Wednesday, 31 January 2007

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Collaborators"

Season 3, Episode 5 - 30 January 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Mark Verheiden DIRECTOR: Michael Rymer
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Michael Hogan (Tigh), James Callis (Baltar), Michael Trucco (Anders), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Tricia Helfer (Number 6), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta), Lucy Lawless (D'Anna/Number 3) & Richard Hatch (Tom Zareck)

A secret council known as The Circle begin illegally sentencing Cylon collaborators to death...

It's time for readjustment. The New Caprica storyline reached its spectacular conclusion last week, so the show gets back to some semblance of normality back aboard Galactica.

Collaborators offers another painfully plausible storyline about vigilante justice being meted out on those who helped the Cylons during the occupation. It's ugly stuff, particularly as members of the self-appointed "Circle" include characters we've grown to like (Chief Tyrol, Anders, Tigh, etc).

Collaborators has guts. There aren't many TV series that show its main characters ejecting people out of hangars to suffocate in space. It's this uneasy edge that has always made BSG so compelling. This season I'm increasingly finding the good guys more sinister than the Cylons at times!

In fact, the Cylons may have committed unforgivable mass genocide, but who's to say we wouldn't sympathise with their actions if the nature of their former slavery was shown? Or at the very least understand why they thought nuking Caprica was justified.

Mark Verheiden crafts a tight script that milks buckets of suspense from its premise, while also allowing time for a nice sub-plot with Roslin and Zareck as they rebuilt democracy in the wake of Baltar's disastrous reign as Colonial President.

Baltar himself wakes up aboard a Cylon Basestar -- a situation that I hope will show things from the enemy perspective in the weeks to come. It should be very interesting to reverse things and see a human within a Cylon environment. How do their ships function? How are tactical decisions made? Who is in charge? Are decisions made democratically?

Overall, Collaborators is a thought-provoking episode that even makes Mr Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) a shade more interesting, while offering some tense dramatic moments. After the refreshing change in locations and situations for season 3, it's a comedown to be back aboard Galactica. But BSG always knows how to surprise, challenge and reinvent itself, so I'm sure the status quo will be upset soon...

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

PRISON BREAK 2.3 - "Scan"

29 January 2007 - Five, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Zack Estrin DIRECTOR: Bryan Spicer
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), William Fichtner (Agent Mahone), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), Rockmond Dunbar (C-Note), Wade Williams (Bellick), Sarah Wayne Callies (Dr Sarah Tancredi), Paul Adelstein (Special Agent Paul Kellerman), Cynthia Kaye McWilliams (Kaycee Franklin), Matt DeCaro (Roy Geary), Holly Valance (Nika Volek), John Heard (Governor Tancredi), Maurice Ripke (Petey Cordero) & Joseph Nunez (Manche)

Michael takes Lincoln to a friend with his gunshot wound, while he tries to retrieve their car. Meanwhile, Sucre and C-Note contact their families...

Scan involves more meticulous pre-planning from Michael (does the man leave anything to chance?), as his tattoo gives instructions for a plot to slow down their pursuers. The rest of the episode follows escapees Sucre and C-Note, ex-prison guard Bellick and ex-prison doctor Sarah.

Sucre (Nolasco) and C-Note (Dunbar) both contact home, in twin plots that set-up ongoing plot strands. Sucre is forced to head to Vegas on a motorbike to stop his girlfriend marrying and C-Note arranges a secret meeting with his wife.

Bellick (Williams) decides to become a bounty hunter following his dismissal from Fox River, acquiring help from friend Roy Geary (DeCaro). This is an idea that should involve a maverick style of capturing the felons, at odds with the clinical approach from FBI Agent Mahone (Fichtner), who is again marvellous.

One character I didn't really consider worthy of return in season 2 is Sarah Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies), the doctor who abetted the escape plan by leaving a vital doorway open. It appears the producers want to keep some estrogen amongst all the testosterone (moreso given the sad departure of Robin Tunney), so Sarah's character now appears to have more relevance than initially thought...

Sarah's father, Governor Tancredi (John Heard), is destined to become Vice-President, and this will undoubtedly provide a direct link to the government conspiracy. I'll even hazzard a guess that the Tancredi's will eventually help expose the conspiracy...

I've always enjoyed movies involving escaped convicts, as there's tight energy and constant peril that's always exciting to watch. It's also fun to put yourself in the escapee's shoes and wonder how you would cope in their position. So far the writers are doing a good job of keeping interest and momentum in the show, managing to remould a claustrophobic prison-based series into a compelling chase.

Prison Break remains laden with silliness (Michael is the most conspicuous fugitive ever with his yellow suit and baseball cap!), while the reliance on his tattoo to provide all the answers is straining credibility now. Can't a genius like Michael just remember simple plans without these cryptic reminders? The tattoo made sense given the complex layout of a prison's architecture, but does he need one to tell him how to fake a car accident? I don't buy it.

The show may have lost its originality once the cast jumped over the prison wall, but it has retained its energy and vigour. I'm still eager to see how their escape pans out, particularly regarding each convict's desire to steal Westmoreland's $5 million...

Monday, 29 January 2007

24, 6.4 - "9:00 AM - 10:00 AM"

28 January 2007 - Sky One, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Robert Cochran DIRECTOR: Brad Turner
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), D.B Woodside (President Wayne Palmer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), Jayne Atkinson (Karen Hayes), Carlo Rota (Morris O'Brian), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Regina King (Sandra Palmer), Megan Gallagher (Gillian Wallace), Harry Lennix (Walid) & Michael Angarano (Scott Wallace)

CTU believe Fayed has orchestrated the escape of terrorist Husan Numair so he can construct a "suitcase nuke". Meanwhile, Gillian goes against her husband's wishes and contacts the police...

This is why we watch 24. The show may tread water occassionally, sometimes gets tangled in its own narrative, usually runs out of steam before getting a "second wind" mid-season, but the hit rate is always far higher than the misses... and episode 4 hits bigger than most.

CTU now suspects Fayed's demands to release 100 terrorists was just a smokescreen to spring bomb-maker Husan Numair from captivity. Numair quickly escapes to meet Fayed in a Valencia warehouse, where manipulated Scott Wallace has unwittingly delivered a vital component to make a suitcase nuke.

The pace and tension skyrockets in this episode, helped enormously by the pulling together of plot strands. The opening four episodes are being released as a DVD to curb internet piracy, so this is effectively a "mini-finale" designed to get you hooked into season 6. As such, it's the tastiest bait 24 has produced for awhile and I'm only too glad to bite.

Gillian Wallace (Megan Gallagher) contacts the authorities, which is always the best decision for people in the world of 24, and Jack is soon heading up a tactical team to end her family's hostage crisis. The prickly tension between Curtis and Assad also escalates, somewhat forcefully, leading to a predictable clash between the pair.

The Sandra Palmer subplot, about her principles in allowing government authorities access to personal client information, is a neat comment on real-world discussions about civil liberties, but little else. The outcome of her colleague Walid's detainment is to overhear terrorists discussing their plans for the day, so the argument in the minds of 24's writers is clearly that the breach of civil liberties are warranted. Harry Lennix is doing solid work as Walid, despite not being given much to do so far, but still a restrained and watchable presence.

Of course, it's the double-whammy climax that proves most memorable. I'm not one for revealing spoilers, even after an episode has aired in my native land (so you'll have to wait till next week for my thoughts on the stunning closing moment), but rest assured this episode ends on a nihilistic note. Remember Edgar's death? Or Chappelle's assassination? You ain't seen nothing yet...

24 may quickly settle into tried-and-trusted scenarios, with a few tweaks (after 124 hours it's understandable), but season 6 is off to a strong start and this episode will have to picking your jaw up off the floor and covered in goosebumps for a few hours afterwards...

24, 6.3 - "8:00 AM - 9:00 AM"

28 January 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: David Fury & Evan Katz DIRECTOR: Brad Turner
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), D.B Woodside (President Wayne Palmer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), Jayne Atkinson (Karen Hayes), Carlo Rota (Morris O'Brian), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Adoni Maropis (Fayed), Roger R. Cross (Curtis Manning), Regina King (Sandra Palmer), Steven Schub (Henchman), Sammy Sheik (Masheer), Bruce Gerard Brown Jr. (Escort Guard), Shaun Majumder (Hasan Numair), Raphael Sbarge (Ray Wallace), David Michael (Guardsman #2), Jim Klock (Supervising National Guard), Pat Healy (Electronics salesman), Alexander Siddig (Hamri Al-Assad), James Parks (Guardsman #1), Scott William Winters (FBI Agent), Kal Penn (Ahmed Amar), Michael Angarano (Scott Wallace), Megan Gallagher (Gillian Wallace) & Al Faris (Salim)

Jack and Assad trail the subway bomb handler, hoping he'll lead them to Fayed. Meanwhile, Ahmed instructs Scott to collect a package and Fayed issues a demand to President Palmer...

Every episode of 24's narrative is structured around escalating tension, but on a wider scale some episodes are more geared towards providing information and giving us time to breathe. Episode 3 falls into this category.

One of the great 24 staples is the covert tracking of a terrorist, usually by a tailing car or satellite. Here, Jack and Assad follow the subway bomber's "handler" across town, orchestrating a car accident in order for Assad to get closer to their mark...

The Wallace family hostage subplot grows slightly more interesting, with father Scott ordered by wounded Ahmed to deliver a package to a man called Marcus. Michael Angarano is doing good work as Scott, bringing a naturality and plausible sense of desperation to bare.

There's more office politics back in CTU, with Milo and Morris locking horns. Carlo Rota is quickly becoming one of the most enjoyable tech's seen on the show as Morris, with his mannered, playful, yet antagonistic working practice. The person baring the brunt of his disparaging remarks is Milo, with Eric Balfour's return to the show going far smoother than I'd feared. After all, he was little more than an underwritten lantern-jawed nerd back in season 1, remember?

In the White House (was the Oval Office set going spare after Command-In-Chief's cancellation?) President Palmer faces a patented difficult decision. Terrorist leader Fayed is demanding the release of 110 "freedom fighters" from the Palmdale Airbase, in return for an end to the atrocities. D.B Woodside is fine as Wayne Palmer, although he's clearly a poor man's David Palmer (perhaps intentionally) and not as much fun as the incompetent President Logan last year. But he's sympathetic and generally easy to watch. I just hope he can rise to the challenge and give us a performance worthy to sit alongside the great Dennis Haysbert or Gregory Itzin.

Peter MacNicol will hopefully get something jucy to sink his teeth into soon, as there are signs he could be trouble as Chief Of Staff, but for now he's just an occassional irritant. I'm sure the writers want Lennox to become the opposite of saintly Mike Novic from seasons past, so I can't wait for him to show real deviousness.

Overall, this is what I call a "piece-moving" episode. Every installment of 24 is required viewing to keep track of the storyline, but Episode 3's job is to deliver information in an entertaining and speedy fashion. It accomplished this with aplomb, but there's nothing particularly memorable or jaw-dropping to make it stand out.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

DAN'S MOVIE DIGEST - Issue 185

Issue 185 of DMD has been released at DVD Fever. In there you'll find news on Indiana Jones 4, Black Swan, Get Smart, Ghost In The Shell, The Thomas Crown Affair 2, Happy Feet 2, Iron Man, The Mummy 3 and Spider-Man 4. There's also a full list of this year's Oscar Nominations.

TOP 10 US

1. Stomp The Yard $12.3m
2. Night At The Museum $12m
3. Dreamgirls £8.1m
4. The Hitcher $7.82m
5. The Pursuit Of Happyness $6.31m
6. Freedom Writers $5.21m
7. Pan's Labyrinth $4.50m
8. Children Of Men $3.71m
9. The Queen $3.40m
10. Arthur & The Invisibles $3.08m

TOP 10 UK

1. Rocky Balboa £3.63m
2. The Pursuit Of Happyness £1.72m
3. Night At The Museum £1.41m
4. The Last King Of Scotland £70k
5. Miss Potter £64k
6. Casino Royale £59k
7. Babel £59k
8. Smokin' Aces £56k
9. Employee Of The Month £42k
10. Happy Feet £41k

Friday, 26 January 2007

THE OMEN (2006)
REGION 2. PICTURE: 2.35:1 (WS) AUDIO: DD5.1
DIRECTOR: John Moore WRITER: David Seltzer
CAST: Liev Schreiber (Ambassador Robert Thorn), Julia Stiles (Katherine Thorn), Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (Damien Thorn), David Thewlis (Keith Jennings), Pete Postlethwaite (Father Brennan), Mia Farrow (Mrs Baylock) & Michael Gambon (Bugenhagen).

Ambassador Robert Thorn adopts a baby after his wife's newborn son dies. But the Thorns are unaware their new child is actually the Anti-Christ...

The list of unnecessary remakes is extensive, topped by Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot colour remake of Psycho. In 1976, The Omen was perceived as just another demonic thriller to appeal to The Exorcist crowd. However, director Richard Donner's horror became an iconic film of its own, entering pop-culture through its 666 birthmark and infamous decapitation scene.

30 years later, a remake was ordered by Universal Studios to capitalize on the marketing gimmick of a 6 June 2006 (06/06/06). Director John Moore (no stranger to remakes after Flight Of The Phoenix) worked from screenwriter David Seltzer's original 70s script, resulting in a narratively faithful update. However, the reverential treatment ultimately cripples The Omen's redux from developing its own identity.

This is a remake in a pure sense. John Moore doesn't just take the concept and update it, he practically reshoots the 1976 original in contemporary times with modern filming techniques. The story and characters remain the same and all the familiar moments return (the church freakout, the zoo visit, the precognitive photos, the lightning rod death, the decapitation, etc.)

Fans of The Omen can rest assured that Moore's version is effective in places, nicely directed and contains enjoyable performances. If this were an original film, we'd be praising it as a slick horror with a killer premise. But, as a remake, it's unforgivably slavish to its illustrious progenitor. There's really no need for this movie to exist, as it doesn't bring anything new to the table beyond technical improvements.

The cast are fine, although the leads are a little wooden. As Robert Thorn, Liev Schreiber tries his best, but he's too expressionless and sleepwalks through most of his scenes. Julia Stiles is better as Katherine Thorn, but her character doesn't really have much to do. Interesting, the remake's one genuine change occurs between these characters, in the form of a reversal -- Katherine now suspicious of Damien and Robert the skeptic.

Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is the child actor who gets to glare from under a bad haircut as Damien Thorn. Frankly, original star Harvey Stephens was a more menacing presence as Damien, as he was blessed (cursed?) with a more devious face. Seamus has certainly perfected the icy stare, but he's too cute and normal. It doesn't help that John Moore's update spends more time away from Damien than the original did, with Damien absent for most of Act III.

The supporting cast are much more fun to watch. A trio of British veterans snare good parts; from Pete Postlethwaite's spooky Father Brennan, David Thewlis as twitchy photographer Jennings, to Michael Gambon's late appearance as "religious nutter" Bugenhagen. But it's Mia Farrow who really makes an impression as evil nanny Mrs Baylock, the pretty old lady who becomes Damien's protector. Farrow is an inspired piece of casting -- no stranger to Satan herself, having taken the title role in Rosemary's Baby.

Ultimately, The Omen remake is actually a lot of fun and contains some good moments (the rejigged decapitation is a treat, as is a murderous moment for Mrs Baylock in a hospital). If you've never seen the original, chances are you'll enjoy John Moore's update, but fans of the original could be frustrated with how uninspired it is. There are no real surprises or big changes, just amusing updates: Biblical prophecy now takes into consideration 9/11, the Columbia shuttle disaster and the Asian tsunami, while Damien has traded in his tricyle for a scooter...

The Omen isn't a terrible movie, it's just pointless and limp in key areas (the absence of Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning music, for example). But, I can't hate it. I actually enjoyed watching it, even though familiarity with the original sucked all the fear out of the experience.

On a final note, the remake also ends with the same iconic final shot as the original... and therefore sets itself up for a sequel. I have issues with original follows-ups Damien: Omen II (1978) and Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981), so I'm actually hoping the remake can cut loose and spawn better sequels...

DVD REVIEW

PICTURE: The 2.35:1 widescreen image is okay, although a bit murky at times and prone to pixellation.

SOUND: As you'd expect, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is very good, with the horror genre particlarly suited to unsettling audio effects. The Omen has its fair share of surround sound effects that do a good job of placing you in the film's mindspace.

EXTRA FEATURES

Commentary: Director John Moore chats about the movie with his editor and executive producer.

Omenisms: A documentary outlining how the movie was made. This contains a few interesting moments, but is generally pretty weak and boring, cursed with awful sound levelling.

Deleted Scenes & Alternate Ending: Don't get excited. All there is here is more gore for two deaths, and the "new" ending just has added blood. Why not just splice these into the film and have an "unrated" version?

Revelations 666: a very interesting featurette about the infamous Number Of The Beast (666) and the Book Of Revelations at large. There are some plenty of creepy "coincidences" of the number, revealed by various so-called experts or people with a natural fascination with the number.

Abbey Road Sessions: Composer Marco Beltrami gives an informative look at how the movie's score was created at London's famous Abbey Road, but this is one for fans of musical scores only.

Trailers: A teaser trailer, two theatrical trailers and a special trailer to commemorate the 1976 Omen's 30th Anniversary.

A mediocre release. The extra features aren't particularly interesting -- the Omenisms featurette is particularly laborious. The image quality of the film is disappointing, but the Revelations 666 documentary was mildly diverting.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

HEROES 1.12 - "Godsend"

22 January 2007 - NBC, 9/8c pm
WRITER: Tim Kring DIRECTOR: Paul Shapiro
CAST: Ali Larter (Niki Sanders), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli), Tawny Cypress (Simone Deveaux), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder Suresh), Santiago Cabrera (Isaac Mendez), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah Sanders), Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura), Leonard Roberts (D.L Hawkins), Jack Coleman (Mr Bennet), Hayden Panettiere (Claire Bennet), Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli), D. Elliot Woods (SWAT Officer Simmons), Christopher Eccleston (Claude), Jimmy Jean-Louis (The Haitian), James Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi) & Link Baker (Broken Nose)

Two weeks later: Peter is in hospital after his nightmarish vision, Niki has been jailed, Claire is suffering from amnesia, Greg's investigation into Sylar hits a dead-end and Hiro decides to claim his sword...

Just a few episodes after we jumped back in time six months, the chronology of Heroes takes another leap, this time forward by two weeks. Following Peter's terrifying vision of himself blowing up and destroying New York, the young nurse has been hospitalized and is being watched over by his brother Nathan.

The multiple storylines by creator-writer Tim Kring hark back to the dense earlier episodes of the season. All of the characters are revisited, making for a packed episode full of incident and interesting new turns. Hiro's decision to steal the sword he saw psychic artist Isaac draw, in the hope its ownership will restabilize his time-bending powers, is the most entertaining. Masi Oka has proven himself to be the most iconic and enjoyable character on the show, so even when his plots are quite simplistic they're always good fun to watch.

Niki (Ali Larter) was a character who began the season with the most intriguing power (a sort of split-personality disorder), but she ended the first half stuck in a narrative that had broken away from the central plot of the show. Niki, husband D.L, and son Micah were never embroiled in the "save the cheerleader" mission or even aware of the nuke about to wipeout New York, so their storyline became a little distracting to watch.

In Godsend, Niki remains superfluous to the bigger picture behind Heroes, but her incarceration at a max-security prison, threatened with the death penalty after admitting multiple murder, certainly lends more weight and interest to her storyline. She's certainly experiencing the downside of being a superhero compared to the rest of the cast.

Hayden Panettiere continues to surprise me week after week. You'd be forgiven for expecting her to be talentless, thrown into the mix to appeal to teenaged boys with her curvy good looks. But she constantly manages to amaze me as Claire, giving her character real believability and a touching sense of vulnerbaility. Far from being just the resident hottie, she actually provides the show with its most humanity.

Following Fallout, Claire's character has taken the biggest leap in development. She is now aware of her father's real involvement in her life, having teamed up with the mysterious Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis, finally doing more than just look enigmatic). It will be very interesting to see where this partnership leads in future weeks.

Jack Coleman remains nicely unpredictable as Claire's father Mr Bennet, here scuppering mind-reader Matt's investigation into his paper firm. Mr Bennet also makes a typically ominous visit to Mohinder, hoping to join forces...

The big news for fans is the arrival of a new hero in this episode, namely Claude, a British pickpocketer played by Christopher Ecclestone (Doctor Who). Ecclestone's appearance is little more than a cameo here, but it's a brilliant piece of casting nontheless. I'm hopeful Ecclestone can inject some of his playful-yet-serious sensibility into the show as the Invisible Man.

Overall, Tim Kring's kickstart to the second half of season one is an exciting and enlightening mix. The characters are always great fun to watch and the premise remains enticing, even now it's been refocused. Paul Shapiro's directing is excellent, with some fantastic set design for Peter's visions and Niki's grim prison.

There's lots for fans to savour here and my interest in how the rest of the season unfolds has been piqued.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Exodus" (Part 2 of 2)

Season 3, Episode 4 - 23 January 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle DIRECTOR: Felix Enrique Alcata
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Michael Hogan (Tigh), James Callis (Baltar), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Tricia Helfer (Number 6), Michael Trucco (Anders), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Grace Park (Sharon), Lucy Lawless (Number 3), Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben Conoy) & Richard Hatch (Tom Zareck)

The rescue mission begins, with Adama taking Galactica back to New Caprica, while Lee is ordered to head for Earth with Pegasus. Meanwhile, the insurgents coordinate the ground operation...

Battlestar Galactica certainly doesn't shy away from action. Exodus Part II contains some awesome visuals that FX fans will be particularly appreciative of. Some of the sequences here put a few movies to shame, illustrating the care and attention lavished on this series.

Exodus Part II is a thrilling pay-off to the careful build-up of the past three episodes. As such it's 80% action and suspense, but all action is hollow without emotion, so there are several spine-tingling scenes of human drama. Not to mention some surprises for Tigh and Starbuck...

Heroism. Loyalty. Duty. The episode has that suffocating feeling of people thrown into an all-or-nothing situation, coupled with the militaristic sense of duty BSG does so well. It's frankly a pleasure to watch this episode, and makes you realize how much you care about these characters. Even the villainous Cylons are more textured and three-dimensional than typical one-note villains, while the traitorous Gaius never loses our sympathy... no matter how low he sinks in his misguided beliefs.

At the centre of all this is Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama. Simply wonderful. He's a man of few words, but his gritty determination is engrossing to watch. Adama is easily one of the most believable characters on television right now.

It's a sin how science-fiction is often snubbed by critics, although crossover successes like Lost and Doctor Who have brought the genre to a wider audience. The secret is that characters are the driving force behind these shows, not the fantastical situations. BSG is at the forefront of this, in a sense, because its premise is the most resolutely "science-fiction", yet reaches a wider audience because its characterisations and plotting is so assured.

It pains me to remember that some die-hard fans of the original 70s series haven't even given this "reimagining" a chance. Their reasoning is flawed, based more on red-tinted nostalgia than reasoned thinking. No, 21st-Century BSG isn't a simple update of Glen A. Larson's original series -- it's more involving, entertaining, enlightening and thought-provoking.
So say we all.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

PRISON BREAK 2.2 - "Otis"

22 January 2007 - Five, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Matt Olmstead DIRECTOR: Bobby Roth
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), Marshall Allman (L.J Burrows), William Fichtner (Agent Mahone), Lane Garrison (Tweener), Peter Stormare (Abruzzi), Stacy Keach (Warden Pope), Ranjit Chowdhry (Dr Gudat), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), Rockmond Dunbar (C-Note), Wade Williams (Bellick), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Matt DeCaro (C.O Geary), Winston West (Cop #1), Jack O'Donnell (Upscale Man), Julius Washington (C.O #1), Chamblee Ferguson (Roy), Michele Renee (Ticket Agent), Mike Trevino (Alley Cop), Dave Maldonado (Bailiff), Darius Safavi (College Student), Kristin Malko (Debra Jean), Kelly Jackson (Courthouse C.O) & Caroline Wickwire (Bellick's Mom)

The fugitives prepare to each go their own way, Lincoln spots an opportunity to break his son L.J out of police custody, while Warden Pope faces the repercussions of the escape...

Watching Prison Break last year was an exercise in patience, each episode carefully nudging along Michael Scofield's escape plan amidst penal system politics and criminal backbiting. The show had focus and a goal that the writers used to squeeze tension from every outrageous situation.

Those prison-based days may be gone, but the opening up of a world beyond Fox River's walls, is just as exciting and tense... just in a different way. It was a smart idea to create a television show based on a prison break, and even though the series has had to evolve into a more unoriginal form (see The Fugitive), its preposterously addictive personality remains intact.

We're still in a period of adjustment, but I'm concerned there might already be too many fracturing storylines -- will each fugitive get their own showcase episode Lost-style? It was simpler when we were focusing on the escape plan and the government conspiracy, but with the characters splitting after their "Last Supper" together, can the show cope under the strain of so many sub-plots? We'll see.

For now such questions remain unanswered, as Otis focuses on Michael and Linc's attempt to free L.J (Linc's son, who became embroiled in the conspiracy against his father last year). Marshall Allman returns as L.J and does a good job, making the teenager's situation believable and painful, while holding his own against William Fichtner in a good interrogation scene.

Ah yes, William Fichtner: fantastic to watch without even saying a word. His casting will prove to be the season's saving grace if things get too silly, as he's such a great presence and solid antagonist. This episode marks the first time Fichtner's Mahone, Scofield and Lincoln share the screen together, and it certainly wets the appetite for future, more explosive, interactions.

Otis is almost a reversal of every episode last year, with Michael and Lincoln trying to break in to a court building, again using secretive codewords to execute their plan (although the eventual rescue isn't nearly as complex as anything last year!)

There are three main sub-plots in Otis, the first involving another escapee's attempt to get to Utah -- with Tweener (Lane Garrison) infiltrating a college for a lift. It's actually quite funny that one of the show's dopiest characters seems to be having much more luck than everyone else in his escape!

Elsewhere, slippery T-Bag (Robert Knepper; terrific) has his hand reattached by an Indian vet. That last sentence is indicative of how gleefully silly the show is, but it keeps such a straight face you can't help but accept every ridiculous trick it comes up with. It's second only to 24 in its ability to stretch plausibility and get away with it. However, of all the returning characters, T-Bag is the one most likely to fall into the trap Anthony Hopkins faced with Hannibal Lecter -- some villains are more entertaining when caged.

Finally, Warden Pope (Stacy Keach; excellent) feels the heat along with Captain Bellick (Wade Williams) over the escape. These scenes unfortunately spell the end for one of the characters, while a late scene revealing bullish Bellick still lives at home with his mother is absolute bliss.

Otis is another 45-minutes of tension from what will hopefully become a season of high stakes cat-and-mouse. There are a few areas of concern for the longevity of the show, but this episode succeeds on its own merits and provides another enjoyable ride.

Monday, 22 January 2007

24, 6.2 - "7:00 AM - 8:00 AM"

21 January 2007 - Sky One, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Manny Coto DIRECTOR: Jon Cassar
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), D.B Woodside (President Wayne Palmer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), Jayne Atkinson (Karen Hayes), Carlo Rota (Morris O'Brian), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Regina King (Sandra Palmer), Alexander Siddig (Hamri al-Assad), Michael Angarano (Scott Wallace), Megan Gallagher (Gillian Wallace), Adoni Maropis (Abu Fayed), Kal Penn (Ahmed Amar), Rapael Sbarge (Ray Wallace), Scott William Winters (FBI Agent), Steven Schub (Henchman #1), Eric Bruskotter (Stan), Adrian R'Mante (Omar), Van Epperson (Ticket Agent), Alfred Woodley (FBI Agent Nichols), Muttalib Ibrahim (Malek), Julie Quinn (IAA Staffer), Herzi H. Tobey (Middle Eastern Man #2), Marci Michelle (CTU Worker), Patrick Sabongul (Nasir)

Jack escapes from his captors with information about the real mastermind behind the terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, with nobody trusting his judgement, he's forced to take matters into his own hands...

Only 24 can get away with silly plot contrivances like having everybody disbelieve Jack Bauer. How many times has he saved the country? I think it's about time those suits in the White House just follow Jack's lead. Still, frustrating decision-making is part and parcel of the show and just one of the many clichés 24 somehow makes a virtue of.

The second episode of the sixth season sees Jack back doing what he does best: taking matters into his own hands and getting the job done, despite what his superiors think. But as the story progresses it becomes clear the Jack Bauer we know isn't quite the same man now. The months of torture have resulted in Jack feeling more compassion for suspects he's forced to torture himself, leading to a great scene where Jack fails to extract vital information.

Of course, I'm sure it won't be long before Jack's gets rid of his demons (probably with a fatal neck snap). Remember how long it took him to kick the drugs habit back in season 3? Already, just by pulling on a fresh sweater, Jack's physicality is back to its peak...

Episode 2 introduces us to some more recurring characters. First there's plucky Sandra Palmer (Regina King), sister of the President, who works at the Islamic-American Alliance (IAA), then there's terrorist reformer Assad (Alexander Siddig), who is believed to be the mastermind behind the nation's bombings but is actually hoping to start political talks with the US. Both actors are very good, particularly Siddig, who many will know as kindly Dr Bashir in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, but almost unrecognisable with beard and grizzled features.

Plot B of the new season is focusing on the suburban Wallace family, whose neighbour Ahmed (Kal Penn) is in cahoots with Fayed and his team. The use of a parallel plot is something 24 does regularly, although this one isn't particularly fresh. It's clearly designed to give us a look at the paranoia and racism sweeping across the country, but the idea of throwing an ordinary family together with a terrorist sympathiser just isn't that interesting. The use of a terrorist sleeper cell back in season 4 was much more effective, but obviously 24 is using up its store of original ideas.

Still, Megan Gallagher is good as mother Gillian (remember her in Millennium?), Michael Angarano is fine as dad Scott, but it's Kal Penn who makes the strongest impression. Some critics are already griping that Mulsims are the villains again, but they seem to forget that Mexicans (season 3), British (season 3), the Chinese (season 4), Americans (season 1 and 5) have also been vilified.

The second hour is more expansive than the first, with the use of some great stunts involving Apache helicopters and a thrilling pursuit of a bomber aboard an L.A subway train, but there's also a general feeling of apathy regarding the Wallace family subplot.

24, 6.1 - "6:00 AM - 7:00 AM"

21 January 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Howard Gordon DIRECTOR: Jon Cassar
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), D.B Woodside (President Wayne Palmer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), Jayne Atkinson (Karen Hayes), Carlo Rota (Morris O'Brian), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Regina King (Sandra Palmer), Michael Angarano (Scott Wallace), Megan Gallagher (Gillian Wallace), Tzi Ma (Cheng Zhi), Adoni Maropis (Abu Fayed), Kal Penn (Ahmed Amar), Rapael Sbarge (Ray Wallace), Eric Bruskotter (Stan), Steven Schub (Henchman #1), D.C Douglas (Blake Simon), Ruben Pla (Yusef Amar), Khalil Joseph (Middle Eastern Man), Marci Michelle (CTU Worker), Benito Paje (Young East Asian Man)

The country is in the midst of a sustained terrorist campaign against innocent civilians. President Wayne Palmer secures the release of Jack Bauer from the Chinese, to use as a bargaining chip with a terrorist informant...

Jack Bauer, fresh from saving the country from toxic gas and exposing the President as a criminal, was last seen pleading to die in a ship bound for Shanghai, captured by the Chinese in retaliation for his storming of their Embassy in season 4...

Season 6 leaps ahead in time by 19 months. In that time, Wayne Palmer has followed in his late brother David's footsteps by becoming President Of The United States. Unfortunately, things aren't going well, with the nation caught in a reign of terror. Fear, paranoia and racism infect the lives of everyday citizens, some of whom are turning against each other, with the governments powerless to stem the tide of violence....

Thank God Jack is back, eh? The country goes to hell whenever he's not around! Palmer secures the return of Jack to U.S soil, so that he can be used as a bargaining chip with terrorist Fayed -- who has a grudge to settle with Mr Bauer...

24 remains essential viewing for fans. The wonderful real-time format and tight plotting is back in force, grabbing viewers by the throat and refusing to let their attention wander. The opening episodes of every new season are particularly good, as 24 regularly takes leaps into the future and restyles itself. As such, it remains fresh and invigorated, despite predictably moving into tried-and-trusted routines. It may find time to restyle, but it's never truly reinvented itself. But why fix what's not broken?

Kiefer Sutherland is superb as Jack Bauer, already an iconic character who never gets stale. Sutherland has a quiet intensity that's magnetic to watch. The sight of Jack bound in chains, with haggard beard and scars laced over his body is the most is the most humbling appearance of the super-agent yet. It's not long before he's had a shave, but the months of mistreatment have clearly taken their toll.

There are familiar faces back in action: the wonderful James Morrison as CTU boss Bill Buchanan, intense Roger Cross as Curtis Manning, Mary Lynn Rajskub as stroppy geek Chloe, D.B Woodside as mild-mannered Wayne Palmer and Jayne Atkinson as Karen Hayes (now National Security Advisor to the President and wife of Bill.)

However, season 6's premiere is notable for its new faces (the death toll of characters in season 5 was pretty high). Amongst them is the reliable Paul MacNicol as Chief of Staff Thomas Lennox (another untrustworthy slimeball...), Carlo Rota as Morris O'Brian (introduced last year, but really shining now), Eric Balfour returns from season 1 as computer whiz Milo (now in CTU management), and Marisol Nichols appears as CTU's number two Nadia Yassir.

The added stimuli of characters and a fresh plot make the premiere episode particularly memorable. The narrative flows quickly and smoothly, with the dynamics expertly laid out in the writing. Now in its sixth year, the team behind 24 are dab hands at this sort of thing, and there's no sign of fatigue or repetition.

In fact, this looks to be the most plausible storyline yet. By focusing on the relatable subject of suicide bombers, then cranking it up a few notches, season 6 presents us with an intriguing "what if?" scenario. 24 enjoys showing us heightened versions of our own world, making unlikely events frighteningly plausible. The show has mostly existed post-9/11, so even its most far-fetched moments aren't so easy to shrug off as they would have been a mere seven years ago. But now, on the evidence of this opener at least, they seem to be showing us a glimpse at a nightmarish future...

However, for all its attempts to shine a light on real politics, 24 is essentially just rollicking good entertainment. Pure and simple. The joy of the show comes from the adrenaline rush every moment presents us with: tough decisions, unthinkable choices, dangerous situations, gruelling tortures, dizzying stunts, insidious double-crossing and that omnipresent ticking clock...

For fans, they need no persuasion to watch. From the moment Jack emerges in shackles from the belly of a Hercules transport, to the moment he starts kicking ass again, they'll be hooked. For newcomers, the show is more accessible than other serialized dramas. It helps if you know the character relationships and histories, but each season tells a new story and the anti-terrorism premise is easy to plug into. If anybody doesn't get swept up in the pace and atmosphere... well, check their pulse.

Make no mistake about it: television's answer to crack cocaine is back and refusing to let the quality dip.

Friday, 19 January 2007

CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER 2007 - RACIST?

The boring fifth series of Celebrity Big Brother, crippled by its Z-list housemates and the unwanted invasion of Jade Goody's clan, has descendes into train wreck status, spearheaded by alleged racism towards attractive Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

Is it an overreaction? Perhaps. But 33,000 complaints can't be ignored. The people of India have even been burning efigy's of the Big Brother producers on the streets (do they get Channel 4?)

Needless to say, as a result of this upset, ratings have rocketed. Tony Blair was even quizzed over it in Parliament. Endemol must be laughing all the way to the bank -- a Big Brother flop has now become the most talked-about series ever. The New York Times even ran a feature on the Jade vs Shilpa goings-on!

The thought of Britons tuning in to try and witness a bit of racism is unsettling, but very human. Racism is dramatic, even if it's distasteful to viewers. I hope Shilpa outstays her abusers in the house, although I don't envy her having to sit through more abuse just to claim this vacuous title.

Apparently, housemates who walk off the show aren't getting paid their fee this year. I'm not sure if that's true, but there are reports Donny Tourette tried to get back in once he found out! He should have read his contract as carefully as Leo Sayer before getting H from Steps to give him a peg-up over the wall, eh?

So is money the reason why Shilpa doesn't just leave? Is she prepared to suffer racist abuse for the pay cheque at the end?

It has struck me from day one that Shilpa was least prepared for Big Brother. Her reactions to various things was of wide-eyed innocence, while the rest of the BB-savvy housemates sat around correctly predicting twists and probable events in the house. She was always at a disadvantage (even fellow foreigners Jermaine Jackson and Dirk Benedict had an idea what was in store through the pop-culture surrounding reality TV these days).

Still, if the British housemates are so clued up, why don't they realize their attitudes will look bad on TV? Celebrities have more to lose than regular people, in terms of career, so why even risk bad-mouthing anybody? Perhaps it reveals just how much of a pressure cooker the BB house is -- something you don't really understand from watching an hour's highlights each day.

If peoples' true colours really are being shown, they're murky greys and dark blacks. Danielle Lloyd, the scouse girlfriend of footballer Teddy Sheringham, struts around like a vindictive little madam with half a braincell. She may be beautiful, but her ignorance and intolerance makes her the ugliest one in there.

Jo O'Meara, who was always presented as the most talented, normal, genuine and smiley member of pop group S Club 7, appears to be a sour-faced grump who likes to stick the boot in.

Jade Goody (who is of mixed race), is someone who embraces her own dumbness (it's made her a fortune), but her attempts to appear neutral and diplomatic infront of Shilpa are constantly blown apart when caught bitching with the other girls soon after... or forgetting her "performance" and just letting rip.

Jade's boyfriend Jack, who says little of importance ("what's an envyo?"), was rumoured to have called Shilpa a paki, although Channel 4 deny this. But his suggestion that Shilpa clean a toilet "with her teeth", after Shilpa had blocked it with soup, was a worryingly base comment so odd even Shilpa shrugged it off as a failed gag.

Jackiey Budden, Jade's mum, was booted off the show before the racist furore took hold, but calling Shilpa "The Indian" in some interviews and infamously failing to pronounce her name properly doesn't look good. However, in Jackiey's case I'm actually more inclined to believe her ignorance and low-IQ was more to blame.

I can't wait to see what all these people have to say for themselves when they come out. I hope none of them take the cowardy option and walk out -- to be prepped by publicists into apologizing and giving half-arsed reasons for any uncharacteristic behaviour -- as Leo Sayer clearly was.

No, let each one be booted out by the public and tell Davina to grow some balls and ask them directly about all this. I sincerely hope Danielle, Jo, Jade and Jack can persuade me it was actually a "clash of cultures" (as Channel 4 have suggested), but let them speak for themselves.

So, has it all been blown out of proportion? Shilpa can be a bit annoying sometimes, and tipping a bowl of soup down a toilet was never going to be a good idea, but she hasn't done anything to deserve this level of abuse. The arguing over how long she should be cooking a chicken was unbelievable!

I really hope the abuse stems from boredom and not genuine malice. Sometimes it just kills time to gossip and bitch about people, and the BB housemates have a LOT of time to kill... but I wouldn't get my hopes up over a post-BB modelling career, Danielle; or a recording contract, Jo; or another TV deal, Jade...

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Wallace & Gromit - The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005)

DIRECTOR: Nick Park & Steve Box
WRITERS: Bob Baker, Steve Box & Mark Burton (characters created by Nick Park
CAST: Peter Sallis (Wallace), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Victor Quatermaine), Helena Bonham-Carter (Lady Tottington), Peter Kay (PC Macintosh), Nicholas Smith (Rev Clement Hedges) & Liz Smith (Mrs Mulch)

When the town's vegetables comes under threat by a giant rabbit, it's up to crackpot inventor Wallace and his trusy dog Gromit to catch the beast before it ruins a Giant Vegetable Competition...

Animator Nick Park has already had huge success with Wallace and Gromit in their three short films; A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995). Indeed, Aardman Animations won two Oscars for their troubles, and a lucrative deal with DreamWorks that resulted in smash-hit Chicken Run.

10 years after Wallace and Gromit's last outing, and prompted by the collapse of Aaardman's The Tortoise & The Hare adaptation, the intrepid duo are back in their first feature-length adventure. The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is a loving pastiche of the horror genre, particularly the 50s/60s Hammer Horrors, in a tale with clear nods to Frankenstein and The Wolf Man.

The main problem facing the movie is whether the material can be successfully stretched past 30-minutes. Were-Rabbit becomes slightly flaccid after forty minutes, but generally the pace is strong and the developments in the story keep things interesting.

In comparison to the shorts, Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is undoubtedly more complex and larger in scale, but fundamentally nothing has changed. The animation is more polished than 1995's A Close Shave, but the only notable advance in quality is with the larger sets, multiple supporting characters, bigger action sequences and a few instances of CGI (floating rabbits).

The voice cast are all perfect for their roles. Peter Sallis returns as Wallace, bringing his recognisable northern twang to the global masses. Gromit remains silent, animated brilliantly to convey such varied emotions with a raise of the brow or the shaking of his head. Ralph Fiennes is the biggest name lending their vocal talents, playing pompous clot Lord Quatermaine. Helena Bonham-Carter is excellent as Lady Tottington, an upperclass love-interest for Wallace with a serious overbite.

Supoorting the main players are comedian Peter Kay as PC Macintosh (har-har), comedy actress Liz Smith as Mrs Mulch and a fabulous turn from Nicholas Smith as the OTT Reverend Hedges.

Fans of Wallace and Gromit will find themselves in comfortable territory. The movie is exactly what you're expecting; a longer, bigger version of their earlier short films. The British sense of humour is retained, despite American input potentially excising UK colloquialisms from the script, so the character's hearts beat to their own rhythm.

That said, while Curse Of The Were-Rabbit sets itself apart from the earlier adventures with its broader premise and additional characters, there's nothing particularly new here (another mute dog for Gromit to battle is a case in point). The comedy again stems from an overflow of visual gags (margerine labelled "Middle Age Spread", etc), those superb facial reactions from Gromit, quick action sequences and amusing gadgets (the sequence where rabbits are sucked down their own holes is a hoot).

What Curse Of The Were-Rabbit lacks is a sense of the bizarre (a trip to a cheesy moon and mechanical trousers seems radical in comparison to its simple horror parody). It's also unfortunate that the movie lacks a villain as memorable as Feathers McGraw from The Wrong Trousers, while Wallace himself is absent for a large chunk of of the finale! However, these nitpicks won't spoil your enjoyment. This remains an entertaining adventure/mystery with gags for adults to chuckle over while kids enjoy the colourful characters and breathless action.

Aardman Animations have proved the popularity of stop-motion has yet to wilt under the glare of computer animation, unlike 2-D animation. I think the reason is obvious: traditional 2-D animation is like watching drawings coming to life, computer-animations are like watching 3-D graphics tell you a story, but plasticine/model animation is like watching toys come to life... and is there anybody who hasn't dreamed of that happening? With Aardman movies, that dream becomes reality.

Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is a faithful and enjoyable continuation of Nick Park's wonderful creations. While it's essentially just another 30 minute short expanded into a 120 minute feature (with more buildings and characters thanks to the larger budget), the charm and humour hasn't been compromised by its American backers.

Cracking stuff.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Exodus" (Part 1 of 2)

Season 3, Episode 3 - 16 January 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle DIRECTOR: Felix Enrique AlcataCAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Nicki Clyne (Cally Tyrol), James Callis (Baltar), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Tricia Helfer (Number 6), Dean Stockwell (Brother Cavil), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Grace Park (Sharon), Michael Trucco (Anders), Lucy Lawless (Number 3), Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben Conoy), Richard Hatch (Tom Zareck) & Donnelly Rhodes (Dr Cottle)

Number 3 begins to suspect that the first Human-Cyclon hybrid didn't die shortly after birth, and is being hidden amongst the humans. Meanwhile, Adama finalizes his rescue plan...

It's confusing why BSG splits its stories into two-parts, particularly when some two-parters are consecutive. No sooner do we finish the Occupation/Precipice opener, then we're into a special Exodus couplet. The show has always worked best as a continuing serial, so I fail to see the point in this format rule... but that's just me.

Exodus Part I doesn't actually feature an exodus, but characters and subplots are moved around like chess pieces, culminating with an ending that should leave you desperate to see the conclusion.

BSG now has such a wide variety of characters (many of whom are duplicates of each other, or go by dual names) that it's possibly one of the most complicated TV shows. A such, it's amazing just how focused and clean the writing continues to be, but it's still becoming difficult to keep track of the show's multi-strand storylines and character relationships. The show uses flashbacks or prologues to help viewers keep up, but I think BSG is nearly impenetrable for new viewers these days.

Part I's focus is on the mounting preparation for Galactica's daring rescue of everyone on New Caprica, although the more interesting aspect is the return of the hybrid baby Hera, daughter of Cylon traitor Sharon and Helo, whose death was faked to protect her. In Exodus Part I, Number 3 (the enchanting Lucy Lawless) begins to suspect the Hera's still alive, which should lead to plenty of story possibilities in the future.

This new set-up to BSG in season 3 is interesting, although I'm hoping it will conclude soon. There's something depressing and stale about the situation on New Caprica, and it will be a relief to get back to the fundamentals of the series, with the optimism restored. That said, the New Caprica episodes have proven more interesting than I initially thought possible. It has been a treat to leap 16 months into the future and shake-up all the characters; particularly bitter hard-ass Tigh, impassioned Chief Tyrol, the friendship between Zareck and Roslin, the overweight Lee, disillusioned Baltar, motherly Starbuck, and the redeemed Sharon.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

PRISON BREAK 2.1 – "Manhunt"

15 January 2007 – Five, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Paul Scheuring DIRECTOR: Kevin Hooks
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Peter Stormare (Abruzzi), Wade Williams (Bellick), Benjamin Miles (C-Note), William Fichtner (Alexander Malone), Amaury Nolasco (Fernando Sucre), Sarah Wayne Callies (Dr Tancredi), Jeff Perry (Terrence Steadman), Robin Tunney (Veronica), Jason Davis (Wheeler), Stacy Keach (Warden Henry Pope), Carlise Studer (Grace), Charles Baker (Male Camper), Larry Dotson (Reporter), Tammy Neuyen (Nurse), Stuart Greer (Hunter), Timothy Walter (C.O #4), Ranjit Chowdrhy (Dr Marvin Gudat), Marcus Lyle Brown (PED #1), Lawrence Varnado (C.O #1), John McIntosh (Dr 2), Laura Scott Wade (Sid), Terry Parks (C.O Rivers), Rommel Sulit (Dr 1), DuShon Brown (Katie), Phillip Edward Van Lear (C.O Patterson), Melissa Cutler (Anchorwoman), Brian Hunt (High School Student) & Stephen Chester Prince (Detective)

Eight hours after the escape, Michael, Lincoln, Sucre, C-Note and Abruzzi head for Oswego as FBI Special Agent Alexander Malone is assigned to lead the pursuit of the fugitives...

Last year Prison Break became an unexpected success, mainly because the writers actually managed to do the unthinkable and spread a movie premise over an entire season of television.

Audiences became hooked on Michael Scofield's attempt to break his brother Lincoln out of Death Row by getting himself jailed, but with the prison's architecture encoded onto his body in an elaborate tattoo. It screamed high-concept and provided one of the year's most addictive weekly thrills.

Put simply: watching the prison break was a lot of fun. But can the escape prove to be just as exciting? Well, on the evidence of the season two premiere Manhunt, the answer could be yes... but it's early days.

Manhunt effectively retools the show into The Fugitive(s), with Wade Williams' Captain Bellick enjoying the Tommy Lee Jones role, although it's new star William Fichtner who proves most memorable as FBI Special Agent Malone. Malone is an astute, professional and intelligent law-enforcer, who immediately deduces how Scofield orchestrated the miraculous escape (yep, the tattoo's real use is finally revealed). Having a character who's a match for Scofield's genius is the one factor that promises to make this season standout, and it will be enjoyable to see the battle of wits unfold.

The plot itself is mainly an extension of the typical plot from inside the prison walls -– wherein Scofield's tattoo gives handy instructions on how to find civilian clothes and fake IDs that were stashed before Scofield got himself arrested. If we're being nitpicky, why would you need a tattoo to remind yourself where you stashed some clothes? If only super-genius Scofield could retain some facts in his head, the episode's near-miss climax would never have happened!

But the ludicrousness is part of Prison Break's appeal. Like 24, if you look deeply the entire thing crumbles, but if you accept the leaps of logic and written conveniences, this is an exciting drama that's acted impeccable by all concerned.

All the cast return in fine form, particularly bulldog Bellick (you can smell the hope of vengeance dripping off him), although it's William Fichtner who makes a real impression. Fichtner was fantastic in last year's cancelled Invasion (as another lawman, albeit alien) and he should prove to be a fantastic addition to the show. I personally can't wait to see the cat-and-mouse chase continue purely because of his presence.

The worrying aspect to season 2 is how the show can retain its prison-based characters (who have no real reason to be that involved in tracking the "Fix River Eight" beyond helping the Feds' investigation). It will also be interesting to see if the show can keep its momentum going regarding the convoluted US government conspiracy that put Lincoln on Death's Row to begin with.

Overall, Manhunt gets the restyled show off to a strong start. I'm concerned that watching escapees in the outside world won't be as fun as the pressure cooker drama of season 1, but... hey, I was proven wrong by this show before, and I certainly hope I am again...

Monday, 15 January 2007

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)
DIRECTOR: Spike Jonz
WRITER: Charlie Kaufman
CAST: John Cusack (Craig Schwarz), Cameron Diaz (Lotte Schwarz), Catherine Keener (Maxine), John Malkovich (Himself), Orson Bean (Dr Lester), Mary Kay Place (Floris) & Charlie Sheen (Himself)

A failed puppeteer takes a filing job in an office, where he discovers a portal behind a cabinet that leads directly into actor John Malkovich's head...

Being John Malkovich is undoubtedly one of modern cinemas most mind-bending movies and a startling debut for screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Direector Spike Jonz, who was handed the script by father-in-law Francis Ford Coppolla, manages to craft an intelligent and insane slice of cinema with a deliciously dark streak.

John Cusack takes the lead as failed pupeteer Craig Schwarz, a pony-tailed loner who's married to Lotte (Cameron Diaz), a frazzle-haired frump who works in a pet shop. Their poor existence forces Craig to get a job on the 7 1/2 floor of the Mertin Flemmer building, a preposterous place with a low ceiling that forces its employees to stoop. It's here Craig becomes infatuated with office bitch Maxine (Catherine Keener), before discovering a portal into the mind of noted "creepy" actor John Malkovich, played with amazing honesty by Malkovich himself.

The premise is extremely high-concept, but comes loaded with dangers: will audiences accept the idea? Do they even know who Malkovich is? Where can the idea go? Thankfully, Kaufman fills his script with answers to every single question... and then some.

The concept is utter madness, but the universe Kaufman creates is so left-field, you accept it the same way you accept Alice venturing down a rabbit hole. As for Malkovich's fame; he may not be a household name, but everyone knows the face, while audiences attracted to thier material will likely be aware of Malkovich's work. The level of celebrity isn't really the issue and Malkovich's persona is perfectly suited to the material. The intense yet introverted actor should be commended for allowing such a bizarre insight into his pesonality.

As for the idea's sustainability, that's easily the film's greatest strength. Kaufman squeezes every element of drama and conflict out of the idea, from Lotte's sexual awakening as a "man" when inside Malkovich, Maxine's "lesbian" relationship with Malkovich-Lotte, the use of the portal for financial gain (a literal 15 minutes of fame for paying customers) and Craig's gradual skill in pulling Malkovich's strings like a marionette. On top of all the quirky relationships that arise, Kaufman also throws in a secret society aware of Malkovich as a "vessel" and shows us what happens when a man enters his own mind...

There's a huge amount to enjoy and puzzle over. The first part of the film is laced with oddball humour (the low ceiling, a deaf receptionist, eccentric boss), before the laughs are replaced by a bewitching oddness, then takes some sinister twists into darker territory. Kaufman pushes the film into some extraordinary areas, ripe for debate amongst friends, with the final moment being one of the most painful and haunting sequences you'll ever see on film.

The cast are all fantastic and beyond criticism; Cusack is believable as an anxious nerd, Cameron Diaz is great and almost unrecognisable as Lotte, Catherine Keener is amazing as manipulating Maxine, Orson Bean brings a kooky edge as Mr Lester, while John Malkovich is a revelation.

Spike Jonz's camerawork is excellent and the production design a brilliant use of dark, mysterious and impersonal shades. Jonz never goes overboard, allowing the performances and story to take precendence, although a late chase sequence through Malkovich's subconscious is stunning (and provides inspiration for a similar moment in Monster's, Inc. a few years later).

But this is Charlie Kaufman's film. It's rare that a screenwriter's work stands out above the film's technicalities and cast's performances, but the story has always been king. Being John Malkovich is a walking testament to this, as you're always wondering just who was responsible for dreaming up this wacky idea and transforming it into such a human tragedy.

All hail King Kaufman.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

FLASH - AHH! AHH!


The Sci-Fi Channel has greenlit production on a Flash Gordon television series, based on the classic comic-strip first published in 1935. The 22 episodes will adapt the tale of the eponymous hero, who is transported to the alien planet Mongo with his friends Dr Zarkov and Dale Arden, where they battle the planet's tyrannical ruler Ming The Merciless.

Flash Gordon was most famously adapted into a camp 1980 movie by Mike Hodges, starring Sam J. Jones, Timothy Dalton, Max Von Sydow and Brian Blessed. The film's iconic musical score was provided by rock band Queen.

The new television series is set to begin filming in Canada, for a July premiere in the USA.

Friday, 12 January 2007

INTERNET OF INTEREST #14

I've been trawling the 'net again and found some more choice pics for your delectation!

Unfilmable Novels: an interesting list of some "unfilmable" novels, together with suggestions for which directors could potentially tackle them. Remember, Lord Of The Rings would have been in this category 10 years ago...

Anime Simpsons/Futurama: a talented artist posted some interesting cast drawings for The Simpsons and Futurama, with the characters drawn in the style of Japanese anime. Amazingly, 20th Century Fox have since been in touch and he could even get a job on the new Futurama episodes!

Battlestar Galactica Movie: a DVD movie planned, to bridge season 3 and 4. Of course, with US ratings on the slide, there's the very real possibility that Sci-Fi US will ditch BSG this year...

Star Trek XI: Lost creator J.J Abrams talks about his latest project, a Star Trek movie prequel...

Body Counts: ever wondered exactly how many people died onscreen in movies such as RoboCop, The Matrix and Rambo? Wonder no more...

... in the self-explanatory stakes: Top 10 Visual Effects Scenes and the Best Low-Budget Sci-Fi Of 2006.

Finally, a quick update on DMDB's plans in the near-future. The ongoing series reviews will include Prison Break season 2, Battlestar Galactica season 3, 24 season 6 and (potentially) Jericho. If anyone has a comment about the quality of Jericho, send a message!

Thursday, 11 January 2007

CASINO ROYALE
Cert: 12A Duration: 144 minutes
DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
WRITERS: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Paul Haggis (based on the novel by Ian Fleming)
CAST: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chifre), Judi Dench (M), Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Lieter), Caterina Murino (Solange), Simon Abkarian (Alex Dimitrios), Isaach De Bankole (Steven Obanno), Jesper Christensen (Mr White), Ivana Mikicekiv (Valenka), Sebastien Foucan (Mollako) & Ludger Pistor (Mendel)

MI6 agent James Bond is assigned to beat an international arms dealer at poker...

It must be the most simplistic premise of any Bond film ever. Based on author Ian Fleming's debut Bond novel, Casino Royale is a stripped-down slice of espionage with the focus on a high-stakes card game (baccarat in the book, poker here). This is the film chosen to rethink Bond following the overblown excess of Die Another Day.

Daniel Craig steps into Pierce Brosnan's shoes, but gets the chance to do something no other Bond actor did: create the character. Craig's Bond has clear nods to Sean Connery's iconic turn, but even Connery appeared fully-formed in Dr No. Unlike the suave machismo of Connery, Craig presents us with a reckless "blunt instrument" who makes mistakes and pays the price.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (writers of every Bond film since 1995's Goldeneye) are joined by award-winning scribe Paul Haggis (Crash), and this triumverate do an effective job of translating the book's thin plot into 144 minutes. However, the film is choppy and uneven in tone (the monochrome prologue immediately jars with the colourful credits sequence), while action sequences are effective but often superfluous (particularly an airport dilemma). But once the film transfers to the titular casino for its mid-section, things settle and become involving, making good use of the actors and situation, before the flabby final 20 minutes in Venice.

While the script's pace and consistency is sometimes strained, it does contain some cracking dialogue and moments of sly humour (the "shaken or stirred?" line is worth the price of admission alone). But it's the characterisation that really works...

Judi Dench bridges the Brosnan/Craig era as M, but has something more substantial and interesting to say here. Not since the infamous "dinosaur of the Cold War" speech in Godeneye has M seemed so authoritative and joyous to watch.

Eva Green is wonderful as Vesper Lynd, one of the best Bond Girls of all time, particularly because she's treated as a believable person and not just a sex object. Her rapport with Craig is undeniable and her icy demeanour, hiding a tenderness, is charming to watch.

Mads Mikkelsen makes for a good villain, a realistic creation of quiet efficiency and, as we later discover, a streak of sadism. As Le Chifre, Mikkelsen is a magnetic presence and a more understandable villain for the series. The writers keep Le Chifre's asthma inhaler from the novel, but the inclusion of a defective tear duct (resulting in him crying blood) is a trite overcooked.

The supporting cast are all fine. The brilliant Giancarlo Giannini is a good Mathis (Bond's French contact), while Caterina Murino is sizzling hot as Solange (although her horseback entrance is quickly eclipsed by Bond's own muscled rise from the sea). Jeffrey Wright is good but underused as CIA Agent Felix Lieter, but will hopefully return in future installments.

But it's Daniel Craig who makes the film. His 007, despite what pessimistic internet campaigners said, is the most interesting and dangerous incarnation of the character. Ever. Craig's physicality is striking; he's the only Bond who would genuinely unsettle enemies. Roger Moore and Brosnan were particularly guilty of hiding behind gadgets when things got tough, but Craig's weapons of choice are his quick mind and quicker fists. There's no laser-watch or poison dart pen in sight...

But it's not only the physical aspect that Craig has down pat. We finally see beyond the glossy veneer of Bond's tuxedo and discover a tortured man at war with his own nature. Forget James Bond as indestructible super-spy, Craig's Bond is a brooding soul who feels pain and faces some gruelling fight sequences. There's also some emotional devastation that cuts even deeper than On Her Majesty's Secret Service's famous epilogue and provides the impetus for a spine-tingling final line...

Director Martin Campbell, who also reintroduced Bond to audiences with Goldeneye, impresses with his restraint and commitment to resetting the character. However, at times Casino Royale is underwhelming and, to be honest, nowhere near as exciting and thrilling as it thinks. The crane stunt sequence in Jamaica is impressive, the airport sequence adequate guff, and the flooding house sequence interesting, but there's not much else for people expecting a globetrotting rollercoaster ride.

In getting the tone and characters right, the film forgets to provide enough big-screen mayhem. A pivotal card game is enlivened by some fistifuffs mid-game, but long periods of the film are quite laborious and would have benefitted from more spectacle or espionage. Still, as readers of Fleming's book attest, the film is already more cinematic than you'd think possible given the source material.

Overall, this is a triumphant reboot for the character and a pleasing shake-up to the long-running franchise. In some ways it's a shame the film is restricted by Fleming's story, and the whole back-to-basics edict does mean Casino Royale doesn't always feel like a true "Bond Film" (even the iconic music is criminally absent until the end credits).

While it's riddled with flaws (bad credits sequence, terrible theme song, overlong), the successes more than make up for these problems -- particularly the crucial success of Daniel Craig.

A fine appetiser that leaves you hungry for the main course.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Precipice" (Part 2 of 2)

Season 3, Episode 2 - 09 January 2007 - Sky One, 10.00 pm.
WRITER: Ronald D. Moore DIRECTOR: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Michael Hogan (Tigh), James Callis (Baltar), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Tricia Helfer (Number 6), Dean Stockwell (Brother Cavil), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Nicki Clyne (Cally Tyrol), Michael Trucco (Anders), Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben Conoy), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Grace Park (Sharon), Richard Hatch (Tom Zareck) & Lucy Lawless (Number 3)


Following the insurgency suicide bombing, the Cylons arrest 200 suspects. Meanwhile, Adama debates trying to save the captives on New Caprica, or secure a future for those who escaped...

It's often startling just how well Battlestar Galactica works as an allegory of current world politics. The writers have been inspired by the situation in Iraq this season, and the issues handled in this episode are of an expected adult nature.

The Iraq analogy is clearer than usual, and mainly interesting because the Cylons are seemingly modelled on the invading coalition, while the humans are cast as the Iraqi insurgents. Again, it's indicative of BSG's bravery that this reversal of expectation puts a sympathetic light on the terrorist/insurgents trying to defeat the outsiders.

The Cylons are also more recognisable as the "normal" ones through their religious beliefs. The humans in the show believe in the Lords Of Kobol (a multi-God religion similar to our own Greek Gods), whereas the Cylons believe in one true God of love -- as most of our own faiths do. So, in spiritual terms too, the Cylon enemy are actually more relatable to us!

Such deep themes make it easy to forget that BSG is a science-fiction show at heart, particularly when watching these opening episodes. It refuses to rely on futuristic technology and special-effects to elicit easy excitement, instead focusing on people facing tough choices, and every actor treats the material with the respect it deserves.

As Tigh, Michael Hogan's character has been given quite an overhaul for season 3. Tigh was always cantankerous, but to see him condone sending men on suicide missions to defeat the enemy is a ballsy move by the writers. It will be interesting to see if his tough tactics will be accepted by best-friend Adama, or will his controversial decisions cost him his job?

The rest of the cast continue their impressive work, but Dean Stockwell deserves a special mention. He's only been in the show for a handful of episodes as Brother Cavil, but he's made a huge impression. Stockwell's a wonderful veteran actor, best known to genre fans as Quantum Leap's Al, but to see him sink his teeth into this bleak sci-fi universe is a joy.

Freed of last episode's exposition, Precipice rattles along much faster, making full use of its large cast and offering more compelling insights into their personalities, while also tightening emotional skrews (Starbuck makes a startling discovery, Gaius has a life-or-death choice to make, amongst others).


However, while there's no denying the show's quality and ambition, it's suffering from increasingly blurred motivation for its central man-vs-robot confict. I understood the show's premise (man-made machines rebel against their creators), and I found it interesting when that old chestnut developed -- with the robots revealing they crave humans to procreate and feel love -- but now the Cylons seems to be intergalactic bullies for no particular reason.

Brother Cavil (Stockwell) said the Cylons now want to work with humans after their genocide of Caprica and attempt to replace them failed. But if that's true, then why treat everyone so badly? If they consider themselves superior to humans, then fine... but I still think their motivation has become a little strained now. They've effectively become metal Nazi's with their own brand of "Final Solution", which just isn't as original.

Still, this is another fine episode from an ambitious show that revels in its own brand of gritty sci-fi. There's nothing else like it on television, so don't miss it.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Occupation" (Part 1 of 2)

Season 3, Episode 1 - 09 January 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm.
WRITER: Ronald D. Moore DIRECTOR: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Michael Hogan (Tigh), James Callis (Baltar), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Tricia Helfer (Number 6), Dean Stockwell (Brother Cavil), Michael Trucco (Anders), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben Conoy), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Nicki Clyne (Cally Tyrol), Grace Park (Sharon) & Lucy Lawless (Number 3)

Four months into the Cylon's occupation of New Caprica, those left behind by the Colonial fleet struggle under the new regime, while others have become insurgents...

The genius of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica has been its ability to mix futuristic sci-fi with contemporary issues of war. Occupation continues the brave new direction created at the close of season 2, with the fleet setting up home on a new world after Gaius Baltar assumed Presidency, only to be invaded by the Cylons after a year of peace...

For BSG to shake up its format so radically took courage from producer Ronald D. Moore, an ex-Star Trek writer who worked most prolifically on Deep Space Nine, another series that used themes of war, religion and politics very strongly. With BSG, Moore has not only breathed life into a fondly-remember, but ultimately inconsequential bit of 70s kitsche, he's arguably created one of the most dramatic and astute sci-fi shows in decades.

Occupation brings us up to speed with the main characters four months later: Adama is struggling with a skeleton crew, Apollo has become an ineffective slob, Starbuck is a house prisoner of a love-struck Cylon, an imprisoned Tigh has lost an eye, Chief Tyrol and Enders have mounted a resistance movement, while President Baltar remains subservient to the Cylons...

Starbuck's subplot is the most intriguing, as she's constantly facing persuasion to love her Cylon captor Leoben (an emotion Cylons hold dear), to no avail. The fact she routinely kills her softly-spoken admirer, only for him to "download" into another body and reappear to resume his wooing, doesn't seem to put him off...

Beyond that, the thrust of the story is with the resistance movement, who aim to detonate a bomb at a meeting of the New Caprica Police (turncoat humans who work for the Cylons) because President Baltar will be in attendance.

The fun of the episode is undoubtedly playing catch-up with all the characters, and writer Moore ensures the new set-up for season 3 is involving and surprising. Parallels can be drawn throughout the episode to the French Resistance of WWII and the insurgency bombings in Baghdad post 9/11. With these links to our own political landsape so noticeable, the final scene of Occupation is alarming in its audacity, and cements BSG's reputation as a series that enjoys highlighting moral shades of grey.