Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Day 31: Halloween (1978)

The trick is to stay alive.

John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 had a big impact on independent film producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad. The pair had an idea for a horror film about a killer who stalked babysitters and thought Carpenter could bring the right vibe to the project...

Upon hearing Yablans and Akkad's pitch, Carpenter and his then-girlfriend Debra Hill began crafting a story based on their premise -- called The Babysitter Murders. Yablan suggested setting the film on Halloween night (with that as a title), and Akkad stumped up an incredibly low $250,000 for the film's production. Carpenter agreed to waive most of his fee, receiving $10,000 for directing, writing and composing the score -- although he did insist on taking 10% of the film's eventual profits.

Yablans and Akkad essentially handed full control over to Carpenter and Hill, who set about writing the full script. Their final story would concern a child who commits murder and is sent to a psychiatric hospital, only to escape as an adult and return to his neighbourhood to kill local teenagers, whilst being pursed by his psychiatrist...

Hill concentrated on the female dialogue, while Carpenter enjoyed the length monologues from psychiatrist Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance). They also put a lot of in-jokes into the script for their own amusement: heroine Laurie Strode was the name of Carpenter's ex-girlfriend and villain Michael Myers was the name of an English producer who had entered Assault On Precinct 13 into many European festivals.

Due to Halloween's low budget, costumes and props were harvested from inexpensive shops. Most famously, the film's boogieman (Michael Myers) would wear a William Shatner face-mask spray-painted white.

Unknown actress Jamie Lee Curtis won the role of Laurie Strode, with Donald Pleasance the only famous actor in the film (he received $20,000 for his time). Actor Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers, permanently obscured by the iconic mask, was just Carpenter's friend from university.

Carpenter shot the film in just 21 days in South Pasadena and Sierra Madre, California, in the spring of 1978 -- meaning artificial leaves had to be used and the crew had difficult finding pumpkins at that time of year.

Halloween was released on 25 October 1978, just in time for Halloween night, and was initially dismissed by critics and mass audiences. After one positive review, word-of-mouth began to spread and an interest grew. The film grossed $48 million in the US. It took a while, but Halloween eventually became a landmark film for the horror genre, ushering in the contemporary slasher film that dominated the 80s with cash-ins like Black Christmas and Friday The 13th.

A sequel, Halloween II, was written by Carpenter and Hill, but directed by Rick Rosenthal, and released in 1981. It wasn't as successful as the original (a $25 million gross), but Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, produced by Carpenter, was released in 1982 (it made $14 million). The series seemed to vanish for years, until a resurgence of interest led to Halloween IV: The Return Of Michael Myers in 1995, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (which saw the return of Jamie Lee Curtis) in 1998 and Halloween: Resurrection in 2002.

Just this year, Rob Zombie directed a remake of Carpenter's original. It has received mixed reviews, but has made over $64 million worldwide so far -- making it the most successful Halloween movie yet, adjusting for inflation.

Trivia

1. Dr Sam Loomis' name is taken from the character Sam Loomis in Psycho.

2. Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers, went on to direct The Last Starfighter, The Boy Who Could Fly, Dennis The Menace and Major Payne!

3. In the movie, kids watch the opening of The Thing From Another World -- a 1951 sci-fi horror that Carpenter himself would remake as The Thing in 1982.

4. Half the budget was spent on Panavision cameras.

5. The script only mentions Michael Myers' name twice. He is mostly referred to as The Shape.

6. John Carpenter was initially intimidated by Donald Pleasance, but the two became great friends and Pleasance starred in other Carpenter films (most famously as the US President in Escape From New York.)

7. Out of all the young cast, only Jamie Lee Curtis was actually a teenager.

Links

The Halloween Movies
Official John Carpenter

RAMSAY'S KITCHEN NIGHTMARES


I'm a terrible cook. My cuisine generally involves tin cans, microwaves, and the local pizzeria on speed-dial. I have no chance of ever becoming a chef, and used to think a Michelin star was a way of grading tyres...

But, after watching Channel 4's Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares since it began in 2004, I believe I could confidently turn around the fortunes of any ailing restaurant... because it's the same thing every week, isn't it?

1: Simplify the menu. 2: Change the décor. 3: Rename the restaurant, maybe. 4: Shout at the slackers in the kitchen. 5: Praise the half-decent workers. 6: Scrub the kitchen equipment. 7: Do some publicity (it helps if you're Gordon Ramsey with a film crew, though...) 8: Slash your prices. 9: Only buy local produce from the market. Et, voila!

However, while every episode of this Gordon Ramsey-fronted reality show smells similar to every other, its success lies in its ability to make the predictable utterly compelling. Super-chef Gordon Ramsey himself remains an engaging television presence, even if his potty-mouthed shtick is slowly blunting with overexposure.

Episode 1 of this fifth series found us along Brighton's seafront, where Allan Love's restaurant Ruby Tates is going down the pan (and not of the frying variety.) Poor Allan is a jovial bloke and former musical star (you might not remember him from trashy classic The Apple), who's pumped his hard-earned cash into a seafood restaurant business -- despite not liking the taste of fish himself!

The problems at Ruby Tates are obvious: two lazy cooks, Australian Jamie and Frenchman Alex, who are only there for the cash; hideous modern art paintings covering the walls; the fact a meal for 3 costs £175; dangerous muscles being served to people; the absence of a controlling Head Chef; and Allan's own laidback, ignorant attitude as his business fails and he faces the prospect of selling his house...

While Ramsey can be accused of exaggerating his personality for the cameras (and Allan does, on numerous occasions!), Kitchen Nightmares is still the best vehicle for the hot-tempered chef. He'll always be full of swagger, bluster, shark-eyed stares, and clipped speech-patterns sprinkled with swear words, but Nightmares is the only show where you see some real emotion and empathy from the irrascible Scotsman (who, is turns out, does an awful Scottish accent!)

In the end, after turning Ruby Tates into Love's Fish Restaurant, white-washing the walls, focusing on (pollock) fish and chips, making Jamie the Head Chef, and inviting "Brighton Royalty" along to the re-launch. But they must have been busy, so Zoë Ball, Fatboy Slim and DI Burnside from The Bill came along instead.

2 months later, and Allan's house is still up for sale, but the restaurant is making a good profit now. Although, word to the wise, it's probably a good idea to keep Allan away from the karaoke... no wonder he swapped singing for seafood! And you didn't do it "My Way", you did it "Gordon's Way", so remember that...

And so we leave Gordon Ramsey walking down a dark Brighton street, mumbling obscenities to himself – mission accomplished – in a shot reminiscent of The Incredible Hulk's sunset epilogue. But with more F-words.


30 October 2007
Channel 4, 9.00 pm

HEROES 2.6 – "The Line"

Writers: Adam Armus & Kay Foster
Director: Jeannot Szwarc

Cast: Dana Davis (Monica), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Zachary Quinto (Sylar), James Kyson Lee (Ando), Masi Oka (Hiro), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Ali Larter (Niki.Jessica), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet), Dania Ramirez (Maya), Shalim Ortiz (Alejandro), David Anders (Kensei), Nicholas D'Agosto (West), Stephen Tobolowsky (Bob), Dianna Agron (Debbie), Jimmy Jean-Louis (The Haitian), Adair Tishler (Molly), Katie Carr (Caitlin), Elya Baskin (Ivan) & Eriko Tamura (Yaeko)

Mohinder tests Monica, Hiro and Kensei rescue Yaeko's father, Claire gets revenge on a bossy cheerleader, Sylar helps the Herrera's get across the US border, Mr Bennet meets his mentor, and Peter travels to Montreal...

"God delivered Gabriel to us, Alejandro. We should put our faith in him."
-- Maya Herrera (Dania Ramirez)

The Line is aptly named. It's the sixth episode; a quarter of the way through season 2, and many viewers are becoming so desperate for a sense of direction, The Line acts as a handy marker. If nothing's grabbed your interest by episode 6, chances are you're not going to enjoy season 2...

Fortunately, there are enough signs of improvement to make you continue to give Heroes the benefit of the doubt. It's been a deathly slow start, hamstrung by bad creative decisions, but I like to think it's been an intentionally prolonged set-up to better spread out the season. That’s no excuse, but it's an explanation, and lessons will hopefully be learned.

As ever, the episode is fractured into a half-dozen strands. Sylar (Zachary Quinto) helps the Herrera twins get across the US border, by persuading Maya (Dania Ramirez) to use her "death eyes" (do you have a better name?) to kill the border patrol, much to brother Alejendro's shock and disappointment.

Is this the first step in Sylar successfully splitting the twins asunder? It would make dramatic sense for Maya to become perverted by Sylar, with her brother the only cure (literally). We'll have to see, but while the Herrera's plot is adequate, the actors still have an irritating vibe about then, and adding Sylar into their mix is nothing but a temporary fix. Mind you, Sylar's creepy English-speaking admission to Spanish-speaking Alejandro about his murderous intentions, was good fun.

A more frivolous diversion was Claire (Hayden Panettiere), who's finding it difficult to get into the cheerleading squad because of bitchy Debbie (Dianna Agron). It leads to an amusing trick being played on her, where the bottle-swigging bimbo is treated to a surreal attack by flying West (Nick D'Agosto), who picks up and drops Claire from mid-air and chases Debbie. The story is pure filler, but it's sometimes nice to have a light, silly plot to counteract the more dramatic moments...

We're certainly not having much fun with Hiro (Masi Oka), who's still in 17th-Century Japan trying to re-enact childhood legends nobody's particularly interested in, although at least this storyline moved forward regarding the rescue of Yaeko's father and Hiro's relationship with Yaeko (Eriko Tamura) herself, culminating in an unexpected traitorous move from Kensei...

As much as I liked the development this week for Hiro, the main problem with the storyline is that it's so removed from everything else (not only in terms of time and location) that it's like watching a spin-off series! If they could only provide some connection to contemporary events – other than Ando's fascination with what his friend is up to – that would alleviate matters and make you more forgiving. I mean, at the moment Hiro doesn't even know if New York was saved from disaster, does he!

Mr Bennet (Jack Coleman) is in Odessa, Ukraine, to find his Company mentor Ivan (Elya Baskin), who knows the whereabouts of Isaac Mendez's final eight paintings. The Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis) is on hand to threaten Ivan with the loss of cherish family memories, lest he reveal where the Mendez paintings are being kept. It's great to see Mr Bennet returning to a more ruthless presence, as a final act of murder is an cold-blooded kick Coleman's character was in desperate need of.

There are also a few limp stories trudging along. As you'd expect, Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is involved in one, as he's whisked Monica (Dana Davis) to New York from New Orleans, in order to test her "muscle memory" abilities for The Company -- under the orders of Bob (Stephen Tobolowsky). Unfortunately, Bob later asks Mohinder to rid Monica of her powers with a quick injection, but Mohinder refuses.

At the moment, The Company themselves are annoyingly vague. They were the villains last year, or at the very least misguided, but it's difficult to get a grasp on them this year. Bob in particular seems quite reasonable at times, while Ivan pleaded with Mr Bennet about how The Company have changed recently. It's okay to be ambiguous, but at the moment is seems like the writers aren't even sure if the Company are injudicious experts, or dangerous controllers.

In the episode's most intriguing moment, Bob is seen holding a file marked "Adam Monroe", which provides resonance later on in Peter's plot. Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) finally leaves that depressing Irish pub, although walking cliché Caitlin (Katie Carr) tags along, with the pair arriving in Montreal, Canada, to find Ricky's murderer – using Peter's plane ticket as their only guidance. Once there, they find the doorway Peter painted last week (marked with the helix symbol, natch) and venture inside... to find a written message from a man called Adam Monroe ("... the world is in danger") Oooh.

The Line ends with Peter accidentally transporting them forward in time (to Times Square, appropriately) where it's 14 June 2008 and New York is an evacuated ghost town. On the plus side, season 2 has finally revealed a disaster that needs preventing. On the down side, it again revolves around a New York tragedy! Seriously? Are the writers so exhausted of ideas they're going to essentially re-use season 1's stakes? After last year's limp finale, I don't even have faith they'll do the storyline justice, and we're not even half-way through the season yet!

Overall, The Line works well enough because there are signs the overall storyline is moving forward – primarily with the Adam Monroe name and the future glimpse of New York. We could still see a reversal in fortunes, if the writers have a surprising plot up their sleeves --but focusing on a city-wide catastrophe for the second year running is an awful decision.

So yes, Heroes still has major problems to sort out, but The Line's final moments give you hope season 2 is about to pick up the pace. As always, the storyline is riddled with irritations (Niki as Mohinder's lab assistant – huh?) and dumb oversights (Monica's taken away without her family's consent, and she was willing to go with stranger Mohinder?), but it was generally more entertaining than most episodes have been so far.

The first step in the right direction, or the first definite sign of Heroes recycling itself?

The line has been drawn...


29 October 2007
NBC, 9/8c pm

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Day 30: The Exorcist (1973)

Nobody expected it. Nobody believed it. Nobody could stop it.
The one hope... the only hope... The Exorcist.

In 1949, a 13-year-old boy known only as Robbie, a student at Georgetown University, was allegedly possessed by a demon called Pazuzu. A local minister performed a 6-week exorcism on the teen, before ridding him of the possessing entity on 19 April 1949. This real-life case of demonic possession fueled the imagination of author William Peter Blatty, who used it as inspiration for his 1971 book, The Exorcist...

The Exorcist novel, written when Blatty was unemployed and collecting benefits, fictionalized the Georgetown exorcism case and changed a few details, but essentially stays faithful to reality. Blatty's book instead focused on a girl (Reagan), but all of the actual events were said to have actually happened -- except for the boy's head rotating 180 degrees!

After the book's release, it became an instant hit and was brought to the attention of Hollywood. Blatty himself was asked to adapt it into a screenplay, with the studio hoping to secure the talent of Stanley Kubrick behind the camera -- but he turned it down. They approached others, before settling on William Friedkin, who had just enjoyed tremendous success with The French Connection (1971).

Friedkin began casting the movie, and quickly found Reagan, the 12-year-old possessed girl, nearly impossible to cast. At one point, in desperation, Friedkin even began to contemplate using adult dwarf actors! Fortunately, unknown actress Linda Blair was brought to his attention by her mother and was offered the part.

The titular exorcist, Father Merrin, was played by Max von Sydow, despite the studio wanting Marlon Brando. Friedkin was adamant Sydow have the part, or risk The Exorcist turning into a "Brando movie". Jason Miller was cast as Father Karras, after Friedkin saw Miller perform on Broadway. Reagan's mother was played by Ellen Burstyn, after Audrey Hepburn declined unless the film was shot in Rome and Anne Bancroft fell pregnant.

His cast assembled, filming began -- although the opening excavation scene in Iraq proved problematic because the US didn't have diplomatic relations with Iraq at that time. Instead, Friedkin took an all-British crew across, on the proviso he would teach the Iraqi's some filming techniques.

Upon its release in 1973, The Exorcist became a worldwide phenomenon and the biggest grossing film of that year. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards (winning for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay) and won 4 Golden Globes. The furore over the film reached astonishing proportions, with many theatre-owners claiming audience members were regularly fainting or leaving screenings in hysterics.

Many people couldn't separate fact from fiction, so young Linda Blair was considered demonic by some and had to be protected by bodyguards for 6 months following The Exorcist's release! The film also became the subject of urban myths, such as the death of 9 crew members during the film's 12-month shoot. Some people speculate these stories were concocted by the studio to create interested and additional scares, but Ellen Burstyn commented in her 2006 autobiography that some of the stories were true.

In the 1980s, British film censors delayed The Exorcist from video distribution in 1984, before finally arriving on DVD in 1999, a year after a successful re-release in cinemas! It was only shown on UK television for the first time in 2001.

The Exorcist is still considered one of the best horror films ever made and retains its power to unsettle and disturb people over 30 years later. Inevitable sequels followed (1977s The Exorcist II: The Heretic and 1990s The Exorcist III), both to widespread consternation.

In 2004, a prequel film called The Exorcist: The Beginning was made by Paul Schrader, but his film was infamously rejected by the studio, who quickly remade the whole film again with Renny Harlin! The prequel was a box-office disaster, so Schrader's original cut was later released onto DVD, but proved similarly disappointing.

Trivia

1. The famous steps where Father Karras meets his end were covered in thick rubber to protect the stuntman who had to fall down them. He performed the stunt twice, with local students paying $5 each to watch from nearby rooftops.

2. The scenes in Reagan's bedroom were specially refrigerated to create icy breath from the actors. One morning, the temperature got so low that a thin layer of snow formed on the set!

3. The film was edited at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York!

4. Ellen Burstyn received a permanent spinal injury after falling on her coccyx during filming.

Links

The Haunted Boy Of Cottage City - The Case That Inspired The Exorcist
The Exorcist fansite

30 ROCK 1.3 – "Blind Date"

Writer: John Riggi
Director: Adam Bernstein

Cast: Tina Fey (Liz Lemon), Judah Friedlander (Frank), Tracy Morgan (Tracy Jordan), Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger), Jack McBrayer (Kenneth), Alec Baldwin (Jack Donaghy), Katrina Bowden (Cerie), Keith Powell (Toofer), Lonny Ross (Josh), Maulik Pancholy (Jonathan), Teddy Coluca (Stage Manager), Grizz Chapman (Grizz), John Lutz (Lutz), Stephanie March (Gretchen Thomas), Kevin Brown IV (Dot Com), Brett Baer (Guy at Bar), Rich Brevard (Big Rich), Elisabeth Furtado (Gym Teacher), Sondra James (Woman), Mark Konrad (Dentist) & David Rankin (Young Dave)

Jack sets Liz up on a blind date with his friend, Thomas. With Liz busy preparing for her date, Jack infiltrates the writers' weekly poker game...

Liz: I can't believe you bet your wedding ring.
Pete: I know. Weird thing is... I had money left.

It's difficult to review shows like 30 Rock, as their success solely rests on whether or not they make you laugh. Sure, character development and great plots are needed, but most sitcoms are easier to judge over the course of a season. Taken as single installments, all that's really required is an entertaining story, good performances and funny jokes...

Fortunately, that's what we seem to be getting from this show. Blind Date again showcases Alec Baldwin's scene-stealing character Jack Donaghy, this time as a card shark who can't seem to outwit Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), the simpleton page who apparently has no poker "tells".

Elsewhere, Liz (Tina Fey) goes on a blind date with Thomas, one of Jack's friends, only to discover Thomas is a lesbian, played by Stephanie March. However, in some great scenes, Liz is still keen to try and build a relationship with Gretchen, who similarly lives alone and is concerned about choking to death with no hope of rescue...

At this early stage, I'm still slightly worried that we never see much of the sketch show the characters work on, perhaps because the material would never work if it's too similar to 30 Rock's reality! So we just get some glimpses of a costumed robot being attacked by costumed bears.

But not to worry, because 30 Rock is so breathlessly paced, it's a case of sitting back and letting it wash over you. I'd appreciate more development for the supporting cast, but it's too early to really complain about anything. Tina Fey is fun to watch, Alec Baldwin is astonishingly good in every scene, and this episode makes Jack McBrayer's grinning Kenneth a minor cult hero.

30 Rock won't rewrite the comedy landscape, and it probably won't deliver too many insightful moments, because everything's so hyperactive and stylized. Malcolm In The Middle was similarly hectic and bizarre at times, but its family unit always provided a normal, relatable heart to the show. There's nothing like that in 30 Rock, as it's a working environment, so far populated by two-dimensional caricatures... but that's okay, because it's funny.

And if you laugh more than 5 times in 30-minutes and enjoy what you're watching, you can't really criticize a sitcom too much, can you?


25 October 2007
Five, 10.45 pm

SPACED: US

A remake of Channel 4 sitcom Spaced is being planned by America's FOX network and director McG (Charlie's Angels).

The original starred Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson as two friends who faked a relationship to get a flat together. It famously utilized fast-paced homages, parodies and visuals gags in its comedy -- particularly relating to the lifestyle of twentysomething slackers and geek obsessions like Star Wars.

Pegg, co-star Nick Frost, and the show' director Edgar Wright went on to have worldwide success with comedy films Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz.

Spaced ran for just 2 seasons of 14 episodes in the late-90s, and has become a cult classic in the UK and abroad. It was nominated for a BAFTA and International Emmy during its lifetime. It's unknown if writers Pegg and Stevenson, or director Wright, will have any role in the US remake.

Of course, there's no guarantee Spaced US will even make it to air, as the proposed US remake of The IT Crowd recently fell apart. But if it did follow The Office into becoming a major US television series, would an American sensibility maintain the quirky, offbeat charm of the original slacker comedy?

DEXTER 2.5 – "The Dark Defender"

Writer: Tim Schlattmann
Director: Keith Gordon

Cast: Michael C. Hall (Dexter Morgan), Lauren Velez (Maria LaGuerta), Julie Benz (Rita Bennett), Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan), David Zayas (Angel Batista), Erik King (Sgt Doakes), Keith Carradine (Special Agent Frank Lundy), Jaime Murray (Lila), James Remar (Harry Morgan), Dave Baez (Gabriel), Preston Bailey (Cody), JoBeth Williams (Gale Bennett), Christina Robinson (Astor) & Katherine Kirkpatrick (Laura Moser)

Dexter discover one of his mother's killers is alive in Florida, and Lila suggests he meets with him to provide closure on that tragedy. Meanwhile, Lundy and Debra investigate the marina...

The Dark Defender provides some deepening of Dexter's personal history, after he tells Lila (Jaime Murray) about his mother's brutal death at the hand of chainsaw-wielding thugs. Lila suggests he investigate the whereabouts of his mother's killers – the men essentially responsible for turning child survivor Dex (and brother Brian, as it happens) into a twisted killer.

Dexter (Michael C. Hall) soon tracks down some police audio tapes surrounding the tragedy, and we're treated to a fascinating flashback with Dex sitting in on a meeting between his mother Laura Moser (Katherine Kirkpatrick) and adopted father Harry Morgan (James Remar), across the decades. And it appears Harry knew his biological mother before her grizzly fate...

This revelation essentially begins to twist the saint-like Harry into a more textured and deceitful character. A few episodes ago we saw Harry call teenaged Dex a "monster" during a flashback, so it seems the lawman wasn't quite the totally understanding, honest lawman he was made out to be in season 1. Is this the beginning of Harry's downfall in Dex's estimation?

It's not long before Dex traces the last surviving killer of his mother to a bar in Naples, Florida. Lila thinks Dex should confront the man, to provide closure on the matter, so the two embark on a road trip together, stopping off in a motel for a gratuitous shower scene for Jaime Murray (most welcome). It also marks the first time I've really noticed Dex take a genuine sexual interest in what he's seeing, as his encounters with Rita (Julie Benz) always seem like well-rehearsed fakery. It was also amusing to see Lila treating such a deadly serious trip more like a light-hearted "date" at times!

There's a slightly uncomfortable superhero undertone in this episode, as Dex finds the Bay Harbor Butcher (his alter-ego?) is becoming casually celebrated by the public for killing criminals, and a comic-book artist has even based a superhero called The Dark Defender on Miami's new anti-hero.

The superhero parallels have always been there in Dexter, but making it so clear in an episodes just comes across as silly – particularly when the aforementioned Dark Defender looks uncannily like Dexter, and provokes a silly dream sequence when the Defender rescues Dex's mother from her killers.

The show already walks a fine line by treating serial killers as twisted entertainment, but to show Dexter as a costumed superhero was a step too far, really. Thankfully, it's an error in judgment that doesn't last very long...

Elsewhere, Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) and Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) head to the Coral Cove marina to search for evidence of the Bay Harbor Butcher, after lab tests on algae used to weigh down the killer's bodies were traced to a handful of city marinas.

Lundy is fast becoming a wonderful character now, as he has a pleasantly focused, yet playful demeanour. There's also a growing sense that Lundy's becoming a father figure to Debra, although whenever Dexter starts dealing with family issues, you begin to suspect imminent disaster. Is Lundy too good to be true, dishing out romantic advice whilst munching on tuna sandwiches?

There's also a small subplot for Rita, her visiting mother Gale (JoBeth Williams) and Dexter – after Gale discovers Dex's drugs habit and warns him off her daughter, convinced he'll break her heart like ex-husband Paul did. What makes these scenes work, is how Gale is probably right, and Rita will be spared a lot of heartache (again) if she heeds her advice. But obviously, she's still 100% behind Dex and believes he's a grounding presence in her life.

Less successful is a minor story for LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) and Sgt Doakes (Erik King), who are involved in an underwritten murder plot, which only really exists to remind audiences they were once romantically involved. I think this will be pursued better in future episodes, so for now it's just a gentle hint that doesn't detract from more pressing matters.

Debra and boyfriend Gabriel (Dave Baez) begin to hit the skids already, when paranoid Debra snoops in Gabriel's e-mails and takes messages headed "Ice Princess" to mean she's research for a book he's writing that's linked to her The Ice Truck Killer ex-boyfriend. But it seems Gabriel really could be her aptly-named angel, as Lundy discovers he's a children's author and Ice Princess is the name of his latest book. It works well enough, although I have a tough time imagining gym-jockey Gabriel as a writer!

Back at the motel, Lila has been left alone to scrawl on a "cottage porn" painting, transforming it into a volcanic scene of fire and lava. Dex heads off to confront his mother's killer, finding the old man working in a bar lit with blood-red bulbs. For the first time, Dex forgets the Codes Of Harry governing his behaviour and launches into a vicious attack, brutalizing the old man and throwing him onto a pool table.

Only Lila, on a phone, is able to talk him out of committing murder, mistaking his laboured breath for someone about to start taking drugs again. Dex uses her as a crutch and successfully leaves the scene, later curling up to Lila on their motel bed, almost childlike on her maternal lap.

There follows a great scene from Jaime Murray, as Lila recounts a moment of tragedy from her own past, when she accidentally killed her drug dealer boyfriend Marko in a house fire. Dex doesn't consider it a crime if he "deserved it", and the pair are clearly making a real connection now. As Dexter's closing narration suggests, he thinks Lila could be The Dark Defender's "sidekick" -- someone he can trust and confide in... but, while Lila is certainly screwed-up and a little twisted herself... I don't think she'll embrace Dex if he tells her the truth about himself. Do you?

The final scene provides a solid departing punch, as Dex uses a black-light to scrub his boat of any incriminating evidence... not realizing the police have installed CCTV cameras everywhere. How will he explain his late-night clean-up to his work colleagues?

The Dark Defender was another solid episode, in a season that has yet to put a foot wrong. The continuing development of Lila and Dexter is really blossoming now – so much so, that poor Rita's storylines are beginning to be a distraction.

It was also great to see Lundy and Debra's "relationship" grow, particularly as it's still unclear if Lundy's intentions are honourable, or not. I could have done without the on-the-nose superhero ramblings at times -- which just made Dexter look as silly as its surface-level concept perhaps is – but other than that, episode 5 finds season 2 reaching its mid-way point with fresh questions bubbling in your head.


28 October 2007
Showtime, 9.30 pm

PRISON BREAK 3.5 – "Interference"

Writer: Karyn Usher
Director: Karen Gaviola

Cast: Danay Garcia (Sofia Lugo), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), Wade Williams (Brad Bellick), William Fichtner (Alexander Mahone), Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Chris Vance (James Whistler), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (Susan B. Anthony), Amaury Nolasco (Fernando Sucre), Robert Knepper (Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell), Robert Wisdom (Lechero), Laurence Mason (Sammy), Carlo Alban (McGrady), Crystal Mantecon (Sister Mary Francis), Dominic Keating (Andrew Tyge), Alex Fernandez (Hurtado), F.J Rio (Augusto), Curtis Wayne (Cheo), Davi Jay (Papo), Carlos Compean (Colonel Escamilla), Alan T. Coleman (Inmate), Tommy G. Kendrick (Dive Shop Owner), Joseph Melendez (Rafael) & Mo Deja (Captain Pamaies)

Michael and Whistler finalize their escape plan with a day till the deadline, Lincoln scouts for a getaway route, Sucre is paid to smuggle goods into the prison, and a new inmate arrives in Sona...

"I'm guessing you always won the elementary science fair."
-- James Whistler (Chris Vance), to Michael (Wentworth Miller)

After a great start, I can sense Prison Break beginning to slow down with Interference – an episode that contains a lot of incident regarding the escape plan, but unexciting subplots for Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) and Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) on the outside.

The escape plan itself seems to be extremely tenuous and near-suicidal, as it essentially boils down to a mid-afternoon scurry through a fence when a watchtower guard is blinded by sunlight for a few minutes! Of course, given the fact there are 20-plus episodes of Prison Break, it's clear the initial escape isn't going to work, which undermines some of the excitement.

Michael (Wentworth Miller) hopes to distract another watchtower by interfering with the guard's portable TV, using an electro-magnetic pulse. So, as is typical for most episodes of Prison Break, a chunk of the episode is taken up with the search for a microwave oven to help transmit the EMP.

The episode's most interesting new element is the appearance of new inmate Andrew Tyge (Star Trek Enterprise's Dominic Keating), who recognizes Whistler (Chris Vance), but knows him by a different name. It's the first real hint Whistler is hiding something from Michael, and perhaps girlfriend Sophia, but why he's so important has yet to be determined...

While most things inside the prison are perfectly entertaining, the subplots outside exist only to nudge a few new ideas into the foreground. Lincoln and Sofia (Danay Garcia) plan tomorrow's getaway, by scouting for a decent escape route; and Sucre, as Sona's new gravedigger, is given $5,000 to smuggle goods into the prison for Lechero's cousin Augusto (F.J Rio).

I'm a little disappointed how hellhole Sona has softened up since the season premiere. I never expected it to stay as grueling as those opening scenes of wanton murder and violence, but it's lost the bite it once had. Maybe that's just because you grow accustomed to things, but the atmosphere is missing that pervasive threat of danger. It seems too easy to avoid trouble now, or steal inmates' property.

One standout sequence has the Sona guards storming inside Sona to find a rifle one of their guards spotted from a cell window (actually Michael's binoculars), but their presence inside is at odds with Sona's established history. The prisoners were supposed to have rioted so badly that they forced the guards outside to maintain a perimeter -- but if they can so easily swoop back in and takeover... why don't they? Does the Panamanian government care that they're paying these wardens a salary to sit around outside in towers and patrol fences all day?

Overall, Interference is modestly entertaining for its scenes with Michael and Whistler plotting their imminent departure, while the introduction of Tyge -- as a means to begin unraveling Whistler's mystery -- is a welcome plot device. However, sluggish subplots for Lincoln and Sucre, not to mention a dumb story for T-Bag (Robert Knepper) and Lechero's prostitute, undermine the episode and drag it down a few notches.


5 November 2007
Sky One, 10.00 pm

Monday, 29 October 2007

Day 29: Lost Highway (1997)

"I like to remember things my own way... the way I remember them... not necessarily the way they happened..."

After Twin Peaks left the TV airwaves, director David Lynch helmed a prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in 1992, before vanishing from the movie scene in the mid-90s..

He came back in 1997 with Lost Highway, a psychological crime thriller that mixed film noir with surrealism, and proved to be indicative of his current film output, with Mulholland Dr. (2001) and INLAND EMPIRE (2006) both covering similar territory about personal identity...

Lost Highway concerns saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), who is accused of murdering his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) and sent to death row, whereupon he transforms into a mechanic called Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) and leads a completely different life. However, Fred and Pete's separate lives between to intertwine, orchestrated by mysterious gangster Dick Laurent...

Lynch's film has many similarities to Detour (1945), which concerned a jazz pianist who similarly creates a different life. The film even opens with the same shot of a yellow road marking. Lynch himself says he was drawn to making Lost Highway after reading the title in a Barry Gifford book called Night People, and tried to pursue making a film with the author...

This collaboration didn't bare fruit, but during a late-night car journey with editor Mary Sweeney, after shooting Fire Walk With Me, Lynch told her about a new storyline he'd been mulling over, inspired by the recent O.J Simpson trial -- which would become act one of Lost Highway. Sweeney liked it, and Gifford was was similarly impressed... so Lynch set to work.

David Lynch made the film for $15 million and, after its release in January 2007, it bombed at the US box-office, making $3.7 million by April. It did slightly better overseas, but it was still considered a big flop -- although non-US fans are the only ones who've been treated to a decent DVD release in 10 years!

These days, its popularity has grown with a cult crowd, with many new fans of Lynch's work experiencing Lost Highway first on late-night TV, then playing catch-up. Following the more commercial success of Mulholland Dr. and INLAND EMPIRE, it's also become a handy touchstone to the later movies, blessed with some memorably weird imagery and frightening sounds... all adding to that indefinable Lynchian creepiness...

Trivia

1. Lost Highway marks the final film appearances of Richard Pryor and Jack Nance. Robert Blake has also not appeared in a film since its release.

2. Marilyn Manson and Twiggy Ramirez appear in the film as porn stars.

3. Interior shots were filmed at the haunted Amargosa Hotel in Death Valley.

4. Fred Madison's house was designed and previously owned by David Lynch in real life.

5. Fred's phone number ends in '666'.

6. Robert Blake was later put on trial for killing his wife, echoing the film's plot. He was acquitted.

7. According to David Lynch, Lost Highway and Twin Peaks take place in the same world.

Links

Lost Highway & Mulholland Dr. Comparison
Lost Highway Explained

300 (2007)

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad & Michael B. Gordon (based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller)

Cast: Gerard Butler (King Leonidas), Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo), David Wenham (Dilios), Dominic West (Theron), Michael Fassbender (Stelios), Vincent Regan (Captain Artemis), Rodrigo Santoro (King Xerxes), Andrew Tiernan (Ephialtes), Andrew Pleavin (Daxos), Tom Wisdom (Astinos), Giovani Cimmino (Pleistarchos), Stephen McHattie (The Loyalist), Peter Mensah (Persian Messenger), Kelly Craig (Oracle Girl), Tyler Neitzel (Young Leonidas) & Robert Maillet (Giant)

A Spartan King leads 300 warriors against an invading Persian King's million-strong army, in the Battle Of Thermopylae...

Director Zack Snyder, who performed a miracle in remaking zombie classic Dawn Of The Dead successfully in 2004, turns his hand to adaptation with 300, a period action film based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller.

Utilizing the greenscreen technology used to bring Miller's Sin City to vivid life back in 2005, 300 is a fictionalized retelling of a real historical event: The Battle Of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans fended off 250,000 Persians for 3 days in 480 B.C.

But historical accuracy wasn't foremost on Miller's mind, or on Snyder's mind now – as they both neglect to mention the titular 300 actually fought alongside other Greeks, totaling nearer 5,000 men. But no matter; this is a bold and brash exaggeration of truth, intended to entertain and astonish with sequences of bravura action, beautiful effects and heart-pumping machismo.

Gerard Butler makes for a strong, exciting presence as King Leonidas, growling in a Scottish brogue through a beard as thick as his biceps. As the Spartan King he's pure Alpha Male, treated as the pinnacle of manhood with a rippling torso, determined attitude, unflinching bravery, tactical knowledge and extreme loyalty to his land and its people.

Butler's surrounded by other he-men, although only Lord Of The Rings' David Wenham really stands out as Dilios, primarily because of his distinctive voice, which finds him serving double duties as the film's narrator.

The only other characters of any note are: antagonist King Xerxes, the Persian God-King, played by an unrecognizable Rodrigo Santoro from Lost, given the baritone voice of Ra from Stargate; Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, leading the political aspect of the film back in Sparta while her husband's away; and Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes, a hunchback who turns traitor...

300 is simple stuff, but beautifully realized. Historians will be cringing at the countless errors -- bare-chested Spartans will be the least of their concerns once the giant war-elephants turn up! – but it all exists in a twisted, comic-book world. A more accurate historical film would be just as exciting and, probably, more satisfying as a result -- but I don't think it would be quite as striking.

Make no mistake about it, 300 is one of the more visually accomplished films in quite some time – eclipsing Sin City in what can be achieved with a group of actors standing around in green studios. Yes, you can tell this isn't taking place on location in the real world... but watching characters moving through a graphic painting is captivating in itself.

However, for all its undoubted ability to entertain and sometimes enthrall, 300 is basically a bit of a jumble. Once the novelty of the film's style wears thin, you're left with a succession of battles that rarely involve you in the action. Everything is ultimately a bit too distancing and stylized, so it's more like watching the linking scenes of a video-game... not a proper movie. The appearance of various "monsters" to spice things up, once another identical horde of Persians have been wiped out, seems to prove this.

Overall, you'll get exactly what you want from 300: male models in red capes slaughtering foreigners and the occasional monster, in the style of a blood-spattered comic-book. It's like watching someone else play a video-game -- great fun while it lasts, but unlikely to stick in your memory for many days afterwards. It has no chance of becoming a classic in its genre, but technically it's a great achievement.


Warner Brothers
Budget: $60 million
117 minutes

COMEDY SHOWCASE – The Eejits

Writers: Arthur Matthews & Paul Woodfull
Director: Steve Connelly

Cast: Dessie Gallagher (Maurice), Patrick McDonnell (Gerard), Paul McGlinchey (Tom Grace), Kathy Burke (Virgin Mary), Ned Dennehy (Bob Salmon), Mark Huberman (Rory McWilliams), Debbie Chazen (Garvey), Eamon Geoghegan (Balaclava Man) & Finbar Lynch (Concrete O'Hara)

Irish pub band E-Z Feelin hope to hit the big time when a former U2 roadie give them some of Bono's old equipment, but they run into problems when U2 want their stuff back, whilst smuggling a package into Northern Ireland...

Arthur Matthews, co-creator of Father Ted, is half the talent behind this Comedy Showcase one-off, writing with Paul Woodfull. The Eejits stars Dessie Gallagher as Maurice and Patrick McDonnell as Gerard, a duo reminiscent of Father Ted and Father Dougal from Matthews' classic series. Gerard even sleeps in a child's bedcovers like Dougal, and actor McDonnell had a memorable guest role as Dougal-alike Eoin McLove in Father Ted once...

Minor similarties aside, The Eejits was a very different beast in terms of scope and complexity. Unfortunately, it strained for big laughs, had far too many characters (requiring a distracting use of legends to explain who people are!), and its plot completely drowned most of the characterisation.

The Eejits resembled a low-budget comedy film, but with its 60-minute plot condensed into 30-minutes. Consequently, it was a struggle to keep up with events and, because Maurice and Gerard just weren't very amusing, it lacked strong performances to hold onto while the plot got increasingly complicated. If it had told a simpler story, crafted some bigger laughs, and spent time making sure Maurice and Gerard were endearing, it could have worked.

There's the seed of a good idea here, but the best jokes were ripped from Father Ted's screwy worldview – a vision of the Virgin Mary made from household items and the need to glue cotton wool onto sheep. The rest was a sequence of sporadic, fast-paced incidents that you weren't invested in...

Kathy Burke as a working class Virgin Mary... using strobe lights and dry ice at a gig for asthmatics and epileptics... a former U2 roadie who spouts obvious insider knowledge (The Edge isn't his real name...) -- there was some good stuff here and there, but it was undermined by a lack of focus, disappointing lead performances and irritating legends/music apparently styled on The Good, The Bad And The Ugly!

Unfortunately, The Eejits was the first episode of Channel 4's Comedy Showcase that I contemplated turning off after 15 minutes. But I stuck with it, and was admittedly glad when the plot coalesced into a decent climax, but I wouldn't want to spend any more time on the road with E-Z Feelin...

Arthur Matthews is definitely a writer with a strong, narrative mind for comedy – something his Father Ted writing partner Graham Linehan is desperately in need of over on The IT Crowd. Those two should get back together, don't you think?


26 October 2007
Channel 4, 10.30 pm

Sunday, 28 October 2007

STRICTLY COME (DIRTY) DANCING - Week 4

It's around Week 4 that I get bored with shows like Strictly Come Dancing. After a month, you don't really see much improvement from now on, do you? Really? Well, maybe a bit -- but people have a built-in level of quality, so I still think you can predict the top 3 men and women by now. It's going to be Alesha, Penny and Kelly versus Gethen, Matt and Kenny --- isn't it?

It's only the stupid phone voting that can mess everything up -- as it did tonight when Penny and Gabby were in the bottom 2. Madness!

Why don't these shows just give the judges the overall vote? It would stop the phone vote scandals, and give us a winner based on dancing quality... not popularity. It's the GMTV crowd keeping Kate in, you mark my words!

Mind you, I have a suspicion that, like me, the Judges base their decisions on who they want to see wiggling around in front of them every week. Gabby or Penny was tonight's choice. While it wasn't a certainty who would go from that pair, the Judges made a wise decision... so, bye-bye Gabs...

Alesha Dixon
Sadly kept those gorgeous legs hidden with a long, garish orange dress. Very disappointing!

Gabby Logan
Wonderful legs, great black dress with a frilly tail and plenty of enthusiasm. Such a shame she was voted out, but rather her than Penny...

Lilia Kopylova
Very cute as usual, with a sexy top-half, but sadly only fleeting glimpses of her legs this week and a slightly muted dance.

Kate Garraway
She looked quite curvy in that tight dress and showed some leg off, but it was another stumbling mess on the dance floor. Time to go, surely?

Nicole Cutler
She shows her age in close-ups behind-the-scenes, and a long white dress didn't help matters during the dance.

Ola Jordan
Very wiggly and sexy in a knee-length dress with great legs and kitten-like face. She's one of the show's most attractive dancers, but never quite shows it!

Kelly Brook
Sexy, shiny black dress that showed off some impressive bosoms and a classy figure... but a mild disappointment.~

Camilla Dallerup
Great legs, if slightly bony, but clearly bundles of cheeky fun -- albeit with a tendency to grin like a loony half the time.

Leticia Dean
Another frumpy appearance, in a purple dress -- like a dancing bruise. Vote her off now, please!

Penny Lancaster
Wow! Austin Powers-style 60s vibe in knee-length boots, towering physique and those fantastically long legs. Beautiful.

Flavia Cacace
Long, yellow dress... everything hidden, so very disappointing.


So the sexiest female dancers at the moment are:

1. Lilia Kopylova -- 25
2. Kelly Brook -- 21
3.- Alesha Dixon -- 20
3.- Ola Jordan -- 20
3.- Camilla Dallerup -- 20
4.- Flavia Cacace -- 19
4.- Gabby Logan -- 19
4.- Penny Lancaster -- 19
5. Nicole Cutler -- 16
6. Leticia Dean -- 14
7. Kate Garraway -- 11

Day 28: Scream (1996)

Don't answer the phone.
Don't open the door.
Don't try to escape.

Screenwriter Kevin Williamson saw a 1994 episode of news-magazine show Turning Point about a serial killer operating around Gainesville, Florida, killing college students. Inspired by this real life case, and a fondness for 70s/80s slasher films, Williamson wrote a script called Scary Movie...

Where Scary Movie differed from conventional slasher films, is in how the characters treat the situation. In the mid-90s, teenagers were au fait with horror film conventions and the brainless victims of slasher films just didn't fit with the contemporary streetwise vibe. In essence, Williamson's characters had seen the slasher films they were now a part of...

Miramax bought the script in 1995 and director Wes Craven (horror maestro behind The Last House On The Left and A Nightmare On Elm Street) became attached. Craven had just finished New Nightmare -- a post-modern spin on his Freddy Kruger character -- so Scary Movie seemed like a chance to fully embrace this knowing, tongue-in-cheek style of horror...

Craven assembled his cast: Party of Five teen star Neve Campbell as heroine Sidney, Friends actress Courteney Cox as plucky reporter Gail, Cox's later husband David Arquette as Office Dewey, Jamie Kennedy as Randy, Matthew Lillard as Stu, Skeet Ulrich as Billy, Happy Days Henry Winkler as Principal Himbry, and Drew Barrymore as Casey.

It was Drew Barrymore's casting that would prove particularly clever -- as she was the most recognizable face on-screen, yet is famously killed after the bravura opening 12-minute scene. This worked wonders to unsettle the audience and make everyone unsure who would survive till the end... and, indeed, who the killer was...


Scary Movie was retitled Scream late in production, and released on 20 December 1996. Strangely, it actually only peaked at #3 in the US box-office, but received a lot of positive response from critics -- who felt it revitalized the tired slasher genre by approaching it from a different angle and having fun with the concept, whilst retaining effective scares. It went on to become a huge worldwide hit.

Scream was undoubtedly the catalyst for a resurgence of interest in slasher films, and the horror genre in general. Hot on its heels came Cherry Falls, Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and even parodies like 1999s Scary Movie.

A sequel, Scream 2, that reunited all the cast and crew, was released in 1997 and surprised everyone by being just as accomplished. Critics particularly liked how its nature as a sequel became an integral part of the film's narrative itself.

In 2000, Scream 3 was released, but screenwriter Kevin Williamson only provided the storyline, while Ehren Kruger penned the actual script. Again, everyone returned for this final chapter in the Scream trilogy, and the film did great business at the box-office... but reviews were notably mixed, with many people feeling the genre had again run out of steam and the plot itself was disappointing.

A fourth film has been mooted for a few years now, although the franchise seemed to reach a fitting conclusion with Scream 3. Wes Craven has long said a fourth film isn't likely, but has since admitted the studio is in talks about how to resurrect the franchise for another installment.

Trivia

1. The Ghostface character was mostly played by stuntman Dane Farwell. The actors only wore the costume when necessary (i.e, when taking it off the unmask themselves.)

2. The Exorcist star Linda Blair cameo's as a reporter.

3. To make Drew Barrymore cry, Wes Craven told her stories about animal cruelty and the death of her own dog.

4. Wes Craven found the iconic Ghostface mask whilst location scouting in California. Producer Bob Weinstein thought it looked idiotic, but was told to reserve judgement until he'd seen the first scene... after which, he admitted he was wrong.

5. A real high school in Santa Rosa was going to be used in the film, but they objected over the film's violent nature.

6. Billy Loomis' surname is named after Donald Pleasance's character in Halloween.

7. The school janitor ("Fred") is clearly modeled on the appearance of Freddy Kruger.

8. All Ghostface's phone calls were done on-set, with voice actor Roger Jackson.

ROBIN HOOD 2.4 - "The Angel Of Death"

Writer: Julian Unthank
Director: Matthew Evans

Cast: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Lucy Griffiths (Marian), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy Of Gisbourne), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett), Joe Armstrong (Allan-a-Dale), Anjali Jay (Djak), Ralf Little (Joseph), Michael Elwyn (Sir Edward), Jonathan Readwin (Luke Scarlett), Sean Murray (Dan Scarlett) & Bethany Turner (Sarah)

Pestilence descends on Nottingham, so part of the town is quarantined by the Sheriff. Meanwhile, Will Scarlett's father and brother arrive in Sherwood Forest, and aren't quite so convinced a pestilence is to blame...

One criticism of Robin Hood last year was its bright, sunny atmosphere and cheery disposition -- something which hasn't quite vanished in season 2, but there are more slithers of darkness to in the mix. Here, The Angel Of Death focuses on that staple of Middle Age life: plague.

The plague is grisly stuff for tea-time family viewing, so it's predictably watered-down for family consumption. Instead of frightening horror, it's the kind of plague that can be treated in seconds by rubbing antidote on your lips and always has a comically-delayed reaction time if you're one of the main characters.

As is customary on the show, family members of the "gang" arrive to signal another adventure -- this time in the shape of Will Scarlett's father Dan (Sean Murray) and brother Luke (Jonathan Readwin.) Dan's not keen on his son being an outlaw, not when the family carpentry business awaits him in Scarborough(!), but Will's adamant he wants to stay fighting alongside Robin (Jonas Armstrong)...

In one of the show's more surprising moments, Dan is quickly murdered by the Sheriff's men after speaking out about the supposed pestilence that has struck Nottingham. It appears the pestilence is actually a chemical weapons test, meant for King Richard upon his return from the Crusades. The master poisoner behind everything is Joseph, a religious nut hired by the Sheriff, played by the nonthreatening Ralf Little -- whose performance is more wooden than Nottingham's gallows. Joseph has been posing as the Nightwatchman and delivering "poison pies" to the residents of Pine Street -- the rotter!

The Sheriff (Keith Allen) quarantines Pine Street with make-shift wooden fences -- trapping Robin, Djak (Anjali Jay) and Little John (Gordon Kennedy) inside to die with the infected. Meanwhile, Will goes rogue to avenge his father's death, and traitorous Alan-a-Dale (Joe Armstrong), entrusted with delivering a message from Robin to Roger of Stoke, lets slimy Guy (Richard Armitage) in on his secret mission...

I still don't believe Alan would help Guy just for monetary gain, particularly after witnessing the Sheriff and Guy's evil schemes first hand, but having a mole in Robin's camp has certainly added a good recurring undertone to season 2.

It's also nice to see Will (Harry Lloyd) get something to do, as Lloyd is a particularly strong actor who's never been given much to do. You could say the same for most of the gang, truth be told. Will's particularly fun to watch in avenging mode later on, singlehandedly doing a damned sight better job than he does as part of a team!

For the second week running, Marian (Lucy Griffiths) is kept in the background, without being shoehorned into the story if she's not needed. She instead has a few minor scenes, highlighting the fact her father is being starved as punishment for her actions last week, and enjoys a brief flirtation with Robin.

For about half the episode, The Angel Of Death was surprisingly strong for an episode of Robin Hood; its plots were swiftly deployed, tackled darker themes, and provided a few surprises along the way. Unlike most episodes, it wasn't always clear where everything was headed, which made it the most watchable storyline thus far...

However, the good work was undone by Robin Hood's usual ability to shoot itself in the foot with frustrating and stupid scenes. The Sheriff yet again can't see Robin and his gang in Nottingham's courtyard, even when they're stood in plain sight not 20 metres away! Robin continues his preternatural archery skills -- here shooting 3 whooshing arrows faster than you can blink. It doesn't highlight his amazing skill, it just makes him look like a cartoon...

Much (Sam Troughton) pretends to be dead by pulling the most obviously-fake bug-eyed, slack-jawed face this side of panto. Then, the finale's protracted death throes of the Sheriff and Joseph, poisoned by vengeful Alan, was played so much for laughs it sapped any hint of danger... and the denouement -- where Alan is shown an optical illusion of his dead father's face on a rock in the forest -- didn't tug on the heartstrings as intended, it just left you confused such an effect could be achieved in the Middle Ages. What next; will someone make a hologram out of a carved piece of amber you hold in front of a camp fire?

Still, while it was ultimately undone by silliness, the meat of Julian Unthank's script was very palatable. In terms of production alone, the wonderful sets have never looked better, and some special effects sequences of people climbing up a castle tower were fantastic. It was great to see some ambition in the series, in terms of scale and stunts.

Overall, The Angel Of Death was very good. I can safely declare season 2 is superior to the first, but it's extremely annoying when solid episodes like this are dragged down by bad creative decisions. Children like darkness and television that treats them with some credibility -- just look at Doctor Who! While I'm glad a few death scenes made it through the censor, I wish Robin Hood would show more courage when it comes to depicting the Middle Ages. The show still has the sniff of modern adults playing around in a giant "Medieval World" theme park.

Still, at least those villagers finally showed their appreciation for all the good work Robin and his outlaws do every week. It was about time!


27 October 2007
BBC1, 7.15 pm

Saturday, 27 October 2007

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: Razor Flashbacks

The news Battlestar Galactica's final season won't air until April 2008 in the US (likely to be June/July in the UK) isn't good. But I'm getting increasingly psyched for the prequel special Razor -- released late-November in the US (December in the UK, hopefully.)

Also, if you've been missing them, special mini-episodes ("Razor Flashbacks") have been circulating from the Sci-Fi Channel website onto YouTube recently. Now, I know -- usually such episodes play like deleted scenes and filler -- but the Razor Flashbacks are really high-quality stuff!

So good in fact, that I'm pretty sure they must be from the actual show itself -- the effects are amazing and very ambitious for TV.

So, if you've yet to see them:

Razor Flashback 1, Razor Flashback 2, Razor Flashback 3 and Razor Flashback 4.

Original Cylons and old-style Raiders :)

Day 27: Evil Dead II (1987)


The Evil Dead was a notorious film in the UK, often cited as an example of the "video nasties" that were supposedly infiltrating people's homes via home video cassette. It was a 1981 low-budget horror about a haunted cabin out in the woods, where a group of friends are terrorized by various demons, until Ash (Bruce Campbell) becomes the sole survivor...

The possibility of a sequel was discussed by director Sam Raimi during production of Evil Dead, with the idea being to send hero Ash back in time to the Middle Ages (an idea that eventually come to fruition for the next sequel Army Of Darkness.)

Post-Evil Dead, Raimi instead went on to make Crimewave and expected it to be a big hit. Irvin Shapiro, a publicist who is credited as being responsible for Evil Dead's mainstream success, asked Raimi to instead consider doing Evil Dead II, but Raimi refused. Despite that, Shapiro put out adverts to promote the as-yet-unmade sequel!

Crimewave was released in 1985 and failed dismally at the box-office. Raimi and his producing partner Rob Tapert, fearing another flop would end their careers, accepted Shapiro's offer to make a sequel to Evil Dead. At the same time, hotshot producer Dino De Laurentiis approached Raimi about making the film adaptation of Stephen King's short story Thinner. Raimi declined, but King himself heard about the discussions and persuaded De Laurentiis to fund Evil Dead II, as he'd been a vocal supporter/fan of the first film.

De Laurentiis stumped up $3.6 million, which wasn't enough for Raimi and Tapert to pursue their Middle Ages idea. Instead, they opted for a straight sequel -- although legal reasons prevented Evil Dead II using scenes from the first film as a recap. They were forced to re-shoot a prologue, only with Ash and girlfriend as the only characters depicted in the prior events.

It's this unusual step that has meant Evil Dead II is often confused as being a remake of the first film. While that's not strictly true, it's very understandable. Both films are essentially the same story, only with Evil Dead II more interested in ghoulish laughs than the original...

Raimi, working with old friend Scott Spiegel, wrote the script with influences of slapstick humour included. Both nen had particularly loved The Three Stooges as children, and Evil Dead II is full of similar gags, physical performance and sight gags.

Actual filming took place in Wadesboro, North Carolina, not far from De Laurentiis' production offices. The shoot was far easier than Evil Dead's, primarily because of Raimi's additional experience, but there were some frustrations along the way: Sam's brother, actor Ted Raimi, had a particularly awful costume to wear as a fake shemp, with litres of sweat collecting under the latex.

Evil Dead II was released on 13 March 1987 and has so far made $5.9 million. It has since become a favourite horror-comedy of many people, and is often used to best exemplify that particularly sub-genre (along with An American Werewolf In London).

A direct sequel, Army Of Darkness, was released in 1993 -- this time with a budget to bring Raimi's Middle Ages idea to life. The sequel was more silly and jokey, so it's not to everyone's taste, but it's still entertaining with memorable scenes and lines. Of the "trilogy", Evil Dead II is most peoples' favourite, as it's far easier to watch than Evil Dead and gets the gore-to-gags quotient just right...

Sam Raimi obviously went on to greater successes, culminating recently with the Spider-Man trilogy (which featured memorable comic cameo's from friend Bruce Campbell.) Along with Peter Jackson, he's another director of a blockbuster movie trilogy who started out in low-budget horror.

Bruce Campbell has become synonymous with the Evil Dead movies and is now a cult hero for horror fans. He never managed to break into the mainstream, despite numerous attempts in the 90s on TV shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Brisco County Jr, so has since embraced his B-movie credentials to star in things like Bubba-Hotep and various cheesy sci-fi/horror flicks. He's currently taken a straight acting gig on TV show Burn Notice, playing a former spy -- perhaps as another stab at mainstream credibility.

The prospect of a Evil Dead IV is often rumoured, with Raimi constantly teasing fans about the possibility he'll helm a low-budget sequel in-between mainstream flicks. More recently, a musical based on the first film has appeared, as well as a surge in merchandise like video-games, T-shirts, board games, action figures, etc.

A big-budget remake of Evil Dead is also on the cards now, with Raimi's blessing -- although fans are disappointed Bruce Campbell is unlikely to reprise his role...

Trivia

1. After shooting, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell sang The Byrds' "Eight Miles High".

2. The glove belonging to Freddy Kruger can be seen in the tool shed. This was a return in-joke, as A Nightmare On Elm Street had featured Evil Dead on a TV screen.

3. Sam Raimi cameo's as the first medieval knight to greet Ash when he arrives in the past.

4. The film features an Oldsmobile Delta 88, which is a trademark of Raimi's films -- as that particular make of car appears in nearly all his films.

5. Most of the film was actually shot inside a High School gymnasium!

Links

Deadites Online