Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Dan's Americana, Part 3: Food & Supermarkets

Food is a big deal in America. The stereotypical obese American is unfortunately a fairly accurate cliché. It’s not that everyone you see is a waddling heart-attack waiting to happen, but you do see more overweight people in a week than you would in a month back home.

Half the problem is that everything is so cheap in the US. I know prices are relative, but it’s still ridiculously cheap for the natives. The other half of the problem is that everything is just too accessible.


The local town of Athens (like every town you drive through) has a McDonald's, Burger King, Sonic Burger, Kroger’s supermarket, Walmart, Arby’s, Ponderosa, Damon’s and countless others. Food outlets are as ubiquitous as pubs in the States.


The main industry of Athens seemed evenly split between restaurateurs and teaching/cleaning at the Ohio State University. If you were studying anything culinary at Uni, you’d be like a pig in muck.


Now, everyone around the world is familiar with McDonald's and Burger King, and other fast-food chains of their ilk. They’re exactly the same in the US, although you get your food FAST and it doesn’t cost the earth. I estimated it’s about £1.50 for a Happy Meal over there.


Anyway, beyond the McDonald's of this world, there were one or two food outlets that seemed designed for incredibly lazy people… with eating disorders.


Sonic Burger was the most amusing example. It was essentially a McDonald's (without a drive-thru) combined with a Little Chef. You parked up outside, walked in, sat down at a small table and grabbed a menu. After a few minutes, you’d made your choices and began absently looking around for the waitress. By now, you’d become accustomed to omnipresent staff, ready to pounce on anyone stepping through their door, so it was unusual to find no staff in the area.

Other diners sat around, tucking into their food and chatting, perfectly happy and content. Maybe there’s been an emergency in the kitchens, or we’ve just stumbled on the only US restaurant for 100 miles with service that’s actually worse than in the UK!


The minutes pass and you get itchy. You suspect Sonic Burger must be a buffet-style arrangement, but a quick glance around quashes that idea. Just what is going on?


But then, you spot it, bolted to the side of your table’s booth. A telephone! You hesitantly pick up the receiver and a chirpy voice says, “Welcome to Sonic Burger, can I take your order, please?” It’s like phoning for a pizza from inside the pizzeria.


You rattle off everyone’s order, then begin to notice the person you’re speaking to is in faint stereo. Leaning back, you can just about make out a teenaged girl standing 10 metres away… on the other phone!


Anyway, eventually the food comes and is surprisingly more filling than you were expecting. Try and imagine your typical McDonald’s Happy Meal… but with taste. I know it’s hard. So, a tentative thumbs-up for Sonic Burger… but the phone thing just seems crazy! I mean, the waitress comes out to deliver your food, so can’t she come out to take the order?


The other amusing restaurant was Ponderosa. Again, it’s nothing particularly “alien” to look at through a Brit’s eyes. It’s a gloomy, brick-walled restaurant with a colour scheme of crème and brown. You go in and are met at a large counter by staff, who ask you what you’d like to order from a large menu stuck on the wall behind them.

You can have any item for such-and-such a price… but it’s marginally more expensive if you decide to have it “with buffet”. You’d be mad to ignore the buffet option, so you take that option and head through to sit down.


A waitress then came over and gave us free drinks. Good so far! After a few minutes “settling in”, you realize you can actually go and get whatever you want from the buffet. So up you get and are free to pile-up your plate with whatever takes your fancy: a variety of meats, dips, bread, vegetables and salads.


Back at your table, you snack your way through this mountain of food, with nobody stopping you if you go back for seconds. Or thirds.


When you’re stuffed full, the meal you initially ordered to get in (in my case, grilled chicken) arrives! Of course, by that stage, you’re full already just with the buffet! But, hey, you’ve paid for it, so you force it down.


But you begin to think… I could have ordered the cheapest thing on their menu (say, $2 with buffet) and then pigged out on the buffet. Why pay $8 for the grilled chicken? There was chicken on the buffet! I’ll remember for next time.


Oh, and a word of warning: in places like Ponderosa, where you seat yourself and get your own meals from the buffet, the waiting staff have only one way to impress customers enough so they’ll leave a tip: drink refills.


Literally the second I put down my Diet Pepsi, a waitress swooped in and refilled it. We’re talking nanoseconds, no lie. She must have been watching me! It’s all a bit unnerving. This refilling happened again five minutes later, despite the fact I actually didn’t want a third glass!


The trick is to leave some liquid in your glass until you’re about ready to go… then gulp it down and just run out! I half-suspect that if I turned around I might see a red-faced waitress running after me with her jug of Pepsi sloshing all over the place! The waiters are very, very keen to earn their tips in America.


The supermarkets were similar to the ones in the UK, particularly one branch called Kroger’s, which was pretty much identical to a Tesco’s.


Of course, the granddaddy of supermarkets in America is Walmart, who now actually own the UK’s ASDA. The bizarre thing about Walmart is the variety of stuff you can buy in there; everything from clothes to electrical goods. The prices were also quite bizarre, with Levi jeans at $24/£12 and a 52” HD widescreen television for $1000/£500 (not a well-known make, but… look at that price!)

Part 4: A Road Trip To Buffalo, NY

Part 2: Wildlife & Weather
Part 1: Coming To America

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: "We'll always be able to say we could have done more..."

A panel was held at Comic-Con 2007 with the guys behind Battlestar Galactica, which starts it fourth and final season in early-2008.

The following details were uncovered by fans. [SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3!]

-- The identity of "the fifth and final Cylon" might not be revealed until late in season 4 -- perhaps even in the last ever episode!

-- Season 4 will see lots of Adama/Starbuck conflict, especially in the first episode.

-- Baltar's story arc will be shocking and thrilling for fans. Tricia Helfer (Number 6) said: "Baltar's getting a lot of action this season, and I haven't been involved."

-- Producer Ronald D. Moore hopes to bring back popular character Romo Lampkin (Mark Shepherd), who impressed during the season 3 finale as Baltar's lawyer.

-- Starbuck, having been to Earth and leading the fleet there, will have a sense of purpose to her life, leading to occasions of calm serenity.

-- On the show's conclusion, Moore said: "The decision was to end the show at the top of our game. That choice precludes certain other choices. [Like wrapping up every possible loose end of plot]. We'll always be able to say we could have done more."

-- Now that Chief Tyrol has been revealed as one of "The Final Five" Cylons, it means there are two human-Cylon hybrid babies (Hera and Nicholas.) Moore said the Hera storyline will continue, but the ramifications of Nicholas may go ignored.

-- In the November TV-movie, Razor, fans will see Cylon centurions and raiders from the 1970s TV series, during flashbacks to the first war 40 years ago.

-- Despite having a recurring role in the new Bionic Woman TV series, Katee Sackhoff's schedule will work alongside her BSG commitment.

-- Producer David Eick is working on a FOX pilot called Them, currently under consideration for mid-season. Tricia Helfer has a role.

Top Gear: Polar Special


I really enjoy the special Top Gear episodes, usually involving burning rubber across western Europe, boy's own adventures through the American Deep South, or attempting to turn a Robin Reliant into a reusable spaceship...

The latest wheeze involved a race to the North Pole from Canada, across treacherous ice, whilst avoiding hungry polar bears and suffering -35 degrees. The twist was how the race would be made: Richard Hammond travelled on a sled pulled by ten huskies, while Jeremy Clarkson and James May drove in a 4x4.

As always with these things, chunks seemed to be staged for the cameras and carefully edited for maximum dramatic effect, but it was certainly enjoyable. Which is the main thing!

From the trio's snow-training -- involving Hammond skiing into foreigners, and Clarkson being shoved into an ice hole by their special forces instructor -- it was all good boy's own fun. I'm sure Clarkson's fans (and especially his haters) all had a good laugh at his expense, as he emerged shivering and shocked into uncharacteristic silence. Credit to him though, as Hammond and May's own icy dips were conspicuously absent from the show.

The race itself wasn't as exciting as the "car vs airplane" across France a few years back, but it be ame a foregone conclusion that machine would beat dog after the first half hour. Only a catastrophic breakdown would have seen defeat snatched from Clarkson and May.

It was also a shame the emphasis was more on the 4x4 and less on the huskies, as Hammond seemed to have genuinely suffered in comparison. Still, I suppose Top Gear is a motoring magazine show.

What became noticeable in the Polar Special far more than previous Top Gear specials was the support crew. Obviously there are always camera crews around to film everything, but Clarkson seemed to have every Icelandic mechanic at his disposal! If it truly had been "a car" versus "some dogs", Hammond would have won -- as the 4x4 had to be bungee-pulled out of ice and got wedged between snow boulders every six hours.

Still, the end result and the unfairness wasn't the point. The three men just have a fun chemistry together, even if some of their gags are rehearsed and staged for the cameras, such as May bringing poncy food/gin along for the ride, or being driven away whilst still perched on the rear-bumper's toilet. But they're still funny.

But more interesting were the moments when reality broke through: Hammond taking three attempts to count to 10... Clarkson fearing for his life on wafer-thin ice... May becoming irritable when putting up the tent, etc.

It was also mildly informative. Now I know you can fit a wheel by dousing it in lighter fuel and setting fire to it! Or that you get out of snow by gently rocking the vehicle back and forth. And that huskies are seriously tough!

Moments of stunning beauty, such as the Star Trek-style "alien sun" and glimpses of polar bears, were also memorable... as was James May's dry comment to Richard Hammond, by phone, after finally winning: "Hammond? May. Bad luck."

Monday, 30 July 2007

PREVIEW: TERMINATOR - THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES 1.1 – "Pilot"

Season 1, Episode 1 – FOX
WRITER: Josh Friedman DIRECTOR: David Nutter
CAST: Lena Heady (Sarah Connor), Thomas Dekker (John Connor), Summer Glau (Cameron), Richard T. Jones (FBI Agent James Ellison), Chad Brummett (FBI Agent), Dave Colon (LAPD Motor Officer), Arron Shiver (Officer), Babak Tafti (Kid In The Hallway), Joe Mannuel Gallegos (FBI Agent), Gary Houston (Mr Ferguson), Brandon Molale (Big Cop), Peggy Ann Kleeberg (Hero Student), Owain Yeoman (Cromarty), Genia Michaela (Teller), Danielle Lozeau (Hero Student), Shawn Prince (Daniel), Tim Guinee (Burke), Beth Bailey (Mrs Collins), Jennah Lintz (Bank Teller #2), Peggy Ann (FBI Visitor) & Nick Wechsler (Deputy Ridge)

Two years after destroying Cyberdyne, Sarah Connor and her son John are on the run from the authorities, whilst trying to avoid more cyborg assassins from the future...

The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), the brainchildren of director James Cameron remain two great examples of both the action and science fiction genres. The original movie made a star of Arnold Schwarzenegger and was the springboard for auteur director Cameron to become "king of the world" -- when he swept the board at the 1997 Oscars with Titanic.

Since Cameron's awards success, he sadly took a break from the movies and turned his attention to underwater documentaries, although his return is imminent with sci-fi 3-D epic
Avatar. But, despite his absence, his Terminator legacy began to march do a different drumbeat…

First came
Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003), a sequel that was wholly unnecessary, but at least secured the return of Schwarzenegger in his iconic role as an unstoppable cyborg, and wasn't the unmitigated disaster many expected.

Now, amidst rumours of a Schwarzenegger-less Terminator 4, comes a Schwarzenegger-less TV series, known as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It's a clear case of cashing in on an established product that has a built-in audience and name-recognition.

While it's normal for filmmakers to adapt television shows to the silver screen, doing the reverse is often far, far more difficult. By their very nature, movies are designed as journeys with beginnings, middles and ends. Just making a decent sequel can be tricky enough, never mind adapting a film to suit the television model of 20-plus episodes each year, for three years or more.

But, hoping to do just that is producer David Nutter (who served as a director during The X-Files' tenure) and writer Josh Friedman (who recently penned Steven Spielberg's War Of The Worlds remake). Not a bad pedigree, but can these two men successfully bring a beloved film franchise to life on the small-screen… and secure the blessing of fans worldwide?

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is set in the year 1999 (the timeline follows the T3 chronology; so John was born in '84 and T2 happened in '97). Since destroying the T-1000 and saving the world from "Judgment Day", hard-ass mother Sarah Connor (
300's Lena Headey) and her son John (Heroes' Thomas Dekker), have been on the run and "off the grid", making it difficult for potential robot assassins from the future to find them.

As always, Sarah is stoically committed to protecting her son (and preventing a future dystopia), whereas John is loyal but conflicted, finding it difficult to lead a normal life under aliases, with the authorities always on their tail, and unsure he could ever become a messianic warrior anyway!

The Pilot episode begins on a quality note, with a stirring action sequence inside a school, where Sarah drags her son outside to be faced with an army of police. After they're arrested, a lone Terminator strolls into the scene and causes mayhem, until a nuclear bomb detonates nearby and the shock-wave burns its flesh away to reveal the iconic Terminator endoskeleton…

Then, Sarah wakes up… and the episode essentially becomes a string of on-the-run action set-pieces, with a few character "twists" that will be patently obvious to most people! In another "hick town" school, John gets chatting to a saucer-faced babe called Cameron (wink, wink), who is later revealed to be a protective Terminator from 2027 A.D. She's here to protect them and help them destroy SkyNet, since they've clearly only managed to delay Armageddon…

As a massive fan of the Terminator series (I'll even give T3 credit in some respects, I viewed The Sarah Connor Chronicles with a mix of excitement and trepidation. It’s clear to me that a TV series is not really needed, or even the best way to continue the Terminator franchise, but I was prepared to give it a chance.

Surprisingly, I found the Pilot to be more enjoyable than I was expecting. The caliber of those involved, particularly a cinematic screenwriter like Josh Friedman, certainly helped matters. This really does feel like a low-budget sequel to T2, although the absence of Arnold Schwarzenegger is still felt.

The casting is wonderful for the all-important leads. Lena Headey is a fine replacement for Linda Hamilton; believably gutsy and feminine, but less macho than T2's Sarah. It seems she's been toned down to exude more femininity, which is fine. Lest we forget, Sarah's now quite a few years away from that frightening mental institution she escaped from, so it's only right she doesn't have so much of a bitter gung-ho mentality.

Thomas Dekker is also a great replacement for
Edward Furlong. In fact, I'd say he's the best John Connor yet, as Furlong always irritated me and T3's Nick Stahl looked too weedy to convince. Dekker exudes teenaged angst and, more importantly, has real mother-son chemistry with Heady.

Summer Glau (
Serenity) is fine as the "good Terminator", effectively taking over protection duties and putting a female spin on things. As with Kristanna Loken's antagonist 'droid in T3, Glau has that same icy glare down to a tea. However, earlier scenes show her effectively acting like a regular schoolgirl, so her sudden switch seems a little odd. Even the infiltration abilities of the "liquid metal" T-1000 never went much beyond a smirk and a polite nod. It might have made more sense if Cameron had been the school "weirdo", perhaps? There's also the questions of how long has she been attending classes, and who her family are? I don't think we'll find out.

Undoubtedly the one area many people will criticize Chronicles over is in its portrayal of the villainous Terminators. Here, ignoring the "dream sequence" Terminator, we have Cromarty (an allusion to "chrome"?), who is sadly the episode's one duff note…

I think the problem is that Arnold Schwarzenegger casts a big shadow, so anyone playing a Terminator of similar physical type just looks like they're doing an impression. James Cameron knew this trap, so he juxtaposed Arnie with the lithe Robert Patrick. Even Jonathan Mostow realized this, so he went with a buxom blonde. The television series is out of options, so they attempt to bring in their own version of Arnie… and actor Owain Yeoman just doesn't cut it.

Yeoman tries valiantly, but he's just a collection of dead-eyed stares and stilted body movements. He doesn't have any threatening presence and he's not even particularly muscular; certainly not anything prime Schwarzenegger. I fully understand he has big boots to fill and limited screen time, but to have a lukewarm villain in the opening episode is unforgivable. The worst moment comes when Cromartie pretends to be a high school teacher and locates John by reading the class register! Laughable.

The production design is slick and textured. Director David Nutter drenches everything in his usual gloss, although some of his camera tricks and colour bleaching is a little overdone at times. Still, the action beats are handled well and, for a television show, you can certainly see that care and attention has been made.

The special effects are of a good standard, mainly involving make-up for battle-damaged Terminators (of which, an exposed thigh of hissing servo's is the highlight). The episode's greatest effects shots are in the teaser (a wonderful mushroom cloud and a movie-quality Terminator endoskeleton), and some snazzy CGI fireworks for a bank vault finale.

Acting as the set-up to an ongoing series, it's difficult to see where Chronicles can really go. The Pilot just establishes that the mission behind the show is to avoid the authorities (particularly FBI Agent Ellison), protect John from futuristic machines and destroy SkyNet again. Of course, Terminator 3 covered all that in 2-hours, so won't the TV series really begin to drag around episode 4? The writers will undoubtedly be avoiding falling into the "Terminator-of-the-week" trap, but will audiences really engage with these characters when they're not running around shooting guns at metal men? After all, that's what 80% of the Terminator movies were all about!

Perhaps the Pilot's best trick, especially for fans worried about continuity, is that writer Josh Friedman concocts a brilliant way to avoid stepping on the toes of the films too much, so that once the television series is over… you can slip right back into watching Terminator 3. Of course, that does mean we know John won't ever die… but, then again, did you ever really expect him to?

Overall, fans should get a kick from watching episode 1. Heady and Dekker are superb, Glau is decent enough, the visuals are excellent, the fights and gunplay are well-choreographed, and it's more steeped in Terminator mythology than you'd expect: "Reece" is used as an alias, the iconic "road shot" is used, T2's events are mentioned neatly, someone says "come with me if you want to live", there's a visit to Miles Dyson's widow… and, yes, Brad Fidel's fantastic theme tune arrives as the credits roll.

So, consider me surprised: I don't want to see this series terminated.

JEKYLL - "Episode 6"

28 July 2007 - BBC 1, 9.05 pm
WRITER: Steven Moffat DIRECTOR: Matt Lipsey
CAST: James Nesbitt (Dr Tom Jackman/Mr Hyde), Denis Lawson (Peter Syme), Gina Bellman (Claire Jackman), Michelle Ryan (Katherine Reimer), Meera Sylar (Miranda Callender), Fenella Woolgar (Min), Linda Marlowe (Ms Utterson/Sophia), Christopher Day (Harry Jackman), Andrew Byrne (Eddie Jackman), Matt King (Freeman), Julian Lewis Jones (Carver), Paterson Joseph (Benjamin) & Malcolm Storry (Colonel Hart)

A conjoined Jackman-Hyde work together to find their kidnapped family, as the Institute struggle to protect their investment...

After an effective and enjoyable build-up, the conclusion of Steven Moffat's Jekyll & Hyde "sequel" is a curious mix of good and bad; much like its title character.

Episode 6 begins in a playful mood, as Moffat's comedic background bubbles to the surface. Here, the Institute attempt to recapture Mr Hyde by using their top man: a gruff Welsh mercenarie called Carver (armed with rippling muscles, a bowie knife and... a Crazy Frog ringtone!) After a few minutes of flashbacks, demonstrating Carver's regimented professionalism and combat-readiness... Hyde casually throws him over the roof to his death.

It's a moment that proves to be curiously indicative of Jekyll's finale, as Steven Moffat's five-episode build-up reaches a somewhat disappointing climax. Like Carver, the serial is thrown over the edge. That's not to say Episode 6 is an awful way to end the show... but it's certainly guilty of implausible twists in its final act that leave you disappointed.

The good: James Nesbitt has been the lynchpin of the show and, despite giving in to bouts of extreme hamminess, he's never been anything less than totally watchable. In particular, Jackman and Hyde are two very individual performances, so seeing them "merge" and fight for their family provides a satisfying advancement to their intrapersonal war.

Denis Lawson has also been wonderful as bad-guy Syme; a twisted little man who's one of the more textured and nuanced characters. Lawson's dour expressions work beautifully and his character has a satsfying conclusion.

Gina Bellman has been decent enough as Claire Jackman, a character rescued from the dolldrums by Episode 3. I'm not convinced Bellman was the best choice to play Claire, but she's had her moments and generally convinces with the more emotional stuff. Her maternal fight to save her children, who are locked into those sinister "containment boxes" here, is very nicely handled.

The bad: The supporting cast are again redundant. The lesbian detective partnership of Miranda (Meera Syal) and Min (Fenella Woolgar) hasn't developed since Episode 2. Their sole purpose here is to have handily captured an Institute employee, for pure plot reasons. Likewise, Katherine (Michelle Ryan), Jackman's sexy assistant, has been nothing but eye candy since Episode 2.

Episode 6 just isn't the barnstorming finale I was hoping for. It just goes through the motions, usually ratcheting up tension before deflating it with some dialogue-heavy chats. Jekyll is a low-budget series, but it's here that Moffat's frothy writing style can't gloss over a workmanlike conclusion.

Moffat is forced to keep things small, squashing the climax into an underground corridor confrontation between Jackman-Hyde and several armed grunts. Given the show's emphasis on small, personal moments over huge spectacle, it works well enough... but it's a shame director Matt Lipsey never gets a chance to cut-loose and have some fun with the Hyde character's strength, ferocity and speed. It remains mostly unseen; a threat the budget couldn't lift the veil on.

As things reach their conclusion, the answers to Jekyll's long-standing questions are finally answered... but prove to be disappointing. It turns out (no sniggering) that Hyde is "love" and the reason for his appearance was Claire's arrival in his life (as she's a manufactured clone of the the original Jekyll's amorous maid.)

As Episode 5 claimed with a note to Dr Jekyll, his transformation was because of "the girl" -- not a "magic potion". That hypothesis bares out here, but it means we're never given an adequate reason for Jekyll/Jackman's condition! Plenty of people fall in love... and nobody else has ever turned into a super-strong, fanged, sociopath!

Once the show's big question is fudged, some goodwill is lost and never fully recovered. I did enjoy the nod towards the end that Jackman's twins, Eddie and Harry, are able to switch bodies between themselves. That was cute. It might even play into a potential sequel, particularly when one of the twins puts his finger to his lips and "shushes" his fathes. Was that Hyde lurking in there? Or am I clutching at straws now?

Overall, Episode 6 is entertaining fluff. There are flashes of quality, but it's unfortunate that the big reveals are so usatisfying. Moffat even attempts a final twist in the epilogue, by revealing that Jackman's mother, not his father, carries the Jekyll gene... and she was actually spooky American Ms Utterson all along! Cue the fangs, in true Hammer Horror style!

It's an amusing last minute shocker... but, again, it crumbles under scrutiny. Why has Ms Utterson and her Institute spent over a century trying to manipulate Hyde out of Jackman if she herself already has the same disorder? Maybe a sequel (entitled Hyde?) could straighten things out. Moffat certainly leaves some loose ends blowing in the wind, custom-made for a sequel... but I'm not sure the concept could sustain a return trip.

Perhaps fittingly, Jekyll has been a very mixed bag overall: constantly enjoyable, frequently silly, often exciting, a little bit dumb, sometimes confusing and not quite able to pull itself together into one, satisfying whole. But, for all its faults and the cumulative disappointment of Episode 6, I think the ride was worth it.

24 & Lost: spilling the beans...

The geeks are converging at Comic-Con 2007 right now, getting scoops from panels of directors, writers and producers, about upcoming genre projects. Other executives are also spilling the beans to various magazines about their show's upcoming '07-'08 seasons.

The highlights, so far:

24

-- Season 7 was going to involve Jack in South Africa, with a 12-hour gap in time to allow for Jack's return to the USA. This would have marked the first time 24 has broken its "real time" format, but the writers began to dislike this angle and, after the network showed concern at the budget implications, they dropped the idea.

-- Only the first script was written for the Africa-based idea, with Jack trying to find his place in the world by visiting a friend at a humanitarian project. He would then become embroiled in a coup, described as a "Black Hawk Down moment". Some of this aborted idea could be used for the customary "bridge episode" between season 6 and 7.

-- Jack Bauer will be a "freelancer" working in either New York City or Washington, D.C, although the latter is more likely. The show will continue to be filmed in Los Angeles.

-- Cherry Jones (Signs) will play the show's first female President, Allison Taylor; a character with a similar attitude to President David Palmer, who was elected by the people.

-- The seventh season will begin three years after the events of season 6, at 7:00 a.m, with Jack facing the U.S Senate over perceived crimes.

-- President Wayne Palmer and President Charles Logan are "probably not dead". Mary Lyn Rajskub will return as Chloe O'Brien. James Morrison (Bill Buchanan), Peter MacNicol (Tom Lennox) and Rena Sofer (Marilyn Bauer) will not be returning -- although, historically, it's not uncommon for absent cast to make surprise appearances later in the season...

-- There will be no Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU). The existing set may be redressed to become the Washington bureau of the FBI.

-- The writers are not sure if Josh Bauer is actually Jack's son, as suspected by fans. An idea did exist for Phillip Bauer to be revealed as Josh's father (not his grandfather), but it was rejected for being too twisted.


LOST

There was a panel with executive producers/writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. The following information was gleamed:

-- Harold Perinneau (Michael) will return for the show's fourth season, following his departure in the season 2 finale. It's not known if this means Walt (David Malcolm Kelly) will also return, following his cameo in the season 3 finale.

-- Season 4 will include a few more "flashforwards", like the one used in the season 3 finale. Indeed, one episode will focus entirely on Jack and Kate in the future!

-- We will learn how Ben fell into Rousseau's trap in season 2.

-- Nestor Carbonnel (Michael Alpert) may have limited screentime now, as the actor has been cast in the CBS series Cane.

-- Libby's entire history will be explained in season 4 and it will have a strong connection to DHARMA and the mysterious island.

-- Danielle Rousseau will finally get a flashback episode in either season 4 or 5.

-- The Comic-Con panel ended with a new DHARMA orientation film, called "Orchid Station". The same white-coated host appears, now calling himself "Edward Allawitz". See below:



Sunday, 29 July 2007

Indiana Jones And The [CENSORED]

Anyone who loves big-screen adventures should love Indiana Jones. I know I do. From the mastery of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, through the pulpy charms of The Temple Of Doom, to the rollicking adventure of The Last Crusade, I grew up watching Harrison Ford use his whip, fists and cunning to outwit villainous Nazis at every turn.

The fact Steven Spielberg is currently shooting Indiana Jones 4 (title to be confirmed, although Indiana Jones & The City Of The Gods seems to be a hot favourite), just fills me with joy. The recently released photo of Harrison Ford, in full Indy costume, looking older but not ridiculous was the moment I put all "zimmerframe-based" jokes out of my head. This movie could really work.

Now, courtesy of YouTube, comes the Indy 4 panel at Comic-Con 2007, with Spielberg, Ford, Ray Winstone, Shia LeBoeuf and... well, an Indiana Jones legend whose presence in the film now guarantees I'll be there opening day. And... she hasn't aged a day, has she? Remarkable!


Saturday, 28 July 2007

CAPE WRATH 1.4 – "Episode 4"

24 July 2007 – Channel 4, 10.00 pm
WRITER: Robert Murphy DIRECTOR: Duane Clark
CAST: David Morrissey (Danny Brogan), Lucy Cohu (Evelyn Brogan), Felicity Jones (Zoë Brogan), Harry Treadaway (Mark Brogan), Ralph Brown (Bernard Wintersgill), Nina Sosanya (Samantha Campbell), Melanie Hill (Brenda Ogilvie), Ella Smith (Jezebel Ogilvie), Tristan Gemmill (Dr David York) & Don Gilet (Freddie Marcuse)

Wintersgill plays a psychological game of cat-and-mouse with Danny over Jack Donnelly's disappearance, Mark's obsession with Brenda reaches a peak, and Evelyn makes a startling discover…

The oddness that permeates Cape Wrath is beginning to focus in on its characters, thanks to the "Who Killed Jack Donnelly?" plotline, which, like Twin Peaks stiff Laura Palmer before it, gives you something relatable to off-set the creepy actions of its ensemble.

Episode 4 is perhaps the series' most "normal" episode yet, essentially boiling down to a two-hander between murdering patriarch Danny (David Morrissey) and authoritarian nutcase Wintersgill (Ralph Brown). Wintersgill is convinced Danny murdered Jack and has buries him in his garden. He's right, of course, but as Jack was in the midst of raping a cross-dressing teen with autism, we're on Danny's side.

Robert Murphy's script rattles along, clearly enjoying not having to "out weird" itself with every scene, but instead getting to grips with two of the show's best characters. David Morrissey has been excellent through the series, but is undoubtedly at his peak here. Likewise, Ralph Brown is such a strong presence it makes you wonder why he isn't seen more on our screens.

Outside of their interrogation, which soon devolves into unpleasant torture, punctuated by the mysterious phrase "wind song" that sends Wintersgill into a rage, Episode 4 turns its attention to three sub-plots for the Brogan clan.

Matriarch Evelyn (Lucy Cohu) has a few short scenes with "unprofessional" doctor/admirer David York, in-between fretting over her husband's situation, while daughter Zoë (Felicity Jones) meets a dashing American at the town's golf course. Indeed, Cape Wrath often throws in a few American characters, perhaps as a concession to the fact Cape Wrath is shown first across the pond (but known as Meadowlands – which I prefer, incidentally!)

The plot that becomes most interesting away from the Danny/Wintersgill battle-of-will involves Mark Brogan (Harry Treadaway), whose "peeping tom" antics with neighbour Brenda Ogilvie (Melanie Hill) has gone uncommented upon since Episode 1… until now. Here, Mark makes a desperate bid to connect with someone sexually, leading to a skewed Graduate-style moment.

Overall, despite being well-acted and enjoyable enough, the overall "mystery" surrounding the town doesn't seem to have any clear direction. It's basically become a warped soap opera, which is fitfully enjoyable, but a little bit beneath a big drama series. While the characters are fun to watch and things develop nicely, I've yet to be sold on the idea that there's anything particularly mind-blowing happening regarding Meadowlands and Danny's "handler" Samantha (Nina Sosanya).

It's easy to be portentous and enigmatic, but far harder to successfully cultivate a feeling of intelligent mystery. I wouldn't be surprised if Meadowlands was revealed as a social experiment, which is nothing as meaty as its cousins Twin Peaks and The Prisoner had up their sleeves.

Sylar Is Spock!


It's been confirmed by J.J Abrams that Zachary Quinto, who plays villainous Sylar in TV series Heroes, will play a younger version of Spock in the upcoming Star Trek prequel movie, due for release Christmas 2008.

Abrams, co-creator of Alias and Lost, made the announcement at San Diego's Comic-Con 2007. He also confirmed that original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, will be making a cameo in the new film.

Nimoy told a 6,500-strong audience that: "
This is really going to be a great movie, and I don’t say things like that lightly."

Quinto is the first actor to be cast in the movie, which will focus on a young Captain James T. Kirk, Spock, Dr McCoy and the rest of the Original Series characters. Quinto was a popular candidate for the role amongst Trekkers, thanks to his physical resemblance to Nimoy and his genuine desire to be part of the new film.


William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk, is reportedly bitter that he hasn't been contacted to make a similar appearance.


All the other characters are yet to be cast, but J.J Abrams dismissed rumours that Matt Damon is a shoe-in for Captain Kirk, after stating that the 36-year-old Damon is unfortunately too old.

TRAILER PARK: The Dark Knight


The official teaser for The Dark Knight, the 2008 sequel to Batman Begins, has just been released by Warner Brothers!

Sadly, it's nothing too exciting; the Bat logo disintegrates as voice-overs by Christian Bale (Batman) and Michael Caine (Alfred) play over... before a Joker playing card flashes into view. But... it then has a short voice-over by Heath Ledger (The Joker), which gives fans a taster of Ledger's performance... and his maniacal laugh.

So check it out:

HD 1080P (Medium, 9.87MB)
HD 1080P (High, 21.2MB)
HD 1080P (Best, 72.4MB)

Friday, 27 July 2007

Box Office Charts: w/e 27 July 2007

Well, Harry Potter is still doing amazing business worldwide, although he's been denied the top spot in the US this week by an Adam Sandler comedy. Newly released musical comedy Hairspray has done very well in the US and UK. Shrek The Third continues to be amazingly popular in the UK, while Fantastic 4 and Ocean's Thirteen begin to limp.

US TOP 10

1. I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry $34.2m
2. Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix $32.5m
3. Hairspray $27.5m
4. Transformers $20.5m
5. Ratatouille $10.9m
6. Live Free Of Die Hard $7.1m
7. License To Wed $3.58m
8. 1408 $2.62m
9. Evan Almighty $2.55m
10. Knocked Up £2.29m

UK TOP 10

1. Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix £6.6m
2. Hairspray £2.04m
3. Shrek The Third £1.6m
4. Die Hard 4.0 £1.06m
5. Partner £236k
6. Firehouse Dog £90k
7. Fantastic Four - Rise Of The Silver Surfer £90k
8. Ocean's Thirteen £75k
9. Mome, La £61k
10. Moliere £50k


UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
When Homer mistakenly pollutes the town's river, he is fired from his job and causes the evacuation of Springfield. Animated adventure based on the cartoon.

TRANSFORMERS
Two warring alien robots, each able to mimic vehicles, arrive on Earth to search for a mythical power source. Sci-fi action from director Michael Bay, starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox.

STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP 1.1 - "Pilot"

26 July 2007 - More4, 9.00 pm
WRITER:
Aaron Sorkin DIRECTOR: Thomas Schlamme
CAST: Steven Weber (Jack Rudolph), Timothy Busfield (Cal), Sarah Paulson (Harriet Hayes), Nathan Corddry (Tom Jeter), Matthew Perry (Matt Albie), D.L. Hughley (Simon Stiles), Bradley Whitford (Danny Tripp), Amanda Peet (Jordan McDeere), Merritt Wever (Suzanne), Nate Torrence (Dylan), Simon Helberg (Alex Anderson), Edward Asner (Wilson White), Anna Goldman (Self), Rod Tate (Security Man #1), Kate Bayley (Shelly's Assistant), Josh Phillips (MC), Josh Weinstein (Michael), Vernee Watson-Johnson (Zelma), Clement Blake (Floor Manager), Anthony Friedman (Alan), Dilva Henry (Monitor Reporter #4), Shaun Cherise Robinson (Monitor Reporter #3), Glen Walker (Monitor Reporter #2), Dave Clark (Monitor Reporter #1), Jennifer Pennington (Control Room Assistant), Judd Hirsch (Wes Mendell), Three 6 Mafia (Special Musical Appearance), Wendy Phillips (Shelly), Mandy Siegfried (Julie), Michael Mantel (Howard), Jah Shams (Production Assistant # 2), Kirstin Pierce (Marilyn Rudolph), Jayma Mays (Daphne), Kris Murphy (Karen), Emiko Parise (Assistant Producer), John Carpenter (Herb Shelton), Donna Murphy (Blair), Felicity Huffman (Herself) & Michael Stuhlberg (Jerry Jones)

Sketch show "Studio 60" is close to cancellation, particularly after its Executive Producer has an on-air meltdown, so hotshot writers Danny Tripp and Matt Albie are quickly hired to save the show...

Aaron Sorkin is the man behind The West Wing, a celebrated writer with a gift for crackling dialogue. He also wrote A Few Good Men, so anyone who penned Jack Nicholson's "you can't handle the truth!" monolgue deserves special kudos.

Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip is Sorkin's latest TV project, following his departure from The West Wing during its fourth season in 2003. The West Wing was a political drama set in the White House and Studio 60 has broad similarities, with its "politics" now transferred to a TV studio. Again, Sorkin's ear for dialogue is the main reason to watch, with a handful of brilliant speeches and witty come-backs peppered throughout.

The Pilot concerns the eponymous show (a parody of Saturday Night Live) facing desperate times. In the opening ten minutes, Studio 60's creator, Wes Mendell (a superb Judd Hirsch), clashes with a censor over a controversial sketch and proceeds to have an on-air "mental breakdown", interrupting the live show and unleashing vitriol on TV entertainment to the millions watching at home.

Mendell's jaw-dropping folly leads to intense activity behind-the-scenes, involving new Network President Jordan McDeere (a sublime Amanda Peet) and hardnosed NBS Chairman-of-the-board Jack Rudolph (Steven Webber). Jordan, the dictionary definition of a capable businesswoman with a slick wit, later persuades Jack to hire two new showrunners to "save the show" and help manipulate the controversy...

Enter recovering drug-addict Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) and former Studio 60 staffwriter Matt Albie (Matthew Perry), two "golden boys" of television writing who were unceremoniously fired by Jack four years ago.

The meat of the episode sets up the desperate situation at the fictional Network Broadcasting System (NBS), whilst introducing some of the series' main players. They also include "the big three" performers of Studio 60; Matt's religious ex-girlfriend Harriet Hayes (a terrific Sarah Paulson), Tom Jeter (Nate Corddry) and Simon Stiles (D.L Hughley).

While Sorkin's script is the star, it would be nothing without the ensemble he's managed to pull together. There isn't a duff note with any of them, and the main players are introduced with great skill as fully-formed people. I particularly loved Amanda Peet's performance as Jordan McDeere, but Matthew Perry is also great as Matt Albie; another talented performer who has finally escaped overated sitcom Friends, along with Courtney Cox. Bradley Whitford is a new face for me as Danny, but he also shows similar shine and assuredness.

I'm no expert when it comes to running a big TV show, but the atmosphere and personalities seemed to have a ring of truth about them. I'm sure things are exaggerated for comic and dramatic effect, but it does look like a plausible look at a showbiz underbelly. It certainly has more substance than style thanks to Sorkin.

That said, there were a few niggles throughout the episode. I wasn't convinced by the plan to immediately hire two new showrunners in the wake of the on-air disaster. We're led to believe that Studio 60 is a show way past its prime (a fact that fuels Wendell's "meltdown"), so why didn't someone just hire Matt and Danny months ago to sort it out? Why will they have better success, anyway? It looked like Wendell was an intelligent man who knew comedy... but he was just usurped by Standards & Practices at every corner. Surely Matt and Danny will face the same obstacles?

I also didn't click with me that Harriet, Tom and Simon were big name stars of the show, as nothing from the actual show was shown. It might have been nice to glimpse "the big three" comedians in action, so we can identify them as being Studio 60's artistic heartbeat. They just resembled producers most of the time.

Overall though, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip offered a great opening episode, packed with wit, some great performances and an intriguing plot mechanism. It will certainly be interesting to see how the rest of the series develops with the "new blood" in charge, and I look forward to more digs at the often-humourless Saturday Night Live sketches.

Of course, in the US, Studio 60 is very likely to be cancelled following poor ratings -- which is a crying shame. However, Aaron Sorkin only planned two seasons, so we'll be fortunate just to see 50% of his vision.

PREVIEW: Star Stories

If you're a fan of silly comedy, then you should like Star Stories. It's a four-part comedy series that takes a skewed look at celebrity lives, by parodying them and cheekily re-enacting their personal highs and lows (familiar to tabloid readers.)

The series is performed by a gang of familiar faces, such as Kevin Bishop (nominated for "Best Male Comedy Newcomer" at the '06 British Comedy Awards), Rhys Thomas (The Fast Show), Daisy Beaumont, Matt King (Peep Show), Trevor Lock, Alice Lowe (Garth Merenghi's Darkplace), Steve Edge (Peep Show), Thaila Zucchi (Big Brother 8's "Pauline") and Tom Basden.

This is the second series, so shame on you if you missed the first! The first run contained very amusing mickey-takes of the Beckhams, George Michael, Catherine Zeta Jones, Guy Ritchie, Sadie Frost and Jennifer Aniston. It went on to win the 2006 British Comedy Award for "Best New Comedy". You can catch-up through the show's official website here.

The new series kicks off tonight with "Gary Barlow Productions Presents... Take That: Why Our Success Was Nothing To Do With Robert Williams", and next week there is "The Church Of Scientology Presents... Being Tom Cruise: How Scientology Is In No Way Mental."

If you have even a passing interest in the celebs being lampooned, you should enjoy this. It's not particularly clever, but it's good old-fashioned piss-taking, performed with relish and often containing some hilarious visuals or dialogue that you'll be giggling at over the weekend.

Channel 4
Fridays, 9.30 pm

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Watchmen: Who We'll Be Watching...

Finally, things are definitely moving forward on the long, long, long-awaited film adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen. Director Zack Snyder is still in charge, after his success with 300 earlier this year, and the movie looks set to be filmed in that half-real/half-CGI fashion.

Actors now confirmed in some of the main roles are as follows:

Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs (a.k.a. Rorschach); a psychopathic former "costume adventurer" whose quest to solve the murder of a fellow hero, The Comedian, kick-starts the entire movie.

Billy Crudup as Dr Manhatten; the film's only genuinely "super-powered being", with God-like powers and an unpredictable temperament.

Malin Akerman as Laurie Juspeczyk (a.k.a Silk Spectre); a woman who's romantically involved with Dr Manhatten, but their relationship begins to deteriorate.

Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl; a crime-fighter who uses technical gadgetry and an owl-shaped flying machine.

Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt (a.k.a Ozymandius); an adventurer who retired voluntarily and became immensely famous and rich.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian; a cigar-chomping vigilante whose murder gets the entire mystery rolling.

Anyway, I'm excited. The graphic novel is sprawling, epic, deeply-textured and very intelligent. The idea of it translated using 300/Sin City-style graphics is mouth-watering.

My only concern is that The Incredibles and TV's Heroes has plundered Watchmen so much that many critics and audience members will view it as old-hat, when the reverse is true! Frustrating. But here's hoping it'll change superhero movies the same way the book changed the face of comic-books in the 80s...

Deal Or No Deal? The crazy chair to get crazier...

Deal Or No Deal? will be back on Channel 4 from 14 August, and - according to the show's press release - it's going to have a new look!

They add: "The Banker’s not happy that he’s on the verge of having paid out an eye watering 9 million pounds in prize money since the show began and is determined to get revenge. He’s has spent his vacation dreaming up dozens of new twists and surprises that will make the third season of Deal Or No Deal? the most exciting and unpredictable yet."

Personally, I've given up on Deal, because I've seen every type of result you can get on that show: lots have walked away with 1p, most go away with £10-20k, some go with upwards of £50k and one woman scopped the £250,000 jackpot.

I know it's all about the personalities involved, but the laborious process of simply opening boxes in succession annoys me now. It's a simple premise, brilliantly orchestrated by host Noel Edmonds, but it's no longer essential teatime viewing. It hasn't been for over a year, either.

Another high-concept gameshow has avoided the same trap of over-familiarity. After nearly a decade, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? has shown us all the highs and lows its format allows, but you can still enjoy answering questions at home, admiring bravery, groaning at cowardice, or laughing when some brainless wonder doesn't know "the capital of Australia" for £500.

Deal Of No Deal? is nowhere near as flexible. After all, its game boils down to potluck and judgement. The news it's to be given a big revamp scares me a bit, especially after having witnessed the American version...

I suspect they'll be bringing in a few of the US version's gimmicks, such as The Banker offering prizes along with, or instead of, cash. Temptations like signed memorabilia and the chance to meet celebrities. The stuff money can't always buy you.

I just hope they don't bring in some of the crasser Americanizations, such as: The Banker being seen in silhouette, glamour models opening the boxes, family members whooping from a platform, and celebrity appearances in the studio, etc...

That really would be a case of "no deal".

Harry Potter: "written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons"

I don't often plug other blogs here, but I thought I'd draw your attention to Kay Reindl's corner of cyberspace.

Kay was a staff writer on Millennium during its amazing second season... and, um, its awful third. But she didn't write an episode for season 3, so she's unblemished in my book. :)

Anyway, back in 1998, she kindly sent me a few Millennium scripts (all the way to the UK, no less!) Her kindness was instrumental in getting me interesting in screenwriting, as those scripts helped me with format and structure questions.

So, as a favour to her, I hope you'll check out her blog. She doesn't post often, but when she does it's usually in the form of enjoyable rants against the evils of Eli Roth, Heroes* and, most recently, Harry Potter. Good stuff.


* While I disagree with her hatred of Heroes, the show undoubtedly has issues with consistency, internal logic and originality. We'll see if season 2 can iron out the kinks.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Rocky Balboa (2006)

WRITER & DIRECTOR: Sylvester Stallone
CAST: Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Burt Young (Paulie Panina), Milo Ventimiglia (Rocky Balboa, Jr), Geraldine Hughes (Marie), James Francis Kelly III (Stephenson), Tony Burton (Tony "Duke" Evers) & Antonio Tarver (Mason "The Line" Dixon)

Former boxing champion Rocky Balboa is tempted out of retirement to fight in an exhibition match against the current champ...

It's been 16 years since Sylvester Stallone's iconic creation, Rocky Balboa, last appeared on-screen (in the execrable Rocky V), but an incredible 30 years since the character first won the hearts of moviegoers back in 1975, winning three Oscars (including Best Picture).

The slew of sequels included the competent (79's Rocky II), the dumb (82's Rocky III), the silly (85's Rocky IV) and the hated (90's Rocky V). Sylvester Stallone's acting career has been defined by the character, in the same way Arnold Schwarzenegger never escaped The Terminator. But Rocky wasn't just a memorable acting gig for Stallone, lest we forget he actually wrote the film's Oscar-winning screenplay and continues to be closely associated with the sport of boxing. As a struggling actor in Hollywood, Stallone's story also paralleled his fictional heroes' ambition in many ways.

So here it is: round 6 of the saga, although a "VI" numeral was wisely dropped. It's the sequel that had people sniggering when it was announced, perceived as both a vanity project for Stallone and a last-ditch attempt to resurrect his failing movie career. There's probably some truth in what the cynics think, although Stallone's desire to bring the story full-circle, erasing the mistake of Rocky V for fans, probably figured more prominently in Stallone's mind.

Rocky Balboa finds the former boxing champion still living in his hometown of Philadelphia, running an Italian restaurant called Adrian's (named after his dead wife, who was so prominent in the previous films). He's a much-loved local celeb these days, regailing diners with fight stories, although his white-collar son, Rocky Jr (Milo Ventimiglia), isn't happy standing in the shadow of his illustrious father.

Things get started when a computer simulation of a fight between current champ Mason "The Line" Dixon (real-life boxer Antonio Tarver) and Rocky "The Italian Stallion" Balboa, ends with Rocky winning by knockout. The buzz surrounding this result gives Dixon's management the idea to stage an exhibition match against the real Rocky. It will be good P.R for the champ, particularly as there are no decent competitors for Dixon to fight from the modern boxing world.

As writer-director, Stallone clearly intends this sixth movie to be a true sequel to the '76 original. Indeed, you could probably skip Rocky II-V and still have a rewarding experience. There aren't many films able to gaze back on a three-decades history, so Stallone takes every opportunity to milk inherent nostalgia.

If you grew up watching the Rocky films, you'll reap more reward from the story than newcomers will, but that isn't to say Rocky Balboa is designed for an exclusive club. It works perfectly well as a standalone movie about a burned-out boxer who decides to reignite the fire in his belly... just one last time.

Stallone is a competent director, but not a great one. The film is rough around the edges and little is done to enliven proceedings. There are a few nice shots (Rocky framed, ghost-like, by headlights as he remmebers his own ghosts at a formerice rink, for example), but it's fairly pedestrian visually. Nothing is distractingly awful, but neither is it as cinematic as you'd hope.

The script is stronger, but even that can be boiled down to a handful of good scenes and some memorable dialogue, drip-fed for over an hour, before the obligatory training montage (set to Bill Conti's classic theme) heralds the start of the Rocky vs Dixon rumble. If you've seen the film's trailer, you've essentially seen the best moments of the film condensed into a few minutes -- minus the result of the bout, of course.

The performances are the thing that pastes over most deficiencies, with Stallone obviously the star-turn as Rocky; the lovable lug who isn't exactly intellectual, but can convey his feelings when pushed into a corner and isn't afraid to stand up for what's right. He's the focus of everything, but never overwhelms the other actors.

Milo Ventimiglia does solid work as his son, a weedy businessman who struggles to find his own direction in life because of his father's fame. Ventimiglia has a few great scenes with Stallone, particularly a confrontation on a street late at night. He's a bit of a drip, but his predicament is relatable for anyone with more successful parents, in whatever arena.

Burt Young is great as Paulie, his presence giving the film a firm grounding, particularly in his exasperation at Rocky's predicament and the fact he's one of the film series' constants. Also back for more is Tony Burton as hard-ass trainer Tony "Duke" Evers, getting to deliver a brilliantly rousing rousing speech in that wonderful voice of his ("let's start building some hurtin' bombs!")

Antonio Tarver is a boxer not an actor, but does okay as Mason Dixon, making him less a villain and more a spoiled child surrounded by bad management. At any rate, it's a good move away from the pantomime villains of Rocky III (Mr T's Clubber Lang) and Rocky IV (Dolph Lundgren's Ivan Drago).

Geraldine Hughes is essentially given the "Adrian role" as Rocky's love-interest Marie, although their relationship never develops that deeply. Hughes is okay in a role that doesn't require much of her, particularly in the latter third when she's relegated to a cheering/concerned face, along with Burt Young and Milo Ventimiglia.

It's a heart-felt film, with little flash, but plenty of spirit. Like its hero, it's a little shambolic, slow to get going, and rarely surprises you... but it's just about rescued by the finale. The central boxing match is handled well, particularly in its realism (real Vegas crowds, real punches being thrown by the actors, little choreography, realistic sound effects). It's more affecting than the cartoony fights of previous Rocky films, although Stallone unnecessarily tries to spice up proceedings by draining colour and over-editing things in the latter stages. It all gets a bit too tricksy for its own good, but just about keeps its eye on the ball. From the moment the crowd start chanting "Ro-cky! Ro-cky!" you'll be hooked.

I'm not going to ruin the ending by telling you the result, but it leaves you thankful Sly decided to dust-off Rocky Balboa one last time. This isn't a particularly slick movie, or even a great boxing movie, but it's an entertaining and likeable farewell to a cinematic icon.

MGM/20th Century Fox
Budget: $24 million
102 minutes

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Dirt 1.3 - "Ovophagy"

23 July 2007 - Five US, 9.00 pm
WRITER: Joel Fields DIRECTOR: Paris Barclay
CAST: Will McCormack (Leo Spiller), Jeffrey Nordling (Brent Barrow), Laura Allen (Julia Mallory), Josh Stewart (Holt McLaren), Ian Hart (Don Konkey), Courteney Cox (Lucy Spiller), Rick Fox (Prince Tyreese), Glen Badyna (Elliott), Alex Breckenridge (Willa McPherson), Shauna Stoddart (Terry), Carly Pope (Garbo), Grant Show (Jack Dawson), Tyson Chambers (Goofy Young Guy), Paris Barclay (Director), Traber Burns (Reginald), Anil Raman (Anil), Ankur Bhatt (Kenny), Richard Portnow (Teddy), Shannyn Sossamon (Kira Klay), Alexi Wasser (Naomi), Channon Roe (Jeff Stagliano), Kate Linae (Connie Chris), Hal Havins (Frankie), David Batiste (Adam), Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Michelle), Stormy Daniels (Stormy) & Timothy Bottoms (Gibson Horne)

Dirt Now is about to launch and Lucy needs a great cover story, so she dspatches Don to get photos of a Chrisitan pop star in hospital. Meanwhile, Holt is courted by a producer and Julia has a bad time on the set of her sitcom...

Ovophagy benefits from an increasing awareness of Dirt's storytelling style and its character's traits. It focuses on another morally questionable search for a juicy story, this time a whiter-than-white Christian pop star who has been admitted to hospital for reasons unknown.

Lucy (Courtney Cox, born for this role) is desperate for her new magazine (the merger of Drrt and Now into... um, Dirt Now) and rallies her staff into action by showing them National Geographic footage of foetal sharks eating their siblings (ovophagy). It's another crazy moment Dirt revels in: you can't really imagine someone like Lucy Spiller spending time recording nature doc's just to make a point in a meeting, can you?

But that's the nature of this show. It's as flashy and disposable as the tabloids, packed with silly moments and visual quirks. The most interesting character remains Don Konkey (Ian Hart), if only because his loyalty is taken to the nth degree. Lucy is essentially manipulating someone with schitzophrenia, which is a little distasteful... particularly as Don's living arrangements don't suggest he's paid that well. We're only three episodes into the series and it's already clear that Don is the unsung hero behind Lucy's empire. His attempts to gain access to a hospital are played for laughs, until a final act of self-harm shows the lengths Don will go to for Lucy.

The Holt and Julia subplot is better this week. It seems less cluttered and isn't as dependent on the main storyline. Julia (Laura Allen) is having a terrible time on the set of her sitcom, forgetting lines so often that she's told to rest and get over her recent car accident by the producer. The same producer who later shmoozes boyfriend Holt (Josh Stewart). It's nice to have a B-story that isn't tied to magazine publishing entirely, offering a different showbiz-based view on the Hollywood machine. Holt's story is also progressing nicely, as his career goes from strength to strength, as girlfriend's Julia's falters.

Courtney Cox remains impressive here, both beautiful and believably hardboiled as editor-in-chief Lucy. Her firing of a dissenting voice smacks of a show-off attitude I'm not sure exists in reality, but I liked how she gave a green reporter a chance to prove her worth by infiltrating a local drug-dealer. It shows she's happy to cultivate her workforce and give people breaks. The episode also gives us our first look at Lucy's family, as her gay brother Leo (Will McCormack) makes his first appearance.

Joels Fields' script is fun and fast-paced, neatly combining the elements of Dirt we've seen displayed so far, but making them slicker. Scenes seem to move faster and the situations are easier to get involved with. Even a small moment when a fresh-faced reporter is forced to take drugs instead of blow her cover, it more enthralling than last week's entire storyline.

I'm a little concerned about how Don's visions are being treated by the writers recently, however. The pilot episode gave us plausible visions that were half-humorous, half frightening. The recent visions are just silly and mostly involve the ghostly presence of dead celeb Kira Klay (Shannyn Sossamon). At times, Dirt is resembling a trippy version of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) whenever Don's around. It's a nice idea to show his warped mind's fixation with Kira, but I preferred the chilling oddness shown in episode one. Mind you, it is amusing that Don's version of Kira is pregnant already!

Overall, Ovophagy is easily the best episode of this fledgling series so far. It entertained me more consistently and, now the characters have solidifed in my mind, it's just easier to relax into Dirt's world. It's not essential viewing yet, but it's also yet to be boring.

Monday, 23 July 2007

JEKYLL - "Episode 5"

22 July 2007 - BBC 1, 9.00pm
WRITER: Steven Moffat DIRECTOR: Matt Lipsey
CAST: James Nesbitt (Dr Tom Jackman/Mr Hyde/Dr Henry Jekyll/Original Hyde), Gina Bellman (Claire Jackman), Denis Lawson (Peter Syme), Mark Gatiss (Robert Louis Stevenson), Meera Syal (Miranda Callender), Michelle Ryan (Katherine Reimer), Christopher Day (Harry Jackman), Andrew Byrne (Eddie Jackman), Fenella Woolgar (Min), Matt King (Freeman) & Linda Marlowe (Ms Utterson)

Claire waits to see which "side" of her husband survived the Institute's "cure", as flashbacks deepen the mystery in Victorian England...

The penultemate episode finds writer Steven Moffat firing on all cylinders, cutting loose now his premise is firmly established with moments of visual brilliance and intriguing flashbacks.
The Institute have seemingly cured Dr Jackman's "split-personality", but unfortunately Jackman has been completely dissolved by Hyde, who now reigns as the sole occupant of their body.

As wife Claire (Gina Bellman) refuses to accept her mild-mannered husband is lost forever, Hyde begins to experience lucid memories of Jackman's personal history... and that of Dr Henry Jekyll from 1886...

Just when you think Jekyll is finally going to settle down into predictability, the script effortlessly pulls the rug out from under you. The "memory download" Hyde experiences (brilliantly directed by Matt Lipsey), has Hyde walking through memories, pausing and rewinding them like a film on DVD. These are great sequences, particularly interesting for theorists because Hyde has access to memories belonging to Dr Jekyll -- who died in the 19th-century! How is this possible?

Episode 5 also has James Nesbitt giving his best performance yet, adding two more characters to his repertoire: the Victorian Jekyll and Hyde. Nesbitt is great to watch, despite the fact he often slips into a brash vaudevillian style for Hyde. Still, hamminess is forgivable in this context and Hyde remains gleeful fun and the infectious performance ratchets up the pace.

Unfortunately, characters like Miranda, Min and Katherine (Meera Syal, Fenella Woolgar and Michelle Ryan, respectively) are just playing second fiddle to Nesbitt and Gina Bellman these days. Their roles haven't progressed since Episode 3 and they're consequently superfluous now.

Thankfully, the story is engaging, delicious and crazy, in equal measure. Moffat sprinkles jokes and one-liners into the script at every opportunity, but never enough to upstage the story's quirky thriller mentality. Jekyll is having great fun with its premise, using humour to draw you in, but never totally forgetting its pulp horror roots. The show will never scare you, but it can unsettle occassionally.

A highlight here is a flashback to 1886, where we meet author Robert Louis Stevenson (played by the League Of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss, a noted fan of Victorian horror) and the original Dr Henry Jekyll (played by James Nesbitt, with big side-burns). Here, the two friends discuss the circumstances behind Jekyll's genuine transformation into the savage Mr Hyde, in beautifully staged period scenes of crackling fireplaces and foggy streets.

Their chat prompts the show's latest twist (concerning the reason behind Jekyll's transformation) and sends Episode 5 flying off in a fresh direction. I don't fully understand how this new piece of information can plausibly fit into things, but I'm sure Steven Moffat has a good explanation.

We'll find out next week, when Jekyll concludes.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Where Are They Now? The Cast Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


#1 AVERY BROOKS as Benjamin Sisko (now aged 58)

In DS9: Brooks played Deep Space Nine’s commander for the entire series’ run; appearing in every episode as the authoritative leader caught between his Starfleet duties and role as a spiritual icon to the Bajoran people.


After DS9, Brooks has narrated numerous documentaries (including the US TV dub of the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs). He has kept busy by directing theatre projects, one of which took him to London’s West End. Recently, Brooks has been confirmed as appearing in a new theatre production of Tamburlaine. He has also completed work on a CD of “ballads and love songs”, in-between occasional appearances at Star Trek conventions worldwide. Brooks maintains a close relationship with Cirroc Lofton, who played his screen son Jake Sisko in DS9.


#2 NANA VISITOR as Kira Nerys (now aged 49)


In DS9: Visitor played the headstrong Bajoran Kira Nerys for all seven seasons, a brave and courageous woman with a quick temper.


After DS9, Visitor divorced her co-star Alexander Siddig (Dr Bashir) in 2001, before remarrying in 2003. For awhile she played a recurring villain in Dark Angel and starred as Roxie Hart in the touring company’s production of the musical Chicago, earning favourable reviews. She can currently be seen playing Jean Ritter in the teen drama series Wildfire.


#3 ARMIN SHIMMERMAN as Quark (now aged 57)


In DS9: Shimmerman played Quark, a Ferengi bartender who spent most of the series trying to avoid being caught for dodgy dealings…


After DS9, Shimmerman has starred in many TV shows, such as Boston Legal (alongside fellow Trek actor William Shatner), as an art expert in Numb3rs, Invasion (alongside fellow Trek actor Brent Spiner), Charmed, Nip/Tuck, ER and The West Wing. He has also written a series of books providing a sci-fi basis for the life of English mathematician Dr John Dee. He also provides voices for animated shows, such as Justice League and X-Men Legends.


#4 MICHAEL DORN as Worf (now aged 54)


In DS9: Dorn joined the show in season 4, having previously appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Worf, the gruff Klingon with a deep sense of honour.


After DS9, Dorn played Worf again in Star Trek film Nemesis (2002). Dorn is now a busy guest star in numerous TV shows, including 7th Heaven and The Outer Limits. He also played Sandman in The Santa Clause 2 and 3. His distinctive, deep voice is also used regularly in animated shows, like Superman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Justice League, Danny Phantom and Duck Dodgers. In his spare time he flies aircraft, and owns several.


#5 ALEXANDER SIDDIG as Julian Bashir (now aged 41)


In DS9: Siddig played the station’s kindly doctor, a respected and well-limed individual who often had his conscience and morality tested.


After DS9, Siddig has become the most successful of the show’s cast, appearing in numerous films and TV series, most notably Spooks (2003), Ridley Scott’s Kingdom Of Heaven (2005) and Syriana (2005). He also took the title role in the BBC drama Hannibal: Rome’s Worst Nightmare (2006), before playing a former terrorist in the sixth season of 24 (2007). After divorcing his wife (DS9 co-star Nana Visitor) in 2001, he was romantically involved for a short time with Sex & The City siren Kim Cattrall in 2005. He is currently filming sci-fi horror Doomsday, from the director of The Descent, for a 2008 release.


#6 TERRY FARRELL as Dax (now aged 43)


In DS9: Farrell played Dax for the first six seasons, but quit the show and was replaced in season 7 by Nicole DeBoer. Jadzia Dax was a Trill; a being consisting of two conjoined entities.


After DS9, Farrell quickly won the role of Regina in sitcom Becker, although she was replaced after four years due to difficulties with fellow cast members on set. It wasn’t the first time she clashed with TV execs, following her exit from DS9’s final season and fuss over the use of her image in an episode after her departure. Her last on-screen role was four years ago, with her now spending her time at home with her husband and child.


#7 COLM MEANEY as Miles O’Brien (now aged 54)


In DS9: Meaney played the no-nonsense engineer, having transferred from the U.S.S Enterprise in the opening episode.


After DS9, Meaney has continued to appear on TV in Stargate Atlantis, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and The Unit. His film career has dried up post-DS9, although he did appear in the movie Layer Cake (2004) alongside Daniel Craig. Meaney remarried in 2007.


#8 CIRROC LOFTON as Jake Sisko (now aged 28)


In DS9: Lofton played Jake Sisko, son of the station commander, and gave a younger perspective on life aboard an busy space station.


After DS9, Lofton has starred in The Hoop Life since 1999. Other TV appearances include 7th Heaven, Invasion (alongside fellow Trek actor Brent Spiner) and CSI: Miami. Lofton also appears in Star Trek: Of Gods And Men, an unofficial Star Trek production, directed by Tim Russ (Star Trek Voyager’s Tuvok) and starring Trek actors such as Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Garrett Wang, Chase Masterson and Ethan Phillips. The much-delayed three-part story is due for release this year as a 40th Anniversary present to Star Trek fans, from the actors. Lofton maintains a close relationship with his screen father Avery Brooks from DS9. He will next be seen in the drama Ball Don’t Lie.


#9 RENE AUBERJONOIS as Odo (now aged 67)


In DS9: Auberjonois played “shape-shifter” Odo, the grouchy head of security for the station, with a murky history…


After DS9, Auberjonois has continued to appear in numerous TV shows, such as Stargate SG1, Nash Bridges, Frasier, The Practice and guest-starred in a 2001 episode of Star Trek Enterprise. He now has a recurring role in Boston Legal, alongside fellow Trek actor William Shatner. A talented vocal artist, Auberjonois has continued to work in animations such as House Of Mouse, The Legend Of Tarzan, Justice League, Xialin Showdown and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

So there you have it. They're all still in work (well, mostly). But hopes for a DS9 "reunion", in the form of a TV Special, or even a straight-to-DVD movie sequel, grows more unlikely...