Monday, 30 April 2007

LOST 3.18 – "D.O.C"

29 April 2007 – Sky One, 10.00 pm
WRITERS: Adam Horowitz & Edward Kitsis DIRECTOR: Frederick E.O Toye
CAST: Yunjin Kim (Sun), Daniel Dae Kim (Jin), Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet), Matthew Fox (Jack), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Emilie de Ravin (Claire), Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), Andrew Divoff (Mikhail), Byron Chung (Mr Paik), Alexis Rhee (Older Woman), Marsha Thomason (Naomi), Jean Chung (Paik's Secretary), Esmond Chung (Paik's Associate) & John Shin (Mr Kwon)

Sun learns that all pregnant woman on the island die before giving birth, so Juliet takes her for an ultrasound. Meanwhile, Desmond's party in the jungle come across a familiar face...

D.O.C (Date Of Conception) is another solid episode from writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, who masterminded the sublime Expose a short while ago. This is another Sun flashback, which never raises big expectations with me, but Sun/Jin stories have always been more interesting than you give them credit for.

At the beach, Sun learns that every pregnant woman who conceived on the island dies. As regular viewers will remember, Sun isn't sure if Jin is the father of her child -- as he's infertile and she slept with another man before they boarded Flight 815.

Maternity specialist Juliet explains that male infertility is somehow corrected by the island, but Sun faces two possible outcomes: that the baby was conceived off-island and isn't Jin's... or it was conceived on the island and she will die in two months.

It's a great no-win situation that manages to squeeze every drop out of drama out of its premise, nicely acted by Yunjin Kim as Sun. The flashbacks are also pretty good, shedding light on Jin's past but focusing almost exclusively on Sun. As always, the subtitles and foreign setting of Sun/Jin flashbacks always lend an exotic and authentic look to the show, which is pleasing to watch.

The subplot is just as interesting, perhaps more so if you're hungry for a big shake-up. As we discovered last week, a female parachutist (Naomi, played by Marsha Thomason) has dropped out of the sky and apparently knows Desmond. D.O.C finds her close to death, her only hope being a familiar face from the jungle. I'm not going to give away who the potential God Samaritan is, but suffice to say his return throws up a tonne of questions!

Overall, D.O.C was a well-plotted and entertaining episode that gave clarity to a few issues, developed Jin's back-story slightly and provided more questions to mull over. Season 3's latter-half seems characterised by giving audiences straight answers to a number of questions and injecting fresh ideas into the show, which is great to see.

Lost is fast developing itself after a near-disastrous start to this season, perhaps as a rebuke to mounting criticism in the wake of Heroes' blend of big questions and quick answers mentality. Who knows. But anyone who thought this show had jumped the shark needs to eat their words...

24, 6.18 - "11:00 PM - 12:00 AM"

29 April 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITERS: Matt Michnovetz & Nicole Ranadive DIRECTOR: Bryan Spicer
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), D.B Woodside (Wayne Palmer), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Jayne Atkinson (Karen Hayes), Rick Schroder (Mike Doyle), Jim Holmes (Dr Welton), Tzi Ma (Cheng Zhi) & Kim Raver (Audrey Rains), Mary Chris Wail (Reporter #2), Mike Smith (Stunt Marine #3), Powers Boothe (Noah Daniels), Kari Matchett (Lisa Miller), William Bumiller (Agent Lowry), Matt McKenzie (Agent Hollister), Lex Cassar (CTU Agent Ryan) & Reuben Grundy (Reporter #1)

Cheng tells Jack he'll exchange Audrey for a valuable suitcase nuke component and President Palmer asks for Daniels' resignation...

"Hello, Mr Bauer..." It seemed like those three words would transform season 6 into a giddily enjoyable run of final episodes, but the fantastic Bond-style villainy of Cheng Zhi is squandered here by new writers Matt Michnovetz and Nicole Ranadive.

The new dilemma to kick life into the storyline has Jack tasked with delivering a nuclear component to his former captor Cheng in exchange for girlfriend Audrey (whose reported death was faked.) Although, she'd probably have stayed dead if actress Kim Raver's new series The Nine hadn't been cancelled.

Actually, this isn't a bad episode, per se. It's just one that doesn't capitalize on last week's genuinely thrilling installment, instead settling into a reliable groove. We've had last minute scrambles for microchips and gas cannisters for years now, so it's just a little disappointing to see this situation played out again.

Still, the parallel White House plot is good fun, as the various characters bask in the glory of a job well done (thanks to Jack, who really should be Lord Protector Of The Universe given his track record). Wayne Palmer's health comes back into play -- as if we didn't see that one coming -- and the reckless Daniels is quick to seize power legitimately. Powers Boothe has been brilliant as the hardliner Vice President this year, single-handedly saving the presidential subplots from implosion, along with Paul MacNicol as Lennox.


This episode contains some fudging of logic to suit its own purposes (Jack gets access to the nukes just by acting bullish). It's a good job the armed guards didn't ask for any ID, as Jack has none, or that he wasn't a surviving suicide bomber trying his luck!


It's great to see Jack have a more personal reason for venturing on a daring mission and the stakes are satisfying high (if a little contrived). It could all build to a satisfying conclusion to the Chinese angle, which has been stretched since season 4, although the move away from season 6's main focus seems to indicate Philip Bauer won't be back. Unless there's some unforeseen link between him and Cheng Zhi, which would be crazy -- but, then again, 24 is grounded in craziness!


Overall, my expectations were cruelly raised last week, although this is by no means a bad episode. It's actually very entertaining, mainly because it signals a fresh start from the overplayed suitcase nukes gambit.
Cheng Zhi (Tzi Ma) also makes for a more intriguing villain than the likes of stoic Fayed and grumbling Gredenko. The on-screen history on between Cheng and Jack is worth capitalizing on, as other villains tend to have unseen bones to pick with Jack-- like Fayed's murdered brother.

Only six episodes left, 24. Please make them count.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

DOCTOR WHO 3.5 – "Evolution Of The Daleks" (Part 2 of 2)

28 April 2007 – BBC 1, 6.45 pm
WRITER: Helen Raynor DIRECTOR: James Strong

CAST: David Tennant (The Doctor), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones), Miranda Raison (Tallulah), Laszlo (Ryan Carnes), Hugh Quarshie (Solomon), Andrew Garfield (Frank), Flik Swan (Myma), Alexis Caley (Lois), Earl Perkins (Man #1), Peter Brooke (Man #2), Ian Porter (Hybrid), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voices), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek Operator #1), Nicholas Pegg (Dalek Operator #2), Anthony Spargo (Dalek Operator #3), David Hankinson (Dalek Operator #4) & Paul Kasey (Hero Pig)


With Dalek Sec reborn in half-human form, the Cult Of Skaro's plan to rebuild the Dalek race begins...

After last week's exposition, Helen Raynor's script now shifts into top gear and essentially becomes an extended pay-off, crammed with excitement and that easygoing flavour of adventure. The Daleks are always an enjoyable presence in the show and Evolution Of The Daleks manages to improve on the preceding episode in most respects, although it occasionally slips into melodramatics, convenient plotting and some cheesy lines.


Ian Porter does well as Dalek Sec, particularly in the staggered phrasing of his dialogue and a tendency to sound like Kif from Futurama, but he never really transcends the make-up. Likewise the silly pig men seem to be the stuff of 70s-era Doctor Who, particularly when compared to the wonderful cat make-up in Gridlock a few weeks back.


As with last week, the rest of the cast are a mix of faces there to make up the numbers. The few characters designed to resonate with viewers fail spectacularly (such as pig-faced Laszlo and shrill Tallulah) while the only successful character (Andrew Garfield's Frank) is killed off just to make a point.


David Tennant remains beyond reproach these days, beautifully balancing manic energy with stern gravitas. He even makes exclamations like "the doctor is in!" work somehow. Freema Agyeman gets a late moment of invention involving electrocuting enemies with scaffolding during a lightning storm (something you expect Rose would have needed explaining to her) but she otherwise takes a backseat.


Once again the production design and effects work are superb, save for some silly Daleks swooping about in mid-air over Hooverville. I particularly liked the sense of scope when The Doctor is shown hundreds of victims strung up the rafters of the Daleks' stronghold.


Helen Raynor's script is full of silly pseudo-science you expect from Who, particularly regarding creating Daleks inside "human shells" and the effects of a solar flare on the Empire State Building, but then again who watches Doctor Who for a science lesson?


Ultimately, this is a stronger episode than Daleks In Manhattan, primarily because all the exposition is done and everyone can just enjoy another round of The Doctor versus The Daleks. The whole Dalek-Human aspect to the story keeps your interest whenever the action becomes slightly predictable or anti-climactic (shoot-out in a theatre?), but Evolution Of The Daleks never quite reaches the heights of Doomsday or The Parting Of The Ways.


Here's hoping The Doctor's greatest enemy will return, just not for awhile yet...

Saturday, 28 April 2007

SAW III
DIRECTOR: Darren Lynn Bousman
WRITERS: James Wan & Leigh Whannell

CAST: Tobin Bell (John Kramer/Jigsaw), Shawnee Smith (Amanda Young), Angus Macfadyen (Jeff Reinhart), Bahar Soomekh (Lynn Denlon), Dina Meyer (Detective Kerry), Barry Flatman (Judge Halden), J. Larose (Troy), Debra Lynne McCabe (Danica Scott), Mpho Koaho (Timothy Young), Stefan Georgiou (Dylan Reinhart), Niamh Wilson (Corbett Reinhart), Alan Van Sprang (Chris), Kim Roberts (Deborah), Costas Mandylor (Detective Hoffman), Franky G (Xavier), Leigh Whannell (Adam Faulkner), Donnie Wahlberg (Detective Eric Matthews), Tim Burd (Obi) & Betsy Russell (Jill)

On his death bed, Jigsaw devises a final plot to bring meaning to a grieving father's life, whilst ensuring a doctor does everything she can to keep him alive...

The law of diminishing returns usually slaps Part 3's around the face. Sequels often work fine these days, but nobody can deny that Saw II was a misstep, being neither as inventive nor as well-plotted as the original. It was just a hastily written cash-in on a surprise hit. The fact Saw III was written in a week and released just a year after its predecessor (again), doesn't bode well...


Saw III finds the villainous Jigsaw (aka cancer-ridden nutjob John Kramer) on his death bed, being tended to by his young protégé Amanda (Shawnee Smith). John refuses to die quietly, so has developed another round of sick games for more victims to endure, primarily Dr Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh), who is tasked with keeping him alive or have her head blown off should his heart-rate flat line...


To be fair, Saw III manages to keep things relatively fresh regarding the reasoning behind the gruesome torture sequences. I'm a big fan of the first film, which used the Japanese mindset for sicko-horror, but gave it a fresh American spin. It also helped that it was essentially a low-budget character-based mystery with a sublime twist in its tail. On the other hand, Saw II was just badly-acted trash with a worse set-up, horrid characters, forgettable traps and only a few effective moments.


Original writers James Wan and Leigh Whannell both return for Saw III (Wan wasn't involved with Saw II), and the result is certainly more effective, but predictably not a patch on the original. The fact is, audiences have adjusted to the film's mindset and Part III struggles to surprise. For gore lovers, the traps are a considerable improvement over Saw II, particularly a man forced to rip chains out of his own flesh, a woman retrieving a key from a jar of acid and a modern version of The Rack, which twists limbs...


Performances are possibly the best in the series, certainly better than Saw II's listless ensemble. Tobin Bell still makes an incredibly effective villain, with his angular, pasty features and whispery voice. Shawnee Smith is decent enough, given something resembling a narrative arc this time, Bahar Soomekh is plausible as a doctor thrown into the nightmare and Angus Macfadyen is fine as the film's main victim Jeff -– a man who must confronts those involved in his son's death and decide their fate...


The storyline is a decent variation on Saw's theme of embracing life by avoiding death's clutches, giving the film a better foundation other than most other horrors. But Saw III knows its best days are behind it. It may be gorier and slicker in many ways, but the mystery, suspense and freshness has dried up. Wan and Whannell craft an undemanding sequence of events to cringe at here, but even they can't resist getting nostalgic -- with a sequence of flashbacks that give fresh perspectives on moments from the previous films.


Essentially, Saw III really has nothing new to say, but it remains enjoyable hokum and a fitting curtain call for Tobin Bell's villain. The strain of creating the now obligatory "twist ending" results in a damp squib because the script tries to claim ingenuity that just isn't there.


Saw IV is already on the way, which doesn't say much for creativity and freshness, as this is one premise where constant recycling just deadens audience responses. Still, in a genre where Michael, Jason and Freddy have been allowed to stink up multiplexes for decades, Jigsaw is on something of a roll in the quality stakes.


But Saw VIII would be pushing it, guys...

Friday, 27 April 2007

Great to see Britain's own Hot Fuzz crack the US box-office chart, particularly as it wasn't released on very many screens. It will be interesting to see if it climbs higher through word-of-mouth...

US TOP 10

1. Disturbia $13m
2. Fracture $11m
3. Blades Of Glory $7.68m
4. Vacancy $7.6m
5. Meet The Robinsons $6.97m
6. Hot Fuzz $5.85m
7. Are We Done Yet? $5.18m
8. In The Land Of Women $4.71m
9. Perfect Stranger $4.1m
10. Wild Hogs $2.82m

UK TOP 10

1. Wild Hogs £954k
2. Fracture £851k
3. Mr Bean's Holiday £827k
4. Blades Of Glory £659k
5. Alpha Dog £452k
6. Shooter £427k
7. 300 £313k
8. The Reaping £310k
9. The Lives Of Others £293k
10. Meet The Robinsons £238k

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

NEXT
A Las Vegas magician who can see a few minutes into the future is hired by the US government to stop a bomb. Sci-fi thriller with Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore.

THE PAINTED VEIL
An Englishwoman living in Shanghai, trapped in a loveless marriage with a doctor, is forced to travel to China with him. Period romance with Edward Norton.


RENO 911! MIAMI
A rag-tag team of Reno cops are called in to save the day when a terrorist disrupts a police convention in Miami Beach. Action-comedy based on the US TV series.

THIS IS ENGLAND
A young boy in 1983 finds friendship with a gang of skinheads. Drama from director Shane Meadows.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

THE (ALTERNATIVE) APPRENTICE #2

Sir Alan: All you lot had to do was take some bloody photographs and sell them in a gallery. Natalie, you were project manager, what went wrong?
Natalie: Erm... we didn't sell as much as the other team?
Sir Alan: Well, yeah, obviously. So why not?

Lohit: I think, Sir Alan, that we were too touchy-feely about it all.

Sir Alan: So you were too soft?

Lohit: Yes, pretty much.

Sir Alan: Natalie, were you too soft?

Natalie: Well, no...

Sir Alan: So Lohit's a liar?

Natalie: I'm not saying he's a liar. I think that, maybe... yes, we could have been a bit more forceful.

Sir Alan: Adam, you've been quiet, what do you think?

Adam: Well, I sold a painting so I think I'm safe this week.

Sir Alan: You think if you open your mouth you risk putting your foot in it?

Adam: Yeah.

Sir Alan: Right. Well, you did sell something. So maybe you're right to think that. Lohit, what did you do all day?

Lohit: I made the stickers for the paintings.

Sir Alan: Which were wrong!

Lohit: Yes.

Sir Alan: The artist came down, didn't she -- and told you lot to get your act together!

Lohit: I also helped put some blu-tac on the walls, to cover all the marks and holes. I opened some paint, too.

Natalie: No, I did the paint.

Lohit: Yeah, but I got the screwdriver to prise off the lid. Without me the whole task would have failed.

Sir Alan: Right, right. Natalie, how many paintings did you sell?

Natalie: None. But I've got a M.B.A.

Sir Alan: Good on ya, but that doesn't mean shit to me.

Natalie: It stands for Master of Business Administration.

Sir Alan: I know what it stands for, darlin'.
Lohit, why shouldn't I fire you?
Lohit: Did I mention the blu-tac?

Sir Alan: Adam, why shouldn't I fire you?

Adam: Because I was the only one who actually sold anything, Sir Alan. Oh, and I'm probably one of only four decent characters on this series worth watching for. Think of the ratings.

Sir Alan: Hmmm. Natalie, why shouldn't I fire you?

Natalie: I'm a woman. I've got a M.B.A. I have kids to feed.


Sir Alan sighs, deeply.


Sir Alan: Okay, here's how it goes. Lohit... you've done pretty much bugger all so far, in any of the tasks; you cocked up the stickers and you didn't sell anything. But... you've got a funny name.


He sighs deeper.


Sir Alan: Adam. You're right, you sold something. Just try not to drag the atmos down with your monotonous voice so much, okay?


Adam nods, sitting back.


Sir Alan: Now, Natalie. I admire the fact you've got a Master of Biblical Accounting whatsit. But, you were project manager, I think you're out of your depth, your name's not funny, that spot under your nose seems to be getting bigger each week and I think your kids are missing you. So... I'm sorry... but you're fired.


Adam, Lohit and Natalie get up and leave. Natalie turns back.


Natalie: Thank you for the opportunity, Sir Alan.
Sir Alan: No, thank you. Now mind the door doesn't smack your arse on the way out.

HEROES 1.19 – ".07%"

23 April 2007 – NBC, 9/8c pm
WRITER: Chuck Kim DIRECTOR: Adam Zane

CAST: Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder Suresh), Zachary Quinto (Sylar), Jack Coleman (Mr Bennet), Hayden Panettiere (Claire Bennet), Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura), Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman), Ali Larter (Niki/Jessica Sanders), Santiago Cabrera (Isaac Mendez), Eric Roberts (Thompson), Missy Peregrym (Candice Wilmer), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli), Leonard Betts (D.L Hawkins), Cristine Rose (Angela Petrelli), James Kyson Lee (Ando Masahashi), Malcolm McDowell (Mr Linderman), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah Sanders), Matthew John Armstrong (Ted Sprague) & Ian Gomez (Curator)


Sylar grapples with Peter, Mr Linderman outlines his plans for Nathan's campaign, Mr Bennett masterminds an escape with Matt and Isaac faces his destiny...

The final five chapters of Heroes' incredible first season begin with .07% and it continues to amaze me how the show refuses to rest on its laurels. Heroes is perfect entertainment and now the mysterious Mr Linderman has been unmasked, in the note-perfect guise of Malcolm McDowell, the overall storyline seems to be building towards its explosive climax. Literally.


As usual, the storyline focuses on a handful of characters. The long-awaited Sylar versus Peter fight has a tragic end, Mr Linderman's dastardly plot tempts an ambitious Nathan and Mr Bennet (the fantastic Jack Coleman) helps Matt and Ted escape from the Company's clutches. Mr Bennet remains a firm favourite with me, mainly because his character doesn't have any superpowers to fall back on and is the most multi-layered and human character on the show.


Other heroes are less prominent, but have some nice scenes to chew on. Niki/Jessica (Ali Larter) has a sassy scene with Mr Linderman, most interesting for Linderman's keen interest in Micah's power of technopathy (controlling machines). Could this be tied to the nuclear bomb?


Hiro (Masi Oka) is absent until the final scene, which is another of Heroes' patented cliffhangers that leave you aching for the next episode. A marathon run of this show would surely give you heart palpitations!


.07% is essentially a reconfiguring episode that ties up some loose ends from Parasite, but is mainly concerned with preparing audiences for the final stretch. It's often difficult to review individual episodes of serialized shows, as each one is dependent on previous instalments and sometimes only make sense in hindsight, but .07% certainly does a great job of realigning certain allegiances and making you hungry for more.


I'm sure we're in for a brilliant final run of episodes and .07% seems to indicate this is true. The Sylar/Peter fight has a great climax, Isaac's plot finally has resolution and there are some intriguing moments with Nathan's mother Angela, who appears to have been involved before this generation of heroes (along with Claude and Linderman, perhaps?) Who knows... but it's going to be great fun finding out!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Maelstrom"

Season 3, Episode 17 - 24 April 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITERS: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle DIRECTOR: Michael Nankin
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Jamie Bamber (Apollo), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol), Grace Park (Athena), Kandyse McClure (Dee), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Don Thompson (Anthony Fugurski), Leah Cairns (Racetrack), Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta), Bodie Olmos (Hotdog), Erika-Shaye Gair (Child Kara), Georgia Craig (Oracle Brenn), Michael Trucco (Anders), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), Dorothy Lyman (Socrata Thrace) & Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben)

Starbuck starts having strange dreams and, after she hallucinates inside a planet's storm system, she begins to question her own sanity...

The mysticism of Battlestar Galactica is something that can divide audiences, particularly because the show is marketed as a gritty series that deals with stark realities. But while many think the "mumbo jumbo" should be kept to a minimum, the truth is BSG has always had a spiritual heart.


Religion has been a part in the series since its rebirth, with both humans and Cylons having clearly defined beliefs in God(s) and often experiencing spiritual moments. In Maelstrom, Starbuck begins having dreams that involve the symbol discovered in the Temple during The Eye Of Jupiter, which is similar to a picture she's been compelled to draw since childhood.


Maelstrom
is essentially an extended tease towards the shocking finale, with Starbuck wondering if she really does have a greater destiny after visiting an Oracle. She contemplates her bizarre dream imagery and later hallucinates a Cylon Raider inside a whirling storm system. Starbuck also reflects on her tough childhood, where her strict mother had a tough style of parenting and rarely showed any compassion.


Katee Sackhoff is a great actress, perhaps exemplifying the show's tough attitude better than anyone else. However, Starbuck is a very frustrating creation for a number of reasons. Primarily, she's difficult to find endearing because whenever her tomboy shell is cracked, exposing a sweeter inside, she's quick to throw it all back in your face. Her on-off relationship with Lee is indicative of this: at first it was prickly and real, but it quickly became annoying thanks to Starbuck's constant spurning.


This episode does a good job of entertaining, mainly through the grand themes being explored and the return to the "circular symbol" seen throughout the series. I'm a sucker for a mystery and Maelstrom seems to be building towards a big revelation, but while everything culminates in a tragedy that will slap fans in the face, Maelstrom is disappointing in the cold light of day.


Bradley Thompson and David Weddle certainly craft an entertaining story, but it provokes more questions than answers. I hope the threads left hanging will be explained later in the show's run, but for now it's a slight anti-climax for such an integral character.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

PRISON BREAK 2.15 - "The Message"

23 April 2007 - Five, 10.00 pm
WRITERS: Karyn Usher & Zack Estrin DIRECTOR: Bobby Roth
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), William Fichtner (Agent Mahone), Paul Adelstein (Agent Kellerman), Wade Williams (Bellick), Reggie Lee (Bill Kim), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), Silas Weir Mitchell (Haywire), Jason Davis (Agent Wheeler) & Sarah Wayne Callies (Dr Sara Tancredi)

Michael and Lincoln broadcast a message to the national news, Mahone gets back to work for Mr Kim, Bellick is sent to the prison's infirmary, Haywire builds a raft and Sucre struggles to get transport across Mexico...

I was wondering how long it would take the escapees to use the media. Michael and Linc finally communicate their dilemma to the nation after kidnapping a cameraman and it's great fun to see villain Mr Kim blow a gasket as a result, neatly puncturing his unflappable demeanour, while Mahone does his best to be dismissive of their claims he's a cold-blooded killer...


The Message
is generally involving and should put a smile on fans' faces with its handling of the news broadcast and Bellick's situation inside Fox River prison. The rest of the episode is unfortunately pretty weak stuff, with Sucre's exodus across Mexico only mildy entertaining and suffering from a predictable twist.


Writers Karyn Usher and Zack Estrin also make a return visit to Haywire, the crazy escapee who's apparently off the FBI's radar, left to build a raft so he can sail to Holland! Haywire's storyline is meant as a comic break from the whirlwind drama, but it's becoming increasingly annoying and pointless. The Message has Haywire exacting revenge on a local teenaged girl's abusive father, but it's all inconsequential fluff. Someone arrest Haywire now, please!


The use of subliminal messages and body language "tells" in the broadcast footage is an intriguing facet to the show, proving an interesting variation on the mind-games Prison Break plays from time to time. When the opportunity arises, the show can be quite clever, and this episode provides some welcome brain workout.


However, the positives aren't enough to gloss over the negatives, keeping the episode resolutely average. Now that Terence Steadman's dead, it's uncertain how the convicts intend to expose the government conspiracy, but it's likely tied to the mysterious key Sara Tancredi was given by her father. But Prison Break will need something more exciting than finding a key to maintain my interest.

Monday, 23 April 2007

LOST 3.17 – "Catch-22"

22 April 2007 – Sky One, 10.00 pm
WRITERS: Jeff Pinkner & Brian K. Vaughan DIRECTOR: Stephen Williams
CAST: Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Daniel Dae Kim (Jin), Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Matthew Fox (Jack), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet), Andrew Task (Older Monk), Andrew Connolly (Brother Campbell), Joanna Bool (Ruth), Jack Maxwell (Derek), Sonya Walger (Penny Widmore) & Marsha Thomason (Naomi)

Desmond convinces Hurley, Jin and Charlie to follow him on a trek through the jungle after he has a vision, while a despondent Kate turns to Sawyer for companionship after seeing Jack and Juliet together...

Catch-22 is interesting for comic-book fans, in that it marks the television writing debut of writer Brian K. Vaughan, creator of such impressive comic titles like
Y: The Last Man. Together with Jeff Pinkner, Vaughan takes his first stab at Lost with a Desmond-centric episode that has the conflicted Scotsman receiving more bizarre visions...

Henry Ian Cusick has been a great addition to the show as Desmond and, while I'm not sold on his sudden precognitive powers post-hatch implosion, his back-story is certainly more interesting than most. In Catch-22 we find Desmond in a monastery trying to find meaning to his life (wonder no more about his "brother" fixation, folks), while the on-island action has Desmond leading another near-daily excursion into the jungle -- this time to find a new visitor to the island...

The flashbacks this week are not the strongest for Desmond's character, although his quest for direction and answers is enjoyable enough. The most interesting moments in this episode revolve around Desmond's expedition with Jin, Hurley and Charlie -- particularly as the threat of Charlie's death lurks around every corner. How long can Charlie possibly avoid his grisly fate? Will Desmond's visions prove to be infallable, or can the future be altered indefinitely?

It was also nice to have a genuinely interesting subplot running parallel to events (instead of a distracting sidenote), with Kate becoming increasingly jealous over Jack's relationship with Juliet... and taking refuge with Sawyer. It's good, solid character-based drama that worked wonderfully and allowed Josh Holloway to again steal every scene he's in. A sequence with Sawyer playing table tennis with Jack (Matthew Fox) is also nicely handled by both actors, who have a sparky chemistry together.

Pinkner and Vaughan's script is well-constructed and held my interest, although Desmond's visions are becoming more of a crutch for the writers these days. Catch-22 is a decent episode, enlivened by Desmond's quest to find his girlfriend Penny (who he thinks is about to arrive on the island to rescue him, but perhaps only if Charlie is sacrificed...) The flashbacks aren't the most involving in recent weeks, but the jungle expedition is a fun Boy's Own Adventure and the Kate/Jack/Sawyer/Juliet "love square" continues to develop very nicely.

24, 6.17 - "10:00 PM - 11:00 PM"

22 April 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITERS: David Fury DIRECTOR: Bryan Spicer
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), D.B Woodside (Wayne Palmer), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Jayne Atkinson (Karen Hayes), Rick Schroder (Mike Doyle), Adoni Maropis (Fayed), Jim Holmes (Dr Welton), Ryan Cutrona (Admiral Smith), Tzi Ma (Cheng Zhi), Ajay Mehta (Ambassador), Said Faraj (Halil), Merik Tadros (Jamal), Ismail Kanater (Mohmar Habib) & Kim Raver (Audrey Rains)


President Palmer continues to battle ill health after ordering the nuclear strike and Jack devises a cunning plot to make Fayed reveal where his remaining bombs are hidden...

Okay, I stand corrected. Last week's uncharacteristic move by Wayne Palmer to nuke a foreign territory is neatly explained and, simultaneously, bolsters the character's credibility. I haven't been this impressed by a President's actions since the glory days of his brother David. I bow to the writers for completely suckering me!


In fact, this entire episode irons out some kinks and seems designed to kickstart a flagging year. Season 6 will always be one of 24's weakest outings, but it could still go out on a high. The White House storyline is handled brilliantly here, thanks to Wayne Palmer's sudden tough-guy attitude and a tense stand-off between the US and the Arab country.


Elsewhere, the show finally remembers why everyone watches 24 and gives us some classic Jack Bauer moments to savour: another torture sequence, a great plot to manipulate Fayed (wow, original too!) and action heroics like hanging underneath a moving truck and taking on a warehouse full of terrorists. Alone. Brilliant!


24
is all about immediacy and thrills. Things work best when they're fast, plausible (yet knowingly ridiculous, at times), dramatic, violent, full of interesting characters, involving situations, a few double-crosses, twists galore and buckets of tension.


Episode 17 certainly manages to deliver a hectic hour of blistering entertainment, courtesy of writer David Fury. It's not enough to erase all the guff we've been asked to swallow this year, but it's a step in the right direction and the game-changing final moment came as a wonderful treat. Why is it whenever Jack's phone rings, it's always bad news?


Big mistakes have been made with season 6's trajectory, but the remaining seven episodes can still go out in style. My hope, for now, is restored and I'm genuinely excited to see what Episode 18 will bring...

Sunday, 22 April 2007

DOCTOR WHO 3.4 – "Daleks In Manhattan" (Part 1 of 2)

21 April 2007 – BBC 1, 6.40 pm
WRITER: Helen Raynor DIRECTOR: James Strong
CAST: David Tennant (The Doctor), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones), Miranda Raison (Tallulah), Laszlo (Ryan Carnes), Hugh Quarshie (Solomon), Andrew Garfield (Frank), Eric Loren (Mr Diagoras), Flik Swan (Myma), Alexis Caley (Lois), Earl Perkins (Man #1), Peter Brooke (Man #2), Ian Porter (Foreman), Joe Montana (Worker #1), Stewart Alexander (Worker #2), Mel Taylor (Dock Worker), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voices), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek Operator #1), Nicholas Pegg (Dalek Operator #2), Anthony Spargo (Dalek Operator #3), David Hankinson (Dalek Operator #4) & Paul Kasey (Hero Pig)

The Doctor and Martha arrive in 1930's New York during the Great Depression, where they find homeless people are disappearing and The Doctor's greatest enemy are involved...

It's the second visit to New York this year (albeit separated by millennia) and Daleks In Manhattan is another strong episode for the third season. Dotor Who has always been most successful in its period settings; be it Tudor times (The Shakespeare Code), Victorian times (The Unquiet Dead) or even the more recent 1950's (The Idiot's Lantern).


Here, the juxtaposition of glamour and poverty in 1930's New York is brilliantly given life via a combination of greenscreen, CGI models, set design and minor location shooting. The production does an excellent job of creating a believable period of history, despite a few hazy greenscreen shots and dodgy "New Yoik" accents.


Writer Helen Raynor pens an enjoyable storyline with a simple plot that's fun to watch unfold, if never wholly surprising. The set-up, with The Doctor and Martha arriving in the Big Apple, meeting the "Hooverville" slum residents and the early introduction of the Daleks in the Empire State Building is all great stuff.


However, once the Daleks are introduced, story soon slow considerably in the middle, as the plot becomes quite obvious and slightly tedious. It's one of those episodes where the audience is one step ahead of The Doctor, which destroys a sense of development and surprise.


The Daleks have always been a favourite enemy for fans. Their appearance every year in the revived series hasn't lessened their impact, although Daleks In Manhattan is certainly the most mundane entrance for them. It's great to see the Cult Of Skaro subplot continue from last year's finale and this episode's cliffhanger ensures it's satisfyingly different to previous Dalek stories. But it might be wise to let the Daleks rest for awhile after this two-parter...


David Tennant can always be relied on to give good performances as The Doctor, although it's clear Raynor doesn't have the same grasp of the character compared to writers like Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. There just isn't much eccentricity or humour, which is a shame. Freema Agyeman is also disappointing because of the bland dialogue she's given -- although there are some nice allusions to her intellect.


The supporting cast are all okay, despite a few overblown accents here and there -- particularly noticeable in Miranda Raison as showgirl Tallulah. Andrew Garfield is the only memorable character as Frank, the leader of the Hooverville slums who becomes The Doctor's cohort, being both believable and likeable.


James Strong is probably the best director working on the show (alongside Euros Lyn) and keeps things visually appealing whilst fully utilizing the wonderful sets and props. The only sequences that disappointed me were a glib song-and-dance routine with Tallulah and some repetitive moments in the New York sewers.


Overall, Daleks In Manhattan is a decent episode in terms of technicality, but the narrative didn't really grab my interest. The production design is great and it's always fun seeing the Daleks gliding around barking orders, but the supporting cast were unmemorable and Raynor's script didn't have much meat for Tennant or Agyeman to chew on.


However, the cliffhanger certainly seems to have set-up more exciting and entertaining possibilities for next week...

Saturday, 21 April 2007

INTERNET OF INTEREST #15

More amusing and enlightening stuff from that widening world web:

Harry Potter Theme Park: some insider scoop on the latest money-spinning Potter venture.

Controversial Films: interesting list of movies that caused a storm.

Expensive Celeb Divorces: who was skrewed out of the most cash and by whom...

Famous butterfaces: A list of celebs with great bodies but "ugly" face. Don't agree with Hillary Swank, really... but that redhead Pussycat Doll is a definite candidate!

Bond vs Bourne: who's the best secret agent? This is one guy's opinion...

If Homer Was Real: ever wondered what Homer Simpson would look like it he were transported into the real world? This is a freakily accurate depiction!

Top 10 Worst Sports Movies: with video examples!

Friday, 20 April 2007

The abysmal performance by Grindhouse continues this week (down to number 10 with a miserable $4.33m -- after just two weeks on release!) I don't think I've ever known a more awful box-office performance for a more critically-lauded film!

US TOP 10

1. Disturbia $22.2m
2. Blades Of Glory $13.8m
3. Meet The Robinsons $12.5m
4. Perfect Stranger $11.2m
5. Are We Done Yet? $8.95m
6. Pathfinder $5m
7. Wild Hogs $4.68m
8. The Reaping $4.57m
9. 300 $4.45m
10. Grindhouse $4.33m

On this side of the pond, more calamity for Danny Boyle's superb Sunshine, as it struggles in the lower-half of the chart while Mr Bean and Wild Hogs rides high! Such injustice. But nice to see foreign language films making the chart with Curse Of The Golden Flower and The Lives Of Others...

UK TOP 10

1. Wild Hogs £1.6m
2. Mr Bean's Holiday £1.5m
3. Blades Of Glory £740k
4. Shooter £7.16k
5. 300 £499k
6. Sunshine £443k
7. Curse Of The Golden Flower £362k
8. Meet The Robinsons £357k
9. Perfect Stranger £277k
10. The Lives Of Others £223k

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

HALF NELSON
An innercity doctor with a drugs habit forms an unlikely friendship with a student after she discovers his secret. Drama starring Ryan Gosling.

PATHFINDER
A Viking child is left behind after his clan battle a Native American tribe. Raised by the tribe, he grows up to become their saviour and fight against the Norsemen. Action-adventure starring Kurt Urban.

THE REAPING
A former Christian missionary, who specializes in debunking religious phenomena, discovers a town suffering from ten Biblical plagues. Supernatural horror with Hillary Swank.

REIGN OVER ME
A man who lost his family in the September 11th attack on New York City finds strength by rekindling a friendship with his college roommate. Drama starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

THE (ALTERNATIVE) APPRENTICE

Sir Alan: I'm sorry Sophie, but... you're fired.
Sophie: You can't technically fire me, Sir Alan. I don't work for you.
Sir Alan: You're fired, Sophie.
Sophie: But you said this is a job interview.
Sir Alan: Look, whatever. Just go now, please.
Sophie: If you want to fire me you need to hire me first.
Sir Alan: Okay, you're hired!

Sophie pulls thin air with her fists.

Sophie: Yesssss!
Sir Alan: And now you're fired.
Sophie: For what?
Sir Alan: Nothing, you're fired.
Sophie: You can't fire me for nothing.
Sir Alan: Alright, I fired you for going "yessss!" like that.
Sophie: That's ridiculous! I'm gonna sue.
Sir Alan: Just you try it, sweetheart. I've got Margaret here to protect me. The most ruthless lawyer in all of London.

Margaret leans into Sir Alan.

Margaret: Actually, Sir Alan, she's got a point. You just hired her and fired her without any just cause.
Sir Alan: Eh? Look, whose side are you on Margaret? This is just a game show, okay?

Nick leans into Sir Alan.


Nick: You say it's not a game show in your opening narration.
Sir Alan: Do I? Oh. Yeah. Well... look, it is a bloody game! There are contestants, it's on telly, there's a prize at the end. What more do you want?!
Sophie: So am I really, properly, definitely, fired?
Sir Alan: YES!!
Sophie: Well that's not fair. I'll see you in court.
Sir Alan: Yeah, yeah, good luck.

Nick tuts, turning away.

Sir Alan: What's wrong with you?
Nick: Well, she seemed quite clever to me. She was a quantum physicist, after all.
Sir Alan: So what? I need a shrewed business person, not a bloody time-traveller!
Maragaret: She could perhaps go back in time and erase Michelle Dewberry from series 2.
Nick: (chuckles) I don't think quantum physicists actually time---

Too late. Sir Alan has his Amstrad phone to hand.

Sir Alan: Jenny, stop Sophie leaving, would you?

GOOD NIGHT MR SHYAMALAN?

Talented? Yes.

Original? Kind of.

Interesting? Often.

Egotistical? Always.

That sums up my feelings for auteur filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, writer-director of many sci-fi and fantasy films since his breakthrough hit The Sixth Sense (1999).

That particular ghost story remains his masterpiece; an effective, creepy and emotional piece of storytelling where everything clicked. The script was razor sharp, the acting was compelling and Shyamalan's direction accomplished.

But since then, things have gone downhill for the odd-named filmmaker. Unbreakable disappointed many with its slow-burning tale of an indestructible "superhero", but won praise for putting a fresh spin on the tired comic book genre. Indeed, six years later and Heroes owes it a debt of gratitude. But, then again, Heroes owes everything comic-related a debt of gratitude...

Signs was next, starring Mel Gibson as a farmer caught in the middle of an alien invasion. For some, this is where the rot began to creep in with its contrived ending (aliens allergic to water choose to invade a planet covered in H20?) Gimme a break!

But it wasn't until The Village that people really began to stick the knife in. Iit was his most original tale, but audiences felt cheated by its twist ending. Personally, I think The Village is unfairly vilified. I certainly didn't predict the twist in its tail, and it made sense to me.

Still, the damage had been done. Shyamalan's name no longer carried the weight it once had. He'd done a great job marketing himself as the "Stephen King of cinema", or "the new Rod Sterling", but The Village had just annoyed many people.

If you've ever seen fake documentary The Buried Secret Of M. Night Shyamalan, which suggested he's genuinely in contact with the supernatural, you'll know that Shyamalan has an ego. A big one. There's a reason his name dominates his film's posters and his cameo appearances get bigger, folks...

Clearly refusing to face his diminishing status, Shyamalan kicked up a stink when Disney execs turned down his idea for Lady In The Water. After publically rubbishing these doubters, he made the film with another studio and it was released to universal dirision in 2006.

Lady In The Water may have been original, but the tale of a sea nymph who lives in the swimming pool of an apartment complex left everyone ambivalent. Shyamalan's head had noticeably ballooned thanks to the inclusion of a character whose written work will one day influence the world's destiny. Who did he base that guy on, I don't wonder...?

Which brings us to 2007, and there are signs Shyamalan may be taking stock of his career. Finally. His latest spec script, The Green Effect, was bandied around Hollywood... and everyone passed on it. Everyone. It seemed that the words "Written by M. Night Shyamalan" on a screenplay had become a stigma after Lady In The Water drowned at multiplexes.

Which is a shame, because it was the studios who were being childish now. Insiders who read The Green Effect have championed it as one of Shyamalan's best efforts. The premise has nature fighting back against mankind's environmental destruction by releasing neurotoxins that cause people to commit suicide. Relevant stuff given how global warming has dominated the news in recent months.

Undeterred, and to his credit, Shyamalan rewrote the script based on feedback, rebranded it The Happening and it now looks to be moving ahead following positive online reviews. Mark Wahlberg has signed on to take the lead.

Good news. Shyamalan's still had more hits than misses. He's also set to direct Avatar: The Last Airbender, an adaptation of the Japanese anime. It will be the first time Shyamalan has tackled a project he hasn't written, which is another good move for him.

So give the guy a break. I think we can look forward to many more spooky stories from Shyamalan. Once he gets over himself...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

STRANGER THAN FICTION
DIRECTOR: Marc Forster WRITER: Zach Helm
CAST: Will Ferrell (Harold Crick), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Ana Pascal), Dustin Hoffman (Professor Jules Hilbert), Emma Thompson (Karen Eiffel), Queen Latifah (Penny Escher), Tony Hale (Dave), Linda Hunt (Dr Mittag-Leffler), Tom Hulce (Dr Cayly) & Kristin Chenoweth (Darlene Sunshine)

A tax collector begins to hear a voice narrating his daily life...

Swiss director Mar Forster's last film was a biopic of Peter Pan author J.M Barrie (Finding Neverland) and his latest offering also has a literary backdrop; one where a man begins to suspect his life is a work of fiction...

Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, a dour IRS taxman who's obsessed with counting and locked into a repetitive existence. One day, while systematically brushing his teeth, Harold begins to hear a voice narrating his actions. The disembodied voice continues for the next few days, prompting a fear for his own sanity, particularly his "impending death" is mentioned...

Screenwriter Zach Helm's script is great fun and masterminds its high-concept premise to its full potential. Will Ferrell, whose comedies I rarely enjoy (although Anchorman was fine), is quite a revelation here. It's not a massively difficult role, certainly not as nuanced as fellow comedian Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine..., but it's a likeable performance nonetheless.

The supporting cast are just as great. Maggie Gyllenhaal is superb as love interest Ana (a tax-dodging chef), Emma Thompson is good as the "voice" (chain-smoking author Karen Eiffel, struggling with writer's block), while Dustin Hoffman is fantastic as a literary professor who treats Harold's predicament with utter seriousness, turning "existential detective" for the second time after I Heart Huckabees!

Stranger Than Fiction tackles some big ideas, primarily the importance of a single individual's humdrum existence versus gaining immortality through art. Does he even have free will, as his life seems to be dictated by someone's typewriter?

For long stretches, the film is a delight with its stylish production, witty graphics (visualizing Crick's numbercrunching, a la Fight Club's pricing sequence), and winning performances. The script motors along at a good lick and I appreciated the Douglas Adams nods (a "living" wrist-watch, Crick's apartment destruction echoing Arthur Dent's bulldozers, etc.) It's all perfectly disciplined by director Marc Forster, although there are some niggling problems that prevent Stranger Than Fiction attaining modern classic status...

For one thing, as a comedy it's certainly amusing.... but has greater things on its mind. As a romance, it's effective... but Harold and Ana's relationship is just one small element to the story. As a high-concept mind-bending thriller.... it's too light-hearted at times and lacks the courage of its convictions with a cowardly ending.

With so many elements jostling for attention, the overall problem with Stranger Than Fiction is it's not funny or harrowing enough to become a classic of either the "comedy" or "tragedy" genre (ironic, once you see the movie). But don't that put you off. The story may opt for a "happily ever after" denouement, but it at least has a good reason for this decision.

Despite its shortcomings, I was entertained throughout, engaged by all the actors and became engrossed in this work of fiction.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA - "Dirty Hands"

Season 3, Episode 16 - 17 April 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITERS: Anne Cofell Saunders & Jane Espenson DIRECTOR: Wayne Rose
CAST: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol), Kandyse McClure (Dee), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Tricia Helfer (Number 6), James Callis (Baltar), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Samuel Patrick Chu (Milo), Bryce Hodgson (Danny), Don Thompson (Anthony Figurski) & Jennifer Halley (Seelix)

The Chief finds himself in the middle of a labour dispute and a book written by Baltar begins to change opinions amongst the working classes...

Dirty Hands is another episode with its basis on real issues, namely slave labour and the class system. It's an interesting storyline, shedding light on a sub-culture where men and youngsters work long hours keeping the fuel refinery operational to power the fleet. Compare and contrast BSG's depressing and smoggy refinery to the pristine Engine Room of Star Trek for another example of the show's emphasis on reality!

Aaron Douglas takes the lead in this episode as Chief Tyrol, assigned to run the dangerous refinery after his predecessor is jailed by Roslin. The Chief soon realizes the harsh conditions and long working hours are having a detrimental effect on safety and morale, so decides to organize a controversial strike.

BSG often parallels contemporary issues in a sci-fi context and Dirty Hands is fine example. Unlike recent attempts, that have been somewhat heavy-handed or predictable, Dirty Hands gets the mix of soap-box grandstanding and character drama just right. It helps that a subplot with Baltar, who has written a book while in prison (shades of Hitler's Mein Kampf?) is an enlightening insight into the slippery traitor's childhood and beliefs.

It's also interesting to see the "working classes" of the fleet taking Baltar's prose to heart, strengthening the sense of a class system aboard the fleet (from the wealthy Capricans to the agricultural Aerolons). Exposing divides in society not dissimilar to ours is an intriguing new dynamic for the show.

The script, by Anne Cofell Saunders and Jane Espenson, wades in with its potentially yawnsome comments on society, but manages to be genuinely interesting and sprinkled with great character moments: the Chief's mounting sense of injustice, Baltar's working class roots and Adama's drastic measures to avert a mutiny.

Dirty Hands may be yet another standalone episode that takes an "issue" and supplants it to the series, but it feels less like filler material than previous examples. It's genuinely interesting throughout and the reactions from Roslin and Adama' are particularly unpredictable. But, am I the only one who thinks Mary McDonnell's performances are becoming distastefully condescending? Her holier-than-thou attitude to Baltar has me longing for a coup d'etat!

Tuesday, 17 April 2007


RUDDY HELL! IT'S HARRY & PAUL!

Back in the 80s Harry Enfield burst onto our screens as Stavros ('ello, peeps!") and Loadsamoney in alternative comedy benchmark Friday Night Live. He was the Sacha Baron Cohen of his day, leading to cult sketch show Harry Enfield's Television Programme, which had morphed into the more successful Harry Enfield & Chums by the mid-90s.

At that time, Harry Enfield was the Golden Boy of British comedy, appealing to wide audiences with his Dick Emery-meets-Viz characters. The naff Smashie & Nicie radio DJ pastiche led to Radio 1 axing half their staff, "Only Meeee!" irritated a generation of teachers and Kevin The Teenager became the figurehead of moaning adolescents.

Around the mid-90s, friend and co-writer/performer Paul Whitehouse flew the nest to form The Fast Show. Whitehouse's own project was faster, sharper and more incisive than Harry's comparatively cosy creations. So, while Enfield started the 90s as the king of the comedy castle... Whitehouse had assumed the crown by its close.

But in the new millennium, both performers have floundered. The Fast Show finished years back and Whitehouse has struggled to be taken seriously (Happiness) or find another comedy of equal quality since.

Meanwhile, British comedy got edgier (Ali G), political post-9/11, darker (League Of Gentlemen), satirical (Borat) or reality-based (The Office). The only Enfield-influenced comedy that worked was Little Britain, itself a world away from Harry's tone with its coarse language and sexual themes.

Then Enfield made the fatal error of signing his soul away to Sky. The result was the low-rated and critically-mauled Brand Spanking New Show. It featured new (unfunny) characters and a quicker pace (Fast Show-inspired), but the quality of the writing wasn't there. It seemed that Harry just wasn't Harry without Paul.

So rejoice, because the two friends have reunited for another sketch series, entitled Ruddy Hell! It's Harry & Paul and, for the first time, they share equal billing. Although Harry's name comes first, but I'm sure that alphabetical!

While Ruddy Hell adds nothing to the sketch show genre (a backwards step for Whitehouse, a comforting one for Enfield), it was more entertaining than I was expecting. Interestingly for fans, there were some notable changes in the show's style...

There didn't seem to be any catchphrases (the signature of both performers) and there was more emphasis on playing twisted versions of existing people (U2, Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, etc.) Enfield cut his teeth as an impressionist on satirical 80s puppet show Spitting Image, but it was strange to be reminded he hasn't always created his own characters.

But yes, as with all sketch shows... it was hit-and-miss. Some of the targets were too obvious and overdone (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs "out-nerding" each other), others were obvious but amusing (working class builders mulling over highbrow topics), a few harked back to yesteryear (Laurel & Hardy make Brokeback Mountain), some were funny for the performance (Mandela selling alcopops), a few seemed only to exist for the make-up possibilities (Jamie and Oliver, two obese kids), but only a minority pushed into new territory (an unassuming man feeling belittled by foreign shopgirls, or dining toffs showing off a Geordie man like a pet dog.)

Still, it offered brief moments of fun and the quality of Whitehouse and Enfield as performers remains unquestionable. If the writing is there, Harry and Paul can get the job done, no question. Ruddy Hell was like welcoming back new friends, but friends whose best days are definitely behind them now.

I'm conflicted because, just like you don't like to tell your middle-aged uncle he's not funny once you hit your teens, I don't want to tell Harry and Paul their return was only sparodically amusing.

I used to love these guys. I still love these guys. So I'll keep watching, out of fondness mainly, but performers of their quality have earned some loyalty, I feel. For now.

PRISON BREAK 1.14 - "John Doe"

16 April 2007 - Five, 10.00 pm
WRITERS: Nick Santora & Matt Olmstead DIRECTOR: Kevin Hooks
CAST: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), William Fichtner (Agent Mahone), Rockmond Dunbar (C-Note), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Paul Adelstein (Agent Kellerman), Wade Williams (Bellick), Reggie Lee (Bill Kim), Danielle Campbell (Gracey Hollander), Quinn Wermeling (Zack Hollander), Steven Chester Prince (Agent Blondie), Andra Fuller (Trey), Christian Stolte (C.O. Stolte), Daniel Allar (Avacado), Lester "Rasta" Speight (Banks), K.K. Dodds (Susan Hollander), Jeff Perry (Terence Steadman) & Callie Thorne (Pam Mahone)

Kellerman takes Michael and Lincoln to Terence Steadman's hideout, C-Note gets bad news about his wife, T-Bag tries to become a family man, while Agent Mahone recovers in hospital...

After last week's stunning late twist (the dastardly Kellerman swaps allegiances and shoots Mahone) things continue with a spring in their step. John Doe picks up immediately following Michael and Linc's tunnel escape, bundled into Kellerman's car and delivered with typical unlikeliness across a police roadblock...

Now with Kellerman's help and knowledge, the conspiracy behind the President's supposedly-dead brother Terence, can finally be exposed to the world. All they have to do is kidnap Terence from his Montana safe-house and let him spill the beans to the media. Needless to say, it doesn't all go as smoothly as they'd hoped.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Mahone survived his shooting, as William Fichtner has been terrific throughout this season. It would have been gutsy to kill him off mid-way through season 2, but ultimately pointless. John Doe cements his position as a man forced to do terrible things just to protect his family. It's nice to see Mahone regain some sympathy after his recent cold-blooded actions, but the late promise of him going rogue is even more exciting...

The brilliant Wade Williams is also back as Bellick, now incarcerated at Fox River. It's particularly nice to see Prison Break have a justifable reason to explore Fox River again, as the absence of a prison environment has been a necessary but unfortunate evil of season 2. As an an ex-prison warder, Bellick isn't popular amongst his fellow inmates, here facing demeaning punishment from resident hard-ass Banks (Lester "Rasta" Speight).

Bellick's subplot is very dramatic and full of tension, superbly played by Williams and the imposing Speight. The canteen scene, where Bellick is forced to deliver dessert to Banks, is a real highlight and I hope this prison-based plot continues. I miss the pressure and anxiety of Fox River.

Less interesting is the T-Bag and C-Note plots. Robert Knepper is great as psycho T-Bag, but he's been ill-served by season 2 generally. The writers don't really have anything particularly interesting for him to do, so while his insidious attempt to become a "family man" with his last victim's young family is enjoyable enough, it's a far cry from the dynamite scenes T-Bag was involved in last year.

C-Note gets even less to do, stuck on the phone to his friend Trey throughout the whole episode, in scenes that exist only to provide snippets of information about his arrested wife. Forgetable stuff.

Overall, this is a crucial episode for its relation to the government conspiracy that has fuelled Prison Break since the Pilot, hobbled by some pointless subplots (although Jailbird Brad is a highlight). Some viewers may feel cheated by the episode's end, which provides yet another cruel twist of fate that seems to instantly negate the previous 35 hours of entertainment.

Prison Break
is the kind of show that likes to test itself with ever more unlikely or seemingly suicidal plot-twists, and the truth is... it usually gets away with it.

Monday, 16 April 2007

LOST 3.16 - "One Of Us"

15 April 2007 - Sky One, 10.00 pm
WRITERS: Carlton Cuse & Drew Goddard DIRECTOR: Jack Bender
CAST: Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet), Matthew Fox (Jack), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Michael Emerson (Ben), Naveen Andrews (Sayid), Daniel Dae Kim (Jin), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Yunjin Kim (Sun), Emilie de Ravin (Claire), William Mapother (Ethan), Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Tyrone Howard (Airport Guard), Joah Buley (Other Guy), Nestor Carbonell (Richard Alpert), Andrew Divoff (Mikhail Bakunin), Brett Cullen (Goodwin) & Robin Weigert (Rachel)

Jack, Kate and Sayid arrive back at the beach with Juliet in tow. As Juliet struggles to fit in as an "outsider", her help is required when Claire is struck by a mysterious illness...

I think a quality switch must have been flipped in a hatch somewhere. One Of Us is another impressive episode, the latest in a brilliant run of intriguing and revelatory storylines. This time the focus is on Juliet, for the second time this season, and once again Elizabeth Mitchell gives a powerful and nuanced performance.

For anyone desperate for answers, One Of Us gives you one to a question posed way back in season 1. Contrary to popular belief, Lost answers questions fairly regularly, they just tend to give rise to even more, or slip by unnoticed. One thing the show rarely does is give a straight answer without any vagaries whatsoever, but this episode is an exception. What's more, it's great that the answer doesn't conflict with established events and neatly fills a gap in the jigsaw. Maybe the writers do have a masterplan after all...

The flashbacks again involve Juliet's pre-island life, before she's whisked away to the island using Herrarat Aviation (anagram: Earhart, as in Amelia Earheart the aviator who went missing over the Pacific) Once there, we see her own introduction to the island and the Others' community, particularly her relationship with Ben and an unexpected romance with Goodwin.

While the flashback format has become strained in recent months, as the writers run out of compelling background detail for the main character's lives, there's still plenty of mileage with the new folk. When the flashbacks fill gaps in knowledge, they're always more interesting, and we get plenty of that here.

On the beach, Juliet faces the expected mistrust for being an "Other", despite Jack vouching for her good-character, and it makes for an interesting new dynamic. There's no way the writers can let questions go unanswered now, although they have delayed it by forcing Jack's protectiveness of her (annoyingly). Still, she's only been in camp less than a day and a key mystery of season 1 has been answered, so I'm looking forward to Juliet spilling the beans some more. If she doesn't lie, that is...

All said, this is another terrific installment for a season that is going from strength to strength after the turgid six-episode opening. Lost remains a slow-burn for viewers, but big answers are beginning to come now and the prickly relationships remain just as watchable as ever. Lost's place in television history is already assured, but it could achieve legendary status if it avoids getting lost in its own complexities and not quitting while it's ahead.
Don't bet against it happening.

24, 6.16 - "09:00 PM - 10:00 PM"

15 April 2007 - Sky One, 9.00 pm
WRITERS: Robert Cochran & Evan Katz DIRECTOR: Brad Turner
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer), James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Thomas Lennox), D.B Woodside (Wayne Palmer), Powers Boothe (Noah Daniels), Marisol Nichols (Nadia Yassir), Rade Serbedzija (Dmitri Gredenko), Eric Balfour (Milo Pressman), Jayne Atkinson (Karen Hayes), Dylan Kenin (Victor), Rick Schroder (Mike Doyle), Regina King (Sandra Palmer), Adoni Maropis (Fayed), Jim Holmes (Dr Welton), Ryan Cutrona (Admiral), Lex Cassar (CTU Agent Ryan), Kari Matchett (Lisa Miller), Said Faraj (Halil), Jolene Kim (Melinda) & Ray Laska (Attorney General Graves)

Wayne Palmer risks his health to fight Daniels' for the presidency and Jack uses Gredenko in a sting operation to get to Fayed...

Something has to be done, because not even Jack Bauer can save this sixth day. It's too late to prevent this sporadic season being chalked up as unsuccessful (it's actually less enjoyable than season 3 right now), but can we just have a late upswing in quality for the final third?

Episode 16 (gulp, just 8 away from the finale) is another exercise in reheated 24. There are a few thrills along the way, but a misjudged final punch really irritated me. Kiefer Sutherland's role seems to be reduced this year, with Jack running around acting like a self-parody at times, jostling for screentime as the presidential power-struggle continues.

The writers don't seem to have any fresh ideas, that's the main problem. Robert Cochran and Evan Katz ask fans to forget the 25th Amendment was ever invoked back in season 2 and, while moderate recycling is par for the course on 24, to restage an old plotline isn't good. After three years of added experience writing for 24, they're doing a more effective job with it, but it's still old-hat.

The only fresh element of season 6 was the Bauer family's involvement in the crisis, but all this was fudged and consequently brushed aside. I'm sure James Cromwell will be back as daddy Bauer before the season's done, perhaps justifying his exit, but for now the (Groundhog) Day shows no signs of life. Jack even performs his second sting operation in as many episodes!

D.B Woodside's performance is marginally better as Wayne Palmer (now he's fresh out of an induced coma, funnily enough). But the goodwill he acrues in Episode 16 is totally flushed away by the end, with a silly reversal that seems to render the past few episodes pointless.

Ignoring the fact National Security Advisor's aren't members of the Cabinet (something that makes the bunker drama null and void), the political maschinations between Palmer, Daniels, Lennox and Hayes are the most interesting aspects of this episode.

Elsewhere, Jack (remember him?) has another scheme to get to Fayed's nukes by injecting an isotope into Gredenko's arm, so they can track him when he meets with Fayed's men. Unfortunately he also decides to equip him with a bulky "wire" last used on Miami Vice in 1987!

You can sense desperation creeping into the show. The reason I'm being flinging so much vitriol in 24's direction is because the show is above all this. 24 has set a benchmark so high for action drama that I expect far better than these lazy attempts to surprise viewers.

Overall, this is another slick production that says very little we haven't heard before. 24 has always had cliches and cheeky contrivances, but disbelief was always gladly suspended in return for shocking twists, well-written characters and unpredictable high-octane plots.

Sadly, after a great six years, the strain is beginning to show. There was a time when someone cutting their arm off would have stunned me (not after season 3), when attempting to relieve a President of duty would have had me engrossed (not after season 2), or the threat of a nuke going off in L.A would have had me aghast (not since... well, a dozen episodes ago, actually!)

I have faith 24 can build to a late burst of quality from here, but season 6 is beyond total reprieve. If there is to be a seventh season, or the fabled big-screen movie, the producers are going to have to make some drastic changes, because it's clear their imaginations are spent at CTU Los Angeles.