- WEEKLY TV PICKS
Friday, 28 April 2006
It's always interesting to see what people think the worst ever movies are. The trouble is movies are very subjective things. One man's stain on the cinematic landscape is another man's cult classic.
We're always shown polls of the greatest movies in countless magazines, from official sources (such as the American Film Institute), and those ubiquitious Top 100... television marathons on Channel 4, but very rarely does the worst get a look in.
I was recently drawn to the Internet Movie Database's Bottom 100 page, where their lowest-rated films are gathered to commiserate together. It's an interesting read, but flawed. For example, most people tend to only rate new movies, so the Chart is taken up with movies from the past 5-10 years. Also, in reality, the worst movies ever made are so terrible they're not in the public consciousness, and sometimes the "worse" movies are only in that list because they've only been on general release for a few weeks. For example, And and Dec's Alien Autopsy makes the list, but it's hardly deserving of such a dishonour. Is it?
Still, while the Bottom 100 is fundamentally flawed, it still gives a fun insight into what the world currently sees as the lowest-of-the-low. I have selected my own Bottom 10 from IMDB's list, below:
10. Battlefield Earth (2001) IMBD: 35
John Travolta's biggest box-office bomb (and the man starred in Look Who's Talking Now). This is a hideous mess of a movie, with Travolta and Forrest Whittaker strutting around in dreadlocks and bad make-up. Battlefield Earth is an adaptation of a crap book by sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology, of which Travolta's a member).
But what makes the movie even more disastrous is the pre-publicity (where Travolta claimed it would eclipse Star Wars) and some truly awful lapses in logic, including the classic moment when humans with cavemen-level intelligence somehow learn how to fly fighter jets!
9. Teen Wolf Too (1987) IMDB: 50
I want to admit something here: when I was younger I loved the first Teen Wolf movie with Michael J. Fox. Like many children of the 80's, Michael J. Fox was the cool American teen we all wanted to grow up and become. He got to time-travel in a cool DeLorean and turn into a basketballing werewolf, for crying out loud!
So you can imagine my crushing disappointment when Teen Wolf Too came out. It was Fox-less (it would take 10 years for me to understand that Teen Wolf was considered a low-point of Fox's career...) But, even worse, the sequel committs the cardinal sin of follow-ups: it is essentially the exact same movie, but with just one difference... the werewolf is a great boxer instead of a basketball player. See what they did there? But that's it. It's has the same plot, just with new actors and sport. Ridiculous.
8. Jaws: The Revenge (1987) IMDB: 45
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water... again. Spielberg's original is a classic monster movie, and the first ever summer blockbuster. Jaws 2 is actually a decent sequel, with a few sequence so good many people think they're from Spielberg's movie. Jaws 3 is... pretty bad. But Jaws 4 is just supremely stupid, for one basic reason -- the Great White shark kills a young boy and then "stalks" that boy's mother back to the Carribean!
Michael Caine stars in the sequel nobody wanted, but he's good-natured about its awfulness, saying: "I have never seen [Jaws 4], but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific." Nice one, Sir Michael...
7. Spiceworld: The Movie (1997) IMDB: 72
Back in the days when Girl Power ruled the world, the Spice Girls were the biggest girl group of their era. The lifespan of groups is finite (anything over 5 years and, well, you must actually have talent), so the Spice Girls capitalized on their global domination with this toe-curlingly awful movie...
Spiceworld is surprisingly watchable for its sheer silliness. None of the girls can act, there is no real plot, just a shambolic excuse for the fivesome to screech and for dozens of Z-list British celebrities to cameo. Meat Loaf drives their bloody Spice Bus! Nooooooo!
6. Street Fighter (1994) IMDB: 96
One of the first video-games brought to life in a crushingly disappoint movie. Jean Claude Van Damme sleepwalks through a boring movie that doesn't have the brainpower or budget to do the classic fighting game justice.
Kylie Minogue embarasses herself, the legions of fans wonder why the hell Dhalsim doesn't stretch, and the late Raul Julia's career is forever footnoted by this abomination!
5. Son Of The Mask (2005) IMDB: 14
The Mask was a great effects-fuelled vehicle for Jim Carrey back in 1994. So why did it take 11 years to get a sequel? Then why did somebody even consider filming a sequel without Jim Carrey reprising his role? And why did they cast the terrible Jamie Kennedy, then make the movie with a CGI baby?
This is a great example of a bad sequel. Everything that made the first film a hit is missing: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, decent visual-effects, funny jokes, the wish-fulfilment angle. Everything is just abandoned in favour of a garish cartoon mish-mash of styles and the emphasis on a CGI baby and CGI dog doing a bad Tom & Jerry routine. Bob Hoskins and Alan Cumming are then dropped into the insanity. Awful.
4. The Neverending Story III (1994) IMDB: 43
One thing guaranteed to get yourself on any Bottom 100 list is when you predecessors were actually quite good (see Jaws 4, above). Yes, the first Neverending Story is a great piece of children's fantasy. Who didn't cry when that kid's horse drowned in the quicksand? But by the time Part III rolled into town... people were just concerned the makers were taking the "neverending" title a little too seriously...
3. Mac & Me (1988) IMDB: 71
Shudder. A lowly E.T-wannabe about an alien called Mac who's befriended by a boy in a wheelchair. This is insulting and laughable stuff with a frankly creepy and unbelievable naff-looking alien creature at its centre.
There is nothing uplifting or humorous about this movie. It fails on just about every level and... oh, just look at that DVD cover on the left! Never watch this movie.
2. Police Academy: Mission To Moscow (1994) IMDB: 40
The Police Academy movies get a bad rep. The first movie is actually a great piece of entertainment with a few classic scenes (who can forget the blowjob podium?) The rest of them get progressively worse, but when I was younger I could watch movies 1-5 and enjoy them on a basic level. But even I hated part 6, City Under Siege, and that laugh-free zone should have killed off the franchise for good.
So why did they think people wanted a seventh movie, arriving 5 long years after City Under Siege limped off to die somewhere? Who in their right mind, tell me! The tagline sums up the hilarity to be found: "Kicking buttski. Making you laughski. The Academy is backski!"
1. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987) IMDB: 38
Do you remember those stickers with the freaky kids on them? The ones that were basically a quite anarchy spoof of the Cabbage Patch Dolls? Well, did you know they actually made a movie based on them? You didn't? Well, thank your lucky stars you never saw it.
Any movie about a gang of delinquint kids that are born from a trash can is just asking for trouble. What's particularly bad is that there isn't anything here to recommend on even a "so bad it's good" level. The only memorable moment is when Windy Winston farts to a crowd of people. That about sums up the entire movie. Terrible.
So there you go. My Top 10 worst movies based on IMDB's Top 100. I'm sure it's just as debatable as ever other listing in the world. But it's a good indication of movies to avoid, or perhaps seeks out if you're in a particularly suicidal mood!
Thursday, 27 April 2006
With the release of Silent Hill looming, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at all the movies that started life as pixels on computer screens...
The genre began life not too long ago, with Super Mario Bros. (1993). Nintendo's plumber mascot Mario and brother Luigi are still the quintessential figureheads for gaming culture, despite Nintendo taking a battering in the gaming market ever since the Playstation replaced the Super Nintendo as the must-own gaming machine. But, back in '93, Mario ruled the world.
It was perhaps fitting that the diminuitive plumber take the first dive into movie territory, but it unfortunately resulted in a turgid mess. The plot behind the Mario games is difficult to adapt, or even make sense of, but the movie does an interesting job of presenting is with Dinohatten (a Manhatten in a parallel universe where dinosaurs never became extinct). Mario and Luigi, played by Bob Hoskins (good) and John Leguizamo (bad) cross over into Dinohatten to rescue their archaeologist friend Daisy (Samantha Mathis).
To be fair, the movie did an interesting job of providing a half-decent premise for the movie, but it was just too dark and unexciting for audiences expecting something fast-paced and colourful like the games. Still, Hoskins was well-cast as the moustachiod Italian, there are a number of neat injokes (watch out for the Nintendo SuperScope!) and Dennis Hopper chews the scenery as King Koopa.
Super Mario Bros. took just $20 million at the U.S box-office and is considered a massive turkey in film history, although it does have a loyal cult following.
A year later, in 1994, the video game that had been dominating the world for the past few years was given its own movie spin-off. Street Fighter: The Movie was the perfect choice for a movie adaptation because films already existed that were structured around various fighters competing in world tournaments. The Street Figher II game itself had detailed plots and histories for all its characters, and plenty of iconic images and fighting moves that would be fantastic to see performed in live-action.
However, the movie just got it all wrong. The creators chose to ignore the game's complex backstories and, perhaps for budgetary reasons, ignored many of the game's special moves and more challening characters. So, we never saw a Blanka with green skin electrocuting people, or Dhalsim stretching his limbs like Stretch Armstrong. Hey, we didn't even get a f*cking fireball from Ryu or Ken! Very poor stuff. Why was Jean Claude Van Damme playing Guile, when Ryu should have been the lead? Why was the great Raul Julia subjected to the indignity of playing villain Bison for this, his last ever screen role! Oh, the injustice!
Street Figher did marginally better than Mario, with a $33 million take at the U.S box office, but failed to entice general audiences and angered fans who expected so much more.
Further salt was rubbed into the wound with the 1994 release of Double Dragon, a classic side-scrolling beat 'em up translated as a bad movie starring Mark Dacascos. It took a paltry $2 million and is best forgotten.
A year later, the genre finally had its first success story with the release of Mortal Kombat, from British director Paul W.S Anderson. The key to Mortal Kombat's success was obvious. It treated the game with respect and gave fans what they wanted -- lots of martial arts and special-effects. While the movie wasn't as blood-spattered as the infamous game (no spines being ripped out, etc) it had a style that retained the game's creepy atmosphere. Kombat took a very impressive $70 million.
Two years later in 1997, a sequel was released entitled Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. However, while the general sensibilities of the original was kept, the plot and additional characters were more uninteresting. The lower budget also meant it couldn't compete with its own ambition. MK:A took $35 million, half that of the original.
Wing Commander (1999) continued the downward trend, starring Freddie Prinze Jr and Matthew Lillard. The movie had a ridiculously low budget that couldn't create a compelling atmosphere and was panned by critics and fans alike. It recouped a pathetic $11 million at the box-office.
An interesting twist occurred in 2001 with the release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. This was a movie based on the successful series of Final Fantasy games, but differed from its movie predecessors because this was animated using CGI. Essentially, this meant the entire film felt like a big-budget Full-Motion Video (FMV) that usually bridges levels in games. The film was trumpeted as having photo-realistic CGI humans, but despite its impressive effects, the plot and characters were poor and ill-conceived. Final Fantasy took just $32 million.
Another iconic character bowed onto the silver screen in 2001 -- Lara Croft, the British archaelogist who had seemingly inherited the gaming icon crown from Mario and Co. since the birth of the Playstation generation. Angelina Jolie (a true movie star!) took the lead in a frothy adventure that boasted some entertaining sequences, but nothing else. But, strong marketing and character appeal ensures Tomb Raider became the first blockbuster movie adaptation of a video-game with an impressive haul of $131 million!
Writer-director Paul W.S Anderson returned to the genre after the success of his Mortal Kombat, with another property that seemed perfect for movies -- Resident Evil (2002). This time the game itself had been inspired by zombie movies, so the movie was an easy adaptation. However, Anderson put his own stamp on the property and used the game only as a reference point, meaning hardcore fans of Resident Evil were very disappointed. The lack of scares was also a contribution to Evil's failure, for while the game was infamously terrifying to play, Anderson's movie had more sci-fi action than horror tension. However, it managed to scare up $40 million which wasn't to be sniffed at.
Lara Croft returned in 2003 with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle Of Life, from director Jan De Bont (Speed). Sadly, audiences were tiring of the Lara Croft brand, so the sequel was a massive failure -- taking just $65 million, less than half the original.
Notably bad director Uwe Boll released House Of The Dead (2003) to total apathy. The movie was a prequel to the game (where players had to shoot creatures with a light-gun). However, the film did sell on DVD and made back $10 million.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) continued the franchise, again written by Paul W.S Anderson. Despite even worse reviews than the original, the sequel actually made more money ($51 million), perhaps because it featured more direct links to the games.
Uwe Boll returned after the panning of House Of The Dead, with an adaptation of Alone In The Dark (2005). Starring Christian Slater, the movie works as a sequel to the last game, but is most notable for receiving two Golden Raspberry awards for Worst Director and Worst Actress for Tara Reid. It made a pathetic $5 million.
Now in 2006, we have just seen the release of Doom with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Karl Urban. Doom was a classic game of its era, but many people felt the film was ten years too late. Despite this, it is reasonably enjoyable and contains an impressive sequence where the camera suddenly becomes the moving POV of a soldier in true First Person Shooter game-style. Doom made a poor $20 million at the box-office.
Refusing to go away, director Uwe Boll returned after the flops of his other movie adaptation with Bloodrayne. This vampire movie starred Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3) in the titular role, but was critically savaged upon release. It made a truly woeful $2 million at the box-office!
And this brings us to the latest adaptation -- Silent Hill. Another adaptation based on a horror game similar to Resident Evil. However, Silent Hill is directed by talented filmmaker Christopher Gans (Brotherhood Of The Wolf) and written by Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction). Despite its pedigree, reviews have been very mixed.
So there you have it. There are quite a few films in the new genre after just 13 years, but very few successes. And even the successes like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider aren't considered "good films". It seems the genre is still the domain of untalented hacks who think directing and writing films based on video-games is easy because the premise and characters are ready-made. But it's not that simple.
Video games have plots, whereas films need narrative. Put another way, lots of cool events and sequences can be strung together to make the plot of a game... but a film needs a narrative to bring these moments together into a cohesive and emotional whole with watchable characters. So far, no adaptation has achieved this this... but that's not to say it's impossible.
Particularly as the worlds of movies and games continue to grow closer in style...
Coming soon for fans of the genre: Mortal Kombat: Devastation will try and duplicate the success of the original, Vin Diesel is perfectly cast as Hitman, The Rock returns to the genre as Spy Hunter, supernatural action hero Dante makes his big-screen debut in Devil May Cry, Lord Of The Rings' Peter Jackson oversees the creation of Halo, Prince Of Persia becomes an adventure movie, Quake tries not to make the same Doom-sized mistakes, the espionage game Splinter Cell hits the screen, Tekken is another fight tournament movie hoping to succeed where Street Fighter failed, and Resident Evil: Extinction continues the strangely successful series.
Wednesday, 26 April 2006
Fantastic news about J.J Abrams taking control of the Star Trek franchise for Paramount Pictures. Abrams is the writer-director behind TV smashes Alias and Lost. He's just broken out into movies with Mission: Impossible III to early acclaim (it's the best movie yet, according to most reviews).
So, he's clearly a very talented man that has already proven his worth on television -- making Jennifer Garner a global star, and Lost into the world's most talked-about drama. The fact he's seemingly breathed life into Mission: Impossible, following the lacklustre sequel from John Woo is even more amazing (don't forget, it was also his first movie gig...)
Following the failure of TV's Enterprise, Star Trek will return to the movies with the franchise's eleventh feature. However, Abrams' producers from Lost and screenwriters from M:I-III have been charged with creating a prequel movie focusing on Capt. Kirk and Mr Spock in their early years. Sounds like the basis for the infamous Starfleet Academy TV series, doesn't it?
Interestingly, the old Star Trek: The Academy Years Pilot script was recently reviewed on Ain't It Cool News here, and actually sounds like a decent adventure with a genuine love and understandig of the Original Series characters and chemistry. It's intriguing that a few ideas written there later took shape in Enterprise, too...
Above all else, the Academy Years script proves that the silly idea of a prequel Trek series with a new cast playing younger versions of Star Trek's iconic first crew, might not be as embarassing as you'd expect. One thing's for sure, with the combined talents of the guys behind Lost and M:I-III given total support from Paramount, with no sign of meddling producer Rick Berman to be found this time, the future of Trek hasn't been brighter since the glory days of Deep Space Nine...
Incidentally, Dan's Movie Digest Issue #169 has been released by DVD Fever. This week it features news on Ocean's Thirteen, The Chronicles Of Narnia, Alien Vs Predator 2 and Star Trek XI. The usual US/UK box-office charts are also there, as well as a list of upcoming movies.
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Why is it so many great shows are cancelled before their time? American Gothic, Space: Above & Beyond and Millennium were all great TV series that I enjoyed enormously yet never lasted the distance. Gothic and S:AAB only lasted a measly season, while Millennium at least reached three (but never saw in 1999's New Year).
And now I can add the fantastic Carnivale to the list...
Carnivale's second season ended last year on America's HBO, but despite my love of the show I forced myself to stay away from the UK Sci-Fi Channel's airings in hope of another marathon DVD run. Well, I gave up on that a few weeks ago and turned to other means (wink, wink) to watch season 2. It's taken me 2 weeks to get to the finale, and every episode was a gem. The pace was much faster than the fairly plodding first season, with far more emphasis on the aspects of the show I enjoyed the most (i.e, the creepy mythology of the Creatures of Dark and Light...)
For those of you who don't know, Carnivale follows a traveling carnival as it wends its way across the Dust Bowl, focusing on Ben Hawkins, a mysterious 18-year-old fugitive with hidden talents who is taken in by the carnival, and Brother Justin, the charismatic, shadowy evangelist who will ultimately cross his path. The series takes place at a time of worldwide unrest, with evil on the rise around the globe and the Great Depression wreaking economic and social havoc at home...
I've mentioned the show on DMDB before, but it's just so great it's worth mentioning again! As with nearly all cancelled shows, the finale sets things up for future episodes that we'll never see. But there is internet chatter about a mini-series or graphic novels to complete creator Daniel Knauf's remaining "chapters".
Whatever the future holds for Carnivale, I recommend all lovers of intelligent supernatural fantasy with strong dramatic overtones buy Carnivale Season 1 DVD (the best way to let HBO know we want more!), and the Season 2 box-set when it's finally released (some say Play.com has it scheduled for August). You won't regret it, I assure you!
Time to shake some dust, children...
Monday, 24 April 2006
The DVD has been a phenomenal success story. VCR's are now in ever shorter supply as consumers invest in DVD players/recorders, and PVR's (personal video recorders with built-in hard-drives and automated capabilities, such as Sky+ or TiVo).
However, the mighty DVD is about to face the next-generation of formats -- HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. But what exactly are they? Below is an overview of the two formats competing for DVD's crown...
What is HD-DVD?
HD-DVD (High Definition Digital Versatile Disc) are 120mm in diameter discs identical in appearance to current DVD's. However, HD-DVD discs have much greater storage capacity -- 30GB when dual-layered, compared to DVD's 4.7GB.
What does that mean exactly?
Basically, more information can be put on the discs! A HD-DVD disc can hold more audio and picture information, resulting in greater picture/sound quality and room for even more additional features in movies, or depth of gameplay in video-games.
If HD-DVD takes off, will this mean the end for my DVD collection?
Not really. HD-DVD will be "backwards compatible", meaning HD-DVD players will be able to handle most pre-existing formats, including CD's and DVD's.
Who supports this HD-DVD format?
The main promoters are: Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo, Microsoft and HP. Movie studios likely to release movies in HD-DVD format include Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers. These studios have estimated that 200 HD-DVD movies will have been released by the end of 2006 in the U.S.
How much do the HD-DVD players and discs cost?
Nobody really knows for sure yet. But early word suggests that the players will be the same price DVD players when they were first released (£300-400), with the discs likely to retail for £19.99. As with DVD, the more people that embrace the format, the cheaper the product will become.
Major pluses for HD-DVD?
Name recognition. Everyone knows what DVD is, and throughout this year the acronym HD will become synonymous with improved picture/sound quality -- thanks to Sky broadcasting in high-definition on its digital channels soon. With Microsoft also supporting the format, they will undoubtedly ensure their XBOX 360 has a HD-DVD ROM add-on available soon, and future PC makes with ties to Bill Gates could all be equipped with HD-DVD ROMs to replace DVD-ROMs. HD-DVD disc are also quite inexpensive to produce.
Major disadvantages of HD-DVD?
They don't hold as much data as Blu-Ray (see below), can still be damaged by scratching like conventional CD's/DVD's, and are not supported by Playstation 3 (a home-video console that was a major factor in DVD's achieving widespread use)
What is Blu-Ray?
Blu-Ray is the main rival to HD-DVD, offering many of the same advantaged. However, Blu-Ray disc can hold more information -- 54GB when dual-layered, compared to HD-DVDs 30GB. This means Blu-Ray discs can hold roughly 4 hours of high-definition picture and sound. It's called Blu-Ray because of the blue laser the players use to read the disc data.
So Blu-Ray is better?
Well, purely on disc specification... yes, in that Blu-Ray discs can hold more information. But, supporters of HD-DVD will insist that very few releases will every need the extra 10GB storage capacity. But they would say that!
If Blu-Ray wins the battle of the next-gen formats, will my DVD's bite the dust?
No, as with HD-DVD, Blu-Ray will be backwards compatible. Do you really think the makers will want to annoy the millions of consumers with hundreds of DVD's in their collection?! However, unlike HD-DVD discs, Blu-Ray discs should also be able to play on existing DVD players (and only reveal their true high-def quality on BD players).
How much will Blu-Ray players and discs cost?
There is no definite answer. The discs are expected to retail for £19.99 each, as with HD-DVD, but there are rumours that the players will be more expensive. But, the new Playstation 3 will be equipped with an in-built BR drive!
So who are supporting Blu-Ray?
Sony, Apple, Dell, HP, Hitachi, LG, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, 20th Century Fox, TDK, Thomson, Disney & Warner Brothers.
Major pluses for Blu-Ray?
The Playstation 3's compatibility will be a major factor -- as the PS3 will undoubtedly be just as popular and dominating as the current PS2. Plus, not only do BR discs hold more information, but a special coating means they are nearly impervious to scratching (unlike current CD's, DVD's and HD-DVD's).
TDK have also created a BR disc proto-type that can hold 100GB of information, with 200GB discs envisaged to become reality soon. This massive capacity would allow phenomenal picture/sound quality and backup storage space for computer users.
Major downsides to Blu-Ray?
BR players will only output high-def quality onto HDTV's with a HDMI or DVI-D connections. Therefore all HDTV's with older Component, RGD-D Sub and DVI-A inputs, won't be able to display the high-def quality. Unfortunately, this will already affect the majority of HDTV's sold in the U.S. No word on the impact of HDTV's being sold in the UK just yet, but just so you know!
Sadly, current PC compatability for BR is even worse -- Blu-Ray won't output HD unless a user's monitor and graphic card are both HDCP compliant. And, at time of writing anyway, HDCP-compliant graphic cards don't even exist yet!
Storage Capacity: Blu-Ray is undoubtedly the winner. It currently offers nearly 15GB more space on each disc, with a 100GB version already in existence, and an amazing 200GB discs promised in the future!
Physical Dimensions: Both are pretty much the same to look at, but Blu-Ray narrowly wins by virtue of its discs being more robust and impervious to scratched compared to HD-DVD.
Movie Support: At the moment, most movie studios are supporting HD-DVD. They will undoubtedly realign themselves to Blu-Ray if its wins the format war, but chances are your favourite films will be available on high-definition under the HD-DVD banner this year.
Electronics Support: Blu-Ray have more electronics companies tied to their brand. This should mean the greatest variety of choice for BR players and BR-ROM drives for consumers will come with the BR format.
Computer Support: Interesting. HD-DVD has Microsoft, so that pretty much takes care of all the computers and XBOX 360 users. But, Blu-Ray has Sony's Playstation 3 and a number of high profile PC makers (like Dell and HP). Both will play crucial roles. At the moment - it's a tight draw. But, it's not hard to imagine HD-DVD becoming the computing standard, while Blu-Ray becomes a PS3 game format only.
Pricing: The discs should retail only slightly more expensive than most DVD's, at around £19.99. The more people but, the lower the price will go. The players are where the pricing will be hard fought. HD-DVD are expected to go in around the £300 mark, whereas Blu-Ray could go in a little higher (approx £500). However, as so much is yet to be decided, we'll call this a stalemate for the time being...
So, the winner is....
Hmmmm. I'd have to say HD-DVD. Yes, Blu-Ray may have greater storage capacity, but nobody really cares about that, do they? The relatively low storage capabilities of DVD already means we're used to buying 2-disc DVD sets!
HD-DVD also has more movie studio support -- and films are still the dominant outlet for optical discs. Plus, HD-DVD players will likely be cheaper and costs less to produce the discs in the first place -- meaning HD-DVD discs should quickly become equally priced with DVD's if consumers embrace them. It has already given HD-DVD a head-start over Blu-Ray because DVD pressing factories don't have to make as much changes to their equipment to create the new discs!
The fact Microsoft are also supporting HD-DVD will also mean the millions of PC users will be more familiar with that brand than Blu-Ray (which could become an exclusively PS3 format if it fails, or perhaps a greater storage disc for future PC drives that are dual-playable with HD-DVD and BD.
But, the real crushing blow for Blu-Ray could be the fact it only works on HD TV's with specific signal inputs... at least for the foreseeable future. But that's all it takes in these format wars. Once HD-DVD takes hold (and the discs will be released soon, meaning a massive headstart, too!) there could be just no stopping it...
Whatever happens, it's R.I.P to D.V.D.
Sunday, 23 April 2006
I've never reviewed an episode of The Simpsons. Ever. In the old days there was really no need, as pretty much every instalment was a genius combination of comedy and drama. In recent years, the show has inevitably slipped into the doldrums of self-consciousness and lack of fresh ideas.
I don't think The Simpsons will ever recapture its brilliance of yesteryear, but an episode written by the UK's own Ricky Gervais could potentially do the impossible. After all, Gervais is a comedian who saw his first ever sitcom, The Office, dominate the world and win countless awards (including two Emmy's). Gervais is a deservedly revered talent, but in the US he's still only a familiar face to comedy insiders -- including The Simpsons' creators, it would seem...
Gervais self-penned episode sees the Simpsons win a tour of the FOX TV studios, whereupon Homer agrees to star in "Wife Flippers" -- a show where the spouses of two families exchange lives for a week. The swap sees Homer facing some home truths from a stern British lady, while Marge finds herself the object of affection for British office manager Charles (voiced by Ricky Gervais).
The episode is crammed with gags, though most of them only really provoke chuckles. It doesn't help that The Simpsons has put similar strains on Homer and Marge's marriage dozens of times in the past, so there's really no fresh dynamic to the story.
Interestingly, the episode is quite indistinguishable from "normal" Simpsons episodes of recent times. Gervais' involvement doesn't seem to have added anything new to the mix. In fact, the sheer amount of Americanism in the show just goes to show how strongly influenced by American popular culture Gervais actually is. Two And A Half Men, Donald Trump, the FOX network, American Idol, all are name-checked like it's going out of fashion...
The character of Charles is perhaps the episode's greatest asset. Charles is nearly identical to The Offices' David Brent (he's an office manager, has a goatee, plays the guitar, etc.) As such it's entertaining to see a cartoon Gervais do his cringe-making shtick in attempts to woo Marge -- culminating in a terrible love guitar-based love song -- though hardly original stuff.
Charles doesn't make his appearance until half-way through the episode, so his involvement in things is also somewhat rushed. Until his introduction, the show is content to paddle water with Homer's love of Lenny's HD TV set, which certainly produces plenty of witty one-liners and sight gags from the Simpsons characters gathered at a party.
Overall, I thought the episode was of reasonable quality. There were some funny moments sprinkled about, quite a few chucklesome sight gags, and a good vocal performance from Ricky Gervais himself. But that's about it. The storyline was pedestrian, the mass-media targets easy picking for Gervais, and it did nothing to remind me of the glory days of the show ten years ago.
I would be interested to see Gervais return to the show (he's apparently been invited to by creator Matt Groening) but next time I hope he's more willing to stretch out and write a plot that moves beyond his own obsessions...
RATING: 3 / 5
Saturday, 22 April 2006
SEASON 2. 22 Apr 06. BBC 1, 7:15 p.m.
WRITER: Russell T. Davies DIRECTOR: Euros Lyn
CAST: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Pauline Collins (Queen Victoria), Ian Hanmore (Father Angelo), Michelle Duncan (Isobel), Jamie Sives (Reynolds), Ron Donachie (Steward), Tom Smith (Host), Ruth Milne (Flora) & Derek Riddell (Robert).
The Doctor and Rose arrive in 19th-Century Scotland, where they must protect Queen Victoria herself from a vicious werewolf and a group of warrior Monks...
Russell T. Davies' scripts come in for a lot of criticism from fans, myself included, but Tooth & Claw finally proves that Davies can write a decent Doctor Who episode if he puts his mind to it. Perhaps it's because Tooth & Claw is another episode set in the past -- by far the most successful setting for Doctor Who in terms production design (the BBC may have problems creating the future, but they can do the past in their sleep.)
Tooth & Claw is another old-fashioned horror story, similar in tone to last year's The Unquiet Dead by Mark Gatiss. Davies' story finds The Doctor and Rose helping thwart a secret society of warrior Monks, who have laid a trap to "infect" Queen Victoria with a werewolf gene and usher in the "Empire Of The Wolf".
David Tennant improves upon the tepid start last week, but his Doctor is still fairly ineffective until the final moments (heck, even the kitchen staff discover how to protect themselves against the werewolf before he does!) However, the sense of fun and eccentricity is more potent with Tennant than it ever was with Ecclestone, but so far it's been at the expense of feeling The Doctor is the all-knowing hero he should be.
The most notable guest star in Tooth & Claw is Pauline Collins as Queen Victoria (known to international audiences as Shirley Valentine, perhaps -- the actress, not the royal). She's pretty good all things considered, but isn't really given much to sink her teeth into beyond a few good speeches that remind you of Judi Dench's performance in Mrs Brown.
As I mentioned earlier, the production design for the episode's Scottish location is exemplory. Windswept highland locales, sinister castle dungeon, luxurious dining rooms -- all classic Victoriana that truly breathes life and believability into the 1879 time period.
Fans of special effects won't be disappointed either. The effects for the werewolf are fabulous and a high benchmark for the show so far. The transformation sequence is very similar to the one in Harry Potter & The Prizoner Of Azkaban, while the fully-transformed wolf reminded me of the creature in Van Helsing. All very good, with only a few shots that don't stand up to very close scrutiny. There are even some Matrix-style wire-fu in early scenes, so plenty for FX lovers to admire.
Amazingly, Davies' script is also genuinely funny and not littered with weak gags that drag the show down. Of particular delight is Rose's attempts to get Queen Victoria to utter the phrase "we are not amused". By the finale, it's also very satisfying that every plot strand is properly resolved and the denouement even offers fans a few questions to ponder...
Overall, Tooth & Claw is one of the best Who episodes since the show returned last year, and a promising rebuttal to fans that Russell T. Davies has the chops to write decent adventure stories after all. I just hope this trend continues, and isn't just limited to shows set in the past...
A definite highlight for Doctor Whooooooooooooo. Sorry, I couldn't resist.
NEXT WEEK: It's back to school with Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy) guest staring alongside Elisabeth Sladen (back as ex-Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane Smith), the return of robot dog K-9, and some flying monsters!
Friday, 21 April 2006
I was never a big radio listener in my youth -- so no tales of eagerly recording the Top 40 onto cassette tape, or anything like that. But that all changed in 1997 when I started full-time work and radio became the background sound to my working day.
As with all young men I was conditioned by the media and friends to listen to BBC Radio 1. I'll admit that now, at the still spritely age of 27, I have begun to delve into the world of BBC 2 for Steve Wright In The Afternoon and The Chris Evans Show, but Radio 1 is still, er, number 1! There aren't many radio show reviews on the internet, so I just thought I'd share my views on the current Radio 1 daily line-up.
7 am - 10 am: The Chris Moyles Breakfast Show
The flagship Radio 1 Breakfast Show, now enjoying massive ratings (only narrowly pipped to the post by Radio 2's Terry Wogan) after the departure of Sara Cox a few years back.
Chris Moyles' motormouth attitude, sometimes abrasive behaviour to listeners and disparaging remarks to guests isn't to everyone's taste, but personally I find him the most enjoyable breakfast listen at the moment.I was a fan of his fantastic afternoon show, and the Breakfast Show hasn't really changed the hit formula. The show has the best production team backing its host, with Chris' longtime sidekick "Comedy Dave" particularly amusing, along with the high-quality of celebrity guests that the flagship show attracts.
The only thing that can frustrate me about the show is the reliance on studio banter to fuel everything. While the banter is undoubtedly a highlight most of the time, it's unfortunate that the show doesn't have more genuinely involving games/quizes/competitions to sustain itself. Those it does have are okay (again, typically lending themselves to banter -- as with the Monday Night Pub Quiz) but when there is the occassional clunker it seems to take months to drop a crap feature! One such example is the recent Beep Beep Busters, a spoof of Blockbusters using audio clips of Roy Walker. This is a weak follow-up to Carpark Catchphrase, but is still lingering in the schedule...
But overall, the combination of a strong team, frequently funny banter, top quality guests and Chris' love-it-or-hate-it style is a winner in my books!
Rating: 4 / 5
10 am - 1 pm: Jo Whiley
Jo Whiley is the longest-serving Radio 1 presenter in the daytime, and her show is a more relaxed affair. Typically it features entertainment news (including movie reviews with James King), and the celebrated Live Lounge with the musical stars occassionally singing some great cover tracks.
There is the odd competition sprinkled throughout, and a celebrity guest interview at midday (usually) but the show is mainly dominated by Jo, who comes across as a very old-school DJ. Undoubtedly a nice person with a relaxed style and genuine love of music, but also too safe and repetitive for my taste.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
1 pm - 4 pm: Colin & Edith
The newest additions to Radio 1, Colin Murray and Edith Bowman, host the early afternoon show with the emphasis on interactivity with listeners and chat usually aimed at those who remember 70's/80's retro TV, music and film.
On paper this should be a show aimed squarely at me, really, but Colin and Edith's faux sexual chemistry just leaves me cold. The fact both presenters have strong accents (Colin, Irish; Edith, Scottish) also means listening to them isn't the most relaxing thing to do and their vocals can quickly become irritating. Particularly when you notice home many times Edith says "eh" in a sentence. I counted 5 times in a single sentence once!
Both are relatively new to radio, having done TV work previously (and currently) so there are also lots of moments that just show up their inexperience with the format. The competitions and "chemistry" throughout the show is never very memorable, meaning the show only really raises a chuckle when they mention some facet of pop-culture from the 80's that strikes a chord with me...
Rating: 2 / 5
4 pm - 7 pm: Scott Mills
For many, Scott is the natural successor to the Breakfast Show whenever Moyles leaves. He has definitely earned his stripes deputizing the role for years, and even got his Radio 1 start on Early Breakfast before 6 am.
Scott's show is dominated by practical jokes, spoof phone calls, and unique features/games that listeners tend to embrace (the best example being Laura's Diary, wherein team member Laura had her school love-life exposed to the nation in daily chunks).
There's no denying the quality and quantity of fresh material in Scott's show. He's clearly someone in love with the possibilities and fun you can have on radio, and perhaps speaks to the younger demographic better than any other DJ in daytime.
However, the downside to Scott's show is that the team dynamic is decidely low. Scott's usual sidekick is sports reporter "Chappers" who proves good value most of the time, but only rarely offers flashes of brilliance for Scott to riff on. The rest of the team are pushed into the background by the number of phone calls and games, with only Laura coming to the fore recently as "comedy stooge" in light of her diary features' popularity.
Rating: 3 / 5
Overall, Radio 1 during the daytime is in a bit of a state. Thankfully Moyles and Mills bookend the day in fine style (in the crucial timeslots most people listen to while travelling), but the mid-section of Whiley, Colin and Edith let everything down.
Whiley is just too straightlaced and old-hat these days. Strangely, Sara Cox (who I hated on The Breakfast Show) has occassionally filled in for Jo to excellent effect. It's always interesting when another DJ performs better with another show's format. Cox has clearly improved since her days on Breakfast during her weekend shows.
As for Colin and Edith? I preferred a dose of surrealism from Mark & Lard in the afternoons a few years ago, but C&E's real fault lies in their inability to craft a worthwhile show. Colin is quite quick-witted s, while Edith is just the amiable presence to back him up. Whoever decides their show's format needs to shake things up with some decent features and games.
So there you have it, Radio 1 circa mid-2006. I have no idea what happens after 6 p.m -- as far as I can tell Zane Lowe shouts a lot and there's an overuse of Bangra music!
Thursday, 20 April 2006
Wednesday, 19 April 2006
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - Season 2 - Eps 13-16
There's no denying Battlestar Galactica's quality in every aspect of its production, but it's been disapppointing to see the show dip in quality after the stunning "Resurrection Ship" two-parter mid-season 2.
Warning: spoilers for episodes 13-16 - shown on Sky One
2.13 "Epiphanies", concerning President Roslin's cancer wasn't terrible, but it was disappointing to see a potentially fascinating demise of a main character so quickly resolved. The episode also felt rushed due to Roslin's sudden "touch-and-go" status in the very first scene!
2.14 "Black Market" offered an interesting concept about the criminal underground at work amongst the fleet, but just didn't provide much meat to a fairly weak story. It didn't help that I continue to find Lee Adama the least interesting main character on the show.
2.15 "Scar" was full of nice CGI space sequences, but its story about a particularly cunning Cylon Raider was a clear steal from Space: Above & Beyond's Chiggy Von Richthoffen episodes. It also didn't help that the supposedly notorious Raider's attacks had never been mentioned by anybody before now! We could have used some foreshadowing of Scar's activities in prior episodes. Oh, and the overused flashback/forward plotting made an unwelcome return again...
2.16 "Sacrifice" was the last episode aired on Sky One, and another example of an interesting concept laden with a weak plot stretched to fill an episode. Here, a recently bereaved woman take hostages aboard Cloud Nine in an effort to get Adama to kill their captive Cylon informer. This could have been a taut hostage negotiation piece (sci-fi style), but ultimately it just became a waste of time thanks to poor characterizations, plenty of cliches, and an obvious final "trick". Its only redeeming feature was the demise of BSG's most pointless secondary character. Finally!
Anyway, I've been reliably informed that BSG regains its oomph as it nears the end of season 2, after this four episode "blip". But it's worrying that BSG has dropped the ball this early in its run. We're only 29 episodes into the series now (season 1 was only 13 episodes long, remember), and I've already begun to sense that BSG seems content to "coast along" between its big reveals...
So, I expect a fantastic finale to the season, and a great opening to season 3. I just don't want BSG to drag its heels between "main events" next year...
Tuesday, 18 April 2006
We left the spoof movie at the end of the 80's, having journeyed from the genre's golden age in the 70's (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) through to the trail-blazing 80's (Airplane!, Naked Gun). But, the genre was about to suffer a terrible time in the 90's...
Leslie Nielsen, now considered a comedy actor thanks to his roles in Airplane! and Naked Gun, starred in Repossessed in 1990, with Linda Blair reprising her infamous childhood role as a girl possessed by demonic forces in The Exorcist. But, while Repossessed does contain a few good moments, the targets it aims for are very outdated.
David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker (ZAZ) parted company after Naked Gun 2 1/2 The Smell Of Fear (1991), and Jim Abrahams branched off with spoof writer Pat Proft to create Hot Shots! (1991), a pastiche of Top Gun with Charlie Sheen. Hot Shots! is now considered a minor classic of the genre and also confirmed Lloyd Bridges (Airplane!) as another aging actor given a career boost akin to Nielsen...
1993 saw Hot Shots! spawn a sequel, Hot Shots: Part Deux. Abrahams and Proft again reteamed to parody more action movies, this time focusing on the Rambo franchise. Unlike Airplane's sequel, Hot Shots Part Deux is a great follow-up, with many people prefering it to the original. Interestingly, it is the first spoof to directly parody current events (the Gulf War) which added topical hilarity...
The year would become quite a hot spot for spoofs, driven by the huge success of the Naked Gun and Hot Shots! series. National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 parodied Lethal Weapon, with a pre-Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson and Emilio Estevez, to amusing effect; Fatal Instinct parodied Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction to lesser success; and the old master Mel Brooks returned with Robin Hood: Men In Tights. Sadly, his Robin Hood performed even more dismally than Spaceballs at the box-office, thanks to its schoolboy humour.
But it was Dracula Dead & Loving It (1995) that put the nail in Brooks' spoof comedy coffin, with Leslie Nielsen struggling to win laughs through a weak interpretation of the Dracula legend. It should have emulated Young Frankenstein, but the weak knockabout humour of Robin Hood took precedence, to even less effect.
Nielsen again returned in a below-par spoof entitled Spy Hard (1996). The less said about that, the better. Also that same year, Tim Burton spoofed classic alien invasion pics with Mars Attacks!, while Jon Lovitz spoofed the high school movie in High School High.
With dozens of weak imitators clogging the pipeline in the 90's, a ray of hope was offered by comedian Mike Myers with Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997). A sly parody of James Bond and spy movies in general, Austin Powers was actually a box-office dud that only later became a phenomenon on DVD and earned itself two ludicrously successful sequels (1999's The Spy Who Shagged Me and 2003's Goldmember). Interestingly, Myers' creation moved away from the Airplane!-style gaggery and instead took its influence from Mel Brooks' early movies -- having a self-contained story that spoofed genre conventions and cliches to earn its laughs.
In 1997 the cheap spoofs returned in force with Silence Of The Hams and Wrongfully Accused (1998), again with Leslie Nielsen in a latecoming spoof of The Fugitive. By now, Nielsen's name had become synonomous with spoofs -- even all the crass 90's upstarts, sadly...
With Mel Brooks languishing in the wayside, it was now the turn of the "modern masters" who had reinvigorated the genre with Airplane! Jim Abrahams, one third of ZAZ, returned after Hot Shots: Part Deux, with the ill-fated Mafia! (1998). Unfortunately, Mafia!, starring Lloyd Bridges, was another weak movie and a crushing failure for Abrahams.
1998 saw mixed fortunes. The Godson was another mafia-based debacle with Dom DeLuise (don't even rent it, trust me), but the spoof was given a momentary boost with the success of Galaxy Quest. Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman, Galaxy Quest was a thinly-veiled spoof of Star Trek, but had a story and mythology of its own. It was about a group of actors who now attend sci-fi conventions after working in the TV show Galaxy Quest, but are mistaken for intergalactic heroes by real aliens...
The spoof genre saw another step away from the 90's dirge with Scary Movie in 2000. This was a parody of slasher movies, particularly Scream (itself a parody, really). Personally, I'm not a fan of Scary Movie because of its crassness and reliance on simple parodies of pop-culture. Where's the fun and invention of Airplane!? But, whatever my thoughts, Scary Movie did laugh up a lot of money, so sequels became a certainty...
Scary Movie 2 was fast-tracked for release in 2001, but proved a massive disappointment. This was just a weaker variant on the first movie, simply content to mix various movie plots together and weaky parody recent supernatural movies.
It seemed the dirge was creeping back in when Not Another Teen Movie and 2001: A Space Travesty were also released that year.
In 2003, Scary Movie 3 hit cinemas and expectations were higher than deserved. Leslie Nielsen had joined the cast (cause for concern, perhaps), but director David Zucker (one third of ZAZ) was at the helm with his old friend. Could Zucker's talents again reinvigorate the genre? Well, no. Scary Movie 3 was certainly better than Scary Movie 2, but that's not saying much. It again relied too much on pratfalls and imitating other movies.
And, like clockwork, the interminable Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday 13th arrived the same year to ensure the spoof movie stay resolutely in the gutter...
A slight reprieve beckoned again in 2004 with Britain's own Shaun Of The Dead proving itself a brilliant pastiche of zombie movies, managing to scare/laugh up plenty of cash for Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. The creators of TV's South Park also got in on the action with Team America: World Police, which can be seen as a parody of post-9/11 world events, puppett-based 60's adventure series such as Thunderbirds and musicals. "Aids! Aids! Aids! Aids!"
But now, in 2006, Date Movie has just been released to mass derision and Scary Movie 4 is the very latest offering from the genre. Interestingly for spoof fans, Scary Movie 4 is again directed by David Zucker, but is also co-written by his old comedy partner Jim Abrahams. But, despite this near-reformation of ZAZ, I don't hold out much hope on SM4 raising the game...
It seems we're still languishing in a pit of unfunny spoof movies that think they're funny just because they imitate other movies. This is spoof at its most basic, folks!
Hopefully producers will begin to realize what made Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Airplane!, Naked Gun and Hot Shots! so special, and the spoof will be reborn for the 21st-Century. They need their own standalone stories, decent characters, a clever and satirical edge, and less reliance on simple mimicry.
Modern spoofs just lurch from one movie spoof to another, with no regard for internal logic or story. I certainly hope the genre returns to form (and isn't crippled by the cash-in leeches that seem to blight the genre). But as of 2006, the spoof genre is currently a very depressing place to be for fans...
... and Shirley, I am serious...
DAN'S TOP 10 SPOOF MOVIES
02. Monty Python & The Holy Grail
03. Naked Gun
04. Hot Shots: Part Deux
05. Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery
06. Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear
07. Galaxy Quest
08. Hot Shots!
09. Blazing Saddles
10. Shaun Of The Dead
Monday, 17 April 2006
With the release of Scary Movie 4, I thought readers might like a historical overview of spoof movies. I'm sure there were the odd spoof movies before Blazing Saddles, but it's clear that the genre only really began with Mel Brooks' western... so here is part one of my rundown (from 1974 to 1990).
The first notable spoof was Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles (1974), a bonafide classic pastiche on the western movie with Cleavon Little as a black Sheriff and Gene Wilder as burnt-out gunslinger the Waco Kid. Primarily a clever satire on racism, it's also considered a fore-runner to gross-out comedy that perhaps influenced Animal House (1978).
Mel Brooks also released Young Frankenstein in 1974, starring Gene Wilder again (in a script he wrote), that was a more slapstick parody of old-fashioned horror movies, with Marty Feldman as the hunchback Igor. "It's pronounced Fronkensteen!"
Just a year later, in 1975, the Monty Python team released Monty Python And The Holy Grail, a madcap spoof on Arthurian legend. The movie became an instant classic and still tops comedy polls to this day.
1977 became a notable year in "spoofdom" owing to the release of John Landis' Kentucky Fried Movie, as it was the first film written by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker. The trio (hereon referred to as ZAZ) would go on to revolutionize the spoof genre in the 80's...
Also that year, Mel Brooks returned with a spoof of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers with High Anxiety. It didn't generate the same success as his previous releases, but is now regarded quite highly in some circles and is considered a "hidden gem".
The 1980's got off to a phenomenal start with Airplane! (1980), from ZAZ. This was their first true venture into spoof following Kentucky Fried Movie and it rewrote the book, laying out conventions that the genre continues to abide by to this day. Airplane! was essentially a pastiche of airplane disaster movies, yet also parodied a few other movies, most notably Saturday Night Fever. It was most memorable for its ingenius wordplay, visual gags, the sheer volume of silly jokes, and its use of serious actors in key roles -- such as Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and Leslie Nielsen. In fact, Bridges and Nielsen would see their careers dominated by spoof movies thanks to the success of Airplane!
Mel Brooks returned in 1981 with History Of The World Part 1, a clever parody of world history that perhaps looked old-fashioned when compared to Airplane's cutting edge approach, but has still gathered a following in the intervening years.
A mere two years later, Airplane! spawned a sequel in Airplane: The Sequel (1982). Sadly, The Sequel didn't involve ZAZ, and while its more outlandish premise about a space mission just came off as hokey, it does contain enough hilarity make viewing worthwhile, despite many retreads of previous gags. But the classic "door scene" with William Shatner is quite rightly considered one of the funniest sight gags in movies...
1984 saw an upset for ZAZ, when the trio returned to the spoof genre themselves with Top Secret!, a pastiche of World War II and Elvis movies. Again, they cast a straight man (a young Val Kilmer) in the lead, but while Top Secret! does contain some memorable sight gags (the big phone, the magnifying glass) it is still an acquired taste...
The same year, writer-director Christopher Guest unleashed This Is Spinal Tap - a parody of British rock bands and the music industry. It was a massive success and is now considered a classic with its pioneering documentary-style to sell the realism to audiences. "These go up to eleven..."
Spaceballs was a massive flop for Mel Brooks in 1987, although appreciation has grown since its release. The movie was a parody of science-fiction, particularly Star Wars and Star Trek, and despite its crudity compared to Brooks' earlier works, it is still quite funny in places -- with the Alien spoof a particular highlight...
Director John Landis also returned with another spoof movie following Kentucky Fried Movie, with Amazon Women On The Moon. The movie was similar in spirit to KFM with its sketch-based approach, although only a few sketches are memorable. But I have to admit the opening with Arsenio Hall having a particularly bad day always has me in stitches...
1988 became another key moment in spoof movie history with the release of Naked Gun, starring Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin, an inept police detective out to stop an assassination of Queen Elizabeth II. The Naked Gun was based on a failed spoof TV series by ZAZ called Police Squad (1982), and was a return to form for the trio.
Many critics at the time commented that Naked Gun had more jokes in it than every other comedy released that decade! The Naked Gun would continue with two sequels (1991's The Smell Of Fear, a decent follow-up; and 1994's The Final Insult, a hit-and-miss affair with enough humour to keep it from sinking.)
In the next part of my History Of Spoof, I'll continue the rundown as the genre hits a very rocky patch in the 90's...
Saturday, 15 April 2006
SEASON 2. 15 Apr 06. BBC 1, 7:15 p.m.
WRITER: Russell T. Davies DIRECTOR: James Hawes
CAST: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey), Zoe Wannamaker (Cassandra), Michael Fitzgerald (Duke), Lucy Robinson (Clovis), Dona Croll (The Matron), Adjoa Andoh (The Sister), Anna Hope (The Novice) & Sean Gallagher (Chip)
The Doctor takes Rose to visit mankind's new home, in the far future. But, Lady Cassandra is out for revenge...
Doctor Who returned to our screens with a new face in the TARDIS, self-confessed Whovian David Tennant. Freed from the expectations and massive publicity of Who's return last year, the second series has a lot to build upon. Series 1 was undoubtedly a huge success story for the BBC, but more discerning viewers were quick to note the show's failings. Can Who 2 fill in the cracks?
New Earth is written by executive producer Russell T. Davies, whose scripts last year became notorious for their, well, relative mundanity when compared to the rest of the series. Unfortunately, Davies story is again typical of the new Doctor Who simply going through the motions, with little thought for logic and anything approaching originality.
Essentially, the story concerns The Doctor discovering that a futuristic hospital in New New York (yes, a gag stolen from Futurama) has erradicated all disease -- but of course there's a sinister downside to this apparent Utopia. Elsewhere, Rose is again unrealistically split from The Doctor and has her body inhabited by Cassanda (the "last human" supposedly destroyed last year in The End Of The World).
Russell T. Davies indulges himself in his own written mythology, with two aliens making a return to the series in New Earth. Unfortunately, this really just reminds viewers that there's nothing new to see here. The structure of the story is pedestrian, hampered by the return of that godawful incidental music, and the comedy elements are somewhat forced (although Rose-Cassandra gets a few good lines).
It's also a little tiring that so many episodes limit themselves to stage-bound "satellites", "space stations" and now a "hospital". This episode was even publicized as new Who's first show to be set on an alien planet, but we're quickly shoved inside within ten minutes! No matter what the creators do, all interiors on the show seem to have a false feeling that never goes away, no matter how many CGI cityscapes the effects wizards greenscreen into every window!
David Tennant has already proven himself a worthy successor to Christopher Ecclestone in The Christman Invasion last year, but it's a little disappointing that New Earth doesn't give him much opportunity to expand on the role. The only new impression we get from this episode is that he's more of an action-man (would Ecclestone's Doc have slid down an elevator cable with Rose on his back?)
Elsewhere, the only really memorable aspect to New Earth was some fantastic make-up effect for the cat-like inhabitants of New New York, and some pretty good shots of the CGI hospital. Zoe Wannamaker is always good value, no matter how her ludicrous her character's return is.
Overall, by the time New Earth devolves into a zombie movie, the plot turns get more silly and unlikely (the over-used Cassandra body-swaps, the Doc's solution being a silly disinfectant idea, etc). Typically of a Russell T. Davies script, it just stinks of old-hat throughout and didn't offer anything of any real interest or meat for audiences over 10 years of age. This was just another half-decent children's adventure, basically. However, if this is what you expect from Doctor Who, that's fine -- but for those of us who believe children's imaginations deserve to be stretched more, New Earth is just a silly run-of-the-mill adventure...
NEXT WEEK: The Doctor and Rose travel back in time to meet Queen Victoria and protect her from a frightening werewolf!
Friday, 14 April 2006
For anyone who enjoyed Shaun Of The Dead, you'll be pleased to hear that the same team have just started work on Hot Fuzz, about a successful London cop (Nicholas Angel) who is seconded to the sleepy West Country village of Sandford, which is not quite as idyllic as it first appears...
Once again Edgar Wright will direct, with Simon Pegg starring as Angel. Nick Frost (Shaun's Ed) will co-star, alongside British thesps Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton and Martin Freeman (The Office).
Even better, the production has its own video blogs, available here. Personally, I'm not particularly won over by the premise of Hot Fuzz, but have faith in the geeky delights of the team behind Spaced. Not sure if Hot Fuzz will have quite the appeal in foreign territories, compared to zombie black-comedy Shaun Of The Dead. But we'll see...
Wednesday, 12 April 2006
Tuesday, 11 April 2006
Having been off work for a few days, I've rediscovered a wonderful show now tucked away on BBC 1 in the afternoons called Monk, starring Tony Shalhoub (Galaxy Quest) as Adrien Monk, a brilliant San Francisco detective with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), whose affliction actually gives him an incisive viewpoint to solve crimes...
Monk isn't a new find for me, but since it transferred to daytime TV I haven't seen any of it. I'm not likely to again either unless I'm sick, invest in Sky+, or the Beeb bless us with a late-night repeat. Even a weekend omnibus would be great, Aunty Beeb...
It's one of those rare shows that is ideal family viewing, yet not humdrum so that it alienates the younger audience. Each week Monk basically solves a crime using a combination of his obsessive-compulsive attitude to the crime scenes, photographic memory, and old-fashioned detective work.
The crimes are never particularly bloody, or even wholly believable at times, let's be honest -- but that's not the point. This is old school "murder-as-entertainment" in the same mould as Murder, She Wrote and Columbo, so forget any CSI expectations!
If there is one criticism to Monk, it's that the show sometimes shows the murderer's crime to the viewer very early on, meaning the entertainment comes solely from Monk's investigation. While this is fine occassionally, I'd much prefer being treated with intelligence and have Monk's eventual summation of "whodunnit?" to be something that wasn't obvious to me after the first 10 minutes!
But, even with this flaw to some of the episodes, Monk survives it due to its off-beat style, a wonderful central performance from Tony Shalhoub, fine support from the regular cast (including Silence Of The Lambs' Buffalo Bill as Captain Stottlemeyer!) and some excellent guest stars, such as: John Turturro (The Big Lebowski), Tim Curry (Rocky Horror), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), James Brolin and Willie Nelson, amongst others.
So if you're ever off sick from work, I recommend catching Monk (and perhaps e-mail the BBC to give it a primetime repeat for those of us who don't want Sky+!)