Friday, 30 June 2006

WOLVERINE - Script Review

X-Men III has done good business, despite mixed reviews, although it's widely agreed it's the weakest of the X-Men movies. I'm sure a fourth X-Men movie is just around the corner, but let's hope Brett Ratner isn't at the helm...

Anyway, what about the current state of those X-Men spin-offs we've been hearing about this past year? Wolverine and Magneto are characters who are expected to get their own movies, with Sir Ian McKellen already confirming his spin-off will be a prequel, and that he'll perhaps reprise his role to "bookend" the movie with present day scenes.

Wolverine is now known to be a prequel too, written by David Benioff. A review of the script has been posted online at latinoreview.com, but does contain massive spoilers. But, if you're keen to learn what happened to Logan before joining up with Rogue in X1, then read this.

Thursday, 29 June 2006

SOUTHLAND TALES - Success or Failure?


So what's going on with Southland Tales?

Never heard of it? Well, allow me to elaborate...

Southland Tales is a sci-fi movie arriving in cinemas this summer from writer-director Richard Kelly. Now, Kelly's hardly a household name, but he's a cult in certain circles thanks to his last movie – Donnie Darko (2001). You may have heard about it. Anyway, expectation is very high amongst fans of Donnie and also people who enjoy the sort of mind-bending science fiction Tales seems to be.

The movie is set in the near-future, after a nuclear attack on L.A in 2008. This attack sends American into war, and the resulting scarcity of fuel results in a company called USIDent creating an inexhaustible energy source from ocean currents. Into this strange backdrop we follow four characters: Boxer Santaros (The Rock), an action-movie star with amnesia; Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an ex-porn star; and twin brothers Ronald and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott). These characters' destinies all collide in the movie and they have to save the world...

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Well, your interest may also be raised by the fact 3 graphic novels are going to be released prior to the movie. These novels tell the first 3 parts of the story (Two Roads Converge, Fingerprints and The Mechanicals). The actual movie will complete the story with 3 "chapters" of its own: Tempation Waits, Memory Gospel and Wave Of Mutilation.

So far, so good. Southland Tales should be one of this year's most talked about movies when it hits, right? It certainly seems like just the sort of multi-format sci-fi epic that genre fans really lap up. Remember The Matrix sequels and their variety of tie-ins? Well, unfortunately, Southland Tales hit a snag. It was called The Canne Film Festival. You see, Kelly's sophomore movie was entered into competition at the Festival for the coveted Palme d'Or... and reviews were bad. Very bad. In fact, the movie was slammed by practically every critic who saw it for being too long, too convoluted and too impenetrable. Ouch.

Right now Kelly is hammering away trying to edit the 3-hour movie into a more athletic 2 hours 15 minutes. It's a cut that could potentially make or break Kelly's career. Donnie Darko was a phenomenal success on DVD, prompting many magazines to declare it Best Film Of The Year. This late success prompted a Director's Cut, its "Mad World" closing song to reach Christmas Number 1 in the UK music charts, and also launched the career of Jake Gyllenhaal. Since then, Kelly has worked on a few unproduced scripts (including The Box with director Eli Roth), but his only produced bit of work post-Darko has been the script to Domino –- a movie that was slated by critics. Well, apparently his original screenplay was heavily rewritten, so he avoided much of the backlash...

But, all of this means Kelly has something to prove. He's in danger of being the movie equivalent of a One Hit Wonder. Southland Tales needs to work. Early word on the project was very positive, and expectations were massive earlier this year, but the Cannes catastrophe has brought everyone crashing back down to a more rational level now. Has Kelly let success go to his head and given us a totally unfocused mess of a movie, packed full of interesting ideas but ultimately laborious and pretentious?

Well, let's just see what the final edit looks like, eh? Donnie Darko also performed badly at Cannes, and it's now considered one of the best movies of the decade and a seminal teen flick! For now, visit www.southlandtales.com for some interesting and unusual content...

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

TRAILER PARK: Spider-Man 3

With all the hoopla about Superman's return, everyone's forgotten about Spider-Man! Director Sam Raimi returns next year with the third Spidey adventure, this time co-starring Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways) as Sandman and Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) as new love-interest Gwen Stacey.

The teaser announces "How long... can any any man fight the darkness... before he finds it in himself..." as an oil-like substance consumes the Spider-Man logo, before we pull out to reveal Spider-Man in a black costume sitting atop a church tower.


From there, Spidey leaps down and we see him struggling to take this "costume" off, mixed with footage of Harry Osbourne and MJ, who asks "what's happened to you?", before we see Peter Parker on a bed... and an oily creature grabs his hand. Comic-book fans will know this to be an evil "Symbiote"...


There follows more clips of Peter trying to rip his costume off, before declaring "I have to stop it!" and we hit cut to "NEXT SUMMER" and a sequence of clips: Spidey leaping across the sky, the Sandman bursting out the side of a building like a giant, Peter kissing MJ in a web...

... Harry in a Green Goblin outfit, Spidey battling Sandman in a subway, Peter dancing with Gwen Stacey, Harry almost hit by a pumpkin bomb, Peter falling whilst trying to grab a ring, the Green Goblin smashing into a wall, and Peter pulling open his shirt to reveal the black costume again!


Finally, there's a nice pullout to reveal black-suit Spidey hanging upside down... staring at a reflection of his red-blue suited self in the reflection of a glass window... and the simple word "3" appears.

Spider-Man 3 will hit US cinemas on 4 May 2007. But be sure to check out the teaser in High-Definition for yourself here -- right now!

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

SAXONDALE - Episode 2 - TV REVIEW
Series 1. 26 Jun 06. BBC 2, 10:00 pm
WRITERS: Steve Coogan & Neil Maclennon DIRECTOR: Matt Lipsey
CAST: Steve Coogan (Tommy Saxondale), Ruth Jones (Magz), Rasmus Hardiker (Raymond), Alexander Armstrong (Jerome), James Bachman (Therapist), Adrian Scarborough (Chairman) & Dave (Dave Fulton).


The second episode of a sitcom is often considered a better indicator of a show's quality than the first. This is mainly because opening episodes have a lot of scene-setting to get the characters and the world they inhabit straight in our minds. It's only in second episodes that the laughs can come relatively free of this exposition, and you tend to get a better idea of how funny a show will be...

Well, the second episode of Steve Coogan's new sitcom Saxondale confirms this belief -– most of the time. There are undoubtedly more laughs than last week, but more interesting is how much broader Coogan plays the eponymous ex-roadie. Here, Tommy Saxondale's dour nature is often exchanged for face-pulling vaguely reminiscent of Alan Partridge, while his anger-management issues get a proper workout (as Tommy is riled at his anger-management class, beats up a stuffed squirrel, and gets upset with a celebrity motor enthusiast...)

But not all the comedy is played for easy laughs this week, there's still an emphasis on witticisms and offhand comments that may not provoke belly-laughs, but are achingly clever when you think about them. There are definite signs that Saxondale will be able to get the balance right and produce a sitcom that works in a number of areas.

Episode 2 essentially revolved around Magz's T-shirt shop "Smash The System", which is closed down by authorities unsure if a selling obscene T-shirts next to a Bridal boutique is the best idea. This leads Tommy to help his girlfriend under the grounds of freedom of speech. Meanwhile, Tommy and Raymond arrive at the home of Jerome, a TV celebrity motoring pundit who takes an interest in Tommy's Ford Mustang...

Ruth Jones gets to flex her comedy muscles as Magz a bit more, although her character is still very much the straight woman. Jones brings a believable and warm-hearted side to the show, and will hopefully develop further as the series progresses.

Alexander Armstrong is the main guest star this week as Jerome, a clear parody of Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson. Armstrong is a strong comic actor and manages to embody many of Clarkson's mannerisms perfectly. Coogan himself is no stranger to Top Gear (having guest-starred numerous times), and pokes fun at the show's format and Clarkson's presenting style with reckless abandon.

Overall, this was another strong episode that provided enough indicators that Saxondale could have mileage in its premise. There is a slight concern for me that Tommy appeared to be more of a clear-cut comedy character than last week's restrained performance, but if Coogan wants to just cut loose and have some fun, then who am I to argue? There's still the expected high-quality of writing permeating the entire show, particularly in a mishandled impassioned speech that touches on the merits of Sid Vicious...

Monday, 26 June 2006

DOCTOR WHO - "Fear Her" - TV REVIEW
Season 2. 24 Jun 06. BBC 1, 7:00 pm
DIRECTOR: Euros Lyn WRITER: Matthew Graham
CAST: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Abisola Agbaje (Chloe Webber), Edna Dore (Maeve), Nina Sosanya (Trish Webber), Tim Faraday (Tom's Dad), Erica Eirlan (Neighbour), Stephen Marzella (Policeman), Richard Nicholls (Driver), Abdul Salis (Kel) & Huw Edwards (Announcer)

When the TARDIS lands in 2012, The Doctor plans to show Rose the London Olympics... but they discover that children on a housing estate are vanishing into thin air...

In preparation for the budget-busting finale, Doctor Who provides the obligatory "filler" episode; a simple story with minimal locations and special-effects. Fear Her is written by new Who writer Matthew Graham, co-creator of the BBC's recent time-travel hit drama Life On Mars. Unfortunately, this pedigree doesn't translate into a quality episode, with Graham struggling to pull the plot together into a coherent and plausible whole.

The premise is very reminiscent of various Twilight Zone episodes, whereby a seemingly innocent child hides supernatural powers that affects the world around them. Here, lonely Chloe Webber (Abisola Agbaje) is able make things disappear by drawing them, only to see them magically appear as "living pictures" on her paper. It's a decent enough basis for a mystery episode, and Fear Her has its moments, but it's ultimately a little bland and uninvolving.

The 2012 London Olympics are omnipresent throughout the show -- the Olympic Torch itself due to pass by the housing estate (Dame Kelly Holmes Close, tee-hee) -- but the manner in which the Olympic angle is belated used to solve the dilemma is quite irksome. At its heart, this is a simple story and should have been content to focus on its main theme (of a girl possessed by an alien child with good intentions, but unreasonable actions). Instead, Fear Her shoehorns in a resolution that provokes one of the unintentionally ridiculous moments on Doctor Who this year, and almost destroys the whole show.

David Tennant is nearing the end of his first year as The Doctor, and is still playing a one-note character full of enthusiasm and misplaced envy of the human race. It's about time The Doctor's hard edge and cynical side, semi-present last year with Christopher Ecclestone, was returned. As it stands, Tennant is struggling to make the persistently chipper attitude anything more than mildly watchable. The Doctor should be a mix of conflicting styles and emotions, always keeping the audience on their toes, but we've had none of that this year.

Billie Piper is quickly becomes tiresome and predictable as Rose. Her character and relationship with The Doctor is really stagnating now, and it's coming as something of a relief that Piper is set to be replaced for the third series. The show really does need an injection of new companion blood --– worryingly, this is coming after just 25 episodes. The writers should take heed and ensure the next companion has more shades to their character than just a do-gooder.

The supporting cast for Fear Her are fine, but nobody really stands out. Abisola Agbaje is fairly good as Chloe, particularly in a spooky Exorcist-lite scene between her and The Doctor. Nina Sosanya is criminally wasted as mother Trish Webber, while other actors play neighbours pushed into the background for expositional purposes.

Visual effects are minimal, beyond a few animated sequences of "living drawings" and a quite unlikely "scribble creature". The production design is quite limp, just a standard red-brick street of houses and quite weak attempts to replicate the excitement and fervor of a capital city awaiting an Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Overall, Fear Her is a bit of a mess. The general idea is sound, and the alien explanation interesting (yet convoluted), but the final resolution is just completely mishandled and unintentionally hilarious. The plot lashes about, content to downplay any threat with some weak "comedy duo" interludes with The Doctor and Rose ("keep 'em peeled"). There are a few moments that work -- the possession scene, the "monster in the cupboard", and occasionally on-target laughs ("fingers on lips!"), but not enough to rescue a meandering and tonally awkward story.

NEXT WEEK: The end is near. The Doctor and Rose discover Torchwood...

Sunday, 25 June 2006

DMD - Issue 175

Another new edition of Dan's Movie Digest at DVD Fever! This week, Issue #175 explores Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 & 5, 30 Days Of Night, Drillbit Taylor, Wrong Turn 2, Jackass 2, Kavalier & Clay, and Vantage Point. There's also the usual UK/US box-office charts and a list of movies that will be gracing cinema screens soon!

Friday, 23 June 2006

THE INTERNET OF INTEREST

Just thought I'd share some articles that caught my eye whilst surfing the internet this past week:

Hope you've enjoyed the recent DVD reviews, too. I know they're hardly the latest releases, but they're worthy of mention and hopefully you found them enjoyable to read (if so, leave a comment, don't be shy!)

Thursday, 22 June 2006

"THE DESCENT" (2005) – SPECIAL EDITION - DVD REVIEW
REGION 2. £14.99 (RRP) PICTURE: 1.85:1 (WIDESCREEN) AUDIO: DD5.1
DIRECTOR: Neil Marshall WRITER: Neil Marshall
CAST: Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), Natalie Jackson Mendoza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), Myanna Buring (Sam), Nora-Jane Noone (Holly), more

A few years ago, a low-budget action/horror movie called Dog Soldiers made respectable profit at the UK box-office and gathered cult status amongst worldwide horror aficionados. Writer-director Neil Marshall's pulpy "soldiers vs. werewolves" opus may have been flawed and scrappy, but it remained refreshingly different from the usual British output.

Marshall returns with a bigger budget, but keeps the same guerilla-style, with The Descent. It's another gleefully old-fashioned horror adventure with a simple premise: a team of women extreme-sporters descend into an uncharted cave, only to face natural disasters and awaken some unnatural predators…

The Descent undoubtedly takes it cues from movies like Alien, building suspense to breaking point with carefully constructed set-pieces and in fleshing out the characters beforehand. There's nothing particularly different or original once the monsters are revealed, although the caving premise is actually quite fresh (although the similarly themed The Cave was released soon after…) But no matter, because with half the budget of The Cave, Marshall shows the Yanks how to crank up the tension with some genuine scares and well-placed chills.

From the same mould of Dog Soldiers (single-sex team confront supernatural predators in a natural territory), this is another mix of engaging characters and superbly realized make-up effects. While Dog Soldiers' budget meant the werewolves resembled men with giant Alsatian heads, the "Crawlers" in The Descent are thankfully of a more human design (half-Gollum, half-caveman) -- a great addition to the pantheon of movie monsters.

What makes the movie so effective is the time it takes to ensure you invest in the characters. In fact, for almost half its run-time, the tension, suspense and moments of horror are all character and situation based. There's a superb moment that replicated the feeling of claustrophobia inside a cave that is just perfection, and a queasy broken leg scene that's certainly not for the squeamish. In fact, so good is the first half of The Descent, that you'll be forgiven for thinking the appearance monsters is actually disappointing after the initial shock value.

This is blood-soaked fun as the intrepid women cavers make the titular descent into madness as their perilous situation becomes increasingly frightening and seemingly insurmountable. Kudos must go to all the actors involved -- particularly those actresses who ensure their death scenes actually carry some resonance and leave you numb. The actors playing the slimy Crawlers also use their body languages very effectively (almost miming their nastiness), while the production design and special-effects are fantastic. The film is not reliant on CGI and it old-fashioned in-camera effects give everything that raw, gritty reality computers can't replicate.

But there is a negative; the ending is too drawn out and clever-clever for its own good. A stronger and more definitive finale would have been preferable to the moody scene we get, which could also leave many people scratching their heads in confusion. But, beyond that, The Descent is a great exercise in terror that does exactly what it says on the tin. Neil Marshall may be the shining light of horror Britain needs right now, and on the evidence of this far more accomplished sophomore effort, I'm really looking forward to his future projects…

DVD REVIEW

PICTURE: The Descent is a very dark film and the purity of the blackness isn't always 100% in the cave sequences, with some grain and noise visible. However, none of this is very distracting and the transfer copes well considering. The daylight scenes are all heavily contrasted, giving the film a bleached effect similar to Saving Private Ryan. Overall, the picture isn't perfect, but it does a commendable job under such difficult conditions.

SOUND: No problems with sound, as the DTS and DD5.1 soundtracks are fantastic experiences full of echoing and a continuous feeling of dread. The Crawlers themselves are effective primarily through clever use of surround sound effects, with them scuttling about your speakers. The cave location is just a great place for a filmmaker to have some fun with surround sound, so falling rocks have plenty of bass and the rear speakers whistle with wind and drips of rainwater. The musical score is also well mixed with the dialogue.

EXTRA FEATURES:

Disk 1: Commentary Tracks. The first is with director Marshall and five of the cast, the other with the director and some crew. Both are generally quite rambling and uninteresting, with just a few anecdotes to keep your interest.

Disk 2: Making Of Documentary. This is quite a good little documentary that does an effective job of showing the filming of the movie. A few on-set interviews are sprinkled throughout, together with some insight into the training undertaken by the female cast and creature designs.

Extended Scenes. Non-anamorphic widescreen footage of certain scenes, correctly excised for pacing reasons.

Bloopers. Mildly diverting outtakes from filming.

Still Galleries. For obsessive fans only!

Storyboard Comparisons. Moderately interesting.

Trailers. Not a bad selection of teaser and theatrical trailers, but all quite similar.

Well, this is another so-called Special Edition that is nothing of the sort. The Descent SE is a good video transfer with a superb audio mix, capped off with a nice selection of extra features that provide just the right level of insider scoop, although fans would have preferred more in-depth material. A decent DVD release with some worthwhile additions, recommended to all horror fans.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

SUPERMAN RETURNS & MARLON BRANDO LIVES!

The new Superman movie has been getting fantastic reviews Stateside -- can't wait to see what all the fuss is about myself on 30 June. But, in the meantime, take a look at this interesting footage from Rhythm & Hues, a digital effects team who were tasked with resurrecting the deceased Marlon Brando, to reprise his role as Jor-El in the new movie...

See their achievement yourself by clicking this link.

Quite an amazing, and slightly unsettling, piece of CGI trickery. How long will it be before dead celebrities are back on our screens... in starring roles!

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

SAXONDALE – Episode 1 - TV REVIEW
Series 1. 19 Jun 06. BBC 2, 10:00 p.m
WRITERS: Steve Coogan & Neil Maclennan DIRECTOR: Ben Miller
CAST: Steve Coogan (Saxondale), Ruth Jones (Magz), Rasmus Hardiker (Raymond) & Morwenna Banks (Vicky)

The shadow of Alan Partridge has hung over comedian Steve Coogan for over 10 years now; a creation Coogan has attempted to better with little success (Tony Ferrino, anyone?) Fresh from mixed film success (the highs of 24 Hour Party People, the lows of Around The World In 80 Days), Coogan makes a return to British sitcom territory in BBC 2's Saxondale. Here, Coogan plays the titular Tommy Saxondale, a middle-aged ex-roadie with anger management issues, who now runs a pest control service…

As a character, Saxondale is refreshingly different from Partridge in most respects -– less a pompous social misfit, more a weary dreamer still clinging to his past. With whisps of grey hair, mottled beard and bright yellow Ford Mustang, Coogan brings a perfectionist touch to characterisation, with only the faintest trace of Partridge detectable. The writers also go to great lengths to make Saxondale a realistic character with embellished comic traits (such as a visual flair that only fictional characters can wield believably.)

The supporting cast are also first rate. Although the first episode is primarily focused on establishing Saxondale's personality and lifestyle, Ruth Jones (Little Britain's Myfanwy, Nighty Night's Linda) impresses as girlfriend Magz, a grungy free spirit who spends her days printing obscene T-shirts and listening to roadie anecdotes.

Improbably named Rasmus Hardiker plays teenaged hired-hand Raymond; not given many gags in this episode, but blessed with a naïve and good-natured look many real teenagers have. He should provide a good straight-man for Saxondale's rhetoric and the generation gap has already born fruit (with their opposing ideas of DJ-ing; Saxondale's wedding and birthday parties, Raymond's Paul Oakenfold raves…)

One particularly memorable performance comes from Morwenna Banks' secretary Vicky, an acid-mouthed critic of Saxondale who gets some choice lines and should provide plenty of antagonism in the series.

The first episode has Saxondale interviewing oddballs for a job as his right-hand man in his pest control operation ("simply the pest"), and it's here you get a vague sense that The Office has influenced Coogan's new sitcom; the laugh-track (a mainstay of I'm Alan Partridge) is noticeably absent, and Saxondale's interviewing technique is clearly inspired by David Brent. "Anthropomorphosising", indeed…

Coogan and co-writer Neil Maclennon deserve a lot of credit for this opening episode. It effectively sets the tone, introduces all the characters equally well, provides some memorable scenes (the interviews, bedroom pornography, warehouse pest control), and is littered with beautifully phrased dialogue. Coogan acquits himself very well and makes Saxondale a quite unlikely hero –- a final stand-off with some Animal Rights Activists provides Saxondale with the opportunity for some un-PC retribution that should provide a grin. It's about time we saw a return to comic characters with wit and a superior attitude (unseen since the days of Blackadder, really.)

Saxondale may not rewrite the rules of sitcom a la The Office, and it's unlikely Saxondale himself will prove as enduring and quotable as Alan Partridge, but for now this promises to be a very entertaining comedy series with great performances, strong characterisation, and a keen ear for witty dialogue…

Monday, 19 June 2006

"KINGDOM OF HEAVEN" (2005) - DVD REVIEW
R2. £14.99 (RRP) PICTURE: 2.35:1 (WIDESCREEN) SOUND: DTS/DD5.1
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott WRITER: William Monahan
CAST: Orlando Bloom (Balian), Liam Neeson (Godfrey), Jeremy Irons (Tiberias), Edward Norton (King Baldwin), Eva Green (Sibylla), David Thewlis (Hospitaler), more…


Ridley Scott single-handedly resurrected the "swords 'n sandals" epics, which dominated Hollywood's Golden Age, with Gladiator (2000). So expectation was justly high for Scott's return to the genre with Kingdom Of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom (Lord Of The Rings) as Balian, a 12th-Century French blacksmith who has recently lost his wife and faith. That is until his estranged father Godfrey (Liam Neeson, in another mentor role) talks him into joining a band of knights on a crusade to the Holy Land…

Kingdom Of Heaven is an extremely well filmed movie that tries desperately to be enthralling and meaningful, but ultimately fails because of a script that doesn't excite and glosses over the atrocities of this period in history. Ridley Scott remains a master craftsman of beautiful imagery, although his sensibilities are occasionally too glossy and render the film as pretty as a car commercial, but tellingly false. There are some great shots throughout the movie and some expertly staged battle sequences, but they're all an oasis in the desert of a humdrum story.

The Crusades is an extremely interesting and bloodthirsty period in history where armies from Europe waged war on Jeruslam to recapture the Holy city from the Muslims, but Kingdom Of Heaven doesn't really get the nub of the matter. William Monahan's script is careful not to offend Muslims, so goes to great lengths to make both sides sympathetic. I can understand the politically correct reasoning behind this, and there are thankfully no clichéd Arab villains in the film as a result, but from a storytelling perspective, this stance robs the movie of a true antagonist for Balian. And, as the saying goes, a hero is only ever as good as the villain…

The film is also far too interested in Balian's personal journey, which you never really feel particularly interested in –- primarily because his wife's death occurs off-screen, you never understand just how much his lost faith meant to him, and his eventual rise as the protector of Jerusalem from Saladin (the terrific Ghassan Massoud) just seems unlikely. Orlando Bloom does his best with the material, but he's simply too young and lacks the charisma to be wholly believable –- a problem he also faced in Troy!

Balian is a young man who is taught how to correctly sword-fight by his father on the same day he quits his blacksmith job, only to be leading a huge army of experienced fighters against a Muslim horde a few months later? I can suspend my disbelief when called to, but Balian just didn't ring true for me. Bloom is more at home playing the youthful sidekick in films like Pirates Of The Caribbean, and should leave the Alpha Male roles until he's in his late-thirties.

Liam Neeson lends his usual charm to his role as father/mentor, but it's a character he's been playing in his sleep since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace led to Batman Begins. Eva Green (The Dreamers, and soon to be Casino Royale's Bond Girl) is an undoubted beauty, but also inconsequential to the plot and shoe-horned in to provide a love-interest. David Thewlis, and a host of other British thesps appear throughout the movie, to no ill-effect, but there's no real standout performer in Kingdom Of Heaven; success all rests on the visuals, it would seem.

Ah, the visuals. As I said, Scott is undeniably gifted at filming foreign landscapes and making them look suitably exotic and beguiling, but there's nothing here that hasn't been seen before. The battle sequences are quite impressive at times, but they evoke memories of Peter Jackson's The Return Of The King too strongly -- both in execution and design. The production is handsomely mounted, as befits a multi-million dollar summer movie, but no matter how sumptuous the scenery is… it can't erase the growing feeling of boredom that creeps into the movie about an hour in.

On the plus side, Harry Gregson-Williams' musical score is exceptionally good and manages to elevate quite a few scenes with its rousing orchestral power. However, Kingdom Of Heaven is hamstrung by its lacklustre screenplay and lack of courage to show the rawness of the situation and shed some light on the Crusades beyond a few interesting scenes. It's a pretty movie without the courage to provoke a reaction from its inherently controversial subject matter. Kingdom Of Heaven is an empty-hearted epic without any inventive streak, so relies on cinematography and CGI-assisted battle scenes to keep boredom at bay…


DVD REVIEW

PICTURE: A generally good transfer in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, although the colour palette is quite dark at times and difficult to see detail. The image is crisp and defined, although there is some image noise occasionally.

SOUND: There are DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks to choose from, with both giving intense and involving experiences, particularly in the battle sequences. Surround sound effects are used well to ground you in the presented reality, such as the numerous ancient villages and town (dog barks, chatter, the clink of metal, etc.) All the dialogue is rich, and there is a healthy level of bass that really assaults the senses during fight scenes. The DTS track is undoubtedly better than DD5.1, being crisper and richer throughout.

EXTRA FEATURES:

In-Movie Text Feature. On the first disc this feature displays "information on the real people and true events depicted in the film".

Interactive Production Grid. On the second disc this feature has two options – "How it Works" (which explains how to use this feature) and "Enter The Grid" (which allows you to interactively watch scenes from the directing, crew or cast point-of-view). The feature can look at scenes from before, during and after Kingdom Of Heaven was being filmed. A "Play All" function is available for those of you who just want to sit back and watch.

History Vs Hollywood. This is a 45-minute documentary covering the historical aspects of the Crusades compared to the movie.

A & E Movie Real. Another documentary, this time with interviews of the cast/crew, about making the film historically accurate.

Internet Featurettes. A small selection of featurettes on the movie's production.

Theatrical Trailer. To condense the movie experience into a manageable few minutes, just watch the trailer!

Not a bad transfer in terms of visuals and audio, and the extra features are fairly engaging, but this isn't deserving of its 2-Disc Special Edition tag.

Sunday, 18 June 2006

DVD REVIEWS

Over the coming weeks I will be focusing more on reviewing DVDs, as this is an area I've neglected on DMDB -- despite it being one of the main reasons for setting up this blog!

Many of my past reviews are available at DVD Fever, but I won't be duplicating those old reviews here. Everything I post here will be fresh material, although the movies reviewed may not always be new releases -- hence the belated King Kong review today (see below).

I'll try and keep it a healthy mix of old classics, recent releases and brand new films...
"KING KONG" (2005) - 2-DISC SPECIAL EDITION - DVD REVIEW
REGION 2. £14.99 (RRP) PICTURE: 2.35:1 (WIDESCREEN) SOUND: DD5.1
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson WRITERS: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens & Peter Jackson.
CAST: Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow), Adrien Brody (Jack Driscoll), Jack Black (Carl Denham), Andy Serkis (Lumpy/Kong), Thomas Kretschmann (Engelhorn) more...

Peter Jackson is surely now the undisputed grandmaster of blockbuster cinema. Hot on the heels of his phenomenal success with The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (11 Oscars for the final movie alone...), Jackson turned his attention to his dream project -- a remake of his favourite movie, King Kong (1933).

In the famous story's update, Naomi Watts replaces Fay Wray as Ann Darrow, a dispirited New York actress recruited by struggling maverick director Carl Denham (Black) to shoot a movie on an uncharted island, along with playwright Jack Driscoll (Brody) and the motley crew of The S.S Venture.

Once they reach Skull Island, the team discover it's populated not only by a savage tribe of people hidden behind a colossal wall, but also with giant monsters -- in the shape of dinosaurs, huge bats, enormous insects and a 25-foot gorilla known as Kong...

It’s a straight-forward B-movie plot, already famous to everyone after 72 years of exposure to the public. And, even if you’ve never actually seen the original black-and-white adventure, the iconic image of Kong straddling the Empire State Building swatting bi-planes out of the air is the stuff of movie legend.

In translating King Kong for modern audiences, Jackson wisely keeps the story grounded in its 1930's setting and brings superlative visual complexity to the screen. Movie monsters haven’t wowed the imagination this much since Spielberg’s dinosaurs first stomped across our screens back in '93. Perfecting techniques used throughout Lord Of The Rings, WETA Digital Workshop have again set a new benchmark for the rest of the effects industry to aspire to. British actor Andy Serkis (LOTR’s Gollum) "plays" the titular ape by utilizing motion-capture technology, helping bring a sense of realism to Kong that the original could never achieve with stop-motion animated models. Even the 1976 remake had to struggle with a silly man-in-a-monkey-suit technique.

No such compromises in 2005. Kong is now a creature of sheer beauty throughout Jackson's movie. He fights, he runs, he swings, he leaps, he breathes, he sulks, he laughs… he lives! In many ways the success of the movie relied on the complexity of Kong's performance and the digital character’s ability to interact and emote with a real cast… and the WETA crew nail it to perfection.

Plaudits must also go to Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts, given a fairly rudimentary character on the page, but able to make Ann Darrow’s sweet relationship with Kong utterly believable. A scene where Ann and Kong "ice-skate" together in Central Park, before the great ape climbs to his eventual doom, is just pure old-fashioned movie magic, and sure to tug at everyone’s heart strings. Amazingly too, the fact everyone knows how the story ends actually works in the movie’s favour -- as the distant whine of approaching biplanes brings a melancholy feel to the great ape’s last stand...

Elsewhere, production values are all superb -- particularly the impressive CGI rendering of 1933 New York City, being so realistic it’s not even noticeably a special-effect. As always in movies of such mammoth undertaking, there is the odd effects moments that could have done with further polishing: a dinosaur stampede suffers from some badly composited shots, and a sequence with a pole-vaulting native is below-par and ridiculous anyway. But these are very minor quibbles in an otherwise unrivalled production.

The actors involved all do a very good job, particularly Watts and Serkis as already stated, but the greatest surprise in some ways is Jack Black as Carl Denham. Black is most famous as one-half of a comedy rock band Tenacious D, and as a high-energy comedian in films such as School Of Rock, so to see him provide a credible and engaging performance of such seriousness is very satisfying.

Adrien Brody does solid work, but his character is rarely more than a handy plot device to push events along. Still, in earlier scene when his character looks to be more prevalent than he eventually becomes, Brody’s brings his usual goofy hangdog charm to proceedings, before the ape takes over and his involvement becomes sidelined.

If there is a problem with King Kong 2005, it’s the running time. King Kong is big in many ways. At three hours, the movie is twice the length of the original -- yet tells essentially the same story. Jackson takes an hour to set-up his characters before they arrive on Skull Island, then overloads a mid-section with far more monster set-pieces than the original had, before the admittedly well-judged final act in New York.

Personally, I thought the set-up was slightly too long, but never boring. I enjoyed the slow build-up and getting to know the characters (even if most of the cast don't get any kind of satisfying pay-off by the movie's conclusion). Another slight quibble is the sheer amount of perils involving monsters in Act II. The initial adrenaline rush slowly diminishes due to overkill at times, although there are some amazing spectacles to behold. However, even these storytelling didn't ruined the experience for me. A popcorn film being criticized for having too much character set-up and monster fights is generally in a good position...

Overall, King Kong is a chest-beating success. Jackson’s lifelong ambition to remake his favourite film wasn’t the potential folly some expected it to be. It's clear Jackson knows King Kong inside-out, so this remake improves where necessary (the Ann-Kong dynamic is far better -- actually takings its cue from the '76 version), updates the monsters with modern techniques, but never forgets the heart and power of its illustrious predecessor. It's rare such a blatantly silly and effects-laden movie can stirr such emotion in an audience, so enjoy the experience...

After 72 years, Kong is still the King!

DVD REVIEW

PICTURE: The quality of the movie is awesome visually, with its anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen image beautiful in all regards. 1933 New York is just sumptuous (both in daylight and night), the Venture is suitable grimy and Skull Island's jungles are lush and beautiful. This is demo material.

SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent, with a gorgeous mix of sound from all departments. The sound effects are perfect, the surround-sound mix is wonderful, and James Newton Howard's brilliant score is thrilling. There is no DTS mix (perhaps on a later edition) but for now this DD5.1 transfer is just wonderful.

EXTRA FEATURES:

Post-Production Diaries. If you followed the making of King Kong via the KongIsKing.net website then you've probably seen the Production Diaries that site hosted, or maybe you bought them separately on DVD. Anyway, the diaries presented here are the Post-Production Diaries, and cover all aspects of the film after principal photography (pickups, sound-effects, visual-effects, dialogue recording, premieres, etc). This is 3-hours of essential material for fans of King Kong, and especially anyone interested in making movies. There's practically no filler material, and everything shown is interesting, revealing and occasionally quite funny. Fantastic.

Skull Island: A Natural History. This is an interesting documentary that blends reality with fiction to give you an insight into Skull Island's history and ecosystem. It's quite amazing to see the level of detail and thought that went into Skull Island, from creating all the creatures, to providing a believable history to the island's geography and its indigenous people. This is packed will gorgeous concept art and is very entertaining.

Kong's New York, 1933. Another documentary, this time focusing on New York. The emphasis is on reality for this extra feature, and gives you an insight into the 1930's time-period King Kong takes place in. Everything is discussed, from The Great Depression, vaudeville theatre, to skyscrapers. Definitely one for the history buff, primarily, but it's certainly interesting.

This is a great release of King Kong, with a fantastic audio/visual experience, and some very entertaining extra features. Although, despite being a Special Edition, I'm sure a better version is on its way with more extensive special features, but for now this first release should please most fans. The menu screens are slick, although not as memorable as you'd perhaps expect, but the packaging art is first-rate. This is an essential purchase for any fan of escapist action-adventure cinema.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

DOCTOR WHO - "Love & Monsters" - TV REVIEW
Season 2. 17 Jun 06. BBC 1, 7:00 p.m
WRITER: Russell T. Davies DIRECTOR: Dan Zeff
CAST: Camille Codouri (Jackie Tyler), Peter Kay (Victor Kennedy/Abzorbaloff), Marc Warren (Elton Pope), Shirley Henderson (Ursula Blake), Simon Greenall (Mr Skinner), Moya Brady (Bridget), Kathryn Drysdale (Bliss), David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler) & Bella Emberg (Old Woman)

An ordinary man named Elton Pope becomes obsessed with The Doctor and joins a group of like-minded people in hopes of finding him. But when the mysterious Victor Kennedy joins the group, the fun soon stops and Elton discovers a darker side to his hobby…

Russell T. Davies eschews the Doctor Who formula for Love & Monsters, an episode that removes the emphasis on The Doctor and focuses on obsessive loner Elton Pope (Marc Warren, a sort of younger-looking Malcolm McDowell). It transpires that Elton met The Doctor when he was small boy and has become obsessed with finding him ever since – so much so that he joins a group of like-minded people who call themselves the London Investigations 'N Detective Agency (L.I.N.D.A).

Love & Monsters walks a fine line between being agreeably different and embarrassingly awful. For the most part is succeeds on a silly level that kids will enjoy, and Davies is clearly having fun with the chance to fool around with Who conventions. The episode also gives Davies a chance to flex his comedy muscles with more success than when he shoehorns gags into dramatic stories. Here, the emphasis is clearly on comedy from the opening sequence (which includes The Doctor, Rose and a monster… in homage to Scooby Doo!) I still don't find Davies particular brand of family-friendly comedy particularly amusing, but there are some nice scenes and a few gags that hit their targets.

Peter Kay makes an impression as Victor Kennedy (a posh eccentric with a cane), and his alter-ego The Abzorbaloff (a sort of cross between Fungus The Bogeyman and Fat Bastard from Austin Powers). Marc Warren performs well in a comedic role, managing to keep the right level of dramatics and comedy bubbling along. The supporting cast are mainly inconsequential, although Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films) was a memorably geeky love-interest. Camille Codouri also returned as Jackie Tyler, a character that can veer from extremely irritating to lovably real in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, Davies wrote her particular subplot with just the right combination of laughs and humanity –- as Elton infiltrated her life to find Rose, while Jackie had more romantic thoughts in mind…

The effects are fairly good, particularly the rubber-suit of the Abzorbaloff with its CGI-assisted faces of past victims appearing all over its body. Quite a freaky effect and expertly achieved. However, later sequences when the Abzorbaloff is called upon to run around outside should have been abandoned. There's nothing quite as silly as seeing a full-body shot of a man running around in a rubber fat-suit (but maybe that was the intention…)

In essence, I was entertained by Love & Monsters most of the time, particularly in its first-half, but the joke began to wear thin after awhile. Davies is still completely out of his depth when it comes to plotting science-fiction, and the whole Kennedy/Abzorbaloff plot was obvious and sign-posted at every turn. The Jackie/Elton romance was far more interesting, yet tragically underused.

Davies is also a writer clearly in love with his own written mythology, so there are lots of comments about past Davies-penned episodes and flashbacks. Luckily, in the context of the plot these worked much better than you'd expect –- particularly the scenes where Elton witnessed key events such as the Auton attack (Rose), the alien ship crash-landing (Aliens Of London) and a giant spaceship appearing overhead (The Christmas Invasion).

Overall, this was a brave episode for daring to think outside of the box, but a stronger overall plot would have made all the difference. Love & Monsters was just too frivolous and empty most of the time, lacking an emotional bite -– despite a ham-fisted attempt to provide one when Elton's relationship with The Doctor is finally explained. I can't say I hated this episode, because at least it attempted to do something different and it did provide a few cheap laughs along the way, but ultimately it was just too unsubstantial and light-hearted to make much of an impression.

However, I suppose Russell T. Davies does deserve some kudos for managing to allude to a face-on-a-paving stone giving its boyfriend a blowjob…

NEXT WEEK: The Doctor and Rose arrive in 2012, just in time to witness the London Olympics...

Friday, 16 June 2006

DMD - Issue 174

Dan's Movie Digest's 174th issue has been released by DVD Fever. This week there's news on Nacho Libre, Alien Vs Predator 2, Hostel 2, Fantastic Four 2, Indiana Jones 4, Hulk 2 and Sweeney Todd. There's also a review of the trailer for My Super Ex-Girlfriend, the latest UK/US box-office charts and a list of upcoming movies! So plenty to enjoy!!

Thursday, 15 June 2006

TOP 100 MOST INSPIRING MOVIES

The American Film Institute has churned out another Top 100 list, this time trying to work out which piece of celluloid has been the most inspirational... ever.

The criteria was to pick films that had characters of vision and conviction, who faced adversity and often made a personal sacrifice for the greater good. Whether these movies end happily or not, they are ultimately triumphant -- both filling audiences with hope and empowering them with the spirit of human potential.

I can smell another two-day marathon TV special being spent going through this list (probably on Channel 4), so if you want to watch it I suggest you avert your eyes... NOW!

1. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE 1946
2. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD 1962
3. SCHINDLER'S LIST 1993
4. ROCKY 1976
5. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON 1939
6. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL 1982
7. THE GRAPES OF WRATH 1940
8. BREAKING AWAY 1979
9. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET 1947
10. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN 1998
11. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES 1946
12. APOLLO 13 1995
13. HOOSIERS 1986
14. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI 1957
15. THE MIRACLE WORKER 1962
16. NORMA RAE 1979
17. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST 1975
18. THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK 1959
19. THE RIGHT STUFF 1983
20. PHILADELPHIA 1993
21. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT 1967
22. THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES 1942
23. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION 1994
24. NATIONAL VELVET 1944
25. SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS 1941
26. THE WIZARD OF OZ 1939
27. HIGH NOON 1952
28. FIELD OF DREAMS 1989
29. GANDHI 1982
30. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA 1962
31. GLORY 1989
32. CASABLANCA 1942
33. CITY LIGHTS 1931
34. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN 1976
35. GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER 1967
36. ON THE WATERFRONT 1954
37. FORREST GUMP 1994
38. PINOCCHIO 1940
39. STAR WARS 1977
40. MRS. MINIVER 1942
41. THE SOUND OF MUSIC 1965
42. 12 ANGRY MEN 1957
43. GONE WITH THE WIND 1939
44. SPARTACUS 1960
45. ON GOLDEN POND 1981
46. LILIES OF THE FIELD 1963
47. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY 1968
48. THE AFRICAN QUEEN 1951
49. MEET JOHN DOE 1941
50. SEABISCUIT 2003
51. THE COLOR PURPLE 1985
52. DEAD POET'S SOCIETY 1989
53. SHANE 1953
54. RUDY 1993
55. THE DEFIANT ONES 1958
56. BEN-HUR 1959
57 . SERGEANT YORK 1941
58. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND 1977
59. DANCES WITH WOLVES 1990
60. THE KILLING FIELDS 1984
61. SOUNDER 1972
62. BRAVEHEART 1995
63. RAIN MAN 1988
64. THE BLACK STALLION 1979
65. A RAISIN IN THE SUN 1961
66. SILKWOOD 1983
67. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL 1951
68. AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN 1982
69. THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS 1957
70. COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER 1980
71. COOL HAND LUKE 1967
72. DARK VICTORY 1939
73. ERIN BROCKOVICH 2000
74. GUNGA DIN 1939
75. THE VERDICT 1982
76. BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ 1962
77. DRIVING MISS DAISY 1989
78. THELMA & LOUISE 1991
79. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS 1956
80. BABE 1995
81. BOYS TOWN 1938
82. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF 1971
83. MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN 1936
84. SERPICO 1973
85. WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT 1993
86. STAND AND DELIVER 1988
87. WORKING GIRL 1988
88. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY 1942
89. HAROLD AND MAUDE 1972
90. HOTEL RWANDA 2004
91. THE PAPER CHASE 1973
92. FAME 1980
93. A BEAUTIFUL MIND 2001
94. CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS 1937
95. PLACES IN THE HEART 1984
96. SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER 1993
97. MADAME CURIE 1943
98. THE KARATE KID 1984
99. RAY 2004
100. CHARIOTS OF FIRE 1981

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

HEROES

It’s summer hiatus in America TV land, but there are a number of interesting new shows that will be vying for attention when the new TV season begins in September. Amongst those making their debuts is Heroes, an epic superhero drama from NBC, that chronicles the lives of a group of people who discover they possess extraordinary abilities.

Heroes’ Pilot episode has an Indian professor discover that, during a total eclipse of the sun, people with super powers have begun to appear:

  • A young dreamer tries to convince his politician brother (Adrian Pasdar) that he can fly.
  • A high school cheerleader (Hayden Panettiere) learns that she is totally indestructible.
  • A Las Vegas stripper (Ali Larter, Final Destination), struggling to make ends meet to support her young son, finds that her mirror image has a secret.
  • A prison inmate (Leonard Roberts, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) mysteriously finds himself waking up outside of his cell.
  • A gifted artist (Santiago Cabrera), whose drug addiction is destroying his life and the relationship with his girlfriend, discovers he can paint the future.
  • A down-on-his-luck beat cop (Greg Grunberg, Alias) begins to hear people's thoughts, including the secrets of a captured terrorist.
  • And, in Japan, a young man (Masi Oka, Scrubs) develops a way to stop time through sheer will power.

Their ultimate destiny is nothing less than saving the world...

Early word suggests that this TV variant of X-Men is one to watch, with its large multi-ethnic cast and supernatural elements drawing comparisons to Lost.

The Pilot also effectively sets in motion an epic multi-year plot and it’s refreshing that the superheroes don’t treat their powers as a curse, more their personal salvation. About time someone realized having super powers is actually damn cool, and don't whinge about it!

Of course, great TV shows are notoriously axed very early in their lives if the ratings aren't there, and NBC isn't a network particularly well-known for its sci-fi shows in the US. But, here's hoping this tantalizing premise is a success and comes to the UK quickly!

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

WATCHMEN - Who's still watching the watchers...?

Readers of DMDB will probably know by now that I'm a big fan of writer Alan Moore in general, and his Watchmen graphic novel in particular. Unfortunately, a movie adaptation seems destined to go unmade.

Recently, DC Comics President Paul Levitz talked about what's coming up on the DC movie slate post-Superman Returns, and he updated Watchmen fans on the status of the movie:
"Warners is looking at Watchmen right now. I believe they are looking for a director at the moment. I negotiated the Watchmen film deal when the third issue of the maxi-series was coming out in 1985 or 1986. It's been through Fox, Universal, Paramount so far and now it's at Warners. God knows. I think it's an extraordinary difficult property to do right as a film. It is a creative property that is very specifically designed for the medium in which it is published. I think it's a real challenge to break out and do it. I think they had a very interesting script and certainly Paul Greengrass is a great director, so I had some hope for the Paramount one. I hope Warner will be able to put something great around it."

Nice summation from a corporate bod (for once). Watchmen is certainly a very epic and complicated property to adapt successfully into even a 3-hour movie. Terry Gilliam famously suggested it should be made as a big-budget TV mini-series instead.

I'm still hopeful that the success of United 93 will somehow result in British director Paul Greengrass returning to the project with renewed clout and respect... or possibly Darren Aronofsky will rejoin the team after the (likely) success of sci-fi pic The Fountain in a few months...

Monday, 12 June 2006

DOCTOR WHO - "The Satan Pit" (Part 2 of 2) - TV REVIEW
Season 2. 10 Jun 06. BBC 1, 7:15 p.m
WRITER: Matt Jones DIRECTOR: James Strong
CAST: The Doctor (David Tennant), Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Mr Jefferson (Danny Webb), Zachary Cross Flane (Shaun Parkes), Toby Zed (Will Thorp), Ida Scott (Claire Rushbrook), Danny Bartock (Ronny Jhutti), Scooti Manista (Myanna Buring), The Ood (Paul Kasey), Voice of The Beast (Gabriel Woolf) & Voice of the Ood (Silas Carson)

A demonic being controls The Ood, willing them to kill the crew of the mining station.. while 10 miles underground, The Doctor descends into a gigantic pit...

The Satan Pit continues the excellent work begun last week in The Impossible Planet, with telepathic slave race The Ood now being controlled by a demonic entity beneath the planet's surface -– and under orders to kill the crew. As Rose and the crew try to defeat them, The Doctor makes a descent into the pit…

After a shaky start, in which a lot of last week's tension and expectation is extinguished, only to be replaced with tired sequences of people scurrying around inside air vents, The Satan Pit soon regains momentum to deliver memorable scenes and fine examples of Doctor Who morality.

There are emotional death scenes sprinkled throughout the show, although the writing often embraces the sci-fi clichés of deaths that involve slow stragglers, hatches that can't open for the good of the majority, and verbal obituaries from the Captain…


Still, for every moment of laughably forced humanity delivered with total seriousness, there are some decent monologues to keep the balance right, particularly when The Doctor discusses the human impulse to explore dangerous environments out of sheer curiosity.

Matt Jones' writing affords David Tennant some jucier moments to relish; likewise Billie Piper, although the latter's assuming command of a futuristic crew rings totally false. No matter, as Piper gives her best performance of the year upon hearing The Doctor's supposed death/loss. As an actress, she can definitely rise to the challenge of big emotions (and death doesn't come much bigger), so I only hope the writers create more situations for Rose to show her mettle in a believable manner, instead of flashing a toothy grin every five minutes and delivering misplaced gags.

The visual-effects are just as strong as last week, with the new space sequences and a rocket take-off being fine additions to the Who canon. But the most striking and accomplished visual (perhaps of the entire show up till now) comes in the form of The Beast itself –- a gigantic horned demon chained inside the titular pit. A combination of Lord Of The Rings' Balrog and The Darkness from Legend (with a hint of Jason & The Argonauts), it's a stunning CGI achievement that increases the sense of grandeur further, making The Satan Pit particularly epic. Of course, the downside is that it illustrates just how comparatively pedestrian and childish the rest of the series has been (New Earth and School Reunion the biggest offenders).

Overall, this is a strong continuation that only falters with some sloppy clichés in the first ten minutes. By the time the action has built up its momentum again, culminating in the excellent Beast sequence with The Doctor, then The Satan Pit is a guaranteed favourite.

It was also interesting to see an episode conclude without a neatly-explained denouement from The Doctor, who instead admits some of the mysteries will never be solved (well, I'm sure the religious connotations also had something to do with it…)


If you also forgive an extremely unlikely plot contrivance with the TARDIS in the closing moments, you can't deny The Satan Pit offers a level of competence and scares rarely seen in Who these days…

NEXT WEEK: A man called Elton Pope becomes obsessed with finding The Doctor...

Sunday, 11 June 2006

WORLD CUP 2006

Yes, I had to mention it. England's campaign kicked off yesterday (Paraguay 0 - 1 England), and you're either embracing the 5-week event or steering well clear of everything. I have no great passion for football and don't support any clubs, but I am quite a patriotic person so enjoy watching England do well in the big tournaments. And it doesn't get any bigger than the World Cup.

So can England take the trophy for the first time since 1966? Well, possibly. But we always say that. We've always supposedly got "the best team we've had", but then suffer crushing defeat thanks to some terrible injury of a star player, or the cruelty of a penalty shoot-out.

I hope we win, but I won't be surprised if we don't. Particularly when you take a look at the sort of opposition we have -- just check out the skill of Brazil's Ronaldinho... and when you've managed to scrape your jaw off the floor... things will get in perspective!

Friday, 9 June 2006


MTV MOVIE AWARDS 2006

While the Academy Awards reign supreme at the top of the awards ceremony tree, perhaps the most entertaining movie awards ceremony is actually MTV's annual bash. The nominations and winners are a better reflection of what your average movie-goer enjoyed watching (i.e., effects-fuelled blockbusters, horrors and comedies).

The event this year is hosted by the delectable Jessica Alba, and is shown tomorrow on MTV at 8:00 p.m, but if you just can't wait until then... read no further, as the winners were...

Best Movie: Wedding Crashers
Seriously? Very overrated movie.


Best Performance: Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain
Well, yeah, okay.

Best Comedic Performance: Steve Carell, The 40 Year Old Virgin
Very worthy winner, fantastic performance.

Best On-Screen Team: Vince Vaughn & Owen Wilson, Wedding Crashers
Groan.

Best Villain: Hayden Christensen, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith
Well, the writing let the side down so Vader's birth wasn't really that brilliant.

Breakthrough Performance: Isla Fisher, Wedding Crashers
Interesting, I suppose...

Best Hero: Christian Bale, Batman Begins
Great choice.

Sexiest Performance: Jessica Alba, Sin City
Sexy? Well, yes, intermittently. But hardly the sexiest performance of last year!

Best Kiss: Jake Gyllenhaal & Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Hardy-har-har.

Best Fight: Angelina Jolie vs. Brad Pitt, Mr & Mrs Smith
Really? Can anyone remember this fight?

Generation Award: Jim Carrey
His star's fading fast these days, but yeah...

Best Frightened Performance: Jennifer Carpenter, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose
Hmm, not a bad choice, really...

Thursday, 8 June 2006

UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAYS

It's a sad fact that the majority of movie scripts will never be made. There are thousands of screenwriters slaving away at their desks morning, noon and night, but only a very small percentage will ever see their name in a credit list, let alone find regular work with a studio.

But that's not to say that only a small fraction of all a writers' output is actually worthy of being made. There are hundreds of excellent scripts that have sadly remained unmade for years, sometimes decades.

There are many reasons for their mistreatment, but it's usually because the script just isn't particularly marketable -- meaning the likelihood of the film making its money back is remote. Or, sometimes, a brilliant script is just too similar to an existing property. This happened with Manhatten Ghost Story, written by Ronald Bass (based on the novel by T.M Wright), which is a fantastic piece of work... that bears a strong similarity to M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense.

No plagiarism was involved on either side's part, it was just bad timing for Bass that he chose to adapat Wright's novel at the same time Shyamalan cooked up Sixth Sense. But hey, maybe in 15 years the shadow of The Sixth Sense won't quite be so overbearing and Bass' script will get a chance...

There's also a huge amount of novels and comic-books that should be adapted for the big-screen, including Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen, Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama and Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk's follow-up Survivor. All of these are great reads and scream out to be made by visionary directors. A few famous names continue to circle these projects, but they never seem to get picked up...

If you have the time, take a look on the internet for some unproduced scripts. You might find you're reading the a blockbuster years before it even gets made! Simply Scripts is a good starting point...