Saturday, 31 March 2007


FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER

While never quite as warm as his radio self, Jonathan Ross' television persona remains a potent force on his Friday chat shows. FNWJR returned last night for another run (interrupted next week by sport, natch) and gave a great example of the format in one sitting.

Ricky Gervais returned, for the zillionth time, to plug his new Extras DVD and his live show Fame. Gervais' friendship with Ross is always played up, with their chats being notoriously strangled. Each man trying to upstage, ridicule and berate the other into submission. To be honest, it's overplayed and somewhat calculating, but Ross clearly relishes being able to spit venom without fear of recrimination.

Next up was Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates. No, you haven't tuned into a UK Gold repeat from 2002 by accident, it really was him. Gates came across as a likeable young man with his head skrewed on, was philosphical about his 15 minutes of fame and good-humoured with the jibes at his stammering past. Of course, Gates was there to plug a new single and "change of musical direction", but spent most of the time discussing speech impediments, to his credit.

Finally, the week's big name guest was saved for last: Mr John Travolta. A real Hollywood legend, make no mistake. The interview was a great example of Ross' style and ability in this arena of television. He's a master of making guests feel comfortable, by revealing some personal information and smiling cheekily between near-the-knuckle gags.

Predictably, his iconic dancing, Grease and Pulp Fiction comeback were brought up. But more interesting was Travolta nattering about his pilot's licence (he owns a Boeing 707), his work schedule (he doesn't work after 6pm, contractually) and some discussion of Scientology, particularly regarding the apparent "no noise" edict of births.

But the highlight came at the end. After an entire show of unsubtle attempts to persuade Travolta to guest-star in the final Extras' Christmas Special, Ross helped his friend out by suggesting Gervais dance with Travolta. The hilarious sight of Gervais flailing around in full-on "David Brent" mode, Ross spinning like a turtle on the floor and JT striking some poses from Saturday Night Fever was another moment of TV gold for the show.

In one episode it encapsulated everyhing that's good and bad about Friday Night with Ross. The love-ins with celebrity friends (Gervais), the ironic guest stars (Gates), superstars (Travolta), frank discussions on touchy subjects (stammering, Scientology), layerings of banter (Gates bedding Jordan), eye-opening reveals (Travolta's jetsetting lifestyle) and the criminally unfunny Four Poofs And A Piano.

Friday, 30 March 2007

New Doctor Who tomorrow! Reviews to follow on DMDB soon after. I also need to get up to speed with some DVD reviews (Munich, United 93, Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth, Cronos), so hope to get those done soon...

US TOP 10

1. TMNT $24.3m
2. 300 £19.9m
3. Shooter $14.5m
4. Wild Hogs $13.9m
5. The Last Mimzy $10m
6. The Hills Have Eyes II $9.69m
7. Premonition $9.56m
8. Reign Over Me $7.46m
9. Pride $3.53m
10. Dead Silence $3.44m

UK TOP 10

1. 300 £4.7m
2. TMNT £948k
3. Premonition £736k
4. Norbit £605k
5. Amazing Grace £431k
6. Hot Fuzz £417k
7. I Want Candy £349k
8. Becoming Jane £308k
9. Namastey London £238k
10. Ghost Rider £174k

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

MR BEAN'S HOLIDAY
Accident prone Mr Bean wins a trip to the south of France. Silent slapstick comedy starring Rowan Atkinson.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES II
A group of National Guard trainees battle a group of mutants in the desert. Gruesome horror sequel.

THE LAST MIMZY
Two siblings begin to develop strange powers after they find a mysterious box of toys. Fantasy adventure.

MEET THE ROBINSONS
A boy genius is whisked to the distant future to stop a megalomaniac. CGI animated adventure.
THE TELEVISION NOVEL

The biggest trend of the past five years has been serial drama. These "television novels" treat each episode as a chapter in the show's overall story.

It's a format used on Lost, 24, Prison Break, Heroes and Veronica Mars, amongst others. Of course, serials are nothing new to telly. Remember David Lynch's Twin Peaks? That trod a similar path in 1990, with each episode representing a day of a murder invesigation.

Five years later, Murder One told a single story over consecutive episodes, becoming the first series where this format was integral to the show. However, audiences weren't ready to invest as much time/effort into following these shows back then.

Twin Peaks became a pop-culture icon but remained cult viewing and was cancelled after just two years. Such shows were born into a world where it was considered bizarre for Quantum Leap to have a three-part episode!

It was also very difficult to keep up with serials in the 90s: DVD box-sets weren't as prolific, Sky+ was years away and repeats weren't scheduled regularly. Most people only had terrestrial channels, so it wasn't possible to do the type of "marathon catchups" so familiar to E4 and Sky One viewers these days.

So why are serials so popular now? Is it purely because we have the technology to fit their schedule around our own social lives? Well, perhaps. It certainly makes them easier to digest and that's been the downside to serials since they began. You see, there's no point watching 24 when Jack Bauer's already 16 hours into his latest mission. Likewise, newcomers to Lost will find the third season totally impenetrable.

That's why a lot of a marketing muscle is employed when a serial debuts. 24's sixth season premiered four episodes in two days, then released a Premiere DVD to curb illegal downloading (although that backfired when the DVD was leaked onto the 'net a weeks before their transmission!) Heroes blitzed comic book conventions months before it aired, while Lost's publicity machine is omnipresent whenever a new season begins.

If a serial is unlucky enough to go ignored in its opening hours, or fails to develop a quick momentum thereafter, it spells certain doom. Just take a look at Invasion or Day Break. Viewers have finite time to spare and not much loyalty to go around. If we continue the novel allegory, you don't expect bookworms to be reading six books concurrently, but TV execs want us be watching dozens of their own stories!

Is that justified? Many viewers realize know much time is needed to invest in serial dramas, so they purposefully don't start watching them for fear of getting hooked! A bizarre situation arises when some people daren't watch new serials incase they get cancelled and the story goes unresolved... so their actions create their own fear. Catch-22.

Given the risky nature of making a serial drama successful and attaining viewer loyalty, doesn't it make more sense to create shows that have self-contained plots? Shows that take their time to settle in and don't infringe on our lives? Like in the old days.

Well, the truth is, the vast majority of TV still deal with traditional formats of standalone episodes. Anyone can catch an episode of CSI, Monk, ER or House without feeling late to the party, because their premises are easy to grasp. Sure, they still have continuing elements for fans to enjoy, but nothing that's crucial.

The X-Files actually had its feet in both camps during the 90s. The majority of its episodes were standalone stories, enjoyed by fans and casual viewers alike, while only the minority were hardcore conspiracy plots for X-Philes. To be honest, this is till the most popular compromise with the traditional format and sprawling serials -- just look at Supernatural, Smallville, Medium, CSI, The Wire, Deadwood, etc.

The age of "television novels" has certainly matured though. By looking beyond simple weekly fixes, a good serial offers elaborate and sustained narratives. Creativity and storytelling depths open up for talented showrunners, allowing epic storylines for the small screen that enables competition with Hollywood through sheer complexity.

Film director Terry Gilliam once claimed that superhero epic Watchmen would only work on TV, while the popular Preacher graphic novel is being primed for a sprawling HBO series instead of a diluted movie. Indeed, with US budgets of $2 million per episode. the exodus of film actors to television and a relaxed attitude to sex/violence on certain channels, TV is encroaching on film's territory more and more...

To illustrate this, George Lucas is intending to focus on the boob tube now, with a 100-episode Star Wars series slated for 2009...

Thursday, 29 March 2007


LIFE ON MARS

I watched the first episode of a great TV show called Life On Mars over the weekend. What's that sniggering? Series TWO is on now, you say? You're kidding! Oh well...

Life On Mars is the time-travel cop drama where modern-day policeman Sam Tyler (John Simm) is hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. From thereon it's a fish-out-of-water police procedural as the 21st-century copper gets to grips with the sexist and violent rozzers of the 70s.

It was good stuff, actually. I never got into the show last year for one simple reason: the title. I thought it was a documentary about aliens, so gave it a miss! By the time I realized its premise was more original than the usual BBC yawnathons and the title was actually a David Bowie track, I felt like a latecomer and didn't bother watching.

For this reason, I still point to Life On Mars as a great example of a bad and misleading title...

I don't think I'll be buying the dirt cheap DVD box-set in HMV, but I might check out Episode 2 if it turns up on Virgin's On Demand service.

What's the general feeling out there for Life On Mars? Is it sustaining interest now it's in series 2, or should it have been a one-off mini-series?

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

IS MR BEAN STILL FUNNY?

Rowan Atkinson is deserving of his comedy legend status. Blackadder alone guarantees entry into our Hall Of Fame. I also really enjoyed Mr Bean in his 90s heyday, but I was glad when the TV series was canned when the quality plummeted.

The first Mr Bean movie (1997) disappointed me greatly. The great trailers promised so much, but we just ended up with a silly mess meant to appeal to the Yanks. Still, it has somehow spawned a sequel, 10 years later, in the shape of Mr Bean's Holiday.

But is Bean funny now? Do we care about rubber-faced Rowan? Atkinson's output has inconsistent post-Mr Bean; mundane sitcom The Thin Blue Line, some funny Barclaycard adverts and their movie spin-off Johnny English, frivolous cameos in other movies like Love, Actually and full-blown flops like Keeping Mum.

The fact is Rowan Atkinson is one of Britain's most underused comedy legends, never able to top the written quality of Blackadder or find a better outlet for his physicality other than Mr Bean.

Atkinson must feel there's still mileage in Bean's silent comedy. I suppose the character still has its diehard fans, but I suspect Europe will be more welcoming than us Brits. The France setting is no accident, as the French have always had a soft spot for Bean's brand of visual humour (indeed, Bean was even inspired by Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot).

Watching trailers to Mr Bean's Holiday didn't fill me with hope for a quality film (dancing to a Shaggy track is at least 10 years too late to be funny, Rowan), but I did get a whiff of nostalgia for Mr Bean's earlier antics.

I don't think the new film will be a big hit, despite its carefully planned Easter release. It will do okay business thanks to youngsters and Rowan's fans here, but that's about it. I'll catch it on TV in a few years.

Anyway, here's a piece of Bean greatness that was shown in cinemas before films began awhile ago. You probably haven't seen this...


BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Taking A Break From All Your Worries"

Season 3, Episode 13 - 27 March 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Michael Taylor DIRECTOR: Edward James Olmos
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), James Callis (Baltar), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Tricia Helfer (Number 6/Caprica), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta), Kandyse McClure (Dee), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol), Michael Trucco (Anders), Kerry Norton (Layne Ishay), Leah Cairns (Racetrack) & Donnelly Rhodes (Dr Cottle)

Baltar faces interrogation to extract information about the Cylons, while there's q possibility for Lee and Starbuck to rekindle their romance...

Only Battlestar Galactica could get away with using a line from the Cheers theme tune as its title. Taking A Break From All Your Worries (grimace) is another character-based episode, which sometimes go awry on BSG if the writers don't balance the human drama with compelling action or insights.

Writer Michael Taylor just about manages to make this episode work, furthering the Lee/Starbuck relationship while at the same time providing some intriguing moments with Baltar, Roslin and Adama. The main plot concerns Baltar's treatment by the Galactica crew, as he's drugged and faces freaky hallucinations while being questioned over his actions.

rankly, it's about time some of Baltar's secrets were revealed, as his betrayals and mind-games have just about run their course. Now is a good time to send his character off in a fresh direction, perhaps seeking help in understanding exactly why Number 6 appears to him in visions. If he's not a Cylon, what is going on?

Edward James Olmos (Adama) directs this episode, his second time in the director's chair since season 1's Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down. Olmos does a solid job, although he overuses the show's iconic use of quick zooms and slow pans. The directing could be tighter, but it's not too distracting, Baltar's "visions" are effectively staged and the opening sequence is the most intriguing of recent weeks.

James Callis has been a tremendous asset to the show since day one as Baltar, making a treacherous villain sympathetic and relatable. He's constantly being asked to perform difficult material (the writers really enjoy twisting the knife) and he always rises to the challenge.

Michael Taylor's script finds time to touch on a few ideas and characters usually snubbed by BSG, particularly Dee (Kandyse McClure). McClure is a decent actress who's been given little to do on the show, but there are some good scenes for her to chew on here and her relationship with Lee becomes more interesting as a result.

Likewise, Mr Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) has a few moments to shine, although every time the writers construct something interesting for Gaeta to do, Juliani never quite convinces. He's too mild-mannered to really sell the bitter and controversial actions he's asked to peform.

It was also a small pleasure to see Taylor's script mention Chief Tyrol's one-time romance with Cylon Sharon (Grace Park). This romance was a prominent and interesting part of BSG in season 1 and the Chief has become hamstrung since with a comparatively boring relationship with Cally.

Indeed, it's interesting to note that most of the relationship changes to BSG have been for the worse, including Lee and Starbuck's on/off romance. The characters were perfectly spread in season 1 and you can sense the growing disdain for how they've all been allowed to lose focus. Only Helo and Boomer/Athena have kept their strained relationship alive and interesting since day one.

Overall, Taking A Break From All Your Worries isn't particularly memorable or necessary, but it's competent and features another knockout performance from Callis. It was unusual to find a "bonus scene" presented at the end of the show, involving Roslin and an imprisoned Number 6. The scene is perfectly fine, but why wasn't it integrated into the show? Odd.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

ANY DREAM WILL DO?


We seem to be in a world of imitation. Every time someone concocts a fresh idea for television, a starving competitor quickly produces a lazy cash-in. The most famous of this was BBC 1's Strictly Come Dancing being restyled as ITV's Dancing On Ice. Both shows are big successes for their respected channels, but have never been in competition with each other.

But, in a few week's time, BBC vs ITV will be the big event for Saturday night telly. BBC 1 are launching Any Dream Will Do on 31 March, a show that hopes to find a new male lead for classic West End musical Joseph & His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. The BBC team has already earned respect amongst theatre critics after they discovered Connie Fisher, winner of How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? She is now lead actress in The Sound Of Music, wowing audiences.


Over on ITV, just a week later on 7 April, comes Grease Is The World, masterminded by Simon Cowell. The format is exactly the same as Dream/Maria, but producers are looking for a Danny and Sandy to star in Grease. The scheduling clash should prove interesting for unbiased observers. Audiences will likely decide their favourite show based on the musical content alone.

So, on paper anyway, Grease is the clear favourite because it has fans across the generations and its 50s retro-cool appeals to the under-30s more than a dusty Biblical story. But let's see how the two shows compare in terms of actual format:

THE PRESENTERS
Any Dream Will Do has Graham Norton, returning from Maria. Viewers of Maria will know what to expect from him: competence, cheeky camp and a few naughty jokes. However, Norton always looks neutered when presenting pre-watershed family fluff.

Grease has Zoe Ball, a youthful, sexier alternative to Norton who appeals to both sexes. She's been an accomplished presenter for years now, so knows how the live gig works.

WINNER: Grease's Zoe Ball; fresher, sexier and better suited to her show.


THE JUDGES
Andrew Lloyd Webber may not be the prettiest face in the world, but his name alone brings a stamp of approval to Any Dream. Theatre producer Bill Kenwright will offer tangible real-life expertise in the field, as will musical star John Barrowman, vocal coach Zoe Tyler and actress Denise Van Outen. Interestingly, Van Outen recently returned from the US from co-presenting the American version of ITV's Grease show!

Simon Cowell doesn't star in Grease Is The Word, but he has recruited David Gest (soon to join him on X-Factor), ex-lover Sinitta, theatre producer David Ian and choreographer Brian Friedman as judges.

WINNER: Any Dream for its bredth of talent and expertise. Cowell's troupe look dodgy in comparison, although oddball Gest could be a secret weapon.


THE HISTORIES
Joseph & His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat has existed since 1968, but enjoyed its biggest success on Broadway in 1981 and the West End in 1991.

Grease actually started life as a stage musical in 1971, but didn't become popular until the classic movie starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in 1978. The soundtrack was a No1 album in the US and UK and has enjoyed sustained popularity ever since. The movie got 5 Golden Globe nominations in '79 and the stage show received 7 Tony awards in '72.

WINNER: Grease, recently voted the Best Movie Musical too. It's a cultural benchmark, whereas Joseph is most famous in the UK for being a vehicle for 80s popstar Jason Donovan and TV presenter Philip Schofield!


THE STORIES & MUSIC
Joseph's storyline concerns the eponymous character, whose father considers him his favourite of 12 sons. Jealous, Joseph's brothers plot to steal his amazing technicolour coat and sell him as a slave. The musical has plenty of songs, but "Any Dream Will Do" is perhaps its sole masterpiece.

Grease concerns leather-clad bad boy Danny and his romance of straight-laced Sandy at Rydell High School during the 1950s. The musical has lots of songs, each one a classic in its own right, but "Summer Loving", "Greased Lightning" and "You're The One That I Want" are more than enough to see off competition from Joseph.

WINNER: Grease is a no-brainer, really. Joseph's story is a bit silly (dreamcoat?) and the Biblical backdrop won't really appeal most kids. The songs are also a little mundane and most aren't massively known. Meanwhile, Grease's 50s-setting remains a potent fantasy for modern teens and those around 50 years ago themselves, so it bridges the generation gap better. The story is also more relatable and practically every song is a hit.


THE OVERALL WINNER...
I think it's safe to say Grease is the better product to be involved with for numerous reasons (see above). Indeed, the Beeb had planned to follow Maria with a Grease contest before the idea was poached by Simon Cowell for ITV. That said, Dream's judges seem like a better bunch and having the great Andrew Lloyd Webber himself involved is a bonus.

The Dream team have already proven themselves canny talent-spotters with Sound Of Music too. Grease will undoubtedly survive more on its songs, history and status in popular culture. The relatively weak judges will struggle to upstage the musical performances themselves -- which is as it should be.

PRISON BREAK 2.11 - "Bolshoi Booze"

26 March 2007 - Five, 10.00 pm
WRITERS: Monica Macer & Seth Hoffman DIRECTOR: Greg Yaitanes
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), William Fichtner (Agent Mahone), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Paul Adelstein (Agent Kellerman), Sarah Wayne Callies (Dr Sara Tancredi), Marshall Allman (L.J), Wade Williams (Bellick), Matt DeCaro (Roy), Reggie Lee (Bill Kim), Anthony Denison (Aldo Burrows), Barbara Eve Harris (Lang), Jason Davis (Agent Wheeler), Callie Thorne (Pam Mahone) & Kristin Lehman (Jane Phillips)

Michael heads to a secret location to secure a place to Panama, while Lincoln and Aldo discover an enemy close to hand. Meanwhile, T-Bag tracks the $5 million and Agent Kellerman tortures Sarah...

This episode is a little strained in its attempts to refocus the season as we reach the mid-way point, but it's still a great deal of fun if you ignore some goofs from writers Monica Macer and Seth Hoffman.

Wentworth Miller grapples with better material as his guilt over crimes he's committed for the greater good take hold. Miller is a charismatic and likeable lead actor, but Michael's never been particularly talkative and he's often used as a means to an end. In recent weeks the stories have been able to peel away some layers of Michael's character -- last week with love interest Sara and now with his conscience.

A personal aspect to proceedings has also returned for Dominic Purcell as Lincoln. Purcell gets a lot of grief from some snottier critics, as he generally just broods and mumbles in his performances. But I like him -- he has a believable intensity and sells the brotherly and fatherly angle to his character. He's also a pretty decent action hero through his physical presence, but the recent reappearance of his father Aldo is giving him something meatier to get stuck into.

The ongoing Bellick and Roy shenanigans over the $5 million seems like padding the longer it goes on, although Bolshoi Booze atleast wraps things up nicely with T-Bag tracking down double-crossing Roy (who has been spending his cash in a swanky hotel suite full of prostitutes).

Paul Adelstein continues to do great work as Agent Kellerman, here forced to torture Sara for a voice recording that could expose the White House conspiracy into the now-President's supposedly dead brother. It's about time proper reasoning was added to this plot strand, as Kellerman's focus on Sara just to get to Lincoln through Michael was beginning to strain credibility. Of course, the writers seem to have invented this new piece of the puzzle at the last-minute, but atleast it's plausible.

Reggie Lee as Bill Kim, the latest villain who's been bubbling away in the background for awhile now, gets a great scene with trapped Agent Mahone that crackles with electricity. Lee is an exciting new addition to the show who's proving to be very enjoyable to watch in a real boo-hiss manner.

Monday, 26 March 2007


HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

I'm 28 today! Only two years away from the big 3-0... but a good 12 years away from the big 4-0. So it's not all bad, really.

Anyway, in a moment of interest I had a look on the IMDB to see who shares my birthday from the world of celebrity...

Keira Knightley, the sexy actress from the Pirates movies, is 21 today!
Alan Silvestri, composer of Back To The Future, is 56 today!
Martin Short, diminuitive comic actor from Innerspace, is 56 today!
Diana Ross, diva singer who used to be in the Three Degrees, is 61 today!
James Caan, legendary actor from Misery, is 66 today!
Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek's Spock, is 75 today!

So I'm with pretty good company. Particularly chuffed with the link to Keira Knightley (and Leonard Nimoy, secretly). Maybe I can use our birthday synchronicity to chat-up Ms Knightley some day.

Hmmm. Time to blow out those candles and make a wish...

LOST 3.13 - "The Man From Tallahassee"

25 March 2007 - Sky One, 10.00 pm
WRITERS: Drew Goddard & Jeff Pinkner DIRECTOR: Jack Bender
CAST: Terry O'Quinn (Locke), Matthew Fox (Jack), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Michael Emerson (Ben), Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet), Naveen Andrews (Sayid), Mira Furlan (Rousseau), M.C Gainey (Tom), Tania Raymonde (Alex), Brian Goodman (Ryan Pryce), Cleo King (Government Worker), Stephen Bishop (William Kincaid), Marlene Forte (Detective Mason), Don Nahaku (Detective Reed), Barbara Beecheer (Mrs Talbot), Patrick J. Adams (Peter Talbot), Kevin Tighe (Anthony Cooper) & Nestor Campbell (Richard Alpert)

Kate and Sayid are captured whilst trying to contact Jack. Meanwhile, Locke holds Ben at gunpoint, prompting memories of how he broke his back four years ago...

Season 3 seems to be facing the challenge many shows face in their third year. When it debuted in 2004 Lost was exciting, revelatory and unique. Season 2 introduced new elements and deepened the mythology to keep viewer interest. But season 3 has a far more difficult challenge: surprising audiences who are now savvy with the show's style.

The Man From Tallahassee is one of the best episodes of the year, primarily because all of its sub-plots are interesting and its flashbacks focus on John Locke. Terry O'Quinn's character is sometimes mistreated by the writers; he lost his courageous veneer to press a button for most of season 2 and has made silly decisions this season (faith in Eko's "Jesus Stick", blowing up the Flame, etc).

However, while Locke's on-island character is inconsistent, O'Quinn is a magnetic presence regardless and Locke's flashbacks are usually seasonal highlights. This episode certain proves this, as we finally learn how Locke ended up in a wheelchair. Needless to say it has something to do with his con man father Anthony Cooper, one of the most deliciously evil men on television, perfectly underplayed by Kevin Tighe.

The island action is just as revelatory. Kate is stunned to discover Jack's deal with the Others to leave the island board their outbound submarine, while Locke takes Ben hostage with a plot to destroy the sub -- but for what purpose?

Michael Emerson is back on fine form as Ben, now stuck in a wheelchair and perplexed as to why the island healed Locke's disability within seconds, but has refused to do the same for him. The episode is packed with hints towards the island's mystical properties and Ben's conversations with Locke (while shrouded in vagueness) are more straight-talking than usual.

As is often the case with Lost's most memorable episodes, the real talking points are huge spoilers. But, suffice to say that Locke's crippling accident is shocking and violent. The final scene is also one of Lost's most dazzling in ages; totally bizarre, unpredictable and spawns a hundred new questions in your mind. Superb.

Overall, The Man From Tallahassee is the kind of episode fans are hungry for after three years. A long-standing question is answered, character dynamics are primed to shift (Jack/Kate, Ben/Locke, Alex/Ben), vital information is offered regarding the island and the final moment will send your mind spinning.

A fantastic episode that puts the season's shaky first quarter firmly in the past. If the rest of season 3 can continue in this vein, we're in for a treat and Lost could break the curse of third years...

24, 6.13 - "05:00 PM - 06:00 PM"

25 March 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITERS: Michael Loceff & Joel Surnow DIRECTOR: Jon Cassar
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), Carlo Rota (Morris O'Brian), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Gregory Itzin (Charles Logan), Jean Smart (Martha Logan), Glenn Morshower (Aaron Pierce), Powers Boothe (Noah Daniels), Rade Serbedzija (Dmitri Gredenko), Lauten Richard Metcalfe (Agent Shavers), James Ellis Lane (Medic #1), John Noble (Consul Markov), Lex Cassar (Agent Ryan), Rick Schroder (Mike Doyle), Boris Krutonog (Russian Agent Vasili), Ajay Mehta (Ambassador), Kathleen Gati (Anya Suvarov), Gideon Emery (Leon), Scarlett Chorvat (Female Hostage), Kari Matchett (Lisa Miller), Adoni Maropis (Fayed) & Nick Jameson (Yuri Suvarov)


With Jack trapped inside the Russian consulate with vital information, CTU prepares a rescue that could start a war. Meanwhile, Daniels continues to use Palmer's assassination attempt to bolster his own ideology...

A more sustained installment of action and drama this week, as 24 enters its second half with fire in its belly. The absence of Wayne Palmer has certainly energized proceedings now that frighteningly right-wing Vice President Daniels is able to cause strife in the White House bunker.

CTU even gets a shot in the arm with the arrival of a new character: Agent Mike Doyle (Rick Schroder), the new Field Agent who replaces Curtis Manning and already has everyone's backs raised. His introduction is hardly original (24 often used new faces to shake-up office cosiness) but it could prove a masterstrock if he's developed properly.

Kiefer Sutherland is playing second fiddle to events this year, looking predictable and stale. All of the season's standout moments have relied on wow-factor events (nuke), identity reveals (the Bauer family) and the return of old favourites (Logan, now Martha), with Jack's role being pure reaction.

It's a shame, because the season started with strong inferences we'd be seeing a different version of Jack after his Chinese jailing... but this hasn't happened. In Episode 13, Jack has his hands full battling his way out of the Russian consulate single-handed, as CTU wait on the periphery for a greenlight to storm the building.

Elsewhere, Logan goes to speak with ex-wife Martha, to get her to persuade Russian President Suvarov, via his wife Anya, to allow American action on the consulate. Gregory Itzin is on great form alongside Jean Smart as Martha, with both actors bouncing off each other brilliantly. The return of Aaron Pierce (Glenn Morshower) is also a nice continuation from season 5, revealing a somewhat bizarre new role for the ex-Secret Service Agent. Incidentally, this makes Morshower the only actor to appear in all six seasons of 24, alongside Kiefer Sutherland.

The overall plot also seems to be gathering speed, with Gredenko putting the finishing touches on his unmanned nuke-carrying drones. But the real drama is coming from Powers Boothe as the dangerously gung-ho Vice President, forcing Lennix to lie about Al-Assad's involvement in the assassination plot and threatening nuclear retaliation. It makes a change from the pragmatic David Palmer and the incompetent Logan and could prove to be a turning point in season 6's identity.

In summation, there are definite signs the writers have realized season 6 was beginning to limp and some of their ideas weren't really working that well (the Bauer family conspiracy and Wayne Palmer primarily). With those subplots on hiatus for awhile, the story is rapidly gaining some momentum again.

All we need now is for the writers to get Jack back on the trail of Gredenko after the consulate distraction and for the character dynamics at CTU to improve. I still think season 6 is suffering from writer fatigue, with too many plots, characters and ideas stolen/reworked from previous seasons, but change seems to be afoot...

Sunday, 25 March 2007

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE
REGION 2. PICTURE: 2.18:1 AUDIO: DD5.1
DIRECTOR: Adrew Adamson
WRITERS: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (based on the novel by C.S Lewis)
CAST/VOICES: William Moseley (Peter Pevensie), Anna Popplewell (Susan Pevensie), Skandar Keynes (Edmund Pevensie), Georgie Henley (Lucy Pevensie), Tilda Swinton (Jadis The White Witch), James McAvoy (Mr Tumnus), Liam Neeson (Aslan), Ray Winstone ( Mr Beaver), Dawn French (Mrs Beaver), Jim Broadbent (Professor Digory Kirke), James Cosmo (Father Christmas), Patrick Kake (Oreius), Kiran Shah (Ginarrbrik), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Mrs Macready), Judy McIntosh (Mrs Pevensie), Shane Rangi (General Otmin), Michael Madsen (Maugrim) & Rupert Everett (Fox)

Four wartime siblings evacuated to the countryside discover a wardrobe that leads to the land of Narnia, where they discover their appearance is part of a prophecy...

Undoubtedly fast-tracked as a result of The Lord Of The Rings' success, C.S Lewis highly-regarded novel (the first of seven) is adapted for the big screen courtesy of director Andew Adamson, who cut his teeth on the first two Shrek animations.

The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
(herein LW&W) concerns the four Pevensie children, evacuated from London to the English countryside during the Blitz. It's during a game of hide-and-seek in a sprawling mansion that youngest sibling Lucy discovers a wardrobe that leads to Narnia, a wintry wonderland populated by talking animals and ruled by an evil White Witch.

It's not long before all four Pevensie children (brave Peter, cautious Susan, sweet Lucy and cynical Edmund) are embroiled in the affairs of Narnia, which has been stuck in winter for hundreds of years. The Pevensies are amazed to discover their presence was prophecized and heralds the return of Aslan (Liam Neeson), a mighty lion who must defeat the White Witch Jadis (Tilda Swinton) to secure the royal reign of the Pevensies.

Andew Adamson ensures LW&W is a faithful adaptation. The film is bright and colourful, the special FX are of a high standard, the acting/voice-overs are generally good and the pacing is strong.

At face value, LW&W is a triumph, but while it's enjoyable and fun for younger children, Adamson fails to make Narnia's opening salvo really soar. The truth is, LW&W is afraid to take risks or provide anything other than dependable and vibrant action beats. Yes, I know it's a children's film, but the heart and soul is missing from Narnia. As an epic, it's disappointingly minor and inconsequential.

The performances are acceptable, but only Georgie Henley hits the right note as Lucy Pevensie. William Moseley is stiff as Peter, Anna Popplewell is underused as Susan, while Skandar Keynes makes a great start as traitorous grouch Edmund, only for his character to fizzle out once forgiveness is granted.


It's always difficult when success rests on young actor's shoulders (just as the Harry Potter team), but LW&W drags your attention away from the children with its effects pretty quickly. By the time a climactic battle is underway, your concern for the Pevensie clan has been usurped by ogling all the Minotaurs, Centaurs and giant eagles.


Despite all the creatures we see along the way, their cumulative battle failed to arouse me in the wake of Lord Of The Rings' own epic brawls. FX teams will never make talking animals convincing (the structure of their mouths will just never synch with human words), but the CGI beavers were nicely animated. The hybrid men (half horse or half goat) were rendered well, as were the bullish Minotaurs and the impressive lion Aslan. Remember when CGI hair and fur was considered impossible?


The most pleasing thing about Narnia's production design is the vibrancy and flair of colour. After the muted pallete of the Rings' trilogy, it's nice to see some fantasy sequences in bright daylight. Snowy Narnia is simply enchanting in the opening half, the crossing of an icy river is beautiful and the finale's grassy battle sequence is sumptuous.

Tilda Swinton is impressive as the White Witch, the only person who's bothering to grab the material by the scruff of the neck. Swinton's androgynous features again serve her well post-Constantine, giving Jadis a creepy sense of asexuality. Early moments spent tempting Edmund with Turkish Delight are lovely and she sells a spooky sacrificial scene very well. It's just a shame she's underused everywhere else and her eventual comeuppance is criminally fudged.

Overall, LW&W is fairly unexciting but solid entertainment for undemanding children and fans of the books. There's not much life to anything beyond Tilda Swinton and a neat turn by James McAvoy as kindly faun Mr Tumnus. In particular, the quartet of child leads are totally ambivalent (passable as naive kids, implausible as battlefield troops).

For the target under-10s, Narnia's first chapter is colourful and cheerful, totally able to entertain for a few hours. But, more discerning viewers will spot an empty-hearted epic when they see one. It certainly doesn't inspire eagerness to see the next six, particularly sans Swinton...

DVD REVIEW

PICTURE: The film's 2.35:1 ratio is slightly reduced to 2.18:1 and has some grain in the darker sequences, although most of the film is vibrant, rich and colourful.

SOUND: A brilliant sound design of DD5.1 (and DTS if you have it) that does a great job of bringing Narnia to life around you. Deep bass, good mid-range, clear dialogue and nice use of directional effects.

EXTRA FEATURES:

Commentaries: There are two commentary tracks. The first involves director Andrew Adamson and the four child stars and the second finds Adamson joined by production designer Roger Ford and producer Mark Johnson

Discover Narnia: Basically, fun facts in the form of pop-up information from co-producer Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis. Not very many of these, sadly.

Bloopers: The usual assortment of mildy humorous and "you had to have been there" comedy goofs with the cast and crew. Four minutes long.

Creating Narnia: A documentary that includes 'Chronicles Of A Director', a 37-minute documentary. 'The Children's Magical Journey' is 26-minutes of featurette focusing on the child stars. Then there's 'Evolution Of An Epic' that includes 'C.S. Lewis, From One Man's Mind', 'Cinematic Storytellers,', 'Creating Creatures' and 'Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River.' All of these are enjoyable enough, but 'Creating Creatures' is easily the best as we're treated to two 9-minute passages that show us how the film's creatures were created and costumed.

Creatures, Land And Legends: In here are 'Creatures Of The World' that gives background on the assorted mythological beings in the film. There's also 'Explore Narnia' which is a map of the country that allows you to highlight locations and get information.

Legends In Time: This is a timeline to events in the story, with audio narration. As always with a Disney Special Edition DVD, getting through the extras requires a lot of clicking!

The two discs come housed in a double, slim-line keep case, further enclosed in a cardboard slipcover designed to resemble and open like the wardrobe closet in the picture. It's quite an attractive proposition and the quality of the discs far outstrips the actual film itself.

Saturday, 24 March 2007


Doctor Who's third series (or twenty-ninth if you're being nerdy) returns on March 31st, sans Billie Piper, who has been replaced in the TARDIS by sexy new companion Freema Agyeman.

The show is a huge success story for the BBC, pleasing new and old viewers around the world with its family-friendly style. But, while there's definitely a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" vibe surrounding the third series, I personally still think Doctor Who isn't really delivering on its massive potential. Yet.

So here's how I would improve it even more, speaking as a critical fan:

1. Get rid of Russell T. Davies.
On the face of it, executive producer RTD has done a magnificent job reinventing the show so successfully, but his input is vastly overrated. With, or without him, Doctor Who would have been a success thanks to its production design, the engaging lead actors and the assembled writing team.

RTD may be a big name in the world of British drama writing, but the fact is that most stories written by him are terrible (Rose, New Earth, Love & Monsters, etc, etc.) Series 1 was primarily a hit because of Christopher Ecclestone, Billie Piper, the Daleks, viewer curiosity and nostalgia. Not smug Mr Davies.

2. Make Steven Moffatt the show-runner.
Assuming my #1 improvement ever happens (RTD has to step down some day, right?), writer Steven Moffatt is the best choice to replace him. All three episodes written by Moffatt have been examples of genius, from the spooky two-parter set during WWII to the time-hopping adventure of Girl In The Fireplace. Moffatt has proven he can write imaginative, funny, original and well-plotted stories. To see him take charge and oversee an entire series would be amazing.

3. Leave Earth.
That TARDIS can go anywhere in Space and Time... just so long as it's London? I understand budgetary demands mean trips to other planets aren't going to happen weekly... but only The Impossible Planet and Satan Pit have taken us properly off-world in 28 episodes!

Like many viewers, I'm fed up with London and variations on space stations. Just once I'd like to feel as if the TARDIS really can take you anywhere in the universe. I even promise not to whinge if it looks suspiciously like a quarry. Honest.

4. Get rid of the soap drama.
RTD's one major contribution to Doctor Who was the inclusion of a mild soap drama format revolving around Rose Tyler, her mother Jackie and her boyfriend Mickey. It was fine to start with because it was interesting to see how Rose's home life would be affected by her adventuring (something Who had never done before, bizarrely).

But, it also meant RTD was free to indulge his soap drama muscles, fuelled by a passion for Coronation Street. Sorry, but when The Doctor is spending half his time traipsing around a council estate trying to appease a chavvy mum, the show just loses its wow factor for me.

5. Enough with the gay stuff!
I'm not homophobic in the slightest, but the gay vibe on the show is a bit high. In moderation, there's nothing wrong with it. Captain Jack's bisexuality was handled quite well, for example, particularly when compared to Torchwood. While the subtext will be lost on younger children, the fact it's almost omnipresent just isn't right.

6. Stop recycling aliens so much.
The Autons were good, weren't they? The Slitheen must have been expensive. How about that Face of Bo, what an oddity he was! Oh, and I love Cassandra, she's brilliant. Fans loved Captain Jack, too. So why not bring them back? All... the... time. I'll tell you why: it's all very well trying to create a sense of "community in space", but this isn't Star Trek!

Admittedly, it's nice when old favourite's return (it wouldn't be the same show without the Daleks gliding around), but straining to bring villains back just because it was expensive to create them annoys me. I'd rather see fresh material, or at least see the repeat performances dished out more evenly. It's only a matter of time before the Queen Of Racnoss gets a repeat performance judging by the work that went into that Christmas Special...

7. Less famous faces.
Doctor Who became self-parody in the 80s and a slew of Z-list celebrities clamoured to appear on the show for kitsch value. Strangely, famous faces are par for the course now. Simon Callow, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Derek Acorah, Sophia Myles, Richard Wilson, Simon Pegg, Roger Lloyd Pack, Zoë Wannamaker, Anthony Head, Peter Kay, etc...

To be honest, many of the celebs have been excellent (Myles and Callow in particular), but when you're thinking "...look, it's Trigger... hey, the bloke from Spaced... didn't she kill Dirty Den?" during most episodes... it's time to call it a day. Plus, there's always the potential for another career lowlight akin to Peter Kay's embarrassing turn...

8. Toilet humour and other unfunny funnies.
Humour has long been a part of the show -- intentional (Tom Baker) or otherwise (that man-eating sofa) -- but the new shows seem to have difficulty getting the balance right. Who can forget the killer bin, farting aliens, the Weakest Link/Big Brother parodies or the infamous face-in-a-paving-stone that alluded to blowjobs?

They were all heinous comedy crimes that caused great embarrassment. By all means keep the comedy, but can we tighten the quality control? Only Steven Moffatt, with his sitcom background, seems capable of straddling the line between laughs and drama.

9. No more stupid humans.
Why don't people react like real human beings on the show? Most of the WORLD'S population were controlled by aliens in The Christmas Invasion. In that same episode a giant spaceship hovered over London, to be followed by another in The Runaway Bride. Big Ben was destroyed by one the year before. Ghosts appeared across the world in Army Of Ghosts, later followed by an intergalactic punch-up between Daleks and Cybermen on the streets of London. But people don't seem to remember any of this the next day!

I know, I know... suspension of disbelief is required obviously here. It's a kid's show, blah-blah-blah. The craziness was neatly joked at in The Runaway Bride with Donna's silly reasons for having missed these global events. But can they just invent some kind of Men In Black-style "memory wipe" system to get around these problem? Or can we just be told that people post-2005 are aware of aliens in the series? Oh no, wait –- that would ruin things for spin-off show Torchwood. Hmm, actually...

10. More mythology.
It's brilliant that Doctor Who hasn't even scratched the surface of its own mythology after two years, but will it ever get around to it? We've yet to visit Gallifrey, see The Master, meet other Time Lords, or learn some Time War specifics. There's a lot of stuff still to cover!

RTD's decision to destroy Gallifrey and the Time Lords was allegedly a deliberate measure to limit mythology and streamline the series into simple adventuring. If true, that's a huge shame for fans. We love a bit of back story and nods to the history of a series. It would be fantastic to explore some underused staples of Doctor Who with the contemporary sass of this new series. Steps were been taken in that direction last year with the appearance of Sarah-Jane and K-9, but... I want more!

So there you have it. There are other quibbles, but I sincerely believe that if the third series fixed any of the above, we'd have a much better show. I eagerly await the day RTD decides to leave, as I think his presence has a stranglehold on the show that isn't good for it long-term.

Things are unlikely to change until ratings drop significantly (unlikely any time soon), so fans are shouting into the wind on these issues. For now. Series 3 will likely be just as good as the previous two (perhaps better without Piper?), but I'm just suggesting that modern Doctor Who isn't quite the perfect piece of British television it's often made out to be.

Friday, 23 March 2007

I'm just about on top of things after my break, so I hope you've enjoyed the extra content this week. Things in the pipeline include: reviews of Monster House, Munich, Narnia and United 93.

There's also a "Guillermo Del Toro Season" as Cronos, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth all get reviewed. The television reviews will also continue as usual (I'll even finish Primeval!) before the third series of Doctor Who starts on 31st...

For now, let's look at the box office Top 10's...

US TOP 10

1. 300 $32.9m
2. Wild Hogs $19.1m
3. Premonition $17.6m
4. Dead Silence $7.8m
5. I Think I Love My Wife $5.67m
6. Bridge To Terabithia $5.19m
7. Ghost Rider $4.18m
8. Zodiac $3.29m
9. Norbit $2.77m
10. Music And Lyrics $2.27m

UK TOP 10

1. Norbit £1.69m
2. Premonition £1.21m
3. Hot Fuzz £688k
4. Becoming Jane £561k
5. Ghost Rider £491k
6. Outlaw £304k
7. Charlotte's Web £230k
8. The Illusionist £221k
9. The Number 23 £194k
10. Stomp The Yard £191k

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

300
300 Spartans defend a mountain pass from a million Persians. Visually stunning Greek epic from the writer of Sin City.

AMAZING GRACE
The story of William Wilberforce, a young politician who abolished slavery in 19th-century Britain. Period biopic starring Ioan Gruffudd.

I WANT CANDY
Two teenagers desperate to make it in the film industry get involved in porn. Sex comedy starring Carmen Electra.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
The quartet of mutant turtles are called back into action when monsters attack Manhatten. CGI adventure for the popular amphibians, with the voices of Patrick Stewart and Sarah Michelle Gellar.

THE APPRENTICE: Big Business

The best reality TV show on the box returns next week in the slick shape of The Apprentice (28 Mar), with Sir Alan Sugar looking to employ another young go-getter.

It's the "difficult third series" for the show and the producers are hoping to answer criticisms of last year's show. For while Apprentice 2 was entertaining and amusing, it was clear some candidate's had wandering eyes for post-Apprentice stardom...

Winner Michelle Dewberry immediately courted controversy with a romance and miscarriage with fellow candidate Sayid, leaving her £100k prize job and later checking into Celebrity Scissorhands. Sayid himself enrolled in the execrable Cirque de Celebrite, while runner-up Ruth "The Badger" Badger was a judge on a short-lived business series.

Compare those fame-hungry series 2 candidates with those of series 1. Do you even remember who was in series 1? Well, eventual winner Tim Campbell has worked with Sir Alan for a few years until just recently going his own way with a male grooming business (with Big Al's blessing).

So series 3 hopes to get back to series 1 business-only mentality. It will be difficult, because a successful TV show, no matter how high-brow, will always entice people hoping to exploit their fifteen minutes of fame -- particularly as the changes of actually winning are 14:1. Sir Alan apparently only agreed to a third series on the condition that starry-eyed candidates wouldn't be participating.

It remains to be seen how the third series will pan out of course, but it's sure to be just as entertaining and revealing as usual. The candidates facing the wrath of Sir Alan in the board room this year are as follows:

The girls...

Ghazil Asif, 23: business development manager from Glasgow and the youngest ever candidate.

Gerri Blackwood, 33: transport development manager from Woking who refused a job with MI5 to be on the show.

Kristina Grimes, 36: "ruthless single mother" from Harrogate.

Jadine Johnson, 27: financial advisor from Harrow who left university to look after he daughter.

Kate Hopkins, 31: global brand consultant from Devon, single mother and self-proclaimed "alpha female".

Dr Sophie Kain, 32: PhD in theoretical physics and works as a scientist for a design firm in Gwent.

Naomi Lay, 26: Sales manager from London who used to charge her parents for removing caterpillars from the garden.

Natalie Wood, 29: Essex housewife and mother who recently lost six stone in weight.

And the boys...

Simon Ambrose, 27: Internet entrepreneur and former investment banker from London who speaks six languages.

Tre Azam, 27: Marketing consultant from Essex who once worked at his family's electronics factor at the age of 10.

Paul Callaghan, 27: Ex-soldier who served in Iraq.

Ifti Chaudhri, 33: Company boss from Egham and former policeman with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Adam Hosker, 27: Car salesman from a single-parent family in Blackburn.

Andy Jackson, 36: Scottish car salesman who sold firewood on his estate at the age of 5.

Lohit Kalburgi, 25: London telecoms boss from the Middle East who once started a tea towel firm at the age of 16.

Rory Laing, 27: Bankrupt entrepreneur from Bristol who used to employ 700 staff, including Kate Middleton.

So there you have it -- The Apprentice 3: Big Business not Big Brother.

We hope.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

GHOST RIDER
Cert: 12A Duration: 110 minutes
WRITER & DIRECTOR: Mark Steven Johnson
CAST: Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider), Eva Mendes (Roxanne Simpson), Peter Fonda (Mephistopheles), Sam Elliot (Caretaker/Carter Slade), Brett Cullen (Barton Blaze), Wes Bentley (Blackheart), Donal Logue (Mack), Matt Long (Young Johnny Blaze), Raquel Alessi (Young Roxanne Simpson), Daniel Frederiksen (Wallow), Mathew Wilkinson (Abigor) & Laurence Breuls (Gressil)

Stuntman Johnny Blaze makes a deal with The Devil to save his father's life, resulting in him becoming a supernatural bounty hunter called Ghost Rider...

A few years ago writer-director Mark Steven Johnson gave the world Daredevil, to mixed critical and audience response, although it did lead to a superior Director's Cut and the spin-off movie Elektra for co-star Jennifer Garner. With the multiplexes bloated on Spider-Man, Superman and Batman properties, Johnson apparently wants to specialize in more obscure superheroes, as he chose Ghost Rider as his next project...

Comic-book afficionado Nicolas Cage finally gets to sink his teeth into a superhero movie after circling numerous franchises throughout the 90s (most notably Tim Burton's aborted Superman Lives). Unfortunately for Cage, Ghost Rider is nowhere near as much fun as it could have been, thanks to insipid writing and soulless characters.

Cage plays stuntman Johnny Blaze (with a name like that, accountancy wasn't an option), a seemingly indestructible man who defies vehicular death in arena tours. Of course, Johnny suspects his amazing luck, wealth and stardom is all because he sold his soul to the Devil (Peter Fonda) to save his cancer-ridden father's life.

After the Devil's son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) arrives on Earth with some spectral henchmen in tow, the Devil calls in Johnny's debt and transforms him into Ghost Rider, a demonic biker with a flaming skull, tasked to stop Blackheart acquiring unstoppable power.

So far, so very comic-book -- and that's the problem Ghost Rider faces at every turn. While famous superheroes reinvent themselves (Batman), tap into anxieties (Superman), or push relationships to the forefront (Spider-Man), Ghost Rider just goes through its vaccuous formula.

There's nothing here we haven't seen a hundred times before in far better movies, but while a certain formula is to be expected with comic book adaptations, Ghost Rider fails to capitalize on its one real asset: audience unfamiliarity with the character.

The movie is as stiff as a skeleton. Any potential for freshness is thrown away because the storyline is so formulaic you can mentally tick off the boxes: childhood sweetheart, paternal death, a wise mentor figure, it's all there. Visually, the Ghost Rider himself is the only element that looks fresh: a glorious piece of CGI that makes the potentially silly sight of a flaming skull look realistic and powerful.

Cage struggles bravely with the subpar script, imbuing Johnny with his trademark kookiness (penchant for The Carpenters, love of jelly beans, fan of monkey karate). He's clearly relishing the chance to be a superhero, but not even Cage's oddball tics can extinguish the film's litany of failings.

Eva Mendes is atrocious as Cage's love interest Roxanne Simpson. She's stilted, wooden and unconvincing. She clearly doesn't know how to treat comic book material, looking uncomfortable and lost in every scene. It's actually painful to watch her (supposedly) professional TV reporter in action. She sinks every scene she's in. Terrible casting.

Likewise, Wes Bentley is uninteresting as Blandheart (sorry, Blackheart) with his pale cherubic features and oily hair he's pure rent-a-villain. Bentley brings no air of threat or conviction to the role. Usually it's the baddies who have the most fun in comic book films, but Blackheart is just a limp stereotype. And don't even mention the three goons he hangs around with, who are just walking special effects to be beaten up.

Peter Fonda and Sam Elliot are the only actors who nail their roles. Fonda is a canny piece of casting as the Devil (sorry, Mephistopheles) and not only for the weak Easy Rider link between the movies. It's not a particularly challenging role for the legendary actor, but Fonda's gravitas certainly helps. Sam Elliot also has the charisma to make his expositional role more palatable, blessed with a droopy moustache and that great Southern drawl of his.

The effects are good and occassionally brilliant whenever Ghost Rider's on screen. Cage's first transformation, a police chase around the city and a desert ride are standout moments (no doubt helped by the film's year-long delay), but the rest of the production is quite glib. Perhaps intentionally, there's a grungy B-movie feel in the atmosphere that evokes the pulpy quality of Ghost Rider's 70s comics.

I have no doubt Mark Steven Johnson brought his personal vision to the screen and his commitment is definitely commendable (he gave up his writing fee for the helicopter stunt) but that doesn't stop Ghost Rider from being extremely boring.

You just can't base a movie on a cool character alone, as Spawn found out 10 years ago. Johnson's script creaks, Cage struggles bravely, Mendes is awful, Bentley disappoints, the production design looks cheap and everything fades from memory the second the credits roll.
If you're under-15 and just looking for slick visual effects to pass the time, you might get some enjoyment out of Ghost Rider, but for anyone hoping to see alternative superhero fodder along the lines of The Crow or Darkman... there's not a ghost of a chance.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Rapture" (Part 2 of 2)

Season 3, Episode 12 - 20 March 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITERS: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle DIRECTOR: Michael Rymer
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Lucy Lawless (D'Anna/Number 3), James Callis (Baltar), Tricia Helfer (Number 6/Caprica), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta), Kandyse McClure (Dee), Grace Park (Athena), Nicki Clyne (Cally), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol), Alisen Down (Jean Barolay), Michael Trucco (Anders), Dean Stockwell (Brother Cavil) & Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben Conoy)

D'Anna and Baltar descend to the Algae Planet, convinced they'll find answers to their questions. On the surface, the crew defend the Temple from Cylon forces, hoping Chief Tyrol can decypher the inscriptions in time...

The conclusion to The Eye Of Jupiter is entertaining, although it suffers from some weak subplots and the storyline is fairly predictable. Rapture finds the humans and Cylons still caught in a tense stand-off over the Algae Planet, where an ancient temple could point the way to Earth.

The episode is divided into various strands, the most intriguing being D'Anna and Baltar's plot to see the "Final Five" (the unseen Cylon models), with Baltar anxious to discover if he himself is one of them. This relatively fresh element to BSG is enjoyable and mystical but also a confusing. Why are the Final Five only accessible this way? Aren't they just machines as well? Theyre treated as God-like deities by D'Anna, but it's already established that the Cylons only worship a singular God.

I hope clarification is forthcoming...

Another subplot is the attempt by Athena and Helo to retrieve their captive daughter from the Cylon Basestar. The crossbreed baby has been a running thread in the show since season 2 and it's nice to see this plot returned to. Their unauthorised rescue plan is interesting, although given Hera's supposed importance to the Cylons, it's strange how easy the child's retrieval from the enemy is! This wanton hopping around Basestars and the increased knowledge of Cylon society has destroyed some of the villain's mystique this season.

Elsewhere, Dee gets a minor plot as she rescues Starbuck from her crashed Raptor. Kandyse McClure remains the most underutilized character on the show, along with Alessandro Juliani's Mr Gaeta, and this problems rests on the shoulders of the writing team. Truth is, Dee is a boring character who is occassionally "sexed up" in various ways (girlfriend to Lee being the latest idea) but is never given anything interesting to do. If I were the actress, I'd be making tracks before my career passes me by...

Dullard Chief Tyrol agonizes over some ancient text on a Temple column, while Anders and Apollo use guerilla tactics to fend off some Cylon "toasters", in the type of ground assault ambushes that are becoming overfamiliar to the show.

The finale is a great excuse for the fx crew to show-off their talents, with a few awesome apocalyptic shots. It's a shame their good work doesn't stretch to the Cylon Centurions, who are basdly composited into the real-world scenery this time.

But the main flaw to Rapture is with the writing. The outcome to the whole story was painfully obvious from watching part one, so part two's reveal is predictable and unexciting. I was hoping there would be a clever twist to keep viewers on their toes, but no... it all pans out exactly as you were expecting it to.

Still, Rapture does end with the unmissable swansong for a character, plus an intriguing discovery for Starbuck...

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "The Eye Of Jupiter" (Part 1 of 2)

Season 3, Episode 11 - 13 March 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Mark Verheiden DIRECTOR: Michael Rymer
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Lucy Lawless (D'Anna/Number 3), James Callis (Baltar), Tricia Helfer (Number 6/Caprica), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta), Kandyse McClure (Dee), Kandyse McClure (Dee), Grace Park (Athena/Boomer), Nicki Clyne (Cally), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol), Alisen Down (Jean Barolay), Michael Trucco (Anders), Dean Stockwell (Brother Cavil), Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben Conoy) & Diego Diablo Del (Hillard)

While collecting life-saving algae, Chief Tyrol discovers an ancient temple hidden inside a mountain that could point the way to Earth...

Battlestar Galactica works best when dealing with epic themes. It's only then that the dramatic weight of the show's premise hits home and the characters come alive. I'm not belittling the standalone episodes, but they're undoubtedly more flaccid in comparison.

The Eye Of Jupiter revolves around a discovery on "Algae Planet" of a mysterious temple inside a mountain that could direct the fleet toward Earth. As usual, those meddlesome Cylons arrive on the scene and invoke a tense standoff (Adam threatening to nuke the temple if the Cylons send anyone down to the surface, while the Cylons threaten to destroy Galactica if they don't withdraw from the planet).

The episode also returns to the ongoing Hera storyline (the Cylon/human hybrid baby whose death was faked, smuggled to a surrogate family and later captured by the Cylons after the New Caprica evacuation). This has been one of the show's best ideas and it's great to see parents Athena and Helo finally informed of Adama and Roslin's deception.

D'Anna and Baltar also continue their investigation into the hidden existence between "life" and "death" when Cylons download themselves. This episode also begins to suggest the mystery surrounding the five other models of Cylon (all unseen on the show) can somehow be explained during this transition. It's intriguing to know the unseen five are so mysterious even to the Cylons (Baltars suspecting he could be one himself), so this is another fascinating addition to the Cylon mythology. I also found it interesting that Baltar is beginning to resemble Jesus Christ just as The Hybrid starts talking about "The Chosen One".

As always, there is a strong sense that the show's numerous plots and abundance of metaphysical ideas are slowly merging together. I sincerely hope a coherent answer is forthcoming soon, otherwise the show could begin to devolve into mumbo-jumbo. It's already a very difficult show to grapple with given its multiple sub-plots, clone-like Cylons and deepening mythology, so some degree of focus is necessary. However, after 3 years, it's clear that BSG isn't really open to new audiences -- it's all become far too complex for casual viewers curious about the show's high regard amongst "serious" critics.

Overall, while the basic premise behind this episode isn't anything we haven't seen before (remember the whole Arrow Of Apollo plot in season 1?) it's still exciting and epic. The characters just seem more real and engaging in tense situations (Starbuck, Lee and Anders haven't been as good in weeks), while the Gaius/D'Anna/Six dynamic is becoming increasingly enjoyable.

The Eye Of Jupiter is an effective cliffhanger for the mid-season, although the vague similarities to previous episodes can't be ignored. Therefore, while I can't say this episode is particularly original, it's certainly the most enjoyable and intriguing episode for quite some time and Part II is eagerly awaited...

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

DVD RELEASES - MARCH 2007

My pick of the rest of the month's remaining new DVD releases.

MONDAY 19th

CASINO ROYALE
Daniel Craig proves his doubters wrong. Resoundingly. This is easily the best Bond since 1995's Goldeneye. But don't set your expectations too high, it still struggles in places and might disappoint fans expecting gadgets, globe-trotting, Q and those double-entendres.

PRIMEVAL: Complete Series 1
The recent ITV Saturday night yawnathon gets a lightning quick DVD release, containing all 6 episodes of the series that just didn't know what to do with its fun concept. Great special effects throughout, but that's about all.

MONDAY 20th

BLOOD DIAMOND
Fantastic drama starring Leonard DiCaprio focusing on the illegal African diamond trade. Loses the plot a little in the third act after a blistering start, but certainly worth watching.

MONDAY 26th

EXTRAS: Series 2
For my money, nowhere near as good as series 1, but still worth a chuckle or two. The formula certainly begins to wear thin and Maggie is criminally underused, but it's still one of the best BBC sitcoms in years. 'Are you 'avin a laff?!

HAPPY FEET
Computer-generated dancing penguins! Robin Williams wets his vocal chords for another animation... from the director of Mad Max, no less!

JACKASS NUMBER 2
Johnny Knoxville and his gang of low-IQ dimwits hurt themselves in various hilarious, amusing and unfunny ways for another extended period. Ideal post-pub larks best enjoyed with a pizza, some cans of lager and a few friends.

TORCHWOOD: Series 1 - Part 3
The frustrating Doctor Who spin-off (or cash-in, if you prefer) continues with more episodes on DVD, each one varying in quality and crowbarring in unnecessary sex scenes and swearing. Enjoy.

PRISON BREAK 2.10 - "Rendezvous"

19 March 2007 - Five, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Karyn Usher DIRECTOR: Dwight Little
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), William Fichtner (Agent Mahone), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Paul Adelstein (Agent Kellerman), Sarah Wayne Callies (Dr Sara Tancredi), Marshall Allman (L.J), Wade Williams (Bellick), Matt DeCaro (Roy), Kurt Caceres (Hector), Reggie Lee (Bill Kim), Barbara Eve Harris (Lang), Melissa Marsala (Maricruz Delgado), Anthony Denison (Aldo Burrows), Rachel Leora (Theresa Delgado) & Kristin Lehman (Jane Phillips)

Michael finally meets with Sara at their rendezvous, unaware that Agent Mahone has decyphered their messages. Meanwhile, Bellick takes drastic measures with T-Bag and Lincoln's father returns...

We're racing towards the mid-season climax and Rendezvous finally sees Michael and Sara back together again for the first time in season 2. Their meeting is unfortunately cut short by the presence of Agent Mahone, now inches away from his prey and growing increasingly desperate to kill Michael.

Elsewhere, a slight plot contrivance results in Lincoln and L.J's rescue from the police by a group working for Lincoln's father Aldo (Denison), who says he has been collecting new evidence to get his son exonnerated. The series certainly needed a shot in the arm regarding Lincoln's attempt to clear his name, as last year's investigative subplot has been excised in favour of a more simple cat-and-mouse chase. Hopefully Aldo's presence will mean Lincoln has a viable chance to try and blow the conspiracy plot that cements Prison Break together, and start giving the protagonists some light at the end of the tunnel.

The only other plot of consequence (Sucre's interminable search for Maricruz is beginning to grate) is T-Bag's torture at the hands of Bellick and Roy, who are trying to uncover where the slippery paedophile has stashed the $5 million loot. It all amounts to some eye-watering moments with a dash of black comedy (a swallowed key and a sieve placed over a toilet bowl) that is certainly dramatic, although a late twist is perhaps one twist too far.

Rendezvous is a lot of fun and certainly a more essential episode than most. Prison Break is rarely boring, but some episodes are basically exciting ways to tread water for 45 minutes. Rendezvous has its fair share of dramatic moments but also furthers the plot regarding the Michael/Sarah relationship and the government conspiracy.

All of the actors are working to their usual high standard, but it's particularly good to see Wentworth Miller getting something more emotional and personal to sink his teeth into. Last year the steely-eyed determination to free his brother provided the heart of the story, but season 2 has been more of a general mania about evading capture. It's good to see a human element return, however shortlived.

Overall, with mid-season beckoning, the show needs to readjust itself. So far the escape, treasure hunting and FBI manhunt has provided the season with plenty of impetus, but it certainly can't continue in this manner for much longer. Rendezvous suggests the game is about to change and I'm excited to see where the series goes from here...