Sunday, 31 May 2009

MUMBAI CALLING 1.1 - "Teknobable"



You can't approach any ITV sitcom without trepidation, given their terrible track record. But there was a reason to feel hopeful about Mumbai Calling: between them, writers Sanjeev Bhaskar and Simon Blackwell have worked on Goodness Gracious Me, Peep Show and The Thick Of It – award-winning, intelligent comedies. A promising sign, until you remember that Mumbai Calling's based on a 2007 pilot nobody took any notice of, and appears to have been revived for lack of anything better to broadcast...

The series concerns English accountant Kenny Gupta (Sanjeev Bhaskar), who was sent to India six months ago to work in the company's Teknobable call centre. His transfer actually formed a stronger basis in the '07 pilot, but is less pertinent now. The business is run by randy manager Dev Rajah (EastEnders' Nitin Ganatra), who in this episode is told to expect the arrival of another British suit -– hardnosed assessor "T. Johnson" -- who turns out to be attractive businesswoman Terri Johnson (Star Stories' Daisy Beaumont)...

There's not much else more going on, although we learn that Kenny has found his experience of Mumbai inordinately depressing. All that sunlight and culture, eh? The storyline was pure set-up that introduced the characters, their jobs, the environment they work in, and its associated Indian flavours. Predictably, scene transitions were accompanied by a twanging sitar.

The show has a number of things in its favour, thank Ganesha: it's been filmed on location in the real Mumbai, which immediately lends it credibility and authenticity; Ganatra proves to be a gifted comic actor; the call centre backdrop is interesting enough to keep us watching (for now); and there were some amusing background characters that will hopefully get fleshed-out.

The major letdown is simple: it wasn't funny. The thing with comedy is that, while you can appreciate a fun idea and likeable actors, it's all for nothing if it doesn't makes you laugh. A weak story I can contend with (I almost expect it from introductory episodes), but you need a flow of amusing jokes for a sitcom to justify its existence. Mumbai Calling lacked a sense of life in a very dry script. This could have been an Indian version of 30 Rock (only set in a call centre, not a television studio), but that Tina Fey-starring comedy throws out more gags in 30 seconds than this managed in 30 minutes.

That said, I'm going to stick with it for another week or so -- mainly because so many sitcoms just need time to relax and for the comedy to build from the characters. And we don't really know anyone just yet. The main thing that impressed me about "Teknobable" was Ganatra's lively performance (he even got away with a terrible rant about "tor-poo-does" when Manchester-based callers were ringing to complain about a flood), and a part of me refuses to believe Bhaskar and Blackwell sat down and wrote eight unfunny episodes...


30 May 2009
ITV1, 10pm

written by: Sanjeev Bhaskar & Simon Blackwell directed by: Allan McKeown starring: Sanjeev Bhaskar (Kenny Gupta), Daisy Beaumont (Terri Johnson), Nitin Ganatra (Dev Rajah), Naren Chandavarkar (Amit), Nami Das (Amar), Ratnabali Bhattacharjee (Sarika), Preetika Chawla (Nayna), Sugandula Garg (Call Centre Operator), Siddarth Kumar (Prem), Kanchan Pagare (Call Centre Operator), Puja Sarip (Geeta), Samar Sarila (Nikhil) & Tracey Ullman (Telephone Voice)

Yvonne Strahovski is... barefoot in bed

Best Life magazine

Yvonne Strahovski does frustratingly few photoshoots for magazines, but I guess that makes the ones we get even more special. So, here she is posing for Best Life magazine; barefoot in bed and looking totally gorgeous. There are a few more photos here to check out, too. Hopefully Yvonne will agree to do more shoots to help promote Chuck, as the internet is all the poorer without some Strahotness. Don't you think?

"[A man] has to know how to grab me. Nothing's sexier than a confident guy who isn't afraid to dive into the physical and who knows what to do with a woman's body."

ROBIN HOOD 3.9 - "The Dangerous Game"


[SPOILERS] There are some good themes and ideas swirling around "The Dangerous Game" from writer Michael Chaplin, but none of its really coalesces into anything exciting or terribly complex. It achieves minor development in a few relationships in the end, but ultimately this was bottom-drawer filler...

Isabella (Lara Pulver) is now the Sheriff of Nottingham and, despite the concerns of Robin (Jonas Armstrong), whom Isabella is still treating as a dangerous outlaw, she's preferable to the old regime. Obama to the Bush era, you might say. Of primary importance to Isabella's character is a streak of feminism a mile wide, which she sees reflected in a boisterous prisoner called Meg (Holliday Grainger), whom she releases from custody as a token of her goodwill to Nottingham's citizens. Sadly, seconds later Isabella's husband Thornton (Nicholas Gleaves) descends on the castle, intending to steal power from her. His wife may have the blessing of Prince John in her new appointment, but the prince doesn't know about her "sinful" behaviour in running away from darlin' hubbie...

As Thornton starts to takeover, Meg is spared only because she knows the location of treasure buried in a mound of earth in the forest – a fortune in gold that Thornton intends to steal, despite concerns from his men that the loot is cursed. A little later, Meg winds up in a dungeon with Guy (Richard Armitage) as her next-cell neighbour, both being detained until execution in the morning. This was the worst element of the episode, as Meg's forthright personality clashes with Guy, but she eventually gives him perspective on the terrible things he's done in his life.

Sadly, the writing wasn't really up to task in making these talkative scenes fly, not helped by the fact we've only known Meg for just one episode and actress Holliday Grainger basically reprises her annoying Demons character to Olde England. By the time Meg's been stabbed during their escape and is being rested against a tree with Guy leaning over her in the style of a romantic tragedy, it's just not very convincing. Still, I had to feel sorry for Guy when Meg breathed her final words: "I always quite liked you." Quite?

There are moments in "The Dangerous Game" that touch on sexism, feminism, and gender politics in general, but nothing compelling really comes of it. However, I did like the fleshing out of Isabella's character here -- clearly a victim of domestic abuse who ran away to escape that nightmare, becoming someone with a strong opinion that the world would improved if women ruled. Lara Pulver is clearly one of Robin Hood's more talented actors, and she does well with the material, even if her talent can't make a leather purse out of a sow's ear. But, at least her character is interesting, conflicted, and more three-dimensional than most.

We also get some overdue development in the Sherwood Forest love-triangle nobody's talking about -- between Robin, Kate (Joanne Froggatt) and Much (Sam Troughton). It appears that Kate loves Robin, but Robin isn't quite so keen on a relationship because he knows his best-friend fancies Kate (although his guilt doesn't stop a few smooches!), while Kate appears unaware of Much's feelings and wants him to persuade Robin to give them a chance. Alan (Joe Armstrong) appears to have been entirely forgotten about, despite the fact he was the fourth-wheel in this romantic entanglement a few episodes ago. Anyway, as much as I'm sure the ladies are swooning over Robin and Much is a sympathetic unlucky-in-love type, it's all very bland and unsubstantial. Things aren't helped by the fact the story is following the obvious direction everyone predicted when Kate first arrived.

The rest of the episode was the usual Asterix-style violence (knocking guard's heads together, the loudest arrows this side of Tex Avery), overdone music cues, and stupidity. I particularly liked how one guard failed to spot Robin and Kate crouched literally a metre away from him in the forest, and of course there was yet another beheading for Robin and his gang to prevent at Nottingham castle. Security really needs to tighten whenever capital punishment is going on, don't you think?


30 May 2009
BBC1, 7.20pm

written by: Michael Chaplin directed by: Graeme Harper starring: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Richard Armitage (Guy), David Harewood (Tuck), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Sam Troughton (Much), Joe Armstrong (Allan), Lara Pulver (Isabella), Joanne Froggatt (Kate), Nicholas Gleaves (Squire Thornton), Holliday Grainger (Meg) & Denes Bernath (Godfrey)

Land Of The Rising Summer


Summer Glau and Brian Austin Green were in Tokyo last week to promote the DVD release of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles in Japan, during which they were asked to strike a pose for the cameras. And I find it funny how Glau goes straight into shark-eyed Terminator mode, while Green appears to be channeling his Beverly Hills 90210 days.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

TRAILER PARK: Toy Story 3 (teaser), Dead Snow & Torchwood - Children Of Earth (extended)


What is there to say? I love Pixar and I'm sure Toy Story 3 will be great, but I must admit that the previous Toy Story's have left me a little cold. Well, not cold, just less than ecstatic. I saw the first one in the cinema (way before the hype and awards) and the experience was rather flat. I don't remember their being much atmosphere in the theatre and not many people were laughing at the jokes. It felt more like people were just gawping at the graphics, to be honest. Of course, on DVD it's easier to appreciate the characters and interplay, and I've grown to enjoy Toy Story in time. Toy Story 2 was a marked improvement, but I actually prefer the original's story. But, as much as I love the Toy Story characters, I must confess that I'd prefer to see a sequel to The Incredibles or Monster's Inc over this. Anyone else agree? Either way, if you have kids, you'll be seeing this in the cinema next year -- if only for a quiet life. In 3-D, too.

Released: 18 June 2010 (US), 24 June 2010 (AUS), 23 July 2010 (UK)
HD Downloads: 480P (28MB) | 720P (82MB) | 1080P (130MB)


Forget trailers for the summer blockbusters, you'll see those everywhere over the next few months. No, it's time to champion the underdog or under-the-radar movies. Dead Snow/Død snø is a Norwegian horror-comedy about a group of medical students that become trapped in a mountain cabin, on land full of Nazi zombies. Yes, you read that right. Nazi. Zombies. Sold yet? I'm sure it will be good fun, but I'm a little fatigued by the abundance of movies with people fending off zombies. Shaun Of The Dead, [REC], Diary Of The Dead, the Resident Evil saga... Dead Snow will no doubt draw a cult crowd because of the Nazi Zombie element, but what else is there to say? Isn't it time zombies shuffled off for awhile? Anyway, check out the trailer above -- complete with Braindead T-shirt, Indiana Jones quote and Evil Dead tool-up sequence. It looks derivative, but... there are Nazi zombies. In the snow.

Released: 19 June 2009 (US, limited run)
HD Downloads: 480P (51MB) | 720P (122MB) | 1080P (177MB)
Website: www.deadsnow.com


The new, extended version of the Torchwood - Children Of Earth trailer. It looks very good, from what I can see. But is that anything to do with the fact there's barely any recognizable "Torchwood-isms"? This could be mistaken for an unrelated sci-fi chiller, as the only signifier it's a Torchwood story are the glimpses of Jack, Ianto and a brief speech by Gwen. I'm not ragging on Torchwood, really, but... this looks classier than their usual previews. Has the series finally come of age, or are we just being spared the cheesy, stilted action, and daftness to come? This trailer was made by BBC America, so do the Yanks just cut better trailers than us Brits? I remember when I went to America a few years ago and trailers for sodding Hex made it look like the best thing EVER, so...

CATFIGHT: Ali Larter vs Beyoncé


Catfight is a new idea I'm going to trial for awhile, as a bit of fun for summer. It also works as a progression of the Hotlight feature I put on ice a month ago. Basically, every week I'll pick two sexy stars from the world of showbiz who have a reason to "fight" (i.e, they have competing movies/singles on release, are rivals in a film, etc.) There'll be a brief blurb about each starlet, and then you get the opportunity to pick your favourite in a poll. Simple! The inaugural catfight is between pop diva Beyoncé Knowles and Heroes' hottie Ali Larter, who appear together in the new movie Obsessed as love rivals of Idris Elba's character...


Alison Elizabeth Larter

Model-turned-actress with a career that's primarily targeted the teenage market (Legally Blonde, Resident Evil: Extinction, TV's Heroes.) The classically beautiful Ali got her break as part of a hoax in Esquire magazine, where she portrayed a fake model called Allegra Coleman and was reported to be the new girlfriend of Friends' David Schwimmer. The 2000 horror movie Final Destination propelled the leggy star to a legitimate acting career and she hasn't looked back since, gaining lots of fans along the way. She is currently engaged to Rob Buckley Hayes MacArthur.

Date of Birth: 28 February 1976
Place of Birth: Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA


Beyoncé Giselle Knowles

Mononymed, voluptuous singer-songwriter who launched to fame as one third of Rn'B girl group Destiny's Child in 1998 (although the trio formed in '93). Years of #1 singles, platinum albums and Grammy awards soon followed, but a few years after Beyonce started a parallel solo career, Destiny's Child split up. Beyoncé's success as a modern Tina Turner-like "diva" soon started to surpass her Child's achievements, thanks to a combination of catchy tunes, big vocals, obvious stage presence and sexy music videos. The thunder-thighed star also dips her toe into the world of acting every so often, having appeared in Austin Powers 3, The Pink Panther remake, Oscar-winning musical Dreamgirls, and Obsession. In 2008, she married rapper Jay-Z.

Date of Birth: 4 September 1981
Place of Birth: Houston, Texas, USA

Friday, 29 May 2009

Box Office Charts: w/e 29 May 2009


Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Box Office

In the US: The big shock this week was seeing Ben Stiller sequel NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 beat TERMINATOR: SALVATION to the #1 spot, by a clear $20 million. Terminator 4 was by no means a total flop with $51m, but it was a disappointment compared to the likes of Star Trek, Angels & Demons and Wolverine, and not much better than T3's performance six years ago. The comedy DANCE FLICK debuts at #5 with a disappointing $12m, unable to compete with the summer blockbusters above it.

US TOP 10

(-) 1. Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian $70.1m
(-) 2. Terminator: Salvation $51.9m
(2) 3. Star Trek $29.4m
(1) 4. Angels & Demons $27.4m
(-) 5. Dance Flick $12.6m
(3) 6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine $9.91m
(4) 7. Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past $4.77m
(5) 8. Obsessed $2.42m
(7) 9. Monsters vs Aliens $2.06m
(6) 10. 17 Again $1.29m


In the UK: NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 also tops the chart in the UK, making an impressive $4m... and British school slasher flick TORMENTED eeks out $284k to enter the top 10 at #8...

UK TOP 10

(-) 1. Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian £4.1m
(1) 2. Angels & Demons £2.4m
(2) 3. Star Trek £1.6m
(4) 4. X-Men Origins: Wolverine £459k
(3) 5. Coraline £458k
(5) 6. Hannah Montana: The Movie £413k
(6) 7. Fighting £299k
(-) 8. Tormented £284k
(7) 9. Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past £162k
(8) 10. State Of Play £88k


UK RELEASES THIS WEEK


12 ROUNDS

Action Thriller. A detective whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a criminal he jailed has to successfully complete 12 challenges to secure her release.
Director: Renny Harlin Starring: John Cena, Aidan Gillen, Ashley Scott, Steve Harris & Brian White
Tomatometer: 27% (Rotten; based on 55 reviews) "Energetic but empty, 12 Rounds' preposterous plot hurtles along at a rapid pace, but can’t disguise the derivative script."


DRAG ME TO HELL

Horror. A loan officer orders the eviction of an old woman, then finds she's been cursed to battle tormented evil spirits for three days before being dragged to hell.
Director: Sam Raimi Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver & Dileep Rao
Tomatometer: 95% (Fresh; based on 108 reviews) "Sam Raimi returns to top form with Drag Me to Hell, a frightening, hilarious, delightfully campy thrill ride."


OBSESSED

Crime Thriller. An asset manager in a perfect marriage is stalked by a sexy temp worker, who puts his idyllic family life under threat.
Director: Steve Shill Starring: Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter & Jerry O'Connell
Tomatometer: 18% (Rotten; based on 76 reviews) "The inevitable Fatal Attraction comparisons aside, Obsessed is a generic, toothless thriller both instantly predictable and instantly forgettable."

Meet The Who Girl: Karen Gillan


Quiet news day? Not anymore! The BBC have announced that 21-year-old Karen Gillan will be the new Doctor Who companion when the series returns next year, co-starring with Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor.

Inverness-born Gillan previously appeared in "The Fires Of Pompeii" as the Soothsayer, but will soon begin filming the fifth season of Doctor Who. She has also been seen in Stacked, The Kevin Bishop Sow, Rebus and the upcoming movie Outcast.

Karen Gillan herself:

"I am absolutely over the moon at being chosen to play the Doctor's new companion. I just can't wait to get started. The show is such a massive phenomenon that I can't quite believe I am going to be a part of it. Matt Smith is an incredible actor and it is going to be so much fun to act alongside him."

Head of Drama, BBC Wales, Piers Wenger:

"When she auditioned alongside Matt we knew we had something special."

Executive-producer Steven Moffat:

"We saw some amazing actresses for this part, but when Karen came through the door the game was up. Funny, and clever, and gorgeous, and sexy. Or Scottish, which is the quick way of saying it. A generation of little girls will want to be her. And a generation of little boys will want them to be her too."

So, what do you think? Is this a good decision, as a gut feeling? I'm sure a few fans will be racing to re-watch "The Fires Of Pompeii" now!

THE APPRENTICE 5 - Week Ten

[SPOILERS] My favourite task is definitely the shopping channel task. It's perfect material for The Apprentice: the candidate's have to sell things to thousands of people, there's an element of teamwork throughout, you have to look professional while presenting, you have to cope with the pressure of live TV as a colleague natters in your earpiece, and you get an unequivocal result at the end in how many products were sold. It's also very funny and often quite embarrassing. I squirmed like a maggot throughout.

Sir Alan sent the teams to the TV channel's HQ in... er, Peterborough; Yasmina led Empire with Debra and James, while Howard led Ignite with Lorraine and Kate. The first order of business was to actually choose products to sell. It's a crucial element of the whole process, but this was predictably where one team ultimately fell down.

Yasmina insisted that Empire choose cheaper items, so they could just concentrate on selling their hearts out for the win. So, their most expensive item was a "grabasaurus" (a leaf collector) for £24.99, with head scarves and hair-crunches even cheaper. Ignite went in the opposite direction for the most part, with an expensive chip fryer and leaf-adorned leather jackets, and backed it up with an infrared "air guitar" toy and, bizarrely, a plastic cat you attach sequins to! Sir Alan summed it up perfect: "dodgy product, that."

After some rehearsals of varying quality (Kate tongue-tied while demonstrating a sat-nav, Lorraine distracted by the earpiece chatter, Yasmina and James flirting), each team's live hour was upon them. Sadly, Yasmina and James' double-act soured when the cameras went live and they made a bad error in claming a product worth £17.99 was up for sale at £9.99 -- but their effort did inspire a viewer from Lancashire to fire off an email to the channel about their new "comedy hour".

You'd have thought Kate would have breezed through this task with her photogenic looks and personable nature, but beyond picking her team some good products, she was quite stilted in front of the cameras -- although she redeemed herself slightly when rocking-out with the infrared guitar gizmo, to the amusement of the camera crew watching.

Lorraine and Howard were pretty good as a double-act, but their technique put the emphasis on appearing good-humoured to viewers and didn't really push the prices, phone numbers and website enough. Too much chatter, not enough hard facts and selling.

Debra was easily the biggest surprise of the whole task. Everyone expected a dislikeable dragon act to roar in front of the camera, scaring away viewers with her brash attitude, but she was surprisingly well-mannered and quite a tranquil screen presence! Of all the candidates, Debra felt most like a professional TV presenter who could get herself a job doing this. There's always one every year, isn't there!

In the boardroom, Sir Alan was in the rare position of having seen the team's performances on the live TV broadcast himself. He congratulated Howard's Ignite for choosing the more expensive products, as that was the direction to take when selling to thousands of people at once. If even a small fraction buy an item, they stood a chance of winning the task. Yasmina was criticized for choosing trivial items of low value, but the results actually gave them a shock win -- meaning Ignite lost on pure lack of salesmanship. Debra's sterling effort propelled Yasmina's team to an improbable win, really. Interestingly, Yasmina's now become the first person be winning project manager three times in UK Apprentice history!

Howard, Lorraine and Kate were brought back to explain themselves as Empire went off to be given an aerial acrobatics experience (no vomiting, sadly.) Sir Alan zoned in on Howard's refusal to take risks throughout the competition -- having this week been given the option of selecting an expensive animatronic dinosaur to sell (a product championed by Lorraine.) Oracle Lorraine herself was again criticized for failing to act on her gut-feeling (which is often proven right), while Kate was labeled a disappointment in a task that should have spoken to her excellent presenting/pitching skills. She looked the part, but this was an unfortunate blip for my personal favourite to win. Yasmina seems to be pushing ahead of the pack now.

Anyway, Sir Alan decided to fire Howard for being too damn dependable and consistent. In these credit-crunch times, Amstrad need a maverick and a risk-taker, apparently. Isn't that what got us into the banking crisis to begin with? While it's been nice to see Howard step out of the shadows in recent weeks, he was never going to win the show, so at least we've still got the entertainment-value of Lorraine (who should have been fired.)

So, next week it's the excruciating "job interview" task. If you thought you were squirming this week, you'll be a human-pretzel in seven days. I can't see Lorraine surviving this one, as I have a suspicion that James may scrape through on likeability. Kate, Yasmina and Debra will get through, but Kate is less hardnosed than the others girls... she may wobble. It should be fun to see Debra whatever happens -- the superbitch will either turn to jelly in the face of older, experienced businessmen talking to her in a condescending way... or she'll flip the whole situation on its head and leave Sir Alan's henchmen licking their wounds when she launches into righteous ranting.

My prediction for the last week? Undoubtedly an all-girl finale; most likely Yasmina vs. Kate. But possibly Yasmina vs. Debra. It depends on how much Sir Alan wants to risk keeping Debra in play. He seems keen to hire someone with a nonconformist attitude this year, in the misguided belief that's what the business world needs right now.


27 May 2009, BBC1 @9pm

Elephant (2003)

... in the school

Gus Van Sant's high school massacre movie takes controversial subject matter and turns it into entertainment that doesn't feel exploitative or cruel. Clearly inspired by the Columbine atrocity (where two students went on a killing spree at their high school; killing 13 people and injuring many), Elephant isn't the expected documentary/movie hybrid of that terrible day in 1999, it's a fictional story with real-world inspiration. That affords it some legroom -- both in distancing itself from any resentment from Columbine residents, and in the ability to tell a story unrestricted by facts and a storyline everyone knows the ending to...

The Palme d'Or-winning Elephant (named after a 1989 Alan Clarke TV movie about the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland) essentially plays as a realistic day-in-the-life exercise, as we meet a variety of high school students going about their daily business. Many are archetypes, or least identifiable to anyone who's experienced school life: there's the jock and his hot girlfriend, a trio of bulimic girls, the artistic photographer, the gawky outcast, the mature student with the alcoholic father, and the gun fanatic pariahs who will destroy the tension the film goes to great lengths to cultivate.

A short film at a scant 81-minutes, it nevertheless feels substantial and manages to entertain and draw you in as Van Sant's roving camera glides around the school, almost drifting into the next character we'll latch onto and follow for a while. Scenes are revealed to be disjointed in time, often dovetailing into a previous scene, or returning to a previous point that soon appears to act as a sort of narrative crossroads. It's cinéma vérité through and through, and proves to be a beguiling and bewitching way to grab our attention and focus it on the minutiae. We don't really get to know much about anyone beyond what we gleam from body language and brief dialogue, so we just see them behaving and interacting, going about their business without a care in the world, with the audience perched on their shoulders like constrained angels watching an inevitable tragedy unfold.

It's perhaps best to watch Elephant without much knowledge going in, as the film undoubtedly benefits from a sense of investigation and discovery. It's not even clear which students are going to enact their sick fantasy until the halfway mark. Until then, quite a few of the students feel like suspects, which is either a statement on our natural suspicion of strangers in the right context, or an intentional point that it's difficult to spot mental dysfunction in the hormonal breeding ground of school.

I found Elephant to be a well-made and naturalistic movie. The "actors" were mostly real people of the desired age-range, playing characters that were essentially themselves, and the script was written ad hoc during filming. It tackles a tough topic in an engaging manner that refuses to make the last act violence "cool" or something to relish in any way. Instead, the bloodshed is tragic, ugly, senseless, miserable, and monotonous.

Van Sant's movie doesn't hammer home a moral message, either; it's clear to any sane person what the film's trying to accomplish. Perhaps it would have been interesting to get insight into exactly why the killers took such extreme action, or for us to feel a little more attached to their unfortunate victims, for emotional purposes... but we're held at a distance and denied catharsis. Instead, we're just placed in the milieu of the before and after... and left alone to feel what we feel.


writer & director: Gus Van Sant cast: Alex Frost (Alex), Eric Deulen (Eric), John Robinson (John McFarland), Timothy Bottoms (Mr. McFarland), Matt Malloy (Mr. Luce), Elias McConnell (Elias), Nathan Tyson (Nathan), Carrie Finklea (Carrie), Kristen Hicks (Michelle), Brittany Mountain (Brittany), Jordan Taylor (Jordan), Nicole George (Nicole), Alicia Miles (Acadia) & Bennie Dixon (Benny) HBO Films/Fine Line Features - 81 mins. - $3 million (budget) www.elephantmovie.com

Pussycat Dolls: "Hush Hush; Hush Hush"


No, I didn't accidentally hit copy/paste, that is the title of the Pussycat Dolls' latest single. "Hush" just wasn't street enough, I guess. You need some repetition and a semi-colon, see. Punctuation's where it's at, yo. Is there any point typing anything here? Just enjoy the music video, which features Nicole Scherzinger having a lovely bath, before joining her fellow pussycats for a '70s disco-inspired song that bizarrely segueways into a brief cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" (which was #1 in the UK Singles Chart when I was born, way back in March 1979. Spooky, I know.)

But let's take a straw poll: will the Pussycat Dolls ever split up, as strongly rumoured when diva Scherzinger insisted that their last single "Jai Ho" was credited to The Pussycat Dolls featuring Nicole Scherzinger. That did feel like an obvious hint from Ms. S for the 'dolls to sod off, but did any of her bandmates get it? Or do they just persevere with her because, let's face it, if the band did split up... Scherzinger has a potential solo career to get on with, and they'll just go back to burlesque. I reckon Nic's just annoyed she has to split her wages six ways.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

BBC America get first dibs on The Doctor

BBC America have won the US rights to premiere the last five Doctor Who specials of David Tennant's tenure before SyFy. The 2008 Christmas special "The Next Doctor" will air on 27 June @9pm ET/PT and the Easter special "Planet Of The Dead" arrives in July. "The Waters Of Mars" will follow in late-'09 and this year's two-part Christmas/New Year specials will arrive early-'10.

BBC Worldwide President Garth Ancier:

"The outstanding quality of the Doctor Who scripts from Russell T. Davies and the on-screen dynamic that David Tennant brings to the role are a magic combination for our viewers. Russell's spin-off series Torchwood is already our highest rated show on the channel and I know the fans will follow these new specials with equal passion and support. We’re thrilled to bring this iconic show to BBC America, home of the best British sci-fi programming on television."

Twinkle, twinkle, half a star...

After some deliberation, I've decided to introduce half-stars to my 5-star rating system. On the right is a key to what each star-rating actually means...

The new system will be used for new television seasons and movies reviewed on the blog, with immediate effect...

Summer in the Dollhouse; Primeval's partnership plan


Joss Whedon is keen to add Summer Glau to the cast of Dollhouse next year, now that the Firefly actress isn't unavailable because of her commitment to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Speaking to EW's Michael Ausiello, Whedon confirmed his plan:

"If anybody thinks [bringing Summer Glau onto Dollhouse] hasn't occurred to me already then they have not met me. I mentioned it to her before [T:tSCC] was cancelled. I was like, 'You know, we should get you in the 'house.' But first we have to come up with something that works."

"Summer would be perfect to play an active, but she's done that [type of role] a lot. I'd rather see her play someone who talks too much. The most fun I have is when I get somebody who's good and comfortable at doing something, and then I make them do something else. Summer said to me, 'I would like to play a normal girl before I die of extreme old age.'"

The Guardian are reporting that Primeval's creators, Impossible Pictures, are looking for a digital channel partnership to share the expense of their monster hit Primeval. The agreement would see Primeval debut on a digital station before it arrives on terrestrial ITV, and the Sci-Fi Channel are apparently the preferred choice -- particularly now that they've started getting UK premieres like Knight Rider and Dollhouse. A decision is expected in two weeks, so that a fourth season can go ahead.

It sounds like a good idea to me, but I wonder how badly ITV's ratings will be affected if this happens? Fans with access to the Sci-Fi Channel will no doubt prefer to watch it there early, so hopefully ITV won't be too upset if their weekly ratings drop by a million, or so.

PRISON BREAK: THE FINAL BREAK ("The Old Ball And Chain" & "Free")


"If I had a list of all the people that might come to visit me, your name would be at the bottom. Somewhere below Jesus Christ and Scooby Doo."
-- Krantz (Leon Russom) to Michael (Wentworth Miller)

[SPOILERS] The Final Break is a feature-length addendum to the recently-axed Prison Break. It plugs a gap in the TV show's finale, which jumped ahead four years for a bittersweet denouement at the grave of pragmatic protagonist Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller). I guess it's also a peek at what a fifth season may have resembled had Fox unwisely re-commissioned the show, while reviving aborted plans for a female-only spin-off called Cherry Hill...

Recently exonerated by the government, Michael and Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) get married in a beach ceremony attended by Linc (Dominic Purcell) and a bearded Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), before the FBI rudely interrupt their reception to arrest Sara for the murder of Michael's mother Christina -- a clear-cut crime caught on security camera. It's not the honeymoon they had planned, clearly.

Pregnant Sara is sent to the Miami-Dade State Penitentiary to await trial (likely to get at least 25 years for murder), and her husband is unable to pull any strings to get her released. Unlike previous seasons, there's no lawful injustice going on here (Sara did kill a woman), but it's nevertheless a cruel and unfair twist of fate -- so Michael starts hatching a plot to break his wife out of jail, so they can elope to raise their family in peace.

The Final Break introduces us to the women's-only penitentiary, where all that estrogen doesn't make prison life any more palatable: Sara is picked on as the new "fish"; beaten up by the guards (as payback for disciplinary action doled out to Fox River staff after Sara assisted in the breakout -- wha--?!); meets "Daddy" (Lori Petty, resembling a fat Michael Douglas in Falling Down) who runs a respected "family" of girls Sara has to ingratiate herself with, and then realizes she's incarcerated with an old enemy --superbitch Gretchen (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, a cross between Miss Piggy and Elvira.)

In the male division of the penitentiary, T-Bag (Robert Knepper) has become the would-be sidekick of General Krantz (Leon Russom), who discovers Sara has been jailed next door and puts a $100,000 bounty on her head. Beyond the prison walls, Mahone (William Fichtner) is trying to get his old job back at the FBI, but finds that he'll only be taken seriously if he helps the Feds keep tabs on Michael Scofield, whom they suspect is mounting an operation to spring his wife from jail. Will Mahone turn traitor just to get his job back?

Clearly, at its core, this is all preposterous guff. But, intended as a straight-to-DVD treat for incorrigible fans, it worked surprisingly well. I'm not convinced this set-up would have worked as the basis for a fifth season (Sarah Wayne Callies makes for a bland heroine), but there are glimpses of potential in redoing Prison Break in a female environment. By now, the writers are so adept at writing to formula that The Final Break passes by very smoothly, with twists and development that are inert but still entertain. The show was always high-concept silliness at heart, but it's been insanely dumb for the majority of its lifetime. The Final Break takes that to the nth degree, but it's still curiously easy to be swept along and enjoy the latest shake-up.

For fans, it's an intriguing frippery: seeing villainous Krantz as an inmate without his usual influence, Michael devising a total of three escape plans in an hour of screen-time, watching waiflike Dr. Tancredi face vindictive inmates, and watching fan-favourite Gretchen become her cohort. In some ways, this felt like the writers were scratching an itch to redo Prisoner: Cell Block H in the Prison Break mould, and they condense what could have been a painful 22-episode run into a nimble double-episode.

Of course, what could have been an insignificant side dish is actually of greater relevance to diehard audiences who stuck with Prison Break till the end, because we learn the circumstances behind Michael's death. After successfully breaching the penitentiary to meet with Sara at the prison chapel, it becomes clear that one of Michael's contingency plans to extricate them out involves him electrocuting himself to open a sealed doorway for Sara to exit through to freedom -- a self-sacrifice he's prepared for because his brain tumour has returned and his days are numbered anyway.

To its credit, The Final Break manages to tug at the heartstrings with Michael's sacrifice (despite the fact we're denied a proper on-screen death and instead have to make do with Sara staring at a closed door from the other side of the prison fence), but Wentworth Miller emotes a little better than usual. It's a cliché, but the special ends with Sara and Linc on a sailing boat, watching a video Michael made before he died, and the moment works well as thick melodrama. It's just a shame that, with actors like Dominic Purcell around, the audience are likely showing more emotion than the actors in the actual scene (Purcell manages a smirk at his screen brother's final words, signifying either sorrow or trapped wind), and then the whole thing ends with an infuriating abruptness.

Overall, there's not much reason for fans to see The Final Break unless you're desperate to know exactly how Michael met his unfortunate end, as nothing else of relevance is really explored. Emotionally, this leaves us with a similar feeling to the series finale's coda (minus a surprise punch) and, while it thankfully doesn't stomp all over the TV series' respectable finish, it wasn't really worth dragging everyone back for another go-round. Still, despite viewers being asked to swallow the most absurd development ever presented to us in Prison Break's history, it accomplished what it set out to do. It's a silly caper, aimed squarely at the fanbase, that plays like a cheeky glimpse at an alternate universe's fifth season, and fills in a blank for those who detest ambiguity... but it's nothing more.

Hopefully this really does mark the end now, once and for all. Or will there be a low-budget special set entirely in Michael's coffin, where he wakes up to find himself buried alive and forced to escape using a brooch pin? I wouldn't put it past them...


writers: Nick Santora & Seth Hoffman (story by Christian Trokey) director: Brad Turner starring: Wentworth Miller (Michael), Sarah Wayne Callies (Sara), Dominic Purcell (Linc), Jodi Lynn O'Keefe (Gretchen), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Leon Russom (Krantz), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), William Fichtner (Mahone), Lori Petty (Daddy), Alicia Lagano (Agatha), Adrienne McQueen (Prison Guard), Peggy Dunne (Motor Pool CO), Damien Leake (Detective Marlin), Livia Trevino (Hucks), Wendy Riordan (Mail Con), Sufe Bradshaw (Wife), Chris Bruno (Agent Wheatley) & Aisha Hinds (Guard Cowler)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

John Lithgow's gonna kill on Dexter

According to Michael Ausiello, renowned actor John Lithgow has been cast in season 4 of Dexter. The Oscar-nominated star will play Walter Simmons (possible spoiler)... a suburbanite who moonlights as the "Trinity Killer" (so-called because he always kills in threes.) Walter will cross paths with Dexter when he relocates to Miami, and becomes something of a hero to him... (possible spoilers end) In related news, Keith Carradine will reprise his role as Agent Lundy from season 2. Dexter returns 27 Sept on Showtime.

Josh Friedman on the demise of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

io9 have a good exclusive interview with Josh Friedman, showrunner of the recently-cancelled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
"I think the finale can be looked at both as an end and also as a springboard to a new part of the story—that's what I intended, at least. I wanted to bring an end to many of the questions that I'd raised in the episodes previous but it's dramatically unsound to try and create a rogue's gallery of scenes just to check off every narrative box. I knew there was a chance we were being cancelled but I also needed to let the network see where we could take the story if given the chance. So I tried to close one door while opening another. There's obviously different opinions as to how successful I was hitting that target. But I'm very proud of the episode." Continue reading...

Being Human on BBC America; Merlin arrives on NBC... and returns to BBC?

Toby Whithouse's excellent supernatural comedy-drama Being Human will make its Stateside debut on BBC America on 25 July @9pm ET/PT. They will be showing the six-part series, minus the original pilot.

Elsewhere, TV Squad are reporting that NBC are premiering the BBC's Merlin on 21 June with a double-bill. The series was pushed back from winter to summer, which some think indicates the network don't have faith in the series, but it's good enough to fill a gap while homegrown shows are off-air. In the UK, the second season of Merlin will premiere the same day on BBC1, meaning the series is moving from Saturday to Sunday nights. Strangely, Merlin has only been off-air six months! Quite why the BBC have moved it forward from autumn is anyone's guess. Were there problems getting the cast back together, so they had to bring production forward? Or are TV Squad mistaken?

Update: as Rob discovered in the comments below, TV Squad are mistaken. Merlin will return in the autumn for its second series.

24, 7.23-24 – "6:00AM – 7:00AM" & "7:00AM – 8:00AM"

[SPOILERS] The double-bill finale to Day 7 was something of a balm to the last quarter's dip in quality, without being the thrilling edge-of-your-seat climax we've come to expect. It was actually more focused on its characters than ever before (which is no bad thing), but it's a shame it didn't quite leave us breathless and eager for more...

To quickly recap the broad strokes of the finale: Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) is being blackmailed by the villains into helping Tony (Carlos Bernard) escape federal custody, before being taken hostage himself when Tony realizes that his superiors can manufacture more of the lost bioweapon using the pathogen in Jack's body; at the airport, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) grows suspicious of the passengers who have befriended her in the terminal, then discovers from Renee (Annie Wersching) that she's under surveillance as part of a scheme to manipulate her father; and finally, Agent Pierce (Glenn Morshower) enlists the help of Ethan (Bob Gunton) to help him prove Olivia (Sprague Grayden) ordered Hodges assassination, by retrieving a datacard recording of her conversation with fixer Martin Collier (Leland Orser) from her office...

It's a triumvirate of storylines that flowed together well. It was certainly nice to see the writers remember Kim isn't the damsel-in-distress from seasons 1 and 2, and have her fallback on her CTU training to asssit in the takedown of her tails. The airport gunfight that ensued when security arrived to extricate her was good stuff, and having Kim follow and retrieve a badguy's laptop (to provide the FBI with their only lead to Jack's whereabouts) was appreciated. I'll even ignore the comical off-frame hand-grab when Kim was trying to retrieve the laptop from a crashed, burning car.

Jack's role was reduced again, certainly more than usual, which has been a key feature of Day 7's fourth quarter. He spends a large chunk of these episodes tied to a medical table having spinal fluid extracted by Tony's medical team, or is else unconscious, on a stretcher, or bedridden. Fortunately, there were a few good opportunities for Jack to get involved in the action – most memorably, a vicious slaughter of said medical team with a scalpel to make an escape bid. But still, compared to previous years, this finale limited Jack's role somewhat – perhaps intentionally, to prepare us for a time when 24 continues without Jack Bauer as the central character? Or maybe Kiefer Sutherland's off-screen antics had an effect on filming that was cleverly worked around?

The White House subplot was pretty good, too. It helped that Olivia's mistake was sympathetic and it was never obvious what the repercussions for her would be. Indeed, I spent most of these episodes in Olivia's mindspace and half-hoping Pierce and Ethan would just drop their probing into her affairs. When the truth was finally exposed, thanks to a clever switch of the incriminating datacard (after Olivia found and destroyed a fake one), it led us to a nice scene with the Taylor family unit. President Taylor (Cherry Jones) didn't really get much to do in the finale, but her personal anguish over what to do with her daughter (punish her crime, or coverup the sorry mess) was handled well by Jones.

Easily the best aspect of the finale was how it finally gave us plausible motivation for Tony's recent behaviour. Day 7 began by asking fans to accept former-CTU agent Tony had become a terrorist, before revealing he was actually working undercover to thwart a government conspiracy. A recent double-twist to make Tony the villain again never felt plausible (for a great many reasons), but I applaud the writers for making me accept it here. Tony's basically been playing both sides, in an effort to get a one-on-one audience with cartel leader Alan Wilson (Will Patton), the man who ordered the death of his wife Michelle back in season 5 (whom we learn was pregnant with his child here.) And, while I still have my doubts the Tony we knew pre-Day 7 would ever go these extraordinary lengths to avenge his wife's death, it worked well enough to feel justified. It's a shame they didn't give us that information about six episodes ago, really, but I'm glad they still managed it.

Ultimately, the finale ended on some interesting notes. Tony gets his shot at avenging his wife's death with Alan Wilson, but is prevented from killing him by Jack and Reen and arrested. Jack himself is rushed to hospital shortly after, where he asks to see Gohar (Ravi Kapoor), the Imam he met a few episodes back (who helps him find peace over all the terrible things he's done for the "greater good"1), before he's put into an induced coma by the medical staff. Meanwhile, Renee heeds Jack's advice to do whatever's necessary as long as you can life with yourself, and prepares to interrogate Alan Wilson herself before he doubtless gets away scot-free. And finally, Kim arrives at the hospital to find her dad in a coma, but tells a doctor she wants to go ahead with the experimental stem cell procedure that could save his life, despite the fact Jack didn't want her to risk her own health like that.

For the first time, episode 24 felt less like a climactic end and more like a dramatic lead-in for next season. We already know that season 8 will continue only a short while after the events here, so we can safely assume Jack will be saved by the stem cell procedure, and I'm willing to bet next year will be something of a true sequel to Day 7 -– what with Alan Wilson still alive for interrogation (will Renee have beaten something out of him?), his sinister cartel still in operation and no doubt angered by their failure here, and Tony still alive and in custody.

Overall, I'm happy to see Day 7 end on a highnote that contained enough solid and exciting moments to gloss over the silly lapses. It wasn't the best finale the show has ever done, but it was a very competent and character-based climax that set things up very nicely for a continuation of some themes. Day 7 as a whole managed to course correct 24 away from the disastrous sixth season, by giving the show a proper ensemble feel and being willing to have a few debates about morality and ethics. It lost focus after episode 17, and never found a way to top the White House siege mid-season, but this was still a largely entertaining, tense and exhilarating season that ended well.


25 May 2009
Sky1, 9pm

Writers: David Fury & Alex Gansa (7.23) / Manny Coto & Brannon Braga (7.24)
Director: Jon Cassar

Cast: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack), Sprague Grayden (Olivia), Annie Wersching (Renee), Glenn Morshower (Aaron), Leland Orser (Martin), Carlos Bernard (Tony), Amy Price-Francis (Cara), Elisha Cuthbert (Kim), Janeane Garofalo (Janis), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe), Ethan Kanin (Bob Gunton), Cherry Jones (President Taylor), Colm Feore (Henry Taylor), Will Patton (Alan Wilson), Frank John Hughes (Tim Woods) & Ravi Kapoor (Muhtadi Gohar)

1. Yes, yes, it just had to be a Muslim that Jack Bauer sought comfort from on his deathbed, I know. The show is often at pains to remind viewers that 24's hero doesn't hate "towelheads". A slightly heavyhanded scene, perhaps, but it worked all the same. Indeed, this finale actually gave Kiefer Sutherland a handful of dialogue-driven scenes that worked nicely (trying to speak some sense into Tony, and justifying his methods to Renee), and that's more than he got in the entirety of season 6.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Will the Alan Partridge movie work if you're not British?


Steve Coogan was promoting Night At The Museum 2 across the UK last week, and most interviewers asked the question always asked of Coogan by his fellow Brits: will there be an Alan Partridge movie? Speaking to BBC Radio 1's Edith Bowman, Coogan replied:

"Yeah, we are planning on making a movie. We're talking at the moment. What it is we’re not quite sure. But yes, there are plans afoot to make a film."

Now, as a huge Alan Partridge fan stretching back to his appearances on The Day Today, I'm excited about there being a movie in the pipeline (even though it's been on the cards for over a decade, I realize.) The stars seem to have aligned for it now, though: Steve Coogan's a cult star in America and has some heavyweight friends (Ben Stiller has already agreed to produce any Partridge movie), co-writer Peter Baynham won an Academy Award for his work on Borat, co-writer Patrick Marber had success with Closer, and co-writer/producer Armando Iannucci has started making inroads after the festival success of his political comedy In The Loop. Any project that brings those three creative minds together stands a good chance of getting bankrolled by a big Hollywood studio, I'd have thought. Or, more realistically, the UK's own Working Title would be crazy not to get involved with this.

But, I have a question: would an Alan Partidge movie work for worldwide audiences? I'm really not convinced the character is that funny if you're not British, for a number of reasons. Alan Partidge is a satire of British sports pundits, chat show hosts and bad local radio DJs. While I'm sure foreigners can find humour in Alan's bumbling nature and social faux pas, he still strikes me as a character that only "clicks" with his fellow countrymen. Just look at how many references to the minutae of British life he makes when speaking; a lot of that would go totally over the head of anyone not born-and-bred in the UK.

So, perhaps any Alan Partridge movie should target the British market theatrically and only chase foreign markets on DVD? That was what happened with Ali G Indahouse and, more recently, Lesbian Vampire Killers; relatively small British movies that stood a chance of recouping their investment through native interest in its comedy stars.

Right now, Steve Coogan's a few rungs below Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen in terms of "cracking America". He's only vaguely familiar to Americans thanks to appearances in Tropic Thunder, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Hamlet 2 and Night At The Museum. Coogan's best work is still little-known in the States and entirely of British origin (The Day Today, Knowing Me, Knowing You, I'm Alan Partridge, 24 Hour Party People and A Cock & Bull Story), so only Anglophiles and Yanks with unusually broad comedy taste (i.e. people that don't only reference Monty Python and Fawlty Towers when asked about their favourite Britcom) really know about it.

News of an Alan Partridge movie has spread around the internet in the past few days, but it's noticeable how most of the US-based sites admit they have no knowledge of Partridge -- which seems to prove my point. And I do find that quite funny: in the UK, Coogan's almost pigeonholed as Alan Partridge and that character's success has limited his career somewhat, whereas in the US he gets to stretch his wings a lot more. But, the fact is, if you edited together all of Coogan's scenes from Tropic Thunder, Night At The Museum and Hamlet 2, the sum total of laughs from his "American career" is bested by this Alan Partridge scene.

Monday, 25 May 2009

ASHES TO ASHES 2.6

[SPOILERS] Why do you watch Ashes To Ashes? It's usually down to one of four things: you like cop shows, you love the '80s, you enjoy the Gene Hunt character, or you're fascinated by the coma/time-travel mystery of Alex Drake. For me, I've never been a fan of the police procedural, and that's usually where Ashes To Ashes falls down anyway. It's a show where the premise is far more interesting than the weekly stories, but not even as interesting as it should be because Life On Mars has covered the same ground...

Episode 6 finds Gene (Philip Glenister) and Alex (Keeley Hawes) investigating why a missing person, Colin (Jason Haigh), was found dead in a nearby canal. Did weasley loan shark Trevor Riley (Sam Spruell) bump him off for not paying his debts? Did his beautiful wife Donna (Daisy Haggard) have him killed? And how dies this all fit in with Colin's kindly father Stanley (Tom Georgeson), leader of a new neighbourhood watch scheme?

As usual, it takes awhile for the story to tighten its grip, but the last fifteen minutes came together quite well and I didn't guess the culprit this week – which is something to be grateful for. Of course, I'm not sure that's a testament to the writing quality, or just the fact my brain never really engages with the weekly mystery. Maybe it was obvious for armchair detectives well-versed in Agatha Christie and paying closer attention. It is true that Ashes tends to have three main guest-stars each week, and it's often the least likely suspect.

Still, there were a few good moments that held my attention and gave us something different to chew on. I particularly liked seeing Gene get beaten up some thugs, and seeing how the ordeal actually shook him up. Sure, he didn't cry and refuse to come into work, but locking himself in a cell for some quiet time spoke volumes for the character. And when he pulled himself together we got retribution in a scene where Gene bundles his prime suspect into a car at a breaker's yard, picks it up using an industrial crane and dangles it above a car-crusher, while bellowing for answers. It was also fun seeing Alex try to teach Ray (Dean Andrews) her psychological profiling techniques, and for her hardwork to payoff in the end when Ray makes a clever deduction.

The coma-moments with Alex are quickly becoming tedious, but there were a few scenes with more imagination than talking televisions this week, with Alex having an "out of body experience" and seeing her 2008 self in a hospital's operating theatre having her bullet extracted. Afterwards, the operation apparently a success, she claims she feels much better and, hopefully, this means we'll see a different attitude from Alex for the remaining episodes to demonstrate that.

The Martin Summers mystery continues, but it's difficult to really care about any of it until we're given some clarity. Her mystery man gives her another call and sends her some dead roses this time, but I'm just irritated about why he's been all cloak-and-dagger about everything, to be honest. I know the show needs to extend its mystery and can't just blurt out all the answers, but Ashes To Ashes just isn't very good at dripfeeding its mystery in a way that's genuinely compelling. A lot of that is because it doesn't feel that the writers can come up with anything that isn't a copy of Life On Mars' reveal, without it feeling incredibly stupid. If Summers is a cop from 2008, why does he need Alex to stay in a coma for him to continue existing in head-'82? None of it really makes sense and, crucially, I don't have faith the writers have sufficiently logical answers. Methinks they just like shoehorning creepy men, mysterious phone calls, and the rose motif into every episode...

Overall, I'm just a little bored right now. The promise of the early episodes has disappeared (not helped by the fact they ditched the attention-grabbing police corruption story so early), and everything feels a bit flat and formulaic. And does anyone really cares about Shaz (Montserrat Lombard) and Chris' (Marshall Lancaster) wedding day plans? As comic relief, both are more irritating and cloying than funny and endearing, as intended. Shaz in particular makes my teeth itch, but the creators of Mars and Ashes are clearly fixated with passive policewomen with wishy-washy voices.


25 May 2009
BBC1, 9pm

Writer: Jack Lothian
Director: Philip John

Cast: Philip Glenister (Gene), Keeley Hawes (Alex), Dean Andrews (Ray), Marshall Lancaster (Chris), Montserrat Lombard (Shaz), Adrian Dunbar (Martin Summers), Sam Spruell (Trevor Riley), Tom Georgeson (Stanley), Daisy Haggard (Donna), Joseph Long (Luigi), Geff Francis (Viv), Grace Vance (Molly), Bill Moody (Bill) & Jason Haigh (Colin)

Merlin guest-stars announced

A number of guest-stars have just been announced as appearing in Merlin's second season. They are: Mackenzie Crook (The Office) as a creepy character called Cedric who wants to become Arthur's right-hand man; Adrian Lester (Hustle) as a devious character called Myror; Charles Dance (Alien3) as the Witchfinder Aredian; and Sarah Parish (Mistresses) as a shapeshifting troll pretending to be the Lady Catrina.

BBC executive producer Bethan Jones:

"With its combination of fantasy, humour and adventure Merlin has firmly established itself as a Saturday evening family fixture. It's great to be working again with the brilliant Shine team who have put together a thrilling second series."

Johnny Capps, co-creator:

"We're thrilled to be producing another series of Merlin for the BBC. It's going to be bigger, bolder and more action-packed than ever, with great new villains, white knuckle fight sequences and hilarious comic fun for the whole family to enjoy."

ROBIN HOOD 3.8 – "The King Is Dead, Long Live The King"


[SPOILERS] As good as Toby Stephens has been as Prince John, his preening panto villain felt rather stale in writer John Jackson's hands. He's a bit too much of of a leering cheeseball in this episode (overdoing the "do you love me?" catchphrase), and the storyline itself takes a decent idea and flushes it down the privy...

King Richard is dead; his body fresh back from the Crusades under the supervision of Lord Sheridan (Robert Pugh), intended to prove to Archbishop Walter (Ian Gelder) that his brother John must ascend to the throne in a near-immediate coronation in Nottingham, as the prince intends to shift the capital of England to the north. Of course, Robin (Jonas Armstrong) and his gang smell a rat, and they quickly discover that Richard's corpse is just a clever wax effigy, and that Sheridan (Robin's mentor) is in league with Prince John in a plot to oust his brother from his throne...

Like I said, this was a good jumping-off point, but what a shame nothing hangs together as well as it might. There's a lot of distraction -– particularly from a subplot with Isabella (Lara Pulver) trying to capture her brother Guy (Richard Armitage) in order to demonstrate her loyalty to the prince. The attempts by Robin's gang to retrieve the faux-Richard and show it to the Archbishop inevitably goes awry, and they resort to Plan B: steal the coronation crown from a booby-trapped dungeon chamber (a medieval version of those criss-crossed laser beams that only exist in spy capers.) The story's agreeable enough at times, but it's an episode of half-decent moments that don't really hang together.

What was most disappointing was the ridiculous climax, with Prince John having retrieved the crown Robin's gang stole and about to be crowned king by the Archbishop in a big ceremony at the Abbey. And what's Robin's plan to stop Prince John? Why, burst into the Abbey mid-ceremony with his gang all holding reflective shields and, er, pretend to be King Richard! Needless to say it doesn't work (did they seriously think it would?), but then they just tell the Archbishop that Richard's body was a dummy and he seems happy with that explanation. So there was no need for any proof, after all!

Overall, "The King Is Dead, Long Live The King" wasn't terrible, but it was underwhelming given the decent set-up for a story, crippled by a frankly ridiculous ending, and resplendent with daft moments. In the end, Isabella becomes a human shield for Prince John (taking the arrow fired by her brother, who arrives to threaten John's life), the crown is stolen by Kate (Joanne Froggatt) to be returned to the Archbishop afterwards, and Prince John leaves Nottingham "defeated", but not before proving himself progressive in sexual politics by making Isabella the new Sheriff of Nottingham as reward for her bravery.

Not great, not awful, just weak and forgettable.


23 May 2009
BBC1, 6.35pm

Writer: John Jackson
Director: John Greening

Cast: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Richard Armitage (Guy), David Harewood (Tuck), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Sam Troughton (Much), Joe Armstrong (Allan), Lara Pulver (Isabella), Toby Stephens (Prince John), Joanne Froggatt (Kate), Robert Pugh (Lord Sheridan), Ian Gelder (Archbishop Walter) & Andy Hefler (Deschamps)

TV Picks: 25-31 May 2009


Pick of the Week: "Britain's Got Talent: Final" -- ITV1, Sat @6.45pm

Having problems deciding what to watch this week? Here are my recommendations:

MONDAY 25th
  • Coach Trip (Channel 4, 5pm) Return of the reality show where tourists are taken around Europe on a six-week trip, voting to eliminate a passenger each day.
  • Springwatch 2009 (BBC2, 8pm) Chris Pacham replaced Bill Oddie for the long-running nature show, co-hosted by Kate Humble.
  • Who's Watching You? (BBC2, 9pm) Three-part documentary about the UK's surveillance culture.
  • Chuchill's Darkest Decision (Channel 4, 9.20pm) Documentary about Winston Churchill and how he sank the French fleet in WWII.
  • Going Postal (BBC2, 10pm) Documentary about high school shootings.
  • The Operation: Surgery Live (Channel 4. 10.25pm) Four-part series over the next four days, showing real surgeons doing real operations.
TUESDAY 26th
  • Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link (BBC1, 9pm) Sir David Attenborough hosts this documentary about mankind's early ancestors.
  • Jade: As Seen On TV (E4, 10pm) Show looking at the Jade Goody phenomenon, with contributions from Max Clifford, Jackiey Budden & John Stapleton.
  • Kick Out The Kids (BBC1, 10.40pm) A show where youngsters move in with older people who need company.
WEDNESDAY 27th
  • Nothing.
THURSDAY 28th
  • Tourettes: I Swear I Can't Help It (BBC1, 9pm) Follow-up documentary about John Davidson and Greg Storey, two people coping with Tourettes.
FRIDAY 29th
  • Big Brother's Big Quiz (E4, 10pm) Davina McCall hosts this comedy quiz all about Big Brother for its tenth birthday.
SATURDAY 30th
  • Britain's Got Talent: The Final (ITV1, 6.45pm/9.30pm)
  • Mumbai Calling (ITV1, 10pm) Sitcom based in a Mumbai call centre, written by Sanjeev Bhaskar & Andrew Collins.
SUNDAY 31st
  • House (Sky1, 9pm) Season 5 of the US medical drama.
  • Benidorm (ITV1, 9pm) Special episode of the sitcom set in a Spanish resort full of British holidaymakers.
  • Big Brother: A Decade In The Headlines (Channel 4, 10.10pm) Journalist Grace Dent looks back at 10 years of Big Brother.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Box-Eyed: Six Shows for Summer



In this week's Box-Eyed column at Newslite.tv, I recommend six television shows that are on British airwaves this summer -- featuring aliens, fame-hungry housemates, a human lie-detector, a girl with no memory, a man with two personalities, and a geek with government secrets in his head. Enjoy!

PRIMEVAL 3.9

[SPOILERS] The penultimate episode is once again a mixed bag: a largely perfunctory story involving prehistoric rhinos tormenting quad bikers and campers in some woods, distracting us from the marginally more interesting subplot of Danny (Jason Flemyng) infiltrating evil Christine's (Belinda Stewart-Wilson1) building to smuggle future-girl Eve (Kate Magowan) out from her clutches...

The rhino action could have been thrilling, but it was played mostly for laughs. The big problem for Abby (Hannah Spearritt), Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and Sarah (Laila Rouass) was trying to save a half-naked man called Joe (Tom McKay) from danger. Joe had been tied to a tree and forced to wear a bra by his friends as a joke, and now had to face giant rhinos like a Fay Wray being offered to King Kong.

Primeval has always been unbelievably clumbsy and awkward with its family-friendly humour, and the sight of a half-naked man provided a stream of unfunny comments and coy reactions from his rescuers Abby and Sarah. Meanwhile, Connor got to whizz around the forest in a buggy, chased by a rhino that never really convinced when asked to stampede. There just wasn't much sense of weight to these creatures, sadly. And, despite being told they're vegetarian grazers, they seemed awfully keen to chase people and generally act in a threatening manner!

Anyway, enough of that. Slightly more interesting was Danny's covert mission into Christine's HQ, where he eventually manages to rescue Eve (who is being interrogated for answers about a device she's carrying by Christine), and rejoins the rest of the ARC team to help solve the rhino crisis. When the anomaly closes, its disappearance triggers an unlikely stampede of the beasts towards a nearby campsite, but fortunately Eve uses her future gizmo to open a new anomaly and the rhinos all rush through to safety. I hope she chose the right era and they didn't all just materialize in 1966 or something.

Later, back at the ARC, Eve claims she needs to talk to Lester (Ben Miller) and inspect the team's recovered artifact – then, when Christine arrives to take her back into custody, Eve takes Christine hostage and reveals her true identity: she's actually Helen Cutter (Juliet Aubrey), using future technology to masks her real features.

It was about time something significant happened considering this was the penultimate episode, so the Eve/Helen reveal was nicely done and not totally obvious until, perhaps, a few minutes before it happened. Seconds later, Helen takes Christine back to her HQ with the artifact and they both disappear through Christine's own anomaly to the dystopian future visisted in last week's episode. According to Helen, Christine was instrumental in humanity's downfall and for letting the world be overrun by Future Predators, so Helen's merely trying to change the future to spare everyone that grim fate.

Overall, the rhino storyline was the usual mix of lax action and broad, stupid, unfunny comedy. It was also a terrible mistake to let Abby take a leadership role, as she's blatantly ill-equipped and you can't really take her character seriously ordering people around. Abby's the feisty sidekick type, nothing more. Ironically, the best moments were devoid of CGI and focused on the mytharc and the characters.

This storyline worked better and at least felt important to the series as a whole. Plus, I like the idea that Helen Cutter (the show's buxom nemesis from the beginning) has just been trying to save us from disaster all this time – even going so far as to kill her husband. I'm not sure how well it will all hang together, but it was a welcome shade of grey to introduce. Still, I doubt she's just misunderstood, otherwise why didn't she just talk to the ARC team about what she's seen in the future like a reasonable, concerned human being? Oh, y'know, most of it doesn't make a lick of sense, but next week's finale looks to be stuffed with creatures to take your mind off things...


23 May 2009
ITV1, 7.20pm

Writer: Paul Farrell
Director: Matthew Thompson

Cast: Jason Flemyng (Danny), Andrew-Lee Potts (Connor), Hannah Spearritt (Abby), Juliet Aubrey (Helen), Ben Miller (Lester), Ben Mansfield (Capt. Becker), Laila Rouass (Sarah), Belinda Stewart-Wilson (Christine Johnson), Kate Magowan (Eve), Tom McKay (Joe), Alex McSweeney (Capt. Wilder) & Marcus Onilude (Randy)

1. I can never find a good place to mention this bit of trivia, but did you know that Belinda Stewart-Wilson is married to co-star Ben Miller?

Movie Review Index (A-Z)

Below are accumulated links to all the movie reviews available at Dan's Media Digest, in alphabetical order:

Lastest Additions: The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3, G.I Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, Inkheart, Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, District 9, Avatar, Star Trek.

#, 1-9

10,000 B.C (2008)
1408 (2007)
28 Weeks Later (2007)
30 Days Of Night (2007)
300 (2007)
3:10 To Yuma (2007)
[●REC] (2007)

A

Airplane! (1980)
Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem (2007)
Apocalypto (2006)
Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The (2007)
Atonement (2007)
Avatar (2009)

B

Back To The Future (1985)
Bank Job, The (2008)
Batman (1989)
Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
Bedtime Stories (2008)
Be Kind Rewind (2008)
Beerfest (2006)
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Blades Of Glory (2007)
Bolt (2008)
Bourne Ultimatum, The (2007)
Bridge To Terabithia (2007)

C

Casino Royale (2006)
Children Of Men (2006)
Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The (2008)
Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (2005)
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009)
Cloverfield (2008)
Cock & Bull Story, A (2005)
Condemned, The (2007)
Cottage, The (2008)
Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The (2008)
Cursed (2005)

D

Damned United, The (2009)
Da Vinci Code, The
(2006)
Dark Knight, The (2008)
Day The Earth Stood Still, The (2008)
Day Watch (2006)
Death Proof (2007)
Death Sentence (2007)
Descent, The (2005)
Diary Of The Dead (2008)
Die Hard 4.0 (2007)
District 9 (2009)
Disturbia (2007)
Doom (2005)
Doomsday (2008)

E

Eagle Vs. Shark (2007)
Eastern Promises (2007)
Eden Lake (2008)
Elephant (2003)
Elf (2003)
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Enchanted (2007)
Escape From New York (1981)
Evan Almighty (2007)

F

Fido (2006)
Fly, The (1986)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Fountain, The (2006)
Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)
Friday The 13th (2009)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Funny Games U.S (2008)

G

Garth Merenghi's Darkplace: Complete Series
Ghostbusters (1984)
G.I Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (2009) [capsule]
Golden Compass, The (2007)
Gothika (2003)

H

Halloween (2007)
Hancock (2008)
Hangover, The (2009)
Hardy Candy (2005)
Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire (2005)
Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix (2007)
Hitman (2007)
Horton Hears A Who! (2008)
Hostel (2005)
Hostel: Part II (2007)
Hot Fuzz (2007)

I

I Am Legend (2007)
Idiocracy (2006)
Illusionist, The (2006)
Incredible Hulk, The (2008)
Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008)
Inkheart (2008) [capsule]
INLAND EMPIRE (2006)
Innerspace (1987)
Invasion, The (2007)
Iron Man (2008)

J

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)
Jumper (2008)
Juno (2007)

K

Karate Kid, The (1984)
King Kong (2005)
King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters, The (2007)
Kingdom Of Heaven (2005)
Kingdom, The (2007)
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
Knocked Up (2007)
Knowing (2009)

L

Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Lord Of War (2005)

M

Max Payne (2008)
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Mist, The (2007)
Moon (2009)
Mr. Brooks (2007)
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007)
Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor, The (2008)

N

Next (2007)
Night At The Museum (2006)
Number 23 (2007)

O

Ocean's Thirteen (2007)
Omen, The (2006)

P

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Passion Of The Christ, The (2004)
Pineapple Express (2008)
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
Planet Terror (2007)
Poseidon (2006)
Punisher: War Zone, The (2008)
Push (2009)

Q

Quantum Of Solace (2008)

R

Race To Witch Mountain (2009)
Rambo
(2008)
Ratatouille (2007)
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Rocky Balboa (2006)

S

Saw II (2005)
Saw III (2006)
Science Of Sleep, The (2006)
Semi-Pro (2008)
Serenity (2005)
Shoot 'Em Up (2007)
Shrek The Third (2007)
Simpsons Movie, The (2007)
Slither (2006)
Snakes On A Plane (2006)
Son Of Rambow (2007)
Southland Tales (2007)
Speed Racer (2008)
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Spirit, The (2008)
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Stardust (2007)
Strangers, The (2008)
Sunshine (2007)
Superbad (2007)
Superman Returns (2006)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (2007)

T

Taken (2008)
Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3, The (2009)
Terminator, The (1984)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003)
Terminator Salvation (2009) [Blu-ray review]
Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
This Is England (2006)
TMNT (2007)
Transformers (2007)
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009)
Twilight (2008)

U

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009) [capsule]

V

Valkyrie (2008)

W

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005)
Wanted (2008)
Watchmen (2009)
Wrestler, The (2008)

X

X Files: I Want To Believe, The (2008)
X-Men III (2006)

Y

Yes Man (2008)

Z

Zodiac (2007)

This page will be constantly updated when new film reviews
are posted, for easy reference via a link on the main page.