in a plot to obtain a mysterious "Rabbit's Foot" wanted by arms dealer Owen Davian...

After numerous aborted attempts, wherein directors David Fincher (Fight Club) and Joe Carnahan (Narc) left the project, Tom Cruise's franchise finally founds its saviour in television supremo J.J Abrams (creator of Alias and Lost).

Mission: Impossible III, hereon MI-3, marks Abrams' feature film debut, and while I'm sure the likes of Carnahan or Fincher would have done a more spectacular job, Abrams brings a frothy sense of fun and pace honed by years of TV, together with an emphasis on teamwork sorely missing previously.

Tom Cruise clearly relishes playing Ethan Hunt, and what's not to enjoy for any man living out their James Bond fantasies? MI-3's plot affords him more emotional scenes, as Hunt is now engaged to be married and has taken a backseat at the IMF to train agents (his fiancee blissfully unaware of this, in shades of True Lies).

Whatever your opinion of Cruise in the wake of his couch-hopping antics on Oprah, you can't deny the man is committed and passionate about filmmaking. He's an actor who can deliver the physicality but also ground his character with a believable emotional punch. Yes, he's essentially dusting off the grinning hero he's been touting since Top Gun, but it doesn't matter.

Philip Seymour Hoffman gets to play nemesis Owen Davian, another of the actor's patented lowlifes, but this time with a sadistic attitude that chills the screen (watch the opening scene). Sadly, while Hoffman's great, his character is phased out of the movie half-way through until a disappointing face-off with Cruise at the end. It's almost as if the script was tailored to fit around Hoffman's tight schedule, meaning he has less presence than most bad guys. It's a shame, because Davian is a worthy villain, but he's just not used to his full potential.

Michelle Monaghan (stunning in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) doesn't really make a lasting impression here; hamstrung by a script that sets up her relationship with fiancee Hunt nicely, but then forgets about her until the last 15 minutes! It's also frustrating that when she's made aware Ethan is actually a globe-trotting secret agent she hardly bats an eyelid!

The supporting cast are an electic bunch: Ving Rhames returns as Luther, wasted despite more screen time; Keri Russell is practically a cameo; Laurence Fishburne is fantastic as IMF boss Brassel; Billy Crudup is good as Musgrave; while Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are just background faces.

After the high-octane bore of John Woo's MI-2, J.J Abrams makes a wise decision to mix more humanity into MI-3 between the gunfire. The screenplay, by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and J.J Abrams, is also much simpler than Brian DePalma's tangled original, with the "Rabbit's Foot" macguffin just a thin excuse for various dilemmas.

But the streamlining works wonders. MI-3 doesn't offer much broad originality, but it's still a very effective action movie with enough surprises and stunts to leave you smiling, if not quite as exhilerated as you'd hoped.

The action sequences are great, particularly a tense helicopter chase through a wind farm and a stunning bridge attack. J.J Abrams is well-served by legendary Second Unit Director Vic Armstrong, and the action throughout is well choreographed and visually strong. An "impossible mission" at the Vatican is a brilliant orchestration of action beats, even explaining how those life-like IMF masks are created.

Overall, MI-3 is an entertaining popcorn movie with a few neat touches (brain bombs!) and some cool stunts. It's far more enjoyable than Woo's brash effort, although it doesn't quite eclipse DePalma's original because the script isn't as textured. However, for pure entertainment value, MI-3 is the best of the bunch. It was also very satisfying to see the original TV show's team aspect better utilized than before, although this is still Tom Cruise's baby and not a true ensemble piece.

On the whole, J.J Abrams' movie debut succeeds on most levels, and provides enough fun and machismo. Abrams' small screen background means it sometimes feels like a TV episode with big-budget set-pieces, but Abrams ensures MI-3 has slick pacing and packs some thrills, so that problem can be easily overlooked.

Mission accomplished.

DVD REVIEW

PICTURE: The 2.35:1 widescreen image is gorgeous, with the transfer handling bright scenes (Vatican), picking out detail in China, and coping well with the many dark sequences (wind farm).

SOUND: Dolby Digital 5.1 spits out the expected array of explosions and gunfire to great effect, placing you amongst all the visual mayhem.

EXTRA FEATURES

The single-disc release of MI-3 contains the following extra's:

Commentary: Director J.J Abrams and star Tom Cruise provide an entertaining and insightul commentary that's a gerat deal of fun.

The Making Of The Mission: a featurette covering the creation of the film, never outstaying its welcome and giving you a good overview of the challenges involved in making a globe-trotting action spectacle. It focuses almost exclusively on filming, so fans of post-production work like musical score and CGI effects could be frustrated.

5 Deleted Scenes: a typical assortment of underwhelming scenes that were quite rightly left on the cutting room floor.

Generation Cruise: this is a montage of clips from Tom Cruise movies, compiled by MTV. It helps to remind you of just how many blockbuster movies Cruise has starred in since the 80s. Not very modest of the star, but fun for Cruise fans to watch.

Trailers for Transformers, World Trade Center and "The Tom Cruise Collection" roundout the disc, but if you invest in the 2-Disc Collector's Edition you'll also have access to 6 additional featurettes, theatrical trailers, TV spots, and a photo gallery.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

DMD - Issue 180

New visitors might not realize that this blog (DMDB) is actually a spin-off from my weekly Dan's Movie Digest, hosted by DVD Fever. DMD gives an overview of the most interesting movie news from the week, together with occassional interviews, trailer links and box office charts.

Issue # 180 has just been released. It features news on The Bourne Supremacy, Blood Vampire, His Dark Materials, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Mad Max 4 and Wanted. There are also some obituaries for composer Basil Poledouris and actor Jack Palance.

Reviews for Mission Impossible III, Robin Hood and Torchwood will be online here shortly, so stay tuned!

ROBIN HOOD 1.5 - "Turk 'Flu"

5 Nov 06. BBC 1, 7.05 pm
WRITER: Debbie Oates DIRECTOR: Declan O'Dwyer
CAST: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Lucy Grifiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan A Dale), Anjali Jay (Djak), Kyndon Ogbourne (Rowan), Michael Elwyn (Edward) & Ian Burfield (Brooker)

The Sheriff begins importing Turkish slaves to work in a mine, while an archery competition at Nottingham Fair grabs Robin's attention...

Sniffier critics are picking on the BBC's new Robin Hood series because of its left-wing politics and constant drawing of parallels between the Crusades and today's Middle East crisis. It's true that the writers can be heavy-handed, although I don't think it's wrong to provide some resonance with contemporary issues.

Turk 'Flu will probably upset said critics. The gist of the story is the importing of immigrants from the Middle East (not illegal, mind) to work in a dangerous mine for the Sheriff. The story also gives us one of the Robin Hood legend's most enduring plots -- an archery competition.

It's now clear Robin Hood isn't going to stray too far from its cosy family audience, which is a shame for audiences wanting something more substantial and adult. Turk 'Flu continues steps began last week to make the outlaws a more cohesive and believable group. They're still not the brotherhood they should be, but it's getting there. Sam Troughton remains the most entertaining character, while near-mute Gordon Kennedy reamins lost in the mix as Little John.

The episode is most important for introducing Anjali Jay as new character Djak -- a piece of casting that forces a racial and sexual slant into the merry (wo)men. I'm sure critics are sniffing in the tabloids, but I found Jay to be a welcome presence here and should provide some much needed spark to those dour woodland teens!

The archery competition is a little undercooked, but does highlight the impressive set design for this series. The mine is also well constructed and the CGI enchancements to Nottingham Castle are handled beautifully. If nothing else, the people in charge of production design, costumes and props are doing sterling work for this series. The production values are easily on par with US TVM's like Merlin.

In summation, Turk 'Flu is a great deal more enjoyable than its synopsis would suggest. The characters are beginning to connect more, Marian's secret life as The Nightwatchman looks more interesting, and Keith Allen continues to chew scenery with gusto.

The show isn't as witty and thrilling as it thinks it is, though. Jokes fall flat, and the excellent music is twice as exciting as anything actually happening. But, it's nowhere near as bad as some snooty critics would have you believe. Robin Hood is undemanding family fun... it just hasn't quite got the mix right to make you connect emotionally with the situations.

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

LOST 3.6 - "I Do"

6 Nov 06. ABC, 9/8c
WRITERS: Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse DIRECTOR: Tucker Gates
CAST: Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Matthew Fox (Jack), Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliette), Michael Emerson (Ben), Terry O'Quinn (Locke), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Naveen Andrews (Sayid), Nathan Fillion (Kevin), Michael Bowen (Pickett), M.C Gainey (Tom), Tania Raymonde (Alex), Eden-Lee Murray (Suzanne) & Fredric Lehne (Edward Mars)


Jack makes a decision concerning Ben's operation, with his choice affecting Sawyer and Kate...

I always look forward to episodes written by "showrunners" of a series, here Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, because they're the ones who effectively plan the entire season. Therefore, their episodes tend to be the ones with most focus, and contain subtle hints for the future.

I Do is the last episode until February, completing a "mini-season", which means it's a miniature season finale. The focus of the flashbacks is Kate, and reveal she married a police oficer called Kevin (Fillion) while on the run from the Feds, then started a marital life built on lies.

Evangeline Lilly is an actress whose beauty and regular semi-nude photospreads have caused people to overlook her acting talent. She's effortlessly believable in any situation and brings a warmth and sassiness to her role that has gone overlooked since season 1.

It's also easy to forget just how fantastic Matthew Fox can be when he's given the chance. I much preferred Jack's heroic nature in season 1, and I Do affords him the same opportunity. Fox clearly relishes the chance to be Alpha Male and I Do should remind viewers just how much they missed the old Jack. Welcome back.

Nathan Fillion (superb in Serenity, great in Slither) makes a welcome appearance as Kate's husband Kevin in the flashbacks. Fillion's currently Hollywood's best-kept secret in my opinion, and deserves a breakout role. It's a shame he's not more involved in Lost, although his appearance via flashback is a welcome one while it lasts.

Interestingly, while Lost flashbacks are always par for the course, a B-plot involving Mr Eko's burial is not expanded upon to any great degree. The emphasis here is on the captives in the Hydra Station, and it's wonderful to see things build up to a tense climax that should put silly grins on the faces of everyone who think the Others deserve their comeuppance.

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse wave a few carrots under our noses (Eko's cryptic message on his prayer stick, talk of "Jacob's list", another appearance by Alex) in prepation for the rest of season 3, but for the most part they focus on Ben's spinal operation and the Others' harsh treatment of Sawyer. It was also very refreshing to see some characters talk to each other about events (Sawyer reveals the true nature of their prison, Locke chats about the "monster", etc). I hope this is indicative of a shift away from the cloak-and-dagger conversations of yesteryear, which are becoming increasingly frustrating to me. But somehow I doubt it!

I Do is a suitable send-off for the show until 2007. It's not quite the jaw-dropper I was expecting, but it certain ends on a dramatic highnote that will be interesting to see continue in episode 7,

The wait starts here... see you in 3 months...

Monday, 13 November 2006

HEROES 1.7 - "Nothing To Hide"

6 Nov 06. NBC, 9/8c
WRITER: Jesse Alexander DIRECTOR: Donna Deitch
CAST: Greg Grunberg (Matt), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Ali Larter (Niki), Leonard Roberts (D.L Hawkins), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Clea Duvall (FBI Agent Audrey Hanson), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah), Masi Oka (Hiro), Tawny Cypress (Simone Deveaux), Elizabeth Lackey (Janice Parkman), James Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi), Richard Roundtree (Charles Deveaux), Cristine Rose (Angela Petrelli), Rena Sofer (Heidi Petrelli) & Randall Bentley (Lyle)

D.L and Micah are on the run, Peter discovers who bought a painting that foretells the future, and Matt is back in pursuit of serial-killer Sylar...

Ex-Alias writer Jesse Alexander pens his first episode of Heroes and brings the same clarity Star Trek's Bryan Fuller managed with Collision.

The early days of any new TV show are difficult, as new writers are never sure what the show's "feel" is until a few episodes have been released and audiences respond. But Heroes is a huge ratings success for NBC and a full season is secured, so things should improve as the writers fine-tune based on reviews (already the Petrelli clan's role has been lessened, despite being set up as unofficial leads). Heroes is pure ensemble at heart and, given its comic-book nature, characters should be able to come and go for years to come.

Nothing To Hide reacquaints us with some periphery characters unseen for quite some time, most notably Nathan Petrelli's family and terminally ill Charles Deveaux. It's good to see the show developing more character relationships, instead of relying on super-powered heroics and improbable coincidences. A meal with the Petrelli family and the reveal that Nathan is responsible for his wheelchair-bound wife's disability packs more interest than special effects.

That said, there is one unlikely moment that requires suspension of disbelief -- when D.L and Micah bump into Hiro and Ando on the road. Are all heroes fates to keep meeting up accidentally? It's becoming increasingly implausible that a handful of people keep running into each other like this! Oh, and Hiro regains some of his English fluency again!

The excellent Greg Grunberg continues his story as telepathic cop Matt, back helping FBI Agent Audrey Hanson (Duvall) track serial-killer Sylar. In true Heroes style, more progress is made in their investigation than you'd expect, leading to a meeting with Ted Sprague -- a man also blessed/cursed with super-powers.

I'm a firm believer that much of Heroes' success is down to its pace. The recent trend in television has been continuing serials, a movement spearheaded by Lost; but while Lost drip-feeds its story, Heroes gulps it down. Its possibly a lesson learned from last year's Invasion (great show, but one that moved too slowly for its first 12 episodes and lost potential viewers). I have no idea if Heroes can maintain its breakneck momentum, but for now it's a rollercoaster that isn't threatening to derail just yet.

Noah Gray-Cabey is a young actor who's been doing sterling work as Micah Sanders, the child prodigy of Niki and D.L. Gray-Cabey is one of those great child actors who doesn't overplay his role and become irritating. He just performs very calmly and succinctly and is a real asset to the show. In Nothing To Hide we finally learn that Micah does indeed have a power of his own... although quite why the Sanders family are so super-charged is anyone's guess!

There is also an excellent special effect that deserves a mention, when Hiro freezes time during a car explosion. These time-freezes have been achieved brilliantly by the visual team, and they deserve some recognition. Another creative piece of production design appears with a fire-ravaged bedroom; chilling and believable work.

Overall, Nothing To Hide is an episode with greater control over its story and writing than most other episodes. There's the odd lapse (Matt's convenience store hold-up is glossed over from last time), but this is more to do with the creative strain of creating numerous continuing episodes with different writers. Jesse Alexander's script doesn't get much wrong, and puts meat on quite a few character's bones (mainly the Petrelli family), while there's assured direction by Donna Deitch.

This is a very entertaining episode, with the emphasis on character, that contains plenty of new revelations for fans.

Friday, 10 November 2006

TORCHWOOD 1.4 - "Cyberwoman"

5 Nov 06. BBC 3, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Chris Chibnall DIRECTOR: James Strong
CAST: John Barrowman (Capt Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Naoka Mori (Toshiko Sato), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Caroline Chikezie (Lisa), Togo Igawa (Dr Tanizaki) & Bethan Walker (Annie)

In the basement of Torchwood, Ianto has been hiding his girlfriend Lisa, who has been half-converted into a Cyberman...

Torchwood airs its first episode with a major link to Doctor Who, by using Who's iconic villain the Cyberman, in a story that steals from Who's own Dalek and countless Star Trek episodes.

Gareth David-Lloyd takes centre stage as Ianto Jones, Torchwood's resident dogsbody, with a performance that shows plenty of passion but not much restraint from the young actor. Ianto has been hiding his cybernetic girlfriend in the basement, and the episode opens with Ianto getting help from cyber-expert Dr Tanizaki to return her to normal. Of course, it's not long before the eponymous Cyberwoman (aka Lisa -- ooh, scary) threatens to escape and wreak havoc beyond Torchwood's confines...

Cyberwoman is very frustrating; it's disappointing to see Torchwood using Doctor Who icons as a crutch already, and the story is a big monotonous cliche. Chris Chibnall's script is similar to Doctor Who's Dalek (robotic enemy hidden underground is awakened and threatens everyone), and the parallels to numerous Star Trek episodes involving attempts to "humanize" the Borg enemy cannot be ignored.

Interestingly, Star Trek's Borg were essentially an update of the Cybermen, and Doctor Who later changed the Cybermen's modus operandi (brain removal not body upgrade) so as not to tread on Star Trek's toes. However, Torchwood's Cyberwoman is firmly in the mould of the Borg, but cursed with an unconvincing cyber-suit that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Power Rangers.

To be fair, Chibnall's script eventually offers vaguely plausible reasons for some of the episode's sillier elements (like how Ianto hide Lisa in the basement for this long and keep her a secret, or why Lisa's brain wasn't removed by the Cybermen, etc), so I'll give credit where it's due.

However, Chibnall's handling of the story should have been much stronger. A huge problem is that we have absolutely no emotional investment in Ianto and Lisa! We've never met Lisa before, we barely know Ianto, and we're not given any flashbacks of their romantic past together. All we have to make us believe in their great romance is David-Lloyd's performance; which contains an abundance of tearful facial gurning. But it's not enough, and actually becomes irritating.

Elsewhere, Jack Harkness (Brrowman) is becoming a more bizarre creation than I thought possible! His decisions throughout Cyberwoman are quite troubling to me. After learning of the situation, Jack's gung-ho response is to kill Lisa, and he never shifts from this violent belief. Oh, and we get yet another same-sex kiss -- this time explained as a means for Jack to magically resuscitate someone. Indeed, it seems that Jack is immortal now too... which sort of reduces the tension whenever he has to defeat an enemy, no?

Episodes like this typically resolve with a triumph of humanity/love, but Cyberwoman's one original facet is to stick with its bloodthirsty solution. By the episode's close, Ianto comes across as a misguided flawed human, whereas everyone else (particularly Jack) look unforgiving and callous. It's actually quite unsettling, because I'm not sure I actually want this Torchwood team saving the planet -- they're rash, arrogant and obsessed with violence!

James Strong's direction is good, managing to limit the laugh-factor of Lisa's cyber-suit and squeeze tension from the shaky action beats. The special-effects are of varying quality; Lisa's suit is awful, the CGI pterodactyle is okay, there are compositing problems in a few sequences (the elevator), but brilliant make-up for a dead body.

Overall, Cyberwoman just doesn't sit right with Torchwood's supposed adult nature. This is very much a bog-standard Doctor Who script with some gore and occassional swearing. Too childish for adults, too adult for children.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

LOST 3.5 - "The Cost Of Living"

1 Nov 06. ABC, 9/8c
WRITERS: Alison Shapker & Monica Breen DIRECTOR: Jack Bender
CAST: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr Eko), Matthew Fox (Jack), Terry O'Quinn (Locke), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Michael Emerson (Ben), Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliette), Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), Naveen Andrews (Sayid), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Rodrigo Santoro (Paulo), Kiele Sanchez (Nikki), Adetokumboh M'Cormack (Yemi), Muna Otaru (Amina), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Emeka), Jermaine "Scooter" Smith (Daniel) & Andrew Divoff (Eyepatch Man)


A delirious Mr Eko wanders off to be with the body of his dead brother Yemi, while Locke leads a party to the Pearl Hatch in order to contact Jack, Sawyer and Kate...

The penultimate episode of this special 6-episode "mini-series", before the show goes on extended hiatus till February, focuses on last year's most successful new addition to the show, Mr Eko.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Mr Eko is a spiritual man with a violent past, and this juxtaposition has resulted in some great tension in his interaction with people, not to mention some of the more emotionally satisfying flashback stories.

The Cost Of Living continues Mr Eko's flashback immediately after his brother Yemi is gunned down during a drug-trafficing operation, leaving Eko to assume his priesthood and return to his brother's village. As Mr Eko wrestles with his involvement in his beloved brother's death, he soon has to face his darker side when local gangsters arrive to take away the village's Red Cross drugs.

As the show's flashbacks wane in quality, it's always a delight when an episode genuinely entertains in this respect. Mr Eko's troubled history was a highlight last year, and while this episode doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know about him, it's nonetheless an entertaining story beautifully performed by Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Elsewhere, Locke leads a team to the Pearl Hatch, hoping to use its technology to get a message to their missing friends. This plan of action isn't particularly logical (do they really think Jack and company will be logged on to a DHARMA terminal as captives?) I know Walt somehow managed to contact his dad last year (was it Walt, anyway?), but nobody else knows this communication even took place! Anyway, it's one of those frivolous ideas that requires suspension of disbelief.

The writing by Alison Shapker & Monica Breen (ex-writers of Alias and Charmed) is pretty good. It's nice to see the sense of adventure and exploration back to Lost, even if we don't go anywhere new, and the story moves at a good pace. However, bizarre lapses in storytelling are noticeable, particularly with Sayid's arrival back at the beach camp (where are Jin and Sun?), and characters yet again failing to talk to each other about their movements and findings.

For example, I'm very frustrated that Hurley hasn't properly related the seriousness of Jack, Kate and Sawyer's situation, or told anyone of Walt and Michael's departure! Also, does anyone else thing that when Walt was kidnapped last year, it caused more upset than losing three people has (even when one is the camp's only doctor and self-appointed leader!)

Lost has often annoyed me with how its characters fail to talk to one another properly, or perceive situations with less importance than viewers of the show. The finale of last year contained several massive events, but the fallout has almost been brushed under the carpet in season 3, and not explained particularly well.

But, back The Cost Of Living, which is most notable for its entertaining flashbacks to Africa, and a smattering of island mythology. The "smoke monster" makes a spectacular return, and its long-rumoured "shape-shifting" ability is practically confirmed, while the Pearl Station reveals another piece of the puzzle that ties in with last year's discovery of a glass eye...

One aspect of the episode worthy of discussion is how new characters Nikki and Paulo finally get involved in the action. Now, I'm of the opinion that introducing new characters in season 3 isn't particularly necessary. It will be even more tiresome if said characters have flashbacks (but, if they do, please let them be as a neutral as Rose and Bernard's were last year, and not central to the overall mystery).

In The Cost Of Living, Nikki and Paulo are briefly used as avatars for new audiences, with Nikki commenting on things in a manner designed to explain things to newbies. Indeed, complication is a problem with a show like Lost, which its story now impenetrable to new viewers. If Nikki and Paulo are here to guide people through the tangleweed of plots, then it's an interesting move by the producers, but one that's doomed to failure.

Sometimes the strength of Lost episodes isn't gauged by the quality of its writing and performances, but by how much of the overall mystery is revealed (or, usually, expanded upon). Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje does his usual good work and both his stories are well-written and involving, whereas the Pearl plot is a bit slapdash. However, the episode pushes a number of subplots along (including Jack's discover of the spinal x-ray last week), and should be commended for making some headway.

This has certainly been the most revelatory episodes of season 3 so far, and one that also contains an incredibly brave (or unfortunate?) moment of fate for one of the survivors...