Friday, 31 August 2007

Box Office Charts: w/e 31 August 2007

What a great summer for director Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen in the US, who have dominated the box-office with simple comedies Knocked Up and now Superbad, which keeps the #1 spot. Matt Damon is also having a good summer with Ocean's Thirteen and Bourne Ultimatum, which is #2 this week.

Inexplicably, American audiences are flocking to Rush Hour 3 despite very bad reviews, and it seems there are just as many deluded fans of Mr Bean in America, with Rowan Atkinson's silent creation taking #4! It's also a big disaster story for Nicole Kidman's sci-fi flick The Invasion thisn week -- as it drops to #10 after just a few weeks of release!

US TOP 10

1. Superbad $18m
2. The Bourne Ultimatum $12.5m
3. Rush Hour 3 $11.7m
4. Mr Bean's Holiday $9.89m
5. War $9.82m
6. The Nanny Diaries $7.48m
7. The Simpsons Movie $4.32m
8. Stardust $3.87m
9. Hairspray $3.27m
10. The Invasion $3.09m


Here in the UK, it seems we want action over comedy, as Knocked Up fails to bump Bourne from #1, and Rush Hour 3 rides high at #3. Bratz and Surf's Up languish around the bottom, as The Simpsons and Harry Potter bubble around at mid-table. Oh, and Heyy Babyy is a Bollywood remake of Three Men & A Baby, if you were wondering!

UK TOP 10

1. The Bourne Ultimatum £2.8m
2. Knocked Up £1.5m
3. Rush Hour 3 £783k
4. The Simpsons Movie £636k
5. Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix £459k
6. Transformers £458k
7. Bratz: The Movie £415k
8. Surf's Up £256k
9. Hairspray £254k
10. Heyy Babyy £228k


UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

2 DAYS IN PARIS
A couple try to rekindle their relationship with a visit to Paris. Romantic drama written, directed and starring Julie Delpy.

BREACH
A FBI Agent enters into a power game with his boss, who has been selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Drama starring Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe.

DEATH SENTENCE
A mild-mannered executive witnesses something that changes him forever, leading to him going to extraordinary lengths to protect his family. Thriller starring Kevin Bacon, from the director of Saw.

HALLAM FOE
A young man's talent for spying comes in handy when he investigates his mother's death. Drama starring Jamie Bell.

NO RESERVATIONS
A top chef changes when she becomes the guardian of her young niece. Romantic drama with Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart.

The Red Planet deadline is today!

Ohhh, God. It's here.

The deadline for the Red Planet Screenplay Competition is only hours away! I've been hammering away on my script in August, inbetween copious blogging and work -- because I do actually earn a living!

I've paid particular attention to the first 10 pages, because that's all you submit to the judging panel. I hope to get the remaining 45 pages written and polished in September, ready for October... if I'm fortunate enough to get through to the next round.

I think my opening 10 pages are entertaining and intriguing, but I know where the story is going, so I have a big advantage over cold readers! I'm pretty sure they're good enough to make people want to read the rest. Which is obviously the intention!

I have no idea what anyone else is submitting to Red Planet, as you can send anything into the competition. My script is a TV pilot for a supernatural teen drama series --but not in an overt Buffy The Vampire Slayer way. It's more restrained. Imagine Donnie Darko mixed with Freaks & Geeks and American Gothic.

Anyway... I'll let you know how it goes, but I'm fully prepared to hear nothing back and spend the winter grumbling to myself. The good thing about being a pessimist is you can only be pleasantly surprised...

SAXONDALE 2.2 - "Episode 2"

Writers: Neil Maclennan & Steve Coogan
Director: John Henderson

Cast: Steve Coogan (Tommy Saxondale), Ruth Jones (Magz), Rasmus Hardiker (Raymond), Morwenna Banks (Vicky), James Bachman (Alistair), Darren Boyd (Jonathan) & Kevin Eldon (Martin)

Tommy saves the life of a suicidal man called Martin, but finds his life taken over by Martin's depressing presence...

This episode benefits greatly from having a simple comic idea that isn't tied to the insular world of ex-roadies and pest control. Tommy (Steve Coogan) becomes a hero when he talks a suicidal man called Martin down from a warehouse roof he's decontaminating.

Martin (Kevin Eldon), a food artist who "paints grey food brown" for packaging, soon becomes an unwelcome regular at the Saxondale household, turning the atmosphere sour with his dour, depressing anecdotes and grumblings about life.

For once, Tommy's actions and attitude toward Martin is something universal, which makes a change from the injokery of the 70s music scene. Martin, brilliantly played by Eldon, who channels his Nighty Night role, is one of those sympathetic but painful hangers-on we've all experienced. Tommy's attempt to be charitable soon leads to him hiding in the kitchen pretending to be busy watching Titanic with Magz (Ruth Jones).

As usual, Coogan is excellent as Tommy, particularly when he explains how you can date porn magazine from the hairstyles of the women. His delicate balancing act when dealing with fragile Martin is particularly funny, with him dropping hints Martin should "use technology" instead of visit them every day. Of course, comedy involving an unwanted friend is nothing new, but it's certainly durable and resonant.

Elsewhere, this episode is notable for bringing characters together who rarely share the screen. In the final scene, Tommy takes Magz to a strip club (now a karaoke bar), where they bump into cheerfully condescending receptionist Vicky (Morwenna Banks). Sadly, fireworks between the two women in Tommy's life fail to fly. I really thought Magz would have been the protective shield Tommy lacks when it comes to Vicky's sharp tongue, but she's just as limp in dealing with the sniping.

While the central premise with Martin builds very nicely, its resolution is quick and forced, as Vicky's own brand of harsh love snaps Martin out of his mood. It was perhaps a consequence of the 30-minute runtime, but just when it seemed Saxondale was developing its first classic episode, it all just fizzled away in the last five minutes.

Still, there were plenty of amusing moments throughout: Magz drawing a garish portrait of naked Bronte sisters, Jonathan (Darren Boyd) as the "neighbourhood spokesman" who tries to appeal to Tommy's lifestyle, and a great camera rise that revealed grumpy Martin sat in the Saxondale living room (momentarily hidden by a well-placed television set.)

In summation, this was one of the more entertaining episodes of Saxondale, thanks to its reliance on a more relatable comic idea and understated work from deadpan Eldon. Steve Coogan remains a consumate performer, particularly with his propensity to mime punchlines and chunter to himself. It's a shame opportunities are wasted (such as the potential of Tommy singing karaoke), but this is mostly a successful half hour of comedy.

So What DID He Ask Kate Winslett?

A few days ago I explained how Kate Winslett, the English actress who starred in Heavenly Creatures and that one about a sinking ship, occasionally shops at the supermarket my brother works at...

A variety of potential questions to ask her have been mulled over by us this week (ranging from geeky to cheeky), but Kate appeared in the shop yesterday... so a question just had to be asked, on the fly:

My brother: "So... do you have any new films coming out next year?" *

Kate: (smiles) "No, nobody wants me..."

Parky's got nothing on my brother. Oh well. Kate's always seemed like a nice, approachable, talented and down-to-earth person, so if you're a film director and need a lead, she's available in 2008.

I really hope she gets an acting job soon, because she's shopping in a Co-Op! It's just not right, is it? A national treasure, reduced to that. She's too down-to-earth for her own good. She needs to get to ASDA, atleast -- surely.


* It's not that people don't try and think of good questions to ask their local celebs, it's just that all great questions seem twattish outside of an interview context...

Thursday, 30 August 2007

LOST: Season 4 Cast

The producers of Lost like to inject fresh blood into the show every year, and season 4 will be no different! Here's a current list of the new castaways joining the show in 2008, together with some strong rumours about their involvement:

Jeff Fahey as Russell (unconfirmed), a brilliant scientist who's "capable of great insights and has a tremendous knowledge across various scientific fields." Unfortunately, he's very direct and lacks people skills. Russell is also very interested in magic and mystery, despite working in a scientific realm.

Ken Leung as Unknown. Leung, who starred in X-Men III (he's the guy with the spikes growing out of his face), is definitely in season 4, but rumour has it that only producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse know exactly who he'll be playing...

Lance Reddick as Arthur Stevens, a ruthless corporate recruiter. Reddick will be a familiar face to fans of Oz and Law & Order.

Rebecca Mader as Charlotte, a naturally attractive and athletic woman in her late-20s. She's a successful academic with a precocious and funny nature, but hides it behind a tough exterior. Charlotte is a recurring character who may become a series regular in season 5. British actress Mader is best known for roles in The Devil Wears Prada and Hitch.

Jeremy Davies as Unknown. He will appear in 8 of season 4's 16 episodes. You may remember Davies from the films Solaris and Saving Private Ryan (he was the German linguist.)

Andrea Roth as Unknown. The former Rescue Me star will have a recurring role, rumoured to be a therapist.

Fisher Stevens as Minkowski. The actor, most famous for playing Benjamin in the Short Circuit movies, has been revealed as Minkowski -- the voice Jack speaks to on the satellite phone in season 3's finale

Zoe Bell as Unknown. The stuntwoman, most famous for portraying Lucy Lawless and Uma Thurman in action scenes, as well as starring in Death Proof, now has a recurring role in season 4.

It's not known if all of these new characters will be on the supposed "rescue boat" heading to the island, or if they are as-yet-unseen members of the Others. A few could even be recurring characters in flashbacks! Who knows....

But I'll have more details as and when...

DOCTOR WHO: Bowie The Baddie?


The Sun reports that David Bowie is set to appear in Doctor Who's fourth season, as a weird alien who kidnaps crime author Agatha Christie in a two-part episode. Christie genuinely went missing for 11 days back in 1926, without explanation.

Who's producers are said to have been impressed by Bowie's portrayal of inventor Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, and the 60-year-old music legend has a cult appeal thanks to roles in The Man Who Fell To Earth and Labyrinth.

I'm not sure if this latest rumour will be proven correct, as Bowie's people deny everything, but a Who insider insists he's agreed to star -- but only if there's no disfiguring make-up involved.

For me, it's more revealing that season 4's Agatha Christie storyline is to be a two-part episode, because we know writer Steven Moffat is penning a two-part story next year. Is he the brains behind the Christie idea?

Moffat recently re-imagined author Robert Louis Stevenson's personal life to reflect a weird reality behind his novel The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde... resulting in his thriller Jekyll.

Is Moffat doing the same for Christie now?

PREVIEW: BIONIC WOMAN 1.1 - "Pilot"

Writers: Laeta Kalogridis & David Eick
Director: Michael Dinner

Cast: Michelle Ryan (Jaime Sommers), Chris Bowers (Dr Will Anthros), Katee Sackhoff (Sarah Corvus), Miguel Ferrer (Jonas Bledsoe), Molly Price (Ruth Treadwell), Will Yun Lee (Jae Kim), Mae Whitman (Becca Sommers), Emma Lahana (Sally Crane) & Aaron Douglas (Supermax Prison Guard)

A barmaid is involved in a car crash, and her scientist boyfriend saves her life by equipping her with bionic limbs...

Writer-producer David Eick knows a thing or two about cyborgs, having spent the past few years working on Battlestar Galactica. Now, he's heading his own show, based on the kitsch 70s sci-fi series that starred Lindsay Wagner as a tennis player given a bionic upgrade, but with a contemporary punch...

British actress Michelle Ryan (EastEnders/Jekyll) takes the lead as Jaime Sommers, updated from a tennis player to a barmaid; how's that for 30 years of women's lib? Jaime is dating dishy young scientist Will Anthros (Chris Bowers), whilst taking care of her younger, deaf sister Becca (Mae Whitman). Life is all roses, until Jaime makes the cliched mistake of announcing her pregnancy, resulting in a terrible car crash...

Fortunately for Jaime, her boyfriend is involved with a top-secret research project into bionic replacements, so after life-saving surgery involving the injection of "anthrocytes", Jaime wakes up as the eponymous Bionic Woman, with synthetic legs, arm, ear and eye.

So far, so predictable; and that's the main worry with this Pilot. Everything you expect to see updated is handled deftly, but whenever the script diverts to something original (such as a shadowy past for the company regarding their "first bionic woman"), it begins to drag or become unfocused.

Interestingly, the script gives Jaime a younger sister called Becca, who has been dealt a double blow in life: she's not as beautiful as big sis and she's deaf. As if to rub it in, her disability is even more pronounced in comparison once Jaime becomes bionic! But it seems the creators got cold feet over their disabled/superabled siblings, because Becca's deafness has been dropped from the show. The transmitted Pilot will have Mae Whitman replaced by Lucy Hale, and her character rewritten as a "budding computer hacker".

While it's certainly true the deaf sister aspect is the least interesting thing about the Pilot, atleast it's fresh compared to the computer hacker cliche! I actually find it quite distasteful that a show involving dream technology for disabled people, chooses to drop their one disabled character! It would have been nice to explore the jealousy between Jaime and Becca, particularly because Becca would have been more grateful for having super-hearing.

The script by Laeta Kalogridis and David Eick is well-paced, but predictable and prone to jumping from cliche to cliche. Jaime's car crash rescue by helicopter is straight from RoboCop, her rooftop leaps are pure Spider-Man, and a climactic punch-up in the rain evoked memories of Matrix Revolutions. They even wheel out a knife-wielding goon in a dark alley for Jaime to beat up.

The cast also seem chosen to be apeal to genre fans, with RoboCop's Miguel Ferrer behind another cybernetic project as Jonas Bledsoe, and three actors from Battlestar Galactica have small roles...

Indeed, BSG's Katee Sackhoff is perhaps the most interesting element of the Pilot as Sarah Corvus, an evil bionic woman. Sackhoff clearly delights in stalking around the screen with slicked-back blonde hair. Her rooftop rumble with Jaime is the undoubted highlight of the Pilot -- if only for her fun introduction: "without being too melodramatic about the whole thing, I'm Sarah Corvus. The first bionic woman. Ta-da."

As the lead actress, Michelle Ryan has a big task ahead of her, but she acquits herself well here. Her American accent is very good and she exudes girl-next-door sexiness that should prove a big draw for male fans and young girls. She can also act tough whilst looking pretty and vulnerable, which is all that's really required for this premiere.

There is a noticeable vein of decade-late Girl Power in the writing, which is kept in check most of the time, but noticeably distracts when a little girl sees Jaime super-running, but finds her mother doesn't believe her. "I just thought it was cool a girl could do that, that's all," the tot replies somberly, causing eye-rolls around the world.

As you'd expect, the special effects are good throughout, with only the aforementioned running sequence causing any real embarassment. The effect for Jaime's bionic eye is particularly cool; a night-vision sniper rifle with telescopic zoom and Terminator-style screen readouts. The car crash and rooftop fist-fight are the main injections of adrenaline.

Overall, Bionic Woman is certainly not a disaster, but there are plenty of concerns with the original elements Eick has included. But when the episode focuses on a woman exploring and reacting to "super powers", it's a lot of fun. The script just gets bogged down in its serious moments and contains lapses in logic: Jaime has a higher I.Q than Ferrer's boss, but works as a barmaid? Jaime can draw Sarah Corvus post-trauma, but fails to recognize Sarah in her bar? Was it because she wore lipstick?

So yes, there are problems, but Michelle Ryan is good, Katee Sackhoff is great, and the visuals are lively. The 70s original was hardly a work of perfection either, and I have faith David Eick can smooth out the wrinkles and deliver a fun, spirited adventure for audiences.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The Peter Serafinowicz Show



Serafinowicz.

You may not be able to spell it, or say it, but this guy's going to be the big UK comedy smash of 2007 -- well, if his sketch show is even half as great as the impossibly brilliant trailer suggests (above).

Peter Serafinowicz is probably most familiar to fans of Spaced (he was Tim's arch nemesis), Shaun Of The Dead (he was Shaun's dour housemate), or anyone who loved cult hit Look Around You (his brilliant parody of 70s/80s kid's science shows that ran for two series.)

He's also a regular guest star in shows like Smack The Pony and even appears on a few panel shows, such as Have I Got News For You? So you know the face. Oh, he does impressions too!*

So I'm really, really excited about his new show. People lucky enough to be in the live audience have reported back saying it's hilarious stuff, and the trailer certainly suggests that. Bring it on!


* I hear he does a great Darth Maul ;-)

UPDATE: My review of the first episode is now here.

So What Would YOU Ask Kate Winslett?


My brother works in a supermarket frequented by Titanic star Kate Winslett. He used to work in one frequented by Red Dwarf star Robert Llewelyn, so he must gravitate toward the rich and famous, eh?

Anyway, whenever a celebrity enters your circle of reality, it's always on your mind to impress them with an incisive, unique question. But, thanks to the circumstances of being in a working environment, it means the question has to be informal, chatty and quick...

So what should he ask?

Most things I can think of seem too geeky, particularly if you're midway through scanning their shopping. You could go for comedy: "I never did see Titanic; what happens at the end?" That might work, but if it doesn't the "tumbleweed moment" would be unbearable.

Something like "didn't you work with Peter Jackson on Heavenly Creatures years before his Lord Of The Rings succcess? Did you think he'd become world famous back then?" just seems too long and anoraky.

It has to be something that seems spontaneous. If it's too obvious you've been thinking and rehearsing the question, speaking like an automaton, that could be very embarassing. You can't get too nerdy on the poor woman, who's only popped in for some bread and milk!

My brother isn't gay, so questions enquiring about Leonard DiCaprio are out. What about Jim Carrey, who she co-starred with in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind? "What was Jim Carrey like between takes? Was he funny, or deadly serious about the work?" Hmmm, on reflection, better not say "the work". Sounds pretentious...

You could get a bit cheeky and say "any roles for a young supermarket manager coming up? I'm available!" Hmmm, if you had the guts, it might go okay. Or she could get creeped out if you seem quite serious.

Kate's married to director Sam Mendes (American Beauty/Road To Perdition), so maybe you could ask something about him. It would acknowledge you know she's unavailable and not "trying it on" with her, too. But maybe that's a wasted opportunity...

What about making sure the shop is stocked with Kate Winslett DVDs and ask for an autograph on on? It might look weird pulling out a copy of Titanic from under the counter, with a marker pen. Too planned. Even worse if you had two DVDs (one to put on Ebay).

"What was it like working with James Cameron, I've heard he's quite tough on people?" is the best one I can think of. It's asking about Cameron, but it's likely to spark some Titanic reminisces. Maybe even an interesting on-set anecdote?

I suppose you could always forget thinking up something original, and just go for the popular "what are you working on at the moment?", or "wow, are you Kate Winslett?"

Or... if nerves really get to my brother, perhaps the more relevant:

"Do you have a dividend card?"

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

TOP 20 TV OPENING TITLES (PART 2 of 2)

Here it is, the Top 10 Best TV Opening Titles (according to me, anyway) . Be sure to check out #20-#11 if you haven't done so already. Onward:



10. The Simpsons (1999-present)
Duration: 1:26.
A drum beat leads to a vocal narration of the aerial title ("The Simpsooooons…") and the opening sequence is off and running. It's basically a short story, showing the Simpsons family all rushing to get home from across Springfield. Bart, being punished with lines at school, skateboards home. Lisa, in the middle of a music lesson, riffs on her sax as she leaves for home. Homer, busy at the nuclear power plant, clocks off and gets a rod of plutonium stuck to his shirt. Maggie is accidentally price-scanned at a supermarket, before being taken home by Marge. Eventually, the Simpsons convene at home, ready for another "Sofa Gag" (which changes each week).

A classic opening sequence, so good it's never been changed in 20 years (well, beyond an animation tune up). It’s fast-paced, funny and gives you a sense of the character's personalities (Marge, homely; Bart, rebellious; Homer, stupid; Lisa, responsible and Maggie, cute). Danny Elfman's wonderful theme tune is also one of TV's finest and most recognisable.



09. Quantum Leap (1989-1993)
Duration: 1:12.
Another title sequence that begins in the heavens, perhaps meant as a nod to Sam's "Christ-like" mission to right wrongs throughout time? Well, once you see Sam standing in a crucifixion pose, there's no other excuse. The titles flash past right to left (confusingly) and the rest of the opening is basically clips from episodes with cast credits overlaid, with occasional cuts to historical photos and various dates in 20th-century history.

While the thrifty use of clips disappointing, the scenes are nicely edited to the memorable and uplifting theme tune. Earlier seasons also contained a handy narration that explained the premise, which helped get the juices flowing.



08. Nip/Tuck (2003-present)
Duration: 0:42.
It's a TV show about cosmetic surgery, so the opening titles convey that world's clinical and narcissistic tone in an artistic way. Porcelain white mannequins are marked for surgery with a red pen as the cast credits appear; occasionally making you jumps as these lifeless dummies flash open human eyes! Heading into the final seconds, a background of palm trees subliminally places the show in California and a mannequin is finally transformed into a woman with real, fleshy skin tones.

A clever and artistic piece of work, both interesting and short, ensuring it never gets boring and doesn't overplay its idea. The potentially irritating theme tune also works with the imagery.



07. Millennium (1996-1999)
Duration: 0:48.
A double-drum beat heralds the title, then Mark Snow's maudlin violins guide us the rest of the way, mixed with ominous shots of: a female silhouette, a nuclear blast demolishing a house, naked bodies, open windows, flaming skulls, hands/claws, rainy streets, dark houses and a beautiful sunrise over the Earth. The main actors are named in a formulaic way, before the show's grounding image fades into view at the end: the Yellow House.

This is a stylish, emotive, moody piece of work that saddens, but somehow also affirms, particularly at its end. The use of cryptic messages (THIS IS WHO WE ARE and THE TIME IS NEAR) also works well to tease mystery-lovers; a trick taken from The X-Files.




06. Thundercats (1985-1990)
Duration: 1:13.
The theme tune is the real deal; an exciting little ditty that works well with the opening titles' visual fireworks and slick action moves. The animation is decent and all the characters are introduced in exciting, visual ways. As opening sequences go, it's mainly concerned with showing its target audience (the under-10s) heroes, villains, and vehicles – together with quick examples of the high-octane action they can expect. Its main flaw is that it shows nothing of the premise or back-story to anything… unlike, say, He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe.



05. The X-Files (1993-2002)
Duration: 0:44.
Mark Snow's spooky, bizarre score starts up immediately with the show's title, then accompanies a collection of weird images (UFO photos, weird charts, twisting faces, growing seeds, ghostly footage, etc). The title sequence includes the show's FBI connection with some clever ID cards alongside actor credits, leading to the now iconic slogan THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.

A clever title sequence that was probably most responsible for filmmakers taking the intro's more seriously throughout the 90s. Snow's theme is rightly celebrated for its uniqueness and the titles do a wonderful job of establishing the paranormal/FBI connection and establishes mood immediately.



04. Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
Duration: 1:40.
A very interesting title sequence, beginning with simple notes and simple images (a bird, a tree) before growing more complex and introducing the link to death most obviously with the corpse toe-tags. A quick camera angle looking up the heavens (us mortals, insignificant to God?), then we're into the guts of the music… moving with a dead body on a trolley into a corridor's own "tunnel of light". Some fluid in jars as the body is prepared for funeral, just as the music downshifts with the death of some flowers… only to resuscitate itself as the hearse arrives at the graveyard. A credit humorously sits engraved in a tombstone, then a crow (symbol of death) takes flight… mixing back to the solitary tree (but this time becoming the show's title, as a graphic draws a coffin-like logo "six feet under" the ground).

This is a very clever, witty and symbolic opening sequence. It's beautiful, melodic and captivating. It was also the first post-millennium show that made producers really up their game when it came to title design. To see how it was made, go here.



03. Carnivale (2003-2005)
Duration: 1:20.
Another superbly orchestrated title sequence, beautifully blending the worlds of magic and reality. It opens with a twinkling-whoosh onto some windswept Tarot cards, immediately beginning to list its cast (but you'll be too awed by the visuals to notice). We zoom into one card and its 2D surface becomes 3D, taking us into a cloudy landscape of angels, then down into the 1930s countryside, which becomes real archive footage from the time.

Suddenly we're in the world of sepia-tinted newsreel, showing the wonders of the 30s (skyscrapers, blimps, bridges), then the dusty terrains, before pulling back, coming out of another card, then heading back into the "Death" card, to visit the poorer residents of the U.S, not to mention the dictators of the age, and a Ku Klux Klan meeting. The faces of children morph into a Tarot's angel and we enter a third card, this one showing achievements in sport and recreation (100 metres, baseball, dancing). Coming out, we head right back into another card, utilizing some brilliant 3D "pop-up" crowds, arriving at the seat of government… before pulling out one final time. The cards are all blown away, revealing the show's title under a layer of dust.

A fantastic achievement: interesting, entertaining, emotional, but also doing its job of setting up the show's real/fantasy clash. Excellent music by Jeff Beal is the cherry on top.



02. Dexter (2006-present)
Duration: 1:40.
Opening on a mosquito, in sharp close-up, is a fitting symbol for the show's own bloodsucker, Michael C. Hall's Dexter (a serial-killer forensics expert). The music is chirpy fun and the punchline comes when a hand slaps the mosquito dead.

We hard cut to the blood-spattered show title, unnerving you because everything seems quite innocent. From thereon, we follow the lead character's morning routine, but where innocent/harmless events are given a gruesome beauty in extreme close-ups: the violence of a wet shave, the beauty of blood on tissue, flesh-like meat being cut for breakfast, the sickly slop of eggs and ketchup, the destruction of coffee beans in a blender, the "arterial spray" of a sliced blood orange, a cringe as tightened floss turns white fingers red, the "bondage" of tying shoelaces, the near-suffocation of shrugging on a T-shirt… and then Dexter is revealed to us: a handsome guy, who leaves his apartment, heading into sunny Miami, with a musical wink.

This is easily the cheekiest opening title sequence, coming from a deliciously perverse idea that perfectly encapsulates its shows mix of black comedy and dark thrills. It's a real gem of an idea, given added weight from the slightly hypnotic music tinkling. Superb!



01. The A-Team (1983-1987)
Duration: 1:37.
An almost legendary opening sequence for any child of the 80s, this has been lovingly parodied since the moment it was first shown. You know it by heart: military drumbeats as a chopper descends into a Vietnam jungle...

A gravel-voiced narrator speaks: "In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court, for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem –- if no one else can help – and if you can find them – maybe you can hire… The A-Team."

L.A fades to blood red and a bullet spray paints the show's title, just as the music is cranked up… and we cut to George Peppard (Hannibal) as he pulls an explosive, sending a jeep into a trademark spin-crash. From then, it's entertainment and fun: helicopters, Hannibal dressed as a B-movie monster/old hag/doctor, then about to leap from a helicopter… freeze frame… Dirk Benedict (Face) putting on a hat, a joke for Battlestar Galactica fans, some grins… freeze frame… Dwight Schultz (Murdock) as a chef/pilot/superhero/bride, then fixing his jaw… freeze frame… Mr T (B.A) kicking down a door, smiling and leaning over his car seat… freeze frame… a car smashes through a window, a chopper runs a car off the road into a big puddle, before another jeep sails through the air and crashes -- just as that great theme tune cuts out with the impact!

Phew! For pure, childlike, innocent excitement, you can't really beat The A-Team, can you? Sure, it's basically a series of clips, but they're tailored so well to the awesome theme tune they're taken to a different level. But it's the opening narration and way it delivers the premise so succinctly, before crashing into pure ACTION and MUSIC, that really gets the goosebumps rising.

It does exactly what you need from an opening sequence to an all-action series for sofa bums. In fact, it's so good that most episodes struggled to come up with anything half as exciting and cool. As such, it beggars belief that they changed it and jazzed up the music as the show limped towards cancellation in 1987...


So there you go. Some are guilty pleasures, others are to-be-expected classics, while a few are overlooked moments of brilliance. I think they're all brilliantly entertaining (sometimes than the shows they preceded!) I hope you agree with most of the choices.

Oh, I also think it's worth mentioning how modern TV shows are frequently ignoring opening titles to squeeze more plot into their episodes. Lost, Heroes, Dirt, 24... they're all guilty of this; offering just brief seconds-long titles before starting.

I can understand why they do it... but it's a little sad, don't you think?

Can Tim Minear perform a miracle? Have faith!

You have to feel sorry for writer Tim Minear. After his successful work on Lois & Clark, The X-Files and Angel, he's been part of some big failures recently, having worked on shows that were snubbed (Wonderfalls), or cancelled early (Firefly, The Inside, Drive).

I hope his luck improves, because he deserves it after such shoddy treatment by studio execs. It's just been announced that he has a new project in the works with Wonderfalls co-creator Tom Holland (Malcolm In The Middle), called Miracle Man. It's a supernatural drama, produced by Fox for ABC, about a disgraced ex-televangelist, with no faith, who starts performing real miracles.

According to Minnear: "It's about losing everything and starting over and finding that there is a higher purpose in life. It's about a man who says, 'I don't know how to be good, but I'll try to be better.'"

The show's televangelist angle is familiar ground for Minear, whose father worked as a radio engineer for religious programming in Whittier, California. So the area's religious broadcasts were a constant background to Minear's childhood.

Miracle Man is also influenced by sex and accounting scandals that rocked televangelism in the 80s, disgracing beloved preachers like Jimmy Swaggart, Marvin Gorman and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Others were exposed as charlatans.

But Minear insists Miracle Man is "a love letter to the religious. I love the genre, and I love stories about redemption and stories about characters that are slightly cynical and nudged by a higher force."

DIRT 1.8 - "The Thing Under The Bed"

Writer: Sally Robinson
Director: Dean White

Cast: Laura Allen (Julia Mallory), Courteney Cox (Lucy Spiller), Ian Hart (Don Konkey), Alex Breckenridge (Willa McPherson), Jeffrey Nordling (Brent Barrow), Josh Stewart (Holt McLaren), Ankur Bhatt (Kenny), Mashari Laila Bain (Bartender), Alex Weed (Addict), Lyn Mahler (Dr. Sandler), David Blue (Toby), Mariette Hartley (Dorothy Spiller), Paul Reubens (Chuck Lafoon), Kristin Minter (Dana Pritchard), Randall Batinkoff (Jimmy Rembar) & Lonnie Hughes (Gabe)

Lucy has trouble sleeping, Willa teams up with Don to uncover a celebrity wedding, and Julia deals with rehab...

You've got to love Don Konkey's opening narrations; they bring us up to speed on Dirt's storylines as if it's the year's juciest gossip. Ian Hart is doing great work on the show, although Don himself is pushed into the background again for this episode. But he does get to show-off this year's must-have gadget for every paparazzo: a pram containing a fake baby and camera lens. He's the Q of photography.

The Thing Under The Bed is very much another transitional episode, with the altar girl murder storyline being put to rest, after creepy paedophile Reverend Sweet tells Lucy (Courteney Cox) that her dead father "worries that you're not sleeping." Suitably chilled to the bone, insomniac Lucy begins a more determined investigation into her past and uncovers a mysterious photo under a bed. To me, it seems hotshot journo Lucy might be about to suffer the ultimate irony: that the biggest story of her life is personal.

Her digging for family dirt gives us a few nice scenes with mother Dorothy (Mariette Hartley), who's about to have a nip-tuck operation, but in a more private area than you'd imagine! Hartley's good in her role as the sneery mom, although no script has yet exploited her as the vile monster she perhaps should be.

In fact, the whole show is softening somewhat. Lucy has been given necessary depth, but mostly through chipping away at her Ice Queen persona. I can understand why, but a lot of what made Dirt so appealing in the first few episodes was the prospect of getting a new TV superbitch. Lucy is becoming a touch too sympathetic now, so I hope she finds her inner bitch again.

Writer Sally Robinson does a great job with this episode, which doesn't have many big moments, just plenty of good developments.There are some lovely one-liners and phrases sprinkled throughout her script. I particularly liked Lucy's Apocalypse Now moment ("I love the smell of P.R bullshit in the morning"), her rebuttal to claims of insomnia ("I'll sleep when they put a stake through my heart"), or Willa's breathy comment to lover Brent that "we can talk dirty, but we can't talk Dirt."

Yes, Willa (Alex Breckenridge) continues her office romance with publisher Brent (Jeffrey Nordling) in this episode, oblivious to the fact he's one of the seedy creeps she's paid to unmask. Willa has an interesting take-charge attitude recently, perhaps buoyed by recently work success, so it's going to be awful when she finds out the truth about Brent's little video collection. Willa's own subplot about trying to uncover a celebrity wedding is sadly the least interesting part of this episode, and doesn't go anywhere interesting or different.

Holt (Josh Stewart) is still as sappy and forlorn as usual, moping around sets and glaring at snap-happy fans. Stewart only really seems to excel if he's acting alongside Laura Allen as girlfriend Julia, who's currently in rehab. A scene with Holt supporting her at a circle meeting is quite touching and, after he finally unburdens himself of his guilt over her car crash (he caused it), it's quite a cathartic moment. I find myself really wanting these characters to rise above the trashy L.A lifestyle and find peace together... but I'm not sure Dirt deals in happy endings!

The main thing I'm enjoying about the show is how it doesn't take itself too seriously. It knows it's disposable junk TV, but revels in it. It's good drama written with tongue-in-cheek humour, that throws up silly tabloid-inspired plots every week and the actors all service the material perfectly.

The writers also have a great handle on the characters now, with delights coming from simple throwaway moments, like: schitzophrenic Don taking great pleasure in sticking a shredded bank statement together, even when it's not necessary to; or the way Holt and Julia's tearjerking moment in rehab immediately cuts to Lucy putting eye-drops in, with one false tear running down her cheek.

The directing was also strong from Dean White, who gave us a few quirks that weren't strictly necessary (like time-lapse photography), but he also seemed to give more scope and beauty to exteriors. Things just seemed more polished and beautiful, helped immensely by sunny L.A itself of course!

By the episode's end, The Thing Under The Bed has nicely developed Lucy's storyline with her father's suicide, provided a big step forward for Holt and Julia, but also sets-up an enticing new element for Lucy: who is now on the receiving end of an intrusive camera lens. In a touching final scene, in her moment of inner turmoil, she turns to Don, perhaps the only friend she has, and snuggles up to him on his sofa... like a lost child with the father she's lost.

Monday, 27 August 2007

TOP 20 TV OPENING TITLES (PART 1 of 2)

The opening titles of a television show are almost an art form these days. The best ones need to give viewers a flavour of the show, perhaps illustrate its premise, and often list the starring actors… in under a minute! Well, usually...

Opening Titles can be intellectual and artistic, or brash and exciting. But they must all do one thing: stop people changing the channel. Oh, and they had better be damned entertaining, because some of these minute marvels will be watched repeatedly for years to come… then nitpicked on blogs!

With all that in mind, I present to you… my personal Top 20 TV Opening Titles. As with all lists, this is subjective opinion. I'm sure you'll be annoyed I left some classics off the list, but all I can say is that my Top 20 are all opening sequences that either: make me want to watch the show or leave me marveling at their craftsmanship.

Let's begin:



20. Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-1974)
Duration: 0:32.
The show usually started with a cold open, before a character would kick-off the title by saying "It's…" as a cue. Created by Terry Gilliam, the opening titles began with four flowers sprouting the show's title (spoken by John Cleese), before Gilliam's imagination went haywire with the progressively zany mini-adventure of a human with the body of a chicken. They climaxes with the chicken-man being crushed by the iconic Python foot.

It's silly, madcap and imaginative, quite unlike anything else, and brilliantly sets the tone for the episode to come. The use of John Philip Sousa's "Liberty Bell" as its soundtrack was an inspired choice and the song has become synonymous with the Python brand ever since. I'm not sure how Sousa would feel about that, though!



19. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Duration: 0:40.
The original black-and-white series would always open with a deadly serious narration by creator Rod Sterling, saying: "There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space… and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition… and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call… the twilight zone."

During Sterling's captivating words, the viewer would travel through strange clouds and glimpse weird landscapes, before reaching the starry sky to read the title. Nicely understated and creepy, it's been parodied countless times, but never bettered. Vintage stuff.



18. Space: 1999 (1975-1978)
Duration: 1:08.
Gerry Anderson's live-action sci-fi series begins with a fanfare by Barry Gray, focusing on stars Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, before wowing viewers with the moon base model and title. A spaceship freefalls into an explosion, kicking in some twangy 70s music, mixed with clips and special-effects from the series, as credits are overlaid. It even, near-subliminally, gives you the exact date the show takes place.



17. Dangermouse (1981-1992)
Duration: 0:23.
Cosgrove Hall's greatest creation, Dangermouse, has an opening credits sequence that brilliantly conveys the show's adventuring spirit, silly premise and bonkers humour. It's a 23-second dalliance of danger before the main event, all trussed up in that eminently catchy theme tune.



16. The Prisoner (1967-1968)
Duration: 2:15.
This classic series had very memorable titles that essentially gave you the entire back-story to the show, with Number Six (Patrick McGoohan) travelling to work, arguing with his boss and heading home. Unbeknownst to him, he's been listed as "resigned" by a faceless corporate system, followed home and gassed… leading into the episode.

While the opening titles are the one element of every episode the average viewer could understand, they are a little protracted and don't reveal anything of the actual show's eccentricity and intelligence. You'd be forgiven for thinking you were about to watch a regular spy adventure. In that respect, they're misleading. But, they're also an iconic touchstone.



15. Prison Break (2005-present)
Duration: 0:30.
A God's eye view takes us over Fox River State Penitentiary, as angelic voices sing us into the gradually pulsating theme tune. Along the way, we're shown the main characters in grimy blue hues, mixed with intriguing motifs like a tattoo and origami swan. Eventually, the pace quickens with some moments of escape and violence, before we pull away from our hero (imprisoned Michael Scofield) and mix to that curious tattoo and swan again…

The show's titles are quite understated and smart, giving you a mix of the expected tropes of a prison-based drama, but with injections of something more original in the tattoo/swan. It doesn't outstay its welcome and makes for a pleasant poke into the episode. They altered them to reflect story changes after season 1, but the original ones remain the best.



14. The Avengers (1961-1969)
Duration: 1:06.
A classy, artistic beginning, focusing on two wine glasses as a shadowy figures walks past in the background. It's John Steed (Patrick MacNee) with the missing wine bottle… just as its cork is shot off by another mysterious figure. It's Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), and the pair arrive together to pour their drinks.

Interestingly, this scene itself is only an appetizer, as The Avengers theme only begins once a still shot of an umbrella with wine glasses is shown, and the two characters playfully flirt with each other, mixing to silhouettes and credits in a big font. A touch of English class, soaked in 60s-sheen. It may be a little silly viewed through modern eyes, but it remains a fine example of 60s-era technique.



13. Life On Mars (2006-2007)
Duration: 1:00.
Beginning with a reprise of the first episode's car crash that sends Sam Tyler (John Simm) from 2006 to 1973, it also makes use of the voice-over tradition to explain the premise: "My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever's happened, it's like I've landed on a different planet. Now maybe if I can work out the reason… I can get home."

From there, some 70s-style multiple squares becomes the series' signature opening title design, displaying the show's title and some clips from various episodes. The main actors are listed as the multi-squares flash around, zoom in/out and nicely evoke a mix of '06 sass and '73 grit.



12. Doctor Who (2005-present)
Duration: 0:40.
The opening "electro-scream" is enough to have you bolted upright, and that's before the show's iconic theme tune really kicks in, given a musical flourish for the 00s by Murray Gold. It's a traditional Doctor Who title sequence, again using the hypnotic "time tunnel", but now with a TARDIS itself spinning around inside. The lead actors are listed and the sense of impending peril brilliantly builds, culminating in the show/episode titles.

Exciting, simple and it never outstays its welcome. It also helps that it comes after a cold opening, so often acts as a rallying call for The Doctor to swoop in and solve whatever problem the teaser gave its viewers. Terrific.



11. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
Duration: 2:00.
Of all the Star Trek opening sequences, I think Deep Space Nine's is the most artistic, thoughtful and beautiful. It begins on an ominous foot, tracking an ice-blue comet as it heads towards the eponymous station. The music builds and finally explodes into grandeur as the show title appears. From there, we're treated to some breathtaking visual-effects of DS9 itself, shown from multiple angles, mixed with credits, and ending with the visual explosion of the series' wormhole in space.

It's a feast of visual effects, neatly tempered by the orchestral score and sense of wonder and joy. The only flaw is its somewhat languid pace, which undoubtedly prompted fast-forwarding. But it's a little treat to watch every now and then.

Part 2, #10-#1 is right here.

INTERNET OF INTEREST #17

Some more choice selections of entertainment-related news/trivia from the world wide web:

1. Owen Wilson Suicide Bid: very sad news that took me by surprise, but it appears the popular US comic actor isn't as care-free and happy as his movie performances would have you believe...

2. Full Focus Cameras: The Wachowski Brothers are pushing film technology again with their upcoming film Speed Racer, with a new camera system that can have the foreground and background in focus at the same time (just like a comic strip).

3. Kevin Smith in space and tights: Filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks II) is set to direct an episode of Battlestar Galactica in its final season and write-direct an episode of Heroes spin-off Origins...

4. Top 10 Best Cinematic Showdowns: ooh, I loves me a Top 10 list...

5. Star Wars animations: have you always wanted to watch the Original Trilogy of Star Wars movies in simple animated .gif format? The wait is over!

6. 13 Terrible Accents In Films: from Keanu Reeves to Sean Connery, the worst of the worst is here...

So there you have it. All worth a little click, I feel...

Incidentally, I started a new DMD poll started yesterday about the Best British Horror films, inspired by the great British Film Forever documentary over the weekend. Please take the time to vote (it only takes 2 seconds... your day isn't that hectic is it?)

I have also installed a subscription button in the sidebar, courtesy of FeedBlitz, which allows you to get automated e-mail updates whenever I post something on DMD. Feel free to subscribe!

THE IT CROWD 2.1 - "The Work Outing"

Writer & Director: Graham Linehan

Cast: Chris O'Dowd (Roy), Richard Ayoade (Moss), Katherine Parkinson (Jen), Noel Fielding (Richmond), John Snowden (Theatre Photographer) & Belinda Stewart-Wilson (Barbara)

Roy and Moss accompany Jen on a date, to a gay musical, and cause chaos through a series of misunderstandings with the theatre staff...

Last year, The IT Crowd became a modest hit on Channel 4, but subsequently sold very well on DVD and generated enough good word-of-mouth for a more successful repeat run. Now, with an American remake due next year, the show returns for a second season. Or Version 2.0 as creator Graham Linehan prefers to call it…

If you're not yet aware, the show is set in a messy IT department, deep in the bowels of a corporate building, run by three social misfits: Roy (Chris O'Dowd), a lazy pessimist; Moss (Richard Ayoade), a socially-awkward nerd; and Jen (Katherine Parkinson), their befuddled line manager.

The Work Outing finds Jen going on a date with a man whose sexuality is in question, particularly when he takes her to a musical called "Gay!" Even worse, Roy and Moss have invite themselves along and proceed to cause chaos around the theatre: Roy's search for a toilet results in him being mistaken for a disabled man, and Moss accidentally becomes theatre staff when he uses the staff loo.

Linehan's script has parallels to a Father Ted episode he wrote with ex-writing partner Arthur Matthews, about racism. This episode tackles sexuality, with Roy and Moss essentially having their identities dictated by circumstances. The episode contains some rather on-the-nose gay references and stereotypes (gay's read Heat magazine being just one), but manages to balance it when a theatre luvvie is condescending to wheelchair users and immediately stereotypes "the Irish" in one scene.

Nobody's free from prejudgment here; gay or straight, disabled or otherwise. The first half of The Work Outing isn't that good, as it's just setting up all the pay-off, which was a little disappointing. The return of cult character Richmond (Noel Fielding), a bizarre goth who lives in their office like a phantom Edward Scissorhands, also felt a bit shoehorned in for fans.

It's also sad to hear that arch-satirist Chris Morris won't be appearing as company boss Denholm now, as he stole many scenes last year as the hard-nosed boss. Some critics found it depressing Morris was "slumming it" in a studio sitcom, but I think it just proved his versatility as a comedian.

The main cast are as great as ever, particularly Katherine Parkinson, who I think is the real star in many ways. Sure, Richard Ayoade is given the most memorable comic creation (he's even been cast in the US remake), but I find Parkinson more engaging, quirky and… oh yes, utterly adorable. But seriously, she's one of the better comic actresses around at the moment.

Chris O'Dowd has the hardest job on the show, as Roy isn't a very three-dimensional person. He's just a lazy IT engineer, pure and simple. There aren't many hidden depths to Roy, which is a missed opportunity because O'Dowd is very good at looking lovable and innocent.

Overall, this is a decent start to series 2, although the first 15 minutes are a bit stale and the whole "mistaken identity" plot could have done with a trim. But it's nice to have a more traditional sitcom on the air, in the wake of all those Office imitators with their naturalistic style. It's just a shame The IT Crowd has one of the most intrusive and manipulative laugh-tracks in recent memory, despite being filmed in front of a real audience.

For writer Graham Linehan, the show isn't much of an evolution, as it's essentially "Father Ted in an office", but who really cares when it's spitting out absurd one-liners and silly visuals with such glee?


24 August 2007
Channel 4, 9.30 pm

Sunday, 26 August 2007

X FACTOR 4: Are the loonies jumping ship?


Week 2 of... well, it's easier to cope with if you think in terms of months.

So, it's Month 1 of 4... and I can't yet fathom why the X Factor decided to "shake up the format" by including Dannii Minogue, a woman famous for being "Kylie's not-as-good sister". She's apparently had a big pop career if you believe the show's blurb, but all I can remember of it is a succession of poor albums in a Woolworths bargain bin.

At the moment, Dannii is content to just sit behind the desk with Simon, Sharon and Louis, doing her best impression of a talent show judge (i.e, offer little reasons for any decisions, rarely give constructive criticism). Instead, she just looks pretty and likes to hiss "yessss" when an average wedding singer suddenly resembles Frank Sinatra, because he followed a mentally deranged OAP.

At this early stage, The X Factor is the TV equivalent of a Roman Colosseum, with Emperor Cowell turning his thumb down to tone-deaf simpletons as the millions of TV viewers cheer their approval at home. But there was little to enjoy in Week 2, with the whole show painfully predictable after four long years.

You know exactly who will/won't be put through to Boot Camp (especially as the production team filter thousands into a manageable few hundred of clearly "good" and "bad"). You didn't really think Cowell and cronies have the time or inclination to listen to thousands of people every day, did you? They'd still be sat in Cardiff come March!

No, everything is a little bit twisted for the cameras on shows like this. Do you think Sharon Osbourne genuinely recognized former hopeful Paris? A girl she'd heard sing for a few minutes 12 months ago? Don't be silly! Last year, moon-faced Paris was one of those "sob stories" X Factor love so much; a little girl who got through her audition but immediately admitted she was too young to enter...

But she's back and brimming with confidence this year, thanks to the age limit being lowered to 14. She impressed all four judges... despite a painful few minutes of screeching. Sure, she can hit some high notes, but her audition showed no real emotion. It was a very mechanical. But, even Simon Cowell isn't nasty enough to say no, particularly as it would suggest she's getting worse year by year, poor girl.

For those who only watch for the morons, there were a few notables this week: an unintelligible old man, a whispery Indian guy who had compiled a massive list of bad choices to sing badly, and the Nutter Of The Week... "John The Song", a Cardiff maths teacher (who can't work out how to open a door), who proceeded to prance around whilst murdering a Tom Jones classic. Cowell told him it was "horrific". "Horrifically good?" poor deluded John replied...

The X Factor's early stages live or die by the quality of the quality of its loonies, but they seem to be thin on the ground right now. It's a sad day when British talent getting better undermines the entertainment quality of a talent show! But maybe even the crackpots are finally realizing the best you can realistically hope to win on the X Factor is a summer stint at Butlins -- not a hit album! Some contestants are clearly arriving with a massive chip on their shoulder months before the show has a chance to dash their hopes come winter...

Dermot O'Leary, the other injection of "freshness" alongside Ms Minogue, is doing a capable job of presenting. He's actually becoming Mr Saturday Night, thanks to an unfortunate scheduling clash that has him presenting 1 Vs 100 at the exact same time on BBC1. I'm sure you can find on a Big Brother's Little Brother repeat somewhere, too...

STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP 1.5 - "The Long Lead Story"

Writer: Aaron Sorkin (story by Dana Calvo)
Director: David Petrarca

Cast: Steven Weber (Jack Rudolph), Sarah Paulson (Harriet Hayes), Timothy Busfield (Cal), Bradley Whitford (Danny Tripp), D.L. Hughley (Simon Stiles), Matthew Perry (Matt Albie), Nathan Corddry (Tom Jeter), Amanda Peet (Jordan McDeere), Simon Helberg (Alex Dwyer), Ayda Field (Jeanie Whatley), Diana-Maria Riva (Lilly), Merritt Wever (Suzanne), Nate Torrence (Dylan), Liza de Weerd (Agent #2), Stephanie Jeffrey (Waitress), John F. Carpenter (Herb Shelton), Christine Lahti (Martha O'Dell), Sting (Sting), Lauren Graham (Announcer), Edward Asner (Wilson White), Zeb Newman (Trevor Loughlin) & Harry Van Gorkum (Martin Sykes)

During rehearsals with Sting, reporter Martha O'Dell pries into Matt and Harriet's relationship. Meanwhile Jordan passes on a tasteless new reality series, to Jack's annoyance...

Oh, the comedy gold of a man in a lobster suit! Aaron Sorkin still can't write decent sketch show material, which is quite a disappointment considering he's writing a show about the inner workings of a hit comedy, but this certainly ranks as his best attempt. Nicolas Cage hosting a chat show was a plausible skit and Sarah Paulson got to showboat another impression as Nancy Grace (a CNN interviewer), so the hit-rate certainly improved on Science Schmience...

Many of my criticisms last week are answered by The Long Lead Story, which is more focused on Studio 60's characters than the stern-faced politics of making a sketch show. Cleverly, Sorkin uses reporter character Martha O'Dell (Christine Lahti), to explore the relationship between Harriet and Matt (Matthew Perry), essentially giving Sorkin an excuse to throw meticulous character backstories into the show itself.

Harriet's religious upbringing is actually quite enlightening, particularly the fateful way she was baptized and became a performer at the same time. Sarah Paulson is fast becoming the most nuanced character on the show, heavily involved in the show's off-camera storylines and the central performer in most Studio 60 sketches.

It appears that Harriet's arrival at Studio 60 "coincided" with Matt suddenly finding inspiration in his writing. She wasn't only his lover, she was his muse. It's interesting Matt is suffering writer's block now Harriet has re-entered his life, but not his love.

Christine Lahti is very good as the approachable reporter, although you sense a ruthlessness behind her eyes. She's playful, believable, even funny in a few scenes (particularly in the "still-switched-on-microphone" chestnut), so I hope she sticks around some more. Sorkin even seems to use her character to hit back at criticisms of Studio 60, when she says: "I think popular culture in general and this show in particular are important." That told me.

Danny Whitford is sadly underused most weeks, usually hunched over video monitors or playing "dialogue tennis" with friend Matt. I hope Sorkin gives him some impetus soon, as he's just a sounding board most of the time. Amanda Peet continues to delight me, despite her twinkly-eyed idealism coming across as naive fiction on Sorkin's part.

She's just too good to be true, and gets her way too often. Here, she turns down a reality TV hit series (pitched by a Brit -- a little dig at us, there!) and has to explain her actions to Chairman Jack, who can't understand turning down a show with "HIT" written all over it. But Jordan knows there's a prefixed "S".

This episode solidifies Jordan's intention to maintain quality control of her network, three week after Studio 60's "on-air television bitch-slap" in episode 1. Another subplot finds her trying to persuade a gifted writer to bring his political satire Nations to the masses on NBS, instead of its natural home on niche HBO.

I enjoyed seeing more of Jordan and Jack's corporate world in episode 5, as bringing in wider television matters helped branch the series out. I'll never be sold on the uberserious attitude to creating a sketch show, but it's easier to enjoy wheeler-dealer bigwigs further up the food chain.

The behind-the-scenes vibe of Studio 60 remains atmospheric and interesting, particularly seeing how rehearsals are run this week -- complete with the problems of dismantling sets in a fast-moving TV environment. That said, the shameless promotion of Sting's classical album, complete with lute playing, bordered on the eye-rolling. That said, the musician's appearance was given some credibility when a song became the backing to a scene between Harriet and Matt -- where it was what they didn't say that really mattered.

Overall, this is the best episode of the series since the Pilot, thanks to its focus on characters and the expansion beyond Studio 60 itself, finding targets in other TV-related areas. The humour of the supposed smash-hit show itself remains strained (why not get real comedians to write sketches, Mr Sorkin?), and some of the characters are sketchy, but there's a core of great talent that clearly revel in Sorkin's world.


23 August 2007
More4, 10.00 pm

Sky take no Prisoner...


The intended Sky remake of classic 60s hit The Prisoner has been scrapped, owing to conflicts of interest between the British broadcaster and their American partner AMC. Sky One head Richard Woolfe explains his decision to preserve the show's integrity here.

It's nice to see someone sticking up for quality over undoubted ratings success -- as I'm sure the American backers wanted to fiddle with the concept so much it would lose its British heart. Sky are probably well aware that Doctor Who's revival didn't make concessions to the Americans and has become a huge worldwide hit.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

TRAILER PARK: Aliens Vs Predator - Requiem

In space, no one can hear you scream. On Earth, it won't matter.

Background: A sequel to the critically-mauled box office hit Alien Vs Predator (2004), which combined movie monsters from two popular franchises, based on a 90s comic series. The Strause brothers make their directorial debut here, having previously helped create the special-effects for 300, Fantastic Four 2, X-Men III, etc.

Review: This red-band trailer (i.e, it's very graphic) is pure by-the-numbers fluff, opening with a spacecraft crashing to Earth, being discovered by contemporary townsfolk, who promptly find themselves caught in the midst of violent Predators and Aliens. There's little thought given to characterization or plot, just a ridiculous amount of action and gore onscreen. It's superficially entertaining for fans of these creatures, but don't be surprised if the trailer is every half-decent moment crammed into 2-minutes of mayhem.

Prediction: The first movie confirmed there's a big audience for this stuff, even if Alien and Predator purists rightly claim it sullies the memory of Ridley Scott's iconic '79 original, James Cameron's bombastic '86 sequel and John McTiernan's exciting '87 jungle actioner. If you enjoyed AVP for what it was, you'll definitely get a kick from this. It looks gorier, packed with twice the action, but very little brains. 24 fans will also grin to see Reiko Aylesworth doing her best Rambo impression...

Hi-Res (52 MB)
HD 720p .wmv (125MB)

DMD - Issue #188

The latest issue (#188) of my Movie Digest is now online at DVD Fever, with "news nuggets"* from Lost Boys 2, the Escape From New York remake, Indiana Jones 4, Neverwhere, Pink Panther 2, a Scorpion King prequel and Superman: Man Of Steel.

Poll Result: The sexiest woman on recent TV is... according to DMD readers... well, the poll tied with Ali Larter (Heroes) and Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who) both getting 23% of the vote. So I'll have the casting vote and announce Freema at the winner... because she's new and British!

* trademarked and copyrighted

Box Office Charts: w/e 24 August 2007

Superbad tops the US chart, thanks to months of hype, internet marketing and great word-of-mouth. Rush Hour 3 and Bourne Ultimatum hang on near the top, while The Simpsons Movie proves it has longevity. The Invasion disappoints with a mid-chart debut, thanks to terrible reviews.

US TOP 10

1. Superbad $33.1m
2. Rush Hour 3 $21.4m
3. The Bourne Ultimatum $19.9m
4. The Simpsons Movie $6.83m
5. The Invasion $5.95m
6. Stardust $5.65m
7. Hairspray $4.5m
8. Underdog $3.85m
9. Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix $3.66m
10. I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry $3.6m

Bourne keeps his #1 spot in the UK, while The Simpsons continue their great summer of business. Bratz do much better than expected, but poor Evan Almighty has bombed massively!

UK TOP 10

1. The Bourne Ultimatum £6.5m
2. The Simpsons Movie £1.5m
3. Rush Hour 3 £1.4m
4. Bratz: The Movie £1.2m
5. Transformers £952k
6. Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix £936k
7. Surf's Up £593k
8. Hairspray £511k
9. Evan Almighty £501k
10. Shrek The Third £173k


UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

1408
A professional debunker of the paranormal spends the night in a haunted hotel room. Horror thriller starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, based on a Stephen King story.

KNOCKED UP
A fun-loving slob gets a beautiful woman pregnant after a drunken one-night stand, but they both agree to become parents. Comedy starring Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl.

LADY CHATTERLEY
An upperclass woman starts an erotic relationship with her gardener. A French version of the infamous D.H Larwrence novel.

WRONG TURN 2
A group of reality TV show contestants fight for survival against a gang of inbred cannibals. Horror sequel starring Erica Leerhsen.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Celebrity Big Brother: The House Sleeps

In an amazing turn of events, Channel 4 have decided to "rest" Celebrity Big Brother next year! Read more here. The show was rocked by a racism row between Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody last time, but the channel claim they're giving the format a break because the TV landscape is becoming too "samey" -- so they have to strive for originality.

I couldn't agree more.

So is this is the first indication even the channel's main summer show could take a break one day? Could it become a bi-annual event soon? It would certainly give Channel 4 plenty of vacants slots to fill with more interesting, scripted drama in the meantime.

Maybe we could have some comedy at 9 pm weeknights? E4 may even get a chance to breathe without the Big Brother millstone around its neck every summer/winter! Maybe they'll start building their own brands, as BBC3 did with Little Britain, Torchwood and Gavin And Stacey?

Or... will it all just mean more repeats and imported US reality TV instead? Whatever happens, I can't help thinking it's a significant move when a big network snubs one of its biggest brands. So well done, Channel 4... but you'd better give us a decent alternative to Celeb Big Brother next year...