Thursday, 31 January 2008

Beadle's Not About...

Jeremy Beadle MBE (1948-2008)

... to steal the headline from today's Sun. Yes, TV prankster Jeremy Beadle sadly died of pneumonia last night, aged 59. Conveniently, the tabloids forgot they once labelled him "the most hated man in Britain" – now suddenly calling him "beloved funnyman".

I'm not sure "beloved" is the word most people would use to describe Beadle, who spent most of his career pushing cars over cliffs, ripping up driveways, pouring manure over front lawns, or exploding beans over workers in factories. But he certainly wasn't "hated" either...

In fact, seeing "Officer Beadle" rip-off his fake beard and whip out a microphone probably came as welcome relief for victims of his famous practical jokes -- despite what their bleeped expletives would suggest!

I'm too young to remember him on Game For A Laugh, but I thought his hidden-camera show Beadle's About was hilarious (well, until the jokes wore thin in the 90s), and people forget how gut-busting those early years of You've Been Framed were – at a time when home-video footage of wind blowing skirts up was a fresh vein of comedy.

And there was always Beadle's own private/mysterious side. I remember being creeped-out by his shrunken hand as a kid (the result of Poland syndrome, I later discovered), and his comical beard was the epitome of a mischievous jokester to me. But there was also the fact he raised over £100 million for charities, actually wrote many books, had incredible general knowledge (having notoriously difficult quizzes published in the Independent), and apparently collected autopsy reports!

Jeremy Beadle's a celebrity who occupies a corner of my childhood, and I appreciated his practical jokes – which never overstepped the mark, and have endless repeat appeal. Who can forget the faked UFO landing when that old lady offered an "alien" a cup of tea? Or the man screaming when his car was pushed off a dockyard into water?

A small part of me even thought his death could just be another of his pranks. Keep your eyes peeled for a strangely-bearded undertaker at the funeral...

TORCHWOOD 2.3 – "To The Last Man"

Writer: Helen Raynor
Director: Andy Goddard

Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Naoko Mori (Toshiko Sato), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Anthony Lewis (Tommy Brockless), Roderic Culver (Gerald), Siobahn Hewlett (Harriet), Lizzie Rogan (Nurse) & Ricky Fearon (Foreman)

The team wake up a soldier who was cryogenically frozen in 1918, having waited 90 years for his help to stop a disaster...

"We wake you up once a year and stick needles in you. It's not fair."
-- Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori)

Helen Raynor, after her ambitious-but-disappointing Dalek two-parter in Doctor Who, returns to Torchwood with a tragic romance for Toshiko (Naoko Mori) – in a story that has Raynor dealing with "ghosts" for the second time after Ghost Machine.

To The Last Man begins on an intriguing note, as we find ourselves inside St Teilo's Military Hospital, circa 1918. Harriet (Siobahn Hewlett) and Gerald (Roderic Culver), two smartly-dressed visitors, discover a portal in time -- through which they see Toshiko persuade a man to have them prevent a disaster by smuggling his past-self out of the hospital. Indeed, Harriet and Gerald find the boy's double is a hospital patient, and ask him to accompany them – revealing they work for Torchwood.

In modern day Torchwood, we catch up with the patient – Tommy Brockless (Anthony Lewis) – who was cryogenically frozen in 1918 and is revived every decade for one day, until a box ("temporally-locked" by Gerald and Harriet) is triggered to open... and reveal how Tommy will be instrumental in preventing a disaster.

So far, so good. I like the idea of Torchwood having its own secrets and decades-spanning missions to complete. It makes a refreshing change from the intrusive nature of aliens and the supernatural arriving in Cardiff, and the benevolent nature of Tommy himself is a relief.

For a big chunk of the episode, To The Last Man is primarily a romance story for Tosh (her second after Greeks Bearing Gifts, and destined to be just as tragic...) Tommy and Tosh have developed a friendship that now borders on a relationship -- despite the fact they've only spent a total of 4 days together, and they only seem consecutive to Tommy!

Anthony Lewis (formerly of soap Emmerdale) employs his usual mix of nice-guy gormlessness, making Tommy the kind of uncomplicated and sensitive "war hero" you expect Tosh would fall for. It's a bit of s stretch to believe they're the perfect couple, though -- because Tommy is a bit of a drip and, as excellent as Naoko Mori is, the actors don't have any sexual chemistry together. Brother/sister: yes. Boyfriend/girlfriend: not really.

Their day of fun (playing pool, ruminating on the futility of war during a news report on Iraq, and larking about on a pier) is interspersed with Torchwood's investigation of the now-abandoned St Teilo's Military Hospital...

Gwen (Eve Myles) and Jack (John Barrowman) take the lead, with Gwen encountering a genuinely spooky one-legged ghost in an empty ward and Jack unfazed by a wheelchair spirit in a corridor – even when a 1918-era Nurse somehow manages to see him, too!

It appears the 1918 and 2008 "time-zones" are beginning to merge somehow, just as the temporally-locked box opens for Jack in his office. Inside, letters reveal the extent of Tommy's importance. It seems that a dangerous "time-shift" is due to take place, with 1918 colliding with 2008, and the global repercussions can only be stopped by sending Tommy back through time, armed with a "Rift Manipulator" to stitch time back together.

Unfortunately, now full apprised of the situation, Tosh learns that Tommy will be shot by firing squad for "cowardice" 3 weeks after he returns to 1918. She promises not to tell him, and they spend the night together back at Tosh's apartment. In the morning, Tommy happens to inquire about his future, and Tosh can't lie to him about his tragic end...

The team return to St Telio's, awaiting the world-threatening crunch as two separate times merge together. Tommy becomes fearful for his life, comparing Torchwood to the generals who casually send good men to their death in battles, and Tosh is left alone with Tommy to boost his morale...

The time-shift occurs – meaning a reprise of the opening scene – with Tommy ensuring that 1918's Torchwood take his old-self out of harm's way (to be frozen), as he replaces himself in his hospital bed. His actions having now "stitched time" back together, he bizarrely begins to lose impetus behind his actions, as his memory clouds. Back at Torchwood, the effects of the time-shift are spreading across Cardiff, with the team realizing shell-shocked Tommy hasn't used the Rift Manipulator...

Tosh volunteers to psychically project herself into Tommy's mind, using technology they just happen to have (lucky, huh?), and appears to Tommy on the edge of his bed. She manages to convince him to use the manipulator/key and the time-shift is stopped, with both time-zones separated and Tommy's loop in time maintained.

I have mixed feelings about To The Last Man. The basic idea is a great fit for Torchwood (as the show always seem more competent when dealing with ghosts and time-travel than aliens/monsters), but it crumbles if you look at it closely...

How are 1918 Torchwood able to temporally-lock boxes? Even accepting they could do this, how do they know their vision of Tommy and Tosh came from 2008? The reason behind the time-shift is also badly explained, as it just seems to happen for no discernible reason -- unless I missed something? And the sudden appearance of a device that enables you to "psychically project" yourself into peoples' minds is the dictionary definition of "plot-device". It's also another example of Torchwood's tendency to introduce story-rescuing pieces of information in the last 5-10 minutes of episodes.

Of course, you can just about forgive slip-ups and contrivances, provided the story is enjoyable and emotionally works. For the most part, Helen Raynor's script was effective and enjoyably spooky at times, but I didn't connect with the Toshiko/Tommy romance.

Naoko Mori proves she's one of the best actors on the show – if in desperate need of stories that give her decent material to work with. She can be more than just the resident "computer expert", and it's about time more writers developed her personality.

Guest star Anthony Lewis was agreeable as out-of-time Tommy, but I had a tough time believing 4 days would be enough for him to fall head-over-heels for Tosh. The pair just didn't have a necessary spark together, particularly when comparing Tommy to Tosh's last conquest – scintillating femme fatale Daniella Denby-Ashe.

Overall, To The Last Man held my interest, but I didn't become invested with Tommy/Tosh as a couple, which ruined the emotional aspect of the episode for me. It also didn't help that the eventual outcome was obvious after 15 minutes, with the story trundling to a conclusion we'd already witnessed in the first scene!

Given that the majority of Torchwood's audience are likely to be savvy with time-travel as a theme, it was unfortunate the story didn't have anything up its sleeve to surprise us. It all just panned out as you expected it to, really.

In a more general sense, it's really great to see the team working together cohesively in season 2. John Barrowman looks particularly relieved to be playing Captain Jack in a temperament closer to his Doctor Who appearances, while Owen (Burn Gorman) has scenes with Eve and Gwen that don't rely on the boyish crudeness that ruined his character in season 1.

This wasn't a terrible episode, but it failed to become the solid installment it could have been, because of a lack of chemistry between Mori and Lewis, a predictable storyline most will deduce early, dozens of logical nitpicks, a few plot-devices, and some ill-explained moments.


30 January 2008
BBC2, 9.00 pm

REAPER 1.2 – "Charged"

Writers: Tara Butters & Michele Fazekas
Director: Peter Lauer

Cast: Bret Harrison (Sam Oliver), Rick Gonzalez (Ben), Tyler Labine (Bert "Sock" Wysocki), Ray Wise (The Devil), Missy Peregrym (Andi Prendergast), Donavon Stinson (Ted), Andrew Airlie (Mr. Oliver), Valarie Rae Miller (Josie), Allison Hossack (Mrs. Oliver), Kyle Switzer (Kyle Oliver), Mark Rolston (Arthur Ferrey), Steve Makaj (Engineer), Christine Willes (DMV Demon), Tricia Collins (Blackberry Girl) & Jennifer Paterson (Norma)

Sam has to return an escaped soul to hell who is killing people using bolts of lightning...

"You have broken the most cardinal rule here at the Bench:
a bloodied customer is not a happy customer."
-- Ted (Donavon Stinson)

My review of Reaper's first episode was based on the un-aired Pilot, and there's been a few changes to the show from what I remember. The most obvious alteration is that Sam's love-interest, Andi, is now being played by Heroes' Missy Peregrym. She's a stark improvement over the original actress, and gets to ditch the psycho-bitch undercurrent of her Heroes character, making Andi beautiful but believably down-to-earth.

I also don't remember Sam's mother (Allison Hossack) being unaware her son's soul was sold to The Devil (Ray Wise). But it doesn't matter because he tells her at the end of episode 2 -- and she accepts that ridiculous notion with zero reaction!

Charged finds Sam (Bret Harrison) trying to avoid his new responsibility as Old Nick's bounty hunter. After waking up to discover a locked box (containing a "vessel" to capture another escaped soul), Sam and his best-friend Sock (Tyler Labine) do their best to get rid of it... but it keeps reappearing.

As they try to get on with their lives at the Work Bench store, The Devil appears and tries to reason with Sam – by showing him that people are dying because a rogue soul is wandering around town, killing with bolts of lightning. Oh, but don't worry -- he's charged Sam with static electricity to help -- but all it does is provide a few "funny" scenes of Sam getting shocked on everyday objects! The vessel itself turns out to a remote-controlled monster truck (huh?), meaning Sam has to figure out how it can be used to capture the latest escapee from Hell. Okay?

It's very early days, but I found Charged to be even more disappointing than the limp Pilot. The problems with episode 2 are obvious: Sam's friends do little to actually help him in any way (often becoming irritating soundboards), and the whole episode just isn't very funny. I'm actually struggling to remember anything that made me laugh. The Pilot was a laugh-riot compared to this...

I'm still not totally sold on any of the actors, either -- beyond Missy Peregrym. Bret Harrison is too screwy for my taste, Tyler Labine is just distilling every "fat-zany-slacker-friend" cliché in the book, and Sam's parents are utterly bland support.. .

But it's Ray Wise who is awfully second-rate at the moment, as his Devil character comes across as a smooth estate agent, instead of the "Prince Of Lies". I know he's on Sam's side, but he should be far more sinister or devious in his attitude. At the very least playful! Wise has a suitably demonic face, but he's far too chummy at the moment, and a sense unease around him is lost. How can you mess up writing for The Devil? They had better give him a fitting personality change, pronto.

The story itself has a decent raison d'etre for the electrically-charged escapee Arthur Ferrey (Mark Rolston), but the character himself isn't very threatening, and easily deal with once Sam figures out how to use the toy truck to capture him. Quite why The Devil chooses to make things harder than they need to be, by equipping Sam with different "vessels", is anyone's guess!

Overall, there's nothing much more to add. The only things I liked about Charged was Missy Peregrym's girl-next-door act, irritating boss Ted (Donavon Stinson), and the electrical effects for the soul-of-the-week villain. Beyond that; this was plodding in the first half (the show itself would work better at 30-minutes), not particularly funny, littered with nitpicks, and Wise needs to sink his teeth into the role more.


30 January 2008
E4, 9.00 pm

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Gladiators: Ready!


Oh, how I loved Gladiators. I was 13 when the show arrived in 1992 to brighten up Saturday evenings on ITV. Ulrika Jonsson and John "Awooga!" Fashanu presenting from Birmingham's National Indoor Arena, all those ridiculous games with musclemen chasing fitness freaks up walls, pushing them off plinths, and slamming them onto crash-mats...

But of course, the real reason to watch for any pubescent teen like myself was the curiously alluring women Gladiators. More precisely: the gorgeous Diane Youdale (aka Jet). I don't think there were any teens in '92 who didn't dream about having Jet wrap her legs around your waist, as you were suspended from those rings in Hang Tough.

Yeah, all the schoolboys fancied Jet rotten... but there was the odd Lightning fan, too... and the occasional Scorpio follower... but no Nightshade admirers, sorry.

Like most good TV ideas, they drove Gladiators into the ground eventually, and it was cancelled in January 2000. I started to lose interest when Jet left the show in '96, really -- and particularly once they revamped the games and recruited bland Gladiators like Rhino, Blaze (former competitor Eunice Huthart!), Zodiac, Rebel, Vogue, Khan, Diesel, et al...

But I have fond memories of Scottish referee John Anderson ("Contender: ready!"), the commentary by John Sachs, bright-as-a-button Ulrika, Klingon look-alike Wolf, classic Joust game (the one with the oversized cotton buds), the genuinely exciting Eliminator finale on the "travelator"... and the delectable Jet. Of course.

So it filled me delight to hear it's coming back to our screens this summer. Yes, Gladiators is being revived by Sky One and will be on our screens in May! Likely inspired by the success of the American Gladiators' revamp over in the US, the producers are now looking for 12 brand new Gladiators to take part in the remake...

It's been confirmed that some of the classic games will return (Joust, Hang Tough, Eliminator, etc.) -- but with new, tougher challenges to satisfy modern audiences. It's unlikely Ulrika and "The Fash" will host again, but referee John Anderson might be back to blow his whistle, and they'll surely keep that groovy theme tune. Won't they?

I just hope they'll be an after-burn for Jet - maybe as some kind of judge/mentor? God, I'm beginning to sound as obsessive as Alan Partridge...

Diane Youdale's Official Site

FAMILY GUY PRESENTS BLUE HARVEST

Writer: Alex Sulkin
Director: Dominic Polcino

Voices: Mike Henry (Cleveland/R2-D2, Herbert/Obi-Wan Kenobi, Performance Artist, Greedo, Greased-Up Deaf Guy, various), Seth Green (Chris/Luke Skywalker, various), Seth MacFarlane (Peter/Han Solo, Stewie/Darth Vader, Brian/Chewbacca, Quagmire/C-3PO, Tom Tucker, various), Alex Borstein (Lois/Princess Leia, various), Mila Kunis (Meg/Dianoga), Adam West (Adam West/Grand Moff Tarkin), Johnny Brennan (Various), Danny Smith (Various), Ralph Garman (Various), Phil LaMarr (Various), Mark Hentemann (Various), Alec Sulkin (Various), John Viener (Various), Wally Wingert (Various), Kirker Butler (Various), Steve Callaghan (Various), Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold), Beverly D'Angelo (Ellen Griswold), Mick Hucknall (Himself), Rush Limbaugh (Himself), Helen Reddy (Herself) & Alex Thomas (Various)

"I have you now, young Skywalker. And with today's
gas prices, not a moment too soon!"
-- Darth Vader/Stewie (Seth MacFarlane)

Star Wars spoofs are ten-a-penny these days, which begs the question: is there really anything left to poke fun at? George Lucas' 1977 original has left an indelible mark on film history and a generation of fans, and it seems we still enjoy seeing it parodied for the umpteenth time.

Airing on US television in September 2007, this episode of comedy animation Family Guy acted as an extended season 6 premiere, but has now been repackaged as spoof movie Family Guy Presents Blue Harvest (the codename Lucas assigned to Star Wars' 80s sequels.)

After an electrical blackout one evening, the Griffins debate how to pass the time without their cherished TV, so dumb patriarch Peter (Seth MacFarlane) regales his family with the story of Star Wars – and we experience a 45-minute reprise of the movie, re-enacted by characters from the Family Guy cast.

The main things that stick in your mind about Blue Harvest are: 1, how the hand-drawn animations are sometimes indistinguishable from the real film's effects (indeed, some shots animated over real scenes); 2, the angle-perfect reproduction of key scenes; and 3, the expensive use of John Williams' wonderful music, which raises the excitement levels even in a TV-budgeted cartoon.

Beyond that, it's great fun to see which Family Guy character will play which Star Wars character – from the obvious (Chris as Luke Skywalker, Peter as Han Solo), to the amusing (Brian as Chewbacca, Stewie as a pint-sized Darth Vader), and the bizarre (Herbert as a perverted Obi-Wan Kenobi, Cleveland as a R2-D2 with an afro).

As with every Family Guy episode, there are lulls and moments that fall flat (like basketball star Magic Johnson's instructional video on how to destroy the Death Star), but it's otherwise a spirited and fun spoof. If anything, it reminds you how entertaining a well-constructed and intelligent parody can be -- in an era where crud like Epic Movie and Date Movie are stinking up cinemas. Blue Harvest even pays respect to legendary spoof Airplane! with a few reprisals of their jokes. Watch out for Leslie Nielsen.

It may be three decades "late" to the Star Wars spoofing party (Spaceballs was criticized for missing the bandwagon, and that was released in 1987!), but the guys behind Family Guy manage to squeeze fresh ideas and inspired gags from a supposedly empty well. I particularly laughed at the misplaced rambling about Angelina Jolie in the opening crawl!

For every moment of crudity and blandness, there's something to genuinely makes you giggle. It also helps that the brisk running time actually improves on the laborious slog of Lucas' source film, as it thunders through the set-pieces we all know so well. The 45-minutes seem more like 25.

It's not the laugh-a-minute experience it could have been, but Alex Sulkin's script pokes fun constantly and delivers an affectionate and beautifully-realized cartoon parody. Family Guy is well known for its abundance of pop-culture gags, but its non sequiters can be tiresome, so it's a relief that Blue Harvest forces the show to stick to a story without much diversion – beyond a Dirty Dancing musical sequence with Luke/Obi-Wan that should have been cut!

How can you hate a Star Wars spoof that unearths so many fresh nitpicks about the film, whilst clearing having fun and showing respect while it does it? A discussion about the Death Star's .1% vulnerability makes this worth watching just on its own, and how can you not chuckle over a cameo from the vacationing Griswold family!

A funny, entertaining and energetic merger of the Star Wars universe and the Family Guy cast. Blue Harvest should appeal to both sets of fans... but it helps if you have a passing familiarity with Family Guy's characters, for true geek nirvana. Ultimately, while it doesn't justify a self-contained DVD release, I can't wait for the upcoming Empire Strikes Back spoof sequel: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side.


* The DVD release includes several restored scenes, not shown when this episode aired on television.

Chuck Palahniuk: adaptations and snuff

Slash Film's interview with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk, whose novel Choke has just been adapted into a film starring Sam Rockwell. He also talks about the status of other adaptations, the death of Heath Ledger, and his upcoming novel Snuff.

"... because language is what books do very well and movement is what movies does very well..."

Superbad (2007)

Director: Greg Mottola
Writers: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen

Cast: Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogell/McLovin), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Seth Rogen (Officer Michaels), Martha MacIsaac (Becca), Emma Stone (Jules), Aviva Farber (Nicola), Laura Seay (Shirley), Joe Lo Truglio (Francis), Kevin Corrigan (Mark), Dave Franco (Greg), Roger Iwata (Miroki), Marcella Lentz-Pope (Gaby), Scottie Gerbacia (Jesse), Stacy Edwards (Jane), David Krumholtz (Benji Austin) & Martin Starr (Michael Ragonese)

Two co-dependent high school seniors are forced to deal with separation anxiety after their plan for a booze-soaked party goes awry...

The problem with teen-comedies is that the protagonists are so young that they only revolve around four things kids care about: alcohol, sex, school, and friends. There's limited scope in the genre as a consequence, but everyone can identify with the awkwardness and embarrassments that pepper adolescence. It's just that... is there anything left to say in this genre?

Superbad hopes to draw more laughs from the teen-comedy well, with producer (Judd Apatow) and co-writer/co-star (Seth Rogen) both returning from rom-com Knocked Up. The film stars Jonah Hill as Seth and Michael Cera (Arrested Development) as Evan, two best friends facing their last summer together, because they've got into different schools. Like most US high school comedies, their "mission" is to get with two girls – ingratiating themselves into an end-of-year party by claiming they can provide alcohol with a fake ID.

Actually, it's their friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who has the fake ID: a Hawaiian driver's license that states his name as simply "McLovin". The story takes place over one evening, as the hapless trio face find themselves caught up in diversions as they try to purchase booze; most memorably when Fogell becomes the victim of a liquor store raid and is taken under the wing of two immature cops – Officers Slater (Bill Hader) and Michaels (Rogen).

Launched by Knocked Up's afterglow, a smattering of YouTube clips and an effective trailer, the one thing that sticks in your mind when watching Superbad is: I've seen all the funny bits. Yes, it's another teen-comedy that's blown its load in the marketing... meaning the full-length film is conspicuously bereft of fresh laughs. McLovin, the penis drawings, a car accident, the drunken head-butt... chances are, you've seen the film's signature laughs months in advance.

What's most disappointing is that (outside of a theatrical trailer's context), the funniest moments aren't even particularly hilarious without rat-a-tat editing. The script is mostly hamstrung by a tediously simple storyline, with only a few memorable lines and inventive ideas scattered around.

For the most part, Superbad is rescued by its three leads – particularly Cera's sweet and understated Evan, who's the perfect foil for motormouth Hill as Seth -- not to mention a fitting physical opposite. But it's Christopher Mintz-Plasse's character who has the more cult-appeal, purely because of his sweet-geek demeanour and "I am McLovin..." catchphrase.

The objects of each boy's affections are also well-cast; being attractive and sweet, not buxom fantasy figures you usually see in these films. Emma Stone is particularly good as Jules, Seth's red-haired home economics partner and party-thrower; while Martha MacIsaac is likable and cute as Evan's love-interest Becca.

Less successful are simpleton cops Michaels and Slater, who are neatly performed by Hader and Rogen, but their subplot with McLovin is too much of a dumb diversion. Indeed, Superbad's entire middle section is flabbier than Jonah Hill's stomach, with a lack of big laughs and silly distractions – like a crude period stain "gag".

It looks like Superbad has peaked prematurely and is slowly running out of steam half-way through. But then, the film jumps back on-track when Seth and Evan finally arrive at the party, and the combination of drink and sex ensures a steadier stream of embarrassments and cheeky scenes. I particularly liked Evan's twitchiness when Becca drunkenly seduces him in a bedroom.

With its vague "homosexual" undertone, with Seth and Evan more wrapped up in each other than anyone else, but slowly being forced to let each other go and pair-off with girls... Superbad belatedly ensures it's a worthwhile watch. It's just disappointingly low on belly laughs, bores you in the middle, and the script -- by the "real life" Seth (Rogen) and Evan (Goldberg) – doesn't really take full advantage of Hill and Cera's effortless chemistry; particularly the compelling Cera, who surely has a big career ahead of him.

Overall, Superbad is what it is: another teen comedy. There are a handful of funny moments, but nothing particularly dazzling. You're interest will undoubtedly be maintained by Cera, Hill and Mintz-Plasse, who all put in strong performances -- managing to hide the sputtering script's deficiencies.

Super-okay.


Columbia Pictures
Budget: $20 million
114 minutes

MUST-WATCH: Lost


I'm sure everyone knows by now, but season 4 of Lost starts this Sunday with "The Beginning Of The End" – a mere 3 days after its US debut!

Many questions remain unanswered. Who was in the coffin? How will Kate and Jack eventually get off the island? Will rescuers from the offshore boat be friend or foe? What the hell is that "smoke monster" all about? What were DHARMA doing on the island? Are Michael and Walt coming back soon? Who is the mysterious Jacob? Why hasn’t Hurley lost weight?

Early reports on the premiere have been positive, and the inside buzz is that episodes are tighter and there's less drag in the storylines. This is probably a consequence of seasons being cut down to 16 episodes, and the fact the show has a definite end in sight (May 2010) that the writers can plan for.

Owing to the Writers' Guild Of America strike, only 8 episodes are currently ready to air, which means a "mini-finale" will air on 23 March. Hopefully the strike will be over soon, and the second half of the season can be filmed and transmitted soon after.


3 February 2008 – Sky One, 9.00 pm

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Quantum Of Solace: Poster

Oh, James... I have a bad feeling about this. The title of the 22nd James Bond movie, Quantum Of Solace, went down like a fart in a yoga class recently, and now the poster has been released...

Issues:

1. The title hasn't grown on me. It's leaden, a mouthful to say, and more befitting a straight-to-video science-fiction turkey starring Christopher Lambert. When I bought my ticket to the last Bond flick at my ODEON box-office, I said: "Casino Royale, please". I'll be saying "James Bond, please" this November.

2. Daniel Craig may be in the iconic tuxedo again, but that isn't a good pose. It's just blunt and threatening. Not cool.

3. What's with the big mansion in the background? Is this film going to be Bond-meets-Cluedo? Worryingly, the Ian Fleming short story they got their title from concerned Bond attending a dinner party -- is that mansion the venue? Are we going to be stuck inside a house for a big chunk of the film, the same way Casino Royale focused on one location?

4. The poster is unbalanced, with all the information crammed in at the bottom. Horrid.

5. Why is it "Marc Forster's Quantum Of Solace"? Talk about ego! Nobody cares that Marc Forster is directing this. In fact, some people would rather try and forget! Get over yourself, Forster! We just care about Bond... James Bond.

6. The blue/black/white colour scheme is meant to be classy and cool, but the whole thing resembles something any fan with 30-minutes to waste on Photoshop could knock out.

Bad title, bad promotional poster. I was more psyched for Tomorrow Never Dies than I am for Quantum Of Solace right now! I hope something exciting leaks from the production soon... or is QOS destined to be the atrocity they avoided with Craig's debut?

Well, this behind-the-scenes footage doesn't look too shabby.

Tarantino: Back To The Grindstone

Sight & Sound magazine's interview with Quentin Tarantino, about audience reaction to Death Proof, digital filmmaking, and future projects.

"I don't think there was any hokeyness in Death Proof when I wrote it. If you are thinking that some moment is cheesy, or some moment is hokey, I didn't mean it to be that way."

RAINES 1.1 – "Pilot"

Writers: Graham Yost
Director: Frank Darabont

Cast: Jeff Goldblum (Detective Michael Raines), Matt Craven (Captain Daniel Lewis), Linda Park (Sally Lance), Dov Davidoff (Remi Boyer), Nicole Sullivan (Carolyn Crumley), Malik Yoba (Charlie Lincoln), Alexa Davalos (Sandy Boudreau), Paul Scheer (Motel Clerk), Tara Price (Crime Tech #1), Jeff Perry (Harry Tucker), Ashley Gardner (Wendy Tucker), V. J. Foster (Anthony Merkin), Graham Beckel (Vernon Boudreau), Valerie Mahaffey (Sandy Boudreau's Mother), Mykelti Williamson (Bobby "Fearless" Smith) & Ryan Hurst (Marco Rossi)

When a teenage girl is found murdered, Detective Michael Raines investigates, but is tormented by hallucinations of the deceased...

"You know how I work, Charlie. I think everybody did it, then
I slowly whittle away the ones who couldn't have."
-- Michael Raines (Jeff Goldblum)

Raines straddles two "sub-genres"; the detective with a gimmick (see: Monk, Psych, et al) and the prematurely axed US drama series. Yes, after a mere 7 episodes, NBC cancelled this show. You're rarely given time to improve and build an audience in America, even if the quality of your product is a cut above. Maybe NBC should look at their marketing department if ratings don't justify continued production on quality dramas...?

Hollywood star Jeff Goldblum stars as Detective Michael Raines, another of his patented oddballs. His "quirk" here is that Raines suffers from hallucinations, although specifics about his condition are thin on the ground. But it's not something that incapacitates him, or causes anyone any danger... he just tends to imagine murder victims are his temporary "partners" during an investigation. The effect is not dissimilar to helping an amnesiac ghost solve their own murder.

Created by Graham Yost (famous for writing films like Speed, Mission To Mars and Broken Arrow), Raines seems to cover territory already being explored by Medium and Ghost Whisperer. But, of course, Raines himself isn't speaking to spirits, merely envisioning people inside his own head; effectively suffering from an overactive imagination, with these "ghosts" just a mental sounding board.

Despite some apprehension, this idea actually works surprisingly well. The Pilot, directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), focuses on the murder of teenager Sandy Boudreau (Alexa Davalos), with Raines assigned to the case and taken by surprise when "Sandy" appears to him. From there, Raines reminded me of a film noir gumshoe; an empathetic loner with an strong desire to bring killers to justice.

A lot of the show's success rests on Goldblum's shoulders, and it helps if you're a fan of his unique brand of staccato line delivery, fluttering hand gestures and lilting gait. He may be an actor who's only comfortable when using his eccentricities in his acting (meaning he's stereotyped as nutty scientists: The Fly, Jurassic Park, Independence Day), but he can now add "nutty detective" to his resume. Put simply: Goldblum's just being Goldblum here... but I like it.

The story wisely focuses on Raines and the murder, while giving us a sense of how his hallucinations "work": Sandy is unable to tell Raines what he doesn't know himself, and often changes personality/clothing to suit whatever fresh information he unearths. It's particularly amusing when she transforms into a stereotypical whore with too much make-up once Raines discovers she worked as a prostitute...

This focus does mean that the supporting cast are firmly on the sidelines -- for now. The only character worth mentioning is Charlie Lincoln (Malik Yoba, replacing Luiz Guzman from the original Pilot), a black man with a cane who has a close relationship with Raines -- acting as his friend/psychiatrist. He's the only person Raines can confide in about his visions, although I did find it strange that Charlie is so carefree about his friends' possibly serious mental condition! Fortunately, the reasons for Charlie's relaxed attitude is brilliantly revealed in the episode's denouement...

Another great thing about the idea behind Raines is that it can't use supernatural elements as a crutch. You half-expect "ghost" Sandy to start dispensing information about herself and her death (but obviously she can't), or help Raines by flitting around and warning him about situations (a la Randall & Hopkirk's ghostly partnership), but that's impossible: she sees/knows/hears only what Raines does.

Consequently, this is actually a more typical investigative drama than you may expect -- but one where a lifeless victim slowly becomes a three-dimensional person, developing a true personality as Raines' mind creates their identity through his investigation. I just love that idea.

So yes, Raines got off to a solid start here. The Pilot did a great job of explaining Raines' unusual mental state, the investigation itself was quite intriguing at times, the resolution was touching between Raines and Sandy's grieving mother, and Jeff Goldblum himself is always an engaging presence.


28 January 2008
ITV3, 9.00 pm

PRISON BREAK 3.9 – "Boxed In"

Writer: Karyn Usher
Director: Craig Ross

Cast: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), Wade Williams (Bellick), William Fichtner (Mahone), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), Danay Garcia (Sofia Lugo), Robert Wisdom (Lechero), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (Susan B. Anthony), Chris Vance (James Whistler), Barbara Eve Harris (FBI Agent Lang), Marshall Allman (LJ Burrows), Laurence Mason (Sammy), Michael Seal (Octave), F.J. Rio (Augusto), Rey Gallegos (Cristobel) & Castulo Guerra (General Zavala)

Michael is put into solitary confinement, Linc is reunited with LJ, Susan lures Sucre, Mahone returns to Sona, T-Bag tries to get on the escape team, and Bellick makes an enemy...

"Lincoln causes as many problems as he solves. He needs to
get out of his own way, and I think you can assist him.
I stay one step ahead, and you get 50 grand."
-- Susan B. Anthony (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe)

Prison Break's ability to fight its way out of dead-ends continues with Boxed In, an episode that unofficially acts as the beginning of season 3's "act two", with the escape plan thwarted and Michael (Wentworth Miller) enduring solitary confinement inside a "hot box" -- stuck in the sweltering heat to die, unless he spills the beans to General Zavala (Castulo Guerra).

Unexpectedly, that's exactly what he does, and it's not long before Zavala is trying to corroborate Michael's unlikely story about a nefarious "Company", his mission to get Whistler (Chris Vance) out of Sona, and the kidnapping of his nephew.

Outside, Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) suspects his usefulness to the Company is nearing an end after both attempts to get Whistler out of Sona met with failure, but is instead given fresh motivation to stay compliant, when Susan B. Anthony (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) allows him a minute with his son LJ (Marshall Allman).

Mahone (William Fichtner) is driven back to Sona after being laughed out of court, and there's a touching scene with his colleague Agent Lang (Barbara Eve Harris), who gives him a lucky coin that helped her father through bad times. Fichtner once again proves he's the best actor working on the show -- too good, actually; as Peter Stormare once was. I'm actually more invested in Mahone's situation than Michael's at times, as you genuinely feel for the tormented lawman.

The writers really enjoy using Bellick (Wade Williams) as an all-purpose punch-bag, and Boxed In again sees the gruff former warden annoying a prisoner called Octave (Michael Seal) – by refusing to clear up some vomit. The dreaded "chicken foot" is soon resting on Bellick's bed, meaning he must face a fight to the death in the prison yard. His complaint against Octave's challenge falls on deaf ears with Sammy (Laurence Mason), Lechero's right-hand man who's quickly becoming disenfranchised with the prison hierarchy and beginning to cause Lechero (Robert Wisdom) grief. A mutiny seems very likely...

Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) appears for a small subplot, still being asked to smuggle packages into Sona for a mysterious man, while helping Linc save Michael and rescue LJ. There's also some seed-sewing going on when Sucre and Linc fake an argument, which goes reported to Susan by a Company snoop, and she decides to try and get Sucre on her side with a $50,000 lure.

But it's Michael's situation that pushes the main plot, as General Zavala begins to believe his incredible story, particularly when Whistler grudgingly backs him up. After that, Whistler reveals the real name of Company stooge Susan B. Anthony – Gretchen Morgan – and Zavala's men orchestrate a capture, during her prearranged meeting with Linc...

With Susan in custody, it's uncharted waters for Michael and Whistler, who know they're playing a dangerous game getting the authorities involved in this underworld. Susan puts on a believable façade of innocence, but Zavala's ruthless streak is revealed when he tortures her with waterboarding, and her resilience to the technique just proves to him she's lying...

Now that Mahone is back inside, he begins suffering massive withdrawals – a weakness T-Bag (Robert Knepper) jumps on, by offering him free drugs in exchange for killing Sammy, thus gaining T-Bag a ticket onto the "escape team", promised by Whistler. Inspired by Agent Lang's belief in him, Mahone declines T-Bag's "help", and opts to go cold turkey instead – no matter how painful the process.

Bellick's fight goes surprisingly well, with a surprise victory over the physically superior Octave, although T-Bag correctly deduces that Bellick covered his hand-wraps in turpentine and some of his blows therefore rendered Octave delirious and weakened during the fight.

Zavala's interrogation finally makes Susan crack, and she admits to being involved, but merely as "the babysitter" for kidnapped LJ. In Zavala's fatally dumb move, he accompanies her with minimal support to the shack where LJ was being held – only to discover it's empty, just before Susan manages to free herself and kill her captors.

Boxed In eventually resets the situation – with Michael and Whistler back inside Sona, ready with a fresh escape plan (digging upwards through an old tunnel), Mahone is back inside (although it's clear the writers want him to beat his drug addiction, so Fichtner can bring Mahone back to the snakelike hitman he was in season 2), and the potential outside sympathy from Zavala is nipped in the bud.

Still, there are some signs of real development – with Sucre/Lincoln's secret plot against Susan, the faltering influence of Lechero, T-Bag suddenly having a decent plan to work with, and the final revelation that Sammy is the one receiving Sucre's smuggled packages -- and has just taken receipt of a gun...

As usual, a lot of what goes down in Prison Break has no ultimate affect on anything, and exists to sustain this episode and nudge another batch of subplots along. Regardless, Boxed In provides another solid hour of surprise, incident, two tortures (one quite grizzly), but little indication the writers know where they're going. Am I the only one who thinks the tunnel dig idea is mundane, and that Bellick serves no actual purpose on the show now?

I know Prison Break will get on-track, once a few episodes lay the groundwork for this new phase of season 3. Why? Well, because it's always proved so in the past. Sure, it'll strain to get there (remember the woolly days of season 2's third quarter?), but I'm sure it'll be fun, crazy, silly, entertaining and vigorously handled.


28 January 2008
Sky One, 10.00 pm

Monday, 28 January 2008

Dark Knight Director Remembers His Joker

A poignant article in Newsweek from director Christopher Nolan, who worked with Heath Ledger on Batman sequel The Dark Knight, before his untimely death:

"Heath was bursting with creativity. It was in his every gesture. He once told me that he liked to wait between jobs until he was creatively hungry. Until he needed it again. He brought that attitude to our set every day. There aren't many actors who can make you feel ashamed of how often you complain about doing the best job in the world. Heath was one of them."

Continue reading here.

BRING BACK... WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?


It seems like improvised comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? is still with us, years after the demise of the British original (1988-98) and the US version (1998-06), because of its constant repeats. The superior British original now airs weekdays on Dave at 7pm and the hit-and-miss American version floats around the schedule on Five US.

But isn't it time for a resurrection of the UK game-show? I never understood why our version ended in 1998, anyway! It was always popular show, wasn't it? But, for whatever reason, immediately after a season set in Hollywood (to accommodate the US-based contestants, after years of them commuting over to the UK), Whose Line was axed by Channel 4 and a US version began just a few months later!

Actor/comedian/game-show host Drew Carey replaced Anderson -- who was actually offered the job, but declined because he didn't want to travel to L.A for recordings....

Despite Anderson's loss, the US version at least retained the services of Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, who had become the main reason to watch the UK original. Stiles in particular reached genius levels of creativity and off-the-cuff humour during his time on the show.

For me, and other Whose Line purists, the US version was always a pale imitator. There were less games, little variety/rotation of games, irritating interaction by host Carey, distracting celebrity guests, an emphasis on the singing (the worst aspect of Whose Line), the US audience suggestions were less inventive, and semi-regulars Wayne Brady and Brad Sherwood always left me cold.

The US version was cancelled by ABC in 2003, amidst poor ratings, but resurrected by sister station ABC Family in 2004, before they ran out of new material in 2006.

In its TV infancy (having transferred to Channel 4 from Radio Four), the UK show was even worse than the eventual US version. Who remembers John Sessions trying pathetically to get laughs with pompous historical and literary "jokes"... or Tony Slattery flailing around and resorting to schoolboy humour whenever he messed up? Which was pretty much all the time.

Even funnyman Mike McShane was mostly memorable for the amount of sweat he produced, or the endearingly goofy way he'd bow to the audience after every game in the early years! Mind you, he was easily the most impressive singer the show ever produced, with his rhyming always enjoyably unpredictable.

The pace, consistency and belly-laughs were missing on Whose Line for some time, really -- until the mid-90s, when the producers hit a winning combination by just rotating a five-person line-up of Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Stephen Frost, Colin Mochrie and Josie Lawrence...

Memories Of Whose Line

1. The mysterious and mute "Richard Vranch on the piano".

2. Josie Lawrence's man-style suits.

3. Futilely trying to lip-read what the contestants say to each other as they go back to their seats after a game.

4. Seeing the look of disdain in performers' eyes whenever they're forced to work with Tony Slattery.

5. Tony Slattery's tasteless camel-colour jacket with tassels.

6. Tony Slattery taking great delight in forcing Ryan Stiles to eat and drink outrageously in the "Helping Hands" game.

7. The morose bunch always seated directly behind Clive Anderson in the audience!

8. The genuine hatred of the "Hoedown" by most contestants -- but particularly Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, who regularly messed it up on purpose, found a way to not sing, or once declined to take part!

9. The banter between Greg Proops and Clive Anderson over British and American idioms – like pavement/sidewalk, lift/elevator, etc.

10. The classic games: Helping Hands, Superheroes, Scenes From A Hat, World's Worst, Hoedown, Party Quirks and Props.

11. Colin Mochrie's chicken/velociraptor impersonation.

12. The size of Ryan Stiles' feet.

13. The US versions' hilarious game where audience members do sound effects for a scene acted by Colin and Ryan – resulting in quacking elephants! Classic.

14. The contestants always mentioning producer "Dan Patterson" in the "reading the credits" denouement. Or mispronouncing editor "Mykola Pawluk".

15. The inventive ways Clive Anderson would score the show, unlike Drew Carey's dismal efforts (his "the points don't matter" catchphrase being particularly irritating...)

16. Father Ted's Ardal O'Hanlon; scared shitless as a guest performer one week, and failing dismally at every single game. Painful to watch.

17. Rory Bremner's occasional appearances, where the games were mysteriously tailored to fit with his impressions...

Trivia

1. The original BBC Radio Four series was presented by Clive Anderson, with Stephen Fry and John Sessions as regular performers. All three transferred to the television version, with Sessions even sharing equal-billing with Anderson in the credits.

2. Laura Hall (resident musician on the US version), made her Whose Line debut in the UK show's Hollywood-based run.

3. UK regular Josie Lawrence actually made 2 appearances on the US version.

4. Colin Mochrie's face is often used in "animutations", as a programming in-joke.

5. Greg Proops counts Colin Mochrie as one of his closest friends, as does Ryan Stiles.

6. Ryan Stiles appeared in both Hot Shots! movies.

7. Greg Proops, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles and Brad Sherwood often tour the US in various improv groups these days – either together, or in split groups.

So can we have it back, please? Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie appearances would be great, but surely there's a new breed of eager improvisers out there, who grew up watching the show in the 90s? Clive Anderson's still around, too...

MUST WATCH: Derren Brown: The System


The entertaining (and often inspired) illusionist Derren Brown returns with another one-off special: The System. This time the goateed mind-bender will show that he can predict the winners of horse races 24-hours in advance, with complete accuracy...

Derren Brown: "I realize that this is a farfetched claim, but it really does work -- it’s not hypnotism. I take a member of the public. She gets an e-mail in advance, not mentioning my name, and at the bottom is a racing tip to whet her appetite. She watches, out of curiosity. The horse does win, and she’s intrigued."

"Then she gets a whole series of tips, and they win, so she starts to bet her own money on it: first a fiver, then a tenner, £20, right up to £150, and then finally a whole lot of money, much more than she can afford… and I can’t tell you how that ends because it would spoil the show!" Read more here.

It sounds like a lot of fun. If you're a fan of Brown's brand of mentalism, The System will be must-see stuff. If you've somehow managed to miss his essential specials, Trick Of The Mind television series, sell-out stage shows, and book… do yourself a favour and tune in.

1 February 2008 – Channel 4, 9.00 pm.

Update: reviewed here.

Middle Earth Goes Mexican?


This is fantastic news -- well, if it turns out to be true! Guillermo Del Toro, the talented Mexican director of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, seems a shoe-in to direct The Hobbit for New Line Cinema. It hasn't been officially confirmed yet, but a number of sources are reporting it as extremely likely, with Del Toro now in serious talks with the studio...

The Lord Of The Rings prequel is being set-up by Peter Jackson, who recently came back onboard with New Line after a legal dispuite with them. It's expected that Del Toro and Jackson will both work on adapting J.R.R Tolkien's book into two films, each likely to be budgeted at $150 million.

The first film will be a direct translation of The Hobbit book, but the second will be an original adventure that foreshadows the Rings trilogy -- using information from long appendixes Tolkien wrote on Middle Earth.

I think this is a brilliant choice. Del Toro has a similar independent streak like Jackson – alternating big Hollywood films like Mimic and Hellboy with smaller, foreign-language fare like The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. He obviously has a background with fantasy filmmaking, has proven he can handle big productions, has the geek credentials to do a committed job, and a unique visual style that would compliment the tone Jackson employed on Rings, but wouldn't just copy it...

You see, as much as I loved Jackson's work on Rings, I’d like to see someone else dabble in the Middle Earth he created. So, with Jackson as producer/creative guide, the WETA team back making all the costumes/make-up/FX, and the likely return of Ian McKellen (Gandalph) and Andy Serkis (Gollum), I'm extremely happy...

Oh, and I'm sure Del Toro would find a role for his own "virtual actor" Doug Jones: who stars as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy films, played The Faun in Pan's Labyrinth, and recently worked with WETA to bring the Silver Surfer to life in Fantastic Four 2.

Whatever happens, production on The Hobbit films is expected to start in 2009, with the films slated for release in 2010 and 2011.

Eagle Vs. Shark (2007)

Writer & Director: Taiki Waititi (story by Loren Horsley)

Cast: Jemaine Clement (Jarrod), Loren Horsley (Lily), Craig Hall (Doug Davis), Joel Tobeck (Damon), Rachel House (Nancy), Taika Cohen (Gordon), Aaron Cortesi (Duncan), David Fane (Eric Elisi), Adam Gardiner (Tony), Cori Gonzales-Macuer (Mark), Tanea Heke (Jarrod's Mum), Morag Hills (Vinny), Cohen Holloway (Mason), Gentiane Lupi (Tracy), Chelsie Preston-Crayford (Jenny), Bernard Stewart (Zane) & Joel Tobeck (Damien)

Two social misfits are drawn together in love, then embark on a road trip to defeat a school bully...

It's been described as a Kiwi version of Napoleon Dynamite, and Eagle Vs. Shark certainly shares Jared Hess's comic sensibility. The differences between Dynamite and this New Zealand comedy is that writer-director Taiki Waititi's film targets geeks in adulthood and has an awkward romance at its core.

Jemaine Clement, the chubbier-Jeff Goldblum half of comedy band Flight Of The Conchords, essentially reprises his Conchords alter-ego to play Jarrod; a self-assured geek who works in a video-game store and organizes a party where people come dressed as their favourite animal. Loren Horsley plays Lily; a shy fast-food worker, who fancies Jarrod from afar and manages to slip into his party dressed as a shark. Jarrod, of course, is the titular eagle...

Against expectation, it doesn’t take long for Jarrod and Lily to become an item, after Lily impresses him with her video-gaming skills. With the odd couple united, the film shifts focus to Jarrod's return to his family home, introducing Lily to his dysfunctional family, whilst preparing for revenge against a childhood bully.

Eagle Vs. Shark has its moments (particularly in the more assured opening 20-minutes), but the solid start begins to unravel as Jarrod's family fail to inspire hilarity, and attempts to throw in serious elements (a grieving," crippled" father/the reveal Jarrod has a 9-year-old daughter) are either uncomfortably handled, or pointless.

The film strains to make you care about Jarrod and Lily's relationship, primarily because Jarrod's such an idiotic, boastful man-child, and Lily's resolutely awkward demeanour quickly begins to irritate. We're supposed to hope these two misfits find true love together, but I spent half the time hoping Lily would hurry up and realize Jarrod's an insufferable prat who doesn't deserve her affection.

For a film that, on the surface, is designed to champion geeks as eccentric, complex, loving people, Eagle Vs. Shark generally spends half its time ridiculing them. The jokes at their expense can be briefly funny, but their lives are exaggerated into caricature and all the characters fail to show a different side – even when gifted ideal story opportunities with parenthood, a disapproving father, the break-up of a relationship, and a chance to rise above petty revenge...

At a sprightly 93-minutes, Eagle Vs. Shark at least provides a fairly zippy and wry viewing experience. Chances are you'll chuckle a few times before the sombre tone swallows everything at Jarrod's home -- but the film is crippled by its irritating leads, the inability to merge seriousness and quirkiness, and a tone that doesn't poke fun at geeks – it sledgehammers you with their perceived inadequacies.

Amusing affection vs. sneering contempt? A victory for the latter.


Miramax Films
Budget: NZ$1.8m / $1.35m
93 minutes

Sunday, 27 January 2008

What I'm Watching

... or will likely be watching very soon. I obviously don't review everything I see on this blog -- because I either don't have the time, or it's really not worth the effort. So, if you're interested, this is a day-by-day list of the TV that has my attention right now...

MONDAYS

Life In Cold Blood -- BBC1, 9.00 pm (starts 4 Feb)
Sir David Attenborough is the undoubted king of wildlife documentaries. I've grown up hearing his soothing voice inform me about the planet's animals, and everything he's involved with is always something special. This series will take a look at reptiles, and promises to be another extraordinary glimpse at the the wonders of nature.

Raines -- ITV3, 9.00 pm
This crime drama was unfortunately canceled in the States after a measly 7 episodes. Jeff Goldblum stars as the eponymous Raines, a man who imagines the victims of crime are speaking to him. They're not ghosts, they're just his own hallucinations that help him solve the case. Worth a look.

Prison Break -- Sky One, 10.00 pm
After a winter hiatus, another 5 episodes of the prison drama will air before the production runs out of material because of the US writers' strike. So far, I'm having fun with the change of location to Panama; although it's not a patch on the thrilling first season, it's more consistent than the patchy second.

TUESDAYS

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles -- FOX (download)
It's too early to write-off this series, as I enjoyed the first two episodes well enough, but there does seem to be one inherent problem: Lena Headey isn't a fitting Linda Hamilton replacement. There are only 9 episodes in the season, so it doesn't have long to make its mark. The fact it's one of very few scripted shows on US television (because of the writers' strike), seems to have boosted its ratings significantly -- possibly enough to guarantee a second season already?

WEDNESDAYS

Torchwood -- BBC2, 9.00 pm
We've only had a few episodes, but I think it's safe to say this is an improvement on season 1. It's still too silly at times, with gaping plot holes and an irritating sensibility when it comes to sex... but it's faster, funnier and more entertaining.

Reaper -- E4+1, 10.00 pm
Badly scheduled as direct competition for Torchwood at 9pm, it's best to check out this supernatural comedy-drama on E4's +1 channel at 10 instead. It's a blatant rip-off from Brimstone, given a teen-geek twist, but it passes the time. I'll stick with it for a few episodes, just to see if they can avoid slumping into repetition...

THURSDAYS

Ashes To Ashes -- BBC1, 9.00 pm (starts 7 Feb)
I think Life On Mars was very overrated, but it was still an entertaining twist on the cop drama, so I'm glad the BBC took a chance on it. This is the 80s-set spin-off, with a female cop "thrown back in time" to meet Gene Hunt and his team, who are now cleaning up the streets of London. Early reports suggest it's better than Life On Mars... but I'm worried the sci-fi/mystery aspect won't work now that we know why Sam Tyler came to be in 1973...

Never Mind The Buzzcocks -- BBC2, 9.00 pm
Simon Amstell is much more palatable than slimeball Mark Lamarr ever was, but I've always found Buzzcocks to be a bit too sneery for its own good. That said, it's always worth a look if the guests are any good, and Amstell's withering put-downs can be toe-curling yet compelling...

FRIDAYS

Alan Carr's Celebrity Ding Dong -- Channel 4, 10.00 pm
I haven't seen this yet, so it could be awful. Alan Carr always make me chuckle, so I hope this goes well for him. The premise (celebrity teams competing against "civilians" in various games) doesn't sound particularly brilliant, but I hope I'm proved wrong.

Friday Night With Jonathan Ross -- BBC1, 10.35 pm
I know some people hate him, but Jonathan Ross always entertains me on his TV chat show. I particularly like it when he has American guests on and takes great pleasure in massaging their ego, inbetween mocking them -- just to see their wide-eyed, confused expressions that he's not a Letterman-style sycophant just there to let them trot out some anecdotes and play a clip from their new movie.

SATURDAYS

Harry Hill's TV Burp -- ITV1, 6.30/7.00 pm
The perfect early-evening comedy, particularly if you're half as square-eyed as Harry. Of course, some weeks are better than others, but Harry tends to find one or two nuggets of unintentional TV gold in each half hour.

Primeval -- ITV1, 7.00/7.30 pm
Like Torchwood, this is an improvement on the samey first season, but still suffers from slipping into formula too often. The effects are generally excellent, and I welcome the attempt to provide subplot more enthralling than "what happened to Cutter's wife?", but I don't think this will ever amount to more than a lightweight mix of CGI and running around in woods.

Thank God You're Here -- ITV1, 10.00 pm
I can see why this is dying a death ratings-wise, as the idea just about runs out of steam after 15 minutes. It's all very well putting celebrities into a comic scene, to improvise their way around, but whenever they go off on a tangent, the supporting players have to strain to get everything back on-track -- even if its means contradicting something they say!

SUNDAYS

Lost -- Sky One, 10.00 pm
A welcome return for the best sci-fi series since The X-Files, now in its fourth season and heading for the home stretch. Sadly, because of the writers' strike, only 8 episodes will air of the scheduled 16, but that should satiate fans left gasping after season 3's finale... with rescue now for the castaways, apparently, on the way...

Supernatural -- ITV2, 10.00 pm
I'm actually debating whether or not to watch this. I've only ever seen 5 episodes of season 1, as ITV chose to market it under the heading "supernatural just got sexy", and that instantly put me off it! I just assumed it must be a cheap piece of sci-fi trash they regretted buying, so had to push it on the two leads' handsome looks. But, thanks to OnDemand with Virgin Media, I did watch season 1's first 5 episodes, and enjoyed them... but not enough to continue watching.

But the new trailers on ITV look very cool, and I know the show really began to hit a stride in season 2, so I want to give it a shot. I'm just not convinced it's best to drop into season 3, and don't have the time (or cash) for a DVD box-set marathon. So, I might not watch this... but I know many people will.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

PRIMEVAL 2.3

Writers: Richard Kurti & Bev Doyle
Director: Jamie Payne

Cast: Douglas Henshall (Professor Nick Cutter), Hannah Spearritt (Abby Maitland), James Murray (Stephen Hart), Andrew-Lee Potts (Connor Temple), Karl Theobald (Oliver Leek), Naomi Bentley (Caroline Steel), Lucy Brown (Jenny Lewis) & Gillian Kearney (Valerie)

After a paintballer is attacked at a theme park, the team investigate the appearance of a large cat in the area…

"Listen; you do the creatures, I'll do the people. Deal?"
-- Jenny Lewis (Lucy Brown)

It's here that Primeval's formula began to grate on me in season 2, with another variation on the "ancient beast in an unusual place" gambit. While the previous two episodes managed to balance things out with fresh subplots, a Sound Of Thunder-style alteration to the timeline, and a some new faces, episode 3 is content to be a bland throwback to the tedious first season…

This week, a sabre-tooth cat is prowling Blue Sky theme park, having already attacked an irritating paintballer called Warren. It's a premise that sounds more fun than it actually is, as the plot once again tend to just involve people creeping around in surrounding forests.

Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) is a little upset that his new Anomaly Detection Device (ADD) didn't predict the appearance of the cat's anomaly, but even more annoyed his work means he can't spend time with sexy girlfriend Caroline (Naomi Bentley). As I assumed last week, Caroline is quickly revealed to be a "mole", although quite what she's after is still vague – particularly once her handler's identity is revealed in the final scene...

Robert Kurti and Bev Doyle's storyline isn't too shabby, although it doesn’t take full advantage of the theme park setting – as the imagined carnage and chaos of a massive cat on the loose never arrives. After spending most of the episode stuck in an increasingly laborious cat-and-mouse chase beyond the park itself, the story does eventually reveal a tied-in back-story for deputy park manager Valerie (Gillian Kearney), but by then I'd past caring...

I started to grow restless when idiot Connor thought it was good idea to run through a crowded theme park brandishing a massive rifle, and then proceed to shoot the only theme park manager in the country who likes to dress up as a lion mascot! From there, the simple story is padded out with a pointless diversion to a local barn, where a farmer is breeding dogs for fighting... and PR expert Jenny (Lucy Brown) decides to flirt with anyone (including stereotypical trainspotters) who might blow their cover...

The problem with Primeval episodes is that they're tweaked variations on one plot template. Individual writers do they best they can to keep things interesting; which generally means predictable bluffs (the lion mascot), a few close calls with death (a zip-wire escape), and well-intentioned yet laughable action beats (digger versus cat!), before straining to pull everything together in the last act...

This episode works fine within those limitations -- and the revelation surrounding Valerie's role in events was quite interesting (if you accept she could domesticate a sabre-toothed cat!) -- but it was still underwhelming and predictable.

At the moment, season 2 has only improved on season 1 by virtue of the new elements it introduced in the opener: the timeline change and the undercurrent of spies in their midst. This episode is more interesting when it's dealing with the latter, as everything else is just another extended chase with a CGI beast. And there were no particularly inventive chase sequences, any genuine thrills, or even an interesting/amusing way to eliminate the threat.

If you happened to enjoy season 1's emphasis on people running around, ducking out the way of a computer-generated critter, inbetween walking through woods and making po-faced declarations of doom -- chances are, you'll like this. But if not, this is a backwards step that reminds you why season 1 became so boring, so very quickly...


26 January 2008
ITV1, 7.30 pm

COMEDY LIVE PRESENTS

A special one-off "comedy extravaganza", which usually means someone's testing the water before committing to a full series. Comedy Live Presents was very much a Saturday Live clone, with Russell Brand replacing Ben Elton as compere (and swapping political satire for stories about grabbing the Queen's breasts post-Royal Variety Performance.)

I have a love/hate relationship with Brand; finding him overrated as a celebrity, yet underrated as a stand-up. Brand has yet to find the ideal television format for himself, with his Radio 2 show still the best outlet for his manic, ridiculous, anarchic tone. Comedy Live Presents wasn't a bad fit -- with Brand ably holding everything together and firing off a few fun routines about the Queen, masturbation and "seagulling" -- all while, quite uncomfortably, his mother sat in the audience.

The first "act" on the show was Irish comedian David O'Doherty, who sat on an island-stage with a keyboard, wearing a white suit, and proceeded to basically sing a series of rhyming jokes with musical accompaniment. While not particularly hilarious, it was oddly amusing, and some of O'Doherty's rhymes in his "FAQ For The DOD" song worked well. Rather strangely, O'Doherty became something of a stooge for Brand throughout the rest of the show, acting as "the straightman".

Next up was Michael McIntyre, a comedian who already impressed me immensely with his appearance on Live At The Apollo awhile back. McIntyre proved again that he's one of the best stand-ups around right now, with some hilarious jokes about the "weird six days between Christmas and New Year", half-blind Gordon Brown and monthly pregnancy tests being more expensive than broadband.

Less successful was a sketch featuring Dr Dick Stroker (hardy-har), a "mad scientist type" who basically introduced news clips where the voices of the Queen, Sylvester Stallone and Tom Cruise had been re-dubbed -- to not-so-hilarious effect...

The Stroker character was part of the Comedy Live Players, who seemed to consist of the least talented members of Channel 4's Star Stories troupe. They followed Stroker with with a rather weak sketch with the offspring of the Spice Girls chatting together in a play pen... but only Mel B's daughter having Eddie Murphy's iconic laugh made me smile.

So far, the guests had been relatively new comedians/performers, but then it was the turn of Paul Kaye -- still most famous for unleashing faux interviewer Dennis Pennis on unsuspecting celebrities in the 90s. Fans may remember that Pennis started off as the best thing about The Sunday Show, and almost managed the same feat here with his latest creation: Mike Strutter. I say "latest creation", but foulmouthed Strutter has been around for awhile, but only recently has started to step into the limelight -- with a MTV video-clips-based series.

Here, Strutter took charge of "Mr & Fucking Mrs", an adult spoof of Mr & Mrs with liberal sprinkling of sex, drugs, swearing and risky humour. It was funny in parts, and Kaye cultivates a dangerous feeling whenever he's on-stage.... so for that reason I'd rate it a success, even if the gags mostly revolved around easy shocks...

Lee Mack arrived with a few minutes of material up his sleeve, clutching a beer bottle but still looking rather low-key and "safe" after Strutter's antics. His material was fine, but I'd heard most of it before, and the only memorable part was a funny look at drink-driving statistics.

Heading into the home straight, Leigh Francis arrived in his Craig David guise from 'Bo Selecta! It's been awhile since Francis has been on our screens, despite almost being the face of Channel 4 late-night comedy a few years ago. The premise here was a short documentary on his Craig David alter-ego, who has fallen on bad times since 'Bo Selecta! and blames his "creator" Francis ("the ginger twat".)

It seemed like this would be quite an interesting piece (with a comedy creation taking on its creator), but it quickly relaxed into the usual mix of poking fun at D-list celebs (Anthony Costa from Blue) and David's persona... which was never accurate to begin with, now looks incredibly old-hat, and isn't helped by the fact David has recently reinvented himself (losing the beanie hat/goatee and pumping iron.)

The final act was the most left-field; stand-up from comedienne Roseanne Barr, best known in this country for his early-90s sitcom Roseanne. She wasn't too bad, after a shaky start, with some amusing gags about map-reading and Viagra (even if they weren't exactly cutting edge stuff), but it was mostly just a surprise to see how much weight she's lost in 15 years!

And there you have it. Quite an eclectic mix, and it certainly passed an hour very well. Brand actually did a solid job keeping it all rolling along, but only McIntyre and Strutter really had the anarchic appeal Brand's presence seemed to suggest Comedy Presents Live was all about.

The Comedy Live Players were particularly bad (although I liked their closing interview with "Kevin Keegan" during the end credits), while the reactions of the delirious happy audience members didn't always match the content of what was being shown. Two frizzy-haired sisters/twins in the front row seemed particularly enamored with Brand -- and were probably hoping for a call to his dressing room after the show....

All said, this wasn't terrible, but I just don't see why it was a "one-off special". As the first episode of a series, it showed promise.... but as a special treat, it had more misses than hits.


25 January 2008
Channel 4, 10.00 pm

Friday, 25 January 2008

Box Office Charts: w/e 25 January 2008

In the US, mysterious monster movie Cloverfield was finally unleashed and made a whopping $46m at the box-office, easily taking the #1 spot... Katherine Heigl returns after Knocked Up with wedding comedy 27 Dresses... former #1 Bucket List drops to #3... First Sunday drops 4 places to #6... crime caper Mad Money debuts at a poor #8... I Am Legend takes a big drop from #6 to #9... while Atonement continues to cling onto #10 in the wake of Oscar buzz...

US TOP 10

1. Cloverfield $46.1m
2. 27 Dresses £27.4m
3. The Bucket List $16.7m
4. Juno $12m
5. National Treasure: Book Of Secrets $9.61m
6. First Sunday $9.5m
7. Alvin & The Chipmunks $9.43m
8. Mad Money $9.27m
9. I Am Legend $5.91m [review]
10. Atonement $5.53m

In the UK, cinemagoers show poor taste by allowing AVP2 to take #1, knocking No Country For Old Men into second place... P.S I Love You is doing amazingly well, despite generally awful reviews, high at #3... I Am Legend drops from #1 to #4 from last week... flop Golden Compass looks likely to vanish from the chart next week, dropping 2 places to #9... and Bee Movie surely has its last buzz at #10 this week...

UK TOP 10

1. Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem £1.9m
2. No Country For Old Men £1.2m
3. P.S I Love You £1.1m
4. I Am Legend £1.08m [review]
5. Charlie Wilson's War £890k
6. St. Trinian's £858k
7. Alvin & The Chipmunks £715k
8. Enchanted £602k
9. The Golden Compass £463k
10. Bee Movie £322k

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
A careers officer and his wife work with a detective to discover the truth behind their son's disappearance, after he returned from service in Iraq. Crime drama starring Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon and Charlize Theron.

THE SAVAGES
A brother and sister face the harsh realities of familial responsibility when their father is taken ill. Comedy drama starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney.

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
After returning from exile for a crime he didn't commit, a barber exacts his revenge by slashing the throats of customers and using them as the meat filling in pies. Crime musical thriller starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen.

SYDNEY WHITE
A modern retelling of the Snow White fairytale, set in the freshman year of a college. Comedy starring Amanda Bynes, Sara Paxton, Matt Long and Jack Carpenter.