Wednesday, 27 December 2006

ROBIN HOOD 1.12 - "The Return Of The King" (Part 1 of 2)

23 Dec 06. BBC 1, 7.05 pm
WRITER: Dominic Minghella DIRECTOR: Matthew Evans
Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Lucy Grifiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan-a-Dale) & Anjali Jay (Djak)

News of the King's imminent return has serious repercussions; Allan-A-Dale and Will contemplate going back to their former lives, while Marian faces her marriage to Sir Guy...

The end is near. Series creator Dominic Minghella returns to write an episode and the result is a more involving episode than usual, although much of this is because the story promises a major shake-up for the show...

The Return Of The King (that whirring is Professor Tolkien spinning in his grave) is a strange mix of rudimentary subplots that helps the episode become greater than the sum of its parts. I suppose we should just be grateful we don't have to suffer another dungeon rescue, but it's interesting to note that this episode barely utilizes the series greatest assets: Keith Allen's Sheriff and Richard Armitage's Guy Of Gisborne. Sure, it touches on them, but the main thrust of the story is some investigation by Robin into proving Sir Guy tries to kill the King in the Middle East.

King Richard's return provides the impetus for some character development and also seems to be effectively winding up the series. Of course, a second series has been confirmed by the BBC, but part of me feels Robin Hood should have been a mini-series with a definite beginning, middle and end. I've enjoyed the series, for what it's worth, but the thought of another 13 episodes doesn't fill me with joy, just apathy.

Anyway, the saving grace of the episode is with Minghella's sure-handed writing, particularly regarding the Robin and Marian romance. This love story has always been a focus of previous Robin Hood adaptations, but it's been curiously mishandled throughout Minghella's new series. Jonas Armstrong and the delightful Lucy Griffiths work well together and this episode only proves that more should have been done earlier to strengthen the Robin/Marian dynamic.

As it stands, everything is effectively set-up for the series finale and this episode ends on a daring note that I didn't expect (but am 99% certain will be resolved quickly next time!) The finale looks set to bring the whole Robin/Marian/Guy plot to a satisfying conclusion and this episode provides an entertaining preamble with fewer annoyances than most episodes.

Overall, this isn's great -- but it's good. There's enough freshness and developments to ensure you'll stick around to see how the series ends, but there's still that nagging feeling that once this story is resolved... would you still want to go visit Sherwood Forest next year?

Friday, 22 December 2006

DMD - Issue 184

This week's Dan's Movie Digest has been released over at DVD Fever. Issue 184 contains news on Anne Hathaway's Passengers, The Flash, Sin City 2 and Tarzan, together with an obituary for Peter Boyle...


1. The Pursuit Of Happyness $26.5m
2. Eragon $23.2m
3. Charlotte's Web $11.5m
4. Happy Feet $8.36m
5. The Holiday $8.01m
6. Apocalypto $8.01m
7. Blood Diamond $6.52m
8. Casino Royale $5.63m
9. The Nativity Story $4.66m
10. Grounded: Unaccompanied Minors $3.55m


1. Happy Feet £2.03m
2. The Holiday £1.59m
3. Casino Royale £1.44m
4. Eragon £1.31m
5. Deja Vu £1.09m
6. Flushed Away £78k
7. The Santa Clause: The Escape Clause £55k
8. Black Christmas £36k
9. Grounded: Unaccompanied Minors £24k
10. Deck The Halls £17k

The updates to the blog will be quite haphazard over the Christmas period, for obvious reasons. I'll try to keep the Torchwood and Robin Hood reviews running, as well as a special review for the Doctor Who Christmas Special - The Runaway Bride...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, 21 December 2006

TORCHWOOD 1.10 - "Out Of Time"

16 Dec 06. BBC 3, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Catherine Tregenna DIRECTOR: Alice Troughton
CAST: John Barrowman (Capt Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Naoka Mori (Toshiko Sato), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Kai Owen (Rhyss Williams), Louise Delamere (Diane), Mark Lewis Jones (John Ellis), Olivia Hallinan (Emma), Sam Beezeley (Alan Ellis), Marion Fenner (Nurse), Janine Carrington (Alesha), Rhea Bailey (Jade), Andrew MacBean (Flying Instructor) & Ciaran Dowd (Barman)

Three people from 1953 arrive in contemporary Cardiff after their aeroplane flies through the Rift...

Out Of Time is a welcome change of pace from the usual Torchwood episode. No monsters, no alien technology, no real threat. Instead, the episode is entirely devoted to character development, as its three unwitting time-travellers impact the lives of Gwen, Owen and Jack.

Given the episode's simple yet intriguing premise, Out Of Time is disappointing in terms of narrative and science-fiction ideas. Its only trump card is in some entertaining sequences of 50s-meets-00s comedy. In particular, a visit to an everyday supermarket contains plenty of amusement, from disbelief at the quantity of food (particularly bananas), "indecent" magazine front covers, automatic doors, lifelike TV images, luxury masacara, etc.

The initial fish-out-of-water humour is welcome and involving, but once things settle down it becomes clear the episode doesn't have anywhere very interesting to go. The episode is split into three strands, following the ramifications of being thrown into the 21st-Century from each character's point of view...

Diane (Delamere; excellent), a vampish female pilot, falls in love with Owen, providing the story with a number of sexual scenes that don't really work. Again, Torchwood's main problem is that its teenaged content just doesn't combine with sexual scenes. Here, Owen is seen having sex with Diane and engaging in post-coital dirty talk, and instead of forming a believable adult texture to the show, it just looks out of place.

For all its desperate attempts to appear adult, Torchwood just can't get the mix right. If its style was more mature and its stories able to engage adult brains, its sexual overtones would be more cohesive -- but it's not. Torchwood proves that you can't shoehorn sub-Queer As Folk moments into a Doctor Who storyline.

Gwen's plot is the most retarded, with her befriending Emma (Hallinan), a teenaged time-traveller excited about 2006's possibilities, and effectively "mothering" her. Well, in a sisterly way. Sadly it doesn't ever ring true in either case, although atleast Gwen's boyfriend Rhys make an appearance after weeks of absence!

The third plot is the most serious, focusing on John Ellis (Jones; good value), a middle-aged man who takes the ramifications of time-travel more seriously than his bubbly companions. He tracks down his son, who's now a deluded old man in a nursing home, in the sole scene that has something moving to say about the heartache time-travel can bring. His story ultimately leads to a downbeat end that is most memorable for providing us with another example of Jack's controversial choices when faced with live and death!

Overall, I commend Out Of Time's writer Catherine Tregenna for doing something different in the series and the performances are all of a high standard. The character development for Owen is good (ingoring the misplaced dirty talk and a very rushed feeling to his romance), but Gwen motherly plot is forced and contrived. The resolutions to each character's dilemmas are handled well and the episode has a certain charm, but it's also quite plodding.

Beyond some fun culture-clash scenarios, Out Of Time doesn't provide anything to sink your teeth into... and I doubt any of these events will have any lasting effect on the show. A gently amusing filler episode with its heart in the right place, but ultimately quite dry and pointless.

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

CAST: Jay Hernandez (Paxton), Derek Richardson (Josh), Eythor Gudjonsson (Oli), Barbara Nedeljakova (Natalya), Jan Vlasak (The Dutch Businessman), Jana Kaderabkova (Svetlana), Jennifer Lim (Kana), Keiko Seiko (Yuki), Lubomir Bukovy (Alex), Jana Havlickova (Vala), Rick Hoffman (The American Client) & Petr Janis (The German Surgeon)

Three hedonistic backpackers travel to Bratislava and become victims of a sinister international trade in human torture...

Writer-director Eli Roth has been quick to proclaim himself horror's saving grace -- the Wes Craven for the 00s. Roth's confidence stems from the success of his low-budget debut Cabin Fever, an effective throwback to 80s shlock. Since then, Roth has been taken under the wing of Quentin Tarantino and snubbed post-Fever studio offers to get Hostel off the ground based on a spec script.

Hostel is apparently based on an unsubstantiated Thai website, discovered by Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News, that offered the chance to torture and kill people for $10,000. Roth supplants the idea to Eastern Europe and stretches this thin idea into a workable script that's laborious with set-up and snappy with the pay-off.

The movie begins in Amsterdam, where three backpackers, Hispanic Yank Paxton (Hernandez), shy aspiring writer Josh (Richardson) and Icelandic party animal Oli (Gudjonsson), are busy frequenting ganja bars and the notorious Red Light District. After getting locked out of their hostel, the trio are advised by a Russian samaritan to head for Bratislava, where all their sexual dreams will come true.

Arriving in the crumbling Slovakian town (the tourist board must hate Roth), the friends find refuge in a hostel and are taken under the voluptuous wings of sexy goodtime girls Natalya (Nedeljakova) and Svetlana (Kaderabkova). It appears all their fantasies are indeed being fulfilled, but they're unaware the girls are being paid to deliver them to businessmen who want to torture and kill for kicks.

Hostel desperately wants to be a gruelling and nightmarish benchmark in sadistic horror cinema, but ultimately it fails to achieve these lofty aims. The idea is simple and should spark interest in audiences minds, but the execution (no pun intended) is too haphazard to be effective...

The build up to the film's raison d'etre is long, but nevertheless interesting and involving thanks to the lead actors' chemistry. But after such a slow burn the film's torture sequences aren't particularly worthwhile. As with all horror, nothing can beat your imagination, so despite a few in-your-face glimpses at drills in flesh and sliced ankles, it's all more distasteful than horrific. The first torture is the most successful, as the situation is so bewildering and performed with relish by victim Richardson and torturor Jan Vlasak as a creepy Dutch Businessman.

By the time the film's other tortures take place, the movie is beginning to lose its chilly mystique, but manages to work by focusing on survival and revenge. Roth's script isn't very good, particularly in Act III when the number of contrivances for Hernandez to exact his escape and revenge is almost comical. A scene where three villains neatly gather together just asking to be run over is particularly unlikely, as is Vlasak's eventual comeuppance.

Roth's ability as a writer is definitely in question, but his directorial skills are much better. For the most part Roth knows how to build tension and how often to show graphic shots. Hostel works best when events are left to the imagination, best exemplified by decapitated head sitting on a table and some mutilations done off-camera. Eventually, Roth gives in and shows a burned-out eyeball and chain saw dismemberment, but for the most part the balance between seen and unseen is good. Of course, those actually hoping for an orgy of no-holds-barred violence will be disappointed.

The subtext to the film isn't too bad: the fact three horny college kids spend their vacation treating women as sex objects, only to become objectified themselves as meat to be slaughtered, isn't too shabby. But Hostel doesn't do anything within its genre to become anything more than a gory oddity. The best thing about the film is its ugly premise, but while Roth occassionally hits the right note and delivers some chills, it's all a bit underwhelming, disappointing and very contrived.

Only threee sequences are worth your time: the first torture scene because of its performances and directorial skill, a moment when Herndandez pleads for his life in a German torturor's native tongue and a brash US businessman debating how best to kill his victim.

The rest? Entertaining but forgettable nonsense that struggles to achieve the shock-horror verve of Japanese director Takashi Miike (who even cameos), but provides enough tits, blood and violence to please horror fans for the short-term. Also nice to spot the injokes: Pulp Fiction on TV as homage to producer Tarantino, while a sex scene takes place to the song "How Do" from The Wicker Man, Room 237 from The Shining appears, and the search for orange-jacketed Oli reminds of a similar pursuit for Don't Look Now's red-coated ghost...

Eli Roth may think he's the saviour of horror cinema, but he's not on the evidence of this. The fact he's already stuck filming an unnecessary sequel seems to prove this...


This Unseen Edition contains 27 seconds of extra "eye goo" which is disappointing for those expecting a more gruelling DVD experience than in the theatre, but there you go.

PICTURE: The 2.35:1 widescreen image is very good, with crisp exterior daylight scenes and smooth blacks.

SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is effective, particularly when people or vehicles make noises from the rear speakers. There's plenty of opportunity for atmospheric screams, rattling and water dripping, and it all helps to place you in the film's nihilistic mindspace. English and French subtitles.


Commentary Track 1: Director Eli Roth is joined by executive producer Quentin Tarantino, Boza Yakin and Scott Spiegel. Great fun, as you'd expect with movie-junkie Tarantino's involvement.

Commentary Track 2: Eli Roth is joined by actors Barbara Nedeljakova and Eyethor Gudjonsson, editor George Folsey Jr and web critic Harry Knowles. This is a patchwork track, with commentators dropping in for short intervals, sometimes via phone. Roth does well interviewing his colleagues.

Commentary Track 3: Roth is joined by producer Chris Briggs and documentarian brother Gabriel Roth. A more relaxed commentary that focuses on production. Good stuff.

Commentary Track 4: Roth's own commentary that gives advice to aspiring filmmakers, anecdotes, pre-production inspirations and other goodness. Despite being the fouth yack-track, it's amazing to find Roth still has things to talk about!

Hostel Dissected Documentary: An excellent feature split into three parts, recounting the making of the film in Prague -- full of special effects, interviews and a cheeky vibe throughout.

Kill The Car! Multi-Angle: A strange extra that allows you to watch a gang of Czech kids destroy a car, from three alternative angles. Okay, but pointless.

Rounding out the disc are theatrical trailers for When A Stranger Calls, Silent Hill, The Cave, Underworld: Evolution, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, Boogeyman, The Fog and Ring Around The Rosie.

A great disc for filmmakers interested in horror, primarily via the entertaining commentary tracks and the documentary. For everyone else, a solid disc that should provide some additional entertainment. Most importantly, the video and audio transfer is excellent. Recommended.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

ROBIN HOOD 1.11 - "Dead Man Walking"

16 Dec 06. BBC 1, 7.15 pm
WRITER: Simon Ashford DIRECTOR: Graeme Harper
CAST: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Lucy Grifiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan-a-Dale), Anjali Jay (Djak), Juliet Seal (Alice Little) & Clem Tibber (Little John Jr)

When his son is captured by Gisbourne's men, Little John is provoked into mounting an unsuccessful surprise attack that lands him in jail...

Better late than never, I suppose. Yes, Little John (Kennedy) finally gets something to do in episode 11, even though that just means even more grimmacing, worldess staring, bellowing and punching people in the face.

I've been sorely disappointed with Little John's character in this series, as the silent giant isn't really working. It doesn't help that Gordon Kennedy isn't really physically imposing (no matter what anyone says), and his performances have been low-key and mumbling. Simply put, he lacks the charismatic sparkle that should be speaking volumes through muted performance.

Dead Man Walking (a serious title atlast, although not particularly relevant) returns us to Little John's fractured family -- Alice, his wife who thinks he's dead and Little John Junior, a blonde-haired sprog who doesn't recognise him. The plot finds all three locked in the Sheriff's dungeon after Little John attempts to rescue his son following an unfair tax collection in Locksley. From here, it's a predictable emotional journey into acceptance of Little John as a father and their eventual rescue by Robin and his outlaws.

So far, so painfully familiar. As we reach the end of the season, the storytelling repetition is becoming almost unbearable, with each installment concocting different circumstances to rescue people from dungeons! This episode is also the first time the music became unbearable to hear -- not because the music is bad (it's actually one of the show's strong points), but because the same cues are used over and over ad nauseum. Running scene? Track 1. Fight scene? Track 2. Evil plotting scene? Track 3. Etc.

The Sheriff (Allen) reaches almost pantomime levels of absurdity here with his "Festival Of Pain" (a room of torture devices and hot coals with which to burn people). The tone is also wrong, particularly when the Sheriff sadistically has his guards try and burn a little boy's face off! It's all very well making Keith Allen's Sheriff more devilish and cruel than other incarnations, but it's not really family viewing when taken to this extreme.

As a side note, the gutless townsfolk are beginning to wrankle with me. They're constantly standing back and letting the Sheriff walk all over them, happy to sit back and let Robin do all the dirty work. One is beginning to think Robin should start a peasant's revolt, as these simpletons need a kick up the backside to stirr them into action. Guy Of Gisbourne seems to be the only character actively on the Sheriff's side, so it's hardly an insurmountable task to topple them both. Or why not send someone back to the Middle East to let King John know what's going on? Oh well.

We also have to contend with the absolutely ridiculous notion that Little John isn't recognised by the Sheriff or identified as one of Robin's men because he forgot to wear his ID tags! I can't believe the Sheriff is incapable of recognising Robin's men, especially considering the number of times he's seen them (bearded oaf Little John is hardly a face in the crowd!), but the plot demands this selective amnesia. The outlaws also spend most episodes wandering around Nottingham Castle in cloaks and getting away with it. The Sheriff better hope somebody invents the WANTED poster soon!

Overall, Dead Man Walking is very average at best, with long droughts of boredom, some misjudged sadism and a pervasive feeling of repetition and predictability. Robin Hood had better gets its aim back now the season's end is in sight...

Monday, 18 December 2006


It's A Wonderful Life, Miracle On 34th Street, the millionth showing of The Snowman... yes it's Christmas again! Seasonal films are a predictable feature of the winter schedules, but - the truth is - as good as those festive classica are, sometimes you want something brasher, subversive, cynical or anarchic to kick the festive holiday out of its cosy snugness...

So, here is my Top 10 Alternative Christmas Movies -- films you don't necessarily associate with Christmas or have a different slant on the usual cloying seasonal cheer...

Dir: Richard Donner Stars: Mel Gibson & Danny Glover
You don't really think of Lethal Weapon as being a Ch
ristmas movie, but screenwriter Shane Black's tale of a veteran detective (Glover) being partnered with a reckless cop with a death wish (Gibson) takes place over the festive period. It's also worth checking out Black's other seasonal actioners -- The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Dir: Bob Clark Stars: Olivia Hussey & Keir Dullea
This early gem from the slasher genre takes place over Christmas, with a sorority house terrorized by a serial-killer. It's not very feel-good and the genre reached self-parody ten years ago (Scream), but this is still an effective slice of old-school festive frights. A disapppointing remake was released this month.

Dir: John Landis Stars: Eddie Murphy & Dan Aykroyd
A modern remake of The Prince And The Pauper, with a wily street con man and a snobbish investor swapping lives thanks to two callous millionaires. The comedy takes place over Christmas, in New York, so there's plenty of seasonal atmosphere and morality between the gags and Jamie Lee Curtis' breasts.

Dir: Henry Selick Stars: Chris Sarandon & Catherine O'Hara (voices)
Jack Skellington, the King Of Halloweentown, discovers Chrismas Town, but doesn't understand the concept. This cult smash, from the fertile imagination of Tim Burton, is given life through Henry Selick's wonderful animation and proves to be a memorable fusion of the spooky and festive. Catch the re-released 3-D version in cinemas, if you can

Dir: Tim Burton Stars: Johnny Depp & Winona Ryder
Burton's signature movie about a robot teen created by a reclusive inventor, cursed with scissors for hands, who is taken in by a suburban family. Chunks of the film isn't particularly festive, but by the time the snow falls and Danny Elfman's gothic music stirrs into action, Burton's fairytale is the perfect yuletide companion...

5. DIE HARD, 1988
Dir: John McTiernan Stars: Bruce Willis & Alan Rickman
It may not sound festive, but this classic actioner about terrorists in a high-rise building being thwarted by a vest-wearing cop, is somehow given an extra boost by its Christmas setting. Check out the airport-based sequel Die Hard 2 for more festive anti-terrorism... and, altogether now: "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

4. HOME ALONE, 1990
Dir: Christopher Columbus Stars: Macauley Culkin & Joe Pesci
Every child's dream/nightmare combines in this festive comedy about a young boy accidentally left home alone over Christmas, unaware that his house is a target for two inept burglars. Cue traps. Lots of traps. Smalltown USA is always a great setting for Christmas movies, particularly after a winter wonderland makeover, and the festivities are all here, but with a Tom & Jerry sense of violence. Catch the sequel for more, but with the festive backdrop of New York City.

3. GREMLINS, 1984
Dir: Joe Dante Stars: Zach Galligan & Phoebe Cates
The teen favourite about a boy who is given a cute creature called a "Mogwai", only for it to spawn hundreds of meddlesome gremlins. Dante's anarchic movie is a B-movie taking place in cosy Americana (the town is a clear homage the Capra classic It's A Wonderful Life). A subversive slice of monster thrills that benefits immensely from the seasonal setting.

2. BAD SANTA, 2003
Dir: Terry Zwigoff Stars: Billy Bob Thornton
The most cynical Christmas movie ever made? Definitely. In Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton plays a conman who poses as Santa Clause in order to rob department stores. This is certainly adults-only stuff and the ideal tonic for anyone feeling overloaded by too much festive goodness. The twisted dark side of Christmas, with bad attitude to spare...

1. SCROOGED, 1988
Dir: Richard Donner Stars: Bill Murray & Karen Allen
Bill Murray takes centre stage in this modern remake of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol, playing an unlikeable TV exec who is visited by three ghosts over the Christmas period, all trying to make him change his "bah, humbug" viewpoint. The classic tale is twisted into crueller areas, but never loses its sense of morality. This is a fun update, if a little crass in places, blessed with fine performances and a heart-warming finale...

Saturday, 16 December 2006


Be sure to check out these websites!

SUBTITLE CONFUSION: A funny list of some English subtitles for Hong Kong movies, all 100% genuine cases of lost in translation...

TOP 10 MOVIE TRAILERS OF 2006: includes Casino Royale, 300, The Departed and Hostel.

BAD ASS ROBOTS: videos of some of cinema's most influential and generally cool robots!

SANTA CLAUSE CONQUERS THE MARTIANS: widely regarded as the worst movie ever made, the studio have been too embarassed to renew the copyright, so this "so awful it's good" film is now in the public domain. Download it!

GEEKY MOVIES THAT DON'T SUCK: it's never been a better time to be a bonafide geek, with this list proving that stereotypically "geeky" movies are actually fantastic films!

Thursday, 14 December 2006

GOTHIKA (2003)
DIRECTOR: Mathie Kassovitz
WRITER: Sebastian Gutierrez
CAST: Halle Berry (Miranda Grey), Robert Downey Jr (Pete Graham), Charles S. Dutton (Dr Douglas Grey), Penelope Cruz (Chloe Sava), Bernard Hill (Phil Parsons), John Carroll Lynch (Sheriff Ryan), Dorian Harewood (Teddy Howard), Bronwen Mantel (Irene), Matthew G. Taylor (Turlington), Michael Perron (Joe) & Andrea Sheldon (Tracey Seavers)

A gifted psychiatrist wakes up to find herself imprisoned in the asylum where she works; with no memory of how she got there, or why she was sectioned...

French director Mathie Kassovitz has spent most of his career appearing as minor characters in films such as Asterix & Obelix and Spileberg's Munich, but with Gothika he got his shot at Hollywood stardom. Unfortunately he missed the mark with a by-the-numbers supernatural chiller with very little originality on display.

The script by Sebastian Gutierrez has an intriguing premise that could have resulted in a labyrinthine plot about memory and insanity, with dashes of the supernatural thrown into the mix. Sadly, Gutierrez's story never provides the warped delirium required, and quickly devolves into an implausible chiller with a mystery that's only mysterious if you've never seen any spooky thrillers in your life.

Halle Berry (cursed post-Oscar success to star in turkeys?), plays psychiatrist Miranda Grey. Dr Grey is our heroine; a sexy woman in a tight skirt who works in an asylum styled by the Addam's family, with the strange habit of taking a nightly swim in the asylum's swimming pool! One night, travelling home during a thunderstorm, Miranda has a ghostly encounter (the film's only truly freaky sequence), and wakes up to find herself accused of murder following temporary insanity.

To be fair, Berry's not the real problem here. She does her best with the thin material and gives a decent performance as the wrongly accused. She's crippled, as are all the actors (even Downey Jr can't elevate this squib), by the film's total reliance on cliches. Flickering lights, ghostly footprints, thunderstorms, it's all here. And while these elements are expected in such chillers, they're usually background atmosphere. But Gothika has so little going on with its characters or plot, the atmospherics become the focus.

Robert Downey Jr is totally wasted and doesn't have enough screentime, or link to the film's main plot, to squeeze out a decent performance. Charles S. Dutton and Bernard Hill don't really do much beyond deliver lines competently. Penelope Cruz is perhaps the only person trying to deliver a great performance, clearly thinking she's in an awards contender and not a risible B-grade horror. Unfortunately, Cruz's role is just a pointless extended cameo anyway.

Clearly influenced by a zillion forebearers, Gothika is a patchwork of better movies dealing with similar subject matter. If you've seen one posession/ghost story with a serial-killer to unmask, you've seen them all. The makers of Gothika clearly have, and no attempt is made to provide any original spins on the subject matter. Actually, once the hope of an interesting film is extinguished (the moment Berry is freed from her cell by a ghost who only recently threw into walls for no logical reason), it's mild fun to second-guess the film's "twists".

Gothika is guilty of numerous contrivances and formulaic tripe. I particularly cringed when a security guard lets Mirando take his car keys without raising the alarm because... well, he likes her and watched her swim after work sometimes! Never mind the fact she's an escaped crackpot killer, eh? Also, the problem of a small cast in a mystery film also rears its ugly head, as it's clear ONE of them wil be the villain (in true Scooby Doo style.)

Mathie Kassovitz doesn't embarass himself totally as director, as nothing is particularly bad visually, it's just that the story is bland, unoriginal and Kassovitz doesn't do anything interesting. Strangely, music video director Thom Oliphant is credited as having provided "added scenes", which could mean the odd good fright wasn't even courtesy of Kassovitz (the fiery ghost, the swimming pool sequence?) But who knows...

Overall, Gothika is very disappointing, but adequate late-night viewing if you're in the mood for something forgettable and unintentionally stupid. There's the odd jump-scare, but this film has been done much better many, many times before. And no, I still have no idea what the title refers to!

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

TORCHWOOD 1.9 - "Random Shoes"

10 Dec 06. BBC 3, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Jacquetta May DIRECTOR: James Eskrine
CAST: John Barrowman (Capt Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Naoka Mori (Toshiko Sato), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Paul Chequer (Eugene), Luke Bromley (Young Eugene), Nicola Duffett (Bronwen Jones), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Mr Garret), Steve Meo (Josh), Celyn Jones (Gary), Robyn Isaac (Linda), Gareth Potter (Shaun Jones), Joshua Hughes (Terry Jones), Amy Starling (Waitress), Leroy Liburd (Cafe Owner) & Ryan Chappell (Pete)

Eugene, a young man obsessed with aliens, is killed in a road accident, but returns as a ghost to help Gwen piece together the circumstances surrounding his demise...

Random Shoes is one of those amenable episodes that washes over you. It occassionally pricks your interest, but ultimately it's perfectly happy to go through the motions, becoming gradually more disappointing as it unfolds.

The premise is nothing original, with the idea of a ghost investigating its own death famously utilized in
Ghost and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), but the idea is always worth revisiting if it's given a new spin. Sadly, only Eugene's general inability to interact with Gwen offers anything different. If Eugene could interact the episode would be 30 minutes shorter and if his situation didn't mysteriously prompt amnesia -- heck, this episode would be 10 minutes long!

There are similarities in Jacquetta May's script to the Doctor Who episode
Love & Monsters (a loner obsessed with aliens who knows about the series' protagonists), but while it's undoubtedly superior to that ghastly Doctor Who effort, it's still slapdash. The potential is there, but the execution is uninspired.

As with many Torchwood episodes, the opening 10 minutes is promising and the plot generally moves along nicely for 20 minutes, but then the mystery surrounding Eugene's death becomes plodding and limps to its conclusion.

The macguffin of the story is an "alien eye" Eugene acquired from a teacher in 1992 that "fell from the sky". 14 years later, Eurgene puts the eye on Ebay and is surprised to find the bidding reach £15,000. This aspect of the episode is intriguing when it arises, but doesn't combine with the overall mystery very well. The titular "clue" (photos of shoes on a mobile phone) is explained away as just an unimportant accident, while the reason for Eugene's spiritual return is just silly (swallowing an alien eye?)

May's script creaks and groans in its third act, unable to competently pull the story together without reverting to silly measures (best way to hide a prized alien eye -- swallow it with banana milkshake!) It's a shame, because some elements of the story work well...

Paul Chequer is excellent as Eugene, bringing a quiet humanity and pathos to the role, while Gwen (Eve Myles) finally gets to investigate something properly for once! Myles has been disappointing throughout this series -- underused, ineffective, often a liability and two-timing her boyfriend within weeks of joining the team!

As a character, Gwen Cooper is treated better here, but she's still gormless and boring, wandering through the story with very little passion or emotion. A romantic undercurrent between Gwen and Eugene is forced and too one-sided, which is a shame because Paul Chequer's performance is a cut above the script.

Overall, Random Shoes (original title, Invisible Eugene, was sillier but more relevant) is an odd episode. The intention to create a whimsical investigative ghost story is there, but the strength of writing isn't. By the time the finale arrives, complete with an embarassing rendition of Danny Boy from Eugene's estranged father, the story has been exposed for what it is -- a good idea lacking a decent plot. It's one saving grace is that the message behind the episode (to make the most of your life because it's fleeting) actually remains untarnished, thanks to Chequer's performance and an ending that stays true to itself.

The lesson to be learned is clear: if you're going to write a supernatural mystery, don't throw stuff into the mix and expect it to stick. Random Shoes proves that approach will never work; you just get a convoluted third act that fails to provide a satisfying resolution and puts the entire episode in a bad light.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006


Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood has been renewed for a second series. The show has been a big hit for BBC 3 after its first episode got 2.4 million viewers (the biggest ever audience for a non-terrestrial drama). Of course, ratings have dipped significantly since the show began, but Torchwood is still outperforming Sky One's Lost...

Sky One paid nearly £1 million per episode for the rights to Lost, poaching it from Channel 4, but its third season hasn't been the runaway success Sky expected. Of course, Lost's transfer to satellite is bound to have cost some non-Sky viewers, while Lost addicts are typically tech-savvy and probably downloaded the series illegally online during its US run.

Lost reaches its sixth episode on Sky One this Sunday, reaching the self-imposed hiatus US viewers are now experiencing. Stateside, Lost's third season continues in February, with Sky likely to resume the series in March. It remains to be seen what impact this 2-month break will have on British viewers used to Channel 4's uninterrupted runs.

Torchwood begins shooting its second season in Spring 2007 for a release in Autumn. Interestingly, Torchwood faces the reverse of Lost's dilemma and is transferring from digital to terrestrial television. Yes, BBC 2 will premiere the second season, with BBC 3 becoming home to the repeats.

Monday, 11 December 2006

ROBIN HOOD 1.10 - "Peace? Off!"

9 Dec 06. BBC 1, 6.55 pm
WRITERS: Bev Doyle & Richard Kurti DIRECTOR: Graeme Harper
CAST: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Lucy Grifiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan-a-Dale), Anjali Jay (Djak), Rhys Meredith (Harold) & Raji James (Prince Malik)

An emissary from the Middle East arrives to negotiate peace with Prince John, but the Sheriff has plans to use him as ransom...

The last episode written by Bev Doyle and Richard Kurti was the great The Taxman Cometh, so my expectations were high for their sophomore effort. Sadly, Peace? Off!, while containing some good ideas and fun moments, is a mess.

Robin Hood has always had a tendency to parallel the Crusades with current Middle Eastern issues throughout its stories, but this episode marks the most overt attempt yet. When Prince Malik arrives at Nottingham Castle to begin peace negotiations with Prince John, the outlaws find themselves fearing the arrival of this "Saracen sorceror" after discovering a ghoulish mask in his abandoned carriage.

Their discovery leads to the series' first dabble with the supernatural (an angle used often, to fantastic success, in Robin Of Sherwood) and for awhile the intriguing elements, including a hypnotized Crusader setting fire to churches, all indicate a silly but entertaining story is about to unfold. Sadly, once things are set in motion, it all quickly crumbles into nonsense after 20 minutes.

Basically, Doyle and Kurit's script begins to overload credibility (female ninja's) and contains unforgivable lapses in historical fact. Of course, it's easy to overlook these slip-ups and enjoy the show on a basic level, as it contains some entertaining fight scenes and the best use of Keith Allen's Sheriff in weeks, but is that enough? As a story, Peace? Off! just washes over you, testing your patience as its plot thickens into sludge.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the best aspect of Robin Of Sherwood was its pagan mythology, a fresh element that even appeared in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Quite why this new series shys away from a supernatural angle is ridiculous, as kids are far more interested in spooky stories than politics! I don't mean the series should start including witches huddled around cauldrons, but the 12th-Century was a more superstitious and fightening place than Robin Hood is showing us. Maybe we should get a taste of that occassionally.

The usual saviours of bad episodes, Lucy Griffiths and Richard Armitage, are mostly sidelined here, leaving Keith Allen to wring some entertainment in the latter moments as the cowardly Sheriff -- but it's not enough. Guest star Raji James, as Prince Malik, isn't very convincing, delivering stilted dialogue and looking faintly embarassed by everything. Rhys Meredith is better as "psycho" Harold, particularly in scenes alongside Sam Troughton, but even his performance is tainted by the climactic fight scene (army issue khaki? The costume department must have gone to sleep!)

Overall, the title Peace? Off! should tell you all you need to know! This episode is unintentionally hilarious in places, so there is entertainment to be had, but it's just disappointing to see a potentially interesting story shoot itself in the foot. All the actors seem to be trying (with the exception of the self-conscious James) but nobody can rescue a plot this messy.

A terrible disappointment given the potential.

Saturday, 9 December 2006

DMD - Issue 183

The 183rd issue of Dan's Movie Digest is out over at DVD Fever. It's been a slow week, so the only news worthy of mention comes from Beverly Hills Cop 4, He-Man, Star Trek XI and Sweeney Todd.


1. Happy Feet $17.5m
2. Casino Royale $15.1m
3. Deja Vu $10.9m
4. The Nativity Story $7.8m
5. Deck The Halls $6.6m
6. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause $4.8m
7. Borat $4.7m
8. Turistas $3.5m
9. Strange Than Fiction $3.3m
10. Van Wilder 2: The Rise Of Taj $2.3m


1. Casino Royale £5.3m
2. Flushed Away £3.1m
3. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause £1m
4. Borat £77k
5. Deck The Halls £60k
6. Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny £38k
7. Stranger Than Fiction £36k
8. Jackass Number Two £31k
9. Pan's Labyrinth £24k
10. Dhoom 2 £23k

Friday, 8 December 2006

ROBIN HOOD 1.9 - "A Thing Or Two About Loyalty"

2 Dec 06. BBC 1, 7.05 pm
WRITER: Paul Cornell DIRECTOR: Graeme Harper
CAST: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Lucy Grifiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan-a-Dale), Anjali Jay (Djak), Michael Elwyn (Sir Edward), Simon Green (Merton) & Kelly Adams (Eve)

A scientist who has created an explosive powder is tortured by the Sheriff into revealing how to make it. Meanwhile, Much is made a Lord as part of a propoganda plot...

It's a Doctor Who reunion in Sherwood Forest, with writer Paul Cornell (Father's Day) and director Graeme Harper (Rise Of The Cybermen) both involved in Robin Hood's ninth adventure, as the series gallops into the home stretch...

Things seem to be solidifying more in this episode. The series began on a shaky footing that showed signs of improvement around episode 4, but most plots still suffers from a repetitive nature. In A Thing Or Two About Loyalty, if you ignore yet another prisoner in the dungeon, the deja vu is quite minimal -- although it's unfortunate last week's acid plot bares similarities to this week's quest for "Greek Fire"...

What works best in episode 9 is the characterisations, most notably Sam Troughton's Much, who gets away from dopey sidekick status to become quite an endearing hero, after the Sheriff grants hima Lordship. Of course, it's all in the hope of making the populace believe such reward is possible if they follow the law. It's an idea that seems implausible and weak at first, but the plot thickens once Much's new servant girl, Eve (Adams; excellent), is revealed as snooping for the Sheriff.

Quite why Much seriously thinks the public wouldn't be suspicious of the Sheriff rewarding a known outlaw is anyone's guess, though! Maybe he was just too enamoured with those fancy robes to think straight? Or maybe he really is just a dopey sidekick after all...

Richard Armitage is fast overtaking Lucy Griffiths as the best reason to watch. As Sir Guy, his rortured character is the most three-dimensional creation. Here it's revealed the principled scientist Lambert was once Guy's friend -- hardly the sort of friendship you'd expect. So was Sir Guy once a more level-headed nobleman before the Sheriff poured poison in his ear? Darth Vader to the Sheriff's Emperor? It certainly seems that he's using Marian as some kind of redemption through marriage, at any rate.

Paul Cornell's script is good, moving smoothly between the two plots (the Greek Fire ledger and Much's nobility) with ease. It also manages to overlap both stories without seeming too forced. The explosive finale (literally) is a little over-directed by Graeme Harper, appearing disjointed in places, but the effects work is decent.

However, it's becoming apparent to me that the modern flourishes to Robin Hood don't do the show any favours. Every time a fired arrow makes a cartoony whoosing noise, an on-screen legend shoots onto the screen, or a "bullseye screen transition" occurs, it just distances me from the period setting. But I don't hold out much hope in them disappearing!

Overall, the strong characterisations help grease the wheels on an occassionally wayward plot. It's good to see some darkness return (a death scene is quite grizzly, even if it's not shown on-screen) and the performances from Armitage, Troughton and Allen provide a lot of enjoyment. I particularly hope Much's love interest Eve (the beautiful Kelly Adams) returns soon.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
WRITERS: Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
CAST: Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor), James Marsden (Richard White), Frank Langella (Perry White), Sam Huntington (Jimmy), Parker Posey (Kitty Kowalski), Eva Marie Saint (Martha Kent), Kal Penn (Stanford), David Fabrizio (Brutus) & Tristan Lake Leabu (Jason White)

After a five year absence, Superman returns to Earth and finds Lois is engaged to be married, with a young son. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has stolen Kryptonian technology...

The story may claim Superman's been gone for 5 years, but it's actually been far longer than that in reality. It's 19 years since the movie franchise died with Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, and an incredible 28 years since Christopher Reeve donned the blue tights for Richard Donner's 1978 original. But now, after a decade of failed attempts, director Bryan Singer oversees Superman's triumphant return to the silver screen...

As a gay man, Bryan Singer knows about being different. His personal experiences of homophobia fed into his two X-Men movies, and Superman is another character with an outsider status (literally) that Singer uses to create a more tangible sense of alienation than even Donner's celebrated classic.

Brandon Routh takes the lead as the eponymous Kryptonian hero, an extraordinarily difficult role to get right given its inherent silliness and audience identification with Reeves' performance. Routh's interpretation is generally good -- more youthful than Reeves', but with the same quiet confidence. Crucially, he exudes good vibes and looks great in the costume.

As Clark Kent, Routh's emulation of Reeves is more noticeable; his voice, mannerisms and features clearly in homage. However, Routh is less accident prone, just socially awkward. If there are problems with Clark in the film it's more a fault of the script and not Routh.

Kate Bosworth is better than expected as Lois Lane, but her youth and cutie-pie features don't fit with the brassy reporter's deameanour from the comics. I never once believed she was a top investigative reporter, primarily because there's very little reporting to be done in the movie. However, Bosworth isn't totally miscast, as there's believable chemistry with Routh and scenes with boyfriend Richard and son Jason are excellent.

Kevin Spacey gets to ham it up as villain Lex Luthor. He's always a fantastic on-screen presence and a perfect piece of casting. Spacey channels Gene Hackman's flamboyancy, but twists this occassional camp into more ruthless and sadistic areas. Spacey isn't the revelation I was expecting, but he's good fun and looks fantastic with his bald head and white trenchcoat.

The supporting cast are strong: James Marsden is great as Richard White, Lois' boyfriend and thorn in the side of Superman's romantic aspirations. It would have been easy to make Richard a one-dimensional slimeball, but thankfully the writers were clever and make him a decent guy -- injecting complexity and interest into the love triangle (or is that a love square if you include Clark?)

Elsewhere, Sam Huntington is good as overeager photographer Jimmy, Frank Langella is okay as Perry White (just too calm), Parker Posey is memorable as Kitty (Miss Teschmacher in all but name), child actor Tristan Lake Leabu avoids the "annoying kid" tag as Jason White and Eve Saint Marie is perfectly cast as Martha Kent.

The source of Superman Returns' greatest strength, and its greatest weakness, lies in the script by Singer and his X-Men 2 scribes Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. The overall premise is good -- that of a Saviour returning to a world that has moved on in his absence, while Luthor's masterplan to create continents using crystals stolen from the Fortress Of Solitude is interesting and neatly plotted.

The film really flies in its subtext. Superman Returns is the most achingly heartfelt popcorn movie for ages, dealing with loneliness, fathers and sons. The film finds weight when using Superman in a spiritual context (Prometheus is mentioned, while Jesus Christ and Atlas are referenced visually) and once the storyline mixes with the notion of family... it's almost bursting with emotion.

A moment where Martha Kent is unable to be at her sick son's bedside for fear of revealing his real identity is almost a throwaway moment, yet contains more humanity than Fantastic Four managed in over an hour.

However, the script falls down in some key areas: the Daily Planet, that hotbed of investigative journalism, just doesn't ring true. Lois Lane's adventuring is entirely by accident (her investigative journalism amounts to some phone calls), while a partnership with Clark is missing. These oversights are strange given Singer's love for Donner's original -- as the 1978 Daily Planet, with its bustling frosted glass offices, and the close parternship between Clark and Lois, was realizeed much better.

It's also clear that the script and direction steal shamelessly from Superman and Superman II. I have no problem with this, as Superman contains iconic designs that will probably never be surpassed. Singer utilizes many of Donner's ideas: the Fortress Of Solitude, Marlon Brando as Jor-El (resurrected with high-tech wizardry), the 3-D flying credits sequence, Lois' bad spelling, choice dialogue, the closing Superman flyby in space, John William's theme tune, etc.

Whenever Singer references Superman's past, it sends a tingle of satisfaction down your spine (there's even a nod to Superman's front page debut in Action Comics #1) and without these touchstones Superman Returns would be an emptier experience. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then on the evidence of Superman Returns Richard Donner must be redder than Supes' cape!

Ultimately, Singer was wise to incorporate elements from the earlier films, as Superman can't be as easily revamped like Batman. Singer's movie is a beguiling mix of futurism (the Boeing 777), modernity (mobile phones), and retro (Metropolis' art-deco design). It's a mix that works well; fresh and new while still identifiably ripped from the Golden Age of comics, with 70s undertones courtesy of Donner's influence.

The special effects are extremely good, with the flying sequences particularly well accomplished -- although the use of a CGI double for Routh looks false in places. Spider-Man got away with it because Spidey's face is always obscured, but Routh's digital features often looks too plastic. The VFX highlight is undoubtedly a stunning airplane rescue, closely followed by the finale's feat of incredible strength. The script finds plenty of opportunities to demonstrate Superman's abilities in interesting ways, too: x-ray scanning Lois for injuries, disintegrating debris with laser vision, or crumpling a bullett on his eye.

Overall, while I found some areas disappointing (Lois and Clark in the Daily Planet) Superman Returns generally provides an emotionally engaging story full of entertaining performances and exciting action. Singer's take is quite slavish to the past, so anyone hoping for a totally fresh movie could be disappointed. But, for fans who just want to scrub Superman III and IV from their memory and get a decent continuation from Superman II, look no further.

There's an emotional purity to Superman that no other comic-book property can match (the Jesus Christ allegory isn't an overstatement -- check out the finale), and fans of Superman's legacy will get additional thrills with the numerous injokes and references. Above all, Superman Returns swept me up with its performances, effects, engaging story and sense of nostalgia.

The Man Of Steel has definitely returned...and he's flying high!


PICTURE: The 2.35:1 widescreen image is annoyingly below par for a movie filmed with digital cameras in the last year! Compression artifacts pepper the transfer, particularly during dark scenes, while edge enhancement is noticeable. Daylight scenes are excellent however. Not terrible, but inexcusable.

SOUND: The DD5.1 sound mix is awesome! There's always something going on aurally and the action sequences are brought to vivid life. A few sequences even caused me to jump in my seat! Dialogue is crisp and distortion absent.


The film is held on Disc 1, with all the extras on Disc 2.

Requiem For Krypton (2 hrs 53 mins): An exhaustive documentary that chronicles the history of the production, from Singer's initial involvement, through Brandon Routh's screen test, onto all the production insight and ending with a blooper reel. Absolutely fantastic!

Resurrecting Jor-El (4 mins): A wonderful animation that details how Rhythm & Hues managed to resurrect Marlon Brando for the movie, using deleted footage from Richard Donner's original film. Excellent.

Deleted Scenes (15 mins): 11 scenes that were cut from the movie, many of which are very good, such as Clark reading some old newspapers using his x-ray vision. Entertaining.

Trailers: the Teaser and Theatrical Trailer for the film, together with promos for the Justice League Heroes video game, the Christopher Reeves Superman Collection and EA Games' Superman Returns video game trailer. Good stuff.

A fantastic line-up, if nothing revolutionary. The menu screens are disappointing given the possibilities with a property like Superman, but the Requiem For Krypton documentary is worth the price of this Special Edition* alone.

It's unfortunate there are no commentary tracks, although I suspect quite a lot of supplementary material is being kept back for a future re-release. Those greedy studio execs would make Lex proud...

* A cheaper one-disc release is available, minus all extras.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

HEROES 1.11 - "Fallout"

4 Dec 06. NBC, 9/8c
WRITER: Joe Pokaski DIRECTOR: John Badham
CAST: Masi Oka (Hiro), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Greg Grunberg (Matt), Clea Duvall (Agent Hanson), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Jack Coleman (Mr Bennet), Nora Zehetner (Eden), Ali Larter (Niki/Jessica), Leonard Betts (D.L), Zachary Quinto (Gabriel Gray/Sylar), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi), Ashley Crow (Sandra), Thomas Dekker (Zack), Tawny Cypress (Simone) & Jimmy Jean-Louis (The Haitian)

Matt interviews Peter following his heroics at the High School, in the hope of finding Sylar. Meanwhile, Isaac contacts Hiro and Jessica is hot on the trail of D.L...

The mid-season finale of Heroes arrives with its usual loose flair, in another story that draws the characters closer together while nudging along the myriad of plots.

Fallout continues the climactic events of Homecoming, with Peter's imprisoned after his scuffle with Sylar while protecting Claire. His imprisonment leads to a meeting with Agent Hanson (Clea Duvall; miscast, but trying) and mind-reader Matt. Mr Bennet (Coleman; now a bonafide regular) glides through the story in his usual laconic style, although his capture of Sylar presents him with meatier scenes with the super-powered killer.

There's a feeling throughout this episode of realignment, with Hiro and Ando even debating the grammar of "save the cheerleader, save the world": was it a consequential sentence, or two tasks assigned to the heroes from Future-Hiro back in Collision?

It's not yet clear if saving Claire's rescue had any direct effect with averting global catastrophe, but the truth of the situation was obviously to provide the show with two potential endings. If Heroes was cancelled, you can be sure Claire's safety would have saved the world, but seeing as Heroes is now a huge success for NBC, the adventures will continue for another dozen episodes...

Heroes enjoys its own premise and Fallout again provides plenty of moments and situations designed to appeal to all the geeks in the audience: Matt's mind-reading causing feedback with Peter, Eden's confrontation with Sylar, the silent Haitian's static field and Jessica's strength. The show uses its stream of "geek-outs" to hide the fact the plots are usually quite simplistic -- they just move at such a quick pace you overlook its storytelling faults.

There are signs the whirlwind carousel is beginning to slow down in Joe Pokaski's script, however. In earlier episodes, every individual plot was interesting to some degree (it was just the performances that crippled a few of them), but after eleven episodes it's becoming clearer which stories are wandering aimlessly. The biggest offender at the moment is Niki's alter-ego Jessica chasing husband D.L; a storyline that exists in its own bubble and isn't tied to the main plots. As such, while the show is generally beginning to pull together, Niki's story is becoming an unwanted distraction.

Milo Ventimiglia is improving as Peter Petrelli, becoming a sort of Italian Keanu Reeves, which works better than you'd expect because of the show's comic-book trappings. Greg Grunberg is solid if uninspiring now, while Santiago Cabrera tries his best to wrestle a decent performance as precognitive painter Isaac. Cabrera hasn't been given much of a role by the writers, but it's impossible to know if he's a good actor struggling with weak material, or being given weak material because the writers knows the actor's limitations and can't be recast now.

Fallout doesn't quite provide the stunning halfway climax I was expecting, but there's enough indication the series still has places to go. Fans will get a kick from one of Isaac's paintings (depicting a monstrous fight for Hiro), a particularly enjoyable character sadly dies, and the finale features a cool glimpse at the future that should ensure your loyalty until Heroes returns for Volume One, Part Two...

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

TORCHWOOD 1.8 - "They Keep Killing Suzie"

3 Dec 06. BBC 3, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Paul Tomalin & Dan McCulloch DIRECTOR: James Strong
CAST: John Barrowman (Capt Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Naoka Mori (Toshiko Sato), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Indira Varma (Suzie Costello) & Yasmine Bannerman (Det Swanson)

To solve a spate of murders, the team are forced to resurrect their ex-colleague Suzie from the dead...

New concepts are in short supply on Torchwood, with most episodes just rehashing movies (
Countrycide = Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Day One = Species, etc), so it was a relief to see They Keep Killing Suzie revisit the show's only original idea so far -- the "Resurrection Glove" from Everything Changes.

Said glove can bring the dead back to life for a few minutes, usually enough time for a quick interrogation (handy when dealing with this week's murder victims.) The glove macguffin eventually leads to the resurrection of the team's murderous ex-colleague Suzie (Varma), who establishes a permanent connection to this mortal coil...

Indira Varma returns as Suzie, a character whose villainy was revealed in the first episode as a surprise twist. Seven episodes later, Suzie is brought back to life as a version of 24's traitorous Nina Meyers. But, whereas Meyers' duplicitness wasn't uncovered for twenty-odd episodes, Suzie's cover was blown in the first episode, meaning there was never any shock involved. Still, the bitch is back in a mostly intelligent plot from writers Paul Tomalin and Dan McCulloch.

Indira Varma is okay as Suzie; she's believable as a Lady Lazarus, if not entirely successful as a female Moriarty. While Suzie's plan to cheat death is excellent, it's unfortunate her own silly actions in the finale leads to her undoing -- if she'd just kept on driving, she'd have been unstoppable! When will these villains learn, eh?

The story is solid throughout, with just a few glitches in logic and storytelling crutches (poetry + detective + giggling lawmen = utter tosh). The episode is fairly mundane until interest piqeues with Suzie's arrival, only to slowly spiral into another gory resolution courtesy of dandy Jack.

I don't blame the writers, really. Some mistakes are made with the writing, but overall it's an interesting use of the Glove's abilities and a good idea to give Torchwood a villain like Suzie.

No, the real disappointments comes from the style trappings Torchwood has fallen into: the awful way their black SUV pulls up at crime scenes (very 70s), the continual use of the slo-mo group shot (outdated cliche), aerial shots of Cardiff, and the frankly distasteful way gay sex is shoehorned into every script! Here, there's an almost sinister inference that Ianto and Jack are lovers! When did that happen? Before or after Jack killed Ianto's girlfriend in Cyberwoman? This revelation made no sense to me, but I guess these guys just spend too much time cooped up underground together.

Overall, They Keep Killing Suzie (hideous title aside), isn't a terrible episode, but it's half-baked and lacks surehanded direction from James Strong to ellevate things. On the whole, it falls victim to the show's eagerness to look like adult content (the number of times a character cocks a gun is ridiculous -- a drinking game must surely be on the way?)

There are also some lapses in quality, most notably when the final scene plays out in broad daylight minutes after the middle of the night! While I applaud the script's ingenuity surroundings its premise, the story is dragged down by the increasingly annoying quirks of Torchwood at large. Still, Suzie atleast informs us something sinister is coming to get Jack -- maybe it'll keep him.

Monday, 4 December 2006

ROBIN HOOD 1.8 - "Tattoo? What Tattoo?"

25 Nov 06. BBC 1, 7.05 pm
WRITER: Julian Mitchell DIRECTOR: Declan O'Dwyer
CAST: Jonas Armstrong
(Robin), Lucy Grifiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan-a-Dale), Anjali Jay (Djak) & Michael Elwyn (Sir Edward)

Robin and his gang steal an engagement ring Guy Of Gisbourne intends to present Marian with... and uncover a terrible secret...

The episode opens on a very promising note with a stylish flashback to Robin's time in the Middle East, saving King Richard from a Saracen assassin with a distinctive tattoo on his arm. It's a clear reminder that Robin Hood can occassionally rise above its family-friendly doctrine into darker areas. Of course, such injections of adrenaline (when the action matches the rousing music for once) are fleeting.

Tattoo? What Tattoo? (why these awful titles?) is another step in the right direction for the series, bringing some much needed development between Robin, Guy and Marian. This love triangle looks to be forming a decent backbone to show and it's a valuable addition regarding the emotional stakes of the series...

You see, we're supposed to be emotionally connected to Robin's cause (robbing the rich to feed the poor) but it's hard to feel sympathy for these peasants when they all dress so nicely, with clean faces and big bellies! As a consequence, Robin's actions almost seems like an overreaction, so it's much easier to get involved in the show's soap opera side.

Robin soon discovers that brooding Sir Guy was the assassin he encountered in the Middle East, providing a further layer of animosity between the pair, and one that lends the show a more political angle. If King Richard returns, will that really be the end of things if those he left in power usurp him?

Deja vu occurs once again as another outlaw is captured by the Sheriff and thrown in his dungeon (if he'd simply kill every outlaw he captures, he'd have wiped them all out by now!) This time it's Djak (Jay) who is imprisoned, but this series cliche is subverted following Djak's escape attempt using corrosive acid on the jail bars. Of course, once the Sheriff discovers this extraordinary liquid, he immediately forces Djak to make him more...

Julian Mitchell's script is decent enough, although the outlaws' disbelief at noble Robin's claims against psycho Guy is a little hard to swallow. Where's all the trust and loyalty when you need it, eh? The greatest obstacle for writers working on Robin Hood is the restrictive nature of the show's premise -- each plot has to involve certain elements that are difficult to keep fresh and, technically, the production team need to get value from their sets. This means most episodes have to involve a village, the dungeon, the castle, the mine, etc. Mixing these elements and trying to create an original story is difficult, but Mitchell just about manages it here.

Richard Armitage is wonderful as Sir Guy and gets to use his full range of dead-eyed stares here. There is also a lengthy fight sequence with Robin that breathes some old-fashioned mano-et-mano fisticiffs into the mix.

Jonas Armstrong is a likeable lead, but little more at this stage. It's always difficult playing a pure-hearted hero, so it was nice to see some bitterness and hatred bubbling to the surface in this episode. I hope the writers begin to concentrate on making his relationship with Marian more expressive soon, as Robin's jealousy at Guy and Marian's engagement just seems like sour grapes and not a genuine knife through the heart. If we're going to be denied a proper sense of Robin and Marian's love (beyond doe-eyes and sneaked kisses), then perhaps a flashback to their situaiton pre-Crusades is called for?

The comeradie between the outlaws is now more noticeable and enjoyable to watch, although Little John (Kennedy) is proving to be a collossal waste of space. Somebody give that guy a personality, please! I know John is supposed to be an untalkative giant, but it's just not working. Gordon Kennedy isn't even particularly gigantic, so just comes across as just a grouchy middle-aged man amidst all the twentysomethings. He exists to lift heavy items and punch people at the moment. It's even more shameful because episode 2 created a backstory for Little John that has been ignored ever since!

Overall, the new revelations concerning Sir Guy's actions in the Middle East and the interesting acid sub-plot compensates for the episode's shortcomings elsewhere. I'm growing tired of the ease the outlaws enter Nottingham Castle, even though I understand why plausability has to be stretched liek this each week. But it still bothers me.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson
WRITERS: Benedict Fitzgerald & Mel Gibson
CAST: Jim Caviezel (Jesus), Maia Morgenstern (Mary), Christo Jivkov (John), Francesco De Vito (Peter), Monica Bellucci (Magdalen), Mattia Sbragia (Caiphas), Toni Bertorelli (Annas),
Luca Lionello (Judas), Hristo Shopov (Pontius Pilate), Claudia Gerini (Claudia Procles), Fabio Sartor (Abenader), Giacinto Ferro (Joseph), Olek Mincer (Nicodemus) & Rosalinda Celentano (Satan)

Jesus Christ is betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and sentenced to crucifixion...

Mel Gibson's controversial Biblical epic, hated for its alleged anti-Semitic views and lauded for its powerful imagery, is a great example of a movie that passionately wants to preach its Christian message but gets the emphasis completely wrong...

The Passion Of The Christ essentially recreates the last 12 hours of Christ's life, from his arrest in Gethsemane to his eventual crucifixion at Golgotha. Gibson gambled $50 million of his own money to finance the movie, which went on to become the most successful independent film ever made, so his enthusiasm and belief in the project is certainly not in question. But it's perplexing to find that the film has far too much focus on historical accuracy and less on spirituality.

For modern audiences, Gibson's film is perhaps the most visually accurate depiction of 33 A.D, while the numerous scenes of flagellation and the torturous crucifixion are painfully realized, but beyond its technical bravura, there's little else to really connect with.

If you're a believer in the events being depicted; you'll already be pre-loaded with the required knowledge to paste over the movie's many cracks. For people with only a layman's knowledge of the Biblical story, The Passion Of The Christ offers very little actual substance. It's a film that preaches to the converted. The rest of us? Well, we watch someone endure betrayal, unspeakable torture and death for 2 hours -- morbidly fascinating, but nothing that really inspired me to find out more about Christianity.

You definitely get out what you put in with this film. It's stylistically a superb piece of filmmaking, given weight with the Aramaic dialogue (subtitles were a late addition!) spoken throughout, and little flourishes of Gibson's own design. Personally, I found it to be a very interesting and occasionally affecting portrayal, but one that ultimately left me with mixed feelings.

Jim Caviezel is excellent as Jesus, although 90% of the acting required is to look suitably pained and bloodied. We are afforded flashbacks to events before Jesus' arrest, which give us glimpses of a more spiritual movie that Gibson chose not to broaden.

The supporting cast are all strong, although their characters aren't readily explained to non-believers. Monica Bellucci plays Magdalen, who I know to be a prostitute, but the film treats her just as a friend of Jesus and Mary. Thankfully, Mary (Maia Morgenstern) is better used, thanks to some more human flashbacks between her and Jesus. One moment where Mary comes to her son's aid as he carries his cross, paralleling a time when she came to his aid as a young boy, is perhaps the movie's sole moment when true emotional humanity bubbles to the surface.

The rest of the cast all perform well with underwritten roles, particularly Hristo Shopov as Pontius Pilate and Francesco De Vito as Peter. I also liked the use of Rosalinda Celentano as an androgynous Satan throughout the movie.

Ultimately, when filming anything religious, you're going to please and anger people in equal measure. For instance, Gibson's film squarely puts the blame for Jesus' death on the Jews, which caused upset amongst a people who contest this deicide. There are a lot of good moments in the film and, for me, this Biblical story remains incredibly powerful whatever your faith might be. It's just a shame the focus on realistically brutal torture sequences seems to come at the expense of any real insight into Jesus as a man.


PICTURE: The 2.35:1 widescreen image is crisp and detailed with deep blacks and good handling of brighter scenes.

SOUND: The DTS soundtrack is marginally better than the DD5.1 mix (check out the earthquake), but both are decent attempts to place you amongst a 33 A.D civilisation.



Overall, this is a very disappointing disc given its rich production history and notable impact around the world. The lack of extras is criminal, although the picture/sound reproduction is decent.