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Thursday, 28 September 2006
THE PAUL O'GRADY SHOW Mr O'Grady is back on our box weekdays at 5 pm with his extremely popular and award-winning chat show. It's a mix of light chat (usually chummy natter with O'Grady's showbiz mates), light comedy, animals, kids, games and quizes.
It all sounds quite good fun, which I suppose it can be at times. O'Grady is a talented performer, although I miss the acerbic wit of his alter-ego Lilly Savage, which has been replaced in recent years by his "true" self -- a scatalogical camp scouser with a self-deprecating tone.
We Brits have always been suckers for three things on TV: animals, kids and camp humour. O'Grady's show has all three. In abundance. O'Grady can fling a camp quip with the best of them and the show is overloaded with sweet-faced kids and pets.
That's not to say it's a great show. It's certainly popular, but when the competition is The (awful) Sharon Osbourne Show, it's no wonder. It was more interesting when O'Grady was on ITV and battling Channel 4's Richard & Judy for ratings. Healthy competition is always great for viewers, and we also had a choice: fun and games with Paul or a light-hearted magazine mix with Richard and Judy. Since O'Grady jumped ship to Channel 4 (pushing R&J into a 3-month shift rotation), the choice is now reduced two shows of similar formats but different presenters.
I'm not actually a fan of The Paul O'Grady Show anyway. I find the comedy interludes with Paul to be over-scripted and false (particularly when reading viewers' letters), and O'Grady's interview style is perhaps even more fawning and sycophantic than Michael Parkinson's.
All chat shows live or die by the calibre of their guests. Only Friday Night With Jonathan Ross can spin gold out of awful guests. It's a trick Paul O'Grady can't pull off, and I'm actually at a loss to remember a truly good guest on his show (well, Peter Kay at Christmas, perhaps...)
Beyond the guests, the banality of the rest of the show is frustrating. The way cute kids are wheeled in to act out scripted chats with O'Grady irritates me immensely, and the appeal of Buster the dog (beyond cuteness himself) is perplexing -- he just sits and does nothing beyond exist. Oh, and don't get me started on The Organ Game (a quiz that only exists for a double-entendre that has been overused to a criminal degree now...)
However, it's undeniable that The Paul O'Grady Show is successful and well loved by people (although I'm sure the target demographic is people over-50). But there is a good alternative to O'Grady on TV... it's called Blue Peter; a show that continues to be quite informative and entertaining despite being aimed at children...
Tuesday, 26 September 2006
SATURDAY NIGHT TV I have fond memories of Saturday Night TV. For decades it was the weekly pinnacle of entertainment on television; an evening's entertainment starting at 7 pm that the whole family could sit down and enjoy together.
These days, with multi-channel TV and the internet vying for our precious leisure time, the humble Saturday Night isn't the national TV experience it once was. There's a generation of kids going to school on Monday mornings and finding they each did something entirely different (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's a little sad that the collective TV experience is on the wane...)
However, three shows have spearheaded a modest revival in recent years: The X-Factor, Saturday Night Takeaway and Doctor Who. The X-Factor is a great piece of trash TV; essentially just a singing contest ruthlessly edited for maximum entertainment value. Now in its third year, it may have become slightly jaded and predictable, but it's still fascinating whenever a truly terrible singer is convinced they have real talent.
But, when X-Factor moves out of its riotous "audition phase" into the "boot camp" and "live show" phases, I tend to lose interest. For me, once the auditions are over you're just left with competent singers doing karaoke for months on end. It's then just a tedious sifting process to find the best of the bunch (and even that doesn't guarantee actual success -- eh, Mr Brookstein?)
It's a genre of reality show the UK pioneered with Pop Idol and has subsequently made a fortune selling around the world. Simon Cowell is one of the most successful showbiz figures ever -- simply for voicing an opinion on TV. Nobody seems to care that his pre-reality show career included signing Robson & Jerome and Zig & Zag, or that most of his winners burnout after their successful first single and album.
Then there's Sharon Osbourne, someone who has become a hideous TV irritation to me, not helped by her terrible ITV chat show. Such fake sincerity and mother-hen clucking. Remember her impassioned speeches about standing by her performers come what may? Yeah, right. Where's Tabby now?
No, I reserve the most respect for Louis Walsh, the Irish manager who has actually achieved recognised success with groups such as Boyzone, Westlife and Girls Aloud. He atleast has a track record of some integrity and seems genuine on the show.
Then there's Saturday Night Takeaway -- a modern throwback to live entertaiment hours like Noel's House Party in the early-90s. Presented by Ant & Dec (the two saving graces of ITV, no matter how overexposed they become) the show is a marvel of sound judgement. There's just the right mix of games, pranks, stunts, quizes, hidden cameras, and silliness. It's not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, and a good 90% of its success is down to its presenters, but it works brilliantly.
Ant and Dec are consummate performers. I'd never have guessed from their acting days on kids TV show Byker Grove, but they have a natural ease in front of the camera and just bounce off each other brilliantly. Make no mistake, without them SNT would be fairly low-rent stuff, but their presence pushes it into into quality. Who else could get X-Factor's Chico to play human hook-a-duck?
Finally, Doctor Who has proven itself a huge success for the BBC on Saturday nights. While ITV focuses on reality TV for its big hits, the BBC's Saturday nights still include some drama (a new version of Robin Hood is due very soon, and will be reviewed here). Yes, the Beeb are still hobbled by the ridiculous ongoing search for a National Lottery show that is actually worth watching, and beyond Doctor Who they have very little to endear you to a Saturday night in front of the telly. Casualty limps on (no pun intended), and even if Strictly Come Dancing is a ratings winner it's not catering for my demographic in the slightest!
But, the point is that there are a few shows that are tempting audiences back to the TV on Saturdays. I don't think the days of 23 million viewers for Morecambe & Wise, or even 13 million for Noel's House Party, will ever happen again... but there is some decent TV that you shouldn't feel too guilty about watching when everyone else is down the pub!
Viewers of Channel 4's Peep Show will be familiar with David Mitchell and Robert Webb. They play loser flatmates Mark and Jeremy in the cult comedy that by rights should be a household name, but remains a hidden gem in the schedules... and perhaps just as well -- although its snubbing at the BAFTA's was unforgivable...
David Mitchell is also a familiar face on panel shows, with notable appearances on Have I Got News For You, as well as being a team captain on Best Of The Worst. Robert Webb stars in BBC 3 comedy hit The Smoking Room as laconic office worker Robin, and had a lead role in the wedding comedy flick Confetti.
Together they're a double-act that regularly embark on solo projects, but only now have they been given a chance to shine for primetime audiences. The BBC 2 vehicle hoping to catapult them to mainstream success is That Mitchell & Webb Look, a sketch show based on Radio 4 as That Mitchell & Webb Sound (clever, eh?)
With Little Britain perhaps on the wane after a disappointing third series (although the Live Show and merchandise still make their creators millions) there's the possibility that audiences are ready to embrace a new batch of comic characters. So can Mitchell and Webb deliver the goods?
On the evidence of the first few episodes of their new series, they certainly have potential. Mitchell is an undeniably clever and quick-witted man, single-handedly rescuing many lowly chat shows from total disaster in the past (FAQ U, anyone?), while Webb has a sort of bitter everyman appeal. In fact, forget comparisons to David Walliams and Matt Lucas, it's clear they owe more to Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
While there's the unmistakable air of university-bred comedy in their material, akin to A Bit Of Fry & Laurie, particularly in characters such as Sir Digby Chicken-Caesar (a homeless drunk who's convinced he's living the exciting life of Sherlock Holmes), thankfully the smugness of Fry and Laurie is missing.
I particularly like the housemates whose lives clash with fictional worlds: a work colleague of theirs is Miss Moneypenny, while Shaggy and Scooby Doo are said to be in the kitchen "assembling the two tallest sandwiches I have ever seen..."
It's classic absurdist humour performed with an intelligent lightness of touch, but it's nothing revolutionary. The only sketch show of recent memory that shook up the genre was The Fast Show. Even the Little Britain phenomenon just combines Harry Enfield-style characters, Dick Emery-esque cross-dressing, and stirrs in political incorrect attitudes.
That Mitchell & Webb Look takes no great risks with its format or style. The only semi-original idea is to occassionally show Mitchell and Webb on-set between takes discussing absurd topics, such as "is levitation possible?" and "the use of the word 'gate' to denote scandal". But it's mostly just another generic sketch show with influences taken from all its predecessors (well, no evidence of cross-dressing thus far...) It's slick and polished, but not terribly inventive with its medium, and none of its characters have that immediate quotability or relevance to our culture.
But, crucially, is it funny? Well, it's hit-and-miss like all sketch shows, but there is thankfully less reliance on recycling jokes/characters like most other modern sketch shows week after week. The mismatched superheroes Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit sketches are fun, the drunken snooker commentators less so, but unfathomable maths quiz Numberwang is a real highlight (although something The Adam & Joe Show did with Quizzlestick), the soldiers realizing their skull-head insignia's might mean they're "the bad guys" was beautifully played, and the office worker able to move biscuits with the power of his mind was a silly treat.
Overall, I think TM&WL has the potential to evolve into something quite special. Personally, I'd prefer to see Mitchell and Webb embrace their intellectual sides more, as high-brow laughs disguised as low-brow comedy is an area that has gone undernourished since the early-90s. There are signs with a sketch about two actors warring over playing Sherlock Holmes, but too often a clunker arrives to burst the balloon -- such as the dangerous river rapids organizer.
While both are talented performers, David Mitchell looks more comfortable out of costume and speaking in his own voice, whereas the more extrovert Webb clearly relishes dressing up in banana suits, etc. Still, the sketches that work best usually involved the pair just talking naturally. This could perhaps be a hangover from the show's radio beginnings, or maybe the dialogue-heavy Peep Show is still influencing the writing (indeed, Peep Show creators Armstrong and Bain are staff writers on the show).
Whatever the reasons, Mitchell and Webb have a decent show that manages to provide 30 minutes of entertainment and a smattering of laughs. It isn't perfect, it isn't cutting edge, but it's from the heart and should make you giggle...
Saturday, 23 September 2006
INTERNET OF INTEREST #10
Oh, you know the routine...
Pitt On A Mission: reports suggest that Brad Pitt may replace Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible franchise...
Bad Movie Tech: a very interesting and funny list of terrible uses of movie technology in movies...
Spielberg Back In The Park: will Steven Spielberg actually direct the fourth Jurassic Park movie? Hmm. Let's just get Indy 4 done first, eh Steve..?
21 Sep 06. BBC 2, 9.00 pm WRITERS & DIRECTORS: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant CAST: Ricky Gervais (Andy Millman), Ashley Jensen (Maggie Jacobs), Stephen Merchant (Agent), David Bowie (Himself), Shaun Williamson (Barry/Shaun), Liza Tarbuck (Rita), Sarah Moyle (Kimberley), Jamie Chapman (Brains), Andrew Buckley (Gobbler), Shaun Pye (Greg), Claire Adams (Cathy), Ryozo Kohira (Mr Yamaguchi), Richard Morris (Homeless Man), David Earl (Obsessive Fan), Nicola Sanderson (Receptionist), Pascal Langdale (Mark), Naomi Bentley (Linda) & Ula (Count F)
Andy finds modest fame after his sitcom is broadcast, but stardom isn't quite what he expected...
It's becoming clearer that the second series of Extras is quite a different beast to its predecessor. The emphasis has shifted quite dramatically to focus on Andy's sitcom nightmare (trapped in a "shitcom" catering to the lowest common denominator).
As a result, supporting characters like Stephen Merchant's aloof Agent and Shaun Williamson's dour "Barry" have been lifted into more prominent roles, while Ashley Jensen's Maggie has been relegated to a stooge and sounding board.
Episode 2 opens with a scarily accurate pastiche of a bad BBC sitcom in Andy's When The Whistle Blows, culminating in a visiting Japanese businessman being serenaded by a racist song. It's un-PC humour typical of Gervais, but not particularly "so bad it's funny", just obvious and a little tired.
The bigger picture this week is how minor stardom affects Andy's life, whose now a recognisable face after 6 million people tuned in to his show. It's a turnaround in status Gervais went through himself after The Office, so I'm sure some of this comes from the heart. Of course, unlike Gervais, Andy's breakthrough sitcom is an embarasssment to the airwaves and brings him more heartache than elation.
This is best exemplified by an obsessive fan in Andy's local pub, who is overwhelmed to be in the presence of someone mildly famous and fawns over Andy to a ridiculous degree: getting him to "do the face" for a photo and talk to a similarly geeky friend by phone.
Later, Andy seeks refuge with Maggie, his Agent and Barry in an exclusive bar that has regular celebrity clientelle. It's here that Andy finds shortlived VIP status (usurped by the arrival of David Bowie), but also discovers that the high-brow guests are more condescending about Andy's sitcom and take great delight in quoting its bad reviews.
Comedy of embarassment has been the staple of writers Gervais and Merchant through the years, and a particularly cringe-worthy moment occurs in Episode 2 with David Bowie, who hears about Andy's sitcom plight. To say more would ruin the surprise, but it's a nicely timed Simpsons-esque gag that proves very memorable.
Sadly, the rest of the episode is very hit-and-miss. Andy tries to woo a lady moving into his block of flats by having Maggie pretend to be an autography hunter... but it falls flat for being too contrived and old-hat. It's actually becoming quite alarming how many jokes in this new series are dying, and it's also losing the focus of the titular extras.
Ashley Jensen is underused to a ridiculous degree, playing second-fiddle to Gervais in most scenes, and even pushed into the background like a comedy gooseberry. She serves no real purpose throughout the whole episode, and considering she stole the show last year that's quite a disappointment.
As with last week, the humanity of the episode works far better than the comedy. Of particular note is Andy's realization that he's essentially turning into Barry (a popular actor now treated as a joke and struggling to find praise from his peers). Shaun Williamson is superb as long-suffering Barry, now carving out a poignant and sympathetic character from what was once just a one-joke extended cameo.
Stephen Merchant's Agent is less successful now he's found freedom from behind his desk. Merchant is a competent performer, but the material is very thin for him -- a joke about Sky calling Andy (to install a dish) is a real groaner, and the scene where he mistakes a review of The Wind In The Willows for When The Whistle Blows isn't believable or particularly clever. In fact, that's been the stumbling block of series 2 so far. Believability. Last year the show was a superb blend of mundane reality and warped celebrity cameos, with Gervais unselfishly sharing the jokes amongst his co-stars. This year, the balance has tilted into unsophisticated parody and Gervais is milking everything in sight. There's a scene where Andy debates giving money to a homeless man that should have spun comedy gold, but instead just came across as half-baked.
Ricky Gervais is a self-proclaimed fan of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, and it's interesting to note how much of Extras series 2 is infringing on David's formula. Like Larry, Andy is now famous (not to the same degree, but the parallel is there), and he's more of a one-man show struggling through life. The British cynicism and awkwardness is more prevailant (no Larry-style rants, just quiet loathing), but I hope Gervais quickly realigns the show back to what made it so great last year.
Overall, this was a disappointing episode with a few choice moments, but far more misses than we're used to from Gervais and co. As with last week, the final scene is fittingly awkward and poignant, but I just wish Episode 2 had tempered its keen sense of the downbeat with more genuine laugh-out-loud moments...
Wednesday, 20 September 2006
"KISS KISS, BANG BANG" (2005) - DVD REVIEW WRITER & DIRECTOR: Shane Black CAST: Robert Downey Jr (Harry Lockhart), Val Kilmer (Gay Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony), Corbin Bernsen (Harlan Dexter), Dash Mihok (Mr Frying Pan) & Larry Miller (Dabney Shaw)
In the late-80s Shane Black was the most famous screenwriter on the planet -- no mean feat for a profession typically pushed into the background, despite being the creative cornerstone of the filmmaking industry. His scripts for Lethal Weapon (1987) and The Last Boy Scout(1991) were celebrated action genre fare, but his success faltered with Last Action Hero (1993) and sputtered to a halt with the failure of The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996).
Now, after a decade in the Hollywood wilderness, Black is back. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a noir detective story set in L.A about small-time crook Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr), who accidentally stumbles into a film auditon while trying to escape the law, and finds himself cast in a film. From here, Harry is told to research his new role by shadowing a homosexual private eye called Gay Perry (Kilmer), which leads him to childhood sweetheart Harmony (Monaghan) and into a web of murder and intrigue...
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a resolutely entertaining movie. Black wrote himself a brilliant screenplay to direct, dripping with wit and energy. This is a polished gem of a storyline, balancing witty comedy and action with immaculate grace. It helps that the movie is pure cinema, with kinetic camerawork and some beautifully composed sequences (quite an amazing piece of work considering this is Black's directorial debut!) The movie is wonderfully narrated by Harry and the voice-over is used brilliantly to inform and entertain in equal measure.
There's a gleeful sense of fun that permeates the film, with the mystery woven around dozens of memorable moments and clever character exchanges. Black is a master at subverting audience expectation, with practically every scene taking an unexpected turn or humorous twist. Of particularly delight is Harry Lockhart accidentally urinating on a corpse that has been smuggled into his bathroom and having to explain this to Perry, a scene where Harry challenges someone to a fight in full-on bad-ass mode (only to be humiliatingly beaten up), or the moment Harry's finger is cut off by a slammed door and later fed to a dog. These moment all sound like skits from a Farrelly Brothers movie, but Black treats them all with tongue-in-cheek seriousness and the actors all underplay the comedy to perfection.
Robert Downey Jr is an actor most famous for his hedonistic personal life than his movie work these days, but he's forever turning in superb performances between prison sentences. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang marks another highlight in his chequered career, although he's effectively playing the cheeky smart-mouthed rogue you associate with him. Regardless, he's a bundle of energy and oozes screen charisma.
Val Kilmer, an actor that disappeared into the same wilderness as Black post-Batman Forever, also makes a significant return to form. Kilmer is great as Gay Perry, never giving in to stereotype and crafting a believable character who just happens to be gay. His repartee with Downey Jr is also a core reason for the film's success, with both actors clearly relaxed in each other's presence and confident with the script.
Michelle Monaghan, on this evidence, is surely an actress on the precipice of the mainstream success Mission Impossible III didn't give her in 2006. As Harmony, she's believable, gutsy, kooky and a confident actress able to hold her own against the more established leads. She succeeds magnificently in a role that would usually have been written as a titillating cliche.
As you can no doubt tell, the sole reason for this movie's success is Shane Black himself. The actors are all talented performers, but it's through Black's ear for snappy dialogue and characterisation that they find their voice. With a script this good, and a director clearly enjoying fooling around with established film convention, everything else just slots neatly into place.
Told in novel-like "chapters", all named after Ray Bradbury literature ("Farewell, My Lovely", "The Simple Art Of Murder", etc), Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is confident filmmaking performed by on-form actors. There is never a dull moment as the mystery bubbles along happily and keeps you hooked until its blistering finale. As the credits roll you can't help hoping for more advenures with Harry and Perry...
The DVD release of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang has quite stylish case artwork, but it's perhaps a bit too ambivalent for general buyers. The menu screens are competent and fast-loading, but nothing special.
PICTURE: The 2.20:1 widescreen anamorphic picture is gerat, but slightly too soft. Black plays with the medium quite a bit in the film, saturating colours and altering the look numerous times, but the disc copes well. The images are well-definited with zero grain or other artifacts.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent for range and impact, with plenty of effects spitting from the speakers. The spread of audio across the speakers is very good and nicely balanced. Dialogue is well handled and this is overall a good transfer.
Commentary: The most substantial bonus item is an audio commentary with Kilmer, Downey, and Black. It's most notable for the fact Kilmer is constantly teased about the fact the movie is supposed to be a comedy-thriller, as his comments take everything far too seriously.
Gag Reel: This runs for 4 minutes and is of moderate interest, and a Theatrical Trailer completed the package.
Overall, this is a very disappointing release in terms of extra features, but the movie transfer is good and almost an essential purchase for fans of well-made comedy-action thrillers.
Monday, 18 September 2006
"JEEPERS CREEPERS 2" - MOVIE REVIEW WRITER & DIRECTOR: Victor Salva CAST: Ray Wise (Jack Taggart), Jonathan Breck (The Creeper), Garikayi Mutambirwa (Deaundre Davis), Eric Nenninger (Scott), Nicki Aycox (Minxie Hayes) & Marieh Delfino (Rhona Truitt) On the final day of its 23 day feast, a bat-like creature known as The Creeper descends on a basketball team trapped inside their coach...
Horror sequels are typically unnecessary exercises where the law of diminishing returns is rarely disproven; just look at Friday The 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream. But, with relatively small budgets and a custom-made audience, they do tend to make money... and heaven knows Jeepers Creepers 2 is a title with little else to warrant its existence.
Jeepers Creepers (2001) was an effective little horror of two distinct halves; the first demonstrated commendable restraint and effective shocks, evoking memories of Spielberg classic Duel, before the second half degenerated into an obvious Stephen King-esque TV Movie. Still, it was rescued from complete oblivion with a chilling final shot...
The sequel continues the story of "The Creeper", a demonic bat-like man-creature that awakens every 23rd Spring to eat for 23 days. Director Victor Salva apparently wrote this rule to prevent sequels (as a movie set in 2024 would be too expensive), but producer Francis Ford Coppolla simply suggested having the sequel take place on the final day of The Creeper's 2001 banquet. D'oh! Sssh, don't tell Mr Salva, but I'm guessing a 1978 prequel would be the next logical step...
Jeepers Creepers 2 finds a victorious basketball team travelling across sunny Poho County, only to suffer a flat tyre (actually the result of a "ninja-star" made of human flesh, uh-oh...) It transpires that the passengers (your stereotypical gang of bickering jocks, dumb adults, and braindead cheerleaders) have all been targeted by The Creeper.
This simple premise of teens trapped in a broken bus and having to fight a creature outside is the film's entire plot, save a weak sub-plot about farmer Jack Taggart (Ray Wise) tracking The Creeper down after it killed his young son the day before.
Something quite insulting to audiences is the film's inability to explain The Creeper's modus operandi to its new characters, so the script throws in the unexplained psychic visions of cheerleader Minxie Hayes (Nicki Aycox) that helps fill in the gaps for them all! Handy, that.
But the problems with Jeepers Creepers 2 don't stop with a terrible plot contrivance. Of primary concern is that the original lost its effectiveness once the antagonist was unveiled as a human-bat that steals victims' body parts. Therefore, the sequel is simply an extension of the first film's disappointing latter half. However, if you're watching a sequel, you've probably seen the first movie and are already prepared to lower your expectations...
Viewed strictly as a creature feature, JC2 does it job on a basic level: there are death scenes (but only a few inventive or effective), a few icky moments (the Creeper's replacement head), and a smattering of clever low-budget effects (just watch the coach get plucked from the road!)
However, the film is crippled by its insipid cast and uninteresting plot. The characters are all broad stroke characatures, with no attempt to make anyone particularly memorable or likeable. It's not even clear who is supposed to be the "hero" -- my money was on sensitive Scott (Eric Nenninger), or perhaps psychic Minxie would pull a Ripley in the latter stages... but no, I was wrong on both counts. They're all just dull cliches begging to be killed.
Ray Wise (RoboCop) becomes the film's sole hope for salvation, but his character proves to be wholly unbelievable. If your son had been killed by a monster, would you spend the next day building a massive truck-mounted gun and stay glued to the radio listening for clues as to the killer's whereabouts? Nah, me neither. But for the purposes of pulp horror, I can let debatable motivation slide. Wise's character should have been this film's version of Quint in Jaws... but he just comes across as a monosyllabic crazy hick.
Director Victor Salva was responsible for Powder (1995), a personal favourite of mine that I recommend you seek out. Powder exhibited a humanity and resonance Salva has never achieved since, and lest we forget the first chunk of Jeepers Creepers was genuinely Spielbergian at times. I find it a shame Salva seems keen to focus on a horror franchise with his Creeper character, as it's clear he's capable of more interesting work.
The opening corn field attack is strong visual horror with its crucifixion iconography and spooky scarecrows, and there are some brief moments throughout JC2 that illustrate Salva's verve and style. But for long stretches this is just a run-of-the-mill horror with little to say thanks to its poor script and weak characters.
The silly epilogue hints at the possibility of a third outing for The Creeper, but I hope Victor Salva steers clear and directs something with the humanity of Powder and the skill of Jeepers Creepers' first half.
Sunday, 17 September 2006
HD-DVD vs BLU-RAY - Round 1 to HD-DVD?
I know many of you are interested in the battle of the next-gen DVD format: HD-DVD or Sony's Blu-Ray. Well, things aren't looking good for Sony at the moment, particularly now Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, seems to think HD-DVD has proven itself the winner already...
Kornblau: "The reviews are in and HD-DVD is hands down the leader in picture quality, audio experiences and interactive capabilities that have never been seen before. Look at the blogs, look at the reviews by the early adopters, and even look at the mainstream media –- HD-DVD has maintained its first-to-market advantage and delivered on the promises of providing the best high definition image and sound quality at the best value for consumers today."
"Take today’s announcement of new players from Toshiba, new PC hardware from Niveus and new titles like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and add the hardware and movies that are coming this Fall and you can see why HD-DVD is poised for a strong holiday.”
According to North American's HD-DVD Promotion Group, more than 60 of the latest studio titles are now available on HD-DVD, with 150 more expected by the end of 2006.
HD-DVD now has the support of: Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, HBO, New Line Home Entertainment and The Weinstein Company.
The higher priced Blu-Ray format, which came to market after HD-DVD, received a serious set-back 2 weeks ago when Sony announced the PlayStation 3 games console (equipped with Blu-Ray) has been delayed by 4 months. This is seen by many as a major problem for Sony, who were hoping to penetrate the market very deeply through its games console.
So, HD-DVD is certainly winning (as I predicted, btw!) Well, at the moment. Let's see what happens when both formats are more widely spread and the general consumers get their chance to pick a side...
Saturday, 16 September 2006
INTERNET OF INTEREST #9
Some more thought-provoking or humorous stories from the world of showbiz:
Latest Charlie Kaufmann Script: someone has read the latest Kaufman script (the genius behind Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine). Not many spoilers, just the total belief that this could be one of the greatest scripts ever, ever written...
5 Comedians Who Have Lost It: an interesting assessment of 5 comedians whose careers have hit the skids. Not sure I agree with some of these choices, or the reasoning behind their inclusion, but interesting stuff...
14 Sep 06. BBC 2, 9.00 pm WRITERS & DIRECTORS: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant CAST: Ricky Gervais (Andy Millman), Ashley Jensen (Maggie), Stephen Merchant (Agent), Orlando Bloom (Himself), Keith Chegwin (Himself), Shaun Williamson (Himself) & Sophia Myles (Lawyer)
While Maggie attracts the attention of Orlando Bloom on the set of a courtroom drama, Andy's dreams of creating a hit BBC sitcom are slowly unravelling when compromises have to be made with the Head Of Comedy...
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant return with a second series of their hit comedy Extras, itself hot-on-the-heels of their global phenomenon The Office.
Events in the life of fortysomething "supporting actor" Andy (Gervais) have taken a surprising turn, with his sitcom script When The Whistle Blows currently being filmed at the BBC, with him in the lead role. Best friend Maggie (the superbly natural Ashley Jensen) is still eeking out a living as an extra, belittled by a friend who has become "proper" actor and spurning the advances of a preening Orlando Bloom...
Ah yes, Bloom. As usual, each episode features a big name guest star, in this instance the boyishly good-looking Orlando (star of Lord Of The Rings and Pirates Of The Caribbean). Bloom plays himself as a narcissistic celeb-mag reading egomaniac who detests Johnny Depp and finds pleasure in winning frivolous magazine polls. Bloom isn't known for comedy, but he handles the self-mocking material quite well and his nonplussed reactions whenever Maggie shoots down his ego are excellent.
Poignancy is never far away from an episode of Extras, as each character is stuck in a world hovering between stardom and insignificance. Gervais' Andy finds that his climb up the ladder of importance means sacrificing his artistic vision and compromising his writing.
There are some good moments throughout the episode, particularly with cult irritant Keith Chegwin struggling to perform a simple dramatic moment without grinning or standing in the right place. Gervais is a great performer of understated pathos, simmering anger, and crushing disappointment. As with The Office's David Brent, Andy Millman gives him the opportunity to play to his strengths. Andy is more "normal" than Brent, so the comic punch comes through watching a decent man struggle with the facile world around him, and sacrifice dignity and principles for the promise of success and fame.
Extras retains the natural style perfected last year. This is a show that lets scenes unfold slowly, clearly designed to mimic the mundanity of filmmaking. However, Extras is never boring... there is always a smart quip, or amusing subversion of recognised personalities (Keith Chegwin enquires if the BBC is still run by "Jews and queers"), while there is a smattering of laugh-out-loud gags. One highlight for me was when Andy is asked to name a single funny British black man... and a poster of Lenny Henry looms into view... but Andy continues to ruminate...
That said, there were some misjudged moments (Cheggers' homophobic outburst; childish, obvious and unfunny) and a creeping sense of apathy in the writing. Episode 1 was quite formulaic and didn't offer as many barbed jokes as you'd expect from a show created to puncture celebrity culture.
Stephen Merchant's Agent and Shaun Williamson's "Barrie from EastEnders" seemed shoehorned into the script more prominently, given their success as peripheral characters last year. Williamson in particular was a highlight last time, but here he was given too much limelight. Both characters work much better as near-cameos...
The more serious moments in Episode 1 worked better than the comedy, particularly when Andy is forced to play his sitcom character as a hideous blend of Brent and Coronation Street's Reg Holdsworth (complete with trite catchphrase "Are you 'avin' a laff?"), and exits the stage to contemplate his indignity behind the scenes...
It's human moments like this that sweep Extras up from the doldrums and give the show its added weight and significance. But there were serious problems in Episode 1 with believability: Keith Chegwin as a racist isn't a clever "twisting" of his perceived personality, it was just a flase slurr on his character I'm amazed he agreed to, while Bloom's infatuation with Maggie just didn't ring true.
However, while Episode 1 certainly stretches credibility (the lynchpin of the series, essentially), on the evidence of this opener I'm sure there will be plenty of laughs in this new series, and hopefully some better episodes overall. But, a small part of me already suspects Gervais and Merchant will be wise to end the show soon before it gets too stale...
Wednesday, 13 September 2006
EXTRAS - Series 2
I'm a huge fan of Ricky Gervais. I think The Office is almost a perfect sitcom, immediately destined for classic status alongside Fawlty Towers and Blackadder. I think Ricky and Steve Merchant are brilliant writers that totally understand their craft, and both are fine performers. Yes, they don't have much range... Ricky essentially riffs on his David Brent character to varying degrees, while Steve just plays mild-mannered stupid friends... but it works. Most comic actors don't fly too far from their comfort zone -- just look at John Cleese.
Extras last year was a superb show, different to The Office but with a similar vibe in many ways. It's not as good (how could it be?) but it's a suitable and commendable follow-up with some wonderful moments.
The second series is due to start tomorrow, and I can't wait! As before, there's a great list of famous faces due to make appearances, such as Orlando Bloom, Sir Ian McKellen, David Bowie, Daniel Radcliffe and, er, Jonathan Ross.
I'll be reviewing each episode here on DMDB...
Tuesday, 12 September 2006
TERMINATOR 4 - He's Back?
James Cameron's original The Terminator (1984) was one of the first "adult" films I ever saw and is therefore burned into my memory. It was such a gritty and nightmarish film with a perfect tone and sense of gloom.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) hit when I was at the perfect age to appreciate it (again, technically too young to see it at 12, but us kids have ways of seeing these 18-certificate films...) Again, a brilliant film bursting with imagination and amazing special effects. I remember everyone imitating the T-1000 in the playground for months afterwards...
And then came Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003). The 12-year gap between T2 and T3 worked in the third film's favour, I think. Yes, Arnie wasn't as muscular or youthful as before (which was a shame), but the anticipation for T3 helped the movie coast along on goodwill. Yes, it's the worst Terminator film and has lots of problems... but it wasn't the total disaster many expected without Cameron in charge, and it actually contained some good moments (eg, the finale is beautiful). It was just a shame the hardcore adult nature of the previous films was replaced with something more humorous and watered-down.
Terminator 4. Hmmm. Well, the script is apparently written and rumour has it that the filmmakers are just waiting for Arnie to finish his term as Governor of California. I still can't see the Austrian Oak having as much input as before, though. He only just carried off the role in T3, and it's now three years later. It will probably be a few years before T4 becomes a reality, so Arnie will be even older. I hope he's involved, but I can actually imagine someone replacing him as the Terminator (same model, different face...)
The Rock is a name often mentioned as replacing Arnie in his most iconic role, and the pair are good friends. So it's possible. I think The Rock could pull it off... but Arnie will have to be in the mix somewhere. The plot will apparently focus on the time-travel aspect of the Terminator mythology, so we should see the Future War only glimpsed in flashforwards previously, and hopefully T4 will bring the saga full circle by letting us see John Connor send his own father back in time to 1984. That would be cool, and a fitting end.
Mind you, I haven't mentioned The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This is a TV series that looks set to become reality very soon, and will follow the adventures of Sarah Connor. Linda Hamilton will not reprise her movie role, and clearly the series will have to be set either between T1 and T2, or T2 and T3 (er, because Sarah is dead by the time T3 happens).
Could be interesting, could be terrible. It's difficult to see what the ongoing plot will be! Will a Terminator be chasing Sarah across America while she's pregnant with John? Will we see her on the run while John is with his foster parents (before being captured at the end of the series and put in T2's asylum? Who knows.
Monday, 11 September 2006
THE £1 MILLION INTERNET FILM
I stumbled upon an interesting website recently called A Swarm Of Angels. They're a company looking for people to join them (for a £25 membership fee) that will go towards raising a film budget of £1 million. Once they reach this target, The Swarm aim to create and distribute a film over the internet. Well, that's the idea.
It all sounds a bit vague, I know... but there's a handy FAQ to mull over, though. Personally I think it's an interesting idea, but not unique. I still remember the Legionnaire's debacle back in 1997. Legionnaire's was a sci-fi film that aimed to raise its money through donations (and give each donor a small role in the film and a credit). But... erm... the film never got made. I'm not sure if anyone got their money back... maybe it had been spent and was non-refundable? Not sure.
Anyway, Swarm might be different. I'll have to re-read the site more carefully. They say they have the support of some celebrity writers, like comic-book scribe Warren Ellis. It looks like The Swarm know what they're doing, and have all angles covered, so if you think you'd like to get involved... check out their site!
As a kid I used to love the Knight Rider TV series with David Hasselhoff. Back in those days, watching through child eyes, The Hoff didn't seem particularly cheesy or kitsch (I'm sure he didn't become a cult icon until mid-way through the 90s Baywatch series). Anyway, Knight Rider was a great show for kids –- a talking car equipped with gadgets that fights crime is just about as good as it gets when you're young! The success of the show was primarily K.I.T.T the car (a vehicle still dripping with cool over 20 years later), but I also think the chemistry between Michael Knight (Hoff) and K.I.T.T (William Daniels' voice) was also a big draw. I sometimes catch repeats of the show on TV and can see the weakness of the actual plots, but the Hoff/KITT dynamic is still pretty strong.
A film version of Knight Rider has been in development hell since the 90s (and, indeed, there have been a few attempts at revamping the concept in failed TV pilots and TV-Movies), but it's the big-budget Hollywood adaptation fans are after. David Hassellhoff has recently stated he'd like to star in the film with Orlando Bloom as his son, but I don't think that's likely to happen! I'm sure The Hoff will be involved, though (a great cameo surely beckons), and I'll be very disappointed if they re-voice KITT! Ain't It Cool News recently released some concept art for the movie-version KITT (see above), but it could just be some fan art. Either way, it looks pretty decent and is certainly a redesign I could live with. Yes, I know... this is another remake of a TV show... and they almost always fail... but sometimes nostalgia clouds your thinking... so I'm really hoping they pull this off!
Wednesday, 6 September 2006
"V FOR VENDETTA" (2-DISC SPECIAL EDITION) – DVD REVIEW Director: James McTiege WRITERS: The Wachowski Brothers (based on the novel by Alan Moore & David Lloyd)CAST: Natalie Portman (Evey Hammond), Hugo Weaving (V), John Hurt (Sutler), Stephen Fry (Dietrich),
In a British dystopia, citizens are controlled by a fascist regime, but an enigmatic freedom fighter known only as V has plans to bring down the tyrannical government through terrorist acts...
It's common courtesy to begin any review of V For Vendetta by extolling the virtues of the original graphic novel. Indeed, Alan Moore's source material is an intelligent, gritty and exciting read, touching on British Thatcher-era politics while simultaneously finding inspiration from The Phantom Of The Opera and The Count Of Monte Cristo, amongst others.
In many ways Moore is the comic-book equivalent to Quentin Tarantino; a talented writer able to take old concepts, styles and characters and write them in original and refreshing ways.
The sad fact permeating Moore's literary genius is that every movie adaptation has been a disappointment, despite his work's inherent cinematic quality. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen squandered the massive potential offered in Moore's books and became a bloated, incoherent, CGI mess... Jack The Ripper thriller From Hell was handsomely staged but took silly liberties with the story (opium-influenced visions?), while Constantine took Moore's character away from his British working class roots...
So how has V For Vendetta fared? The novel was an early work from Moore that, personally, always connected with me more than his celebrated masterpiece Watchmen. The man with the unenviable task of translating this hard-edge political terrorist thriller is Australian James McTiege -- protégé of Andy and Larry Wachowski (creators of The Matrix, where McTiege helmed the Second Unit). The Wachowski's script has been around for a few years now, and their producer influence certainly extends into the finished product. The film has the same glossy sheen and classy coldness of The Matrix, together with similar themes of imprisonment and repression.
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix's Agent Smith) plays the eponymous anti-hero, famously replacing actor James Purefoy (who had difficulty acting behind an expressionless mask), and he does a tremendous job. His body language and lilting vocals are perfect for the role (despite occasionally sounding like Rowan Atkinson!) and he manages to create an engaging character despite the difficult conditions.
Natalie Portman gives a solid performance as heroine Evey, only occasionally over-enunciating her English accent and becoming stilted. Generally, she's always beguiling and occasionally impressive –- particularly in the central torture sequence that required the shaving of her head. However, I think she's a little too impassive to events a lot of the time, often drifting through the movie relying on her saucer-eyed naivety. It would have been nice to have seen some passion, but even after her "transformation" into V's cohort... she remains a bit too aloof to be really effective in the latter third of the film.
Stephen Rea plays Chief Inspector Finch, the sombre lawman charged with finding "Codename V" at all costs. Rea does well with the thin material his character is given, but all of his scenes carry the distinct aroma of a below-par detective drama. John Hurt, in a canny piece of casting, plays High Chancellor Sutler, a "Big Brother" role given added potency because Hurt played Winston Smith in 1984. Now on the dark side of an Orwellian-style government, Hurt clearly relishes the chance to chew the scenery from behind a colossal TV screen... but again it's a shame his character is more two-dimensional than the graphic novel.
The supporting cast are fine, but only Stephen Fry impresses as a gay talk show host whose home hides material the government banned. You tend to forget just how great Fry can be on film, and his small but interesting role is a great delight. Tim Piggott-Smith is suitably slimy as Creedy (a Himmler to Sutler's Hitler, essentially), and the rest of the cast do well in the many small roles sprinkled throughout the film.
The interesting thing about V For Vendetta, from a fan's perspective, are the deviations from the original book. On the whole, I think the Wachowski Brothers did a good job in excising pointless subplots and expanding or focusing on others. In particular I liked how the script wove a deadly plague into the government's machinations, how Evey's back-story was made clearer, and how Evey seeking sanctuary with Fry's Dietrich was handled. It might sound like heresy to Moore's legion of fans, but I think the script does improve some of the looser elements of Moore's original story (the FATE computer, the flood, the L.S.D trip), but it doesn't always succeed...
The primary difference between the script and novel is the finale. In the film, the population of London are each sent V costumes to symbolically "become one" and march on the government. In the book, V masterminds a period of extreme anarchy that leaves the population in turmoil... with the belief that chaos will usher in renewed order. I can understand why the film's ending exists; it's more cinematic and palatable for audiences. I don't have a major issue with the change, although this costumed-unity is clearly symbolic of anti-individualism (surely something a fascist government agrees with?) Despite this late wobble in the film's message, the finale still packs an explosive punch (literally), although am I alone in thinking it ends too abruptly? The book left me with that thoughtful, emotionally raw feeling you get from a good story after the last page is read.. but the film seemed to cut the emotional high off too soon.
But there's really little value in nit-picking the film by comparing it to the book. Generally, the film translates the core messages well, and updates the story for a post-9/11 audience now well-versed in terrorism. V For Vendetta is a dialogue-heavy movie with a low emphasis on action spectacle, so people expecting a hardcore vigilante "superhero" movie could be disappointed, but others will be pleased to see a "popcorn movie" tackle weighty issues in its own distinct way.
In summation, this is currently the best adaptation of a Moore property yet (faint praise though it may be). There are moments in V For Vendetta that sit uneasily (indeed, the first half-hour is full of cringe-making "British-isms" and some awful TV news footage), lots of characters say "bollocks" just to confirm to foreigners the film is set in England, while Rea pronounces "lever" as the Americanized "levva". I fail to understand why these mispronunciations slip through! Anyway, I said not to nit-pick, didn't it...
As with most adaptations, I really enjoyed the moments that faithfully translated the source material: Evey's torture sequence is excellent, the Valerie letter flashback is sublime, and V's "birth" at Larkhill is fantastic. Elsewhere, even the CGI-assisted "bullet-time" daggers don't destroy the goodwill the film builds up, and there is always an interesting visual or intriguing piece of dialogue to keep you invested in the story.
24: Season 6 Box Set 300 Dark Crystal (Anniversary Edition) Heroes: Season 1, Part 1 Hitcher The IT Crowd: Series 1 & 2 Box Set Labyrinth (Anniversary Edition) The Prisoner: 40th Anniversary Special Edition Box Set Tribe: Series 1-3 Box Set Troy (Director's Cut)
Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer Flyboys Fonejacker: Series 1 Quantum Leap: The Complete Collection Spider-Man 3
Bridge To Terabithia Family Gun: Season 6 Poltergeist: 25th Anniversary Edition Vacancy
Hostel: Part II Lost: Season 3 Box Set Michael Palin's New Europe Smallville: Season 6 TMNT
Deadwood: Season 1-3 Box Set Die Hard 4.0 Flight Of The Conchords: Complete First Season House: Season 3 Robin Hood: Series 1 Sarah Jane Adventures
Tuesday, 5 September 2006
WICKER MAN BURNS! I was sad to see all the negative reviews of Neil LaBute's Wicker Man remake. I thought the trailer looked quite classy and interesting, but it seems the movie is a bit of a mess. I liked the idea of altering the original's "Pagan vs Christianity" allegory, to a "Man vs Woman" device, with a sinister matriarchy headed by the wonderful Ellen Burstyn. It seemed this would be enough of a change to make for an interesting revival of the story for a new generation.
But it seems Neil LaBute seriously dropped the ball. I haven't seen the film myself so I'll reserve judgment for now, but I'm interested to see how bad it apparently is. Mark Kermode said the filmmakers seemed to realize just how slow and mood-setting the story actually is, so decided to shoehorn in some pointless action set-pieces all over the place. If true, it's a classic case of studio interference, I think.
In the age of the "MTV fast-edit", there are less films that just take their time to build their characters, premise and atmosphere. I dread to think what a Shiningremake would look like these days, but I think there'd be psychic visions every ten minutes, multiple spooky ghosts and probably a finale involving the Overlook blowing up in Michael Bay-esque slo-mo.
The original 1973 Wicker Manis now a recognized cult classic, but it's certainly a product of its time. It's often very slow and ponderous, but with a suffocating air of uneasiness throughout. The finale regularly graces Top 100 Scary Moments polls, and it's definitely the main reason the film is held in such high esteem over 30 years later. It had a devastating ending, and we don't get many downbeat endings in cinema (particularly these days).
A remake could have worked brilliantly. Enough time has passed, and the original isn't common knowledge to most moviegoers. By relocating to America and altering the islander's modus operandi, I though the filmmakers had cleverly managed to tweak the concept just enough to be a worthwhile venture. Nobody wants an exact duplicate of the original with better visuals and production design (even Dawn Of The Dead's remake made the zombies faster and completely rewrote the characters). No, we want something fresh, but recognizable and in-keeping with its predecessor. Basically, something that doesn't devalue the original.
The best example of a remake is a toss-up between Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) and Carpenter's The Thing(1982). Both took silly 50's sci-fi hokum and transformed it into startling cinema just by treating the premise seriously. Those directors recognized the greatness within these old films, and saw a potential the original filmmakers couldn't realize. So maybe that's where Wicker Man 06 went wrong: the original was already great to begin with, so it didn't need a remake. It may be considered an "old film" now, but it never squandered its potential like the first Ocean's Eleven, for example.
Maybe lessons will be learned from Wicker Man's failure? Ha! I doubt it. More and more remakes are being made each year it seems. We've already had Poseidon and The Omen in cinemas, with both proving to be pointless retreads. Still, I'm sure both were profitable for the studios, or will be once the DVD sales figures come in.
Saturday, 2 September 2006
INTERNET OF INTEREST #8
Some more goodies from the wonderful worldwide web:
Female Troopers: every wondered what feminine Star Wars Stormtroopers would look like? No. Well, some people do... and the results are amusing..
Idiocracy Limited: the upcoming Mike Judge comedy (he created Beavis & Butthead and Office Space) has been unceremoniously put into "limited release" in the US. Read all about it here.
Music Videos: years ago music videos were seen as the beginning of the end for audio music consumption... so how have they succeeded beyond everyone's expectations 25 years later?
Sacha Baron Cohen: the creator of Ali G and Borat is going down a storm in the US these days. The Borat movie has been getting rave reviews at test screenings, and Sacha's appearance on the Conan O'Brien show just illustrates how funny the guy is.
STAR TREK - REVISITED There has been quite a significant shift in Star Trek in recent years, by harking back to the past. Star Trek Enterprise became the first prequel series to the Original Series with William Shatner, although it struggled in the ratings and was cancelled after season 4.
The much-derided Star Trek The Motion Picture was released on DVD with specially recreated sequences and crisper special-effects... and won some acclaim from fans... and recently Lost co-creator J.J Abrams has been tasked with creating a Star Trek movie featuring younger versions of Kirk and Spock.
And now... it's just been announced that the Original Series is getting a CGI overhaul! Yes, that's right, Paramount are keen to update TOS for the HD era, by redoing all the optical effects with brand new CGI. That way, the series can be shown in HD and the visual effects won't suffer under the high-definition scrutiny.
The effects company undertaking this revamp are EdenFX, who recently worked on the Star Trek Enterprise episode "In A Mirror Darkly", where they created a quite superb original U.S.S Enterprise in CGI. For a good report on this interesting project, read more here.