Wednesday, 28 February 2007

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Unfinished Business"

Season 3, Episode 9 - 27 February 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Michael Taylor DIRECTOR: Robert Young
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta), Kandyse McClure (Dee), James Callis (Baltar), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Luciana Carro (Kat), Nicki Clynn (Cally), Bodie Olmos (Hotdog), Kandyse McClure (Dee), Kate Vernon (Ellen), Christian Tessier (Duck), Michael Trucco (Anders), Don Thompson (Figurski) & Donnelly Rhodes (Dr Cottle)

The crew compete in a series of boxing matches aboard Galactica that unearths deep feelings between Lee and Starbuck...

I personally think BSG works best when it's in serial mode, with each episode feeding into the bigger picture. Perhaps it's because nearly every new US television series follows this structure (24, Lost, Heroes, et al), but BSG's standalone episodes often seem weak in comparison to its mythology stories.

Michael Taylor, a writer behind many Star Trek episodes, most notably the sublime Deep Space Nine episode The Visitor, spins a yarn that focuses on Lee, Starbuck, Chief Tyrol and Adama, using boxing matches as its macguffin. Unfinished Business looks to be skating on thin ice at times, but just about manages to make its idea go the distance.

The main plot revolves around Lee and Starbuck, revealing how their romance was rekindled on New Caprica and why it's now so frosty back aboard Galactica. In essence, the episode fills gaps in the character's lives, (as we skipped a full year between season 2 and 3), and it makes for an enjoyable insight.

The secondary plot isn't quite as involving, providing retrospective on Adama's relationship with Chief Tyrol and the circumstances surrounding the Chief's decision to leave Galactica. This sub-plot is the most redundant of the two, but it does provide a startling boxing match between Adama and Tyrol.

Taylor's sense of characterisation is excellent throughout and the eventual climax to the show is poignant, although it's increasingly difficult to sympathise with Starbuck because her emotions are so haphazard! Sometimes she's an enjoyable and spunky heroine, but often she's just an annoying smart-ass.

As a character, Stabuck's temperament is the most difficult to write and her actions in Unfinished Business don't show her in a good light. To create such an emotional response in viewers is a testament to Katee Sackhoff's acting and Taylor's written word, but I increasingly find Starbuck a frustrating and annoying presence.

Robert Young does well directing the episode, ensuring the potentially yawnsome boxing scenes are good fun to watch unfold. The pacing is generally strong, although while characters are realistically drawn, I've never been particularly concerned about Lee, Starbuck, or Tyrol -- so the story didn't really grab me. There are a few neat insights into Adama and his sense of failure over New Caprica, together with good scenes with with Roslin, but nothing to overshadow the Lee/Starbuck drama.

Overall, while Unfinished Business is very well-written and an interesring way to flesh out relationships, it still seems to prove my theory behind BSG -- as a show, it loses its narrative bite when it takes its eye of the Cylons. The characters work best when they're dealing with military and poltical dilemmas, not so much when they focus exclusively on the relationships. The depth of BSG's cast is fantastic and we need episodes like this, but I'd rather get insight into Adama, Tigh, Baltar and Roslin.

After only nine episodes since season 3 overhauled the character dynamics, it's also worrying that the producers are already scrambling to reverse everything back to how it was in season 2. Why not try to take the Starbuck/Anders and Lee/Dee relationships more interesting, instead of just backtracking so much?

Unfinished Business is a good episode in terms of writing, character development and performances, but not one that held my interest because of my personal detachment from the Lee and Starbuck love story. However, if you're a fan of crazy Starbuck and nice guy Lee, add another star.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

PRISON BREAK 2.7 - "Buried"

26 February 2007 - Five, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Seth Hoffman DIRECTOR: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), William Fichtner (Agent Mahone), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), Rockmond Dunbar (C-Note), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Lane Garrison (Tweener), Paul Adelstein (Agent Kellerman), Sarah Wayne Callies (Dr Sara Tancredi), John Heard (Governor Tancredi), Marshall Allman (L.J), Reggie Lee (Bill Kim), Silas Weir Mitchell (Haywire), Alexandra Lydon (Anna), Joe Inscoe (Lyle Sands), Bruce Bennett (Wilbur Fitzgerald), Diana Scarwid (Jeanette Owens) & Kristen Malko (Debra Jean Belle)

The dig continues for the buried treasure, while Tweener is interrogated by Mahone and L.J's fate takes another twist...

It's always great to watch a show with unpredictability coursing through its veins. 24 is the master of the blindsided twist, but after six years many of its tricks are easier to predict, so it's wonderful to see Prison Break create jaw-dropping moments of its own...

Buried contains three moments that turn expectations on their heads, destroying a potential Tancredi plotline I predicted awhile back and, in one double-punch, revitalizes Sucre and turns Agent Mahone's character into something entirely different.

The overall storyline has certainly slowed down from the chase mentality of the early episodes, but the tension and character dynamics are always much stronger in confined spaces (the mainstay of season 1, obviously). What works in Prison Break's favour is the sense of momentum, as whenever a situation begins to grow stale, we're sent spinning in another direction.

Seth Hoffman's script is sparky and well constructed, most effective when it plays one of its twists, and notable for revealing key information about Oscar Shales (the criminal Mahone was tracking). The subplot involving Sara Tancredi and Agent Kellerman also takes a satisfying step forward and should make Sara more proactive in the show. There's also a nice sense of tension with Kellerman (the great Paul Adelstein) over his dealings with Sara, as a hint of his real affection for her seeps through.

The comic subplot with Haywire, now trying to build a raft to get to Holland, is silly and undercooked. It only serves as a breather from the more involving storylines, but managed to make me chuckle a few times.

This episode also marks an overdue split between Michael and Lincoln, with Linc heading off to find L.J following his son's release from custody. This should allow another narrative to run concurrently, something that worked well for the first few episodes before everyone came together to dig for Westmoreland's loot.

Monday, 26 February 2007


THE 79th ACADEMY AWARDS - THE RESULTS

The main winners were:

BEST FILM
The Departed

BEST DIRECTOR
Martin Scorsese, for The Departed


BEST ACTOR

Forest Whittaker, for The Last King Of Scotland

BEST ACTRESS
Helen Mirren, for The Queen

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Alan Arkin, for Little Miss Sunshine


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Hudson, for Dreamgirls


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Happy Feet


BEST ADAPATED SCREENPLAY

The Departed


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Little Miss Sunshine

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest



My thoughts on the results? Well, Martin Scorsese just had to win given his Oscar-snubbing in the past. I'm not sure The Departed really deserved Best Picture, although it's a good film. Helen Mirren was a safe bet for Best Actress and Forest Whitaker was excellent, although it's Jennifer Hudson I'm more happy for (seventh place in American Idol to Oscar success - wow!) Was Happy Feet really worthy of an Oscar though? Great to see Pirates get an FX award -- the work to create Davey Jones was amazing.

For the full list of winners, visit here.

LOST 3.9 - "Stranger In A Strange Land"

25 February 2007 - Sky One, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Elizabeth Sarnoff & Christina M. Kim DIRECTOR: Paris Barclay
CAST: Matthew Fox (Jack), Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Michael Emerson (Ben), Elisabeth Mitchell (Juliet), Bai Ling (Achara), M.C Gainey (Tom), Tania Raymonde (Alex), Blake Bashoff (Karl), Diana Scarwid (Isabel), Kimberly Joseph (Cindy), Shannon Chanhthanam (Thai Boy), Siwathep Sunapo (Thai Man) & James Huang (Chet)

Jack discovers the Others are planning drastic punishment for Juliet, prompting memories of his time in Thailand, while Sawyer and Kate cross the ocean...

Jack is transferred to Sawyer's empty cage, to make room for Juliet, who is facing capital punishment for shooting Pickett. It's another episode focusing on the good doctor, still played with a great deal of enthusiasm and committment by Matthew Fox, although his flashbacks are becoming increasingly strained.

Here, a trip down memory lane finds Jack in Thailand trying to "find himself", where he meets a mysterious woman called Achara (Bai Ling). He's soon involved in a weird relationship that eventually reveals the circumstances for his upper-arm tattoo.

Lost is always criticized for refusing to explain some of its big mysteries, but it's even more frustrating when the writers answer a minor question in a way that just provokes some bigger one! I understand why there's a "hall of mirrors" mentality to the show (it's often part of the fun), but I'm getting increasingly desperate for some straight answers.

And I'm not alone. It's season 3. I think we deserve some answers after three years of committment and loyalty to the show. If only to prove the writers have some to give...

The Hydra Station storyline is undoubtedly more interesting than the flashbacks, particularly with the growing relationship between Jack and Juliet. It's also nice to see Michael Emerson conscious in a few scenes, as the show misses him when he's not around. M.C Gainey's Tom (who was the figurehead bearded villain last year) is quickly becoming quite a likeable and reasonable fellow, while Diana Scarwid joins the cast as Isabel (referred to as The Sheriff) and should prove to be an interesting new element.

Elsewhere, the supporting plot follows Sawyer and Kate in their boat, heading for the main island with a semi-conscious Karl. It's a fairly uninteresting storyline, enlivened by Sawyer's humorous attempt at a "man to man" talk with the lovesick teen. But it's unfuriating for two reasons: one, the Kate-Sawyer relationship already seems to be unravelling (their sex scene shrugged off as something Kate did in a life-or-death situation) and two, vital information Karl could provide them with about the Others is snatched away. Grrrr.

The Sawyer-Kate problem is particularly annoying because the producers promised Kate would "make her choice" between Jack and Sawyer this season, but Kate's going back on her decision just three episodes later!

The loss of Karl is also an obvious contrivance because having an on-side Other would mean he could actually tell the lostaways some pertinent information. God forbid the beach-dwellers actually get some answers eh?!

All Karl manages to reveal is that the Others live on the main island and that they do "projects" on the smaller island. As viewers, we already know this, so it begs the question: why did they even bother introducing Karl? He'd better have a role to play in future episodes...

Overall, Stranger In A Strange Land is a perfect example of why Lost is struggling now. No matter how ingenious the final resolution to Lost could be, it will disappoint most people because questions are more fun than answers. So while many people bemoan the lack of answers, I'm perfectly willing to be taken along for the ride, but with one caveat: I need to be assured that the writers do have some kind of overall plan.

For that reason, I think viewers are demaning atleast one BIG answer now. Fans pick out dozens of hidden background details in each episode week after week (most famously the proliferation of the Numbers), but such detail are little more than production injokes if there's no actual reason for them to exist.

Really, there's no point in refusing to reveal all of The Answers until the last season, as dwindling viewers could result in premature cancellation and that would be a great injustice for fans. So please, we didn't really care about Jack's tattoo. Its "meaning" is just another cryptic puzzle that will cause the writers more headaches later. Can we just have a few no-nonsense explanations now? Nothing that would totally ruin the overall mystery of Lost, but something a bit more relevant than Jack's body ink?

Please.

24, 6.9 - "02:00 PM - 03:00 PM"

25 February 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Adam E. Fierro DIRECTOR: Brad Turner
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), D.B Woodside (President Wayne Palmer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Rena Sofer (Marilyn Bauer), James Cromwell (Philip Bauer), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), Carlo Rota (Morris O'Brian), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Adoni Maropis (Abu Fayed), James C. Victor (Agent Hal Turner), Evan Ellingson (Josh Bauer), Chad Lowe (Reed Pollock), Powers Booth (Noah Daniels), Dylan Kenin (Gredenko's Programmer), Jolene Kim (Melinda), Brian Silverman (CTU SWAT Agent), Lex Cassar (CTU Agent Ryan), Rade Serbedzija (Dmitri Gredenko), Maury Sterling (Kozelek), Natalija Nogulich (CTU Doctor) & Adrian Neil (Liddy)

Marilyn helps Jack find one of Graem's Russian contacts, Lennix is tempted into a dangerous political scheme and Fayed's plan moves a step closer...

24 performs its common trick of revealing a new enemy pulling the strings, with Russian Gredenko taking over from Middle Eastern terrorist Fayed as the Big Boss. The transition isn't actually performed here, but the intent is there.

We're approaching the half-way point of season 6 and it's typically a time when dynamics are altered and events reach a crescendo. Season 6 has been different, in that its crescendo presented itself in episode 4 (the nuke) and has been jogging along with the Bauer family conspiracy ever since.

This sadly means season 6 has lacked the rollercoaster bite typical of previous years. But whereas earlier seasons always drifted in their third quarters, season 6 has the potential to explode to life instead.

I certainly hope so. There are signs we could be heading for an upswing soon, as the Russian involvement should provide another slice of background information and the true nature of the Bauer family's involvement still need explaining.

Marilyn Bauer (the delectable Rena Sofer) is placed in one of those uncomfortable situations 24 does so well, with father-in-law Philip threatening to kill her son Josh if she takes Jack to the real destination of Gredenko's safehouse.

Such moments are always good fun to squirm to and James Cromwell continues his sterling work as the evil Bauer Snr. Cromwell's advancing years are noticeable on his slim frame and gaunt features, but he hasn't lost his command of the screen.

An interesting element of the show right now is Lennix's tentative steps into conspiracy territory, with aide Reed insinuating that the President's liberal decisions in the nuke's aftermath will cost more lives. It's not the first time 24 has dealt with a President being relinquished of his role -- it was done way back in season 2, a year that season 6 has much in common with.

As such, it's disappointing to admit 24 is repeating itself after six fairly original years, but I'm sure the writers will try to make this plot seem fresh. A full-blown assassination attempt seems likely, something the season 2 finale did, but never capitalized on when the show returned in season 3.

The supporting cast are all underutilized this year. Morris O'Brian is getting some action, but Chloe's brash attitude has been reigned in, James Morrison is plodding on (I wish he was given more variety), while new actress Marisa Nichols is tragically wasted as Nadia. Milo does manage to leave CTU here, affording actor Eric Balfour a late action sequence.

Regardless of occasional concessions, the staff of CTU have had their core removed following the deaths of Tony, Michelle, Edgar, Lynn and Curtis, plus the absence of Audrey and Karen (for now). The writers need to develop their new cast quickly, or let the remaining "old hands" take focus in fresh subplots. Just don't mention the word "mole", okay? Mind you, Nadia's ethnic background can't be coincidence in a show like 24 -- can it?

Episode 9 just about works because of the Marilyn-Josh-Philip dilemma, a few emotive scenes between Jack and his father and an explosive finale. But as fans know, 24 can crank up tension and execute nifty stunts in its sleep by now, but it needs to get a grasp on its straggling story to halt the narrative slump...

Sunday, 25 February 2007

PRIMEVAL 1.3 – "Episode 3"

24 February 2007 – ITV, 7.45 pm
WRITER: Adrian Hodges DIRECTOR: Cilla Ware
CAST: Douglas Henshall (Prof Nick Cutter), Hannah Spearritt (Abby Maitland), James Murray (Stephen Hart), Andrew-Lee Potts (Connor Temple), Juliet Aubrey (Helen Cutter), Lucy Brown (Claudia Brown), Ben Miller (James Lester), Mark Wakeling (Capt Tom Ryan), Abigail Aston (Diane Johnson), Andrew French (Detective Inspector), Pascale Burgess (Jane Dexter), James Bradshaw (Duncan) & Aled Pugh (Plumber)

After a lifeguard is eaten by a prehistoric crocodile, Cutter and his team are forced to brave icy waters to find the anomaly...

Primeval at least doesn't have a pretentious bone in its body. ITV's monster adventure is old-fashioned and vacuous entertainment, but it's also entertaining and knowingly daft. Episode 3 is the best yet, mainly because it refuses to rest on its laurels and actually develops the storyline.

Unlike last week's extended underground spider infestation, this week's threat (a Mosasaur) is more evenly spread over the 45-minutes. The crocodile-like threat moves from a public swimming pool to a local boating lake swiftly, before the anomaly itself is explored underwater and the ongoing mystery behind Cutter's missing wife is prematurely explained.


The characters remain sketchy at best; particularly Rob Lowe look-alike Stephen (James Murray), boring civil servant Lucy (Claudia Brown) and Ben Miller's clichéd straight-talking boss Lester.


Douglas Henshall's stoic Professor Cutter is no fun, a character that should be charismatic and passionate, but instead is a humourless bore who can't even conjure up believable emotions when faced with his long-lost wife.


Beyond all expectations, Hannah Spearritt is doing a perfectly good job as the impish Abby Maitland. Likewise, Andrew-Lee Potts is acceptable as resident geek Connor. Both actors are involved in a love triangle: Abby has unrequited feelings for Stephen, while Connor has unrequited feelings for Abby. It's a little soapy for my taste, but adequate filler between all the CGI.


The special effects are sublime. The 70 million year old Mosasaur is a great creature, perfectly realized in all the underwater sequences and whenever the giant lizard surfaces the effects remain pretty special. In particular, a tussle between the Mosasaur and Connor is great fun.


Episode 3 thankfully subverts expectations for another laborious man-versus-monster storyline, with a nice trip into the past for Cutter. Thrown back to the Cretaceous period, Cutter finds his wife Helen, who has been living in Earth's distant past for the past eight years.


It's surprisingly to see this mystery returned to and solved so early in the show's run. I was frustrated to find no twist was involved -– so, what, Helen just enjoyed nipping back to our time and enigmatically standing around like a ghost? Ridiculous.


The performances by Henshall and screen wife Juliet Aubrey are also maddeningly underplayed and left me emotionally cold.
And that's the problem with Primeval: great visuals, fun idea, but no emotional investment in anything. The stars of the show are the wonderful creature effects, while the actors are stuck with two-dimensional roles.

There were a few signs writer Adrian Hodges has the talent to create something more interesting in the show's investigations (the water temperature/steam), while the storyline developed and progressed much better than usual.

For those reasons and the unpredicted leap in the Helen Cutter plot (no matter how silly), Episode 3 is the best of an underwhelming bunch.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

TRAILER PARK: 1408, Blades Of Glory, Next, Resident Evil 3, Shrek 3, Simpsons & TMNT

TRAILER PARK

Your occasional roundup to the best Hi-Def trailers on the web, with direct links to the good stuff:

1408 – Trailer 1
Dir: Mikael Håfström Stars: John Cusack & Samuel L. Jackson

Plot: Cusack plays a man who specializes in debunking paranormal occurrences. He checks into the supposedly haunted room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel and is soon confronted by genuine terror...

Outlook: Based on a Stephen King short story, early word suggests that this is a King translation that really works. John Cusack is one of those overlooked actors who make quirky career choices and always improve weak material, while Samuel L. Jackson is a living legend. The trailer certainly looks like a wild and spooky ride, but fans of understated ghost stories should probably steer well clear. It's worth mentioning that the trailer gives a lot of the surprises and storyline away... so it's actually best avoided!

Download:
Hi Res (20MB)| HD 480p (50MB)|HD 720p (78MB)| HD 1080p (125MB)


BLADES OF GLORY – Trailer 1
Dirs: Josh Gordon & Will Speck Stars: Will Ferrell & Jon Heder

Plot: Ferrel and Heder play rival figure skaters who are stripped of their gold medals at the 2002 Olympics and banned from the sport. Years later, the men find a loophole that allows them to compete as the first male pairing...

Outlook: I think Will Ferrell is vastly overrated and Jon Heder's Napoleon Dynamite left me cold, so I'm not expecting much from this comedy. The idea is certainly amusing, but the trailer only drew a few chuckles. I'll certainly keep an eye on it, but at the moment I have nothing but apathy.

Download: Hi Res (23MB)|HD 720p (137MB)

NEXT – Trailer 1
Dir: Lee Tamahori Stars: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore & Jessica Biel

Plot: Nicolas Cage takes the lead in this sci-fi thriller based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Cage plays a man who can see a few minutes into the future. Moore plays a government agent who attempts to use Cage's power to prevent a nuclear attack. Biel plays Cage's love-interest, whose presence makes his power grow stronger...

Outlook: Philip K. Dick certainly wrote some imaginative stories and Next (based on The Golden Man) has certain parallels to his own Minority Report. I'm always interested in whatever Nicolas Cage does, although his presence is never a guarantee of quality (see Wicker Man's remake), but Julianne Moore is always excellent. The trailer looks like a solid high-concept thriller with a few eye-opening special effects and glossy sheen courtesy of Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day). One to watch.

Download: Hi Res|HD 480p (23MB)|HD 720p (45MB)|HD 1080p (181MB)

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION – Teaser
Dir: Russell Mulcahy Stars: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr & Ali Larter

Plot
: Survivors of the Racoon City zombie outbreak travel across the Nevada desert...


Outlook: I enjoyed Resident Evil in a disposable and brainless way, but the sequel was absolutely dire cack. Quite why a third film has been made is anybody's guess, as even fans of the video-game don't even respect these movies. Still, the teaser for Extinction certainly seems like a step in the right direction, mixing a Mad Max vibe into your tyical zombie holocaust.


There are some impressive visuals to be seen (like a sand-covered Las Vegas) and Milla Jovovich always looks phenomenal kicking ass, but trailers are deceptive with this kind of action material. The director is one Russell Mulcahy, the man who failed to capitalize on the success of Highlander way back in 1986. He's likely to fail again at the box-office with this, but I must admit Extinction looks to be the best Resident Evil film so far. Faint praise, I know...

Download: Hi Res|HD 480p (33MB)|HD 720p (83MB)|HD 1080p (121MB)

SHREK THE THIRD – Trailer 1
Dirs: Chris Miller & Raman Hui Voices: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy & Cameron Diaz

Plot: When the King falls ill, Shrek becomes the new heir of Far, Far Away. The ogre isn't happy about giving up his swamp for a throne, so he embarks on a quest to find a more appropriate heir to the Kingdom...

Outlook: The Shrek films are the only serious animation to rival Pixar's CGI output. I know there have been non-Pixar financial successes, but rarely does a new CGI offering get critical thumbs up. Shrek The Third looks to be another enjoyable romp with these characters, but not much else. The animation remains beautiful, but hasn't progressed from Shrek 2, while the storyline seems to be stretching itself. Still, the trailer is fun to watch, visually stunning, and should make you chuckle a few times.

Download: Hi Res (24MB)|HD 480p (32MB)|HD 720p (105MB)|HD 1080p (168MB)


THE SIMPSONS MOVIE – Trailer 3
Dir: David Silverman Voices: Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright & Hank Azaria

Plot: The Simpsons finally make their big-screen debut in a plot that is being kept tightly under wraps, but seems to involve the control of Springfield's power grid...

Outlook: Yes, the show has been crap for years and nobody realizes because of the sheer number of repeats. I know, you don't have to remind me. If a Simpsons movie had been arriving in cinema in 1999 I'd have been giddy with anticipation for a comedy masterpiece. As it is, I'm just hoping for something decent that reminds me of "the glory years" and not the anything-goes lazy satire of recent seasons.

Thankfully, the first full length trailer gets a lot right. The animation looks brilliant (a really crisp and faithful rendering of the TV show), while the bigger budget has allowed the animators to go to town with epic crowd scenes and innovative direction (check out Chief Wiggum's gun-shot). Sure, it looks like fun and there are a few laughs to be had here, but I'm still cautious. Once bitten...

Download: Hi Res (25MB)| HD 480p (50MB)|HD 720p (104MB)|HD 1080p (178MB)


TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES – Trailer 2
Dir: Kevin Munroe Voices: James Arnold Taylor, Mikey Kelley & Sarah Michelle Gellar

Plot: A plague of monsters descend on New York and it's up to the disbanded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to save their beloved city...

Outlook: As a child of the 80s, I have fond memories of the Turtles cartoon series, associated toys/games and the early-90s movies. The fact a new movie is being made is quite bizarre, as Turtles fans are in their 20s or 30s now, although the concept has probably seeped through to the modern generation thanks to all our multi-channel age.

TMNT (oh, how hip) is a CGI animation that utilizes a style reminiscent of The Incredibles. It all looks pretty great, surprisingly. There's fluidity and verve the cartoons could never replicate, a seriousness the original comic strip contained and the polish of animators clearly in love with the subject matter. The storyline seems like predictable hogwash and the comedy seems laboured and unfunny, but the action looks perfect. Could surprise everyone, particularly snootier critics who thought they'd seen the last of the heroes in a half-shell 15 years ago.

Download: Hi Res (15MB)|HD 480p (30MB)|HD 720p (70MB)|HD 1080p (123MB)


Happy downloading!

Friday, 23 February 2007


DEAD RINGERS
BBC 2, Thursdays, 9.30 pm

Impressionists. Are they just comedians on the bottom rung of the entertainment ladder, just above jugglers? Steve Coogan certainly thought so, having impersonated the rich and famous for years on stage, his growing didain as a "performing monkey" spurred him to create an original character -- Alan Partridge. The rest is history.

There remains something inherently entertaining about people impersonating others. Perhaps it's just an appreciable talent everyone can relate to. I'm sure you've attempted a Shhhean Connery, Schwarzenegger, Rolf Harris or Frank Spencer. Admit it.

Maybe impressions evokes memories of childhood, where laughter is playground currency. Young minds don't stray far from toilet humour for a good decade, so mimicing teachers/friends/celebs is a relatively easy way to earn a few extra laughs. There's something mischievous about "stealing" someones voice and making them say the ordinarily unsaid.

BBC 2's Dead Ringers returned on Thursday for another run. The hit show starring Jon Culshaw, Jan Ravens, Phil Cornwell, Mark Perry and Kevin Connelly, transferred to TV from Radio 4 some years ago and offers a more abstract form of impressionism. Roy Bremner does the high-brow politics on Channel 4 and Alistair McGowan does the family-friendly popularism on BBC 1, so Dead Ringers has to make do with a light-hearted mix of both. It lacks a keen satirical bite, but its larger cast and freewheeling nature creates a watchable whirlwind.

Jon Culshaw and Jan Raven are undoubtedly the show's core; as both perform the most characters will the greater degree of success. Kevin Connelly and Mark Perry offer strong support, but I've never considered Phil Cornwell to be a true impressionist. Ye, his Michael Caine is fantastic (he resurrects and supplants it all the time) but every other voice he does ranges from mediocre to plain embarassing. Too often Cornwell is there to play background characters, people with generic accents (Osama Bin Laden) or those he has a passing physical resemblance to (Derren Brown).

As stand-ups will testify, there is no grey area with comedy: you either laugh, or you don't. Impressionism just amplifies this: you either sound like a celebrity, or you don't. Phil Cornwell often doesn't AND gets to deliver unfunny lines.

And that's a key problem with Dead Ringers. As with most impressionism shows, the laughs are hit-and-miss or blatantly obvious. Ringers gets by on sheer speed and enthusiasm, but it rarely provokes a belly-laugh.

Part of the problem is that Dead Ringers is a sucker for undercooked pastiches. The first episode of this latest series poked fun at the recent BBC Robin Hood series, exaggerating its contemporary influences to street-talk and breakdancing face-offs. Nice enough idea, but overlong and lacking a single half-decent impression. You can forgive a generic Robin and Marian, but surely someone could do a good Keith Allen? But no. Phil Cornwell took the Sheriff role. He looks a bit like Allen if he wears a goatee, y'see? Sigh.

Still, the sense of pace and number of new characters was good. For every tumbleweed scene there was a smile or two. But no big laughs, although a hidden camera stunt with Culshaw (as Simon Cowell) demanding a guy from room service perform a song for him, got very close.

Unfortunately, the lifeblood of these shows are variety/turnaround of characters and quality of writing. Dead Ringers has a huge "cast" to choose from, but uninspired writing. So, after a few episodes spotting all the new impressions (some excellent, many bad), you've seen the performing monkey's "new tricks" and are stuck with a strained Tony Blair, Kirsty Wark referencing pop songs or Fiona Bruce one-liners.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

DMD - Issue 186

The latest Dan's Movie Digest has been released at DVD Fever, with news on Famke Janssen in 100 Feet, James Cameron's Avatar, Batman sequel The Dark Knight, The Hobbit, Indiana Jones 4, Rambo 4 and Saw IV. Is four the new three?

US TOP 10

1. Ghost Rider $52m
2. Bridge To Terabithia $28.5m
3. Norbit $19.9m
4. Music And Lyrics $15.9m
5. Daddy's Little Girls $13.1m
6. Breach $12.3m
7. Hannibal Rising $6.26m
8. Because I Said So $6.05m
9. Night At The Museum $4.87m
10. The Messengers $4.34m

UK TOP 10

1. Hot Fuzz £5.91m
2. Charlotte's Web £1.89m
3. Music And Lyrics £1.46m
4. Epic Movie £89k
5. Arthur & The Invisibles £67k
6. Blood Diamond £54k
7. Notes On The Scandal £50k
8. Hannibal Rising £47k
9. Because I Said So £40k
10. Dreamgirls £30k

HEROES 1.16 - "Unexpected"

19 February 2007 - NBC, 9/8c pm
WRITER: Jeph Loeb DIRECTOR: Greg Beeman
CAST: Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli), Hayden Panettiere (Claire Bennet), Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura), Jack Coleman (Mr Bennet), Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman), Christopher Ecclestone (Claude Rains), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli), Santiago Cabrera (Isaac Mendez), Tawny Cypress (Simone Deveaux), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder Suresh), Zachary Quinto (Sylar), James Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi), Ashley Crowe (Sandra Bennet), Randall Bentley (Lyle Bennet), Rusty Schwimmer (Dale Smither), Lisa Lackey (Janice Parkman), Missi Pyle (Hope), Stana Katic (Hana Gitelman), Matthew John Armstrong (Ted Sprague), Jimmy Jean-Louis (The Haitian) & Stan Lee (Bus Driver)

Peter's powers increase, Sylar and Mohinder find a mechanic with enhanced hearing, Claire fears for her mother's sanity, Hiro goes in search of Ando, and Matt gets a phone call from Ted...

Writer Jeph Loeb works wonders with this episode, crafting an exciting and revealing storyline that harkens back to the season's earlier episodes. Loeb is a noted comic-book writer and therefore totally at home with the material. He also worked on Smallville and Lost's first season, so knows about superheroes with a TV budget and characterisation.

Unexpected is successful primarily because almost every storyline is satisfying and enjoyable. Peter finally begins to control his latent "multi-powers" thanks to Claude's teachings (and beatings with a stick!) He's clearly being set-up as a match for Sylar, who also attains powers -- but only through homocidal means. Their face-off just can't come soon enough...

The episode also stirs two more heroes into the mix. Mohinder, now unwittingly in cahoots with Sylar, tracks down Dale Smither in Montana, a female mechanic with powerful hearing. This new partnership finally involves Mohinder in a decent storyline, although quite why Sylar needs help tracking people still isn't explained. His plan will also surely fail once Mohinder realizes everyone they visit ends up dead! But, in the short term, this is an amusing use of both characters.

Radiocative Ted Sprague also returns, persuaded out of his reclusive Nevada shack by the arrival of a new character called Hana Gitelman (the beautiful Stana Katic). Hana has the ability to transmit and receive electronic communications with her mind, and persuades Ted to help her confront Mr Bennet.

The weaker subplots unfortunately include Hiro (who's been on downward spiral in recent weeks). His quest for a sword to restore his time-bending power isn't providing the spark required for his zany character. Still, the closing moments of his storyline in Unexpected does mark an improvement and could see him back to his best soon. Masi Oka is still the most engaging presence on the show, but he can't survive on face-pulling and pidgeon-English alone.

Claire's story provides some straight human drama that sometimes gets lost amongst all the superheroics, as her adoptive mother appears to be on the verge of a mental breakdown, brought on by her husband's forced "memory wipes" to protect his secret life. The Bennet family dynamic is always enjoyable, so whie younger brother Lyle is again wasted, Hayden Panettiere is great as Claire, while Jack Coleman is endlessly watchable as her dad.

In recent weeks even Santiago Cabrera's performance has been improving as painter Isaac, although the fact he's constantly holed-up in his studio continues to limit his character. He only ever enjoys half-decent scenes with love-rival Peter or love-interest Simone and has very little to sustain his character otherwise.

Unexpected packs a lot into its running time and begins to unravel some of the long-standing mysteries behind the show, primarily regarding the unusual marks some of the heroes display on their bodies. A past between Mr Bennet and Christopher Ecclestone's invisible man Claude is also inferred, immediately confirming a history for the show that stretches back before Genesis' solar eclipse.

I hope writer Jeph Loeb has more opportunities to pen an episode. This episode's fast-paced delights and revelations inject life back into the show, which had started to plod after episode 12. For geeks, it's also full of injokes -- from the obvious cameo by comic-book legend Stan Lee as a bus driver, to the choice of Bozeman as a location (where first contact was made with Vulcans in Star Trek).

A captivating, revealing and exciting episode with great special effects (a flying sequence is pretty cool). If the remainder of season can keep this standard, Heroes should culminate in a thrilling finale with genuine resolution.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

HOT FUZZ (2007)

Cert: 15 Duration: 120 minutes
DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright
WRITERS: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright
CAST: Simon Pegg (Sgt Nicholas Angel), Nick Frost (PC Danny Butterman), Timothy Dalton (Simon Skinner), Paddy Considine (DS Andy Wainwright), Jim Broadbent (Insp Frank Butterman), Edward Woodward (Tom Weaver), Kevin Eldon (Sgt Tony Fisher), Bill Bailey (Sgt Turner), Olivia Colman (Doris Thatcher), David Threlfall (Shakespearian Actor), Adam Buxton (Tim Messenger), Bill Nighy (Chief Inspector), Steve Coogan (Police Inspector), Stephen Merchant (Peter Ian Staker), Julia Deakin (Mary Porter), Paul Freeman (Rev Shooter), Alice Lowe (Tina) & Rafe Spall (DS Andy Cartwright)

London's top police officer, Sgt Nicholas Angel, is transferred to the sleepy rural town of Sandford, where he discovers a sinister underbelly...

Self-confessed geeks Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright first came to prominence as the team behind late-90s TV show Spaced. Their sitcom for twentysomethings weaned on sci-fi, horror and video-games paved the way for their first movie, Shaun Of The Dead, an affectionate "rom-com-zom" that transposed a George Romero zombie crisis to suburban London.

The worldwide success of Shaun (one of the few British comedys to find an American audience) meant Wright and Pegg were given carte blanche over their next project. They chose Hot Fuzz and perform a similar trick to Shaun by transposing the US action/cop sub-genre to English shores.

Pegg plays Sgt Nicholas Angel, a fiercely motivated cop responsible with an arrest rate 400% higher than the rest of the Metropolitan Police. He's making his colleagues look bad, so he's swiftly transferred to the sleepy Gloucestershire village of Sandford.

Nick Frost, Pegg's regular co-star, plays PC Danny Butterman, a good-natured layabout cop who hero worships Angel upon his arrival. Danny is fixated with the glamour of big city law enforcement and is obsessed with brash American action movies, so the chance to rub shoulders with a real-life action hero is like a dream come true.

Meanwhile, Angel struggles with the parochial mentality; stunned to find his colleagues ignore minor offences, whilst facing the indignity of escaped swans and hedge disputes. But his skills are finally required when a series of accidents point to a murderous conspiracy...

Hot Fuzz is one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences I've had in many months. There are two genres that work best as a communal experience in the cinema: horror and comedy. If a horror scares you, or a comedy makes you laugh, it's the best time you can have in the dark with likeminded people (ahem, okay second best).

The laughs in Hot Fuzz are more constant and varied than Shaun Of The Dead's extended one-joke, proving a significant leap in quality for Pegg and Wright in every regard, particularly with the storyline's hidden depths.

The plot is a classic fish-out-of-water scenario, glued to a Scooby Doo mystery, puntuated by Scream-style deaths and culminating in a series of shootouts that owe a debt to movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II (both heavily referenced throughout).

Simon Pegg is a fine comedy actor and clearly enjoys his straight role, relishing the chance to play a tough guy and deliver lines in beautifully underplayed fashion. By the time the action explodes to life for the finale, his avenging Angel has become an action icon in his own right (complete with fast-edit "tooling up" sequence).

Movie lore denotes that buddy cops are always opposites, so enter Nick Frost as the rotund, cake-eating PC Danny Butterman. Frost isn't stretching himself that much (beyond a good West Country accent), although Danny's certainly more upbeat and naive than previous Frost characters.

Together, they're an effective and watchable duo, who even get to share some moderate homo-erotic subtext in the great buddy cop tradition.

The rest of the cast reads like a who's who of British legends: veteran thesps Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy and Edward Woodward; established comedians Kevin Eldon, Bill Bailey, Steve Coogan, and Adam Buxton; with relative newcomers Paddy Considine, Olivia Colman, Alice Lowe, Martin Freeman, Rafe Spall and Stephen Merchant.

As with all ensembles, only a few characters make lasting impressions. Paddy Considine is a revelation as sarcastic DS Wainwright, Kevin Eldon is good value as a bumbling cop, Jim Broadbent is great as the easy-going Inspector, it's great to see a Edward Woodward in a comedic role, while Timothy Dalton is excellent as a slimy supermarket manager. Beyond those performances, everyone gets a chance to shine or a funny line to deliver, no matter how brief their part in the film.

Director Edgar Wright deserves plaudits for keeping everything tight and coherent. The storyline isn't going to win awards for plotting, but it's more involving than you'd expect, and the abundance of characters never seems like overkill. In fact, the level of believability in Hot Fuzz's world is quite striking. It doesn't take long for you to accept this community as exaggerated but plausible, lending the film a pleasant cohesion.

The gags are generally very strong, ranging from injokes for film buffs (a Shining nod amongst them), slapstick violence (an OAP gets drop-kicked), oddball characterisations ("Yarp"), eccentricity (mumbling yokels), clever pastiches and character-based comedy from Pegg and Frost.

But there are speed bumps along the way. The laughs takes a backseat to the action in the last half hour, while the "multiple endings" may be intentional parody, but that doesn't stop them being any less annoying. The film is also too long. 90 minutes is best for comedy, while 120 minutes is best for action, but Hot Fuzz chose the latter despite being foremost a comedy.

Still, these are minor quibbles in the wider picture. Hot Fuzz is funny, exciting, nicely acted, brilliantly directed, full of cool music and will entertain from beginning to end. It will even sustain repeated viewings thanks to its sheer number of gags, watchable actors and exciting action.

After a decade of syrupy British rom-coms, it's wonderful to see the true spirit of modern UK comedy hit the silver screen. Pegg and Wright's sophomore effort proves Shaun Of The Dead was no fluke. I'm not sure where they'll go from here with their next project(another US genre with a UK facelift?), but I'll certainly be first in line.

Fast, fun and totally arresting.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Hero"

Season 3, Episode 8 - 20 February 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: David Eick DIRECTOR: Michael Rymer
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Carl Lumbly (Lt Daniel "Bulldog" Novacek), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), James Callis (Baltar), Tricia Helfer (Number 6), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Grace Park (Sharon), Lucy Lawless (D'Anna/Number 3), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta), Kandyse McClure (Dee, Donnelly Rhodes (Dr Cottle), Rekha Sharma (Tory), Luciana Carro (Louanne Katraine), Matthew Bennett (Aaron Doral) & Barry Kennedy (Admiral Corman)

Adama is astounded to find that Lt Danny "Bulldog" Novacek, one of his ex-pilots from the Battlestar Valkyrie, has escaped capture from a Cylon Basestar...

Just what is it with all these tough decisions? It seems that every episode of BSG deals with them, and Hero finds Adama regretting a choice he made years ago he was Commander of the Battlestar Valkyrie.

Hero sees Carl Lumbly (Alias) guest star as Lieutenant Danny "Bulldog" Novacek, an escaped P.O.W from a Cylon Basestar who flees to Galactica. Bulldog was presumed dead after a controversial mission three years ago to the Armistice Line (the agreed spacial barrier between humans and Cylons), and his return forces Adama to confront a terrible truth...

David Eick's script is decent, if slightly unfocused at times, but the central mystery and ugly truth behind the Armistice Line mission is handled well as it's gradually revealed. Hero's plot shows another side to Adama and also gets to progress the deterioriating friendship between Adama and his ex-XO (har-har) Tigh.

Michael Hogan is superb as the prickly drunk, although Tigh's anti-social behaviour and spiteful attitude is getting slightly overbearing this season. It's about time he found some focus again and let go of his demons...

The weight of the story is on Edward James Olmos' shoulders as Adama, an actor who remains the backbone of the series. It's a testament to Olmos' abilities that he makes Adama so introverted, yet able to command such loyalty and respect. Olmos is magnetic just through unspoken visuals and a big reason for the show's success.

Carl Lumbly is fine as Bulldog, although I expected more from a potentially recurring character. I hope we get to see more from Lumbly, for while this wasn't a totally convincing debut, it hints at potential. Bulldog's seen the inner workings of a Basestar for the past three years, so that's going to come in handy, surely...

A sub-plot with D'Anna (Lucy Lawless) isn't given much room to breathe, although an important seed is sewn for future stories when she glimpses a strange "limbo" between life and death as she "downloads" following suicides. It's another intriguing addition to Cylon mythology I'm eager to see expanded upon.

Hero offers enlightening new slants on Adama's character and the beginnings of the Cylon War -- even if the massive moral implications are later nullified by Roslin. The introduction of Bulldog is a welcome one and the plot kept my interest, while also introducing new ideas that will likely be returned to later.

A solid episode, if ultimately disappointing in the cold light of day.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

PRISON BREAK 2.6 - "Subdivision"

19 February 2007 - Five, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Monica Macer DIRECTOR: Eric Laneuville
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), William Fichtner (Agent Mahone), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), Rockmond Dunbar (C-Note), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Lane Garrison (Tweener), Paul Adelstein (Agent Kellerman), Sarah Wayne Callies (Dr Sarah Tancredi), John Heard (Governor Tancredi), Reggie Lee (Bill Kim), Jason Davis (Agent Wheeler), Alexandra Lydon (Anna), Diana Scarwid (Jeanette Owens) & Silas Weir Mitchell (Haywire)

The fugitives converge on Tooele looking for Westmoreland's loot, and Michael deduces that the $5 million is buried under a garage...

There's a strong whiff of deja vu throughout Subdivision, as the plot (all the con's digging up a floor) is essentially the same as last year's escape tunnel routine. It's an unfortunate similarity that C-Note is even forced to reference, but the episode just about gets away with it.

Subdivision requires suspension of disbelief in a few areas -- most obviously the ludicrous pin-pointing of buried treasure with a guess based on T-Bag's memory and tree growth! But it's leaps of logic like this that keep Prison Break unpredictable and amusingly self-deprecating.

Silas Weir Mitchell makes a very belated return as Haywire, another of the doofus criminals (alongside Tweener) who's had more luck evading capture than genius Michael! Haywire's scenes are mostly played for laughs (football helmet, bicycle, a messy food binge), although a moment of mistaken identity with a blind woman nearly turns nasty.

The Tancredi plot is developed nicely, becoming the only unpredictable plot-strand. Sarah receives another cryptic origami message from Michael, while her father realizes his daughter's new friend (Agent Kellerman) isn't who he says he is. Kellerman himself is distanced from the President, being forced to report his findings to Reggie Lee (Bill Kim; great). I'm not sure if this change is for the benefit of the show, or based on actor conflicts/committments (surely the reason Robin Tunney and Peter Stormare went), but it should be interesting nevertheless.

T-Bag (Knepper) finally gets a chance to shine on the show, by keeping a sexy middle-aged woman occupied while the gang dig up her garage floor, in scenes that fizz with sexual tension.

Meanwhile, Agent Mahone (Fichtner) slowly unravels the whereabouts of Westmoreland's stash by looking at the original D.B Cooper case, in scenes that reaffirm the lawman's amazing insight and crime-solving abilities. The ying-yang aspect to the show, between Michael and Mahone, is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect to season 2 at the moment.

Overall, Subdivision may lose points for just retooling a situation from last year, but the performances are excellent (Miller is particularly good here, especially when he loses Michael's trademark cool), it contains some memorable moments (T-Bag's shmoozing, Mahone's car chase, etc) and ends on a fantastic cliffhanger...

24, 6.8 - "01:00 PM - 02:00 PM"

18 February 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITERS: Evan Katz & David Fury DIRECTOR: Jon Cassar
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), D.B Woodside (President Wayne Palmer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), David Hunt (Darren MCarthy), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), Carlo Rota (Morris O'Brian), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Missy Crider (Rita), Adoni Maropis (Abu Fayed), Alexander Siddig (Hamri Al-Assad), Lawton R. Metcalf (Pilot), Sam Younis (Taj), Evan Ellingson (Josh), James C. Victor (Agent Turner), Jamison Jones (Secret Service Agent), Michael Reilly Burke (Carson) & Chad Lowe (Reed Pollock)

CTU help Jack track Morris, who has been kidnapped by McCarthy to arm Fayed's nukes, Lennix contemplates resignation and President Palmer suggests Al-Assad denounce the recent attacks on TV...

Season 6 continues to rattle along, losing some of the threat by virtue of its premature nuclear detonation. The writers are placing their faith in audiences being concerned about the remaining four nukes, but 24's loyal viewers are becoming experts at predicting the show. You can't explode nuclear bombs around L.A willy-nilly like last year's nerve gas, and seeing as a nuke has already struck L.A in episode 4, if another one does go off... its location will be the only way to shock viewers. The best candidate would be the White House itself, but 24's real-time format nixes a quick trip from L.A to D.C.

Anyway, for now we're busy focusing on the nitty gritty between 24's occassional "crowdpleasers". These episodes usually take the form of loyalty realignments (check), high-tech surveillance (check) and preparations to storm an enemy safehouse (check). It's a testament to the show that whenever 24 recycles itself, it mixes the familiar with a degree of freshness. Hey, making the old seem new is what the Bond franchise has been doing for 40 years!

So while CTU's protocols and tactics are becoming predictable, you can usually rely on the subplots to offer surprises. However, this year's Presidential situation hasn't been anywhere near as strong as David Palmer's tenure, or President Logan's criminal reign last year. D.B Woodside is too stiff as President Palmer for my taste, lacking a credible backbone. He was great as the calm voice of reason in season 3, but now he's top dog he just looks out of his depth.

Peter MacNicol's Lennix will hopefully begin tightening screws soon, as the White House bunker is in desperate need of drama. Here, the most notable new element is the arrival of Al-Assad (Alexander Siddig), who is quickly asked to denounce the terrorist attacks on national television. Siddig is a good actor, but not entirely convincing as an ex-terrorist leader wth a history of beheading enemies. He's just too handsome and statesman-like, so I have difficulty banishing memories of Deep Space Nine's Dr Bashir.

Episode 8 certainly cranks up the pace and contains some trademark deaths that caused me some sadness. Just when you're beginning to get into a particular character's groove, 24 likes to kill them for the momentary shock value. It's also a little disturbing to see another torture sequence presented here (the fourth of the season), which must surely break a record. These scenes are certainly attention-grabbers, but 24 should be careful not to desensitize their audience.

In summation; it's another fun mix of exciting (if routine) thrills, some unpredictable deaths, a few gruelling moments, no real surprises and an increasingly laborious White House subplot.

Monday, 19 February 2007

LOST 3.8 - "Flashes Before Your Eyes"

18 February 2007 - Sky One, 10.00 pm
WRITERS: Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof DIRECTOR: Jack Bender
CAST: Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Terry O'Quinn (Locke), Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), Emilie de Ravin (Claire), Sonya Walger (Penny Widmore), Alan Dale (Charles Widmore), Yunjin Kim (Sun), Naveen Andrews (Sayid), Shishir Kurup (Donovan), Katie Doyle (Receptionist), Jeremy Colvin (Delivery Man), Michael Titterton (Bartender), David Cordell (Jimmy Lennon) & Fionnula Flanagan (Ms Hawking)

After Desmond mysteriously saves Claire from drowning, Charlie decides to find out why the Scotsman seems able to predict the future...

Ever since he first appeared down the Hatch in season 2, Desmond has proven to be one of the show's most enigmatic characters. A lot of this is down to Henry Ian Cusick's enjoyable performance, rolling between laconic and fanatic.

Flashes Before Your Eyes is another flashback story for the strange Scotsman, focusing on his newfound ability to predict future events (something touched upon throughout season 3 already). Here, Charlie confronts Desmond about his apparent precognition during a drinking session, and the obligatory flashback reveals what happened to Desmond after he turned the failsafe key in the season 2 finale...

Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof's script offers a fresh spin on the flashback format, with Desmond apparently thrown back in time and occassionally aware he's "reliving" events. The episode takes place in London, with Desmond setting up home with sweetheart Penny (Sonya Walger) whose father Charles Widmore (Alan Dale) is totally against his hopes for marriage.

For long stretches of the episode it seems likely the writers have finally given us a vital key to the Lost puzzle. With Desmond half-aware he's "in a flashback", is it possible all flashbacks are actually glimpses of the future (in which all of the characters have been sent back in a similar fashion)? A form of time-travel would certainly provide a plausible explanation to some longstanding mysteries, although the writers do have a tendency to allude to popular theories just for fun.

So, Flashes Before Your Eyes may be one big wink at the audience, an idea given credence by the fact a character is named Ms Hawking (after Professor Stephen Hawking, whose theories on time-travel made him a global star). By the end of the episode, it's not clear if Desmond physically travelled back in time, or hallucinated everything, although the loss of his clothing seems to suggest something more physical (to me, anyway). As always, no definitive answer is given and it's all left open for hot debate. But Desmond's precognition remains intact, so it's clear turning that key had a strange electromagentically-induced effect of some sort...

Moving away from the intricacies of the plot, the episode doesn't really give us any information about Desmond we didn't already guess. The flashback takes place before Desmond joined the army, so it's interesting to see the exact circumstances of this decision, if not a massive revelation.

The story is far more interested in having fun with Desmond's belief he's reliving his past, including a brief scene with street busker Charlie. But why is Charlie a lowly busker when he's in a famous rock band? Does this prove it's all a dream (as Desmond may not be aware of Charlie's career), or are alternate dimensions involved? Is your head hurting yet?

Sonya Walger is good as love-interest Penny, although her character is given less time to make an impression this time. Fionnula Flanagan is great fun as Ms Hawking, an elderly jeweller with insider knowledge on cause-and-effect, while the ubiquitous Alan Dale offers another winning turn as Charles Widmore.

But the episode belongs to Henry Ian Cusick. The need to provide fresh material often leads to the introduction of new characters (last year's "tailies", this year's "others"), but Desmond's backstory seems to have far more relevance because of its link to Widmore Industries. It also helps that Cusick is a naturally magnetic actor and fits in perfectly as a rogue/outsider element of the cast.

Overall, hardcore fans will find a lot to contemplate with the episode's numerous injokes and background details (a polar bear mural, amongst them), while casual viewers should enjoy the storyline's quirky nature. It remains to be seen if Flashes Before Your Eyes has provided us with a major clue to solving Lost's mystery, or if it's just a red herring, but it's very enjoyable either way.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

BRITISH HEROES

They're here! The US television hit series Heroes has its UK debut on The Sci-Fi Channel tomorrow at 10.00 pm, in a two-hour special. Regular viewers of DMDB will know I've been reviewing the series, so please try and check out the reviews after each UK airing here.

I recommend you give it a shot if you have Sci-Fi (or hold off until BBC 2 show it in the summer). Of course, the first episode is available online for legal viewing here if you just can't wait that long.

In the meantime, this trailer provides a nice taster of what's to come...


PRIMEVAL 1.2 – "Episode 2"

17 February 2007 – ITV, 7.20 pm
WRITER:
Adrian Hodges DIRECTOR: Cilla Ware

CAST:
Douglas Henshall (Prof Nick Cutter), Hannah Spearritt (Abby Maitland), James Murray (Stephen Hart), Andrew-Lee Potts (Connor Temple), Juliet Aubrey (Helen Cutter), Lucy Brown (Claudia Brown) & Ben Miller (James Lester)



After an attack on the London Underground by a giant insect, the team investigate the labyrinth of tunnels...

"It's time for adventure" reads the show's slogan –- although "it's time for a nap" might be more fitting. It's not that Primeval is bad television; it's just wholly unoriginal and incredibly predictable.

The premise of Episode 2 has giant insects scurrying around in the Tube, attacking a few people until the team (they don't have a collective name, so "team" will suffice) decide to investigate. So, down they go with an armed unit of expendable men, creep around with torches, before one of them is bitten, meaning they have to collect venom from an Arthropleuragiant (giant centipede) so they can concoct anti-venom. Y'know, the usual stuff...

If you can't second guess the plot as it chugs along on autopilot, you're either under-10 (the ideal age at which to enjoy Primeval) or have managed to avoid every single television sci-fi horror of the past 30 years.

As with last week's episode, the special effects are the main reason to even consider watching. The giant spiders and centipede are good creations, although not as convincing as last week's dinosaurs. The various action sequences with these critters are mildly enjoyable, but ultimately soulless as the characters are empty.

Douglas Hensall is good-looking Scottish boffin Nick Cutter, supposedly a "maverick", which is a label so painfully clichéd it’s difficult for me to type. Henshall plays him overly straight and entirely lacking in charisma. The show's ongoing "mystery" is focused on Henshall's character finding his wife Helen, who bizarrely appears in a ghostly fashion once again. At this stage, I have my own thoughts about what's going on with her, but I have very little faith in the writer's ability to explain it.

The rest of the cast aren't afforded interesting histories. They're just two-dimensional caricatures. Hannah Spearritt certainly looks the part as Abby (a sort of snow-haired pixie), and her acting has undoubtedly improved since those abysmal S Club 7 television shows, but she's nothing more than a sexy zookeeper. Episode 2 squeezes in the beginnings of a love triangle for her between spider attacks, but none of it rings true.

James Murray's entire character can be summed up in one word: handsome. There's really nothing else to say about him! Lucy Brown earns herself two words: attractive professional. Ben Miller's presence is just distracting, as he's synonymous with comedy and he plays his white-collar stiff Lester so straight you're half-certain you're watching a clever pastiche.

Andrew-Lee Potts (his one-word summation is "geek") is the type of handsome nerd writers pretend exist for fear of stereotyping their character otherwise. It's true the spotty social retard is an outdated cliché (no matter how true in some cases), but it never works when a pretty-boy actor has to spout lines about Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It would have been much more convincing if they'd found an actor like Simon Pegg for the role, as putting a boyish model in a trilby and pinning badges to his jacket doesn't work.


In summation, Episode 2 (why no titles?) continues in exactly the same vein as last week's weak opener. It's a formulaic plot with nothing interesting or original to say, performed by attractive but characterless actors, but with impressive special effects to watch.


If you like reheated sci-fi trash, involving lots of CGI and a storyline your grandparents can keep up with, Primeval will be right up your street. I'm sure lots of kids will get a kick out of its "monster of the week" mentality, too. But, for everyone else in this post-Matrix feast of cerebral sci-fi like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, ITV's Primeval is totally disposable and old-fashioned guff.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

YOU SAY WE PAY

I had the pleasure of seeing Hot Fuzz a few days ago (review coming soon) and it was particularly good to see Adam Buxton in a small role as a local reporter. Buxton is one half, along with Joe Cornish, of "Adam & Joe", a comedy duo most famous for their Adam & Joe Show on Channel 4 in the 90s.

Anyway, Adam is still pretty busy on XFM radio and in the occassional comedy (most recently The IT Crowd). He also contributes material for stuff like Time Trumpet, which was a very funny docu-comedy show last year.

Adam was on Richard & Judy recently as a self-proclaimed expert of the YouTube phenomenon, which he also creates sketch material for. So, just to remind people of Adam's skills, have a look at this very funny mash-up he did of Richard & Judy's cult classic game You Say We Pay. Brilliant stuff.

Friday, 16 February 2007


THE BRITISH REALLY ARE COMING?

What has happened to American taste? Us Brits have always had a "special relationship" with our American cousins, but their media usually only showed us as odd exaggerations (Dick Van Dyke's "cockerney" in Mary Poppins), motherly benevolents (Mary Poppins again), fruitcake eccentrics (Monty Python), ripe for affectionate parody (Austin Powers), barer of outdated sitcoms (Are You Being Served?), or playing venomous snakes (Die Hard).

But not now.

Perhaps in response to our support post-9/11, attitudes have changed dramatically. The British have always done well in America with historical epics and costume drama, from Ghandi to Shakespeare In Love. The Yanks also have a fondness for English Roses like Kate Winslett or legends such as Judi Dench or Michael Caine.

But US television was always less receptive to Anglo charms. Sure, a Brit may win the occassional Emmy with an expensive costume drama or mini-series, but seasonal network television ran to its own beat.

What a difference five years makes. I think we have a lot to thank BBC America for. The channel has opened the eyes of many Americans to British television and Ricky Gervais' The Office became a breakthrough hit. Gervais and writing partner Stephen Merchant went on executive produce the US Office (now a comedy collossus in the States) and the well-regarded HBO/BBC sitcom Extras.

English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen followed a similar path, finding an audience for his Ali G character on HBO. Da Ali G Show quickly entranced US audiences with its edgy humour and made Cohen's other creation, racist Kazakhstan reporter Borat, into a phenomenon. Borat transferred to film in 2006... and ruled the world.


Americans are now taking us seriously. The Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings movies showcased a lot of British talent to American executives. After playing Gandalph, Sir Ian McKellen saw a huge resurgence of interest, leading to the X-Men franchise with Patrick Stewart (and Brian Cox in X-Men 2), as did Orlando Bloom.


Rings star Dominic Monaghan bagged a role in smash-hit series Lost, together with Londoner Naveen Andrews. Brits Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Henry Ian Cusick also joined the cast in season two as Mr Eko and Desmond, respectively.


Recently, former Doctor Who Christopher Ecclestone won a role in the latest US hit -- superhero drama Heroes. He even gets to keep his accent. There was a time when Americans thought we all spoke cut-glass Queen's English. Regional accents were just something the Pythons did for comic effect.


James Callis, who plays Gaius Baltar in Battlestar Galactica, is British (the accent is the giveaway), but did you know Jamie Bamber, who plays Apollo, is also from these shores? Talking of good accents, British comedian Hugh Laurie has found unparalleled success Stateside thanks to a spot-on US accent as a curmudgeonly doctor in House.


More recently, Extras co-star Ashley Jensen got herself a recurring role in Ugly Betty. Just yesterday, ex-EastEnders saucepot Michelle Ryan beat off native competition to secure herself the lead in a Bionic Woman remake.


I'm actually amazed the fashion for British stars hasn't reached Desperate Housewives' Wisteria Lane. Oh wait, Nicolette Sheridan has a British passport, so she passes muster (by the skin of her polished teeth!)


Yes, make no mistake about it, the Yanks LOVE us now! Comedians Steve Coogan and Simon Pegg both get geek love across the pond. Coogan's US career has been more down than up (80 Days Around The World failed, leading to a cameo in Night At The Museum), but he should breakout in The Professionals with Ben Stiller.


Meanwhile, Pegg got a lot of critical praise in the States with his "rom-com-zom" Shaun Of The Dead, leading to a Mission Impossible III role. He's poised for another hit with action cop pastiche Hot Fuzz.
Indeed, Pegg's movie output also suggests Yanks finally realize British cinema can be more than just corsets and gangsters. Both Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz refuse to make concessions to Middle America in their depictions of everyday English life.

It's also worth remembering that Brit director Neil Marshall's The Descent bettered every American horror of 2006, while Severence continued the horror-comedy goodwill earned by Shaun's zombies. Incidentally, it was Britain that started the current wave of zombies flicks with Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.


But whatever happened to all our bad guy roles? We were Hollywood's villains of choice ever since Alan Rickman locked horns with Bruce Willis in 1987's Die Hard. Jeremy Irons continued the Die Hard tradition as late as 1995. The fourth Die Hard film, out this year, now has Americans causing mischief...


You see, after September 11th, America's looking to the real-world for its bad guys, best exemplified by the proliferation of Middle Eastern terrorists in action drama 24. If there are any British villains, we play them in our own movies (see Ralph Fiennes' Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise).


In 24's sixth season British actor Carlo Rota even gets to help all-American hero Jack Bauer from inside CTU. But Brits can also be the heroes themselves in big American movies, not just hammy creeps or quirky sidekicks. Daniel Craig re-licensed James Bond to BAFTA-nominated effect recently and Clive Owen has been the hero in Sin City, Children Of Men and Shoot 'Em Up later this year.


Even dainty Keira Knightley and Kate Beckinsale get to kick ass/arse in Domino, Underworld and Van Helsing! Jason Statham looks set to take the brainless action crown from Van Damme and Seagal soon, thanks to high-octane guff like The Transporter and Crank.


But the best example of British talent taking charge on US turf (and winning) can be found in Batman Begins. The stagnant superhero franchsie was left for dead after 1997's atrocious Batman & Robin, but was totally reinvigorated by its British stars (Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy) and talented director (Christopher Nolan). Welsh TV star Ioan Gruffudd even pulled on superhero spandex in Fantastic Four shortly afterwards.


And you know what -- cinemas most popular (and profitable) hero of recent years is 100% British. Yes, that's right, wily pirate Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates Of The Caribbean!


Erm, who's played by American Johnny Depp. But he based it on Keith Richards, so it still counts...