Sunday, 28 February 2010

Push The Button


Ant n' Dec are back with a brand new Saturday night show on ITV, which is rather regrettably a "big deal" in this day and age. I'm not against them as a light entertainment double-act, actually. I think they're good fun, down-to-earth, have good chemistry, and interact with people very naturally. As presenters, they're by far the best reason to watch I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, and they're perfect as hosts of Britain's Got Talent. But I've never managed to sit through more than 15-minutes of their popular Saturday Night Takeaway series because it's just so rambling and the advert breaks too regular for me. Anyway, now they're back with family gameshow Push The Button, which is obviously going to be dismissed as The Generation Game with a "stop the clock" element attached...

Two competing families take the roles of contestants, each given an initial prize fund of £100,000 to try and hang onto. Individual members of each family go head-to-head in various madcap games, during which their £100k fortune falls until they push the titular button. In this opener, we had a conveyor belt of strangely-shaped parcels that had to be pushed through identical holes in a wall (like that game toddlers play), a round where people had to count the teeth in a giant bobblehead of Simon Cowell (I'm serious), a competitive yodelling round (stay with me...), and a finale where the families had to assemble a tiered wedding cake.

It was hilarious fun for all the family... or so ITV hope everyone thinks. For me, there's just something distancing about watching adults fool around like children, and it's especially tiresome as a spectator. There needs to be a certain level of embarassment for me to enjoy watching strangers play silly games (see the aforementioned Generation Game, which was enjoyably cringe-making), and there wasn't much of that here. Still, a part of me's glad Push The Button has chosen to focus on regular people -- perhaps a sign, along with Total Wipeout, that the vogue for celebrity-based gameshows is coming to an end. Did you hear me, All-Star Family Fortunes? The downside is that it's tougher to spin a physical gameshow with "real" people into gold, and Push The Button didn't manage it, despite the valiant efforts of Ant n' Dec.

Also, I'm not sure if it's a good idea to select families that aren't exactly shy and retiring. For me, it's funnier to see mild-mannered people taken out of their comfort zones and asked to do ridiculous things for cash, whereas both families on Push The Button were outrageous extroverts who couldn't believe their luck to be on primetime TV. I'm sure they all had a great time (it looked like they did), but watching overzealous people try and assemble cakes doesn't strike me as a worthwhile way to spend an hour.

Push the button, I want to get off.

27 FEBRUARY 2010: ITV1, 8PM

Face-Off: The Cheerleaders [Poll]


I have a new game! The idea behind this one is to hold a week-long poll to determine people's favourite TV/film characters that are similar in some way (occupation, name, archetype, actor, etc.) To get us started, it's a "Battle Of The TV Cheerleaders", as Heroes' Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) goes up against Glee's Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron). One's an indestructible superhero, the other's a pregnant singer... but who's your favourite? Please cast your vote in the poll below:


This poll will close on Saturday 6 March. The results and a new Face-Off will be posted on Sunday 7 March. If you have a suggestion for a face-off, please e-mail me, and you'll be credited if I use your idea.

TRAILER PARK: A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)


Freddy Krueger is the boogieman of my youth. He's one of the few horror characters that totally captured my imagination as a kid growing up in the late-'80s/early-'90s. Even without seeing any of the original Nightmare On Elm Street series at the time, he absolutely freaked me out simply as a concept and visual. Friends regaled me with accounts of Freddy's movie misdemeanours that truly chilled my blood, while I remember being spooked whenever I saw Robert Englund's melted face on a poster in the window of my local video shop advertising Dream Child. I finally saw Wes Craven's original Nightmare On Elm Street as a 14-year-old... and couldn't help but giggle at the often poor special-effects, particularly the "bendy arms" in the alleyway scene and the infamously atrocious "mannequin-through-a-letterbox" final sting.

However, despite that disappointment (which in a many ways was a relief), Freddy's effect on me has been so great that, to this day, I still haven't seen Nightmare On Elm Street 4, 5 or 6. I was even a little anxious when I sat down to watch Freddy Vs Jason, if I'm honest! Hmm, I've just realized how this sounds very wussy of me, but you really don't appreciate how frightened I was of Freddy Krueger as an 8-year-old. I have a vivid memory of catching a trailer for, I think, Nightmare On Elm Street 3 late one night while in my bedroom... and being unable to sleep. There was a time when someone loaned me the novelization of Dream Warriors and I daren't even read it, only occasionally plucking up the courage to sneak a peek at the centre pages of photos, before snapping the cover shut.

Now, inevitably after 16 years, it's remake time. Wes Craven, like John Carpenter, is alive to see his early work being reimagined by a music video director making his feature film debut, naturally. Of course, there are some things that work in this new Nightmare's favour: (1) Jackie Earle Haley is a fantastic replacement for Robert Englund, no doubt; (2) on paper, I like the casting of Katie Cassidy and Thomas Dekker as a few of the "teenagers" and the presence of Clancy Brown; (3) modern filming techniques can do a far better job with the necessary dream-like visuals; and (4) I totally agree with the intention to restore Freddy as a pure monster and (mostly) lose his funny one-liners.

The second theatrical trailer was released last week (embedded above), and my response to it was mainly positive. The opening diner dream sequence is very well-executed (love the jump scare), Haley's voice is absolutely skincrawling ("why are you screaming... I haven't even cut you yet"), there are the inevitable callbacks/references to the original film, and it has a general pulsing vibe I liked. The test screenings have apparently met with mixed reactions, mostly because the film's not as hardcore as you'd expect from the franchise that became an '80s benchmark of nasty mainstream horror, but I'm keen to read a professional critique of the movie.

I may even get around to watching this remake, when I get over my Freddy phobia...

Released: 30 April 2010 (US), 7 May 2010 (UK)

Saturday, 27 February 2010

LOST 6.5 – "Lighthouse"

WRITERS: Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
DIRECTOR: Jack Bender
GUEST STARS: Dylan Minnette, Veronica Hamel, Mark Pellegrino, Hiroyuki Sanada & Dayo Ade
[SPOILERS] The fifth episode offered another heady array of answers, in the shape of strong nods and important discoveries made by the characters. While this should be a good thing, the problem rests with the manner in which answers are being made known. In seasons past, the characters were either oblivious to the bigger picture mystery (which we, the audience, could see coming together), or struggling to make sense of what's going on and making incremental headway. It was compelling, fun and fascinating to watch. But so far this season we've had characters being led around by the mystical ghost of Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), who's one of those deities that won't explain things outright, but will instead show people pieces of the puzzle and hope they'll come to understand. Thing is, I preferred it when Lost didn't have supernatural characters like Jacob, or his "enemy", to lean on and things were being revealed in a more natural way...

X-Timeline '04: Jack & David

This week, the divergent timeline focused on Jack (Matthew Fox), whom we come to learn is a father of a young teenage boy called David (Dylan Minnette) in this reality. Naturally, in keeping with Lost's theme of characters having "daddy issues", David only sees his father once a month and their relationship is oddly distant. It turned out that David was keeping a secret from his father; the fact he's secretly continued his childhood interest in music and has thus become a very talented pianist. David never told his father about this because he feared being a disappointment, but Jack eventually had a breakthrough with his son when he made is clear he'll always be proud of his boy, no matter what. So, it seems that Jack's avoided being a "bad father" in this reality, which I assume is significant because the flashsideways we've seen so far have involved characters helping each other (Kate with Claire's pregnancy, Hurley with Locke's job), or otherwise succeeding in ways they never did in the original timeline.

The Island '07: Jin, Claire & Justin

The most dramatically "pure" subplot involved catching up with Claire (Emilie de Ravin), who over the course of three years has evolved into a rifle-wielding survivalist and scourge of the Others. Here, she frees her old friend Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) from a man-trap he accidentally got his leg stuck in, and takes him back to her wooden hut to recoveer, along with an Other called Justin (Dayo Ade) to interrogate over the whereabouts of her baby. It seems that Claire blames the Others for the loss of Aaron (having assumedly forgotten the circumstances of how she abandoned him in the jungle and wandered off in season 3), and Jin slowly begins to realize just how crazy Claire's become. The baby substitute made from an animal carcass in a cradle was a good tipoff.

The Island '07: Jack, Hurley & The Lighthouse

A large piece of mythology was thrown on our laps in this final storyline, where Hurley (Jorge Garcia) was instructed by Jacob to take Jake and leave The Temple via a secret tunnel to ensure that someone finds their way to the Island by signalling them using an ancient lighthouse. At the top of the lighthouse, Jack and Hurley discovered a firebowl in the centre or a wheel marked with names and numbers, apparently denoting people who've been summoned to the Island in the past. Hurley's under instructions to turn the wheel to the heading of 108 to signal a new visitor, but when Jack notices that positioning the wheel at his own number projects an image of his childhood home in the lighthouse's mirrors, he took umbrage at the notion of someone having snooped on his life and smashes the mirrors to pieces. Later, we come to learn from Jacob that even that setback was part of his plan, as a way to push Jack into discovering his role on the Island.

In Summation

I definitely enjoyed "Lighthouse", but I'm still getting a peculiar feeling that the way answers are being revealed just isn't very satisfying. I hope the writers find a way to take the onus off Jacob as a "guiding force" and have the characters regain a more proactive role in their lives again. Hurley even made light of the fact they were essentially walking through the jungle on a mission neither of them quite understood, and I'm just not as engaged when that's the case. I'd rather they have a definite goal to achieve, or act on their own beliefs and theories, but I get the impression we're still at an early stage where pieces are being aligned (Jacob on damage control duties, the fake-Locke "recruting" people.) Speaking of whom, I wonder if Jin be recruited alongside Sawyer and Claire?

Still, I enjoyed spotting episode's nods to Alice In Wonderland (it's David's favourite book, a stone rabbit hid a door key), its allusions to Virginia Woolfe's "To The Lighthouse" (which dealt with the problems of perception, amongst other things), and it was fun to revisit the caves from season 1 (where Hurley, as audience proxy, issued a popular fan-theory to explain the "Adam & Eve" skeletons inside, that we can certainly now denounce as incorrect.) And for all my complaints at the minutae, it's always inherently exciting when you discover new buildings in Lost and the interior of the Lighthouse certainly helped develop our understand of how Jacob (or his followers) are able to summon people to the Island. All we need to know now is why, and how long this process has been going on for.

Questions, Questions, Questions!

-- Why does Claire consider Fake-Locke her "friend"?

-- Why is Claire so against Kate?

-- So, did Jacob want someone to be called to the Island, or not?

-- What is Jack's purpose on the Island?

-- Who built the Lighthouse, when, and did Jacob use it to summon candidates?

-- Why doesn't X-Jack remember details from his life such as his appendectomy?

-- Who is David's mother? Another familiar character -- perhaps Juliet?

26 FEBRUARY 2010: SKY (HD), 9PM

Incoming TV: March/April 2010


There's a surfeit of new TV shows on the way that I'm keen to see (some brand new, others returning) in March/April. In fact, owing to this massive increase in shows, I'll probably have to adjust my review output again, or wait for the British debut of a few favourites. If you're interested, here's what I have my eye on, in chronological order of premiere:

The Pacific (14 March, HBO) I'll definitely be tackling this Band Of Brothers "sequel", which I'm sure will be spectacular. Sky Movies are showing it in the UK, which I don't have, so I'll instead be following at US-pace.

Justified (16 March, FX) A brand new series, so I'll assess the pilot and perhaps a few episodes if I'm impressed, before deciding whether or not to continue reviewing it. This stars Timothy Olyphant as a tough Sheriff, based on a character written by author Elmore Leonard, so it sounds right up my alley.

FlashForward (18 March, ABC) I think I'll stick with it, mainly because I'm intrigued to see what a creative rethink has achieved while it's been on extended hiatus. I'll definitely be reviewing at the UK-pace if Five are again days behind ABC's schedule. But, expect to see this show fall to the wayside if it continues to run so hot and cold.

Breaking Bad (21 March, AMC) I will undoubtedly be reviewing this show's third season at US-pace, in the usual manner and depth.

Nurse Jackie (22 March, SHOWTIME) I've recently finished season 1 on BBC HD, and grew to quite like it. It certainly got better as it went along and I'd adjusted to the style, but I don't think I'm that interested to continue at US-pace. Similarly to Mad Men, I can wait for the BBC.

V (30 March, ABC) Sure, I'll continue watching and reviewing to see if the new creative direction improves on the first four episodes (which weren't awful, just underwhelming.)

Fringe (1 April, FOX) I'll be continuing my regular season 2 reviews, which have been a bit shorter this year (reflecting a hum of boredom that's set in for me.) If Sky air episodes a few days after Fox, expect me to follow at UK-pace.

Stargate Universe (2 April, SYFY) Nope, sorry, I don't intend to start reviewing this show, having already bailed at episode 6. Howeber, this would be a great show to offer up to another "guest reviewer" (a la Desperate Housewives and Skins), so if you're interested let me know.

Doctor Who (3 April, BBC1) What do you think? Yes, I'll be posting weekend reviews when Matt Smith finally makes his debut at the Time Lord. It would be insane not to. Tennant who?

Treme (11 April, HBO) A group of jazz musicians try to rebuild their lives post-Hurricane Katrina, from the creator of The Wire. I'm sure it'll be quality stuff, but that premise doesn't grab me in the slightest. I think I'll watch and (maybe) review the pilot, then see how I feel. I don't expect to be adding this as a regular thing, though.

Glee (13 April, FOX) While I've enjoyed watching season 1 on E4 these past few months, I'm not that impressed to continue "volume 2" at US-pace. If E4 aren't too far behind Fox, I'll certainly keep watching at UK-pace. If not, well, I'll wait for E4 to resume the show later.

THE BUBBLE 1.2 [Open Thread]


There's fun to be had in this new comedy gameshow, where three celebrities are quizzed on the week's news after being denied access to the media, but it's a pity so little of it derives from the actual game in question. The Bubble has yet to make good on the promise of its high-concept, basically. Rather than try to guess the correct news report/press clipping, the game the celebs are really playing can be more accurately described as "deduce which of the following is most likely to have been faked by a television comedy show", while the majority of this episode's highlights was unrelated to the central game: a few anecdotes (such as host David Mitchell's rant about keeping a particularly hardy tropical fish), footage from Taiwanese news of a CGI reenactement of Gordon Brown punching his staff, and the pre-show events inside "The Bubble" itself -- where contestants Jon Richardson and Ed Byrne related the pain of being locked away with feminist author Germaine Greer, to play XBOX and argue over Scrabble.

It's a worry when the best element of a satirical gameshow appears to be the preparation behind-the-scenes. It's kind of like discovering that rehearsal footage of a West End musical is far more entertaining than the show being performed each night. Right now, there doesn't seem to be much belief that The Bubble's game is compelling or funny enough to entertain, so Mitchell and his guests often wander off-topic. The actual show itself only really buzzes to life during the climactic "true or false?" round, mainly because Mitchell has no option but to be focused and its quickfire nature elicits some pace. So, after two episodes, I'm laughing... just not at the right bits.

But what was your verdict on The Bubble's second episode?

26 FEBRUARY 2010: BBC2, 10PM

SKINS 4.5

WRITER: Sean Buckley
DIRECTOR:Esther May Campbell
GUEST CAST: Will Young, Simon Day, Dudley Sutton, Rick Shaw & Morwenna Banks
[SPOILERS] You might have thought that a random guest appearance by Pop Idol Will Young as a school staff member would be bizarre and jarring, but the fifth episode of Skins is so drenched with surreal moments and melancholic music that his appearance felt like one of the more sane aspects of the episode...

The episode starts with Freddie (Luke Pasqualino) and Effie (Kaya Scodelario), largely neglected so far throughout this season, in a night of drug-fueled romance. What seems like carefree, yet darkly-tinged young love comes crashing back to reality in the inevitable morning after, where Freddie's forced to head to collage for a disciplinary meeting as a result of skipping classes. Here, he is confronted by "Tough Love" (a teacher played by Will Young, doing a decent enough job of fulfilling the "quirky adult" role in the show), who ultimately warns Freddie to get coursework done or get kicked out.

Coming back from his meeting, Freddie finds Effie in a deranged state, cutting out photographs in her mother's room. We then see Freddie kick into action mode, and get a good minute of watching Freddie use Google to try and work out the cause of her spontaneous insanity. He then seeks the council of "T Love" once again, in a pointless and slightly embarrassing scene, which ends fruitlessly.

Following this, and some general moping around, Freddie visits the old people's home to see his grandfather, who typically offers wise words. A motivated Freddie quickly powers back home, crashing his bike and having to get a lift in a bike-drawn carriage for no apparent reason along the way. He arrives back to Effy’s to find she has put on a party, with an ominous "Goodbye" scrawled in huge letters on the wall. We then have some brief appearances form the other characters -- Thomas (Mervielle Lukebar) getting a kiss off Pandora (Lisa Backwell) -- but then it's back to the main pair. Freddie finds Effy in her room, lying underneath her bed underneath a creepy collage of photographs.

After ending the party, Freddie decides to set things right again, and in a melancholic sequence, the carriage from earlier in the episode makes a reappearance, a stranger taking the pair to a park. Effy starts babbling nonsense and in a bizarre scene Freddie fights off people that appear within Effy's imagination. Freddie takes her back home, only to lose her in the midst of a carnival that suddenly appears in the street. If the last paragraph sounds bizarre and somewhat random then that's probably because it was.

Also undercutting the episode we have the token family-issues storyline, as Freddie blames his father for his mother's death. A paper swan forms an interesting motif between Freddie and his sister, and evidently the relationship between Freddie and Effy was meant to mirror that between Freddie’s parents.

The episode ends with Effie passing out in a bathroom back in the old people's home, landing herself in hospital, much to the despair of Freddie and Effy's mother (Morwenna Banks). Ultimately, episode five wasn't bad as such -- it was at least interesting and tried to be original, only to fall down on an overdose of surreality and two major problems. The first was how the acting from Freddie and, more importantly Effie, wasn't strong enough to carry the episode. Pulling off a nervous breakdown is never an easy feat on screen and sadly Kaya Scodelario completely failed to convince. Yet more importantly was the fact that, largely as a result of their lack of appearance over the last five episodes, it's difficult to particularly care about Effy's (extraordinarily sudden) lapse into madness, or the problems in their relationship. An interesting enough episode, though one that was sadly hard to feel emotionally invested in.

25 FEBRUARY 2010: E4 (HD), 10PM

Friday, 26 February 2010

At The Movies: w/c 26 February 2010


On nationwide release across the UK this week, we have: insane people, a road trip, doctors, terrorists, an Irish love story, and quirky arms dealers...

THE CRAZIES

Horror-drama. About the inhabitants of a small Iowa town suddenly plagued by insanity and then death after a mysterious toxin contaminates their water supply.
Director: Breck Eisner Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson, Christie Lynn Smith & Glenn Morshower
Tomatometer: 73% (FRESH, based on 77 reviews) "Tense, nicely shot, and uncommonly intelligent, The Crazies is the rare horror remake that works."

EVERYBODY'S FINE

Drama. A widower who realized his only connection to his family was through his wife sets off on an impromptu road trip to reunite with each of his grown children.
Director: Kirk Jones Starring: Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Damian Young, Lucian Maisel & James Frain
Tomatometer: 47% (ROTTEN, based on 112 reviews) "A calm, charismatic performance from Robert De Niro nearly saves the movie, but ultimately, Everybody's Fine has the look and feel of a stereotypical Christmas dramedy."

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES

Drama. A drama centered on the efforts of John and Aileen Crowley to find a researcher who might have a cure for their two children's rare genetic disorder.
Director: Tom Vaughan Starring: Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Keri Russell, Jared Harris, Sam Hall, Alan Ruck, Courtney B. Vance & Dee Wallace
Tomatometer: 28% (ROTTEN, based on 123 reviews) "Despite a timely topic and a pair of heavyweight leads, Extraordinary Measures never feels like much more than a made-for-TV tearjerker."

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE

Crime thriller. In Paris, a young employee in the office of the US Ambassador hooks up with an American spy looking to stop a terrorist attack in the city.
Director: Pierre Morel Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden & Amber Rose Revah
Tomatometer: 35% (ROTTEN, based on 136 reviews) "Thought not without its charms -- chief among them John Travolta's endearingly over-the-top performance -- From Paris with Love is too muddled and disjointed to satisfy."

LEAP YEAR

Rom-com. A woman who has a scheme to propose to her boyfriend on Leap Day (an Irish tradition which occurs every time the date February 29 rolls around), faces a setback when bad weather threatens to derail her planned trip to Dublin.
Director: Anand Tucker Starring: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, John Lithgow & Adam Scott
Tomatometer: 21% (ROTTEN, based on 112 reviews) "Amy Adams is as appealing as ever, but her charms aren't enough to keep Leap Year from succumbing to an overabundance of clichés and an unfunny script."

MICMACS

Crime-comedy. A man and his friends come up with an intricate and original plan to destroy two big weapons manufacturers.
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Starring: Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolance Moreau & Julie Ferrier
Tomatometer: 67% (FRESH, based on 12 reviews)

DAMAGES 3.1 - "Your Secrets Are Safe"

WRITERS: Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler & Daniel Zelman
DIRECTOR: Todd A. Kessler
GUEST CAST: Lily Tomlin, Keith Carradine, Len Cariou, Ben Shenkman, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Tom Noonan, Michael Gaston, Reiko Aylesworth, J. Tucker Smith, Michael Laurence, Robert Sedgwick, Darren Goldstein, Ana Reeder, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Campbell Scott & Martin Short
[SPOILERS] After a bumpy sophomore season that didn't connect with me on an emotional level and became a slog, I'm relieved to see Damages hit back with a strong and nimble third season premiere, set nearly a year later. Over this hour, some of my concerns about last season were swiftly addressed: the multiple flashforwards/-backs that swamped season 2 have been downsized to just the one, and this year's legal battle is more personal and less corporate in nature...

Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) is now working on behalf of the government to recover billions of dollars lost during a Ponzi scheme[*] setup by corrupt Wall Street businessman Louis Tobin (Len Cariou) -- elderly patriarch of an apparently ignorant family that include proud wife Marilyn (Lily Tomlin) and crestfallen son Joe (Campbell Scott), who've been left destitute now the family's assets have been frozen. It's up to Patty to find the missing billions accrued by Louis' deception, to repay the investors what they're owed and perhaps clear the rest of the Tobin family in the process.

Across the city, Patty's former-protégé Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) is now working at the District Attorney's office on a drug case, apparently having moved on with her life and career. She's less solemn, at any rate, while her new job gives her the opportunity to go out into the field and mete out justice on the streets. Of course, she's destined to be drawn into Patty's contentious Wall Street case like an asteroid to a black hole -- likely via her boss Curtis Gates (Ben Shenkman), who's involved with the criminal side of the Tobin fallout.

Damages has always attracted an astonishing amount of famous faces and talented character actors, and that tradition continues in season 3 with Lily Tomlin, Campbell Scott, Keith Carradine and Martin Short already introduced in key supporting roles. The latter being another example of Damages giving typecast actors a chance to subvert audience expectations. Seeing the impish Short (known for '80s comedy roles in the likes of Three Amigos) play a devious lawyer is almost as surprising as "nice guy" Ted Danson was playing a crooked billionaire who had sex with prostitutes.

The signature flashforwards (set six months in the future) appear to only be tackling one storyline, which makes it a lot easier to follow than the miasma of season 2's multiple subplots. Here, Patty is involved in a car crash where the offending driver flees the scene, but the police discover the car was registered to Patty's trusted associate Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan), whose dead body is later found in a dumpster beside a creepy homeless man who has a luxury handbag given to Ellen as a gift from Patty in the present-day. And we also see a more contented Patty, who's seen regularly spurning the advances of an alluring man called Julian Decker (Carradine, again utilizing his innate easygoing charm.)

Overall, "Your Secrets Are Safe" offered plenty of fresh intrigue, and the adroit plot did a fantastic job outlining the stakes and introducing new characters, mostly avoiding the sense of information overload that Damages has been guilty of in the past. In simplifying their narrative and tackling a legal case with strong human ties (who cared about faceless stock market manipulations and dreary environmentalism last year?), I get the feeling the writers understood what went wrong last time and are now repairing things with an eye on what worked in the magnificent first season.

Of course, because we're into the third season, a certain amount of familiarity with Damages format occasionally undercut some surprises (who didn't think that homeless guy would have Ellen's handbag in the future?), but there were still some genuinely shocking moments -- not least the foreknowledge that genial Tom's days are numbered, just as he finally got his name on the door...

Asides

-- A note to directors of television; audiences are now too aware that a car crash is going to happen when you position the camera low, in the passenger seat, facing the driver as they nonchalantly drive along. That familiar angle has been used ad nauseum ever since Six Feet Under's pilot. It's no longer surprising, so please try and find another way.

-- The recap opening with split-screens being used to summarize the events of season 1 and 2 was like 24 on steroids! I'm not sure if it really helped any newcomers catch-up, though -- it probably just confused the hell out of them! I've seen those episodes and even I felt bewildered.

-- It was great to see Tom Noonan return as that detective; another example of a typecast actor (mostly fated to play creepy villains) getting to play the opposite.

-- Was I alone in failing to recognize Campbell Scott? The sign of a great actor.

-- One thing I particularly love about Damages is that it's a legal drama that's barely set foot inside a court room. I only recall one court scene back in season 1, and even that lasted less than two-minutes!

24 FEBRUARY 2010: BBC1, 10.45PM
25 FEBRUARY 2010: BBC HD, 10PM


[*] A Ponzi scheme is a type of investment fraud where investors are repaid using their own money, or that of the other investors, and not from any actual profit being made. Familiarize yourself here.

True Blood: Season 2 Reviews


It's the UK premiere of True Blood's second season tonight on FX (HD) at 10pm. I've already covered season 2 last year during its HBO broadcast, so I won't be tackling it every week. However, if you're an unspoiled Brit who'd like some reviews to read in safety every week, why not bookmark this post and refer back to it? Links to my episodic reviews of True Blood Season 2 are below:

1. "Nothing But The Blood"
2. "Keep This Party Going"
3. "Scratches"
4. "Shake And Fingerpop"
5. "Never Let Me Go"
6. "Hard-Hearted Hannah"
7. "Release Me"
8. "Timebomb"
9. "I Will Rise Up"
10. "New World In My View"
11. "Frenzy"
12. "Beyond Here Lies Nothing"

My ultimate thoughts on season 2? It's great fun with some excellent new characters introduced, concepts developed, and the universe is broadened nicely, but the last four episodes are an unfortunate drop in storytelling skill. That's because the season's three main storylines are whittled down to the least compelling one, and the writers don't handle that confluence effectively. But if you loved season 1, you should love season 2.

MAD MEN 3.6 - "Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency"

WRITERS: Robin Veith & Matthew Weiner
DIRECTOR: Lesli Linka Glatter
GUEST CAST: Ryan Cartwright, Kiernan Shipka, Judy Kain, Christa Flanagan, Sam Page, Patick Cavanaugh, Charles Shaughnessy, Jamie Thomas King, Chelcie Ross, Carol Locatell, Jared S. Gilmore, Julie McNiven, Alexa Alemanni, Edin Gali, Mark Kelly & Neil Dickson
[SPOILERS] The title sounds like the setup to a joke, and a grisly punchline is definitely delivered towards the end of this tremendous episode, which undoubtedly ranks as the most enjoyable installment of Mad Men's considered third season. "Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency" gave us the Anglo-American clash I've been anticipating all season, but was thematically about people's unwarranted hopes and fears...

The most obvious incidence of this came from Sally (Kiernan Shipka), who has reacted with puzzling coldness to baby Gene's arrival, much to her mother Betty's (January Jones) frustration. It doesn't make sense, as Sally never resented the birth of her first brother, but it later becomes clear that Sally's irrational fear of the dark and hesitant behaviour around Gene is because she's got it into her head that the baby's a creepy reincarnation of her recently-deceased grandad (same name, a facial resemblance, they sleep in the same room.) To be honest, I didn't really buy into Sally's apprehension over baby Gene, despite knowing that kids can get some rather ridiculous thoughts lodged in their minds, but it was nevertheless an enjoyable little subplot.

An air of trepidation sweeps through the offices of Sterling Cooper after Lane (Jared Harris) announces the imminent arrival of their British parent company's execs from London, badly-timed with the Fourth Of July weekend and Joan's (Christina Hendricks) last day at work. There are some who expect a major shakeup of the company's management, although Cooper (Roger Morse) plants a seed in Don's mind that he's about to be offered a dual position in London, which Don can't help feel excited by.

Joan's final day took me by surprise (has that been mentioned before, or did it just slip my mind?), but her plans are dealt a blow when husband Greg (Sam Page) arrives home drunk and reveals that he's been passed over as a surgeon for not "having brains in my fingers", so it's likely they'll have to move to Alabama after a year. The wheels are too far in motion for Joan to get her existing job back, so she'll have to look for other work. Given the unfading memory of Greg essentially raping Joan in Don's office last season, I've always viewed their marriage as something built on lies, mistrust and sexism, but so far this season there hasn't been too much evidence for that. Does Joan really love Greg as much as her words imply ("I married you for your heart, not your hands") or is she kidding herself? Maybe Greg's professional setback will trigger more than late-night boozing..?

But the arrival of PPL bigwigs Guy MacKendrick (Jamie Thomas King), Harold Ford (Neil Dickson) and Saint-John Powell (Charles Shaughnessy) proves more mystifying than anything else, as they're given the grand tour of Sterling Cooper before Guy gives a presentation of the company's restructuring that contains no significant changes -- beyond the faux pas ommission of Roger Sterling's name on Guy's staff chart. The only notable change will be their colleague Lane's transference to Bombay, organized as a reward for this work cutting expenditure at Sterling Cooper, although Lane can't hide his disappointment that success has been rewarded with a repulsive stuffed cobra (for "the snake charmer") and an unwanted move to India.

Soon after came a deliciously horrific (yet painfully hilarious) sequence during a party to jointly celebrate the British visitors and Joan's final day. A few of the tipsy staff are fooling around on a riding mower Ken (Aaron Staton) had delivered to the building to celebrate winning an account with John Deere. Unfortunately, receptionist Lois (Christa Flanagan) has difficulty keeping the vehicle under control and accidentally ran over Guy MacKendrick's foot -- spraying everyone with blood and shards of shoe leather, to leave Guy writhing about on the floor with a mangled limb. It was quite an outrageous moment, very unexpected in a series like Mad Men, but all the funnier because of its tonal absurdity. Roger's nonchalance in the aftermath was particularly fun; does nothing perturb that guy? I swear, if Roger's foot had been chewed-up, he'd have just sat back and demanded a Scotch while Joan applied a tourniquet!

The ensuing trip to the hospital also brought up some memorable examples of how different '60s culture was to today. First, there was no mention of Health & Safety In The Workplace (who brings a mower into an office and puts it in the hands of drunken staff?), but upon hearing that Guy's foot will need amputating his colleagues lament the passing of a gifted salesman. Oh yes, there's no way an advertising agency's going to employ a salesman stuck in a wheelchair, and I assume foot prosthetics weren't good enough to solve Guy's problem in those days. Mind you, even Don looked a little shocked by the news, so maybe such harsh treatment was peculiarly British at the time and American firms would be more understanding of disabled staff? More likely Don's never even considered the idea of a salesman being retired thanks to a physical handicap. On the plus side: Lane gets to stay in the Big Apple as a result of this setback with Guy.

Given the season's lack of a throughline, it was also great to see Don get a call from the office of Conrad Hilton, the famous hotel magnate (not to mention great-grandad of the vapid Paris Hilton!), who was revealed to be the old man Don shared a drink with at Roger's country club party. Meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Connie wants Don to give his opinion on an advert for his business he's had drawn up from his own idea, which he does so for free, before pitching to take on the lucrative Hilton account. This was a great callback to an earlier episode, although I'm not sure exactly what Connie's involvement is going to lead to.

Overall, this was a standout episode of the season (and the series as a whole), with lots of great character moments, a fantastic vein of dark comedy, and satisfying plot progression. I particularly loved Don and Joan's scene in the hospital waiting area, which showed a more down-to-earth side to Joan's personality that felt like she's dropped the "performance" she puts on for the benefit of those she works with. You get the feeling that Joan could be so much more if she'd stop playing up her sexuality so much, which she probably feels is the only way someone like her can get attention from men and respect from the jealous women.

A gem of an episode, and hopefully an omen of more to come.

24 FEBRUARY 2010: BBC4, 10PM

Terry O'Quinn & Michael Emerson want to play assassins?


As Lost slowly draws to an end, attention is turning to what the cast/crew are going to do next. We already know that Daniel Dae Kim has signed onto the CBS remake of Hawaii Five-O (exec-produced by Fringe's Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman), and Elizabeth Mitchell's already moved onto ABC's V remake, but what about the more integral actors? Well, apparently Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson have a desire to work together again, in a show where they'd play two middle-aged hit men who have to keep their real jobs a secret from their unassuming suburban families...

Of course, right now this is just a desire from two actors and friends who enjoy working together professionally, but I guess there's a chance someone will take them up on this idea and build a show around O'Quinn and Emerson like that. Any series starring two of Lost's best actors would undoubtedly attract Lost's hardcore fanbase, at the very least. I mean, who wouldn't like to see "Locke" and "Ben" playing assassins in suburbia?

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES 6.5 - "Everybody Ought To Have A Maid"

WRITER: Jamie Gorenberg
DIRECTOR: Larry Shaw
GUEST CAST: Orson Bean, Aisha Hinds, Dennis Cockrum, David Bickford, Barbara Alyn Woods & Mackenzie Smith
[SPOILERS] Much like America's other mainstream comedy/drama with voice-over narration, Desperate Housewives has always used the disembodied voice of Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) to link together each episode's many plot strands into a (sometimes contrived) cohesive whole. Episode five's spectral audio prologue establishes perhaps the most glaringly unsubtle theme to resonate through an ABC series outside of the walls of Sacred Heart Hospital: never judge a book by its cover. I said it was glaringly unsubtle, I didn't say it was mould-breaking.

Judgment plot-strand #1 sees Gabrielle Solice (Eva Longoria Parker) determined to prove her critics wrong and organise the best 7th birthday party ever for daughter Juanita (Madison De La Garza) after Laura Miller (Barbara Alyn Woods) brands Gabby a bad mother following a mild injury to her daughter Rachel (Mackenzie Smith) in an unsupervised suitcase toboggan incident at Chez Solice. Needless to say, Gabby's plans involve much taunting, one-upmanship and husband Carlos' (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) wallet. Not to mention a cotton candy machine, a bouncy castle, a clown (David Bickford) and Mr. Fibbs – a circus monkey, who his trainer (Dennis Cockrum) fears is too tired to perform. What could possibly go wrong there?

Judgment plot-strand #2 finds uptight Bree (Marcia Cross) unable to accept a stranger's disapproval after a hotel maid (Aisha Hinds) gives her a sanctimonious glare for lying to husband Orson (Kyle MacLachlan) on the phone about her affair with divorce lawyer Karl (Richard Burgi). Bree returns to dispel the worldly maid's opinion twice more before she accepts that she does feel guilty for her actions as she sees the love and hope in Orson's eyes – but it doesn't stop her from seeing Karl again. Well, that was a lesson well learnt(!)

Judgement plot-strand #3 sees Karen McCluskey's (Kathryn Joosten) man-friend Roy Bender (Orson Bean) working as an odd-job man for the Scavo's. This soon puts Lynette's (Felicity Huffman) nose out of joint as Roy continuously goes over her head to ask the permission of the ''man of the house'' Tom (Doug Savant). Lynette's retort that Roy must know what century we are living in as he uses a mobile phone was a chucklesome delight to an otherwise filler plotline which only serves to remind the audience of Roy's existence and reaffirm -- for the second episode running -- that Tom loves Lynette, even if she can be a tad controlling. Awhhhhh.

Judgement plot-strand #4 -- and perhaps the loosest purveyor of the theme -- sees Susan Delfino (Teri Hatcher) brand Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delaney) a "loon" for spreading lies about how close she has been to Mike (James Denton) since Mike left her for Susan. As justified as Susan is in calling out her friend on this issue, I find it hard to sympathise with Katherine as her motives are purely selfish and her actions questionable.

It may seem somewhat contrary of me to judge such a judgment-heavy episode as frivolous and unprogressive, especially after I last week criticised episode four for being in too much of a rush, but I guess this variety of styles is the result of having a different writer tackle each episode so far this season. Thank goodness, then, for the final ten minutes, which really move things along in a literally explosive fashion: Susan accidentally shoots a suspiciously sneaky Katherine (though it's more of a graze) with the gun Danny Bolen (Beau Mirchoff) has lent to Julie Mayer (Andrea Bowen) to help her feel safe with her attacker still on the loose. Cue panic at the Bolen's, who realise their gun is registered in their real name and so Angie (Drea De Matteo) and Nick (Jeffrey Nordling) go to great lengths to persuade Katherine not to call the police, or an ambulance, by manipulating her dangerous obsession over Mike...

So, no trip to the hospital this week, which was probably for the best, or I really would have suspected I'd stumbled into an episode of Scrubs, where wacky and surreal events ensue alongside tense and dramatic scenes, like a monkey attacking a clown while a son threatens to blow the lid on his father’s affair with a teenage girl. Oh, wait, both of these did actually happen on Wisteria Lane this week.

24 FEBRUARY 2010: CHANNEL 4 (HD), 9PM

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Odeon drop Alice boycott


I guess it had to happen with a projected £40m at stake for Disney, so here comes news that Odeon have reached an agreement with Disney to show Alice In Wonderland. Odeon's statement:

"Odeon and UCI Cinema group is pleased to announce that, following detailed negotiations with the Walt Disney Company Ltd, an enduring agreement has been reached encompassing all the different aspects of both companies' commercial relationship. Odeon is pleased to announce that it will now be showing Alice in Wonderland beginning March 5 in its cinemas in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria."

"As a result of this agreement, Odeon is pleased to confirm that it will be able to continue with its plans for significant investment in new cinemas, in digital technology in 3D capability and the other exciting developments designed for the increased enjoyment of all its customers."
I have no idea what what caused this U-turn, as I assume Disney still intend to fast-track Alice's DVD/Blu-ray release, but they must have offered Odeon some kind of financial sweetener. A bigger cut of theatrical revenues to compensate for the loss of five weeks business, perhaps? We can only speculate. But it's great news for your average moviegoer who just wants to see the film as quickly as possible, in 3D.

State of the Blog: Damages HD, Caprica backburner, 200th film review, competitions, and can you recommend a rental?

I was too tired last night to watch Damages, so I'll have to catchup tonight for a Friday review. It's just been revealed that BBC HD won't be simulcasting the series alongside BBC1 every Wednesday, but will instead show episodes in high-def on Thursdays at 10pm. I will be following those HD broadcasts.

Also, as I mentioned last week, I'm going to be saving my Mad Men posts for Fridays now, too -- just to ensure a better job is done writing them. Y'see, unlike many other pop-culture blogs/sites, I don't get sent screeners that allow me to write and fine-tune a review days/weeks before transmission. The vast majority of my reviews are written the day after broadcast.

Now, considering my ennui towards Caprica and the fact Sky1 are now days behind Syfy's transmission, I may occasionally free up some weekend time by letting Caprica reviews slip back to Wednesday for UK-pace. It depends on my workload. I get the impression not many people would care about a longer wait, but let me know if I'm wrong.

You may have noticed that my recent review of Michael Jackson's This Is It was the 200th film review here at DMD, so I thought it would be a good time to remind you that a handy A-Z index of archived reviews can be found here.

I may have a few competitions to win copies of 2012 and Zombieland soon, so stay tuned for that later this month. Again, apologies that all of my contests so far are only open to British/Irish citizens, but if any foreign PR companies want to get in touch about a similar giveaway, I'd be more than happy to do something for my international readers.

Owing to the fact LoveFilm currently don't have many Universal discs in stock, my "queue" with them has run dry. I've started to fill it with films that I'd usually only add on a whim as low-priorities (animated hamster movie G-Force, for e.g), so can anyone recommend some older movies on Blu-ray that are worth seeing? I just added Wall Street, as preparation for the sequel this year, but are there any other classics worth a visit, or unsung gems you'd like to recommend?

Ummm, I don't have much else to add. A few cosmetic changes have occurred (redesigning the "On The Box" grid images, moving some reciprocal links from the footer to the sidebar), but that's about it. Oh, and I have a good idea for a competitive poll that I may put into action this weekend, so stay tuned.

TV Ratings: Survivors (BBC1)

Tuesday night's finale of Survivors was seen by 3.67m people, having premiered seven weeks ago to 5.16m. Over its six episodes, series 2 of the BBC's end-of-the-world drama attracted an average of 3.81m viewers. This second series wasn't as popular as series 1 (where even the lowest-rated episode managed 4.65m, having premiered with 6.97m), but it was still successful enough for a third series to be practically assured.

David Goyer writing The Man Of Steel


David Goyer (Blade, The Dark Knight) recently turned his back on the TV show FlashForward he co-created, and has just landed a job writing the new Superman movie! This new project, working-titled The Man Of Steel, is being touted as a reboot of the movie franchise. Latino News' spies have heard it won't be another origin story, Brandon Routh won't return in the lead role, Bryan Singer won't be directing, the villains will be Lex Luthor and Brainiac, The Daily Planet will be shown struggling to compete with online journalism, it sets up a huge Kryptonian mythology, and Goyer's apparently going to approach things using comic-book writer John Bryne's take on the character...

If the latter is true, then that means Superman will assumedly be far less powerful (for added plausibility and to maintain a sense of concern over his safety that's often missing without the ol' kryptonite standby), Clark may be be more of an extrovert, both his adopted human parents will be alive, and the fact nobody ever recognizes the similarities between Superman and Clark Kent will be explained by the fact Supes vibrates his face at super-speed to ensure blurry photographs of his features. Well, let's hope Goyer doesn't use that last part of Byrne's work, because we're fine suspending our disbelief over the Clark/Superman resemblance, thank you.

Clearly, they want Goyer to inject Superman with some of the realism he bestowed on the Batman franchise, but I hope they don't try to turn Superman into a dark, moody piece. It should be more in the Spider-Man colour spectrum, if you ask me. Don't suck the fun and optimism out of the character, please.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

McGuigan and Morrison unite for "Twin Peaks meets Brigadoon"

Director Paul McGuigan (Gangster No1, Push) has revealed he's working on a seven-part British fantasy series he describes as "Twin Peaks meets Brigadoon" with comic-book writer Grant Morrison (The Invisibles) and Stephen Fry:

"Grant Morrison and myself are working on, I wouldn't call it a secret project, but a project with Stephen Fry and it's a thriller set in Scotland. Me and Grant have been friends for a while and we wanted to do something together, and Grant went off and wrote a treatment, so it's at the treatment stage at the moment... It's seven episodes. It takes place over seven days around an event that happens in Scotland. It's a modern take on an old fable or fairy story. If you know Grant's work you might have an idea of what it will be like. It's like Twin Peaks meets Brigadoon! It's off the wall and smart but in a watchable commercial way. It's still in the early stages but I'm very excited about it."
I'm always delighted when a British TV genre series comes along, particularly when there's credible writing/directing talent involved. No offense to other writers with a background in soaps or cop/doc dramas, but it's just easier to get psyched when a renowned comic-book writer and successful British film director are involved in a project.

We have lots of great directors and writers in this country, but so many of them disappear to Hollywood or choose to focus on books/comics (where their imaginations aren't tethered by budgets), so it's great to see more taking an interest in UK television nowadays. Undoubtedly because of Doctor Who, Life On Mars and Torchwood's success, sci-fi/fantasy is finally a buzzword in the British industry and (more importantly) it feels like execs realize they need to ensure quality and can't just offload a halfhearted piece of tosh with some famous names attached.

McGuigan's also directing episodes of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' upcoming modern-day Sherlock Holmes series, too.

Oh, and if you're unaware what musical Brigadoon is, here's the blurb from Wikipedia, which perhaps give us a flavour of what this project might resemble:

"Brigadoon tells the story of a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every hundred years, though to the villagers, the passing of each century seems no longer than one night. The enchantment is viewed by them as a blessing rather than a curse, for it saved the village from destruction. According to their covenant with God, no one from Brigadoon may ever leave, or the enchantment will be broken and the site and all its inhabitants will disappear into the mist forever. Two American tourists, lost in the Scottish Highlands, stumble upon the village just as a wedding is about to be celebrated, and their arrival has serious implications for the village's inhabitants."

SURVIVORS 2.6

WRITER: Adrian Hodges
DIRECTOR: Farren Blackburn
GUEST CAST: Nicholas Gleaves, Geraldine Somerville, Patrick Malahide, Jack Richardson & Robyn Addison
[SPOILERS] Adrian Hodges returned to bookend Survivors' second series with an episode that worked as a decent finale with engaging action sequences and a fun coda, but it was a little disappointing to have so much of the mystery explained as, well, what most people's first thought had been. I guess that's one of the key problems with Survivors as a sci-fi drama: it flirts with potential, sometimes developing a sense of intrigue, but it's ultimately content to tell formulaic end-of-the-world storylines with ruthless scientists creating a vaccine (including the usual "end justifies the means" mentality), a secret Noah's Ark-like project to protect the "great thinkers" of the world, and a mutated virus killing survivors that's spread by birds, etc.

Mild-mannered doc Whitaker (Nicholas Gleaves) has Abby's son Peter (Jack Richardson) in his custody, hoping to be extracted by his superior Landry (Patrick Malahide) now his lab's become infected and his staff are dead, so they can use the boy to create a vaccine. Abby (Julie Graham) and the gang are searching for Peter and come across a naturally-immune scientist called Fiona (Geraldine Somerville) in the abandoned lab, who believes she's close to creating a vaccine but needs to test it on a human subject. Al (Phillip Rhys) volunteers to be her guinea pig. Later, Whittaker is captured as he returns to the facility to make arrangements for his own rescue and tortured by Tom (Max Beesley) over the whereabouts of Peter, who has been stowed in a static caravan at a nearby holiday camp and is under orders to shoot any strangers.

Taken as its own entity, the finale was relatively entertaining, but as the accumulation of so many plot-strands started in series 1 it felt rather flat and unsurprising. It also containing quite a few laughable moments. Chief amongst them was how Peter became, unintentionally, the biggest nuisance imaginable: somehow managing to shoot Fiona clean through the heart from a distance, after mistaking her as trouble; and later being manipulated into shooting Tom in the shoulder. Considering all the strife the gang have been through to find Peter, it was rather hilarious to see him cause them nothing but problems. A few more minutes on-screen and I'm sure he'd have accidentally shot his mum dead, too.

Overall, series 2 wasn't as taught as the first year, but I had more fun with it -- even if that's because it often approaches "so bad it's good" territory. Abby was more agreeable because they subdued her histrionics over her missing son, and the mystery with the scientists and those coded postcards was appealing if eventually exposed as banal. If Survivors has a major fault it's the feeling the writers don't have a firm grasp of the characters and the actors are left to just emote as best they can: Abby barely did anything once she'd escaped from the lab early on; Tom just glowered and told us why he was jailed; sweet Anya's tense relationship with bad-boy Tom doesn't work; Al and Sarah (Robyn Addison) benefited from their union, but romance was short-lived and neither character did much beyond it; Najid (Chahak Patel) did literally nothing of any consequence; and Greg's (Paterson Joseph) past may have been revealed to us, but the fact his family have likely been evacuated to safety is essentially something that won't be explored until series 3.

Not for the first time with a homegrown serialized drama, I got the distinct impression that a lot of Survivors' problems is down to the fact British writers don't work collectively to hammer out each character's arc and the broader storyline. It means there's a certain amount of slack and filler in-between premiere and finale, with writers having to follow a general direction Adrian Hodges decides on -- which has amounted to a mishmash of every "doomsday" trope going. The problem to overcome with series 3 is that it feels like the characters and plot don't have much mileage left to them, although I'm curious to see what Landry's safe haven looks like, who was taken there, and where it's located. But is that really enough to sustain another six episodes?

Asides

-- Did anyone else find it irritating that they never explained how Peter came to be in Whitaker's care? The last time we saw the boy he was about to release evil trucker Billy from the tree trunk he'd been tied to in episode 4. So what happened? It feels like we skipped an episode.

-- Greg guessed Whitaker's password at the first attempt?!

-- Do you really risk shooting a bad guy in the torso with a submachine gun when he's rolling around on the ground on top of your friend?

23 FEBRUARY 2010: BBC1, 9PM

Box Office Charts: w/c 19 February 2010



In the US: In a poor week for new releases, Martin Scorsese's SHUTTER ISLAND with Leonardo DiCaprio debuts at #1 with a fantastic $40m haul...

US TOP 10

1. (-) Shutter Island - $40,200,000
2. (1) Valentine's Day - $17,160,000
3. (4) Avatar -$16,100,000
4. (3) Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief - $15,300,000
5. (2) The Wolfman - $9,846,000
6. (5) Dear John - $7,300,000
7. (6) The Tooth Fairy - $4,500,000
8. (9) Crazy Heart - $3,025,000
9. (7) From Paris With Love - $2,500,000
10. (8) Edge Of Darkness - $2,210,000

In the UK: Avatar regains the #1 spot, perhaps because of its recent award nominations/wins... Peter Jackson's critically derided THE LOVELY BONES is a decent hit with £1.6m to take #3... and SOLOMON KANE garnered decent reviews, but only attracted £611k to premiere at #7...

UK TOP 10

1. (2) Avatar - £2,817,009
2. (4) The Princess and the Frog - £1,725,519
3. (-) The Lovely Bones - £1,637,579
4. (1) Valentine's Day - £1,583,142
5. (5) Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief - £1,487,446
6. (3) The Wolfman - £774,890
7. (-) Solomon Kane - £611,886
8. (9) Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel - £608,154
9. (7) Invictus - £570,801
10. (10) Astro Boy - £523,215

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Chuck: Season 3.5 Trailer


It's only been off-air a few weeks because of the Winter Olympics, but it's nice to see NBC putting together a snazzy trailer to promote the second-half of Chuck's third season (embedded above), which resumes on 1 March. Gotta love the Superman-style "3D" opening credits (in honour of guest-star Brandon Routh), too. So what have we got to look forward to? The return of Jeffster! A tiger! A gigantic explosion! Routh shirtless! Kristin Kreuk in a towel! Adam Baldwin throwing someone through some shelves! Yvonne Strahovski affecting a Southern drawl while wearing lingerie! Zachary Levi with a gun! A tooth extraction! And lots more...

BBC/PBS partnership: Sherlock; Upstairs, Downstairs; Aurelio Zen

The BBC and PBS Masterpiece Theater are joining forces on three big new dramas. First up is the eagerly-awaited Sherlock Holmes update set in modern times. The new four-part series started filming on 19 January 2010, with Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement) playing the contemporary Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman (The Office) as his Dr. Watson -- recently returned from Afghanistan.

Rupert Graves co-stars as Inspector Lestrade and Una Stubbs will play Mrs. Hudson. The pilot is an hour-long, but the remaining three episodes will be 90-minutes each. This reinvention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic sleuth has been created by Mark Gatiss (League Of Gentlemen, Doctor Who) and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling). If Sherlock proves a success, Moffat has already said he'll have to take a backseat because of his commitment to Doctor Who.

A remake of classic '70s drama Upstairs, Downstairs (which won seven Emmys) about the class divisions in a British mansion just prior to WWII, has also been announced. There will also be an adaptation of three Aurelio Zen novels written by Michael Dibden, starring Rufus Sewell as the eponymous Italian detective. It comes from Left Bank Pictures, the same production company who gave us Swedish detective series Wallander with Kenneth Branagh, and will be shot on location in Italy.

These three shows are expected to air in 2010/11.

Assessing the Damages

As long-term readers will know, I find Damages an awkward show to review every week. Like 24, it's heavily serialized and that makes it tough to review because it feels like you're writing a book review one chapter at a time. So, I could watch Damages' third season from beginning to end and write about it in retrospect (as I plan to with The Good Wife), but I think I'll try and write capsule reviews every week (as I'm doing with 24.) That way I can be brief and prompt discussion, while occasionally tackling the more stimulating episodes in greater detail if required.

Damages returns to BBC1 tomorrow (24 February) @10.45pm, meaning we're five episodes behind FX in the US. Is anyone here already watching, or planning to?